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Mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks | UPSC

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UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II– International Relations

Context: USA President Joe Biden’s officially recognised the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks as an ‘act of genocide’. This could infuriate Turkey.

Background: Up to 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been killed in the early stage of the First world war within the territories of the Ottoman Empire. In 2019, the US congress (Parliament of US) passed resolutions calling the slaughter a genocide, but the Donald Trump administration stopped short of officially calling it so.

Why were Armenians killed?

Sequence of events:

  1. Decline of ottoman empire in late 19th century.
  2. Russia-Turkish war of 1877-78 raise the enmity between Turkish and Armenians, who were supported by Russia.
  3. Treaty of Berlin dictated terms to Ottomans to provide reforms for Armenian people.
  4. Treaty led to the attacks on Armenian people from Turks and Kurds.
  5. Post 1908, attacks on Ethnic minority began at greater pace.
  6. Defeat of Turks in Battle of Sarikamish (during World War 1) was blamed on Armenian. This led to further intensification of genocide over Armenians.
  7. On fear of security from Russian support to Armenian, Ottoman Government passed a legislation to deport Armenian via Syrian desert. This killed many Armenians.

After the defeat of Ottoman in World War 1, Armenian authorities took revenge measures and executed many officials. But Armenian resistance fighters under the banner of Operation Nemesis continued to hunt down Ottoman officials.

As of now, Turkey (centre of erstwhile Ottoman Empire) has acknowledged that atrocities were committed against Armenians, but denies it was a genocide (which comes with legal implications and challenges the estimates that 1.5 million were killed.

Larger question: Was it a Genocide?

This term was coined by the Raphael Lemkin. According to Article II of the UN Convention on Genocide of December 1948, genocide has been described as carrying out acts intended “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

Between 1914 to 1922, Armenian population fell from 2 million to 3,87,000 only. There is apprehension that this was due to 1.5 million Armenians who were genocide.

Therefore, as of now there are only historians claims and no actual proof about such genocide. However, it is true that many Armenians were killed as part of ethnic conflicts.


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