What the US’s recognition of killings of Armenians as genocide mean

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anatolia region

Mains level : Paper 2- Relations between Turkey and the US

What is genocide

  • 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”.

Why Armenians were targeted

  • In a way, the Armenians were victims of the great power contests of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • The resentment started building up after the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 in which the Turks lost territories.
  • In the Treaty of Berlin, big powers dictated terms to the Ottomans, including putting pressure on Sultan Abdülhamid II to initiate reforms “in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds.”
  • The Sultan saw this as a sign of strengthening ties between the Armenians and other rival countries, especially Russia.
  • Post the treaty, there were a series of attacks on Armenians by Turkish and Kurdish militias.
  • In 1908, the Young Turks wrested control from the Sultan and promised to restore imperial glory.
  • Under the Turks, the empire became more and “Turkik” and persecution against the ethnic minorities picked up.
  • In October 1914, Turkey joined the First World War on the side of Germany.
  • In the Caucasus, they fought the Russians, their primary geopolitical rival.
  • But the Ottomans suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Battle of Sarikamish by the Russians in January 1915.
  • The Turks blamed the defeat on Armenian “treachery”.

How the killings took place

  • As the War was still waging, the Ottomans feared that Armenians in eastern Anatolia would join the Russians if they advanced into Ottoman territories.
  • First, Armenians in the Ottoman Army were executed.
  • On April 24, the Ottoman government arrested about 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. Most of them were later executed.
  • The Ottoman government passed legislation to deport anyone who is a security risk.
  • Then they moved Armenians, including children, en masse to the Syrian Desert. That was a march of death.
  • Before the First World War broke out in 1914, there were 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.
  • According to a study by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, in 1922, four years after the War, the Armenian population in the region was about 387,800.
  • This has led historians to believe that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the course of the War.

What is Turkey’s response

  • Turkey has acknowledged that atrocities were committed against Armenians, but denies it was a genocide which comes with legal implications.
  • Turkey also challenges the estimates that 1.5 million were killed.
  • The Turkish Foreign Ministry has issued a strong statement to Mr. Biden’s announcement saying it doesn’t not have “a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence”.
  • Turkey has called on the U.S. President to correct the mistake of recognition as genocide.
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