The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

How the Massacre of Armenians Began

May 11, 2015

This article is excerpted from the April 3rd, 2015 issue of Sinif Mucadelesi (Class Struggle), published by the revolutionary group of the same name in Turkey.

While leaders of Turkey still argue against the use of the term “genocide,” the massacre of Armenians in 1915 shows what level of savagery bourgeois nationalist politics can lead to.

The massacres began with decisions taken by Talaat Bey, the Minister of the Interior for the Ottoman government led by the CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) Party, known as the “Young Turks.”

In the summer of 1914, the CUP sent a message to the congress of the Armenian Dashnak party and demanded that, in the coming war, the Dashnaks remain loyal to the Ottoman Empire, fight against the Russians in the Caucasus and call on Russian Armenians to side with the Ottoman Empire against Russia. The Dashnaks responded by reassuring the Ottoman state of their loyalty, but they said that they would pursue a policy independent of the CUP government.

In November 1914, four months after World War I began, the Ottoman navy attacked Russian ships and ports. In retaliation, the Russian army invaded Ottoman territory in eastern Turkey. Turkish history books say that the decision to “relocate” Armenians was imposed on the government by the events of the war. But the violence – attacks on villages, incidents of plunder and rape – had already begun before the war.

For the war, the government had drafted Armenian men ages 20 to 45 into the army. But then, under the pretext of road construction, Armenians ages 15 to 20 and 45 to 60 were also drafted. Later, in December 1914, the government declared an earlier treaty that guaranteed the rights of Armenian citizens null and void.

A month later, in January 1915, the Russian army scored a victory in Sarikamish and began to march forward. In February, using this as an excuse, the Ottoman government disarmed the Armenian soldiers in the Turkish army in Gallipoli and other fronts.

Armenian uprisings ensued in two eastern provinces in April 1915. Talaat Bey countered with the “decrees of April 24,” which ordered the closure of Armenian organizations and arrest of their leaders.

Even before these decrees, in Constantinople, which was far from the battle fronts, 235 Armenians – including members of the National Assembly, writers, journalists, artists, clergy and businessmen – were arrested and subsequently murdered. Within a few weeks, the number of arrests reached 2,345. In the following months, Armenians living in Anatolia were rounded up and forced to march toward camps set up in Deir ez-Zor in the Syrian desert. Most of the people died on the way.

On May 27, 1915, the government granted local authorities the power to relocate anyone as they saw fit. A second government decree three days later extended deportations indefinitely. On June 10, a “decree on the land, goods and property of Armenians and measures to be taken” was issued, saying that vacated properties would be given to refugees, and Armenians would be compensated for them. Of course, none of this happened.

According to British sources, more than one million Armenians were deported and 600,000 of them died. Turkish sources put the number of deaths at 413,067. After World War I, 120 people were put on trial for the massacres and all of them were acquitted. And thus, the massacre of Armenians in 1915 entered the list of crimes against peoples throughout the whole world that remain unpunished.