Armenia, Turkey still at odds a century after 1915 massacre

Demonstrators hold candles and pictures of Armenian victims during a commemoration for the victims of mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, in Istanbul April 23, 2015.  (Reuters/Murad Sezer)
As Armenians mark 100 years since over a million of their countrymen and women were slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks, Yerevan and Ankara are still unable to find common ground on the sensitive issue and begin diplomatic relations.

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Some 2 million Armenians were living in the Ottoman Empire at the start of the World War I in 1914, which increased turmoil in the Middle Eastern realm and led to its eventual demise.

In the next eight years, the size of the Armenian population in Turkey decreased to less than half a million.

Armenian genocide survivors discovered in Salt and sent to Jerusalem in April 1918. (Image from Wikipedia)

The mass killings, which historians believe led to the demise of over 1.5 million people, began on April 24, 1915, when 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were detained by the authorities and later executed in the then-capital, Constantinople (now Istanbul).

The violence was committed under the rule of the Young Turks movement, later known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which led the rebellion against the absolute movement, but at the same time shifted towards policies of Turkish nationalism.

Under the centralized CUP government, able-bodied Armenian men were ordered to be slaughtered in thousands or subjected to military service and exhausting labor. Women, elderly and children were relocated to the Syrian Desert, with rape and murder by the escorting Ottoman troops commonplace during the marches.

Armenian intellectuals who were arrested and later executed en masse by Young Turk government authorities on the night of 24 April 1915. (Image from Wikipedia)

The Armenians were already resented by many Turks for their success in business activities and for their Orthodox Christian faith. However, there were also fears that Armenians would support the advancing Russian troops instead of the Ottoman Empire in wartime.

The reprisals and deportations resulted in a massive exodus of Armenians, who fled and formed diaspora communities around the globe.

The Armenians refer to the killings as Medz Yeghern, or the Great Crime, and demand the mass human rights violations of the Ottoman Empire be recognized as genocide by the international community.

Armed Armenian civilians and self-defense units holding a line against Ottoman forces in the walled Siege of Van in May 1915. (Image from Wikipedia)

“We want the modern Turkish authorities to shed the burden of the actions of the Ottoman Empire,” Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan told RT on Thursday. “The modern authorities did not commit the genocide, but when they try to justify it, they take responsibility for it.”

READ MORE: Armenian President: ‘Turkish govt didn’t commit genocide, but take responsibility for it with denials

Turkey – the successor to the Ottoman Empire – has refused to accept the label. Ankara says the deaths were a tragic consequence of war and that the Armenians were not specifically targeted because of their ethnic background.

Moreover, by acknowledging crimes against humanity, Ankara could become liable to reparations, which some Armenian human rights groups estimate in the trillions of dollars.

Of this photo, the United States ambassador wrote, "Scenes like this were common all over the Armenian provinces, in the spring and summer months of 1915. Death in its several forms—massacre, starvation, exhaustion—destroyed the larger part of the refugees. The Turkish policy was that of extermination under the guise of deportation" (Image from Wikipedia)

It would also be a blow to Turkey’s international reputation as the word ‘genocide’ firmly associates with the Holocaust, the killing of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II.

Ankara’s stance on the issue has become somewhat more flexible in recent years, with Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan offering his condolences to Armenia over the “inhumane” mass murders.

However, on April 25, Turkey will be commemorating 100 years since the Gallipoli Landings, which was the Ottoman Empire’s greatest World War I success, in which its military repelled the Allied Forces’ attack on Constantinople.

The announcement angered the Armenian authorities, who took it as a political stunt to overshadow the anniversary of the Armenian killings.

In 1997, the International Association of Genocide Scholars unanimously recognized the Ottoman massacres of Armenians as genocide.

Turkey has recently become pressured by the international community to follow the same path.

Armenians marched by Turkish soldiers, 1915.png More details Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers. Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire, April, 1915 (Image from Wikipedia)

Last week, the European Parliament adopted a resolution urging Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide and pave the way for “a genuine reconciliation” between the two nations, which would include establishing diplomatic relations and opening borders.

READ MORE: EU Parliament adopts resolution calling on Turkey to recognize Armenian genocide

Ahead of the vote, Erdogan stressed that Ankara would disregard “whatever decision” the MEPs pass.

Turkey was outraged by Pope Francis’ statement in which the pontiff honored the 100th anniversary of the slaughter of Armenians by Ottoman Turks and called it “the first genocide of the 20th century.”

READ MORE: Turkey in spat with Vatican over Pope's comments on Armenian genocide

Twenty-four countries, including Canada, France, Italy, Argentina, France, Russia and Syria, have acknowledged that the killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire were genocide.

The denial of the Armenian Genocide is officially criminalized in Switzerland, Cyprus, Slovakia and Greece.

The genocide is also recognized by 43 of the US states, but not the federal government in Washington.

While still a senator, US President Barack Obama said that “the Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely-documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence.”

However, Obama never kept his promise to officially recognize the killing of Armenians as genocide during his two presidential terms.