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World War I period

The Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the German side but it was already in a state of rapid decline: between 1908 and 1912 it had lost 33% of its territory and the Armenians were the only significant Christian people to remain under Ottoman rule. In 1915, Russia, which had joined the Allied side, inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Ottomans. The Ottomans saw Russian and diaspora Armenians fighting against them and this inflamed their existing suspicions concerning the loyalty of their Armenian subjects: their knowledge of how they had treated the Armenians would in any case hardly have reassured them concerning their likely loyalty. The 60,000 Armenians serving in the Ottoman forces were quickly demobilised and organised into labour groups in February 1915, only to be massacred by April.

It was also ordered that Armenians living in regions near the war front should be moved to the Syrian Desert and the Mesopotamian Valley with the clear expectation that, even if they survived the forced marches under difficult conditions, they would not survive the inhospitable terrain and hostile tribesmen of these regions for long. In reality, not only those Armenians in the frontier regions but also those living nowhere near the frontier regions were deported and then either massacred or left to starve in the desert. Large-scale massacres of Armenians developed, including the Armenian intelligentsia in Constantinople and other cities who were arrested on 24 April and then murdered. There is some dispute as to the authenticity of evidence, which suggests that it was the central Ottoman government which ordered the massacres, though they were evidently carefully planned as they were carried out simultaneously in all regions of the Ottoman Empire, but there is no doubt at all that around 1.5 million Armenians died in those massacres.


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