The term “Genocide” first appeared in scientific literature and the political lexicon in 1944, introduced by Raphael Lemken. He coined the term based on the first two great tragedies of the 20th century: the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, and the Holocaust in Fascist Germany.
According to Lemken, these were not examples of ordinary carnage or slaughter, but rather represented a new phenomenon which required a scientific definition.
On the eve of World War I, there were two million Armenians in the declining Ottoman Empire. By 1922, there were fewer than 400,000. In all, 1.5 million Armenians were killed and another half million found shelter abroad after what is now considered the Armenian Genocide.
While WWI raged, the Young Turk government implemented a policy of Pan Turkism in order to save the remains of the weakened Ottoman Empire. Pan Turkism envisioned the establishment of a mega-Turkish Empire including all Turkic-speaking populations of the Caucasus and Central Asia extending to China. It also intended to Turkify all ethnic minorities of the empire. The Armenians were the main obstacle standing in the way of Pan Turkism. Although the elimination of Armenians from Western Armenia, or what is now Eastern Turkey, was planned as early as 1911, the Young Turk government found WWI to be the most suitable opportunity for implementation.
The Young Turk government effected the Armenian Genocide in 1915. When Turkey joined the war, Western Armenians, like others in the Empire, were called upon to enlist in the army. However, despite the fact that these Armenian solders diligently fulfilled their assigned duties, Turkey’s minister of war, Enver, issued a decree in February, 1915 to disarm all the Armenian solders, split them into groups of 50-100, and kill them. In this way, the Young Turks intended to deprive the Armenians of a possible armed resistance.
The next major attack against the Armenian people occurred on April 24, 1915.
On that day in Constantinople, the elite of Western Armenia--including members of the Turkish Parliament, writers, public figures, lawyers, teachers, doctors, journalists and men of art-- were arrested and sentenced to exile without any official charge. They all were killed on the way to their deportation. Armenians were left without a military force and the political and intellectual leadership to organize and offer any prospect of resistance.
The third phase of the genocide involved the death marches of women, children, and the elderly into the deserts of Syria. During these marches, hundreds of thousands were killed by Turkish soldiers, gendarmes and Kurdish mobs. Many others died of starvation, disease, and countless other miseries. Thousands of women and children were raped and even more were forcibly converted to Islam.
According to many on the the Turkish side, what happened in 1915 was just one unfortunate piece of an extremely chaotic war that spelled the end of Ottoman Empire. They reject the conclusions of historians and the term genocide, saying there was no intent in the deaths, and no systematic attempt to destroy the population. In Turkey today it remains a crime — “insulting Turkishness” – to raise the issue of what happened to the Armenians in 1915-1923.
Countries worldwide and international organizations have passed resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Council of Europe, Cyprus, European Parliament, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, Vatican City. 42 states in the US have, by legislation or proclamation, recognized the Armenian Genocide.