Armenian Genocide

"Ongoing denial of this historic atrocity, waged in the name of ethnic homogeneity, makes it a contemporary human-rights concern" Clint Curle, Canadian Museum of Human Rights, April 2013.

The Genocide perpetrated against the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during World War One (WWI) and its aftermath, represents a major tragedy of the modern era. It was the culmination of decades of oppression and massacre which resulted in the elimination of the indigenous Christian Armenian population from their ancestral homeland of Anatolia (present day Turkey), which they had occupied for at least four thousand years. This campaign of annihilation was orchestrated by Talaat Pasha, the Minister of the Interior of the Ottoman Empire, and carried out under the cover of WWI. It was part of a Turkish nationalist drive to homogenize Anatolia by eliminating the non-Turkic elements - a policy which was met with a very large measure of success.

During the night of 24 April 1915, the eve of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli, and citing "Armenian rebellion" as a pretext, the Ottoman government arrested around 250 Armenian political, religious, educational and intellectual community leaders in Constantinople (present day Istanbul). They were deported to the interior parts of the Ottoman Empire, and many were put to death. Also during this period, thousands of Armenian men who were conscripted into the Ottoman Army were disarmed, placed in labour battalions, and later executed. Finally, the Ottoman government ordered the mass deportation of the Armenian people to the barren deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) without the necessary provisions to sustain life. Secrecy, deception, torture, rape, starvation and pillage were some of the defining elements of these marches.

The Armenian elite of the city of Harput, Turkey, being led away under armed guard in May 1915. Source: Maria Jacobsen Diary, 1907-1919. Jacobsen was a Danish Missionary stationed at Harput during the Armenian Genocide. Her diary provides a critical first hand account of the Armenian Genocide.


Women, children and the elderly were driven on foot for months over mountains and deserts, often dehumanised by being stripped naked and repeatedly preyed upon and abused. Intentionally deprived of food and water, they fell by the hundreds of thousands along the routes to the desert.

A common sight of deported Armenians from Ottoman Turkey during World War One (WWI). Source: United States Library of Congress digital collection.


While so many died due to exposure and starvation, others, mainly Armenian women and children, were abducted by tribes as they marched. Most were stripped of their Armenian identity, forced to change their names and abandon their Christian faith. Following the First World War, the League of Nations (predecessor of the United Nations) formed a commission to reclaim the tens of thousands of abducted Armenian women and children. Danish Missionary, Karen Jeppe, was appointed by the League as Commissioner for the Protection of Women and Children in the Near East. Over the course of a decade, Jeppe succeeded in rescuing thousands of abducted Armenian women and children. see

By 1923, as many as 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children had been killed or forced to abandon their cultural identity. A similar policy aimed against the Christian Greek and Assyrian populations of the Ottoman Empire resulted in the deaths and forced assimilation of hundreds of thousands of people. These events resulted in the transformation of a multi-cultural Ottoman society into a largely mono-ethnic Turkish nation state. It must be recognised that during this period there were many brave and righteous Turks who helped save the lives of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians from imminent death. For example, the Turkish governor of the Ottoman province of Kutahya, Ali Faik Ozansoy, refused to abide by the orders to deport the Armenians in his province in 1915. See and

Eyewitness reports of the atrocities came out immediately and were widely disseminated by newspapers, magazines and booklets. The Sydney Morning Herald, for instance, published more than 50 articles on the Armenian Genocide in 1915 alone. Australian Prisoners of War (POWs) held captive by the Ottoman Empire witnessed events surrounding the Armenian Genocide, while in Australia a number of prominent leaders and organisations established fundraising drives for the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

In May 1915, the Allied Powers (France, Britain and Russia) made a joint declaration that they would hold personally responsible all members of the Ottoman Turkish government, implicated in the massacres, for "crimes ... against humanity and civilisation". This term was codified and affirmed by the United Nations General Assembly a few decades later.

During the post-war period, the United States President Woodrow Wilson was appointed by these European powers to provide the newly formed republic of Armenia with a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide that would ensure Armenia’s self-sufficiency and sustainability. Trials were also held in Istanbul by Ottoman Turkish courts which found many members of the WW1 Ottoman leadership guilty of the Armenian atrocities. Many were convicted and sentenced to death in absentia.

Sadly, the disunity of the western powers towards the defeated Ottoman Empire, and the resurgence of a Turkish nationalist movement in 1919-22, thwarted any attempts to provide justice for the Armenians. Despite the post-war Ottoman Turkish Trials and the widespread recognition of the Armenian Genocide by historians and international legislative bodies, subsequent governments of Turkey have maintained a policy of denial of the historical truth of the Armenian Genocide.

In a further attempt to inflict pain on descendants of the Genocide, recent governments of Turkey have supported the implementation of an economic blockade of landlocked Armenia, causing economic sustainability issues and a declining population. Many view this policy as a continuation of the policy of eradicating the indigenous Armenian presence from the region.

Thus, descendants of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide together with those concerned with human rights are working for international recognition and condemnation of this "crime against humanity and civilisation". Many scholars, including Raphael Lemkin who coined the word Genocide in 1944, view the Armenian Genocide as providing a blueprint for the Jewish Holocaust and other genocides committed in the 20th and 21st centuries.

That's why the ongoing denial of this historic event makes it a critically important contemporary human-rights concern. The AGEWA hopes that through the education of past cases of genocide, future genocides can be prevented. See 'Rwanda: Genocide - Why remembering is Important', All Africa, 7 April 2013.


Recommended Readings:

Report by renowned Australian international jurist, Geoffrey Robertson Q.C., on the Armenian Genocide.

Robertson QC, Geoffrey, Was there an Armenian Genocide? Doughty Street Chambers, U.K, 2009.


Margaret Brearley uncovers the little-explored links between the Armenian massacres, antisemitism and the Holocaust.

Brearly, Margaret, 'The Forgotten Genocide', The Jewish Quarterly, 2006.


An analysis by leading expert on international law and human rights, Alfred de Zayas, on the Armenian massacres and its relevance to the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

De Zayas, Alfred, The Genocide Against the Armenians 1915-1923 and the relevance of the 1948 Genocide Convention.


Master's thesis on Australian press coverage of the Armenian Genocide by Vahe Kateb. Download thesis at


For a virtual reconstruction of Ottoman Armenian life before the Armenian Genocide of 1915 - 1923, visit


Student Exercise: Students are encouraged to conduct an independent search of Australian press coverage during the Armenian Genocide using Australian archival databases.

Go to and follow the research instructions under the National Library of Australia section.