Under cover of the First World War, the brutal Ottoman Turks determined to solve the "Armenian Question" once for all. Ancient Armenia was the first nation in the world to embrace Christianity. The Armenians lived and suffered in Asia Minor long before the rise of the Turks. Their descendants were prosperous traders, craftsmen and shopkeepers. In 1895 the Turks massacred many Armenians. Now, in 1915, egged on by Germany, they claimed that this Christian race was a danger to their national unity, and decided to do away with them all. Since Armenians were not allowed to own firearms (Muslims were), they were unable, except in rare instances, to defend themselves.
Although the Turks are Muslim, ethnic cleansing and greed more than religion seem to have been the main motives for the horrors that followed. However, there was no Islamic outcry to stop the massacres. A few Muslim governors who refused to kill the helpless Christians were dismissed and replaced by cruel and greedy "patriots."
Turkey "deported" Armenians into "exile" in the desert. Usually they butchered the men outright and herded the women and children back and forth until they dropped from thirst and exhaustion. They gave many women and children over to neighboring Arabs and Kurds to kill and plunder. Sordid Turks raped pretty Armenian girls openly in the streets--even even in front of foreign visitors--or sold them as slaves or concubines into homes where they were forced to convert to Islam. Police and soldiers amused themselves by torturing helpless Armenians.
On this day, March 9, 1915, Interior Minister Talaat issued the following directive to the city of Aleppo, where Turks had spared lives in return for bribes: "All rights of the Armenians to live and work on Turkish soil have been completely cancelled, and with regard to this the Government takes all responsibility on itself, and has commanded that even babes in the cradle are not to be spared. The results of carrying out this order have been seen in some provinces. In spite of this, for reasons unknown to us, exceptional measures are being taken with 'Certain People,' [Armenians who bought their lives] and those people instead of being sent straight to the place of exile [the desert] are left in Aleppo, whereby the Government is involved in an additional difficulty. [people left alive who still have to be gotten rid of somehow] Without listening to any of their [Armenian] reasoning, remove them thence--women or children, whatever they may be, even if they are incapable of moving; and do not let the people [Turks] protect them, because, through their ignorance, they place material gains [bribes] higher than patriotic feelings, and cannot appreciate the great policy of the Government in insisting upon this. Because instead of the indirect measures of extermination used in other places--such as severity, haste (in carrying out the deportations), difficulties of travelling and misery--direct measures [outright killing] can safely be used there [Aleppo], so work heartily."
After assuring Aleppo authorities that the army would not interfere, Talaat closed, "Tell the officials that are to be appointed for that purpose that they must work to put into execution our real intent, without being afraid of responsibility. Please send cipher reports of the results [death counts] of your activities every week. Minister of the Interior, Talaat."
Talaat's vicious plan succeeded. Dr. Martin Niepage, a German teacher in Aleppo, tried to stop the massacre, but saw thousands driven into deportation and hundreds herded behind barbed wire where they died of starvation and thirst. Altogether, one and a half million Armenians--a number equivalent to the population of Philadelphia--were killed all across Turkey, despite the pleas of the pope, European allied countries and the United States.
- Azadian, Libarid and Donoyan, Armen. The Armenian Massacre. Glendale, California: Navasart, 1987.
- Niepage, Martin. The Horrors of Aleppo. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1917.
- Olasky, Marvin. "Prove Hitler Wrong; Remember Ottoman Turkey's slaughter of Armenian Christians." World (October 23, 2004).
- Toynbee, Arnold J. Armenian Atrocities; the murder of a nation. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915.
Last updated May, 2007.