The 24th of April marks the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the first modern ethnic cleansing in history.
The roots of the Genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire can be traced back to the Tanzimât reforms in 19th century Ottoman Turkey.
“The (Ottoman) system remained largely unchanged throughout Ottoman history until 1839. That year saw the first proposals of an extended period of attempted legal, religious and administrative reform in the empire known as Tanzimât.
Tanzimât reached its zenith in 1856 when Sultan Abdülmecid I issued an Imperial Reform Edict designed to modernise Ottoman society. In addition to administrative reforms, the Edict introduced national-secular justice in place of religious tribunals which had been administered by individual Millets. It expanded property rights and the right to work in the civil service for non-Muslims, and for the first time created the idea of an Ottoman identity, which would be theoretically superior to one’s religiously defined ethnic one.
Although many of the reforms could rightly be seen as a move towards a more inclusive society, after centuries of suppressed minorities living under the whip hand of the Sultan’s most favoured subjects, many were unhappy.
They did not want Christian soldiers serving (as now required) in an Ottoman army, they wanted their own states with their own laws and their own armed forces.
Tanzimât had the unintended effect of increasing the support for independence movements among Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks who lived outside of the Kingdom of Greece and even Arabs who began to gradually consider the possibility of living under Arab rule rather than under an Ottoman Sultan.
The genie was out of the bottle. After years of living in separate and unequal Millets, Ottoman subjects were no longer content to continue living as such.
When the hard-line Sultan Abdul Hamid II came to power in 1876, he tried to reverse many of the changes which occurred during Tanzimât. In 1878 the new Sultan suspended the European style Constitution adopted in 1876 and began ruling as an absolute monarch.
It was during this time that Turks in the Empire began moving violently against ethnic minorities. This culminated in the Armenian Genocide of 1915 where both Turks and Kurdish irregulars systematically murdered over one and a half million Armenian men, women and children. Other minorities including Greeks and Assyrians were also slaughtered at this time”.
Things were beginning to slide into an even more perilous situation after the so-called Ottoman Coup of 1913. From this time until the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire became effectively ruled by a triumvirate of military tyrants known as The Three Pashas.
Mehmed Talaat Pasha, Ismail Enver Pasha and Ahmed Djemal Pasha ruled war-time Ottoman Turkey with an iron fist. The Sultan’s putative power became increasingly one of mere symbolism during this time.
In 1915, on the 24th of April, prominent Armenians, particularly scholars, were rounded up and arrested in Anatolia. This escalated into the wholesale slaughter of young, able bodied Armenian men which was in turn followed by protracted death marches of Armenian children, women and the elderly.
Those who survived the death marches through the deserts ended up in Syria, where local Arabs (both Christians and Muslims) gave what aid they could, to the dying Armenians.
Over one and a half million Armenians died during the systematic genocide.
Although the Turkish Republic, established by Ataturk in 1923 repudiated the rule of The Three Pashas and also abolished the position of the Sultan; the modern Turkish state has neither recognised nor atoned for the Armenian Genocide.
With the current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now able to rule Turkey as an effective autocrat after winning a recent Presidential Powers referendum, the much needed soul searching among Turks over the Armenian Genocide may now be more impossible than ever.
International recognition of the Armenian Genocide continues to be an unnecessary strain on geo-political relations.
Turkey has repeatedly put pressure on countries not to recognise the Armenian Genocide and this has left many countries at odds over the recognition of an objective act of horror wrought upon innocent civilians.
While Russia was among the earliest large states to recognise the genocide, the United States still does not; although many individual states of the US do so.
Until the wider world recognises this devastating historical event, Turkey will be allowed to play politics with a horrific act that ought to be recognised and condemned by the world and also atoned for by the modern Turkish leadership.