The Forgotten Holocaust: 47 Heartbreaking Photos From The Armenian Genocide

In the seven decades since the Holocaust, thunderstruck scholars and laypeople alike have consistently asked themselves how it could have happened. What far too few realize, however, is that just two and half decades before, something like it already had.

The Lead Up To The Armenian Genocide

Between 1915 and 1923, the Ottoman and Turkish governments systematically exterminated approximately 1.5 million Armenians, leaving hundreds of thousands more homeless and stateless, and altogether virtually wiping out the more than 2 million Armenians present in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Things came to a head in that year but had been building for decades beforehand, with the majority Muslim government routinely marginalizing the Christian Armenians. By the turn of the 20th century, with the Ottoman Empire in economic and political decline, many of its impoverished Muslims began looking at the relatively well-off Armenians with even greater scorn.

On April 24, 1915, the trouble began when Ottoman authorities rounded up and ultimately killed about 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders living in present-day Turkey. A month later, the government passed the Temporary Law of Deportation (“Tehcir Law”), giving them the power to forcibly remove their Armenian population.

However, most weren’t merely removed.

Many were stripped of their possessions then marched into the surrounding desert and left there to die without food, water, or shelter. Many others were slaughtered in mass burnings, drownings, and gassings right there in their villages. Others still were transported via railway to one of about two dozen concentration camps in the empire’s eastern region, where they were starved, poisoned, or otherwise dispatched en masse.

It was the first modern genocide in world history.

In fact, in 1943, in the midst of the Holocaust, Polish legal scholar Raphael Lemkin coined the very word genocide to describe what the Ottomans had done to the Armenians.

Three years later, in response to the Holocaust, the United Nations affirmed that genocide was a crime under international law.

A Lack Of International Recognition

However, in the six decades since, officially affirming the Armenian Genocide as a genocide has proven extraordinarily thorny. The UN did officially recognize the genocide in 1985, with other organizations like the European Parliament and the International Association of Genocide Scholars joining in not long after. Most countries, however, have not followed suit.

Today, just 28 of the world’s 195 independent states recognize the genocide, with the United States and the United Kingdom among those that do not.

Now, it’s not that the vast majority of the world’s countries dispute the factuality of the genocide, it’s that they don’t want to harm diplomatic relations with the one main country that does: Turkey.

The modern-day successor of the government that committed the genocide, Turkey remains completely unwilling to recognize it as such, insisting instead that the events remain justifiably non-genocidal given the passage of the Tehcir Law and considering the context of World War I.

Today, 101 years later, Turkey remains steadfast. Just this summer, for example, Turkey officially denounced Germany’s resolution to recognize the genocide as “null and void” and temporarily removed their ambassador from the country.

Of course, Germany claimed to have made their resolution largely to admit their own culpability in the genocide as a wartime ally of the Ottoman Empire. And it’s only fitting that Germany would take such a step, given that officially and fully taking responsibility for the Holocaust has become an essential part of Germany’s global geopolitics since the end of World War II.

But when it comes to accepting responsibility — and thus moving on — the Armenian Genocide remains an historical orphan.

And although Turkey won’t accept responsibility for it, many other countries won’t recognize it, and far more people aren’t even aware of it, the Armenian Genocide remains among the most indisputably tragic episodes in modern history. The heartrending photos above are ample proof of that.

An Armenian woman kneels beside her dead child near Aleppo, Syria, circa 1915-1919.
Armenians lined up in the streets of Malatia, circa 1918. Nearly all were soon taken into the desert and killed.
An Armenian mother sits next to the wrapped corpses of her five children.
While the genocide didn’t begin until 1915, trouble had been brewing between the ruling class of the Ottoman Empire and Armenian Christians for years.
In fact, in April 1909, six years before the genocide began, Turkish Muslims in support of Islamic Sultan Abdul Hamid II killed between 20,000 and 30,000 Armenian Christians who largely opposed the Sultan in the Adana region in modern-day Turkey (aftermath pictured).
The genocide started in earnest in 1915, largely under the orders of Mehmed Talaat Pasha, one of the three de facto leaders of the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
He enacted the two measures widely credited with initiating Armenian Genocide: the mass arrest of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople on April 24, 1915 and the Tehcir Law that called for mass deportations on May 30, 1915.
Soon after those orders came down, Armenians would be ordered to gather in the square of their city, after which they were to be marched out of town and killed en masse.
In 1915, several hundred Armenian villagers on Musa Mountain managed to resist 20,000 Turkish troops for several weeks. They were all eventually killed.
The Ottoman Turks restricted photography and reporting during the genocide, but news of the atrocities spread due to the pictures taken by American and other international aid workers.
The Armenian Genocide began with the murder of 300 Armenian leaders, writers, thinkers, and professionals in Constantinople. At that time, 5,000 of the poorest Armenians were also slaughtered in neighborhoods.
Armenian deportees marched through Turkey.
Victims’ bodies lie on the ground at an unspecified location in the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire, circa mid-1915.
Armenian orphans holding their daily allotment of bread at a refugee camp in Aleppo, Syria.
Armenian doctors hanged in Aleppo Square, 1916.
Armenian and Greek refugee children lay eyes upon the sea for the first time, near Marathon, Greece, following their departure from Turkey, circa 1915-1916.
Refugee camp in the Caucasus region, December 1920.
Across the Armenian region, the genocide left piles of corpses, skulls, bones, and even severed heads.
Armenians display the flag they used to signal for help during their resistance effort at Musa Dagh, Turkey before being evacuated to Port Said, Egypt in September 1915.
Armenian orphans on the playground of the “Orphan City” (population 30,000) in Alexandropol (now Gyumri), Armenia, circa 1919-1930.
A Turkish police officer (front, center) holds rugs he’d stolen from the Armenians he’s marching into the desert.
A Starving Armenian Child in Kharberd, 1915. Hungry orphaned Armenian children filled the streets during the conflict.
Armenian children whose parents had been killed during the genocide pose at an orphanage in Merzifon, Tukey, 1918.
Some of the West remained unaware of the genocide as it was happening. However, a number of key reports from The New York Times helped bring the tragedy to light.
Armenian refugee children in Syria who have repurposed flour sacks as clothing, 1915.
Those who survived the death marches, massacres, and starvation were sent to a network of 25 concentration camps. Situated along Turkey’s present-day borders with Iraq and Syria, were used as temporary transit points or for mass graves. Most who came through them did not last more than a few days.
Armenian refugees manage to find some food in the Hauran area of Syria.
Armenian refugees just after receiving clothing aid, circa 1915-1920.
Survivors of the genocide who escaped to Jerusalem, 1918.
The corpses of a tortured Armenian woman and child lie on the ground at an unspecified location, circa October 1915.
Armenian refugees at the American relief hospital in Aleppo, Syria, January 1920.
Group of Armenian Men, Just Before Being Burned and Massacred, 1915
Turkish police lead Armenians through the desert of the Mamuret-ul-Aziz administrative division of the Ottoman Empire, circa 1918.
An Armenian woman and child receive food relief, circa 1915-1916.
An Armenian refugee camp in Syria, circa 1915-1916.
In Athens, Greece, Armenian and Greek refugee children who’d been expelled from Turkey, 1923.
Armenian refugee children in Syria, 1915.
An Armenian refugee with her children in Syria, 1915.
Deported Armenian orphans.
Armenian Children Eating Boiled Rice Supplied by the American Committee, 1919
Crowded conditions for Armenian refugees in Syria preparing to leave for Greece, 1915.
Armenian women sew blankets in Yerevan, Armenia, circa 1915-1920.
Armenian refugees in Syria, 1915
Armenian widows and children, circa 1915-1920.
Armenian orphans awaiting transport to Greece, 1918.
Despite such atrocities, most of the world’s nations (including the genocide’s aggressor, Turkey) do not officially acknowledge the genocide.
Pictured: The mere 28 nations whose governments have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, with dark green indicating national government recognition and light green indicating regional government recognition (45 out of the 50 U.S. states recognize the genocide).
Nevertheless, 100 years later, the genocide’s wounds are still very real in Armenia, where citizens pay tribute year in and year out.
Pictured: Women attend a religious service at the cathedral in Etchmiadzin, outside Yerevan, on April 23, 2015, ahead of the canonization ceremony for the Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.
Armenians lay flowers at the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan, Armenia for the 101st anniversary on April 24, 2016 in Yerevan, Armenia.
People participate in a torchlight procession through Yerevan, Armenia to commemorate the anniversary of the genocide on April 24, 2015.

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