During World War I, the declining Ottoman Empire began the systematic deportation and elimination of its Armenian population. This operation continued until 1923, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, leaving the Republic of Turkey in its place. By this point, the Armenian population in the region had almost all but disappeared.
Armenians had always been considered second-class citizens in the Ottoman Empire; they were unable to hold political positions and had to pay a tax for being Christians in a Muslim state. However, with the empire losing territory and prestige in the beginning of the 20th century, a coup put the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) into power in 1913. Founded on ultra-nationalistic ideas, the new government steered the nation into stronger diplomatic relations with an aggressive Imperial Germany and began reclaiming lands belonging to the Russians that were occupied by Turkish people. The CUP valued the power of a wholly united state and began massacring citizens of non-Turkish descent.
At the start of World War I, entering on the side of the Central Powers, the Ottoman Empire used the excuse of war to implement a genocidal program against the Armenian population. This program had two phases; phase one involved eliminating all the able-bodied men through massacres and forced labor, while the second phase sent the remaining population on death marches into the Syrian Desert under the guise of a relocation program. Raids on these mass deportations, resulting in the rape, murder and theft of its marchers, were frequent and often funded for by government officials. The goals of this program were to not only isolate and eliminate the Armenian race from Ottoman society, but also to give the government control over the people’s material possessions and land.
It is estimated that between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1914 and 1918. Several towns resisted deportation, and several programs such as the U.S.’s Near East Relief sent aid that saved some lives. Many architects and perpetrators of the genocide were arrested and tried in military tribunals. Even so, since becoming the Republic of Turkey, the Turkish government has refused to acknowledge what took place. This leads to national and international issues, including discord in their diplomatic relationship with France, who tried to pass a law making denial of the genocide illegal.
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