The Armenian Genocide, 1915

In the early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire stretched across three continents. It was largely an agricultural society, the Sultan’s reign was far from absolute and in some remote regions local rulers enjoyed a comparatively large degree of autonomy. At the height of its power the empire counted  29 provinces, each subdivided into towns and cities, districts and villages.

Ottoman society included a huge diversity of ethnic and religious groups, who based their identity largely on their religious convictions: people were viewed first and foremost as Muslim, Jew or Christian.

The Ottoman Armenians formed a mixed community: a rich Armenian trader in Istanbul may have spoken several languages and travelled abroad frequently, whereas a poor Armenian peasant from one of the villages in Eastern Anatolia may only have spoken Armenian and barely travelled at all.

Most Armenians were Apostolic Christians, although in some cities they were Protestant or Catholic. Armenians lived mainly in the eastern provinces, in a huge area stretching from Sivas in the west to Van in the east, and from Trabzon in the north to Aleppo in the south. Here they lived side by side with Kurds, Turks, Arabs and others.

Just before the First World War around two million Christian Armenians were living in the Ottoman Empire. In the spring of 1915, the Ottoman government initiated measures which signalled the start of the persecution of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

By the end of the First World War only a fraction of the pre-war Armenian community was left in the region and today there are hardly any Armenians in the Anatolian interior. These bare facts sum up the complex history of the Armenian genocide in a nutshell.

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Armenian looking at the human remains at Der el-Zor, 1916
Deportation of Armenians on the Baghdad railway