University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


The Armenian Genocide in the U.S. Archives 1915-1918

Events Leading to 1915 - 1923 Genocide

Armenian GirlUntil the early twentieth century Armenian civilization had existed on the Armenian Plateau for three millennia. Since the 14th Century CE, the Armenian people had lived in relative security as an ethnic minority within the Ottoman Empire. But in the nineteenth century, the Armenians of Turkey underwent a political, social, and inteilectual awakening that introduced them to the main currents of Western ideas their world was shaken by the forces of political reform, modern education, and nationalism.

The cost of this awakening was dear. It ruptured permanently the centuriesold relationship with the Turks that had ensured the survival of the Armenians. Indeed, the new ideas so threatened and infuriated ruling Turks that between 1894 and World War I they indiscriminately massacred thousands of Armenia and hundreds of thousands more Armenians fled the atrocities and shattered economy of Turkey Russia, Western Europe and the United States.


The Exterminations

The evening of April 24, 1915 marked the beginning of the extermination of the Armenians in Turkey. That night the police arrested hundreds of leaders of the Armenian community. They were imprisoned and executed without trial. In a brief period the leadership of over two million Armenians was eliminated. With the national leadership gone, the Armenians in the interior became an easy target. Possessions were behind as all women and children were escorted by Turkish horsemen south towards the Syrian de! (Der el Zor) without food or water, while the men were sent off in another direction to their death.

The Genocide of 1915 was the most tragic event in the last six centuries of Armenian history.  The Genocide has affected every Armenian living today. Their parents and grandparents were driven out their homeland after inhabiting it for over 3000 years, and every attempt was made to destroy any evidence that they ever even existed.

The word "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944 to describe the extermination of European Jewry by Nazi Germany:

"Genocide is a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of life of the national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves."

The UN Convention of December, 1948, Article II: means any of the following acts with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  1. Killing members of the group.
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

The Deaths

Public execution of an Armenian couple, 1915-1916 (Censored).

A starving Armenian mother dying with her two children, 1915-1916 (Censored).