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The Armenian Genocide began in 1915 and lasted until 1918.  The Ottoman Turks historically discriminated against Armenians, but the trend towards constitutional governments in Europe led many Armenians to begin to ask for more equal rights under the government of the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1800s.  But a decline in the power of the Ottoman Empire and military losses experienced early in World War I caused the Ottoman government to use the Armenians as scapegoats for these problems, and the Armenian Genocide began. During this time, the government of the Ottoman Empire confiscated Armenian property, deported Armenians to Syria and Anatolia, and massacred large numbers of Armenians.  Many of those who were deported died of starvation.  Those who survived the deportation, like Mesrob Kloian and Khanum Palootzian, witnessed unimaginable brutalities.  The account of a Turkish army officer verifies this, as he tells how men, women and children alike were systematically shot or stabbed to death.  As many as 1.5 million Armenians perished as a result of this genocide, and after a second wave of deportations and massacres in the early 1920s, entire Armenian communities in Asia minor were completely destroyed. 

Despite international outrage at the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, no punitive action was taken against the Ottoman Empire to stop the genocide.  Armenians were publicly killed, and there exists a great deal of evidence that shows how brutal and numerous these killings were.  The genocide left the Armenian community in ruins, and present-day Armenia is only a fraction of the size of Armenia before the rue of the Ottoman Empire.

To this day, many nations including the United States do not call the slaughter of over one million Armenians genocide because, they argue, the government of the Ottoman Empire did not have a preconceived plan to exterminate the Armenians.  The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
    -Killing members of the group;
    -Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    -Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical             destruction in whole or in part;
    -Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    -[and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
It is illegal in Turkey (the country that now occupies the area where Armenia once existed) to discuss the Armenian genocide, yet many groups continue to call for the recognition of the genocide.  Aremaniangenocideposters.org hosts an annual competition to create a graphic representation of the importance of remembering the Armenian Genocide.  The posters are then displayed in countries that do not recognize the genocide. 

The importance of recognizing and contending with past genocides should not be overlooked.  The present-day Turkish government may fail to recognize the Armenian Genocide because they may want to look to the future rather than the past, and other nations like the United States may be concerned about present and future diplomatic relations with such a strategically located country.  However, examining the past and understanding the injustices inflicted on such a large number of people is a necessary component for ensuring the end of such brutalities.  In 1939, Adolf Hitler gave a talk to then-commander of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Goering, explaining the necessity of quickly and brutally invading Poland.  Hitler dismisses his use of violence by saying, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  Given that genocides still occur today, this question illuminates the importance of continuing to speak of these atrocities.

We are teacher education candidates at the University of Texas at Austin completing our Student as Historian assignment in order to meet course requirements for Secondary Advanced Social Studies Methods.

Alba Longoria and Lindsay Morris: Updated November 22, 2008