In the early 1900s, the Ottoman Empire was on the brink of collapse, breeding skepticism stemming from the loyalty of the eastern Christian Armenians’ loyalty. During the first World War, the young Turk began engaging in deportations and mass killings of the Armenian people. While hundreds were deported to Syria, where most died during the journey, while others were brutally executed by the government’s forces.
For centuries, Eastern Anatolia - modern day Turkey - was occupied by Christian Armenians and Muslim Kurds. Until the beginning of the 11th century, Eastern Anatolia was ruled by Armenians, however at the turn of the 11th century, Tukic-speaking people began migrating to and invading Eastern Anatolia. In the 15th century, the area was taken over by the Turks and integrated into the vastly growing Ottoman Empire. Since the Ottoman millet system gave social and administrative autonomy to non-muslim minorities, the Armenians sustained their strong cultural identity, continuing to speak the Armenian language and participating in religious traditions.
At the beginning of the 20th century, about 2.5 million Armenians lived in Eastern Anatolia. They were not a majority in any of the areas they inhabited as they shared them with Kurdish nomads. Although their traditions were preserved because of the Ottoman millet system, life was still very difficult for the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The harsh behavior of the Kurdish nomads, the unfair treatment from the courts, and violence and theft of livestock and property became regular happenings. Armenians were also mostly peasants with a select few who had positions as artisans or merchants. This meant they had little to no influence on governmental decisions. This unfair treatment caught the attention of different countries around the world and led to different Armenian settlements in Europe and India.
Anti-Armenian sentiments caused massive violence outbursts throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1908, an ambitious group of revolutionaries with the Young Turks movement came into power. However, as time passed, their agenda became less tolerant of the non-Turk population. They suspected that the non-Turks, especially the Armenians, were connected to powerful foreign nations. With the increasing militant sentiment of the government and the loss at the First Balkan War in 1913 that led to the loss of nearly all the Ottoman territory in Europe, the loss was blamed on the Balkan Christians. This led to disputed between Muslim and Christian peasants over land. When World War 1 began, the Ottomans joined the Central Powers, and the Armenians fought alongside the Turks. When the Ottomans lost the battle of Sarıkamış against the Russians, the blame was attributed to Armenian treachery, even though the real reason for the loss was poor generalship and harsh conditions. Ottoman troops began senselessly killing unarmed Armenian soldiers. At the same time, mass killings rampaged villages near the Russian border. When resistance from the Armenians was built, it provided more reason for harsher treatment. Mass genocide, death marches, killing fields, concentration camps, and deportations became commonplace for the Armenian population.
On the 24th of April, President Biden marked the annual Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day by declaring that the mass killings of numerous Armeinan people were infact genocide. By doing so, not only did he fulfilled a campaign promise, but he also broke the streak of not speaking out about the Armenian genocide to prevent straining relations with a NATO ally like Turkey.
Turkey still refuses to admit that what happened was genocide. Rather, they portray the situation as deaths that occured because of civil unrest rather than ethnic cleansing. Considering that America doesn’t have the best relationship with Turkey, and Turkey’s shocked response to Biden’s acknowledgement, it is unclear if something of substance will come from Biden’s tradition-breaking stance.