April 24, 2014 marked the Ninety-ninth commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, which Armenians refer to as Martyr’s Day. On this day in 1915, Turkish authorities rounded up Armenian artists and intellectuals in Constantinople in a precursor to the state sponsored mass slaughter of Turkey’s Armenian population. Although official estimates vary, most historians agree that somewhere around one million Armenians perished in what was the first genocide of the Twentieth Century (in fact, the person who coined the term “genocide” used the Armenian massacres as a basis of study).
In the years preceding World War I, the Turks began to lose their empire’s territorial holdings in Europe, as previously subject peoples asserted their independence from what had been the Ottoman Empire. In 1913 the Young Turks took power. They were afraid that the Armenians would assert independence in Turkey’s Asian lands. The Young Turks soon plotted the extermination of the Armenians, using the turmoil of World War I as a cover. First, the Turks stripped the Armenians of their arms, using Armenian sympathy with Russia and a few scattered Armenian uprisings as a pretext. Then, Armenian men serving with the Turkish army were placed in slave labor. The Turks rounded up Armenian men between the ages of twelve to sixty and killed them. This left the women and children defenseless. The women and children were then forced to march hundreds of miles along the Euphrates River and through the desert to Syria. Along the way, Turkish gendarmes attacked Armenians and also allowed Kurds and Turks to attack them. The Armenians were denied food and water. A million or so Armenians died. My own grandfather was dressed up as a girl and hidden with a kind Turkish family until he could get out of Turkey.
The newspapers of the United States reported heavily on the Armenian Genocide. The New York Times was in the forefront of this reporting, and articles concerning the Genocide are now freely available on their website. Denver’s newspapers also reported on the Genocide and helped to raise money for Armenian refugees and orphans. In March 1918, Denver locals campaigned for Sacrifice Week. During this week, fraternal organizations, women’s groups, and local high school organizations went house to house, asking for money to send to the Near East. The Rocky Mountain News reported that Denver children alone donated over $16,000.
Today many nations, forty-three states in the United States, the European Parliament and the overwhelming majority of scholars recognize the Armenian Genocide. While the government of Turkey still denies that the Genocide occurred, many Turks commemorate it. Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk was charged with treason for statements recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Turkish historians have written some of the most important Armenian Genocide scholarship in recent years, and Dr. Eran Gunduz visited the Armenian Genocide memorial in Yerevan just yesterday. Turkey’s wartime ally Germany has also recognized the Genocide, has opened its archives to scholars, and has called on Turkey to recognize its wartime atrocities. Although nearly every modern presidential candidate, including Barack Obama, has pledged to recognize the Armenian Genocide upon election, none have (due, one would suspect, to strategic military alliances with Turkey). Regardless of today’s historical discussion, it’s good to know that back in the day, the people of Denver did their part to aid the “Starving Armenians.” To find more articles about history, Western and non, come to Western History and Genealogy.