100 Years Ago Today: Relief for Armenian Genocide Survivors

Salida Mail, Volume XXXVIII, Number 68, February 4, 1919

Not mentioned in this Chaffee County relief fund drive article is the phrase Armenian Genocide, although that is what most historians and scholars today agree took place in Armenia from 1915-1918. The death toll of the genocide is estimated between 800,000 to 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

armenia map
Wikimedia Commons

However, these mass killings couldn’t be called a genocide at the time because the term didn’t actually exist in 1919. Raphael Lemkin coined the term in 1944 in his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The word is a Greek/Latin hybrid, combining the Greek word genos (race) with the Latin cide (killing) to make genocide, or race killing. Lemkin saw the Armenian Genocide as a precursor to the Holocaust that took place 20 years later, and he ensured that the term was included in the Nuremberg documents after WWII.

The article points to “murders, arson and other cruelties practiced upon [Armenians].” Those targeted who were not killed were driven out of the country to the mountains and deserts where many starved to death. Those who survived either returned to Armenia after WWI, or they are now part of the Armenian diaspora that is estimated at 10 million people.

The genocide began on April 24, 1915, when Ottoman Turks rounded up 250 Ottoman Armenian intellectuals in the Ottoman capital of Constantinople and deported or executed them. Today, April 24th is known as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

Some of the Armenian intellectuals who were rounded up on April 24, 1915 and deported or executed

Over the next five years, Armenians were systematically killed on Ottoman government’s orders through the use of Death Marches, Concentration Camps, Mass Burnings, Drownings, and a Special Organization who was only special in their ability to kill mercilessly.

The New York Times reported thoroughly on these mass killings with 145 articles in the year 1915 alone. Theodore Roosevelt condemned the hypocrisy of the U.S. for keeping Turkey as an ally while knowing that they were committing what he called “the greatest crime of the war” and yet asking for permission to help the survivors.

Newspaper clipping: MILLION ARMENIANS KILLED OR IN EXILE; American Committee on Relief Says Victims of Turks Are Steadily Increasing; POLICY OF EXTERMINATION; More Atrocities Detailed in Support of Charge That Turkey Is Acting Deliberately.
New York Times headline, December 15, 1915

Just don’t bring this Armenian Genocide up with Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman Empire, who denies that the massacres were a genocide. Turkey denies the 1.5 million killed figure, and they maintain that actions taken against Christian Armenians were in response to these Armenians siding with Allied power, Russia, in opposition to the Central power aligned Ottoman Empire at the start of WWI.

Notably, the U.S. still has not called it a genocide, likely because it doesn’t want to alienate Turkey as an ally. There is a fear in Turkey that if they call the mass killings and deportations a genocide now then they will be forced to pay massive reparations.

100 years ago today, Chaffee County citizens were called upon to send money to the Armenian relief fund in order to provide aid to the survivors of the (contested) Armenian Genocide that resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks during WWI.