The Armenian Holocaust was the first genocide of the twentieth century; it decimated the Armenian Christians inhabiting Turkey and accounted for almost ten percent of Turkey's population at that time. History books choose to focus on the massacres that took place from 1915 through 1917 during the Great War; what is often overlooked is the suffering the Armenians endured forty years prior to the war. The aim of this essay is to understand the history prior to the genocide, the reasons for it and the massacres against the Armenians during the war.
The first topic to address is the history prior to genocide. In 1876 the Ottoman Empire fell into the hands of the new Sultan Abdul Hamid II, a man who openly expressed his distain toward Armenians, often referred to them as an "anathema" or abomination.1 Arminius Vambery, a Jewish born atheist and friend of the Sultan tells of a peaceful meeting between the two where Sultan Hamid openly says to Vambery that he intends to give the Armenians a "box on the ear [the eventual massacres] which will make them smart and relinquish their revolutionary ambitions."2 In reference to the revolutionary ambitions Hamid spoke of, in the mid-1880s new generations of Armenian youth began returning to Turkey after receiving European university educations. Upon their return, these youth began to push for reforms in the political realm. These reforms included the Armenian right to vote, an increase in protection from the Sultan, and an end to Christian specific taxes.3 .
In the summer of 1890, the Armenian youth founded a new political party dedicated to providing a voice for the Christians known as the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). This new party quickly irritated the Sultan and during a peaceful protest in a cathedral in the Turkish city of Erzurum, the Sultan dispatched a battalion to attack the protesters killing over a dozen and wounding over two hundred.