The year is 1915 and a dark moment in history goes almost unnoticed by most of the world. One of the things I love about art is how it can shine on moments in history that you didn’t know about. Lots of cities and towns have statues dedicated to people and events that have long passed. On a recent trip to Philadelphia to do some sightseeing I came upon a statue that reminded me of an event that isn’t talked about much. The statue is located right next door to the Philadelphia Museum of Art so it is not hard to find.
So what happened in 1915? the following events happened actually in roughly the time period of 1915 to 1923, during which some 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated in and around present day Turkey. Yeah that’s a lot of people and while there are memorials around the world to this event it is rarely spoken of among the general population here in the United States.
This genocide happened during and after World War 1 in two different parts. The first in which men were massacred and the second in which women, children and the sick were sent on death marches towards the Syrian Dessert. Unlike the German government which recognizes the Holocaust, the Turkey says that the word genocide isn’t the right word for what happened.
This Armenian Genocide was such a large annihilation of a people that the term genocide was coined just for these crimes against humanity. The Armenian people long second class people within the Ottoman Empire, the largely Christian in a Muslim land slowly started to demand freedom which always leads to trouble. While a lot of backstory is needed to fully understand what lead to the genocide, let me give you a super brief understanding of what happened.
In 1912 the Balkan war broke out and the Ottoman Empire lost. Many Muslims were forced out of the Balkans and into areas where the Armenian were already located. A clash of different people was of course was just a matter of course.
I’m not going to go in to great detail as to what happened, a good search on the subject can be found at the crimes against the Armenian people. But here are a key points that I found interesting or horrific.
- On April 19 1915 the city of Van was ordered to furnish 4,000 soldiers. The city knew it was just an excuse to send out the men so that the city could be taken.
- On the 23rd of April,1915 on a day known as Red Sunday, about 250 leaders of the Armenian community in Constantinople were rounded up and most were later assassinated. Many mark this as the starting date of the genocide.
- On may 29 1915, the Ottoman passed the Tehcir Law, which allowed the government to deport anyone who it thought as a threat to national security.
- Franz Gunther who worked the bank that was funding a railway in Baghdad, wrote of seeing people crammed into cattle cars and the frustration of having to remain silent.
- Military commanders told their men to do whatever they wish with the women being deported.
- 25 different concentration camps were set up to take care of those who made the trek.
There was much awful crimes that happened but this is a topic that is not often talked about like I said. There are many who still deny that it happened or that the Armenian people have blown it out of proportion. History isn’t pretty and history can be written in a way that clouds what really happened but this really did happen. Even if you don’t make it to one of the many memorials in the world to this genocide, take the time to understand what happened and why it’s important to try to keep it from happening again.
This monument was dedicated on April 24 in 1976.