The Ottoman Empire

Page 6 – The Armenians' suffering

The Armenian people living in the Ottoman provinces of eastern Anatolia, like other non-Turkish and non-Muslim subjects of the Empire, had long suffered from systematic discrimination and, at times, harsh persecution. For them the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the First World War was to have particularly devastating consequences. Indeed, it is widely claimed that the Armenians were victims of a deliberate genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman authorities – an accusation that Türkiye continues to deny.

When war broke out leaders of the Muslim-majority Ottoman Empire feared the sympathies of many Armenians, particularly Orthodox Christians, lay with the neighboring Orthodox Christian-majority Russian Empire. The regime swiftly imposed repressive measures on Armenian communities and accused them of aiding the Russian enemy. In response, some Armenians joined guerrilla bands, leading to full-blown conflict in the Armenian city of Van in early 1915. 

The Ottoman leadership now accelerated plans to deport the entire Armenian population, staring with those in eastern Anatolia, to other areas of the empire, notably Syria. The deportations took more than a year to complete. The numbers involved are still a matter of controversy, but some estimate that between 800,000 and 1.2 million Armenian civilians were forcibly deported; the great majority of these did not survive their ordeal. Armenian survivors’ accounts are full of reports of large-scale massacres, deliberate starvation, beatings, rape, torture and, in the case of children and young women, abduction and forced conversion to Islam. These atrocities were independently confirmed by American, Swiss and other neutral Western observers. Some German military personnel attached to the Ottoman Army, outraged at what they had seen or heard, also spoke out.

To the Armenians, and to many foreign observers, the deportation order amounted to much more than a series of atrocities, no matter how individually shocking each was. To them the order was seen as instigating a deliberate policy of genocide. The leaders who ordered the deportations and the local Ottoman police, Jendarma paramilitaries and Kurdish auxiliaries who carried the orders out therefore stand accused of crimes against humanity. The government of the Republic of Türkiye, which today controls all of Anatolia, rejects the claim that their Ottoman predecessors deliberately committed genocide against their Armenian subjects. While conceding that thousands of Armenian civilians died, Turkish authorities claim these deaths were mainly due to unintentional neglect under wartime conditions.

The assessment of the deportations and other atrocities as a deliberate genocide is the official position of the modern-day Republic of Armenia, the Armenian diaspora all over the world, and the governments or parliaments of more than 30 countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany, Russia and France. The 24th of April, which marks the day in 1915 when Armenian intellectuals and leaders were rounded up and imprisoned in Constantinople (Istanbul), is commemorated by Armenians around the world as Genocide Remembrance Day.

How to cite this page

'The Armenians' suffering', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 26-Apr-2023