Armenian genocide: disputed massacres of 1915-17

22nd December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Armenia and Turkey are at odds over whether the massacres and deportations of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 by their Ottoman rulers should be described as "genocide", as recognised by France, Canada, and the European Parliament.

In France, the first major European country to have recognised the genocide, lawmakers in the lower house on Thursday adopted a draft law to ban the denial of the genocide despite fierce warnings from Turkey of a diplomatic crisis and economic consequences.

In 2007 Switzerland banned denial of the Armenian genocide, in line with its anti-racist legislation.

Armenia says the massacres and deportations left more than 1.5 million of its people dead, while Turkey puts the number from 250,000 to 500,000.

Clashes with the Turks had already started at the end of the 19th century as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart, claiming 200,000 lives between 1894 and 1909, according to Armenian sources.

Then, in October 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I, at the side of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On April 24, 1915, thousands of Armenians suspected of having nationalist sentiments hostile to the central Ottoman government were rounded up. On May 26, a special law authorised deportations "for reasons of internal security".

The Armenian population of Anatolia and Cilicia, called by the Ottoman Empire "the enemy within", was forced into exile in the Mesopotamian desert with a large number of Armenians killed on the way or in the camps.

The Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1920, two years after the creation of an independent Armenian state in May 1918.

Turkey accepts today that massacres were carried out and that many Armenians were killed while being deported, but describes the bloodshed as civil strife.

It says the Armenians collaborated with the Russian enemy during World War I, and that tens of thousands of Turks were killed at their hands.

The European Parliament recognised the killings as genocide on June 18, 1987.

France in 2001 became the first large European state to follow suit through a law stating that "France publicly recognises the 1915 Armenian genocide", without stating that the Turks were responsible.

Among the countries or parliaments which have recognised the genocide are Uruguay (1965), the Russian Duma (1994), the Belgian Senate (1998), the Swiss lower house (2003), the Canadian House of Commons (2004), the Argentinian Senate (2005) and the Swedish parliament (2010).

In March 2010 a US Congress panel also recognised the genocide.

Today 3.2 million Armenians live in Armenia, while a diaspora of more than eight million Armenians has settled mainly in Russia, the Middle East, Canada, the United States and France.

© 2011 AFP

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