The Armenian Genocide refers to the deaths and deportations of between 700,000 and one million Armenians during and after WWI. Heightened tensions arose between the Ottoman government and its Armenian subjects beginning with the 1830 annexation of Eastern Armenia by Russia, triggering an Armenian cultural revival that led to the emergence of Armenian nationalism, which made claims to a homeland in Eastern Turkey. The genocide also reflects population policies instituted by the Young Turks to “Turkify” and homogenize the Turkish population. These policies were issued in the context of a weakened empire which was rapidly losing territory to encroaching European powers. Turkification and its proponents were also culpable in the deaths and expulsions of countless Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks, and to a lesser extent, Shi’a Muslims, Jews, and others in various locations within the dying Empire.
The Armenian Genocide is remembered as an immense trauma among contemporary Armenians, and has become deeply politicized. The ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide by the Turkish government suggests the strength of Turkish nationalism and nationalists’ identification with modernizing forces in the early 20th century. The predominant (though not uniform) Turkish view is that Armenians died as a result of an ongoing war between the Ottomans and Armenians, in which many Turks also perished, and that the estimate of Armenian deaths is exaggerated.
In Turkey, merely suggesting Turkish culpability has been enough to land activists and authors in prison for “insulting Turkishness.” External international pressures for Turkey to recognize the genocide trigger defensive nationalist responses among the wider public and politicians, the latter who emphasize that other nations’ recognition of the genocide threatens bilateral relations. For example, Turkish enthusiasm for membership in the European Union significantly waned when EU leaders made Turkish recognition of the genocide an unofficial condition for membership. Turkish leaders interpret efforts to force Turkish recognition of the genocide as evidence of exclusionary and sometimes racist and anti-Turkish politics. The genocide debate is thus at the heart of Turkish national identity, democratic and liberal transformation, and integration with Europe (the Ottoman Empire’s longstanding enemy). Relations between Turkey and Armenia remain strained.
Taner Akçam, From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide (London: Zed Books, 2004).
Dilaver Arıkan Açar and İnan Rüma, “External Pressure and Turkish Discourse on ‘Recognition of the Armenian Genocide,’” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3 (2007), pp. 449-465.
Lerna Ekmekcioglu, “A Climate for Adoption, A Climate for Redemption: The Politics of Inclusion during and after the Armenian Genocide,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 55, No. 3 (2013), pp. 522-553.