ISTANBUL — On April 24, 1915, Ottoman Turkish authorities hauled off Daniel Varoujan, a leading Armenian poet of the time, along with over 200 other intellectuals in the capital Constantinople. To the crumbling Ottoman Empire, the poets, painters, writers, booksellers and politicians at the beating heart of the Armenian community posed too much of a threat.
Soon, much of the empire’s Christian Armenian population would be targeted and nearly wiped out, accused of conspiring against the empire with the Russians. Many Armenians say the genocide was collective punishment for the actions of a few.
In August, after a wave of deportations began that would force hundreds of thousands of Armenians on brutal death marches toward the Syrian desert, Varoujan was tortured to death, according to eyewitnesses at the time. Varoujan was just one of many men, women and children who lost their lives.
This week, Armenians from around the world are gathering in Istanbul to commemorate the deaths of nearly 1.5 million Armenians who died in what would later be known by many — but not by Turkey, the United States and some other countries — as the Armenian Genocide. A century on, the killings are hardly a thing of the past, with sensitive geopolitics still fueling the controversy.
Regardless of how it’s labeled, here are some figures that explain the size and scope of this tragedy:
The number of Armenians believed to have been killed between 1915 and 1917.
“Rape and beating were commonplace,” wrote acclaimed historian David Fromkin in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the Ottoman Empire’s downfall, A Peace to End All Peace. “Those who were not killed at once were driven through mountains and deserts without food, drink or shelter. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians eventually succumbed or were killed.”
An Armenian man in Istanbul, who as a schoolboy discovered his family was Armenian, told The WorldPost one story passed down to him by his parents: His grandfather, too exhausted to walk any farther in the death march toward the Syrian desert, refused to go on. He would rather drown than walk another mile to his death, he told the Turkish Ottoman guards. And so, the man says, they held his grandfather under the water until he was dead.
The number of intellectuals reportedly rounded up by Ottoman Turks on April 24, 1915, in Constantinople (now Istanbul), kicking off what would become a massive wave of arrests, deportations and killings. Many of these Armenians were later deported and in many cases killed. Armenians commemorate the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide every year on April 24.
“They took the intellectuals, the cream of the crop,” one Armenian book publisher who said his father, a baker, lived in Constantinople when the arrests took place, recently told The WorldPost. “They took the head and left the body.”
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