By Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi
Between 1894 and 1924, the number of Christians in Asia Minor fell from some 3-4 million to just tens of thousands — from 20 percent of the area’s population to under 2%. Turkey has long attributed this decline to wars and the general chaos of the period, which claimed many Muslim lives as well. But the descendants of Turkey’s Christians, many of them dispersed around the world since the 1920s, maintain that the Turks murdered about half of their forebears and expelled the rest.
The Christians are correct. Our research verifies their claims: Turkey’s Armenian, Greek and Assyrian (or Syriac) communities disappeared as a result of a staggered campaign of genocide beginning in 1894, perpetrated against them by their Muslim neighbors. By 1924, the Christian communities of Turkey and its adjacent territories had been destroyed.
Over the past decade, we have sifted through the Turkish, U.S., British and French archives, as well as some Greek materials and the papers of the German and Austro- Hungarian foreign ministries. This research has made it possible to document a strikingly consistent pattern of ethno-religious atrocity over three decades, perpetrated by the Turkish government, army, police and populace.
The concentrated slaughter of Turkey’s Armenians in 1915-16, commonly known as the Armenian genocide, is well documented and acknowledged (outside of Turkey, which still bitterly objects to the charge). But the Armenian genocide was only a part, albeit the centerpiece, of a larger span of elimination that lasted some 30 years. Our work provides the first detailed description and analysis of the 1894-96 massacres and the destruction of the region’s Greek and remaining Armenian communities in 1919-24 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic.
The bloodshed was importantly fueled throughout by religious animus. Muslim Turks — aided by fellow Muslims, including Kurds, Circassians, Chechens and Arabs — murdered about two million Christians in bouts of slaughter immediately before, during and after World War I. These massacres were organized by three successive governments, those of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, the Young Turks and, finally, Atatürk. These governments also expelled between 1.5 and 2 million Christians, mostly to Greece.