This general discrimination on the part of the Ottoman Empire against the Christian-majority Armenians eventually gave way to actual violence when Armenians declared that as Christians, they wanted and deserved more rights and to have a greater share in the wealth and benefits of being part of the Ottoman Empire. This demand caused an immediate backlash from the Sultan Abdu L-Hamid II, the figure who has also disbanded Armenia’s one grasp at autonomy which lay in their parliamentary system, who ordered forces to descend into Armenia and quell the minor rebellion. This effort resulted in the deaths of what some estimates predict as being close to 300,000 Armenians and this event is remembered as the Hamidian Massacres—a violent act on the part of the Ottoman Empire that created anger and outrage among Armenians and that spawned the Young Turk Revolution. Notable as one of the most influential rebellions in modern history, this revolutionary movement, which eventually brought together numerous other interest groups under the banner of the Committee of Union and Progress, restored the parliament and significantly weakened the Ottoman Empire, which was bracing for the onset of the First World War. While their movement was successful, it naturally caused violent counteraction from the Turks, who immediately descended upon Armenian centers, arresting and often murdering notable public figures and key intellectuals. This violent attack then moved on throughout Armenia and produced the estimated 1.5 million deaths as a result of direct raids and aftermath that were concentrated in certain regions (such as Anatolia) and that indirectly killed hundreds of thousands of others from the resulting wave of hunger, disease, and mass displacement.

One of the most brutal portions of the Armenian Genocide, which is known as the Adana Holocaust, occurred literally under the eyes of allied ships quarters just off of the coast of Adana in Mersin. Due to a series of reasons given for inaction (a lack of consensus among the navy leaders about when and how to act, individual national interests in the regions, and an inability to define what was happening or recognize the magnitude of it) the genocide was completely unhindered. In fact, this surprised absence of the feared United States and English ships, among others, bringing their troops onto the ground to halt the conflict, “was not only a great relief to the perpetrators, but an incentive to renew the carnage with even greater ferocity” (Dadrian 183). As a result of this massive inaction on the part of the United States, during this particularly brutal phase of the genocide, the Turkish army, supplied with a fresh onslaught of new troops, targeted the already very weakened and defenseless Adana. During this attack they made it a stated priority to attack public institutions such as hospitals and schools first. This was a particularly brutal and savage act and “the overwhelming majority of the twenty-five thousand Armenian victims of the Adana Holocaust in fact died at the is stage of the perpetration of mass murder” (Dadrian 183). Even after over one century has passed since these events, historians and activists supporting “Armenian Holocaust Day” in April are finally influencing new official recognition that what occurred was actually genocide. Until recently, the official position has been that while it was indeed state-sponsored murder, the Armenian genocide was more akin to a bloody civil war. Those who deny this as a holocaust argue that because of the high death rate to due starvation and exhaustion from “relocation” marches for endless miles and the conflict as essentially political (as opposed to ethnic) in nature, it could not be completely qualified as “true” genocide (Hovannisian 201).

Even after learning about the tragic genocide at Adana that occurred just miles away from the stationing of American and Allied warships, the United States was slow to respond. While rousing speeches on the part of human rights leaders aided in the food and monetary collection efforts to alleviate the suffering for a fellow Christian nation, the government sat on its hands, almost as though waiting for someone else to act first. This inaction, along with the Adana event that warranted no significant response, was more apparent when a letter from the front lines written by an American consul in 1917 directly stated that he had, with his own eyes, seen the bodies of tens of thousands of Armenians dumped into an open pit in the ground (Balakian 244). Although the United States in its tentative alliance with Turkey did have political cause to hesitate, the fact that it did not act, even as more (and increasingly appalling) statements came forth from eyewitnesses. “The historiography of this carnage is marked by crude controversy” (Bloxham 142) and denial of what was occurring was not only ignored in the immediate context of the crisis, but questioned for decades thereafter.

It has been suggested that there are clear connections between the lackluster response of the United States immediately following knowledge that genocidal actions were being taken in Armenia and the relatively unhindered beginning of the Nazi’s “final solution” of the Jewish population. As one historian points out how, “the low impact of the destruction of one million Armenians on modern public consciousness raises serious questions about the ability of the international community to prevent or punish acts of genocide” (Dadrian, 401). Although there have been policy efforts on the part of the United Nations, for instance, to halt and enact punitive measures for genocidal acts, this same author notes that “if the history of the Armenian Case is any guide, the chances of a Nuremberg style outcome appears quite slim” (Dadrian 12).

While the United States might have initially had its hands tied, especially in the context of the First World War and its alliances with Turkey. “Americans sent not only large amounts of money and provisions to the Armenian vilayets of Turkey, but for the first time mobilized sophisticated relief teams under the auspices of the Red Cross and sent them to the sites of disaster” (Balakian 64). This author also argues that Christian missionaries from the United States are among the unsung humanitarian heroes of the West during the period of conflict in Armenia, and were present when tensions were growing in the mid 1880s. While there were indeed efforts on the part of Americans and the aid offered was helpful and badly needed, especially to ease the hunger that was a large part of the casualty total, it was not enough. What was most needed during the crisis and genocide was political and military action. It was not enough for a superpower, despite its conflicted position at the onset of World War I, to sit back and allow a tragedy of this magnitude to occur and it is difficult to argue with the contention that this response, which was far from ideal, set the precedent for future violence, not only in the region but, as suggested earlier, in Nazi Germany. The basic food and humanitarian aid provided on the part of private groups, including the American Committee for Relief in the Near East, among hundreds of others, was enormously helpful, but without the backing of one of the world’s most capable military and political forces, the Armenians were doomed to the fate that still haunts Armenia as it struggles its way into the modern age.

Balakian, Peter. The Burning Tigris: A History of International Human Rights and Forgotten Heroes. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

Bloxham, Donald. “The Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916: Cumulative Radicalization and the Development of a Destruction Policy.” The Past and Present Society of Oxford 181(2003):142.

Dadrian, Vahakn. The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2003.

Hovannisian, Richard G.. Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide. Detroit MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003.

Melson, Robert. Revolution and Genocide: On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996.