This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide—a tragedy that took place against the backdrop of World War I, the effects of which are still being felt today. Choices provides a range of resources that offer students historical context to understand the circumstances in which the Armenian Genocide, and other genocides, were carried out. These resources help students wrestle with the very difficult and confusing question of how such horrific events could ever take place, and consider how past genocides have long lasting effects that exist to this day.
What was the Armenian Genocide?
The following video could serve as an excellent introduction for high school students to learn about the Armenian Genocide. Barbara Petzen answers the question, “What was the Armenian Genocide?”
A Contested History
“The great trouble with the Armenians is that they are separatists.… Because they have relied upon the friendship of the Russians, they have helped them in this war.… We have therefore deliberately adopted the plan of scattering them so that they can do us no harm.”
—Ottoman leader Ismail Enver Pasha, as recounted by Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
To this day, the Turkish government denies that these deaths were a genocide and claims that the Armenians were among the many people displaced and killed in the violent chaos of World War I. In 2014, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—who was prime minister at the time and is currently president—opened a new chapter for the two countries by acknowledging the widespread suffering of Armenians during World War I. Although he did not call the events of 1915 genocide, it marked an important acknowledgement of the past.
“The incidents of the First World War are our shared pain. It is our hope and belief that the peoples of an ancient and unique geography, who share similar customs and manners will be able to talk to each other about the past with maturity and to remember together their losses in a decent manner. … And it is with this hope and belief that we wish that the Armenians who lost their lives in the context of the early twentieth century rest in peace, and we convey our condolences to their grandchildren.”
—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, April 23, 2014
Despite the slight softening of Erdoğan’s position last year, Turkey’s leader has taken a sharper stance recently in the weeks leading up to this year’s anniversary, explicitly refuting the designation of the events as a genocide. After Pope Francis referred to the events as “the first genocide of the 20th century” this month, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican. When the European Parliament adopted a resolution to commemorate the centennial of the genocide, Erdoğan responded,
“Whatever decision the European Parliament takes on Armenian genocide claims, it will go in one ear and out the other…. It is out of the question for there to be a stain or a shadow called genocide on Turkey.”
—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, April 2015
Choices’ curriculum unit Confronting Genocide: Never Again? explores the Armenian Genocide, as well as four other case studies (the Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide, the Bosnian Genocide, and the Rwandan Genocide). It includes a lesson that challenges students to assess The New York Times coverage of the Armenian genocide and to consider the impact of media reporting on policy decisions and international opinion. The curriculum also includes a lesson that has students build a genocide memorial and consider the complex decision making that goes into this process.
Choices’ curriculum unit Empire, Republic, Democracy: A History of Turkey explores the social and political environment within the Ottoman Empire in the years leading up to and during World War I and the Armenian Genocide. It briefly explores modern relations between Turkey and Armenia and the tension between the two countries over the designation of the events as a genocide.