The last survivor of the Armenian Genocide passed away in Canada on January 19, 2017. She was 107.
Knar Yemenijyan was born in Kayseri, Turkey in 1909. Her entire family was able to escape the Armenian Genocide.
Her son, Hovsep, recalled the story to ArmenPress: ” My mother’s dad was a military man. One of his co-servicemen saved his family and sheltered them in a farm. They lived in a storehouse for few days. For months, they didn’t have anything to eat and my grandfather suffered from typhus. They did not kill him and said that he would die on his own and removed him from the army. He searched for his family and found them. The typhus had also reached them. Fortunately, they were able to overcome the disease.”
The family succeeded in returning to the ruins of their burnt homes. For ten years they lived there under false names, forcibly presenting themselves as Muslims. They moved to Egypt afterwards and restored their real names, and later the family moved to Canada.
The Armenian Genocide
The Ottoman Empire in 1915 set up a plan to expel and massacre Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. There were two million Armenians in Turkey before the First World War. During the genocide, 1.5 million Armenians were killed, and many others fled. Historians call this genocide. The Turkish Government, however, does not acknowledge these events, and it is illegal to talk about this in Turkey.
The Armenian people had made the Caucasus region of Eurasia their home for some 3,000 years. The Kingdom of Armenia was an independent entity and became the first nation in the world to make Christianity its official religion. Over the centuries, Armenia was absorbed into the massive Ottoman Empire.
The Ottoman rulers permitted religious minorities like the Armenians to maintain some autonomy, but they viewed them as “infidels”. The Armenians were constantly subjected to unequal treatment. Christians had to pay higher taxes than Muslims, and they also had very few legal and political rights.
Despite this, the Armenian community thrived in the Ottoman empire. They were wealthier and better educated than their Turkish neighbours, who in turn resented their success. Their resentment was transformed into suspicion that the Christian Armenians were more loyal to the Christian Government rather than to the Ottoman Caliphate.
As the Ottoman Empire crumbled, their suspicion on the Armenians grew. The Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II was infuriated by the Armenian campaign to win basic civil rights and declared to solve their issues once and for all.
The First Armenian Massacre
Abdul Hamid II ordered a State-sanctioned massacre. Armenians protested on a large scale but eventually were sacked by Turkish military officials. Thousands of Armenians were murdered.
World War One
The Turks entered World War One in 1914 on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Ottoman religious authorities also declared holy war or jihad at the same time against all Christians. The military leaders began to argue that the Armenians were traitors. The war intensified and Armenians organised volunteer battalions to help Russia fight against the Turks in the Caucasus region. The suspicious Turkey removed all the Armenians from the war zones along the Eastern Front.
The Genocide Begins
The Armenian Genocide began on April 24, 1915. The Ottomans arrested and executed hundreds of Armenian intellectuals. Ordinary Armenians were forcibly thrown out of their homes and sent on marches through the Mesopotamian desert without water or food – essentially, death marches. The marchers were also stripped naked and forced to walk under the fiery sun until they dropped dead. The people who stopped were shot.
The Turks also created a “Special Organisation” which would carry out killing squads or butcher battalions. These squads had murderers and other ex-convicts who would drown people in rivers, throw them off cliffs, burned them alive and also crucified them. Turkey’s countryside was littered with Armenian corpses.
The Armenian Genocide Today
The Ottomans surrendered in 1918. The leaders fled to Germany which claimed not to prosecute them for the genocide. A group of Armenian nationalists framed a plan ‘Operation Nemesis’ to assassinate the leaders of the genocide.
Since then, the Turkish government has not acknowledged the genocide. Turkey is now an important ally of the United States and the West, many of whom were reluctant to condemn the genocide till a few years ago.