While many countries and international bodies including Russia, Canada, the Vatican, Germany, Argentina, France, and the European Parliament accepted the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century as genocide, President Joe Biden giving it formal recognition on Saturday has drawn global attention.

April 24 is observed as the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. Although most former presidents of the United States, including Barack Obama and Donald Trump, steered clear of making an official statement, Biden delivered on his election campaign promise of condemning human rights violations. 

Some Armenians believe that their nationhood cannot truly be realised until there is a full acknowledgement of the past, reported CNN. 

Also Read: Armenian PM hails Joe Biden’s ‘powerful’ recognition of genocide

But, What was the ‘Armenian Genocide’?

Back when World War I was raging, the Ottoman Empire had a large number of Armenians, believed to be 2 million, living in it. Having entered the war on Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s side, the Ottoman Turks were worried that said Armenians may give wartime support to Russia, which had already seized control of Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire’s capital. 

Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, dominated and controlled access to the Black Sea and its ports. By extension, this meant it also controlled Russia’s only access to ports. Hence, Russia took over, reported CNN. 

By the time 1914 came around, Armenians were already being depicted as a threat to the Ottoman Empire’s security. In 1915, on the night of April 23 and April 24, Constantinople authorities deported and assassinated up to 250 Armenian leaders and intellectuals. 

It is believed by historians that about 2 million Armenians lived in the empire when the mass killings first began. But there were about 1.8 million Armenians living in the Caucasus (Russian rule) who were killed by the Ottoman Turks in 1918 when they marched across Azerbaijan and East Armenia. 

The total number of Armenians killed during the war is a major point of contention among different groups. Between 1914-1923, around 300,000 to 2 million Armenians were killed as per estimates. Even though Turkey has set the number to 300,000, estimates indicated the killings to fall in the range of 600,000 and 1.5 million, reported CNN. 

As a result of deportation and mass killings, the population of Armenians living in the empire shrunk below 400,000 from 2 million by 1922. 

Armenian National Institute’s website says, “The great bulk of the Armenian population was forcibly removed from Armenia and Anatolia to Syria, where the vast majority was sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger.”

The institute also tweeted a series of posts, talking about the history of the genocide. 

Armenians died in mass killings through burnings, gas, poison, drowning, torture, starvation and disease. Rape was frequently reported. Children were loaded in boats and thrown overboard as per reports. Some pictures even show Ottoman soldiers modelling with severed heads, reported CNN. 

Genocide was neither a crime nor a word in the 20th century. It was formally defined by the United Nations in 1948 and defined as the act “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Also Read: Netizens react to Biden’s recognition of Armenian Genocide, GOP remain silent

Despite such large scale mass killings, Turkey’s official statement consistently remains that it was wartime and that casualties were suffered on both sides while also insisting that Ankara did not make a systematic attempt to slaughter an entire community. They also fear that if Turkey officially accepts the Armenian killings as genocide, it could result in demands for reparations.