Important to remember victims of Ottoman regime’s genocide as we salute Anzacs, writes Maria Armoudian

It was 100 years ago this year, April of 1915, when Ottoman Turkey was at its worst. One day before clashing with the Anzacs, the Young Turk regime began executing its plan to annihilate an entire people, to commit genocide of its Christian population - particularly the Armenians, but also the Assyrians and Greeks who lived within its borders.

On that day, April 24, the Young Turks rounded up the Armenian community's leaders, intellectuals and artists. They conscripted the Armenian men into the armed forces where they were disarmed and killed, leaving their families without fathers or husbands.

With the leaders of communities and heads of family eliminated, they began their systematic annihilation campaign of the remaining Christians. The defenceless population - unarmed elderly Armenians, with children and women - were next.

The regime rounded them up into forced death marches, pushing them deeper into the desert, with no food, no water, no protection from either the desert elements or violent atrocities committed by their gunmen and other special forces who raped, pillaged, drowned, shot or crucified the starving and defenceless people.

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Survivors have recalled horrific stories. One recalled being at the bottom of a pile of other young children, roughly 5 or 6 years old, who were speared and stabbed to death. Their bodies, with hundreds or thousands of others, were thrown into the Euphrates River. Witnesses remember Young Turk forces locking scores of Armenian women into churches and other buildings which were set on fire. Entire villages were set afire, and boatloads of children taken to sea and thrown overboard, according to witnesses.

Armenian civilians are marched to jail through Harput by Ottoman soldiers in 1915.
Armenian civilians are marched to jail through Harput by Ottoman soldiers in 1915.

Both of my grandfathers were among the survivors. But those who would have been my aunts and uncles did not survive. My father's father, Antranik Armoudian, just 12 years old at the time, helplessly watched eight of his nine younger siblings perish in the death marches, while my mother's father lost his only two sisters as his remaining family escaped by sea.

On April 24, the day before we honour our Anzacs, and the day that the Armenian Genocide began, let's also honour the others who perished in the hands of the Young Turk regime: Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks who were brutally massacred in what scholars call the first genocide of the 20th century, and the one that became assurance for Adolf Hitler's determination for accomplishing his Final Solution. When questioned about how he expected to annihilate millions of people, Hitler used the Young Turks as the reference for how it could be done. After all, he said, "Who remembers the Armenians?"

Today, Turkey would like to deny it committed genocide against its own Christians in 1915. But the record is well-documented by officials, such as US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau who wrote in his memoirs that the Turkish authorities were "giving the death warrant to a whole race" and "made no attempt to conceal the fact". To date, 23 countries have officially recognised the events of 1915 as a genocide by Turkey against the Armenian people.

Turkey would have liked to distract New Zealanders and Australians by moving its Anzac commemoration to April 24, the day before Anzac Day and on the official day of the Armenian Genocide's beginning.

Most heads of state have expressed disinterest in what seemed to be efforts to obfuscate history and to recognise we don't have to ignore one set of atrocities to commemorate the other. We can honour them all.

This April, let's commemorate all who perished at the hands of the Young Turk government.

Maria Armoudian is a lecturer in politics and international studies at the University of Auckland, the author of Kill the Messenger: The Media's Role in the Fate of the World, and host/producer of radio programme, The Scholars' Circle.