Between the years 1915 and 1923, the vast majority of the 2.1 million Armenians living in Ottoman Turkey were uprooted from their homes through a deliberate policy conceived by the Ottoman government and implemented by its administrative machinery, including the army, police, post, interior ministry, rail system, and special agencies created for the express purpose of deporting, robbing, and slaughtering the Armenian population.
The Armenian Genocide started in the thick of World War I but continued after the war ended in 1918. It continued even after the international treaties designed to bring peace to the world and to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes were signed in Versailles in 1919 and in Sèvres in 1920. By 1923, by the hardships and brutalities associated with the deportations, the continuous massacres, the epidemics that raged in the concentration camp sites that lacked all sanitation, and by the pangs of thirst and starvation, 1.5 million Armenians had been killed.
Jesse Jackson, the American Consul in Aleppo, observed the entire process of deportation as hundreds of thousands were routed through Aleppo on their way from the fertile valleys of Armenia and the commercial centers of Anatolia to the parched wastes of the Syrian Desert. As early as June 5, 1915, he reported: "it is without doubt a carefully planned scheme to thoroughly extinguish the Armenian race." On the basis of this and additional cables from other American consuls, Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, informed the American government on July 16, 1915, that "from harrowing reports of eye witnesses it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress."
The Armenian Genocide was perpetrated by the Committee of Union and Progress, the radical wing of the Young Turk party that seized power in the Ottoman Empire. In their zeal to create a homogeneous society exclusively Turkish and Muslim, the Young Turk radicals sought to exclude the Christian populations that had long inhabited Asia Minor. Through expulsions, expropriations, and extermination, by 1923 no Christians to speak of, including Assyrians and Greeks, remained across Anatolian Turkey. The campaign was chronicled in the archives of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, the Vatican, and the Ottoman Empire.
Writing in 1918, former president of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, described the Armenian massacres as "the greatest crime of the war." As early as May 24, 1915, the Allied Powers, England, France, and Russia, then at war against the Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey, had condemned the massacres as 'crimes against humanity and civilization.' And when in 1919 President Woodrow Wilson sent Major General James Harbord on a military mission to investigate conditions in the Near East, Harbord reported back that "the traveler in that region is seldom free from the evidence of this most colossal crime of all ages."
Reflecting on the consequences of the Great War in his 1929 book titled The World Crisis, the future British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, wrote: "In 1915 the Turkish government began and ruthlessly carried out the infamous general massacre and deportation of Armenians of Asia Minor." He added: "There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons." Summing up what transpired in Armenia in 1915, he explained that "whole districts [were] blotted out in one administrative holocaust."
Churchill, Roosevelt, Harbord, Morgenthau and Jackson all described in disbelief the scale of the crimes committed in 1915. Morgenthau went so far as to say: "I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant compared to the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915." Churchill, however, had hit upon a word that would echo across the 20th century as governments planned and implemented ever greater crimes against humanity, many with complete impunity. In 1944, Raphael Lemkin called them genocide.