In 1915, under the cover of the war, the Ottoman government resolved to expel Turkey's Armenian population (at the time about 1.75m) entirely. Their plan included deportation to the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia (now Iraq). Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were driven out of their homes and either massacred or force-marched into the desert until they died. The German ambassador to Turkey wrote home: 'The government is indeed pursuing its goal of exterminating the Armenian race in the Ottoman Empire'. Between 1915 and 1923 the western part of historic Armenia was emptied of Armenians. The death toll is reliably estimated to be over a million. Those who did not die fled to the Middle East, Russia or the USA.
The genocide was conducted in a well-organised way, making use of new technology available. Orders to begin the operation were sent to every police station, to be carried out simultaneously at the same time on the same day: April 20, 1915. Once it had begun, the perpetrators kept in touch by telegraph. They also made use of the Istanbul- Baghdad railway: the new line had already been laid as far as the Syrian desert. Tens of thousands of Armenians were packed into railway wagons and sent down the line into the desert, where they were left without shelter, water or food. Many of the workers laying the railway were Armenian, and thought they would escape; their turn for the death trucks came in 1916.
Genocide in wartime is relatively easy to conceal. When Hitler was planning the invasion of Poland in 1939, he gave the order to 'kill without mercy men, women and children of the Polish race or language. Only in this way will we get the living space we need. Who after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?'
Making use of new technology - the telegraph.
Photo the Kachlkar Mountains. Simon Norfolk