The Great Calamity

As a Christian in Istanbul, Rupen was used to dhimmitude. His ancestors managed to survive, and even thrive as much as they could, for five hundred years – as long as they knew their place. They had always paid the special tax imposed upon them for the privilege of maintaining their second-class citizenship. They had always lived in single-story homes built low to the ground. They had always traveled on foot, not a one of them having ever mounted a horse or carriage. They had never disputed the decisions of the courts, even though they were barred from standing as witnesses. And when war came to the Ottoman Empire, as it often did, they sadly accepted the devsirme system and gave up one of their male children in service to the Sultan.

But as an Armenian living in Istanbul, Rupen was in a precariously unfamiliar situation. The authorities no longer saw Armenians as docile citizens. They were too different. Their closeness to the Russians was unacceptable. Since the Greeks had managed with Russian assistance to secure their independence from the Empire, Rupen’s people had been under increasing persecution and they began to agitate. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were slaughtered in the final decades of the nineteenth century. Still, they survived. So when the Ottomans entered WWI, it was no surprise that they used it as an excuse to finally rid themselves of their thorns.

On April 24, 1915, along with 250 other leading Armenians, Rupen Zartarian was arrested. Most of them were writers, teachers, or politicians: agitators. But they were only the beginning of an orchestrated plan. There were 1.25 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire on that day; two years later, less than 285,000.

A new term, genocide, had to be invented later to accurately describe what happened.

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