Background and Context of Debate
Before 1915, in the dying Ottoman Empire, Armenians pressed for more rights than just religious freedom. When the Europeans began to be more involved in converting Armenians to Protestantism or Catholicism they tried to advocate reforms for Armenians, even suggesting Autonomy for Armenia, through conferences with the Sultan. The local Ottoman Muslims and Armenians had begun to engage in ethnic conflict with each other because the Ottoman Muslims saw Armenians as traitors who want to create their own nation and help invading nations, while the Armenians sought to provide more rights to themselves and rid themselves of Islamic rule.
When World War I began, the Ottomans sided with the Central Powers. Most Armenians tried to convince themselves that if they sided with the Allies and invading Russians they would be able to create their long dreamed Armenian kingdom they once had almost a thousand years ago. Though some Armenians protested this Armenian National Movement, the local Muslims felt betrayed by their Armenian neighbors who were secretly aiding the Russians and collecting weapons for rebellion.
After the Van Rebellion in April, 1915, organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, established 1890), the government decided that the only way to temporarily stop the revolts that were damaging the Ottoman war effort, they had to relocate the Armenians. They drove back the Armenian rebels at Van and the Russian army that had joined them through counter-attacks. Then the government passed legislation to relocate Armenians to the Syrian province of Aleppo. Armenians in Western Turkish cities were usually exempt unless they had clear affiliation with the ARF. Catholic and Protestant Armenians were exempt from relocation laws due to pressure by European diplomats.
Armenians died in large numbers during the World War. Some Armenians who were being relocated and were vulnerable along the rural roads, died to raids by bandits, Kurdish tribes seeking to steal from the refugees, and local Muslims seeking revenge for ARF massacres. Some Armenians died hastily retreating unprepared for the long journey, along with the Russian and ARF forces on their way to present-day Armenia. Most Armenians, Turks, and Kurds, died to disease, starvation, infection, exhaustion, and dehydration. A significant portion of each ethnicity died to massacres by the other.
The argument by Armenian scholars is that the Ottomans were either a) Jealous of Armenian superiority, b) Scapegoated the Armenians for their losses c) Were trying to eliminate Christians in the empire d) Had a new emergence of nationalism and wanted to create a pan-Turkic state with other Turkic nations to the East. As a result, Armenian scholars argue that they resorted to relocating Armenians to inhospitable areas, and knew that they would be killed along the way, would starve, or would eventually die by Syrian/Iraqi deserts. They argue that genocide was committed by the Ottoman government in 1915 against the Armenians, as well as other Christians.
The Turkish scholars argue that Ottomans and Armenians were peaceful for over 600 years until the emergence of Armenian nationalism. They point to the evidence of rebellions pre-dating 1915, and the Van Rebellion which caused the government to enact relocation laws. Turkish scholars also give the Burden of Proof to Armenian scholars by arguing that no evidence has been provided proving the intent of genocide by the Ottoman government, noting that there was no motivation to kill Christians. They also point to the evidence of the laws and archives that show that the Ottoman Empire made exemptions, created regulations for the safety of Armenians, spent money for Armenian livelihood, and allowed relocated Armenians to return after 1915 and ceased the Relocation laws. The Turks also point to the fact that 80% of Armenian relocated individuals survived and lived to tell about their experiences. The Turkish scholars point to the fact that there were no death camps or evidence of orders to kill Armenians.