Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Today is the 98th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide,  an ethnic cleansing campaign in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Although the Genocide had many causes—political, economic, social—law and religion were major factors.

As Christians, Armenians had a precarious position in Ottoman society. They could exist, even thrive, but only if they accepted the second-class status that classical Islamic law allowed them. In the 19th Century, under pressure from European governments, the Empire had adopted a reform program, known as the  Tanzimat , that granted legal equality for the first time to Armenians and other Christians. Conservative Muslim opinion could not accept this, and the  Tanzimat  led to a violent backlash against Christians in the 1890s, particularly in the Anatolian provinces, in which hundreds of thousands of Christians, mostly Armenians, died. A pattern of resistance and oppression ensued, until finally, under the cover of World War I, the Ottoman government decided to remove the Armenian population of Anatolia. Historians estimate that between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians, as well as tens of thousands of Syriac Christians, died during the death marches into the Syrian desert.

The story of the Genocide, and how it led to the first international human rights campaign in American history, is told well by Colgate Professor Peter Balakian in his book,  The Burning Tigris . For my own reflections on how   the failure of Ottoman reform contributed to the Genocide, please see  here .

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles