THE ARMENIANS ARE AN ANCIENT people who, from the first millennium b.c.e., lived in a mountainous plateau in Asia Minor, a country to which they gave their name. They developed their own culture, spoke a unique language, had a distinct alphabet, a native poetry, original folk music, an authentic architectural style, and a series of monarchical dynasties and princely families. Early in the fourth century, the king of Armenia accepted Christianity, making his country the first to formally recognize the new faith. The mountainous country and long, harsh winters reinforced the remoteness, and distinctiveness, of the Armenian civilization.
Over time, however, Armenia proved too small a country to withstand land-hungry outside aggressors. From 1071 on, when Turkish tribal armies prevailed over the Christian forces that were resisting their incursions, the Armenians lived as subjects of various Turkish dynasties. The last and longest lived of these dynasties were the Ottomans. The Ottoman Turks, adherents of Islam, built a vast empire in which Christians and Jews were relegated to second-class status. Despite their inferior status, Armenian communities, as a Christian minority, were tolerated for centuries in the Ottoman Empire and managed to attain an acceptable standard of living.
Armenians welcomed the Young Turk revolution of 1908. Organized in reaction to the autocratic regime of Sultan Abdul-Hamid II, the liberal and egalitarian Young Turks advocated progressive reform that promised to further improve the situation of Armenians. An era of brotherhood and renovation was thought to have begun. Following the Ottoman military disasters of 1908–1912, however, the Young Turk government was taken over by its ultranationalistic, militaristic, and chauvinistic wing led by Enver Pasha, Talaat Bey, and Djemal Pasha. Ottoman tolerance was abandoned for the ideology of pan-Turkism—a version of racial nationalism that emphasized a common culture and language and excluded all minority