In January of 1915, Talaat Pasha, the architect of the Armenian Genocide, stated that there was "no room for Christians in Turkey." These remarks were at the time reported in the New York Times.https://books.google.com/books?id=wgIXBQAAQBAJ&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&dq=talaat+no+room+for+Armenians+in+turkey&source=bl&ots=Iqs6ywZdi6&sig=_RT4pV5Q9ws9hxKEjzQWm0Z8Drs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=qH7uVPWhK8mogwSbv4KwDw&ved=0CCcQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=talaat%20no%20room%20for%20Armenians%20in%20turkey&f=false
Within a few months, the Genocide would begin. Turkish soldiers went village by village and did their work systematically: First, able bodied men were killed, then women, children and the elderly would be taken on forced marches into the Syrian desert of Der Zor where many, if not most, either died of exposure or were killed. This was so thoroughly documented and attested to in contemporary sources, that no one even bothered denying it during the first few decades after it happened. In fact, it was common in the 1920's and 1930's for American mothers who were trying to feed fussy children to say "Remember the starving Armenians." It wasn't until the second half of the 20th century, that the Genocide denial started. Before then, it was too fresh in people's memories. The Turks even admitted to it.
I recommend to anyone who hasn't watched it yet, to view this video of Amal Clooney presenting the historical evidence for the fact of the Armenian Genocide before the European Court of Human Rights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJ9_vW6FcTs
Now the question Aram presents is whether Armenians were killed off solely because of their ethnicity, or whether religion played a significant role. As I pointed out already, religion and ethnicity were inextricably entwined during the era we are taking about:
See this passage from a book by a Turkish scholar:https://books.google.com/books?id=V_C3AKGSBqkC&pg=PA335&dq=young+turks+pan+turkism+armenian+genocide&hl=en&sa=X&ei=gXXuVLbHGYecNoahgsAC&ved=0CDwQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=young%20turks%20pan%20turkism%20armenian%20genocide&f=false
Also, from the first paragraph of Chapter XLII of The Church of Armenia
, by Patriarch Ormanian, written by him shortly before the Genocide began:
"...We will say nothing of conversions to Islamism, which are brought about mainly by the direct action of the public authorities. The descendants of such converts belong entirely to Islamism, and can no longer be considered as Armenians. They contribute their share in swelling the existing Turkish and Kurdish populations of the Ottoman empire."
Again, this was written shortly before the Genocide began, by a patriarch of the Armenian Church in Istanbul. This contemporary writing attests to the mindset and view regarding ethnicity and religion that existed in the empire at the time of the Genocide. It attests to the fact that if an Armenian converted to Islam, at that time in history, he was, in effect, no longer an Armenian.
Talaat and his fellow Young Turks wanted to completely eliminate the Armenians from their homeland. Why they wanted this has been a matter of debate. One theory is that the Young Turks wanted to replace their crumbling Ottoman empire with a new Pan-Turkic empire that would stretch from what is today modern Turkey all the way to Mongolia, uniting all Turkic peoples into one nation. If you look at a map, the Armenians were right in the middle of this would-be empire and there were Armenian nationalists agitating for an independent state. If this Pan-Turkish empire were to happen, the Armenians had to no longer exist there.
There were three ways to eliminate an Armenian: 1. kill him outright, 2. march him into the desert to die, or 3. convert him to Islam. As Patr. Ormanian stated, option 3 got rid of an Armenian just as effectively as options 1 and 2. Moreover, it had the added benefit of "swelling" the population of Turks, and it was, of course, more sanitary. They say there was a tremendous problem of what to do with all the bodies. Water supplies in some areas became contaminated with all the dead being thrown into wells, etc. Conversions to Islam were much easier.
That the Turkish soldiers made the offer to convert to Islam is well attested by survivors and other eye-witnesses at the time this all happened. It happened in my own family, when a Turkish soldier slit my grandmother's uncle's throat in front of his family when he refused to convert. His body was then thrown into a well and his wife and children forced into the Syrian desert where his wife died and his children were orphaned.
The offer to convert to Islam is a very common element in the stories told by the survivors. And we are not just talking about elderly people in nursing homes being coached by grandchildren in the late twentieth century. This was talked and written about at the time it was happening.
Page two of the google book I linked at the top of this post even mentions it, describing how the teachers in Armenian schools were killed after refusing to convert to Islam.
It happened. God knows it happened. All the Genocide denial in the world will not change the fact that this happened. The Genocide Martyrs were Martyrs in the true sense of the word. They could have saved their lives by denying Christ, but chose death instead.
To deny this is to deny a remarkable witness to the world of unshakable Christian faith. This would be unconscionable.