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The origin of the term genocide and its codification in international law have their roots in the mass murder of Armenians in 1915–16. Lawyer Raphael Lemkin, the coiner of the word and later its champion at the United Nations, repeatedly stated that early exposure to newspaper stories about Ottoman crimes against Armenians was key to his beliefs about the need for legal protection of groups (a core element in the UN Genocide Convention of 1948).

Ottoman authorities, supported by auxiliary troops and at times by civilians, perpetrated most of the persecution and mass killing. The Ottoman government, controlled by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP; also called the Young Turks), aimed to solidify Muslim Turkish dominance in the regions of central and eastern Anatolia by eliminating the sizeable Armenian presence there.

Mass atrocities and genocide are often perpetrated within the context of war. The destruction of the Armenians was closely linked to the events of World War I. Fearing that invading enemy troops would induce Armenians to join them, in spring 1915 the Ottoman government began the deportation of the Armenian population from its northeastern border regions. In the months that followed, the Ottomans expanded deportations from almost all provinces regardless of distance from combat zones.

The victims of the Armenian genocide include people killed in local massacres that began in spring 1915; others who died during deportations, under conditions of starvation, dehydration, exposure, and disease; and Armenians who died in or en route to the desert regions of the southern Empire [today: northern and eastern Syria, northern Saudi Arabia, and Iraq]. In addition, tens of thousands of Armenian children were forcibly removed from their families and converted to Islam.

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