At first glance, the image in question depicts nothing short of a scene of devastating cruelty, and its accompanying caption - which reads "Turkish official teasing starved Armenian children by showing bread during the Armenian Genocide, 1915" - only seems to confirm our morbid assumptions. Or does it?
The truth is that the photograph, which was supposedly taken during the Armenian genocide that occurred in the early 20th century at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, is a total forgery. However, the events that it intended to depict where all too real. In what is deemed to have been one of the first modern genocides, around 1.5 million Armenians were murdered or starved throughout the genocide, which was carried out between 1915 and 1923.
Though the photograph has no known origins, the message it conveys is clear: the Ottoman Empire was bent on the extermination of the Armenian people.
The Photo Is Actually A Really Well-Made Collage (Sort Of)
The heartless scene depicted in this image is actually not one scene at all – it is instead made up of numerous different images that have been cut and pasted together into a rather convincing collage. It is essentially a "photographic soup, composed of bits and pieces taken from other photographs" and passed off as evidence of a particularly horrendous moment in time.
The truth about this image came to light after one of its more recent publications in Donald Bloxham’s The Great Game of Genocide. Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians in 2005 by the Oxford University Press. Out of the eight photographs included in the book, it was the only one lacking an attribution. So, when the photo was turned over to a photographic analyst for more information, it was determined within only 10 minutes that the image was actually a lazily constructed composite of numerous photographs.
Turkey Didn't Even Exist Yet... And Apparently Neither Did This Soldier's Leg
Upon taking a closer look at the photograph, the errors made by its creator become glaringly obvious. The first piece of the puzzle comes in the caption itself, which claims that a Turkish official is committing the barbarous taunting; however, the Republic of Turkey did not yet exist in 1915 (as it did not officially declare independence until 1923), and, even more importantly, if this were, in fact, an official of the Ottoman Empire, he would rather be caught dead than be depicted in a photograph out of uniform. The very fact that the man is in a crumpled blazer and missing his fez is reason enough to suspect the image. Yet this is only the beginning of the inconsistencies.
When the photographic analyst magnified the photograph by 2400-fold pixels, he discovered that "one side of the man's jacket is darker than the other [and] a ragged line clearly runs between the two halves." In addition, what appears to be his arm couldn't actually belong to him anatomically, and he seems to be missing his left leg entirely. Then, the stone wall in the background "abruptly disappears into a blank white space behind the standing man."
Finally, the child on the ground to the man's right who is raising his impossibly long arm "seems to be clutching something in his hand but it is impossible to tell what it might be" because he isn't holding anything at all – the creator had simply been too lazy to cut along the boy's individual fingers and instead left a glob of white space.
The Imagery Depicted In The Forgery Wasn't That Far Off From Real Life, Though
Though Oxford University Press immediately halted printing of the book and destroyed all available copies to avoid the dissemination of false information, the image continues to resurface as propaganda-like evidence of a deeply inhumane genocide that occurred at the beginning of the 20th century.
Under the orders of the Ottoman Empire, all Armenian intellectuals were gathered up and murdered; men were subjected to death marches and concentration camps, while women and children were starved, poisoned, or forced onto boats and thrown overboard into the Black Sea where they drowned.
Between 1914 and 1918, well over 800,000 Armenians were murdered, and still others were deported or fled their homes resulting in the majority of today's Armenian diasporic population.