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The Armenian Genocide (Armenian: Հայոց Ցեղասպանություն Hayots Tseghaspanutyun),[note 3] also known as the Armenian Holocaust, the Armenian Massacres and, traditionally by Armenians, as Medz Yeghern (Armenian: Մեծ Եղեռն, “Great Crime”), was the Ottoman government‘s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects inside their historic homeland which lies within the territory constituting the present-day Republic of Turkey. The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million. The starting date is conventionally held to be 24 April 1915, the day Ottoman authorities rounded up and arrested some 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre. Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and the Ottoman Greeks were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government, and their treatment is considered by many historians to be part of the same genocidal policy. The majority of Armenian diaspora communities around the world came into being as a direct result of the genocide.
Raphael Lemkin was explicitly moved by the Armenian annihilation to coin the word genocide in 1943 and define systematic and premeditated exterminations within legal parameters. The Armenian Genocide is acknowledged to have been one of the first modern genocides, because scholars point to the organized manner in which the killings were carried out in order to eliminate the Armenians, and it is the second most-studied case of genocide after the Holocaust.
Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies the word genocide is an accurate term for the mass killings of Armenians that began under Ottoman rule in 1915. It has in recent years been faced with repeated calls to recognize them as genocide. To date, twenty-three countries have officially recognized the mass killings as genocide, a view which is shared by most genocide scholars and historians.
Hamidian massacres, 1894–96
Corpses of massacred Armenians in Erzurum in 1895
Since 1876, the Ottoman state had been led by Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Immediately after the Treaty of Berlin was signed, Abdul Hamid attempted to forestall implementation of its reform provisions by asserting that Armenians did not make up a majority in the provinces and that their reports of abuses were largely exaggerated or false. In 1890, Abdul Hamid created a paramilitary outfit known as the Hamidiye which was made up of Kurdish irregulars who were tasked to “deal with the Armenians as they wished”.:40 As Ottoman officials intentionally provoked rebellions (often as a result of over-taxation) in Armenian populated towns, such as in Sasun in 1894 and Zeitun in 1895–96, these regiments were increasingly used to deal with the Armenians by way of oppression and massacre. In some instances Armenians successfully fought off the regiments and in 1895 brought the excesses to the attention of the Great Powers, who subsequently condemned the Porte.:40–2
In October 1895, the Powers forced Abdul Hamid to sign a new reform package designed to curtail the powers of the Hamidiye but, like the Berlin Treaty, it was never implemented. On 1 October 1895, 2,000 Armenians assembled in Constantinople to petition for the implementation of the reforms, but Ottoman police units converged on the rally and violently broke it up.:57–8 Soon, massacres of Armenians broke out in Constantinople and then engulfed the rest of the Armenian-populated provinces of Bitlis, Diyarbekir, Erzurum, Harput, Sivas, Trabzon, and Van. Estimates differ on how many Armenians were killed but European documentation of the pogroms, which became known as the Hamidian massacres, placed the figures at between 100,000 and 300,000.
Although Hamid was never directly implicated in ordering the massacres, it is believed that they had his tacit approval.:42 Frustrated with European indifference to the massacres, a group of members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation seized the European-managed Ottoman Bank on 26 August 1896. This incident brought further sympathy for Armenians in Europe and was lauded by the European and American press, which vilified Hamid and painted him as the “great assassin”, “bloody Sultan”, and “Abdul the Damned“.:35,115 While the Great Powers vowed to take action and enforce new reforms, these never came to fruition due to conflicting political and economic interests.
Prelude to the Genocide
The Young Turk Revolution of 1908
On 24 July 1908, Armenians’ hopes for equality in the empire brightened once more when a coup d’état staged by officers in the Ottoman Third Army based in Salonika removed Abdul Hamid II from power and restored the country to a constitutional monarchy. The officers were part of the Young Turk movement that wanted to reform administration of the perceived decadent state of the Ottoman Empire and modernize it to European standards. The movement was an anti-Hamidian coalition made up of two distinct groups: the liberal constitutionalists and the nationalists; the former were more democratic and accepted Armenians into their wing whereas the latter group was more intolerant in regard to Armenian-related issues and their frequent requests for European assistance.:140–1 In 1902, during a congress of the Young Turks held in Paris, the heads of the liberal wing, Sabahaddin and Ahmed Riza Bey, partially persuaded the nationalists to include in their objectives ensuring some rights for all the minorities of the empire.
One of the numerous factions within the Young Turk movement was a secret revolutionary organization called the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). It drew its membership from disaffected army officers based in Salonika and was behind a wave of mutinies against the central government. In 1908, elements of the Third Army and the Second Army Corps declared their opposition to the Sultan and threatened to march on the capital to depose him. Hamid, shaken by the wave of resentment, stepped down from power as Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Arabs, Bulgarians and Turks alike rejoiced in his dethronement.:143–4
The Adana massacre of 1909
Main article: Adana massacre
The Armenian quarter of Adana left pillaged and destroyed after the massacres in Adana in 1909.
A countercoup took place in early 1909, ultimately resulting in the 31 March Incident on 13 April 1909. Some reactionary Ottoman military elements, joined by Islamic theological students, aimed to return control of the country to the Sultan and the rule of Islamic law. Riots and fighting broke out between the reactionary forces and CUP forces, until the CUP was able to put down the uprising and court-martial the opposition leaders.
While the movement initially targeted the Young Turk government, it spilled over into pogroms against Armenians who were perceived as having supported the restoration of the constitution.:68–9 When Ottoman Army troops were called in, many accounts record that instead of trying to quell the violence they actually took part in pillaging Armenian enclaves in Adana province. The number of Armenians killed in the course of the Adana massacre ranged between 15,000 and 30,000 people.:69
The Balkan Wars
In 1912, the First Balkan War broke out and ended with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire as well as the loss of 85% of its European territory. Many in the empire saw their defeat as “Allah’s divine punishment for a society that did not know how to pull itself together”.:84 The Turkish nationalist movement in the country gradually came to view Anatolia as their last refuge. That the Armenian population formed a significant minority in this region would figure prominently in the calculations of the Three Pashas, who would eventually carry out the Armenian Genocide.
An important consequence of the Balkan Wars was also the mass expulsion of Muslims (known as muhacirs) from the Balkans. In fact, beginning in the mid-19th century, hundreds of thousands of Muslims, including Turks, Circassians, and Chechens, were expelled or forced to flee from the Caucasus and the Balkans (Rumelia) as a result of the Russo-Turkish wars and the conflicts in the Balkans. Muslim society in the empire was incensed by this flood of refugees. A journal published in Constantinople expressed the mood of the times: “Let this be a warning … O Muslims, don’t get comfortable! Do not let your blood cool before taking revenge”.:86 As many as 850,000 of these refugees were settled in areas where the Armenians were resident from the period of 1878–1904. The muhacirs resented the status of their relatively well-off neighbors and, as historian Taner Akçam and others have noted, the refugees would come to play a pivotal role in the killings of the Armenians and the confiscation of their properties during the genocide.:86–87
World War I
On 2 November 1914, the Ottoman Empire opened the Middle Eastern theater of World War I by entering hostilities on the side of the Central Powers and against the Allies. The battles of the Caucasus Campaign, the Persian Campaign and the Gallipoli Campaign affected several populous Armenian centers. Before entering the war, the Ottoman government had sent representatives to the Armenian congress at Erzurum to persuade Ottoman Armenians to facilitate its conquest of Transcaucasia by inciting an insurrection of Russian Armenians against the Russian army in the event a Caucasus front was opened. :136
Battle of Sarıkamış
On 24 December 1914, Minister of War Enver Pasha implemented a plan to encircle and destroy the Russian Caucasus Army at Sarıkamış in order to regain territories lost to Russia after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. Enver Pasha’s forces were routed in the battle, and almost completely destroyed. Returning to Constantinople, Enver Pasha publicly blamed his defeat on Armenians in the region having actively sided with the Russians.:200
Labour battalions, 25 February
On 25 February 1915, Enver Pasha sent an order to all military units that Armenians in the active Ottoman forces be demobilized and assigned to the unarmed Labour battalion (Turkish: amele taburlari). Enver Pasha explained this decision as “out of fear that they would collaborate with the Russians”. Traditionally, the Ottoman Army only drafted non-Muslim males between the ages of 20 and 45 into the regular army. The younger (15–20) and older (45–60) non-Muslim soldiers had always been used as logistical support through the labour battalions. Before February, some of the Armenian recruits were utilized as labourers (hamals), though they would ultimately be executed.
Transferring Armenian conscripts from active combat to passive, unarmed logistic sections was an important precursor to the subsequent genocide. As reported in The Memoirs of Naim Bey, the execution of the Armenians in these battalions was part of a premeditated strategy of the CUP. Many of these Armenian recruits were executed by local Turkish gangs.:178
Van, April 1915
Armed Armenian civilians and self-defense units holding a line against Ottoman forces in the walled Siege of Van in May 1915.
On 19 April 1915, Jevdet Bey demanded that the city of Van immediately furnish him 4,000 soldiers under the pretext of conscription. However, it was clear to the Armenian population that his goal was to massacre the able-bodied men of Van so that there would be no defenders. Jevdet Bey had already used his official writ in nearby villages, ostensibly to search for arms, but in fact to initiate wholesale massacres.:202 The Armenians offered five hundred soldiers and exemption money for the rest in order to buy time, but Jevdet Bey accused the Armenians of “rebellion” and asserted his determination to “crush” it at any cost. “If the rebels fire a single shot”, he declared, “I shall kill every Christian man, woman, and” (pointing to his knee) “every child, up to here”.:298
The next day, 20 April 1915, the siege of Van began when an Armenian woman was harassed, and the two Armenian men who came to her aid were killed by Ottoman soldiers. The Armenian defenders protected the 30,000 residents and 15,000 refugees living in an area of roughly one square kilometer of the Armenian Quarter and suburb of Aigestan with 1,500 ablebodied riflemen who were supplied with 300 rifles and 1,000 pistols and antique weapons. The conflict lasted until General Yudenich of Russia came to their rescue.
Reports of the conflict reached then United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau, Sr. from Aleppo and Van, prompting him to raise the issue in person with Talaat and Enver. As he quoted to them the testimonies of his consulate officials, they justified the deportations as necessary to the conduct of the war, suggesting that complicity of the Armenians of Van with the Russian forces that had taken the city justified the persecution of all ethnic Armenians.
Arrest and deportation of Armenian notables, April 1915
Armenian intellectuals who were arrested and later executed en masse by Young Turk government authorities on the night of 24 April 1915.
By 1914, Ottoman authorities had already begun a propaganda drive to present Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire as a threat to the empire’s security. An Ottoman naval officer in the War Office described the planning:
In order to justify this enormous crime the requisite propaganda material was thoroughly prepared in Istanbul. [It included such statements as] ‘the Armenians are in league with the enemy. They will launch an uprising in Istanbul, kill off the Ittihadist leaders and will succeed in opening up the straits [of the Dardanelles]’.:220
On the night of 23–24 April 1915, the Ottoman government rounded up and imprisoned an estimated 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders of the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, and later those in other centers, who were moved to two holding centers near Ankara.:211–2 This date coincided with Allied troop landings at Gallipoli after unsuccessful Allied naval attempts to break through the Dardanelles to Constantinople in February and March 1915.
Following the passage of Tehcir Law on 29 May 1915, the Armenian leaders, except for the few who were able to return to Constantinople, were gradually deported and assassinated. The date April 24 is commemorated as Genocide Remembrance Day by Armenians around the world.
Map of massacre locations and deportation and extermination centers
In May 1915, Mehmet Talaat Pasha requested that the cabinet and Grand Vizier Said Halim Pasha legalize a measure for the deportation of Armenians to other places due to what Talaat Pasha called “the Armenian riots and massacres, which had arisen in a number of places in the country”. However, Talaat Pasha was referring specifically to events in Van and extending the implementation to the regions in which alleged “riots and massacres” would affect the security of the war zone of the Caucasus Campaign. Later, the scope of the deportation was widened in order to include the Armenians in the other provinces.
On 29 May 1915, the CUP Central Committee passed the Temporary Law of Deportation (“Tehcir Law”), giving the Ottoman government and military authorization to deport anyone it “sensed” as a threat to national security.:186–8
An article by the New York Times dated 15 December 1915 states that one million Armenians had been either deported or executed by the Ottoman government.
With the implementation of Tehcir Law, the confiscation of Armenian property and the slaughter of Armenians that ensued upon its enactment outraged much of the western world. While the Ottoman Empire’s wartime allies offered little protest, a wealth of German and Austrian historical documents has since come to attest to the witnesses’ horror at the killings and mass starvation of Armenians.:329–31:212–3 In the United States, The New York Times reported almost daily on the mass murder of the Armenian people, describing the process as “systematic”, “authorized” and “organized by the government”. Theodore Roosevelt would later characterize this as “the greatest crime of the war”.
Historian Hans-Lukas Kieser states that, from the statements of Talaat Pasha it is clear that the officials were aware that the deportation order was genocidal. Another historian Taner Akçam states that the telegrams show that the overall coordination of the genocide was taken over by Talaat Pasha.
An Armenian woman kneeling beside a dead child in field “within sight of help and safety at Aleppo“, an Ottoman city.
The Armenians were marched out to the Syrian town of Deir ez-Zor and the surrounding desert. There is no evidence that the Ottoman government provided the extensive facilities and supplies that would have been necessary to sustain the life of hundreds of thousands of Armenian deportees during their forced march to the Syrian desert or after. By August 1915, The New York Times repeated an unattributed report that “the roads and the Euphrates are strewn with corpses of exiles, and those who survive are doomed to certain death. It is a plan to exterminate the whole Armenian people”. Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha were completely aware that by abandoning the Armenian deportees in the desert they were condemning them to certain death. A dispatch from a “high diplomatic source in Turkey, not American, reporting the testimony of trustworthy witnesses” about the plight of Armenian deportees in northern Arabia and the Lower Euphrates valley was extensively quoted by The New York Times in August 1916:
The witnesses have seen thousands of deported Armenians under tents in the open, in caravans on the march, descending the river in boats and in all phases of their miserable life. Only in a few places does the Government issue any rations, and those are quite insufficient. The people, therefore, themselves are forced to satisfy their hunger with food begged in that scanty land or found in the parched fields.
Naturally, the death rate from starvation and sickness is very high and is increased by the brutal treatment of the authorities, whose bearing toward the exiles as they are being driven back and forth over the desert is not unlike that of slave drivers. With few exceptions no shelter of any kind is provided and the people coming from a cold climate are left under the scorching desert sun without food and water. Temporary relief can only be obtained by the few able to pay officials.
Similarly, Major General Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein noted that “The Turkish policy of causing starvation is an all too obvious proof, if proof was still needed as to who is responsible for the massacre, for the Turkish resolve to destroy the Armenians”.:350
German engineers and labourers involved in building the railway also witnessed Armenians being crammed into cattle cars and shipped along the railroad line. Franz Gunther, a representative for Deutsche Bank which was funding the construction of the Baghdad Railway, forwarded photographs to his directors and expressed his frustration at having to remain silent amid such “bestial cruelty”.:326 Major General Otto von Lossow, acting military attaché and head of the German Military Plenipotentiary in the Ottoman Empire, spoke to Ottoman intentions in a conference held in Batum in 1918:
The Turks have embarked upon the “total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia … The aim of Turkish policy is, as I have reiterated, the taking of possession of Armenian districts and the extermination of the Armenians. Talaat’s government wants to destroy all Armenians, not just in Turkey but also outside Turkey. On the basis of all the reports and news coming to me here in Tiflis there hardly can be any doubt that the Turks systematically are aiming at the extermination of the few hundred thousand Armenians whom they left alive until now.:349
The original caption of photograph reads: “The Above Photograph Shows Eight Armenian Professors Massacred by the Turks”
A network of 25 concentration camps was set up by the Ottoman government to dispose of the Armenians who had survived the deportations to their ultimate point. This network, situated in the region of Turkey’s present-day borders with Iraq and Syria, was directed by Şükrü Kaya, one of Talaat Pasha’s right-hand men. Some of the camps were only temporary transit points. Others, such as Radjo, Katma, and Azaz, were briefly used for mass graves and then vacated by autumn 1915. Camps such as Lale, Tefridje, Dipsi, Del-El, and Ra’s al-‘Ayn were built specifically for those whose life expectancy was just a few days. According to Hilmar Kaiser, the Ottoman authorities refused to provide food and water to the victims, increasing the mortality rate, and Muslim men obtained Armenian women through recorded marriages, while the death of their husbands were not recorded.
Bernau, an American citizen of German descent, traveled to the areas where Armenians were incarcerated and wrote a report that was deemed factual by Rössler, the German Consul at Aleppo. He reports mass graves containing over 60,000 people in Meskene and large numbers of mounds of corpses, as the Armenians died due to hunger and disease. He reported seeing 450 orphans, who received at most 150 grams of bread per day, in a tent of 5-6 square meters. Dysentery swept through the camp and days passed between the instances of distribution of bread to some. In “Abu Herrera”, near Meskene, he described how the guards let 240 Armenians starve, and wrote that they searched “horse droppings” for grains.
Confiscation of property
The Tehcir Law brought some measures regarding the property of the deportees, but during September a new law was proposed. By means of the “Abandoned Properties” Law (Law Concerning Property, Dept’s and Assets Left Behind Deported Persons, also referred as the “Temporary Law on Expropriation and Confiscation”), the Ottoman government took possession of all “abandoned” Armenian goods and properties. Ottoman parliamentary representative Ahmed Riza protested this legislation:
It is unlawful to designate the Armenian assets as “abandoned goods” for the Armenians, the proprietors, did not abandon their properties voluntarily; they were forcibly, compulsorily removed from their domiciles and exiled. Now the government through its efforts is selling their goods … If we are a constitutional regime functioning in accordance with constitutional law we can’t do this. This is atrocious. Grab my arm, eject me from my village, then sell my goods and properties, such a thing can never be permissible. Neither the conscience of the Ottomans nor the law can allow it.
On 13 September 1915, the Ottoman parliament passed the “Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation”, stating that all property, including land, livestock, and homes belonging to Armenians, was to be confiscated by the authorities.:224
International aid to victims
The American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR, also known as “Near East Relief”), established in 1915 just after the deportations began, was a charitable organization established to relieve the suffering of the peoples of the Near East. The organization was championed by Henry Morgenthau, Sr., American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Morgenthau’s dispatches on the mass slaughter of Armenians galvanized much support for the organization. In its first year, the ACRNE cared for 132,000 Armenian orphans from Tiflis, Yerevan, Constantinople, Sivas, Beirut, Damascus, and Jerusalem. A relief organization for refugees in the Middle East helped donate over $102 million (budget $117,000,000) [1930 value of dollar] to Armenians both during and after the war.:336 Between 1915 and 1930, ACRNE distributed humanitarian relief to locations across a wide geographical range, eventually spending over ten times its original estimate and helping around 2,000,000 refugees.
The “Special Organization”
The Committee of Union and Progress founded the “Special Organization” (Turkish: Teşkilat-i Mahsusa) that participated in the destruction of the Ottoman Armenian community. This organization adopted its name in 1913 and functioned like a special forces outfit, and it has been compared by some scholars to the Nazi Einsatzgruppen.:182, 185 Later in 1914, the Ottoman government influenced the direction the Special Organization was to take by releasing criminals from central prisons to be the central elements of this newly formed Special Organization. According to the Mazhar commissions attached to the tribunal as soon as November 1914, 124 criminals were released from Pimian prison. Little by little from the end of 1914 to the beginning of 1915, hundreds, then thousands of prisoners were freed to form the members of this organization. Later, they were charged to escort the convoys of Armenian deportees. Vehib Pasha, commander of the Ottoman Third Army, called those members of the Special Organization, the “butchers of the human species”.
Of this photo, the United States ambassador wrote, “Scenes like this were common all over the Armenian provinces, in the spring and summer months of 1915. Death in its several forms—massacre, starvation, exhaustion—destroyed the larger part of the refugees. The Turkish policy was that of extermination under the guise of deportation”.
Eitan Belkind was a Nili member who infiltrated the Ottoman army as an official. He was assigned to the headquarters of Kamal Pasha. He claims to have witnessed the burning of 5,000 Armenians.:181,183
Lt. Hasan Maruf of the Ottoman army describes how a population of a village were taken all together and then burned. The Commander of the Third Army Vehib’s 12-page affidavit, which was dated 5 December 1918, was presented in the Trabzon trial series (29 March 1919) included in the Key Indictment, reporting such a mass burning of the population of an entire village near Muş: “The shortest method for disposing of the women and children concentrated in the various camps was to burn them”. Further, it was reported that “Turkish prisoners who had apparently witnessed some of these scenes were horrified and maddened at remembering the sight. They told the Russians that the stench of the burning human flesh permeated the air for many days after”. Vahakn Dadrian wrote that 80,000 Armenians in 90 villages across the Muş plain were burned in “stables and haylofts”.
Trabzon was the main city in Trabzon province; Oscar S. Heizer, the American consul at Trabzon, reported: “This plan did not suit Nail Bey … Many of the children were loaded into boats and taken out to sea and thrown overboard”. Hafiz Mehmet, a Turkish deputy serving Trabzon, testified during a 21 December 1918 parliamentary session of the Chamber of Deputies that “the district’s governor loaded the Armenians into barges and had them thrown overboard.” The Italian consul of Trabzon in 1915, Giacomo Gorrini, writes: “I saw thousands of innocent women and children placed on boats which were capsized in the Black Sea”. Vahakn Dadrian places the number of Armenians killed in the Trabzon province by drowning at 50,000. The Trabzon trials reported Armenians having been drowned in the Black Sea, according to a testimony, women and children were loaded on boats in “Değirmendere” to be drowned in the sea.
Hoffman Philip, the American chargé d’affaires at Constantinople, wrote: “Boat loads sent from Zor down the river arrived at Ana, one thirty miles away, with three fifths of passengers missing”. According to Robert Fisk, 900 Armenian women were drowned in Bitlis, while in Erzincan, the corpses in the Euphrates resulted in a change of course of the river for a few hundred meters. Dadrian also wrote that “countless” Armenians were drowned in the Euphrates and its tributaries.
Use of poison and drug overdoses
The psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton writes in a parenthesis when introducing the medical experiments during the Holocaust, “Perhaps Turkish doctors, in their participation in the genocide against the Armenians, come closest, as I shall later suggest”.
Morphine overdose: During the Trabzon trial series of the Martial court, from the sittings between 26 March and 17 May 1919, the Trabzons Health Services Inspector Dr. Ziya Fuad wrote in a report that Dr. Saib caused the death of children with the injection of morphine. The information was allegedly provided by two physicians (Drs. Ragib and Vehib), both Dr. Saib’s colleagues at Trabzons Red Crescent hospital, where those atrocities were said to have been committed.
Toxic gas: Dr. Ziya Fuad and Dr. Adnan, public health services director of Trabzon, submitted affidavits reporting cases in which two school buildings were used to organize children and send them to the mezzanine to kill them with toxic gas equipment.
Typhoid inoculation: The Ottoman surgeon, Dr. Haydar Cemal wrote “on the order of the Chief Sanitation Office of the Third Army in January 1916, when the spread of typhus was an acute problem, innocent Armenians slated for deportation at Erzincan were inoculated with the blood of typhoid fever patients without rendering that blood ‘inactive'”. Jeremy Hugh Baron writes: “Individual doctors were directly involved in the massacres, having poisoned infants, killed children and issued false certificates of death from natural causes. Nazim‘s brother-in-law Dr. Tevfik Rushdu, Inspector-General of Health Services, organized the disposal of Armenian corpses with thousands of kilos of lime over six months; he became foreign secretary from 1925 to 1938″.
In 1919, following the Mudros Armistice, Sultan Mehmed VI was ordered to organise courts-martial by the Allied administration who was in charge of Constantinople to try members of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) (Turkish: “Ittihat Terakki”) for taking the Ottoman Empire into the World War I. By January 1919, a report to Sultan Mehmed VI accused over 130 suspects, most of whom were high officials.
Sultan Mehmet VI and Grand Vizier Damat Ferid Pasha, as representatives of government of the Ottoman Empire during the Second Constitutional Era were summoned to the Paris Peace Conference by US Secretary of State Robert Lansing. On 11 July 1919, Damat Ferid Pasha officially confessed to massacres against the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and was a key figure and initiator of the war crime trials held directly after World War I to condemn to death the chief perpetrators of the genocide. The military court found that it was the will of the CUP to eliminate the Armenians physically, via its Special Organization. The 1919 pronouncement reads as follows:
The Court Martial taking into consideration the above-named crimes declares, unanimously, the culpability as principal factors of these crimes the fugitives Talaat Pasha, former Grand Vizir, Enver Efendi, former War Minister, struck off the register of the Imperial Army, Cemal Efendi, former Navy Minister, struck off too from the Imperial Army, and Dr. Nazim Efendi, former Minister of Education, members of the General Council of the Union & Progress, representing the moral person of that party; … the Court Martial pronounces, in accordance with said stipulations of the Law the death penalty against Talaat, Enver, Cemal, and Dr. Nazim.
The term Three Pashas, which include Mehmed Talaat Pasha and Ismail Enver (the main perpetrators of the Genocide), refers to the triumvirate who had fled the Empire. This happened at the end of World War I, on the night of 2–3 November 1918 with the aid of Ahmed Izzet Pasha. In 1919 they were sentenced to death in absentia at the trials in Constantinople. The courts-martial officially disbanded the CUP and confiscated its assets, and the assets of those found guilty. The courts-martial were dismissed in August, 1920 for their impartiality and lack of transparence, according to then High Commissioner and Admiral Sir John de Robeck, and some of the accused were transported to Malta for further interrogation. At least two of the three Pashas were later assassinated by Armenian vigilantes.
Prosecution in Malta
Ottoman military members and high-ranking politicians convicted by the Turkish courts-martial were transferred from Constantinople prisons to the Crown Colony of Malta on board of the SS Princess Ena and the SS HMS Benbow by the British forces, starting in 1919. Admiral Sir Somerset Gough-Calthorpe was in charge of the operation, together with Lord Curzon; they did so owing to the lack of transparency of the Turkish courts-martial. They were held there for three years, while searches were made of archives in Constantinople, London, Paris and Washington to find a way to put them in trial. However, the war criminals were eventually released without trial and returned to Constantinople in 1921, in exchange for 22 British prisoners of war held by the government in Ankara, including a relative of Lord Curzon. The government in Ankara was opposed to political power of the government in Constantinople. They are often mentioned as the Malta exiles in some sources.
Meanwhile, the Peace Conference in Paris established the “Commission on Responsibilities and Sanctions” in January 1919, which was commissioned by United States Secretary of State Robert Lansing. Based on the commission’s work, several articles were added to the Treaty of Sèvres. The Treaty of Sèvres had planned a trial in August 1920 to determine those responsible for the “barbarous and illegitimate methods of warfare … [including] offenses against the laws and customs of war and the principles of humanity”. Article 230 of the Treaty of Sèvres required the Ottoman Empire “hand over to the Allied Powers the persons whose surrender may be required by the latter as being responsible for the massacres committed during the continuance of the state of war on territory which formed part of the Ottoman Empire on August 1, 1914″.
According to European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonello the suspension of prosecutions, the repatriation and release of Turkish detainees was amongst others a result of the lack of an appropriate legal framework with supranational jurisdiction, because following World War I no international norms for regulating war crimes existed, due to a legal vacuum in international law; therefore contrary to Turkish sources, no trials were ever held in Malta. He mentions that the release of the Turkish detainees was accomplished in exchange for 22 British prisoners held by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Trial of Soghomon Tehlirian
On 15 March 1921, former Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha was assassinated in the Charlottenburg District of Berlin, Germany, in broad daylight and in the presence of many witnesses. Talaat’s death was part of “Operation Nemesis“, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation‘s codename for their covert operation in the 1920s to kill the planners of the Armenian Genocide.
The subsequent trial of the assassin, Soghomon Tehlirian, had an important influence on Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish–Jewish descent who campaigned in the League of Nations to ban what he called “barbarity” and “vandalism”. The term “genocide“, created in 1943, was coined by Lemkin who was directly influenced by the massacres of Armenians during World War I.:210
Armenian population, deaths, survivors, 1914 to 1918
While there is no consensus as to how many Armenians lost their lives during the Armenian Genocide, there is general agreement among western scholars that over 500,000 Armenians died between 1914 and 1918. Estimates vary between 800,000, to 1,500,000 (per Western scholars, Argentina, and other states). Encyclopædia Britannica references the research of Arnold J. Toynbee, an intelligence officer of the British Foreign Office, who estimated that by 600,000 Armenians “died or were massacred during deportation” in a report compiled on the 24th May 1916. This figure, however, accounts for solely the first year of the Genocide and does not take into account those who died or killed after the report was compiled on the 24th May 1916.
According to documents that once belonged to Talaat Pasha, more than 970,000 Ottoman Armenians disappeared from official population records from 1915 through 1916. Talaat’s widow, Hayriye Talaat Bafralı, gave the documents and records in 1983 to Turkish journalist Murat Bardakçı, who has published them in a book titled The Remaining Documents of Talat Pasha (aka “Talat Pasha’s Black Book”). According to the documents, the number of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire before 1915 stood at 1,256,000. The number plunged to 284,157 two years later in 1917.
Justin McCarthy calculated an estimate of the pre-war Armenian population, then subtracted his estimate of survivors, arriving at a figure of a little less than 600,000 for Armenian casualties for the period 1914 to 1922. In a more recent essay, he projected that if the Armenian records of 1913 were accurate, 250,000 more deaths should be added, for a total of 850,000.
However, McCarthy’s numbers have been highly contested by many specialists. Some of them, like Frédéric Paulin, have severely criticized McCarthy’s methodology and suggested that it is flawed. Hilmar Kaiser another specialist has made similar claims, as have professor Vahakn Dadrian and professor Levon Marashlian. The critics not only question McCarthy’s methodology and resulting calculations, but also his primary sources, the Ottoman censuses. They point out that there was no official statistic census in 1912; rather those numbers were based on the records of 1905 which were conducted during the reign of Sultan Hamid. While Ottoman censuses claimed an Armenian population of 1.2 million, Fa’iz El-Ghusein (the Kaimakam of Kharpout) wrote that there were about 1.9 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, and some modern scholars estimate over 2 million. German official Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter wrote that fewer than 100,000 Armenians survived the genocide, the rest having been exterminated (German: ausgerottet).:329–30
Mass killings continued under the Republic of Turkey during the Turkish–Armenian War phase of Turkish War of Independence. 60,000 to 98,000 Armenian civilians were estimated to have been killed by the Turkish army. Some estimates put the total number of Armenians massacred in the hundreds of thousands.:327
Reports and reactions
Workers of the American Committee for Relief in the Near East in Sivas.
Hundreds of eyewitnesses, including the neutral United States and the Ottoman Empire’s own allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary, recorded and documented numerous acts of state-sponsored massacres. Many foreign officials offered to intervene on behalf of the Armenians, including Pope Benedict XV, only to be turned away by Ottoman government officials who claimed they were retaliating against a pro-Russian insurrection.:177 On 24 May 1915, the Triple Entente warned the Ottoman Empire that “In view of these new crimes of Turkey against humanity and civilization, the Allied Governments announce publicly to the Sublime Porte that they will hold personally responsible for these crimes all members of the Ottoman Government, as well as those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres”.
The U.S. Mission in the Ottoman Empire
The United States had consulates throughout the Ottoman Empire, including locations in Edirne, Elâzığ, Samsun, İzmir, Trebizond, Van, Constantinople, and Aleppo. It was officially a neutral party until it joined the Allies in 1917. In addition to the consulates, there were numerous American Protestant missionary compounds established in Armenian-populated regions, including Van and Kharput. The atrocities were reported regularly in newspapers and literary journals around the world.:282–5
On his return home in 1924 after thirty years as a U.S. Consul in the Near East, and most of the preceding decade as Consul General at Smyrna, George Horton wrote his own “account of the Systematic Extermination of Christian Populations by Mohammedans and of the Culpability of Certain Great Powers; with a True Story of the Burning of Smyrna” (1926 subtitle, The Blight of Asia). Horton’s account quoted numerous contemporary communications and eyewitness reports including one of the massacre of Phocea in 1914, by a Frenchman, and two of the Armenian massacres of 1914/15, by an American citizen and a German missionary.:28–9,34–7. It also quoted U.S. businessman Walter M. Geddes regarding his time in Damascus: “several Turks[,] whom I interviewed, told me that the motive of this exile was to exterminate the race.”
Many Americans spoke out against the genocide, including former president Theodore Roosevelt, rabbi Stephen Wise, Alice Stone Blackwell, and William Jennings Bryan, the U.S. Secretary of State to June 1915. In the U.S. and the United Kingdom, children were regularly reminded to clean their plates while eating and to “remember the starving Armenians”.
Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story
Audio recording of Chapter 24, “The Murder of a Nation”, from Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story.
As the orders for deportations and massacres were enacted, many consular officials reported what they were witnessing to the ambassador. In memoirs that he completed during 1918 Morgenthau wrote, “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact …”:309 The memoirs and reports vividly described the methods used by Ottoman forces and documented numerous instances of atrocities committed against the Christian minority.
Allied forces in the Middle East
On the Middle Eastern front, the British military was engaged fighting the Ottoman forces in southern Syria and Mesopotamia. British diplomat Gertrude Bell filed the following report after hearing the account from a captured Ottoman soldier:
The battalion left Aleppo on 3 February and reached Ras al-Ain in twelve hours … some 12,000 Armenians were concentrated under the guardianship of some hundred Kurds … These Kurds were called gendarmes, but in reality mere butchers; bands of them were publicly ordered to take parties of Armenians, of both sexes, to various destinations, but had secret instructions to destroy the males, children and old women … One of these gendarmes confessed to killing 100 Armenian men himself … the empty desert cisterns and caves were also filled with corpses …:327
Winston Churchill described the massacres as an “administrative holocaust” and noted that “the clearance of the race from Asia Minor was about as complete as such an act, on a scale so great, could well be. … There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons. The opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race opposed to all Turkish ambitions, cherishing national ambitions that could only be satisfied at the expense of Turkey, and planted geographically between Turkish and Caucasian Moslems”.:329
Arnold Toynbee: The Treatment of Armenians
Historian Arnold J. Toynbee published the collection of documents The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1916. Together with British politician and historian Viscount James Bryce, he compiled statements from survivors and eyewitnesses from other countries including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland, who similarly attested to the systematic massacre of innocent Armenians by Ottoman government forces.
The book has since been criticized as British wartime propaganda to build up sentiment against the Central PowersUniversity of Oxford Regius Professor Gilbert Murray stated, “… the evidence of these letters and reports will bear any scrutiny and overpower any skepticism. Their genuineness is established beyond question”.:228 Other professors, including Herbert Fisher of Sheffield University and former American Bar Association president Moorfield Storey, came to the same conclusion.:228–9, but Bryce had submitted the work to scholars for verification before its publication.
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