Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

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Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

Armenia as a cultural, political, and geographical entity has existed for 2,700 years. The land, historically identified as Greater Armenia, lies east of the Euphrates River. It is bounded on the northwest by the river Choruh (Churuk or Tchorokh), on the north by the Kura River, on the east and southeast by the river Araks (also Araxes) and the Lake of Urmia, and on the south by the Tigris Valley.

Origins of the Armenian People

Described as Armenoi, the Armenians were first mentioned by the Greek historian Hecateus of Miletus around 550 bce. Some thirty years later the inscription of Darius I, King of Persia, refers to Armina as the land of the Armenians. In the Bible itself, namely, in the Book of Jeremiah (Chap. 51, verse 27), there is also a reference to "the Kingdom of Ararat" denoting the timeframe of 594 bce. Furthermore, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, the so-called father of history (fifth century bce), the Armenians, an Indo-European people, migrated from the Balkan Peninsula to Asia Minor (Turkey), with the Phrygians whose colony they constituted, and spoke an Indo-European language. Following its later separation from them, however, this migrant colony over time amalgamated itself with the indigenous population groups, especially the Hayasa-Azzi. It is worth noting in this respect that Armenians call themselves Hay and not Armenian. Moreover, in the annals of Assyria, the Armenian plateau is depicted as the land of Nairi, in and around which, toward the end of the eighth century bce, the proto-Armenian migrant colony is seen evolving into the dominant population of the area historically known as Urartu (Ararat).

Sociocultural Evolution of the Armenian People: Historical Background

Hence, the region in eastern Turkey encompassing Mount Ararat and Lake Van does constitute the geographical matrix marking the birth and formation of the Armenian nation. During the successive centuries of this pre-Christian era, Armenia attained sufficient consolidation and strength to emerge as an imposing royal power. During the reign of King Artashes (190 bce), for example, the kingdom extended from the Euphrates on the west, almost to the Caspian Sea, from the Caucasus in the north to the Taurus Mountains. The apogee of such power coincides with the reign of Tigran the Great (95–56 bce) who through a series of victorious military campaigns, created a vast Armenian empire. By 70 bce it extended from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, from the Caucasus to Palestine, with him receiving as a result the title of King of Kings.

The subsequent decline of the Armenian Empire, power, and statehood coincides with the advent of Christianity. Its establishment during the first two decades of the fourth century in Armenia, as the first Christian state in history, was a defining moment for the formation of the Armenian nation in the centuries to follow. The Armenian Church consequently evolved as the single most important institution for Armenian national life. Its founders and leaders left their indelible imprint on Armenian religious literature, Armenian historiography, and linguistics, and provided the impetus for the cultivation of a distinct ethos relative to education and learning in general. The pillars of this initiative were Saint Sahag, the Catholicos, that is, the Supreme Patriarch of the Church, and Saint Mesrop, a polyglot and erudite monk, who, with the encouragement of the former and the help of others, set out to invent the Armenian alphabet. This effort yielded the intended result. In 414 a cultural milestone was achieved: The Bible was translated into Armenian, and thereby the fusion of religion and language in Armenian civilization became enshrined.

This religious immersion in Christianity was perilously tested some four decades later. In the epoch-making Battle of Avarair in 451, Armenians fought and died to protect and preserve their Christian faith while successfully resisting the pagan demands of the Persian King Yazdgard III. They resolutely refused to substitute the worship of sun and fire for their Christian faith.

Due to successive Muslim incursions from near and far, the Christian identity of the Armenians and their stubborn clinging to it resulted in an unending chain of national calamities. The historical unfolding of the fate of the Armenians is accordingly punctuated by constant tragedy, sorrow, and attrition in numbers. The incursions included that of the Arab rulers of the Abbasid Caliphate in the seventh century; that of the Selchuks, nomadic Turkic tribes from Central Asia, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; Genghis Khan's Mongols in the thirteenth century, who, at the end of that century, converted to Islam; and finally the Turkish clans who under Osman, the son and successor of the original clan leader, established the Ottoman realm that was to grow and endure for some five centuries.

Ottoman Theocracy and Its Unsettling Impact on Armenians

The steady expansion of this incipient Ottoman realm and its eventual transformation over time into the Ottoman Empire had fateful consequences for the Armenian people, whose ancestral territories and major population centers had thus become incorporated into the territories of that empire. The overarching factor sealing the fate of Ottoman Armenians in this respect was the pervasive theocratic structure of that empire. The latter's multiethnic and multireligious character was a factor that drove the dominant Ottoman-Turkish element to rely heavily on the tenets and dogmas of the Islamic sacred law to govern the empire. The Ottoman sociopolitical system was dichotomized in terms of these antithetical entities: the ruling nation (milleti hâkime) and the subject nation (milleti mahküme). The underlying principle of this dichotomy was a religion that proclaimed the superordination of the faithful, that is, the Muslims, and accordingly assigned a subordinate status to the "infidel" and, therefore, "inferior" non-Muslims. The institutionalization of this Islamic dogma as a doctrine found expression in the practice of prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion directed against non-Muslims.

Nevertheless, the most debilitating liability structurally imposed on the Armenians, the preponderant non-Muslim minority in Asia Minor, was the categorical denial of their right to bear arms. This canonical prohibition was especially reconfirmed and reinforced in connection with the 1876 Constantinople Conference. The representatives of the six Great Powers of Europe, among other demands, urged the sultan to grant the Christian subjects of the empire the right to bear arms. But, after summoning and consulting the Ulema, the Islamic doctors of law, the Seyhulislam, their head, issued a fetva, a preemptory final opinion, declaring such a right to be a violation of Islamic sacred law. In an environment teeming with Turkish, Kurdish, and other Muslim overlords armed to their teeth, especially in the remote provinces of the interior of the empire, the defenseless Armenians were, by virtue of this theocratic fiat, consigned to a level of status involving ultimate vulnerability; they were, in fact, reduced to fair game, which served to invite all sorts of depredations, including murder, rape, exorbitant taxations, plunder, confiscations, and abductions. These conditions, endemic in the Ottoman imperial system of provincial administration not only persisted, but also during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamit evolved into a portentous Turkish-Armenian political conflict.

Hamit and the Ensuing Series of Armenian Massacres (1894–1896)

The Turkish-Armenian conflict was but an integral part of a larger, evolving conflict between the Turkish-Muslim rulers of the empire on the one hand, and the empire's various Christian nationalities on the other. The Ottoman Empire's theocratic tenets, reinforced by the militant and imperial attitudes of these rulers, served to produce a regime unable to govern these subject nationalities. The resulting maladministration, marked by blight and ineptness, steadily aggravated the latter's plight. The interventionist response of the European powers, especially Russia, England, and France, not only further exacerbated the problem, but also in the process enabled these subject nationalities to jar themselves loose from the Ottoman yoke. Their ultimate success in emancipating themselves proved, however, contagious for the thus far docile Armenians, who, unlike these Balkan national groups, were not seeking independence, but rather local autonomy through administrative reforms. Their main concern was protection from the unabating depredations described above, within a broad scheme of reforms guaranteeing their overall security. The specific stipulation of Article 61 of the 1878 Berlin Peace Treaty, which followed the Russian military victory in the Turkish-Russian War of 1877 and 1878, had provided for such reforms; so did the 1895 Armenian Reform scheme that the European powers had negotiated with Hamit, who grudgingly signed it.

Determined to scuttle any program of Armenian Reforms, Hamit already in the years following the signing of the Berlin Treaty had begun to initiate a series of measures to this end. He solemnly swore to the German ambassador, Prince von Radolin, that he "would rather die than yield to unjust Armenian pressures and allow the introduction of large-scale Autonomy Reforms" (Lepsius et al., 1927, Document no. 2184). In two separate memoranda he composed as guidelines for his deputies, who were entrusted with handling the Armenian reforms issue, Hamit vented his wariness as he suspected ulterior motivations relative to the pursuit of these reforms. In one of these memoranda, he characterized such reforms as a device to strengthen the Armenians, who then would likely seek independence, and thereby cause the partition of the Ottoman realm. In the other, he expressed his anxiety that these reforms would eventually lead to the Armenians dominating the Muslims and establishing in eastern Turkey an Armenian principality. Hamit then instructed his underling to emulate his standard policy, namely, "to put off [the Europeans] by advancing trumped-up excuses [oyalamak]" (Hocaoglu, 1989, pp. 170, 237). Namely, the Ottoman government would officially issue oral and written instructions on the Armenian reforms that, being contrary to the wishes of the monarch, were expected to be evaded by setting forth credible excuses.

In the meantime Hamit embarked on a multi-pronged campaign to nip the reforms advocated by the Great Powers in the bud. Having earlier prorogued the Ottoman Parliament, he then completely transferred the residual executive power to the palace, his seat and domain of power. Thus, the limited restraints attached to his constitutional monarchy largely dissolved themselves, paving the way for the onset of a more or less unfettered autocracy that soon degenerated into a regime of despotism (istibdad). Instead of normally functioning cabinet ministers taking charge of government, a despotic monarch, surrounded by a reckless palace camarilla (cabal), began to devise and implement a new Armenian policy that involved a new phase of anti-Armenian persecution through officially sanctioned terror.

In anticipation of the escalation of the conflict surrounding the projected Armenian reforms, in 1891 Hamit set up a new system of Kurdish tribal regiments of territorial cavalry (Hamidiye). By 1899 their numbers had grown from thirty-three to sixty-three. These quasi-official regiments received ranks, uniforms, regimental badges, and Martin rifles, and with them, the license to intensify the level of persecution of the unarmed and highly vulnerable Armenian population of the provinces. During the ensuing massacres of 1894 and 1896 these regiments would play a key role as instruments of widespread death and destruction.

Parallel to this undertaking, Hamit launched a comprehensive program of redistricting or "gerrymandering" to use colloquial parlance. By drastically altering the proportion of Armenian inhabitants of several provinces in eastern Turkey, whereby an Armenian majority was transformed into an Armenian minority, especially in the Van-Mus-Bitlis triangle, the heart of historic Armenia, the rationale for Armenian reforms was rendered untenable, thereby preempting the need for the entire scheme of Armenian reforms.

Meanwhile, the plight of the provincial Armenian population continued to deteriorate steadily. The gravity of this plight and the deliberate intent of Ottoman authorities to pursue such aggravation were cogently depicted by the veteran French ambassador to Turkey, Paul Cambon. On the eve of the 1894 to 1896 massacres "a high ranking Turkish official told me," reported Cambon to Paris "that the Armenian Question does not exist, but we shall create it." Cambon went on to explain:

Up until 1881, the idea of Armenian independence was non-existent. The masses simply yearned for reforms, dreaming only of a normal administration under Ottoman rule. . . . The reforms have not been carried out. The exaction of the officials remained scandalous. . . . [From] one end of the Empire to the other, there is rampant corruption of officials, denial of justice and insecurity of life. . . . [As] if it were not enough to provoke Armenian discontent, the Turks were glad to amplify it. . . . [The] maintenance in Armenia of a veritable regime of terror, arrests, murders, rapes, all this shows that Turkey is taking pleasure in precipitating the events [imperiling] an inoffensive population (Documents Diplomatiques Français, 1947, pp. 71–74).

It is against this backdrop that the Armenian reform movement lost its momentum and was replaced by the confrontational thrust of Armenian revolutionaries, who thus entered the arena of conflict with Ottoman provincial as well as central authorities. Unlike in the case of the Balkan nationalities, these revolutionaries, contrary to their fervent hopes, did not receive any support at all from any of the six European powers, thereby compounding the vulnerability endemic in the position of Ottoman Armenians. Alive to the advantages of this condition, Hamit, in total disregard, if not defiance, of the pro forma warnings and admonitions of these powers, set out to punish the Armenians on a massive and indiscriminate scale, by resorting to empire-wide massacres that lasted from August 1894 to September 1896 and claimed some 250,000 to 300,000 direct and indirect victims. And, as if to underscore his disdain for these powers, two in the series of these massacres were perpetrated in Constantinople, then the Ottoman capital, in broad daylight, and before the very eyes of the official representatives of the Great Powers.

These massacres are significant in several respects. First, they were perpetrated mostly with special cudgels or sticks that were fitted with a piece of iron that helped bludgeon their victims to death. According to a well-informed Turkish source, Hamit, in the aftermath of the massacres, gloatingly gave European diplomats a tour of the depots in which those cudgels were stored. Another method of massacre was immolation in houses, but especially churches. In the large cathedral of Urfa, for example, three thousand Armenians, mostly women and children, were burned alive in December 1895. There was massive popular participation in these atrocities incited by the haranguing of Mullahs at special religious services in the mosques on Fridays. Additionally, in some cities and towns convicts were released from prison for massacre duty.

The material desolation was no less significant. According to German investigator Johannes Lepsius, who immediately inspected the sites following the massacres, 2,500 towns and villages were ruined, 645 churches and monasteries were destroyed, and 328 churches were converted into mosques. Moreover, 508 churches and monasteries were completely plundered. Furthermore, the survivors of 559 villages and hundreds of families were forcibly converted to Islam; included in this toll were 15,000 Armenians from the provinces of Harput and Erzurum. Perhaps the most consequential feature of this era of massacres is the fact that the perpetrators almost in toto were deliberately spared from prosecution and punishment. This paramount aspect of impunity associated with the large-scale mass murder at issue here may well be regarded as the integral nexus, the inevitable connecting link, to the subsequent 1909 Adana massacre and, ultimately, the Armenian Genocide during World War I.

Advent of the Young Turk Regime and the 1909 Two-Tier Adana Massacre

The scope and intensity of the Hamit-era massacres had demonstrated the broad latitude that the monarch was domestically and internationally allowed in the exercise of his sanguinary tyranny. But, the tentacles of that tyranny reached beyond the confines of the Christian Armenians, deep into the community of his Muslim subjects as well—albeit not in the form of massacres, but through a variety of methods of individual persecution. Consequently, a select group of Armenian revolutionaries, Dashnaks in particular, joined hands with the emerging Young Turk revolutionaries to topple "the Red Sultan." Through jointly held public demonstrations and great fanfare heralding a new era of Muslim-Christian fraternity and solidarity, a new regime was ushered in. By reinstituting the 1876 Constitution, which the sultan had first expediently embraced only to prorogue it with equal expediency within a year, the constitutional form of monarchy was thereby restored. But the unfolding of some precipitous events culminating in a new major massacre against the Armenians underscored the tenuousness of this Muslim-Christian fraternity and the fragility of the guarantees of the newly restored constitution.

Unhappy with the secular and egalitarian aspects proclaimed by the founders of the new Young Turk Regime, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the apostles of fundamentalist Islam, the advocates of Sheri, the canon law of Islam, staged an uprising that was suppressed in short order. Coincidentally, however, there erupted in the city of Adana and its environs a major conflagration, historically known as the 1909 Adana massacre, to which some 25,000 Armenians fell victim.

Several factors converged in the outbreak of this bloodbath, the levels of fiendishness and ferocity of which exceeded those of all other episodes of mass murder against the Armenians, including the World War I genocide. Foremost among these factors was a large number of disaffected partisans of the partly dethroned monarch, who, together with a host of Islamic religious leaders and local military officers who likewise identified with the monarch, gladly joined in precipitating and consummating the bloodbath. Another factor involved was the accumulated wealth of the region's Armenians who had been spared from the death and destruction of the 1894 to 1896 massacres because of the fear of the nearby, combative Armenian mountaineers of Zeitun. That wealth served as a magnet for the lethal cupidity of the perpetrators. An equally important factor concerned the aggressive nationalism of some Armenian community leaders. Intoxicated with the new spell of freedom, these Armenians, suddenly relieved of the centuries-old Ottoman-Turkish yoke, openly vented their spirit of defiant nationalism, thereby challenging their erstwhile Muslim overlords. However, the most potent factor in question was the clandestine, instigative role of the CUP, egged on by the CUP's Saloniki branch leaders, headed by Mehmet Nazim, one of the architects of the subsequent Armenian Genocide. Through coded messages they directed the local CUP members and their fellow perpetrators in the operations of the two-tier Adana massacre (April 1–14 and April 14–27, 1909).

Two postmassacre official investigations concluded that the massacre was premeditated and organized. One of them, which was issued by a CUP deputy of Armenian extraction (Hagop Babikian), placed the blame squarely on the CUP as the arch culprit. He had been dispatched by the Ottoman Parliament along with another Turkish deputy (Yusuf Kemal) to investigate the matter on the spot. The results of the other investigation were reported by Grand Vizier Hilmi Pasa during an address before the Ottoman Chamber of Deputies. In it he denounced "the criminal scoundrels who were bent on massacring and plundering the Armenians through a surprise attack." Notwithstanding, there was very little retribution as far as the arch organizers were concerned and hardly any significant restitution or rehabilitation as far as the survivors were concerned. The vulnerability of the victim population proved once more to be a warrant for the kind of mass murder that would again escape any meaningful punishment.

Armenian Reform Issue as a Prelude to Impending Genocide

In the continuum of the era of Armenian massacres spanning the regimes of Hamit and the Young Turks, there is discernible a pattern of centrally directed organization. Whereas a palace camarilla was involved in the former case, in the latter a conspiratorial clique holding sway in the upper echelons of the CUP stands out. In both cases, the organizers had managed to gain the upper hand in control of the state's key apparatuses. The steady deterioration of the plight of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire and the intensification of the attendant Turkish-Armenian conflict coincide with the onset of a new policy of Turkish nationalism this CUP regime adopted. Pursuant to this policy, the CUP initiated a series of steps. To expand its base and acquire new resources, Mehmet Talaat, the CUP's party boss and frequent interior minister, established new party cells and clubs throughout the length and breadth of the empire. Additionally, it acquired substantial power by co-opting a significant number of army officers, many of who actually enrolled in the ranks of the CUP as active party members. In the meantime, the CUP's Central Committee, a kind of politburo, underwent a major structural change. After increasing the number of its members from seven to twelve, the top party leaders allowed three men to forge and inexorably carry out a new policy on nationalities, whereby the empire would be purged of its non-Muslim elements by way of supplanting multiethnic Ottomanism with exclusionary Turkism. Most significant, these three men—the MDs Behaeddin Sakir and Mehmet Nazim, and party ideologue, Ziya Gökalp—within a few years, namely, during World War I, would prove the principal architects of the Armenian Genocide.

A new crisis in the Balkan Peninsula, one involving the explosion of war in a brewing conflict with Christian subjects on that peninsula, brought matters to a head. Responding to two ghastly massacres the Ottoman rulers had perpetrated in Macedonia in the summer of 1912, the Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgarians, former Ottoman subjects, set aside their disputes on Macedonia and jointly declared war. Within weeks the Ottoman armies were roundly defeated, and Ottoman dominion in the Balkans came to a devastating end as tens of thousands of destitute Muslims fled and took refuge in all corners of Constantinople, then the capital of the empire. It was under these bleak circumstances that the various leadership groups of the Armenian community decided to resuscitate once more the languishing Armenian reform issue. Delegations were sent to the European capitals; their pleas served to mobilize Great Powers to pressure Turkey for the adoption of a new reform scheme. Following arduous and exacting negotiations, the CUP leadership felt impelled to sign a new reform accord on February 8, 1914, which for the first time stipulated European supervision and control of the accord's implementation.

Having gained total control of the machinery of the Ottoman state through a second coup d'état on January 23, 1913, the CUP leaders in no time became monolithic dictatorial masters of the empire after having purged virtually all opposition groups. Vested with this enormous power, they set out to implement their plan of coercive Turkification, with the Armenians becoming the prime target. The CUP prepared themselves for this task and waited for a suitable opportunity, which eventually came with the outbreak of World War I.

The enormity of the crime of genocide accents the importance of contextualizing that crime. War in this sense provides a unique context in which opportunism and exculpatory self-righteousness dynamically converge to motivate and even embolden the arch perpetrators. While the optimal vulnerability of the targeted victim group is the source of the opportunity, the perils of defeat implicit in any war are often used as a rationale, if not justification, for resorting to draconian measures against such a group, which almost invariably is denounced as "the internal foe" by these perpetrators. This is the general framework within which the World War I Armenian Genocide must be understood.

Several major military defeats the Ottoman armies suffered in the winter and spring of 1915, including those of Sarikamis and Dilman, were conveniently attributed to the military role of Armenian volunteer units enrolled in the enemy Russian Caucasus Army; three units were comprised, in part, of soldiers who were former Ottoman citizens. The April 1915 Van uprising, which the Armenians mounted to resist the impending massacre of that province's Armenian population, further provided the needed ammunition to declare the Armenians an internal foe. The stage was set to embark on the plan of wholesale extermination.

Recourse to Genocide

More than any other form of capital crime, genocide, if undertaken by a state organization, requires detailed preparations in order not only to ensure optimal success, but also to conceal or camouflage intent and outcome. During post–World War I Turkish court-martials it was ascertained and recorded in the respective official judicial gazette that the wholesale destruction of Armenians was premeditated (ta'ammüden) and that deportations were but a vehicle toward that end. In his affidavit prepared for that court, Third Army Commander General Vehip, when attesting to this fact of premeditation, used the term (kasden by prior deliberation). Moreover, the respective official documents of imperial Germany and imperial Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire's wartime allies, confirm the incidence of such premeditation.

Within weeks after the outbreak of war, while Turkey was maintaining a position of "armed neutrality," the newly formed brigand units (çete) of the Special Organization (TeskilatDi Mahsusa) began a campaign of harassment and terror against the Armenian population in eastern Turkey. When plans to encircle and destroy the Russian Caucasus Army disastrously failed in the aftermath of Turkey's intervention in the war, these brigand cadres were assigned a new and definitive mission: They were to be redeployed as killing units to attack and massacre the countless Armenian deportee convoys. Behaeddin Sakir, the head of the Special Organization East, with headquarters in Erzurum, in eastern Turkey, undertook a special trip to the Ottoman capital, where he sought and obtained the sanction of the CUP's omnipotent Central Committee to proceed with this mission. By way of a sweeping and reckless generalization, the Armenians were hereby expediently vilified as traitors and accordingly targeted as the so-called internal foe. Sporadic Armenian acts of desertion, espionage, and sabotage, common among other Muslim groups, especially Kurds and also Turks, in the service of the enemy Russians, and the coincidental Armenian Van uprising, were treated as welcome opportunities. They were conveniently and adroitly exploited as justifiable excuses for indiscriminate massive and lethal retaliation.

In order to streamline the mechanisms for implementing the projected extermination mission, the CUP leadership first suspended the Parliament, thereby transferring all state authority from the legislative to the executive branch. In short order, the executive began to run the country through the enactment of temporary laws as provided under Article 36 of the Ottoman Constitution and Article 12 of the CUP's party statutes. Accordingly, on May 13 and 26, 1915, Interior Minister Talaat railroaded through the Ottoman Cabinet the Temporary Law on Deportation that entailed the wholesale uprooting and eventual destruction of the empire's Armenian population. The gradual liquidation of able-bodied Armenian males, who through the General Mobilization decree had been conscripted months earlier, was already in progress.

The organization of the genocidal field of operations was entrusted to a number of agencies and groups. Foremost among these was the military. The coordination of the dual tasks of marshalling the logistics of the deportee convoys on the one hand, and their subsequent massacre through ambushes by the Special Organization gangs on the other, was entrusted to Staff Colonel Seyfi, head of Department II in Ottoman General Headquarters. These gangs were largely comprised of bloodthirsty (kanli katil) convicts, who had been especially selected and released from the prisons of the empire for such massacre duty, and led by young active and reserve officers. Three army commanders likewise played key organizational roles. The military and civilian jurisdiction of General Mahmud Kâmil, Commander of the Third Army, encompassed the largest concentration of the Ottoman Armenian population identified with the provinces of Sivas, Trabzon, Harput, Diyarbekir, Erzurum, Bitlis, and Van. It was this general who, through a prearrangement with the CUP Central Committee, was appointed to that post and shortly thereafter demanded (talep) authorization from General Headquarters to order the wholesale forcible deportation of this huge block of Armenians. General Halil Kut, Commander of Army Groups East, and General Ali Ihsan Sabis, Commander of the Fourth Army, inexorably liquidated all Armenians belonging to their respective armies and ordered the wholesale massacre of the civilian Armenian populations of the regions under their command.

The details of the empire-wide deportations were handled by a special category of powerful party functionaries, mostly ex-army officers, who were carefully selected by the party leadership. Dubbed in ranking order as responsible secretary (kâtibi mesul), delegate (murahhas), and inspector (müfettis), they had superordinate authority, including veto power over the decisions of provincial governors. These omnipotent "commissars" were assisted in their task by members of local CUP party cells.

Beyond the levels of premeditation, decision making, organization, and supervision, the ultimate level involved the actual execution of death and destruction—the crux of the Armenian Genocide. The primary executioners in this respect were the tens of thousands of convicts of the Special Organization described above. They were assisted by a number of irregular units of the Ottoman Army that included several Kurdish cavalry formations, and squads of gendarmes and homefront militia, who served as convoy escort personnel. Frequently, large mobs were mobilized from surrounding areas to deal with bulky convoys; they willingly participated in the butcheries given the ever-present lure of plunder and spoils.

One of the most distinguishing, if not singular, features of the Armenian Genocide is the array of methods and instruments employed. To spare powder and shells, for example, the perpetrators mostly used daggers, swords, scimitars, bayonets, axes, saws, and cudgels, as attested to by wartime U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau. Then, there were mass shootings primarily applied to thousands of disarmed Armenian Labor Battalion soldiers, who were always tied together with heavy ropes in fours and fives, before being executed. The inordinate gruesomeness of the Armenian Genocide is revealed most hauntingly, however, in the next two methods used. One of them involved massive drowning operations, whereby the tributaries of the Euphrates River, crisscrossing Turkey's eastern provinces, several lakes, and in particular, the Black Sea, covering the Samsun-Trabzon coastline stretch, became the fathomless graveyards of tens of thousands of women, children, and elderly men. The other concerns the fate of untold other multitudes, who were systematically burned alive in haylofts, stables, and large caves in such areas as Harput province, the deserts of Mesopotamia, but especially in Mus City and the Mus Plain in Bitlis province, where no less than sixty thousand Armenians were torched. In a rare act of condemnation, Turkish Army Commander Vehip, who during an inspection trip had observed the charred remains of women and children in Tchurig village, north of Mus City, one of those spots of that area's Armenian holocaust, decried what he called this evidence of "atrocity and savagery that has no parallel in the history of Islam" (Dadrian, 2002, pp. 84–85).

When warning Turkey of the dire consequences of the genocide then in progress, the entente powers—France, England, and Russia—on May 24, 1915, introduced the legal term crimes against humanity, which was later codified in Article 6c of the Nuremberg Charter and the Preamble of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Even though no exact statistical figures are available, based on an average of German, British, Austrian, and U.S. estimates, about 1.2 million perished in the genocide, while another half-million dispersed to all corners of the world as refugee survivors. While "the dire consequences" trumpeted by the victorious Allies dismally failed to materialize, the crime of the Armenian Genocide not only still remains negatively rewarded by way of impunity, but also official Turkey, past and present, with little hesitation, still persists in denying that crime.

SEE ALSO Armenians in Russia and the USSR; Atatürk, Mustafa Kemal Pasha; Enver, Ismail; Talaat


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Vahakn N. Dadrian

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Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

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