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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Four

     "The plan to exterminate the Armenians was accelerated and shaped by the rapid rise of military officers to crucial positions of power.  This new military authority remained free from the restraints of the Ottoman legislature.  With the proclamation of the Temporary Law of Deportation of May 27, 1915, which ordered the forcible deportation of the Armenians, Ottoman officers were given the power to take charge of the wholesale removal of the Armenian population, and the Ministry of War under Enver was authorized to administer the details.
         In creating an efficient killing process the Special Organization systematically recruited, organized, and deployed tens of thousands of convicted criminals for the purpose of massacring the Armenian population.  In this astonishing use of the nation's criminal manpower, the military authorities were given autonomy to authorize the release of thousands of convicts from the prisons.  While the Ottoman government had deployed convicts in small numbers in the Balkan War of 1913, and the sultan had also emptied some prisons for the sake of killing Armenians in the 1890s, the harnessing of the criminal element of Ottoman society was brought to an entirely new threshold in 1915.
       The organization of the chetes--the ex-convict killer bands--was similar to the Reich Security Main Office's einsatzgruppen,or mobile killing units.  While Raul Hilberg claims that the Reich Security Main Office conducted 'for the first time in modern history. . . a massive killing operation,' it appears in fact that the CUP's Special Organization was the first state bureaucracy to implement mass killing for the purpose of race extermination.  Arnold Toynbee was among the first to assess the role of these killing squads when he wrote that:' Turkish "political" chetes. . .made their debut on the western littoral, and in 1915, after being reinforced by convicts released for the purpose from the public prisons, they carried out the designs of the Union and Progress Government against the Armenians in every province of Anatolia except the vilayet of Aidin.'
       The CUP's killing program also involved a hierarchy of command.  At the top of this chain, Dr. Shakir played a role not unlike that of Nazi Reich Security Head, Reinhard Heydrich.  The miltary hierarchy was essential to the operation, and accordingly the Special Organization units were mostly directed by active or reserve officers.  The small detachments were commanded by lieutenants and captains, the larger ones by majors.  In order to ensure that the officers would lead the killing efficiently, they were given incentives of Armenian booty and spoils.  The killing squads and their leaders were motivated by both the ideology of jihad , with its Islamic roots, and pan-Turkism influenced by European nationalism.  The confession made by a Turkish gendarmerie captain named Shukru to the Armenian priest Krikoris Balakian in Yozgat in 1916 dramatizes the role of jihad in the killing process.  Captain Shukru admitted to Balakian, a deportee he assumed would soon be dead, that he had been ordered to massacre all the Armenians of Yozgat because it was a 'holy war.'  When it was over, he told the priest, he 'would say a prayer and his soul would be absolved.'
       The killer bands, or chetes, who played such a significant role in the killing process, were estimated to be about thirty to thirty-four thousand in number.  While Talaat, Shakir, Enver, Gokalp, Nazim, and the others found the idea of using ex-convicts to be an effective means of carrying out genocide, there was another hidden agenda.  Using ex-convicts, they believed, would enable the government to deflect responsibility.  For as the death tolls rose, they could always say that 'things got out of control,' and it was the result of 'groups of brigands.'"  The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian, pgs. 182-183

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