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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade) Part One

"The Armenian massacre was the greatest crime of the war, and failure to act against Turkey is to condone it;  because the failure to deal radically with the Turkish horror means that all talk of guaranteeing the future peace of the world is mischievous nonsense;  and because when we now refuse to war with Turkey we show that our announcement that we meant 'to make the world safe for democracy' was insincere claptrap."  Theodore Roosevelt to Cleve Dodge 1917

         "The British consul Henry Barnham, who oversaw Aintab and Birecik in Aleppo Province, made it clear in his account how powerfully the killing of Armenians was motivated by Islamic fanaticism and a jihad mentality:
                   The butchers and the tanners, with sleeves tucked up to the shoulders,
                    armed with clubs and cleavers, cut down the Christians, with cries of
                     'Allahu Akbar!'  broke down the doors of the houses with pickaxes
                     and levers, or scaled the walls with ladders.  Then when mid-day came
                     they knelt down and said their prayers, and then jumped up and resumed
                     the dreadful work, carrying on far into the night.  Whenever they were
                      unable to break down the doors they fired the houses with petroleum,
                      and the fact that at the end of November petroleum was almost
                      unpurchaseable in Aleppo suggests that enormous quantities were bought
                       up and sent north for this purpose.
       Muslim clerics played a perpetual role in the massacring of Armenians;  imams and softas would often rally the mob by chanting prayers;  and mosques would often rally the mob by chanting prayers;  and mosques were often used as places to mobilize crowds, especially during Friday prayers.  Christians were murdered in the name of Allah.  One survivor, Abraham Hartunian, described the desecration of two Armenian churches (one Gregorian--Armenian Apostolic--and the other Protestant) in the town of Severek in Diyarbekir Province:
                     The mob had plundered the Gregorian church, desecrated it, murdered all
                      who had sought shelter there, and, as a sacrifice, beheaded the sexton on
                      the stone threshold.  Now it filled our yard.  The blows of an axe crashed
                       in the church doors.  The attackers rushed in, tore the Bibles and
                       hymnbooks to pieces, broke and shattered whatever they could,
                        blasphemed the cross, and, as a sign of victory, chanted the Mohammedan
                         prayer:  'La ilaha ill-Allah, Muhammedin Rasula-llah' (There is no other
                        God but one God, and Mohammed is His prophet). . . . The leader
                         of the mob cried:'Muhammede salavat!' Believe in Mohammed and deny
                         your religion.  No one answered. . . . The leader gave the order to
                         massacre.   The first attack was on our pastor.  The blow of an axe dec-
                         apitated him.  His blood, spurting in all directions, spattered the walls
                        and ceiling.
         Two letters from a Turkish soldier on duty in Erzurum with the Fourth Company, Second Battalion, Twenty-fifth Regiment, written to his parents and brother in Harput, also lend insights into Turkish attitudes about killing Armenians.  The letters came into the hands of a British consul after the massacres in that city and were put into the consular file marked 'Confidential.'
                   My brother, if you want news from here we have killed 1,200 Armenians, all
                   of them as food for the dogs. . . .Mother, I am safe and sound.  Father, 20
                    days ago we made war on the Armenian unbelievers.  Through God's grace
                    no harm befell us.  There is a rumor afoot that our Battalion will be order-
                    ed to your part of the world--if so, we will kill all the Armenians there. 
                     Besides, 511 Armenians were wounded, one or two perish every day.  If
                     you ask after the soldiers and Bashi Bozouks, not one of their noses has
                     bled. . . .May God bless you.
        In these letters, massacring Armenians is seen as a commonplace occurence sanctioned by Islam as well as by the government.  As Dadrian put it:  'Here is a regimental unit of the standing army engaged in broad daylight in peacetime killing operations against unarmed civilian populations.'
       Among the most ghoulish scenes recorded was the extermination of the Armenians of Urfa.  Urfa, once ancient Edessa (the city to which Christ's disciples brought Christianity, in this dry region of southeastern Anatolia), had been the site of massacre in October 1895 during the wave of autumn killings of that year, and the Armenians remained under siege in their quarter of the town for the following two months.  Then, on December 28th at midday, a bugle sounded and Turkish soldiers and civilians invaded the Armenian quarter.  Doors of houses and shops were smashed open with axes and clubs, and people were shot on the spot.  Their material goods and valueables were stolen, and kerosene was poured on the rest.  At sunset, when the bugle sounded again, the killers retreated, and the Armenians who had survived sought refuge in their cathedral.  (Traditionally synagogues and churches were to be respected as places of refuge under Islamic law.)
       The next morning the Turkish troops fired through the church windows and broke down the iron door, mockingly calling on 'Christ now to prove himself a greater prophet than Mohammed.'  They began killing everyone on the floor of the church by hand or with pistols.  From the altar they gunned down the women and children in the gallery.  Finally the Turks gathered bedding and straw, on which 'they poured some thirty cans of kerosene'  and set the church ablaze.  British Consul G.H. Fitzmaurice's careful description reveals something about the religious ethos underpinning the killings:
                 The gallery beams and wooden framework soon caught fire, whereupon,
                  blocking up the staircases leading to the gallery with similar inflammable
                  materials, they left the mass of struggling human beings to become the prey
                  of the flames.
                            During several hours the sickening odour of roasting flesh pervaded the
                  town, and even to-day, two months and a half after the massacre, the smell
                  of putrescent and charred remains in the church is unbearable. . . . I believe
                  that close on 8,000 Armenians perished in the two days' massacre of the 28th
                  and 29th December. . . . I should, however, not be at all surprised if the
                  figure of 9,000 or 10,000 were subsequently found to be nearer the mark.
      The massacres of the 1890s fully inaugurated the modern fate of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.  Abdul Hamid's policy of massacre began in what the social psychologist Irvin Staub has called a 'continuum of destruction.'  As Staub notes, 'A progression of changes in a culture and individuals is usually required for mass killing or genocide.  In certain instances--the Armenian Genocide, for example--the progression takes place over decades or even centuries and creates a readiness in the culture.'
       The Hamidian massacres also initiated the idea that massacre could be committed with impunity.  While the European powers set up an investigative commission after Sasun and Van, and asked the sultan for reforms, there was no forceful intervention to halt the massacres, nor was there any punishment in the aftermath.  There was, to be sure, worldwide coverage of the events and attendant outrage, and there was an outpouring of humanitarian relief and philantropy for the surviving victims.  The sultan was vilified in the European and the U.S. press as the "Bloody Sultan,"  and depicted as a paranoid despot and a defiler of human freedom.  Yet in the face of such world opinion, Abdul Hamid remained unrepentant, continuing to deny his actions and blame the victims.
       By the end of the 1890s, the lack of political recourse or punishment let the sultan off the hook, and left Turkish society engaged in a culture of massacre that permanently dehumanized Armenians in an evolutionary process that would culminate in genocide in 1915.  As Christian infidels, Armenians had already been marginalized.  Now they became fair game.

        On the night of April 12 {1909}, some units of soldiers in the First Army Corps in Constantinople revolted.  As dawn broke on the morning of April 13, there was an astonishing sight:  Regiments of soldiers marched in the morning mist across the bridges from the suburbs to the Golden Horn, shooting their rifles into the sky to announce their advent.  Several hundred filled the courtyard outside the parliament in Saint Sophia Square, while others poured into the old Byzantine plaza known as the Augusteon.
        As the mullahs, hojas (religious teachers), and softas in their white turbans and robes joined the soldiers, cries of 'Down with the Constitution!' and 'Long live the shari'a !' resounded in the plaza and throughout the streets of the city.  The presence of the Muslim zealots created such tension that the chief of the Constantinople police was soon in the streets confronting them as they demanded the dismissal of the minister of war and the president of the chamber.  The softas and their religious colleagues were also protesting the sight of women in public, a complaint that had become commonplace after the revolution.  As the day went on, riots broke out in the streets and the soldiers and the softas sacked and looted the CUP's {Committee of Union and Progress} newspaper offices, sending many CUP members into hiding.
        In the chaos Grand Vizier Hilmi Pasha resigned, as did other cabinet members.  Although the sultan issued an order that the shari'a would be protected, for the moment the government was in disarray.  By telegraph, the news of the counterevolution reached the army in Salonika, and within days an 'Army of Deliverance' was mobilized and sent to the capital.  Enver Bey, who was in Berlin at the Turkish embassy, rushed back to join his army, and on April 23 the Young Turk troops entered Constantinople.  After some clashes with the softas and soldiers, which were over by about five o'clock in the afternoon, the Deliverance Army quashed the counterrevolution.  The CUP was now in a position to increase its influence over the next few years, in what would be an unstable and transitional time for the Ottoman government.

       During that span of about five hundred years, the Christians of the Balkans, the majority of whom were Slavs, lived under Ottoman Muslim rule, and were accorded the traditional Ottoman treatment of those of infidel status.  The Balkan Christians, like the Arminians, were subjected to heavy taxation, arbitrary violence, political disenfranchisement, and cultural oppression;  some of them converted to Islam.  There were constant rebellions and uprisings against the Turks, which were put down by the Ottoman army.  Finally, by 1828, Greece had successfully fought its war for independence.  In 1876 the Bulgarians staged a rebellion, only to be brutally massacred by Ottoman forces in what quickly became known as 'the Bulgarian horrors.'  In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Balkan states petitioned continually for reform.  After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, article 23 of the Treaty of Berlin promised reforms for the Armenians.  With the Treaty of Berlin the Bulgarians had achieved partial autonomy, and the process of Balkan secession had begun.
       By 1912, as new Balkan alliance were formed in opposition to Ottoman rule, the Turks again responded with massacre.  In the summer of 1912 the Ottoman army carried out two massacres, one in Ishtib, east of Skopje, and another in Kocani, southeast of Skopje, the capital city of Kosovo.  In October 1912, the tiny state of Montenegro began a war of rebellion against Ottoman rule.  Five days later the other Balkan states demanded reforms and mobilized their armies.  On October 17 the Ottoman Empire had declared war on Bulgaria and Serbia, and the next day Greece declared war on the Ottoman Empire.  What ensued was astonishing.  Within a day Turkey suffered heavy losses to the combined fronts of the Balkan armies, and was forced to stage an eleventh-hour defense near Constantinople.  By October 26 the Serbs had won at Skopje in Kosovo, by November 8 the Greeks had taken Salonika, and by November 29 Albania had declared its independence.
       Throughout the period of the Balkan crisis, Turkish sentiment was marked by rage.  In the streets of Constantinople on the eve of the war students and CUP members shouted:'We want war!', 'To Sofia, to Sofia!', 'Down with Greece!  Greeks, bow your heads!' and the hatred of European intervention was clear as they chanted 'Down with article 23, down with it!', 'Down with equality!', 'The Balkan dogs are trampling on Islam.'
        An editorial in the newspaper Tanin, a quasi-official voice of the CUP, declared: 'Europe's intervention and Europe's desire to control our internal affairs is a warning to us to ponder the fate not only of Rumelia [Macedonia], but also eastern Turkey, for it will be impossible to spare eastern Turkey the fate awaiting Rumelia.'  In the Turkish mind, the struggle to keep the Balkans was never far from the Armenian Question."  The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian pgs. 112-115, 146-147,160-161, and 308

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