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Monday, July 01, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Five

        "But the chetes were only part of a killing operation that involved military police and the provincial police, known as gendarmes.  They were the ones who carried out the rigorous process of arrest and deportation city by city, town by town, village by village.  Staff officers were assigned to the Ottoman army corps and became chiefs of staff in the interior, where they were put in command of their respective killing units in order to assist in 'the liquidation of the Christian elements.'  One reserve officer put it bluntly when he said the aim of the whole process 'was to destroy the Armenians and thereby to do away with the Armenian question.'
        Because Germany was the Ottoman Empire's closest wartime ally, there is a large body of extraordinary German testimony about the Armenian Genocide.  For example, Colonel Stange, the highest-ranking German guerrilla commander in the Russian-Turkish border region, referred to the chetes as 'scum' (Gesindel), who 'in the area of Tercan killed without exception all the Armenians of the convoy coming from Erzurum.'  This 'incontestable fact,' he wrote, was carried out 'with the assistance of the military escort.'  Similarly, German consul Scheubner-RIchter, reporting on the massacres from Harput to Erzinjan, also referred to the killing squads as 'the scum.'  The German consul in Aleppo, Dr. Walter Roessler, in a July 27, 1915 report, noted that the killing squads were created by 'the Turkish government which released convicts from the prisons, put them in soldiers' uniforms and sent them to areas through which the deportees are to pass.'
       While the killing squads and provincial gendarmerie were consumed with massacring and deporting the civilian Armenian population, they also aided the Ottoman army in its scheme to dispose of all able-bodied Armenian men.  Christians had first been conscripted into the Ottoman army in 1909, after the implementation of new constitutional reforms, and so, at the outbreak of World War I, Armenian men between the ages of twenty and forty-five were drafted into the Ottoman army.  It was an army with numerous problems, among them severe ethnic discrimination.  Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, and others were subjected to brutal treatment.  Arab soldiers, for example, were often sent to the front lines shackled in chains and escorted by Turks at gunpoint.
       After Enver's humiliating defeat by the Russians at Sarikamish in December 1914-January 1915, Enver and his ruling elite, looking for a scapegoat, blamed the Armenians, claiming they were in sympathy with the Russians.  Within a month, by February 25, 1915, all the Armenian men in the Ottoman army were officially disarmed and thrown into labor battalions.  Almost immediately thereafter, the army began an organized plan of massacring the Armenian men in the labor battalions.  These killings preceded the beginning of the deportations and massacres of the later part of the spring.  As the historian Erik Zurcher has noted, 'Once the massacres started, the unarmed recruits in the labor battalions were sitting ducks.'  Under the guard of armed soldiers, the Armenian soldiers were taken out into secluded areas where they were killed by gunshot or with bayonets by Turkish soldiers, often with the aid of the gendarmes and the chetes.'  In this manner tens of thousands of Armenian men were disposed of.
        If the able-bodied Armenian men were not massacred in the labor batallions of the Ottoman army, they were most often taken out and shot in groups in the first stage of the deportation.  As the Armenians were forced from their homes and organized into caravans to be marched out of town, the men were separated from the women and children and taken out into the fields outside their towns and villages and shot en masse.  By killing the men quickly in these ways, the Turks rendered the rest of the Armenian community increasingly helpless without those who could best resist massacre and offer protection.
       Much like the hierarchical relationship between the Sonderkommandos, who carried out the executive orders in the Nazi bureaucracy, and the Einsatzgruppen killing squads, the CUP created a hierarchical administration to carry out the Armenian killing operations.  Three levels of bureaucrats were given a supreme authority that superseded the traditional government structure in the provinces, and through this network the details of the deportations and mass killings were carried out.  The hierarchy consisisted of Katibi Mesul 'Responsible Secretaries';  Murahhas, 'Delegates';  and Umumi Muefettish, 'General Inspectors.'  Most of the men who held these positions were former army officers;  as loyal party members their job was to maintain the chain of command in the provinces so that the orders for arrests, deportations, and massacre were implemented strictly, and to do this they worked closely with the local CUP clubs, known as Ittihad Clubs.
       In his report of July 28, 1915, from Erzurum, Vice-Consul Schuebner-Richter actually referred to this operation as a 'shadow, or a parallel government' (Nebenregierung) assuming power over the provincial government.  He attributed the severity of the deportations to the party administrators, who vetoed the governor-general's decree exempting the sick, families without men, and women living alone.  The Responsible Secretaries, Delegates, and Inspectors admitted, Scheubner-RIchter reported, that their job was to see the total obliteration (die ganzliche Ausrottung) of the Armenians.  Colonel Stange reported that in Trebizond Province, Dr. Shakir and Gen.  Mahmud Kamil 'ruthlessly and constantly pushed for the expediting of the deportations' with the knowledge that the convoys were being massacred on order.  From Adana, German consul Eugen Buge reported to his embassy in Constantinople that the local party chief (der hiesige Komiteefuhrer) promised to massacre all the Armenians of Adana if any of them were spared deportation.
       Perhaps nobody put it more comprehensively than German ambassador Count Paul von Wolff-Metternich.  Reporting back to the chancellor in Berlin, he expressed his exasperation at the power held by the CUP's Central Committee, hence the SO, in the process of the Armenian massacres:
        Nobody has any more power to restrain the multi-headed hydra of the Com
        -ittee, and the attendant chauvinism and fanaticism.  The Committee demands
         the extirpation of the last remnants of the Armenians and the government
          must yield.  The authority of the Committee is not limited to the Ottoman
          capital where Ittihad {CUP} is organized and functions as a party in power.
          That authority of the Committee reaches into all the provinces.  A Committee
          representative is assigned to each of the provincial administrations, from
          vali down to kaymakam, for purposes of assistance or supervision. . . .
           Turkification means license to expel, to kill or destroy everything that is
           not Turkish, and to violently take possession of the goods of others. . . ."
The Burning Tigris, by Peter Balakian pgs. 183-186.

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