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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Seven

       "In order to extort as much money as possible from the Armenians, the Turkish authorities often forced them to pay first-class fare before they put them into the cattle cars that would most likely take them to their deaths.  On September 8, 1915, Dr. William S. Dodd wrote:'The exiles were compelled to pay the full fare and then packed forty or fifty together in box-trucks, cattle trucks, or even open flat trucks.  The Railway seems to be as conscienceless in wringing the money out of them as the Government or the Turks.'
       Similarly, Dr. Wilfred M. Post, writing on September 3, 1915, testified to the coordination between the railway deportations and the killing squads:
                    Much that I might add is as nothing, however to what the railway employ
                    -ees report as going on at the end of the line, where the people leave
                     the railway and set out on foot, only to be set upon by brigands, who
                      rob, outrage and kill all the way from Bonzanti to Adana and beyond. . .
                       .Whether these unfortunate people are sent on towards the east or
                      whether they remain where they are along the road, their future is very
                       dark, and it means annihilation for the whole race.
       In the end between a half and two-thirds of the more than two million Armenians living on their historic homeland in the Ottoman Empire were annihilated.  While the number of dead continues to be debated, as is the case with most episodes of mass killing (the U.S. Holocaust Museum, for example, places the number of Jewish dead in the Holocaust at 5.1 to 5.4 million, while other estimates go to 6 million), scholars of genocide, including the largest body of genocide scholars--the Association of Genocide Scholars of North America--conservatively assess that more than a million Armenians were killed, and probably somewhere between 1.2 and 1.3 million.  Some historians put the figure at about 1.5 million, which spans the period from 1915 to 1922, when the last waves of killing took place.

       The sultan had noted that Russian Armenians in the czar's army fought valiantly against the Turks in 1877, and he was forever enraged that the European powers used the Armenian Question to force concessions after the war.  In 1895-96, the Armenians of Van had resisted massacre for a short time before the Turks slaughtered more than twenty thousand of them.  So it is not surprising that in the spring of 1915 Van became a trouble spot again.  Before May was over, the Ottoman government would once again label as sedition what was essentially resistance to massacre.  The Armenian resistance at Van was seen as a provocation--in short, an excuse to proceed with the plan of extermination that had already begun.
       Back in July 1914, as the Ottoman Empire was about to enter World War I, a Turkish delegation approached the Dashnak leaders, who were convened at their eighth party congress in Erzurum, the capital of historic Armenia.  Lead by Dr. Shakir, who was fast assuming a major role in the plan to exterminate the Armenians, the delegation asked the Dashnaks if they would coax the Armenians over the Russian border to rise against the czar so that when war began the Ottoman army would be able to invade the Caucusus more easily.  In return the Turkish delegates promised that the Young Turk government would reward the Armenians with a semiautonomous Armenia, which might include parts of both Turkish and Russian Armenia.  Having experienced nothing but massacre and betrayed promises from the Turks over the past decades (the memory and the effects of the massacres in Van in 1895 and again in 1903 were still deeply felt by the Armenians of the region), the Dashnaks found the plan both unrealistic and dangerous;  they declined.  And they urged the Young Turk leaders to remain neutral instead of joining the war.
       Not surprisingly the Ottoman entrance into the war in November was accompanied by a broadcasting of its hatred of its traditional enemy, Russia.  'The ideal of our nation and people leads us towards the destruction of our Muscovite enemy, in order to obtain thereby a natural frontier to our empire, which should include and unite all branches of our race.'  The party sloganeer, Ziya Goekalp, expressed the sentiment in a poem:  'The land of the enemy shall be devastated./Turkey shall be enlarged and become Turan,' and in order for this to happen, parts of Russia would have to be conquered and that included Russian Armenia. The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian, pgs. 195-96 and 198-99.

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