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Friday, August 02, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Nine

       "What happened on the night of April 24, 1915, in Constantinople was a seminal event in the Armenian Genocide, and it was part of a pattern that would be established all over Turkey as the genocide progressed.  In cities, towns, and villages everywhere, Armenian cultural leaders were arrested, tortured, and killed as quickly as possible.  Some who survived, like the distinguished composer and musicologist Gomidas Vartabed, went insane.  In the end thousands of Armenian cultural leaders were killed, and the core of Armenia's intellectual life was destroyed.  In Van, Dr. Ussher recorded the roundup and arrests of Armenian professors and cultural leaders in late April and May 1915, and in Harput, American consul Leslie Davis reported that in June and July, Armenian intellectuals and professors were among the first to be imprisoned and murdered.
       What happened in Constantinople was dramatic.  Since the mid-nineteenth century the capital had been home to the richest and most influential Armenian community in the empire, and the center of Armenian intellectual and cultural life.  This made it the obvious target for the CUP to begin its formal eradication of Armenian cultural leaders.  On the night of April 24 and into the following day, about 250 cultural leaders were seized in a first round of arrests, and in the coming weeks another several hundred from the city and its vicinity would be arrested.
       'On the night of Saturday, April 24, 1915, 'the priest Krikoris Balakian wrote, 'the Armenians in the capital were snoring in a calm sleep--exhausted from their Easter celebrations, there on the heights of Stambul near Hagia Sophia--while in the central police station a secret project was in motion.'  Weeks earlier SO member and Constantinople chief of police Petri had sent letters to all police officers containing the list of Armenians to be arrested--a list that had been compiled with the help of Armenian spies, most notably one Artin Mugerditchian.
        It wasn't until the next evening that the warden checked off their names and they were marched by a troop of military police to the administration office.  There they were searched, and the police confiscated 'everything from us--money, small insignificant pieces of paper, pocket knives, pencils, diaries, even our umbrellas and canes, and always they pretended that they would be returning them to us later.'  The military police then put them on buses in groups of twenty--with about a dozen soldiers in each bus--and a caravan of military buses, led by the general police chief in his own car, proceeded from Hagia Sophia Boulevard toward Sirkedji."  The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian pgs. 211-212,213.

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