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 The following is excerpted from the excellent book, "Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War," by Edward J. Erickson (Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., 2001, pp: 95-104).

Followed by a review.

 

 
 

There is a huge body of historical literature concerning the "Armenian genocide" that maintains that the Young Turks, in particular Enver, Talat, and Cemal, intentionally sought to exterminate the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire. This case against the Young Turks rests on the premise that they intended to racially purify the empire by purging or exterminating its minorities, particularly the troublesome Christian Armenians. Moreover, the literature maintains that under the pretext of wartime emergencies and threats to national security, the Young Turks took advantage of circumstances to conduct genocide against the Armenians. Using a combination of methods ranging from massacre to starvation, the Young Turks then deliberately and intentionally caused the deaths of several million Armenians. Much of this literature is emotionally charged and a large percentage of it is directly generated by the descendants of the survivors of the events. The genocide itself has, over the past eighty years, become a highly political issue in most western countries, as Armenian descendants seek legislative condemnation of the modern Turkish Republic. Because of this transgenerational campaign to establish that an Ottoman genocide (defined as an intentional and systematic attempt to exterminate a people or a race) against its Armenian subjects occurred, balanced and objective discourse on this subject becomes difficult.

In many quarters of academia, debate has more or less settled on the acknowledgment that the genocide occurred as a matter of historical fact. Without question, a large number of innocent Armenians, including women and children, died during the First World War at the hands of the Turks. Documentation on this point is incontrovertible and was witnessed by too many neutral observers, many of whom wrote reliable and immediate narratives and reports. Because of this, the Young Turks have been intellectually equated with Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, and secondarily, the Turkish Army with the German SS. The Turkish position on the matter is that the Armenians were actively engaged in terrorism and in outright insurrection beginning in April 1915. Military necessity therefore justified the deportation of the Armenians. Both sides conducted unsanctioned massacres, but to this day the Turks deny that the Ottoman government sought, with premeditated intent, to exterminate the Armenian people.

It is beyond the scope of this book to assess or to comment on whether or not there was a deliberate or systematic genocide of the Armenian people during the First World War. This section focuses on the role and the responsibility of the military in identifying and reacting to the Armenian Rebellion of 1915 and 1916. Only a fraction of the massive Turkish archival holdings are available to researchers, and these are carefully controlled by the Turkish authorities. The records available to researchers in the Turkish General Staff's archives describe a rising pattern of civil unrest, followed by an armed rebellion. The available records also show an escalating response by the military culminating in the mass deportation of the Armenians.

As a prelude, there had been considerable recent conflict between the Armenians and the Ottoman government in the immediate aftermath of the revolutions of 1908 and 1909. During this turbulent period, Ottoman restrictions against minorities first relaxed and then tightened. The hopes of the minorities, especially the Armenians and the Greeks, who had thought that the ending of the sultanate and the establishment of a modern constitutional structure would lead to greater autonomy and political inclusion, were shattered when General Mehmut Sevket Pasa seized power. Disorder broke out throughout the empire among minorities disappointed with this development and with increased taxes and restrictions of civil rights. In particular, Armenians in Adana rose in revolt on April 14, 1909, and the army and the Jandarma in quelling the uprising subsequently killed many thousands.

 


 The Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire in 1914 approached several million and the Armenian population of the northeastern Ottoman vilayets was probably about 1.3 million people. There had been numerous Armenian uprisings beginning in the late 1700s and culminating in the 1890s in infamous and widely reported massacres. While many of the Armenians were loyal and law abiding citizens of the empire there had existed for many years subversive Armenian societies dedicated to the establishment of an autonomous Armenia. After 1909, internal dissent accelerated interest in these societies. In 1910, the Dasnaks (a revolutionary Armenian national society) launched a campaign of terror in eastern Anatolia. Both Armenians and Turks were killed in the thousands, and the army again was called upon to help restore order. Similar problems arose in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia as other minorities became disaffected as well. The Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 brought an end to Ottoman control of its European empire, thus eliminating a substantial part of its minority problem. However, the Armenians remained within the now truncated empire. By 1914, nationalist/revolutionary Armenian societies were operating openly in Europe and in Russia and were receiving support from many sources that sought the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.

Within the empire itself, the Armenian community was increasingly alarmed by a resurgent interest in Pan-Turanism, in particular, by the Turkish nationalist theories of Ziya Gokal, who advocated the imposition of the Turkish language and culture on the empire. Certainly a case can be made that these ideas appealed to some members of the CUP, especially Enver Pasa. This cult of Turkish nationalism and modernization found many adherents within the army as well. Gokalp's supporters even made contact with non-Ottoman Turks outside the empire's boundaries. The Christian, linguistically and culturally different, Armenians received the ideas of Gokalp with great foreboding. Perhaps equally worrisome to the hard working and industrious Armenians was Gokalp's advocacy of greater Turkish participation in the economy. In any case, it was perhaps more than idle speculation by 1914, that the Turks intended to consolidate their hold on the remaining empire in the Anatolian heartland, and that they intended to impose some kind of cultural, linguistic, and economic Pan-Turanic program on the empire's population. In the spring of 1914 the Turks intercepted letters from Armenian committees expressing concern over these developments. Other letters sent by the Tasnak Committee requested weapons from the Russians. In July 1914, the Ottoman Consulate in Kars intercepted a telegram outlining the smuggling of four hundred rifles into the Eliskirt valley. Also during the summer of 1914, the Armenian Committees conducted the important Erzurum Congress under the leadership of the Tasnaks. Armenian representatives from every major Eastern Anatolian city were present. Ostensibly conducted to peacefully advance Armenian concerns through legitimate means, the Turks regarded the Congress as the seedbed for later insurrection. It was here, the Turks were convinced, that strong Armenian-Russian links solidified into detailed plans and agreements aimed at the detachment of Armenia from the Ottoman Empire.

By September the commander of the Erzurum Fortress received a report that the Armenian regiments in the Russian Army were mobilized and were conducting war-training exercises. Indicators of potential violent intent accumulated as Turkish authorities found bombs and weapons hidden in Armenian homes. The 4th Reserve Cavalry Regiment patrolling from its lines in Koprukoy discovered Russian rifles cached in Armenian homes in Hasankale on October 20. The tempo of army operations against Armenian dissidents accelerated.

In early October 1914 (prior to the commencement of hostilities), the Turkish Third Army was receiving reports of Armenians who had been ex-Russian soldiers returning to Turkey with maps and money. There were reports from infantry battalions concerning Armenian meetings at which large numbers of aggressively nationalist people were gathering. In late October 1914, the Third Army staff informed the Turkish General Staff that large numbers of Armenians with weapons were moving into Mus, Bitlis, Van, and Erivan. Additionally disturbing to the military staffs at all levels was an increasing recognition that thousands of Armenian citizens were deliberately leaving their homes in Ottoman territory and traveling into Russian held territory with most of their earthly possessions. Although Turkey was still officially at peace with Russia, many Turkish officers were by now convinced that Russia was actively conspiring to foment an Armenian (?rebellion?).

 

 

 The situation went from bad to worse as Russia declared war on Turkey in November 1914. Throughout November, December, and into January 1915, many similar reports to the Turkish General Staff outlined the danger posed by armed Armenians in the Third and in the Fourth Army areas. Incidents of terrorism increased, particularly bombings and assassinations of civilians and local Turkish officials. On February 25, 1915, a ciphered cable went from the Operations Division of the Turkish General Staff to the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Armies; the Irak Command; I, II, III, IV, V Army Corps; and to the Jandarma Command. The cable contained the chief of the Operations Division's newly issued Directive 8682 titled Increased Security Precautions. This directive noted increased dissident Armenian activity in Bitlis, Aleppo, Dortyol, and Kayseri, and furthermore identified Russian and French influence and activities in these areas. The Operations Division directed that the Third and the Fourth Armies increase surveillance and security measures. All recipients of the cable were instructed to increase coordination among themselves. Finally, the cable specifically directed that any ethnic Armenian soldiers should be removed from Turkish headquarters staffs and taken out of important Turkish command centers.

The final measure contained in Directive 8682 was probably taken in response to a report from the Ministry of the Interior's Intelligence division to the Turkish General Staff's director of intelligence. In this report it was noted that the Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople was transmitting military secrets and dispositions to the Russians. From February through July 1915, a great many additional reports from provincial officials and lower level army units reinforced this pattern of allied intelligence gathering as well.

In the Third Army area, the disastrous Sarikamis offensive had created a deplorable military situation. The army staff was trying to restore combat effectiveness to its shattered infantry divisions while at the same time trying to hold a very long front. Fortunately for the Turks, the battered Russians were in a similar condition; however, the Russians were winning the reinforcement battle because of their superior lines of communication. A massive Russian offensive was expected following the spring thaw in 1915. Overlaid on this dismal situation was the increasing belief by the Turks of an Armenian rebellion in the rear areas of the Turkish Third Army. For the staff of the Third Army this represented a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. The main Armenian centers of population (and thus of potential armed resistance) lay directly astride the only two metaled roads leading into the Third Army's area of operations. Sivas, Erzincan, and Erzurum interdicted the northern route. Each of these cities included substantial Armenian populations. Some contained Armenian majorities.

Furthermore, Armenian activity in Konya, Adana, and Aleppo (in the Fourth Army's area) interdicted the only railroad bringing food, war material, and reinforcements from the west, through which the Third Army's supplies flowed as well. Since the Third Army had only limited quantities of food, medicine, and military stores on hand, interdiction of these key communications arteries spelled disaster. There was also the distinct possibility of organized and armed Armenian groups rising in the Third Army's rear to actively support and assist the anticipated Russian spring offensive. This was particularly worrisome given the large numbers of Armenian men who had joined the Russians, many of whom had left relatives and friends behind in Ottoman territory. The Armenian threat affected the military situation not only for the Third Army, but potentially for the Fourth Army in Syria and the Sixth Army in Mesopotamia. These concerns, therefore, had to be addressed by the planning staffs of the Turkish Armies as they prepared for operational contingencies.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when and where the rebellions broke out first. Many western writers and historians have concluded that the Turks themselves deliberately instigated the revolts by enforcing intolerable conditions on the Armenians. These acts included murder, rape, and lesser humiliations, which served to provoke an Armenian reaction. The Turks dispute this and today claim that it was the Armenians, encouraged by the Russians and French in the aftermath of Sarikamis, who first rose in revolt.

 


 IN fact, armed revolts by the Armenians soon broke out. The most famous incident occurred when the Druzhiny, an Armenian nationalist movement, seized the lakeside city of Van in fierce fighting on April 14, 1915. The Turks responded by rushing the Van Jandarma Division to the divy to contain and to crush the rebellion. There was bitter fighting as the Turks besieged the city. Simultaneously the Russian Army began its long awaited offensive into the region. This Russian army contained a large number of Armenians organized into several army divisions of well-trained and highly motivated infantry regiments. Although these soldiers were recruited mainly from the Armenian vilayets lost to Turkey in 1878, their ranks included numerous expatriate Armenian citizens from the Ottoman Empire who had fled to fight against the Turks. The Turks believed that the Russians deliberately recruited these people because of their knowledge of the terrain and peoples within the Ottoman Empire. The tactical situation around Van and its approaches appeared to critical that the Turks rerouted the 1st Expeditionary Force to assist in crushing the rebellion. Two Jandarma battalions assigned to the 28th Infantry Division were also pulled off the line and sent to Van. Fighting around Van lasted into late May, when the Russians finally broke the siege and relieved the Armenian defenders of the city. Other Armenian centers of population soon followed suit and over the next several months revolts broke out in the cities of Bayburt, Erzurum, Beyazit, Tortum, and Diyarbakir. Most of these revolts were traced to the support and instigation of the Armenian nationalist committees.

Horrible massacres of Armenian males were committed in the Van region which were widely reported by numerous neutral observers. Most of these were attributed to Kurds and Circassians, although some were ascribed to Turkish forces. Rafael De Nogales, a Venezuelan soldier of fortune fighting with the Turks, claimed in his memoirs to have been told that local Ottoman officials had received secret orders to exterminate all Armenian males of twelve years of age and older. Other witnesses, including Americans and Germans with direct access to the ruling elite, claimed to have been told about similar orders. Documentation on this point is contested by the Turks. De Nogales remarked that the Armenians reciprocated in kind by slaughtering large numbers of Muslims and also noted that the Armenian rebels were well equipped with arms, ammunitions, and explosives. HE claimed that the semi-automatic Mauser pistol seemed particularly abundant, and was an Armenian weapon of choice in the close hand-to-hand fighting within the city of Van itself.

Turkish reaction to these armed rebellions escalated in the late spring and the early summer of 1915. On April 20, Enver Pasa sent a ciphered message to the Third Army headquarters confirming that Armenian and Greek soldiers were deserting to form dangerous rebel bands. Enver noted that it was undesirable to use either regular Turkish troops or the mobile Jandarma regiments against these rebels (these troops were then badly needed at the front). He therefore directed that the local and permanently based (static) Jandarma battalions be used to help capture the rebels. He also recommended that a reward system of one Turkish lira per every captured rebel be established to encourage local inhabitants to turn in the rebels.

A message from Muammer Bey, the Governor of Sivas, exposed a serious problem with this plan. The governor noted that in his vilayet, although about fifteen thousand Armenian men of military age had departed to join the Russians, another fifteen thousand Armenian men remained in the vilayet . Unfortunately, conscription of all Turkish men up to the age of 50 years old had left the local villages practically unprotected and vulnerable to Armenian depredations. This condition made hunting down the rebels problematic. The greater need by far, at least in Sivas, was simply to provide for the protection of the Muslim villagers themselves, and the local Jandarma were hard pressed to accomplish this.

During this period [of near-simultaneous allied attacks] almost every Turkish Infantry Division would be committed to combat in a strategic situation akin to the Dutch boy plugging the dyke with his finger.


 

Enver Pasha

Enver Pasha

On April 24, 1915, Enver Pasa in his capacity as the chief of the Turkish General Staff issued an important directive that noted that the Armenians posed a great danger to the war effort, particularly in eastern Anatolia and outlined a plan to evacuate the Armenian population from the region. This directive also confirmed the Armenians' worst fears about the direction of Ottoman policy regarding their status as a discrete cultural entity within the Empire. It specified that Armenian males between sixteen and fifty-five years of age would be deported. Furthermore, all Armenians would be directed to speak Turkish and Armenian schools would be forced to accommodate this. All Armenian newspapers throughout the empire would be closed immediately, although this may have been a moot point since Enver had rounded up most of the Armenian intelligentsia (over three hundred in Constantinople alone) previously on April 20. The April 24 directive specifically identified the six eastern Anatolian vilayets , Zeytun, and the area south of Diyarbakir as the operational area affected by the evacuation plan. It was intended to move the Armenians to the Euphrates Valley, Urfa, and Suleymaniye. The order specified that the goal was to create an eastern Anatolian demographic situation in which the ratio of Armenians would drop to 10 percent of the local total of Turks and local tribesmen. Almost mocking the inhumanity of the directive, it was specified that the Armenian families would draw lots to see who would have to leave. Finally, the directive concluded by reminding all concerned that the Armenians would be treated in a proper manner.

It would appear from this directive that the Turkish General Staff intended that this evacuation would be orderly. Further guidance from Enver soon followed on April 29. In a ciphered instruction to the Ministry of War, all army commanders, all fortress commanders, and to the Irak Command, Enver directed that all Armenian leaders and "malicious" Armenians be arrested immediately. The Dasnak, Huncak, and similar Armenian Committees in Constantinople and in the vilayets would immediately be closed down and those who were regarded as harmful would be made to stay in a more "suitable location."

Outside forces now conspired to exaggerate the growing problem of an actively hostile Armenian population in eastern Anatolia. In Mesopotamia, on April 14, the British began an offensive that would take them to the very gates of Baghdad itself. On April 25, 1915, the British and French came crashing ashore at Gallipoli creating a critically important fourth front that immediately threatened the power center of the empire. The long anticipated Russian offensive in Caucasia began on May 6 with a major attack down the Tortum Valley toward Erzurum. A second major Russian attack also started toward the city of Van. These twin Russian attacks seemed aimed at Turkish cities containing large Armenian populations. Indeed, the Armenians in Van had already risen in rebellion. Furthermore, the timing of the allied attacks, nearly simultaneously on three sidely separated fronts, indicated allied coordination and mutual support hitherto unseen by the Turks. There was a sustained period of crisis for the Turkish General Staff in 1915 it began on April 25 and it lasted until the fronts were stabilized in the fall of 1915. During this period almost every Turkish Infantry Division would be committed to combat in a strategic situation akin to the Dutch boy plugging the dyke with his finger. Quite literally in the very middle of this sea of competing priorities and in a position to interdict the military lifelines of the empire, lay the Armenians, a subject people heavily armed, belligerent, and now actively engaged in open rebellion.

The strategic dilemma of early May 1915 caused a major shift in the philosophical and practical basis of the government's policy toward Armenians, as Enver Pasa reevaluated the mounting problems and decided to take a radically different approach. This shift in policy would have severe and heartbreaking consequences for the entire eastern Anatolian demographic landscape, and it produced unintended effects that linger into the contemporary world. On May 2 Enver wrote to the Ministry of the Interior outlining his thoughts on the best way to tackle the Armenian situation. He thought it necessary either to drive the Armenians, then living around Lake Van, into Russian territory or to disperse them throughout the Ottoman Empire. Enver's preference was to drive the rebels, their families and their headquarters away from the Russian border and then to resettle the area with Muslim refugees from abroad (Turkey had still not fully assimilated the millions of Turkish and Balkan Muslim refugees who had fled into the empire after the Balkan Wars). Finally, Enver asked the Ministry of the Interior to select an appropriate plan, practices, and methods to accomplish these ends.

 

Clearly what had begun as a temporary and partial evacuation of rebellious Armenians had now changed, philosophically and practically, into a mass deportation of a more permanent nature. Moreover, it was now apparent that the military was attempting to involve or to include the Ministry of the Interior in the promulgation of the deportation. As the full scope of the Van rebellion and associated Armenian rebellions in the Third Army area became apparent the military tried to enforce and adhere to the existing policies. However, the existing security measures were inadequate to deal with the problems at hand, in particular, the pressing enemy offensives drained almost all regular Turkish military power into the front lines. As Enver's new policy ideas began to take hold in the capital, the military grappled with ways to come to terms with the dilemma. Turkish reactions grew harsher. A new provisional law was passed on May 27, which established military responsibility for crushing Armenian resistance. The military was also fully empowered to round up the Armenians, either collectively or individually in response to military needs or in response to any sign of treachery or betrayal, and to transfer populations. It is important to note here that this law still maintained the operative notion that direct action against Armenians would only be in response to military necessity or in reply to hostile behavior.

On May 30, 1915, the now infamous Regulation for the Settlement of Armenians Relocated to Other Places because of War Conditions & Emergency Political Requirements was established under the oversight of the Department of Settlement of Tribes and Immigrants in the Ministry of the Interior. This regulation fixed responsibility for transportation with local officials and additionally charged them with the protection and lives of the Armenians en route to their new homes. Importantly, the regulation established that the new areas and the new villages for the Armenians would be established at least twenty-five kilometers from the route of the Baghdad Railroad. It was clearly specified that the health, boarding, and welfare of the deportees would remain a high priority.

Thus cumulatively, the mechanism for the deaths of many deportees en route was now established. There was no central headquarters in overall charge of the deportation. To the military fell the responsibility to round up the rebellious Armenian population. To local officials fell the incredibly difficult responsibility of arranging transportation, lodging, feeding, and health care for an unwilling Armenian population of mostly women, children, and the elderly To the Ministry of the Interior fell the responsibility of finding suitable locations at the end of the journey for the deportees to reestablish their lives. Compounding this critically flawed organizational command structure was the military mandate to relocate the Armenians to a place somewhere other than near the route of the Baghdad Railroad. There is nothing in the record to indicate that the military, the Ministry of the Interior, and local officials coordinated their efforts to alleviate the horrible conditions suffered by many of the deportees.

A human disaster of huge proportions loomed on the horizon. Administratively such a scheme wildly exceeded Turkish capabilities. Even had the Turks been inclined to treat the Armenians kindly, they simply did not have the transportation and logistical means necessary with which to conduct population transfers on such a grand scale. Military transportation, which received top priority, illustrates this point, when first-class infantry units typically would lose a quarter of their strength to disease, inadequate rations, and poor hygiene while traveling through the empire. This routinely happened to regiments and divisions that were well equipped and composed of healthy young men, commanded by officers concerned with their well being. Once again, in a pattern which would be repeated through 1918, Enver Pasa's plans hinged on nonexistent capabilities that guaranteed inevitable failure.

 
Armenians forced to march in 1915

"Armenians in the Ottoman Empire being marched to a prison in 1915" read the caption of this
photo, published in the New York Times' atrociously one-sided article, "Turks Breach Wall of Silence on Armenians,"  March 6, 2004. Yes, you read that date correctly: 2004. Even at this stage, the
New York Times cannot bring themselves to be objective on this "genocide" issue. What kind of a "prison" were these people being marched to, exactly? There were no Dachaus at the end of their destination. The ad hominem is unconscionable, particularly now, in the 21st century.


 Compounding the implementation of these policies was the continuing Armenian Rebellion, which included bombings, assassinations, and the wholesale slaughter of Muslim Turkish villages. In some places the rebels even gained the upper hand. The rebels in the city of Van were ultimately relieved by advancing Russian forces. At Musa Dag in Cilicia, highly organized Armenians fought the Turks for forty days. These events were bound to inflame an already angry Turkish population and bureaucracy. In spite of this, the Ministry of the Interior continued to muddy the organizational waters by establishing further regulations that safeguarded the homes of the deportees. According to the ministry, the homes of the deportees were to be sealed and possessions left behind were to be cared for. If the Armenians' homes were used as temporary lodging for Balkan immigrants the new occupants would be liable for any accrued taxes and for damages. Certainly there were many mixed messages with all of their associated and unsaid complexities to be found in the rapidly evolving legal mechanisms which governed the deportation and relocation of the eastern Anatolian Armenians. The ponderous and complex wheels of the relocation process now began to grind the Armenians into dust.

At the highest levels, Enver Pasa and the military staffs appear to have generated the basic idea of the forced evacuation of the Armenians in response to a military problem which threatened the security of the Turkish Third Army and therefore of the empire itself. It is beyond question that the actuality of the Armenian revolts in the key cities astride the major eastern roads and railroads posed a significant military problem in the real sense. In point of fact, there were heavily armed and organized bands of Armenians operating in concert with their Russian allies. This problem in combination with the allied offensives in Caucasia, Mesopotamia, and at Gallipoli caused an acceleration of the Turkish will to deal with an issue of growing military concern. The main body of the army itself appears removed from the Armenian deportations because of the strategic crisis of 1915 which kept regular army units at the front and away from the implementation of the Armenian directives. Most of the mobile Jandarma regiments and battalions would likewise have fallen into this category. As to the question of which military units actually participated in the initial consolidations and delivery of Armenians into pipeline, the answer is not clearly established in Turkish official histories. It is likely that the work was done by local Jandarma units and Ministry of the Interior forces which remained in the vilayets for village and area protection. Kurdish and Circassian volunteers who probably had axes to grind with their Armenian neighbors usually augmented these units. De Nogales says as much in his memoirs. The highly visible deportation began in earnest in the early summer of 1915 and, as detailed by numerous German and American observers, violence against Armenian noncombatants began almost immediately. By the early fall, formal reports of abuses against Armenians were beginning to filter up the military chain of command to the Turkish General Staff and to the Ministry of War.

 

 By mid-1916, most of the Armenian population had been forcibly removed from the eastern Anatolian vilayets and from the key cities along the east-west railroad. At this point, the Armenians ceased to be a military concern for the Turkish military staffs. Numbers of Armenian males remained alive as the Turkish Army continued to use Armenian manpower in its labor battalions until the end of the war. This is particularly true of the western, and predominately Catholic, Armenian population of the empire. Additionally, large numbers of eastern Anatolian, primarily Orthodox, Armenians survived by fleeing to join the Russians.

In the end, hundreds of thousands of Armenians died during the Armenian Rebellion and deportation of 1915-1916. A similar number of Muslim Turks also died during the Armenian revolts and during the Russian occupation of Erzurum, Van, Erzincan, Trabzon, and Malazgirt. To be sure, many Armenians, particularly leaders and men of military age were immediately killed or massacred early on before entering the deportation flow. Many more, especially the elderly and the infirm, died en route from apathy and neglect, or were murdered outright, as the deportees were passed from local official to local official in an ambulatory pipeline that resembled a decaying daisy chain. Finally, the geographic constraints imposed on where the Armenians could ultimately be allowed to settle imposed long term starvation as they were sent to arid locations outside the fertile and well-watered route of the Baghdad Railroad. It was a recipe for disaster with profound historical, moral, and practical consequences which persist into the present day.

 

 

 A Review of Erickson's Book



Ordered to Die: a History of the Ottoman Army in the First World War.
(Book reviews: Turkey). John F. Guilmartin Jr.
The Middle East Journal
56.1 (Wntr 2002): p168(3). From Expanded Academic ASAP.

Ordered to Die: A History of the Ottoman Army in The First World War, by Edward J. Erickson. Westport, CT and London, UK: Greenwood Press, 2001. xxii + 216 pages. Maps. Appends to p. 249. Sel. bibl. to p. 255. Index to p. 256. $62.50 paper.

The historical consequences of the First World War were enormous, and to appreciate them fully one must look beyond immediate diplomatic and political repercussions to an understanding of how the war was waged -- how the warring nations mobilized and deployed their human and economic resources and to what effect. Armies were particularly important, for the First World War was first and foremost a struggle between armies; their successes and failures in 1914-18 not only shaped the course of the conflict and determined its outcome, but cast long shadows in the post-war era. Nor is the matter one of simple demographics: Verdun, the Somme and Caporetto owed their political significance not just to the staggering loss of human life, but to how those lives were lost. The French high command's bungling produced the May 1917 mutinies that brought General Petain to prominence; Caporetto begat Mussolini; the tactical and operational competence of the German high command combined with its strategic ineptitude to lay the groundwork for the stab-in-the-back legend; and so on. The Ottoman Army -- or Turkish Army, as the author of the work under review prefers, and with good reason -- looms large in this regard, for it formed the core around which the Turkish Republic coalesced. Nor was the role of the Turkish Army in the conduct of the First World War inconsequential. Beyond the defense of Gallipoli, the one generally acknowledged Turkish triumph, the Turks engaged major Russian forces in the Caucasus, sent significant expeditionary forces to fight alongside the Germans and Austro-Hungarians in Romania and Galicia, and fought with success in Mesopotamia and Palestine until well into 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian and German armies were dissolving.

The Turks have received short shrift in the history of World War I. This is largely a function of Anglo-American historiographical predominance; directly in that few modern military historians read Turkish, let alone Ottoman; and indirectly in that Anglocentrism has focused attention on Britain and the Western Front. In the basic texts, save for the obligatory chapter on Gallipoli and perfunctory mention of Mesopotamia, British General Allenby's Palestine campaign, and the Arab revolt, the Turks are all but ignored. Drawing on the Turkish Army's voluminous official histories and selected primary sources transcribed into modern Turkish, the author of the work under review has gone far to redress this imbalance.

The result is a comprehensive assessment of the strategic dimensions of the Ottoman Empire's military commitment to the Great War, beginning with an overview of available human and materiel resources, war plans, and initial execution. In this arena, the Ottoman Empire, far and away the least industrialized of the major combatant powers, did remarkably well. That the Turks were ultimately ground down in the massive war of attrition that ensued is hardly remarkable; that they resisted as long as they did is. The devil is in the details too many to address in a brief review which the author lays out for inspection in a well-organized and closely-reasoned narrative. Points of particular interest are the impressive competence of the officers of the Turkish General Staff, their effective cooperation with their German counterparts (Turks served under German command and vice versa with minimal friction), and the Armenian genocide. The author's treatment of the latter issue is admittedly inconclusive, for his research focus was on the Turkish Army and not on the national leadership. However, he demonstrates (at least to this reviewer's satisfaction) that the appalling loss of life can be attributed, without invoking a conscious policy of extermination, to the effects of divided lines of authority, administrative ineptitude, paucity of resources, and sheer callousness in relocating Armenians, many of whom were in an active state of armed rebellion, away from strategically critical military lines of communication.

Thoroughly documented and supported by no less than seven appendixes addressing, inter alia, organizational structures, senior leaders' biographies, and casualties, this work makes major contributions to the historiography of World War I and the Turkish Army. Well-produced and edited, albeit expensive for the individual, this book will be the definitive work on the subject for the indefinite future and is highly recommended.

John F. Guilmartin, Jr., The Ohio State University

Holdwater: The emphasis above is mine. Note how Mr. Guilmartin indicates that he is satisfied there was no "conscious policy of extermination," and yet he still calls it the "Armenian genocide"..!

Thanks to Hector, for the review

 

Of interest:

Vahakn Dadrian Objects to Edward Erickson

Ed Erickson Responds to Vahakn Dadrian's Libel

 

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