Black April in Ottoman Empire

Among photos in a recent newspaper were two side-by-side snapshots that exhibited the demise of a tenth-century-old minaret of a mosque in Aleppo, Syria. In the first photo, the tower rises from a corner of the mosque above its central courtyard. In the second photo, no tower exists. Only a pile of rubble indicates where the minaret once had been. The collapse, the caption said, was due to the current conflict in Syria between the government and groups of its citizens.

While historians, archeologists, and followers of Islam might bemoan the destruction of such an ancient symbol, what I find interesting are both the location and the date of the tower’s crumbling. It was in Aleppo, near the final destination of the Armenians who somehow survived the 1915 deportation marches enforced by Talaat, Minister of the Interior of the Ottoman Empire. The tower’s demise occurred ninety-eight years after Black April in Constantinople.

Not that the Talaat-plotted event in April was the beginning of the Ottoman government’s campaign against their Armenian population. It wasn’t. As I wrote in the previous post The March Madness of 1915, Armenian conscripts for labor battalions on road construction crews were escorted out of towns and slaughtered en mass. But these killings had been done surreptitiously. Most Armenians only knew that their husbands and fathers had disappeared. The families had no idea what had happened to them.

The public arrests in Constantinople in April of 1915 changed all that. Talaat had the Armenian leadership rounded up, jailed, transported to the interior of the Ottoman Empire, and, for the most part, executed (Armenia and the Armenians, 1915; Shameful Act:… 2006). These arrests included the Catholicos of the Armenian Church, writers, and other intelligentsia of the Armenians (“Tell of Horrors” in The Armenian Genocide, 1980, reprint of a 1915 article). This summarial dispense of the Armenian leadership in April of 1915 is the event that Armenians worldwide commemorate as the beginning of the genocide of Armenians by the government of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

Talaat didn’t stop with the Armenian leadership in Constantinople. He repeated this action all across Turkey by ordering governors and mayors of towns to arrest the local Armenian leadership. Militias formed from convicts, called Chetes, were put in charge of torturing the prisoners. The Armenian men were then publically hung from tripods of poles in town centrums (Shameful Act:.., 2006).

Within the two months of March and April of 1915, Talaat had effectively removed the majority of those who could lead or defend the Armenian families of Ottoman Turkey. Talaat’s future demands of his government-appointed underlings were made that much more possible by Black April.