Chaotic Consequences: Now & Then

Islamic State militias rampage through parts of Syria and Iraq in recent months, staking claims to this section of land or that town. The militias say they act in God’s name.

Chaos ensues. The refugees run or paddle to places where families can live without the constant threat of rape, starvation, or death. Hordes of Syrians and others caught in the conflict have attempted to flee through Turkey or across the Mediterranean Sea. Many have drowned in their attempt to escape. Meanwhile, smugglers squeeze profit off the desperate and destitute.

But remember all this suffering was caused in God’s name. Really? Does God have anything to do with the actions of the Islamic State? Maybe the chaos is the consequence of efforts to line the pockets of the proponents of a particular segment of the followers of Islam.

We, in North America, recognize this motivation. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with mankind’s prominent sin, greed.

Chaos as a consequence of misaligned motivations is nothing new. In the late fall of 1914, Enver Pasha, the Minister of War of the Ottoman Empire, chose to pick a fight with Russia in the Caucasus Mountains. Since the proposed line of battle was hundreds of miles from a rail line, adequate roads, or completed bridges, Enver conscripted thousands of Armenians from all over the Empire to function as porters, transporting supplies for his army (See my February 22, 2013 posting, Dreams of an Empire Lost in Snow: Armenians the Scape Goats.). Enver re-conscripted Armenian men who had previously served in the army. Enver stripped Armenian colleges and universities of their young men, effectively closing them.

Lugging huge loads, the Armenian ‘donkeys’ were treated worse than the Turkish officers’ mounts. Some never reached the ultimate destination, dying en route. Bivouacked in the open, without winter clothing or adequate food supplies, many of the Armenian porters froze, starved, or died from typhus.

In early December of 1914, snow buried the Caucasus Mountains. Yet Enver chose to engage the Russian army. He claimed that a victory would return the Ottoman Empire to its former glory. Hmm. Greed again? Misaligned nationalism? In any case the result was that Enver lost the battle and 85% of his army. Consequence? Chaos. It was every man, soldier, or porter, for himself. No organized retreat. One by one those who survived trickled home. For some, it took a month to get there.

Yet Enver survived–and who did he blame for the lost battle and ensuing chaos? Himself? Oh, no. His Armenian porters, insisting he and Talaat, the Minister of the Interior, had adequate excuse for the 1915 genocide of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire that he and Talaat had been planning for over a year.

 

Whose Responsibility? The Perpetrator or the Victim?

Let’s say a man forces a donkey to carry him up a treacherous mountain slope. When the man falls off and plummets down, as he surely will, is the man right to blame the donkey? The man was the one who chose the path.

A woman in India is raped and brutalized by a gang of men. The men have the gall to refuse to take responsibility for their crime. Society insists that someone take responsibility. Society doesn’t much care who does. So the society assigns the responsibility to the victim, the woman.

Huh? Say what? Is the human race a colossal bunch of idiots?

Yet this ignoramus mind-set perpetuates itself down through the centuries.

In December of 1914, the Ottoman Empire’s Minister of War, Enver, set the scene for a major disaster. He sent his army up the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, in summer uniforms, without tents, to bivouac in snow, and fight against the Russian army at the beginning of World War I. The encounter proved to be an enormous mistake. Enver lost 86% of his army (1989, A Peace to End All Peace). Did he take responsibility? Oh, no. He had the gall to blame his ‘donkey’, the Armenians that Enver himself had conscripted ( i.e., forced) to serve as porters for the Ottoman Empire’s army. It was the Turkish saying all over again: “It is not only the fault of the axe, but of the tree as well.”

Yep. Ottoman Turks, in general, and Enver and his counterpart Talaat, the Minister of the Interior, proved to be a special band of idiots.

Just goes to show you that if a lie is repeated often enough, society as a whole will eventually view the lie as the truth.

Perpetuating the lie about who was responsible for the disaster, the Ottoman Empire Turks rounded up their able-bodied Armenian men, escorted them under armed guards away from towns, had the Armenians dig their own graves, and then knifed them, burying the dead Armenians under shallow covers of dirt in the spring of 1915 (2006, Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility.) [ See my posting for March 11, 2013, “The March Madness of 1915.] Yet the Ottoman Turkish government had the gall to cast the responsibility for the crime on the Armenians. And Turks still do.

Huh? Say what? Is the human race still a bunch of idiots an entire century later?

Dreams of an Empire Lost in Snow: Armenians the Scape Goat

Most North Americans view the rise of nationalism as a good thing. After all, without the spirit of nationalism growing in the thirteen English colonies along the eastern coast of North America, there would have been no United States of America.

The spirit of nationalism that grew in Ottoman Turkey, however, took a twisted turn for the worse at the beginning of World War I. As was mentioned in the previous post, the Turkish government gathered, trained, and armed militias formed from released convicts, Rumelian refugees from Thrace, and the Kurds of the Anatolian Plains in the autumn of 1914. In December of 1914, the Ottoman government joined the war in Europe on the side of Germany.

That same autumn, the Ottoman government conscripted Greeks and Armenians. Men from the ages of 20 to 45 went into the Turkish army. Boys from the ages of 15 to 20 and men from the ages of 45 to 60 were assigned to be porters for the army or labor battalions for road construction. Armenian colleges were stripped of their male students.

The Armenian men and boys, who served as porters to carry the supplies of the army, were driven with whips like pack animals. A group of three hundred were driven from Moush to the Russian frontier in the Caucasus Mountain. During the three-week journey thirty or forty porters died before they even got to their destination (2006, A Shameful Act:  The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility).

Enver Pasha, the Young Turks’ Minister of War, left Constantinople on December 6, 1914, to take command of the Third Army. The Ottoman government’s propagandist Zia Gokalp promoted  a Turkic empire that stretched from Anatolia through the Transcaucasia to central Asia (Black Dog of Fate:  A Memoir). Minister Enver and his army corps were bent on accomplishing just that.

Enver’s decision to attack Russia as soon as the Ottoman government entered the world war proved to be a horrible miscalculation. The battle front was six hundred miles from the nearest railhead; bridges were in disrepair; the journey took six weeks; and early snowstorms blocked mountain passes. To make matters worse troops and porters in summer uniforms were bivouacked without tents in -30 degree F weather. Food ran out. An epidemic of typhus hit troops and porters hard. The artillery had to be abandoned because of the deep snow; sections of the Turkish army lost contact with each other; and units got lost in the mountain passes.

Even then, Enver ordered a surprise attack on Sarikamish (a Russian base). The Russians destroyed the Turkish army. Out of approximately one hundred thousand men, eighty-six percent were lost (1989, A Peace to End All Peace). The few who survived straggled back home in January of 1915.

Ripples from this disaster extended for months to come. With few Armenian men to harvest the 1914 crops and many horses or donkeys drafted from across Anatolia for the attack on the Russians, cereal acreage was cut 50%, prices rose eventually to one thousand six hundred seventy-five percent, and famine stalked the land (A Peace to End All Peace).

In early January of 1915, a rumor spread from Constantinople that accused the Armenians of causing the Turkish army to lose the battle at Sarikamish. The Ottoman government encouraged the Kurdish militias, the Hamidiye, to attack Armenian villages. The Kurds destroyed fifty-two of them the winter of 1914 – 1915 (p. 139, A Peace to End All Peace). On February 25, 1915, a firman (edit) signed by Minister of War Enver ordered that all Armenians be disarmed. This order included those serving in the army and those serving as gendarmes, the local police units of towns.

The Armenians’ service to their country counted for nothing. Their loss as soldiers in battle or as porters from overwork, starvation, inclement weather, or disease made the next move that much easier for the Young Turks who had control of the Ottoman government.  

In 1915, Minister of the Interior Talaat stepped forward with his own twist on nationalism. Although the Ottoman Empire had included many people groups, languages, and religions for centuries and the Young Turks had promised equal rights for all, they actually had a totally different agenda. What they really wanted and planned for was a Turkey only for Turks. No one else (A Peace to End All Peace). Armenians and Greeks were to be eliminated. Kurds were to be forcibly assimilated (p. 105, 1996, A Modern History of the Kurds).