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.

 

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #13)

The tenor of life in the towns and villages across the Anatolian Plains of Ottoman Turkey took a sharp turn for the worse in the early months of 1915. Turkish and Kurdish harassment against their Armenian neighbors became serious and intense. Orders from Constantinople included stripping Armenian gendarmes of their guns and the re-conscription of Armenian men into labor battalions, supposedly to do road construction.

In my book Lavash, Uncle Dikran shows up at Annie’s house to complain about being fired from his town post as a gendarme. After spouting off, he suddenly remembers a message he is supposed to pass on to his brother, Annie’s hyrig.

“Oh, I almost forgot. The town crier passed our house early this morning.” Looking at Hyrig, Uncle said, “Minister of War, Enver, has called up all former conscripts of Armenian army units to serve on labor battalions this spring. That includes you, I believe.”

“It does. Labor battalions?” Hyrig asked. “What kind of labor? It doesn’t mean serving as porters for the army again, does it?”

“No. This time it’s for road construction. Next Friday morning, you are to report to the Centrum in Kemahcelli. Bring food for a week, several lengths of rope, and a shovel.”

That Friday, as Annie says goodbye to her father, she tells him she has a bad feeling about this departure. Her premonition is that the goodbye isn’t temporary. It is really forever.

Two days later, Annie, her mother, and siblings attend church for Easter Sunday services.

She relates, “Only when we were leaving the building did the absence of our men strike me. The church was full of women and children. I could count on one hand the number of men with their families.”

Annie never sees her beloved hyrig again.

What Annie doesn’t know is that armed Turks escort the re-conscripted, unarmed Armenian labor battalions some distance from their towns of origin and summarily ‘deport’ their laborers permanently that spring of 1915, leaving the remaining Armenian population of women, children, and elderly defenseless.


Cross-Purposes for Jihad

Recent incidents in the midwestern part of the U.S. have prompted discussions about a home owner’s right to self-defence. If two teenagers break into an elderly man’s home with the intention of stealing, does the home owner have the right to shoot and kill the would-be robbers? What does the law say? Under what circumstances should a self-defence law be applied?

Then, there are many North Americans who view war as a necessary activity against aggression. The main idea behind participation in a fight is self-defence or in the defence of allies. The Western nations who joined the fight during Word War II provide a case in point. Young men in the U.S. willingly answered the governmental call to join the military in order to defend U.S. territory that had been attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Canadians had signed up even earlier to defend their ally England because its cities were being bombed by German planes.

In North American eyes, war is about the defence of one’s home or one’s friends. To most North Americans, jihad makes no sense. It isn’t war for the purposes of self-defence nor is it war for the purpose of defending a friend. It is blatant aggression against fellow citizens because that group of people has chosen a different religious belief and doesn’t wish to change. Yet Muslims call jihad a holy war. Most North Americans think of war as anything but holy. It appears to be more like hell. What makes jihad holy? Jihad is dubbed a war against infidels. Who is an infidel? According one of the definitions in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, an infidel is “one who acknowledges no religious belief.” Jews and Christians do not match that description. Yet most Muslims view anyone who is NOT a Muslim as an infidel.

That was certainly the definition that the government maintained in Ottoman Turkey.

On 4th January 1914, when the Young Turks took over the Ottoman government, Enver Pasha set himself up as Minister of War and Mehmet Talaat as Minister of the Interior (1989, A Peace to End All Peace). As the Young Turks rose to power, they promised equal rights for all. In reality, this group held a super nationalistic view–Turkey would only be for Turks, no one else.

  That was a non-reality in 1914. The Ottoman Empire at the time had a population from a variety of ethnicities, languages, and religions–Rumelians who had been expelled from Thrace and resettled in Anatolia; Greeks who had lived within the borders of the Empire for centuries; Armenians whose land the Turks had invaded and now administered; and Kurds who inhabited portions of the eastern provinces of Ottoman Turkey, just to name a few.

To accomplish their super nationalistic ends, the Minister of War Enver and the Minister of the Interior Talaat had several threads of recent history they could pull. Mob violence against the largest non-Turkish population, the Armenians, had already occurred in 1894, 1895, 1896, and 1909 (A Peace to End All Peace). Enver and Talaat were well-aware of the disdain with which most Turks regarded their Armenian neighbors.

Plus Enver and Talaat could easily beat the religious drum of jihad to rouse the Turkish population into cooperating with Talaat’s telegraphed orders to the provincial governors.

But Enver and Talaat didn’t just rely on the undercurrent of Turkish attitudes or use the Koranic encouragement toward jihad to foment hatred and justify mass murder.To accomplish “Turkey is only for Turks,” the two men spent an entire year drawing a variety of Muslim populations in Ottoman Turkey into well-armed and trained militias to wage the 1915 jihad against a group of Ottoman Empire citizens, the Armenians (A Peace to End All Peace; 1998, Lords of the Horizons; 2006, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility).

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).

Confiscations and Protests

Recent tragic events in North America have fired discussions about a government’s responsibility to protect certain citizens from other citizens. The point in question has been whose ‘right to bear arms’ does the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution preserve. The military force of the central government? The police units of towns and cities, or states or provinces? The desire of individual citizens to protect their homes and families, hunt game, or participate in shooting for sport?

No such rights were even considered in the Ottoman Empire. The concept of rights did not exist in that place at that time. No one had rights. Policy in the Empire snaked its way out of the whims of whomever was in power.

Although the May 12 of 1913 protest of the patriarch of the Armenian Church probably wasn’t his first to the Sultan’s grand vizier of the government in Constantinople, its specific complaints were noted by modern historians. The patricarch registered an official objection to the wounding, killing, and forcible conversions of Armenian adults and children to Islam. He also complained that all weapons were being confiscated from Armenians. The patriarch went on to complain that Rumelians, Muslim refugees from the European  Balkans and Thrace, were being settled in Eastern Anatolia, a largely Armenian area of the Ottoman Empire. 

The patriarch’s voice of protest went unheeded. After the Young Turks took over the government of the Ottoman Empire on January 4th, 1914, they ramped up tensions by arming and training militias of Kurds, Rumelians, and released convicts called Chetes, between August and October of 1914. In October of 1914, local gendarmes across the Empire were ordered to raid Armenian homes to confiscate any weapons they could find. If any Armenian dared to complain about the confiscation, or what else the gendarmes did when they were in the homes, that Armenian would be arrested.

In the end, the Ottoman Turkish army and the Muslim militias had most of the weapons in the Empire. The Young Turks of Constantinople had set the stage for the next scene.

In June and July of the next year, 1915, more protests landed on deaf ears in the Ottoman Turkish government offices, this time from foreigners. The German ambassador von Wangeheim registered with the Young Turks his objection to the mass deportations, pillaging, and massacres of Turkey’s Armenian population. Von Wangeheim reported to the German Chancellor that the Turkish government was trying to “exterminate the Armenian race in the Turkish empire” (p. 213 of A Peace to End All Peace). 

Another German, Pastor Johannus Lepsius, a Protestant missionary, travelled to Constantinople and met with a Young Turk, the Minister of War Enver. When asked by Enver where he had gotten his information about the atrocities, Pastor Lepsius said he had gotten numerous reports from German consuls, missionaries, and other eyewitnesses in the interior of Ottoman Turkey. Lepsius intervened with limited success on behalf of the defenceless Armenian women, children, and elderly who made up the mass deportation lines.

When those men in power (such as the Young Turks) arm everyone (all Turks) who: 1) have been encouraged to be jealous of a certain people’s economic and professional success (such as the Armenians) and who: 2) have been taught by their religion (Islam) to seek the death of those aren’t of their religion (such as Christians), and when the men in power (such as the Young Turks) confiscate all items an oppressed people (such as the Armenians) could use in defense of their homes and families, the scene has definitely been set for the mass murder of the oppressed people group. And that is exactly what the government of Ottoman Turkey orchestrated against the Armenians in 1915. 

There seem to be no end to these kinds of pebbles on the beach of world history. Forcibly oppress and disarm an ethnic group + arm a preferred religious or ethnic group = blood bath