The Enemy Population
Forced displacement or forced immigration is the coerced movement of a person or persons away from their home or home region and it often connotes violent coercion….Some migrants are impelled to cross national borders by war or persecution, due to political, social, ethnic, religious reasons.
Deportation is the expulsion of a person or group of people from a place or country….Definitions of deportation apply equally to nationals and foreigners….Deportation is the removal of an alien out of the country, simply because his presence is deemed inconsistent with the public welfare…
Population transfer or resettlement is the movement of a large group of people from one region to another, often a form of forced migration imposed by state policy or international authority and most frequently on the basis of ethnicity or religion but also due to economic development.
Events such as these have occurred innumerable times over the course of recorded history. Perhaps the largest in number (and, curiously, least available to the conscious of most people outside of the regions in which this took place) is the expulsions of Germans after World War II, with as many as 14 million forced from various countries in Eastern Europe to Germany.
A fifth column is any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favor of an enemy group or nation.
How do you define the word “group”? Who should be considered part of this “group”? What to do with such a “group”?
Genocide is intentional action to destroy a people (usually defined as an ethnic, national, racial, or religious group) in whole or in part. (Emphasis added.)
Well…I guess this is one possible course of action.
The Russian Origins of the First World War, by Sean McMeekin.
McMeekin devotes a chapter to the situation in Eastern Anatolia, where the Ottoman Empire met Russia. It is a chapter devoted to Russia’s relationship with the Armenians who lived in this region, and Russia’s role in the eventual fate of these same Armenians.
Most scholars refer to this event as genocide – a deliberate and conscious action to destroy a people, in whole or in part, in this case perpetrated by the Ottoman government. I have written about this event once before – what is known as the Armenian Genocide. This post was written about two-and-a-half- years ago, on the occasion of the 100th commemoration anniversary. If you are not familiar with the event, it might be worth a read.
I guess it might be relevant to note here that the author of this book, Sean McMeekin, was – at the time the book was published – an assistant professor at Bilkent University located in Ankara, Turkey. Why is this relevant?
Article 301 is an article of the Turkish Penal Code making it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish nation, or Turkish government institutions.
The law has been used many times to charge those who speak of the Armenian Genocide. To note: there are a few countries where denial of the Armenian Genocide is illegal.
History, perhaps even more than science, is never settled. All I can say – to both the Turkish law and these other laws: truth doesn’t need a law to promote or defend it. I say the same regarding all similar laws (yes, also that one) designed to protect someone’s version of history. It strikes me that the more prevalent the number of such laws on any issue, the more concerned one should be about the truth of the protected narrative.
Keeping the author’s sensitive position in mind, let’s begin.
In the case war breaks out [between Russia and Turkey], the Armenians and Assyrian Christians may be of great help to us.
– S.D. Sazonov, Russia Foreign Minister, August 1914
Until the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Armenian minority in the Ottoman Empire – like other minorities in the empire – lived in relative harmony with the majority population. The relationship dated back centuries – perhaps for as long as it had been since Turks overran Byzantium.
One reason for this relative harmony was the allowance for each minority to hold to its own customary law:
In the Ottoman Empire, a millet was a separate court of law pertaining to “personal law” under which a confessional community (a group abiding by the laws of Muslim Sharia, Christian Canon law, or Jewish Halakha) was allowed to rule itself under its own laws.
A system was also in place to deal with the situation where the crime involved parties from different millets:
When a member of one millet committed a crime against a member of another, the law of the injured party applied, but the ruling Islamic majority being paramount, any dispute involving a Muslim fell under their sharia−based law.
As a minority, it is difficult to ask for much more; if the minorities demanded to be treated equally under the law, all cases would be decided under sharia law – probably not an improvement for the various Christians and Jews in the empire.
This system minimized, but didn’t eliminate (given the ultimate preference offered to Muslims), the risk raised by Mises – the issue where a minority could do nothing about laws passed in favor of the majority.
Returning to McMeekin, the relationship between the Armenian minority and the Muslim majority began to change toward the end of the nineteenth century for many of the same reasons that political tensions were increasing throughout much of Europe during the same time: social upheaval and even revolution:
There were many causes for the upsurge in tensions, from the general decline in Ottoman authority and prestige over the past century to the organization of Armenian revolutionary groups like the Dashnaktsutyun (or “Dashnaks”), and the Hunchakian Revolutionary Party (the Hunchaks”).
These parties were inspired by the spread of Social Democratic parties throughout Europe. Like many of the sources of agitation that precipitated the coming calamity for local Armenians, these groups were founded outside of Ottoman territory: the Dashnaks in Tiflis, then part of the Russian Empire; the Hunchaks in Geneva, Switzerland. These external parties soon began their agitation within Anatolia.
From this point, the relationship of the minority Armenians with the Ottoman government begins to degrade. Sultan Abdul Hamid II raised an irregular militia of Kurdish tribesmen, the notorious “Hamidiye” regimen, in 1891.
In 1894, in Sassun province in the far eastern part of Ottoman territory, violence erupted between the Armenian residents and Turkish troops aided by the Hamidiye irregulars. It was reported that 265 Armenians were killed. An Ottoman commission of inquiry was established; western powers (British, French, and Russian) voiced their indignation of Ottoman governance.
These western powers demanded reforms for the six “Armenian” provinces in the east. The violent clashes escalated, culminating – at least at this point – with Armenian revolutionaries seizing the Imperial Ottoman Bank in Istanbul, in August 1896. They threatened to blow up the bank if reforms for the six eastern provinces were not granted and Armenian political prisoners were not freed.
Apparently many knew that the bank seizure was coming: in its wake, Muslim mobs were well prepared to beat up Armenians; Armenians fleeing the city anticipating that this was coming.
Altogether, the Ottoman reprisals – both organized and spontaneous – were overwhelming, and carried out throughout Turkey: official estimates of something more than 13,000 Armenians killed; contemporary European estimates range up to 80,000.
It is a good moment to reflect: the violent act by a handful of individuals resulted in the deaths of tens-of-thousands of others who happened to be of the same minority. This will be a pattern throughout the rest of this history, and a point more important than any Russian role in this tragedy.
Further reform initiatives were passed by western governments, most notably the Armenian reform package devised in 1912 – 1914. While approved by several western powers (not Germany), the plan was devised by André Mandelstam, the dragoman at the Russian Embassy in Istanbul. It was signed by Russia and Grand Vezir Said Halim Pasha of the Ottoman Empire in February, 1914. It was abolished in December, after Turkey’s entrance into the war.
Yet, events aren’t so cut and dried: seventy anti-Russian activists, most of these Armenian, were taking refuge in the Ottoman consulate in Tabriz – a city in Persian Azerbaijan; many Armenians remained suspicious of Tsarist intentions; Armenian forces joined Turkish troops in pursuit of Kurdish chieftains.
Russians courted both Kurdish chieftains and Armenian revolutionaries; Kurdish depredations led to Armenian demands for Russian protection, as they were not receiving protection from their own Ottoman government; the Ottoman government supplied weapons to anti-Russian Dashnaks.
What a mess. It would obviously be of benefit to the Russians for there to be turmoil in the border regions of Turkey; that there would be turmoil was a certainty by this point. Yet, even now, the primary enemy for many Armenians in this region was the Kurdish tribes. This was true in the city of Van.
It was also true in Bitlis. The Kurds called for an uprising against the Turks; they vowed not to harm the Christians. Yet, the Armenians in the region, having lived through recent violence at the hands of the Kurds, asked the government for weapons to defend themselves. The weapons were denied.
Helpless, many Armenians took refuge in the local Russian consulate, as did the Kurdish chieftain who called for the uprising! He stayed in the consulate for six months, still there when the Turks entered the war in November.
While the Russian harboring of the Kurd leader was troubling, many Armenians in the region were now convinced that the Turks were not going to provide any protection. This drove many to look to Russia for support.
In the meantime, many local Armenian organizations encouraged Armenians not to run into the arms of Russia; this feeling was not held by Armenians in the diaspora – who were able to influence western governments to put even more pressure on the Turks who then considered the Armenians in Turkey even more of a threat.
By 1914, there were sufficient Armenian revolutionaries in the region that weapons smuggling was supported and encouraged by the Russians. Many Armenians (mostly Ottoman army deserters) crossed the frontier into Russia (aided by Dashnak guerillas, who were familiar with the passes through the mountains), ready to take up arms alongside their Armenian brethren who lived on the Russian side of the border.
The Russian Foreign Ministry estimated that up to 200,000 Armenians crossed the border – although most of these crossed, looking for safety, after the deportations and genocidal acts began in April 1915.
Enough Armenians volunteered that the Russians were unable to arm them all. The local Russian command asked for an extra 25,000 rifles and 12 million rounds of ammunition to arm Armenian guerillas.
Nikolai Yudenich, Chief of Staff of the Russian Caucasus Army, composed a memorandum in August 1914: “On the Arming of Ottoman Armenians.” He foresaw the brutalizing of Ottoman Armenians, whether Russia or Turkey was victorious in the war. He saw the war as the opportunity for the Turks “to carry out their cherished goal of annihilating the Armenians.”
I will bring this story to a close: the Turks entered the war; they suffered a tremendous defeat in the Battle of Sarikamish (December 1914 – January 1915), due in large part to being unprepared for the winter. Battle lines went back and forth, with Armenians stuck in the middle.
And in this environment, the Turks began the systematic deportations. Village by village, the adult males were executed; women and children sent to march in the desert, with many dying along the way. This occurred not just in the war zones, but throughout Turkey – in regions nowhere near the front.
The Turkish government treated all Armenians as enemy – an enemy population, defined by religion and nationality. Estimates for the Armenian deaths range from 800,000 to 1.5 million. This due to the actions – many of which were defensive in nature – of a relatively insignificant minority of the Armenian population.
This chapter of McMeekin’s book requires one to come face-to-face with the issue: an enemy population, with all guilty because of the actions of a few.
I understand that thinking about individuals as part of a group is not always insidious, and certainly does not automatically lead to genocide; yet, without thinking of individuals as part of a group, it is difficult to see how ones gets started down the road to genocide. Let’s call it necessary but not sufficient.
An enemy population. How one feels about this idea says much about their worldview and their politics and – dare I say it – their religion.
Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.