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(The WAR to DECEMBER 1916 – continued)

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The WAR to DECEMBER 1916 (5 of 11)

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The Armenian Massacre, 1915

With passions intensified and war providing a license to kill, mass killings were more likely, and it was most likely where an ethnic minority was also a religious minority combined with frustrated war efforts. Among the Turks, frustration came with a failed offensive against the Russians in the Caucasus Mountains. In a five-day battle ending January 3, the Russians smashed the Turk's offensive, and of the 95,000 men that the Turks had sent on the offensive only 18,000 returned – about 50,000 of them having frozen to death. The shocked Turkish people wondered whom to blame for this disaster. They did not want to blame their hero leader, Enver Pasha, who had led the disaster. They heard rumors that Armenian soldiers who had been with the Turkish force had defected in large numbers to the Russians.

The loyalty of the Armenians was suspect partly because they were a people who had opposed being ruled by the Turks. Some Armenians looked to Russia winning the war and looked with hope to Russia's offer of independence after the war. Some Armenians had gone north to fight against the Turks, alongside those Armenians ruled by the Russians, just across the border. Among the Turks, visions of treachery by the Armenians came easy. And this was made easier still because the Armenians were a religious minority – Christians.

Ismail Enver

Ismail Enver, or Enver Pasha "The Hero of Liberty"

The Turkish people, including the ruling circle around Enver Pasha, chose to blame the Armenians for the defeat in the Caucasus. In late February, 1915, the Turks dismissed Armenian government officials. They removed Armenians from army combat units and put them into labor battalions. They imprisoned Armenian military officers, and they decreed that Armenians were not allowed to have weapons. The Turks began a search for hidden weapons among Armenian civilians. This coincided with the beginning of Britain's naval bombardment and its landing marines to destroy guns positioned on the Gallipoli Peninsula. People in nearby Constantinople (Istanbul) prepared to abandon their city. And authorities in Constantinople arrested prominent Armenian writers, educators and lawyers and murdered them.

During a respite in the warring on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Enver began his program of driving the Armenians from their homeland. In forcing the Armenians to move, many resisted, without success, and many died. Many fled, some into barren deserts where they were attacked by Kurdish Muslims who had heard word of Armenian evil deeds. Some Armenians ended in desert concentration camps where many of them starved to death.

Of the 1.5 million Armenians who had been under Turkish rule, 700,000 or more perished. A representative of the German government complained to the Turkish (Ottoman) government. The US representative in Constantinople, Henry Morganthau, also protested, and he asked why the whole race of Armenians should be punished for the guilt of a few. A Turkish representative asked Morganthau why he, a Jew, should complain. The Turks, he said, were treating the Jews well.

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Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.