Cowardly End for ‘Heroes’ of Ottoman Turkey

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By Raffi Bedrosyan

The date November 2, 1918 is an important turning point in Turkish, German and Armenian history.

Three days after the Navy Minister of Ottoman Turkey signed the Mudros Armistice aboard the British warship Agamemnon on October 30, 1918 and accepting defeat in the First World War, a German submarine picked up three persons from three different port locations in Istanbul and spirited them to Sevastopol in Crimea, and then to Germany. Who were these three persons running away from Istanbul in the middle of the night?

They were the leaders of the Ottoman government — Talat, Enver and Cemal, the triumvirate which led Ottoman Turkey into the First World War, causing the deaths of millions of Ottoman citizens, the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire and the deliberate annihilation of the Armenian people from the lands that they had inhabited for four thousand years. Their imperialistic dreams of creating an all Turkic Empire called Turan stretching from Europe to Caucasus, Middle East and into Central Asia, manipulated and encouraged by Germany at the expense of Great Britain and Russia, had failed miserably. Hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Army conscripts had died and millions of civilian Moslems displaced for the sake of this dream; 1.5 million Armenians regarded as an obstacle to this dream were killed outright or driven to desert for a slow death. Both Turkish and world public opinion had branded these three persons as “most wanted men and criminals against humanity.” German intelligence reports circulated that these three persons would be immediately arrested and hung from street light poles as soon as the Allied occupation forces landed in Istanbul. German leaders who had encouraged the Ottomans to enter the war for their own imperialistic dreams, and who had turned a blind eye to the systematic slaughter of the Armenians during the war, were now afraid that these three persons would start ‘singing’ upon arrest, would rightly or wrongly blame the Germans for their excesses, and would shift responsibility for the crimes against humanity onto the Germans themselves. Therefore, an escape plan was hatched for these three persons.

On the night of November 2, 1018, the German boat first picked up Talat, Istanbul governor Bedri and five others from the port of Moda on the Asian shores of Istanbul. The password used to let the Turks come aboard the boat was ‘Enver’. Then the boat sailed to Arnavutkoy on the European side to pick up Enver and a few other Ittihat and Terakki Party leaders. Following north on the Bosphorus, the boat had a final stop at Istinye for Cemal, before sailing into the Black Sea toward Crimea.

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Starting in May 1919, these three persons were tried in abstentia by a Turkish military tribunal in Istanbul for ‘treason, war crimes, and crimes against civilians’. On July 5, 1919, the court sentenced all three to be executed. Of course, they were nowhere to be found in Turkey. And it was left to the Armenians to carry out the death sentences through Operation Nemesis, named after the Goddess of Revenge in Greek mythology. Talat was executed in Berlin in 1921, Cemal in Tbilisi in 1922, and Enver in Bukhara in 1922. Other Ittihat and Terakki mass murderers also met justice by Armenian operations, most notably Bahattin Shakir, leader of the Special Organization (Teskilat-i Mahsusa), who organized the actual implementation of the deportations and mass murders employing convicted murderers released from prisons for this purpose, and Cemal Azmi, governor of Trabzon, who organized mass drownings of the Armenians of the Black Sea region by taking them to sea in boats and overturning them.

It is interesting that for almost a hundred years, the official history books of the Turkish state portrays Britain, Russia and France as imperialistic powers, with Ottoman Turkey heroically fighting against them, without once mentioning that Ottoman Turkey itself was an imperialistic entity, whose blindly ambitious leaders sent millions of its citizens to death without blinking an eye. The official history books of the Turkish state still portrays these three treacherous cowards who ran away as soon as the war was lost, as national heroes with their names given to dozens of neighborhoods, schools, streets and mosques. The official history books of the Turkish state still do not mention how much property and assets these three persons and their followers stole from the Armenians. In fact, the Turkish state has passed legislation awarding houses and assets of murdered Armenians to the families and heirs of these three persons and other executed Ittihat and Terakki leaders as ‘blood money,’ and they continue receiving payments to this day. The denialist policy of the Turkish state was not challenged by the brainwashed past generations within Turkey. But today, civil society and enlightened citizens of Turkey have started to see the truth and more importantly, have started to pressure the government to see the truth, if not for empathizing with the Armenian victims, but for the sake of stopping the embarrassment to themselves as Turkish citizens caused by the lies and denials.

Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer and concert pianist, living in Toronto, Canada. He has donated concert and CD proceedings to infrastructure projects in Armenia and Karabagh, in which he has also participated as an engineer. He helped organize the reconstruction of the Surp Giragos Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd Church and the first Armenian reclaim of church properties in Anatolia after 1915. He gave the first piano concert in the Surp Giragos Church since 1915.