When Was the Decision to Annihilate the Armenians Taken?

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When Was the Decision to Annihilate the Armenians Taken?

Taner Akçam
Received 27 Apr 2019, Accepted 06 Jun 2019, Published online: 17 Jul 2019

Download citation https://doi.org/10.1080/14623528.2019.1630893

Source: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14623528.2019.1630893

ABSTRACT

Bahaettin Şakir, the head of Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, wrote in a letter on 3 March 1915 that the Central Committee of Union and Progress had decided to exterminate the Armenians, giving the government wide authority to implement this plan. His letter has never been considered authentic and has been ignored by researchers in our field. Most scholars placed the possible date(s) for a final decision at the end of the March (or beginning of April). Based on some newly available Ottoman documents, I will revisit the question of the final decision and will also introduce several new documents related to earlier decisions and to the role of governors in the decision-making process.

KEYWORDS: Final decision, Talat Pasha, Bahaettin Şakir, Special Organization, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, Governors, Central Committee


This article attempts to answer a set of questions all revolving around a single subject, namely: Did the Committee of Union and Progress take a conscious and specific decision to annihilate the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire, and, if so, when was it taken? If it was actually a series of decisions, what was the time frame over which they were taken? Due to the lack of concise information and documentation, there is insufficient evidence to provide conclusive answers to these questions. As a result, we are confronted with a largely blank canvas that can be – and has been – filled with much speculation. I do not claim to be able to resolve the matter here, but I would like to advance some new ideas on the matter in light of a number of newly unearthed historical documents.

One of the principal claims of this article is that the main decision to annihilate the empire's Armenian population was most likely taken before March 1915 (and, more specifically, sometime between 15 February and 3 March), not in late March or early April as has been claimed in a number of previous works (the author's works among them). I base this claim largely on a letter written by Bahaettin Şakir11 Bahaettin Şakir, born in 1874 and assassinated in 17 April 1922 by Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in an operation called Nemesis, was one of the founding members of Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). He belonged to the radical wing of the party and (after 1905 in particular) successfully converted the party, which had heretofore been a largely intellectual/ideological movement, into a well-organized activist body. In addition to being a the member of CUP Central Committee, he was also the head of movement's semi-covert paramilitary entity known as the Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) that played a crucial role in extermination of the Armenian population. For more information on Şakir and his political life see, Şükrü Hanioğlu, Preparation for a Revolution, The Young Turks 1902–1908 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 130–91; Vahakn N. Dadrian, “The Role of Turkish Physicians in the World War I Genocide of Ottoman Armenians,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 1, no. 2 (1986): 169–92; Hikmet Çiçek, Bahaettin Şakir, İttihat ve Terakki’den Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’ya bir Türk Jakobeni (İstanbul: Kaynak Yayınları, 2004). View all notes on 3 March 1915.

The second claim to be made here is that the first decision to eliminate the Armenians was not initially taken by the Central Committee of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) and/or central government in Istanbul, but instead took shape and was decided upon through a series of decisions taken in Erzurum on 1 December 1914 and related solely to the provinces of Van and Bitlis. These decisions were initially taken by the Central Committee of the Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) branch in Erzurum, and were limited to specific groups of Armenians seen as either potential leaders of the revolt or as liable to carry out attacks against Muslims, each time in response to the unique “needs” of the region. From the correspondence between the capital and the provinces it can be understood that the decisions were subsequently approved of by the Istanbul government.

The third important point here is that the provincial governors played a special role in the exterminatory decisions against the Armenians, both within their respective provinces as well as in the ultimate decision by the government in Istanbul. After 1 December 1914 in particular, they not only decided upon and carried selective extermination operations within their respective regions (eastern and southeastern Anatolia), but they also pressed the central government to take such a decision that would apply to the entire empire. In short, the “radicalization” of policy vis-à-vis the Armenian population was first experienced in the periphery and only later adopted and expanded by Istanbul.

In this piece, I will first review some of the early discussions on the decision-making process and then discuss the authenticity of Bahaettin Şakir's letters and the question of when the final decision was taken to exterminate the Armenians. In the process I will also introduce several new documents related to earlier decisions and to role of governors in the decision-making process. Some General Observations

The question of possible dates for a “final decision” for the extermination of Armenians is a topic rarely discussed in the field of Armenian Genocide research, largely due to the paucity of relevant documents. As a result, the determination that it must have fallen within a period between the end of March and early April as advanced by Vakakn N. Dadrian and myself has been widely accepted.22 Just two example: Raymond Kevorkian, The Armenian Genocide A Complete History (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011), 222 and 243–44, and Hans Lukas Kieser, Talaat Pasha: Father of Modern Turkey, Architect of Genocide (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 230. View all notes Even so, there has been some discussion as to both the accuracy of this determination as well as the process leading to such a decision. The reservations in accepting this judgment have largely revolved around the problems of continuity or contingency. Namely, the questions of the degree to which the decision to exterminate the empire's Armenians was premeditated and/or the extent to which the exigencies of the First World War played a role in such a decision. Some historians (most prominently, Vahakn N. Dadrian) claimed that the wartime conditions only served as a pretext for implementing an extermination policy decided upon long in advance (see below). Others, such as Ronald Suny and Donald Bloxham, see the decision for genocide as the result of the Ottoman authorities’ developing response to the adverse wartime conditions. Bloxham has argued that, “there was no a priori blueprint for genocide, but rather that it emerged from a series of more limited regional measures in a process of cumulative policy radicalization.”33 Donald Bloxham, “The First World War and the Development of the Armenian Genocide,” in A Question of Genocide Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire, ed. Ronald Grigor Suny, Fatma Müge Göçek and Norman M. Naimark (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 260. View all notes Thus, “it is only in the early summer of 1915 that we can speak of a crystallized policy of empire-wide killing and death-by-attrition.”44 Ibid. View all notes We can formulate the theses of the debate as continuity (premeditation) versus contingency (gradual radicalization).

This article has no pretensions of being able to end this debate, since the lack of conclusive documentation means that any opinion must resort to some speculation, but it does bring to light some new material that will help to shed light on the character of the Unionist leaders decision-making process itself.55 For a general overview of the debate and especially the controversy between V. N. Dadrian and Ronald Suny see Armenian Forum, no. 2 (1998). The journal is a special issue with the articles of both authors; Bloxham, “The First World War and the Development of the Armenian Genocide,” 260–76. View all notes Vahakn N. Dadrian's Approach to the Problem

Since main focus of previous debates on the issue was the critique of Dadrian's views, it is appropriate here to give a general overview of his writings. His views on the question of the Unionists’ decision can be described as “intentionalist.”66 For a general overview and assessment of Dadrian's writings on the subject, see: Taner Akçam, “Vahakn N. Dadrian: Ermeni Soykırımında Kurumsal Roller”; Taner Akçam, 1915 Yazıları (İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2010), 299–321. View all notes According to Dadrian, the Armenian genocide arose within a annihilationist culture or, in Dadrian's words, as the result of “the genocidal impetus.” Among the Turkish population, he claims, an intention to exterminate the Ottoman Armenian population was ever present, but only as “inclinations or tendencies, as a rough, conceptual blueprint,” requiring a moment of crisis to activate them and span the gap between hesitant contemplation and active decision-making.77 V. N. Dadrian, “The Role of the Special Organisation in the Armenian Genocide during the First World War,” in Minorities in Wartime, ed. Panikos Panayi (Oxford and Providence: Berg Publishers, 1993), 3, 4. View all notes Thus, the war served as the necessary pretext to turn this impetus into a reality, namely, to eliminate the Armenians once and for all.88 Ibid., 4. View all notes

Although, “the impetus to genocide” may have its theological roots in Islam,99 In many of his works Dadrian examined the subject of Islamic theology forming the intellectual foundation for the “culture of genocide.” See, for instance, V. N. Dadrian, History of Armenian Genocide (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1995), 3–7. View all notes it derived more from “a subculture of clandestine military ethics allowing its practitioners an almost limitless scope of operations against selected victim populations that were targeted for partial or total destruction.”1010 Vahakn Dadrian, “The Role of Military in the Destruction of Ottoman Armenians: A Study in Historical Continuities,” Journal of Political and Military Sociology 20, no. 2 (1992): 271–2. View all notes The doctrine of “total war” prevailing within the Ottoman-Turkish military was an essential component of this subculture. Indeed, the truculent spirit underlying the “total war” doctrine was evident in the thinking of some of the most eminent Turkish statesmen.1111 Ibid., 259. View all notes

Dadrian argues that within the Union and Progress Party that ultimately perpetrated the genocide there reigned a “culture of violence complete with warrior-heroes, symbols, and terminology.”1212 Ibid., 268. View all notes The Young Turk-Ittihadist rule in the aftermath of the 1908 Revolution, especially with respect to discordant nationalities of the empire, “bore the stamp of this culture of violence which entailed ‘a militaristic policy, a reign of terror under constitutional forms’ (Emin, 1914:112), and ‘the brutalization of political life’ (Ahmad, 1969:163).”1313 Ibid. View all notes

For this reason, the genocide

was neither a wartime aberration, not an accidental, temporary lapse into a misdeed that happened to involve a mass murder. Rather it was a distinctive feature of the modern annals of Ottoman political subculture, a subculture that almost as a matter of routine has been allowing recourse to massacre as a state instrument of oppression and repression against discordant nationalities and minorities.1414 Vahakn N. Dadrian, “Armenian Genocide: an Interpretation,” in America and Armenian Genocide, ed. Jay Winter (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 86. View all notes Through this approach Dadrian believes that he has revealed the existence of this “genocidal impetus” necessary for the perpetration of a genocide. What now remains is to discover when this semi-latent annihilationist culture ultimately emerged into the open. In Dadrian's model, it can be seen as a “gestation process” from which the full-blown genocide would eventually emerge, with the idea of annihilation as the initial attachment of the fetus to the uterine wall and the ultimate decision to exterminate the Armenians and its execution as the child finally emerging fully formed from the womb. The Armenian genocide then was a process that had to pass through several stages, and was the result of various decisions and plans.

If it is necessary to assign a more specific time frame to this process, Dadrian would place the 1915 decision to exterminate the Armenians as having first been conceived within the years 1910–1911, and within this aforementioned annihilationist culture, as it was first openly expressed during the Unionist party congresses of those years. Referring to a talk given by Talat [later Pasha] during the preparations for the 1910 congress, Dadrian claims that “the party's secret blueprints” were already in existence by this time.1515 Vahakn Dadrian, “The Role of Military in the Destruction of Ottoman Armenians,” 270. View all notes In accordance with these secret plans, which have their origins as early as 1910, the party sent a number of persons meticulously screened and selected by the party's top-level military and civilian personnel to the provinces over the war years to serve “as functionaries entrusted with the overseeing and execution of the party's secret designs.”1616 Ibid., 273. View all notes

According to Dadrian, the second major stage in the plan's realization took place during the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913. In his view, the outcome of those wars played a great role in the germination of the idea of the Armenian Genocide. It was during these years that “[t]he idea of ‘cleansing’ Turkey through violent means … was secretly adopted as one of the fundamental points of the Unionist party programme.”1717 Vahakn Dadrian, “The Convergent Roles of the State and Governmental Party in the Armenian Genocide,” in Studies in Comparative Genocide, ed. Levon Chorbajian, George Shirinian (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), 103. View all notes This “secret plan” was the crystallization of a previously existing aim, Dadrian argues, claiming that, “after seizing power completely in January 1913, its anti-Armenian propensities, which had hitherto existed in embryonic form, steadily began to crystallize and take root within the realm of governmental policy.”1818 Ibid., 116. View all notes

Dadrian identifies the Russo-Ottoman Agreement of February 1914, which intended to bring reform to the six vilayets of Eastern Anatolia where the Armenians were prominent, as well as by the declaration of the general mobilization on 2 August 1914 and the subsequent entry into the World War as other intermediate steps toward the ultimate decision to annihilate the Armenian population. It was the aforementioned legacy of hostility, mistrust, and “genocidal impulse” that made the new Armenian Reform Act extremely portentous and it is precisely against this backdrop that the crystallization of the scheme to destroy the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire must be understood. The subsequent military defeats during the World War would bring this ill-defined plan of annihilation to fruition with the extermination within Anatolia – and particularly in the six eastern province – of the Armenian inhabitants.1919 V. N. Dadrian, “The Turkish Military Tribunal's Prosecution of the Authors of the Armenian Genocide: Four Major Court-Martial Series,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 11, no. 1 (1997): 29. View all notes

The signing of the German-Ottoman alliance on 2 August and the decision to declare a general mobilization were the first step toward actualizing the genocidal plans of the Unionists, as the Armenian conscripts were separated from the others and disarmed, then ordered to labour battalions behind the front lines. This would become one of the various methods through which the able-bodied Armenian men were liquidated – and a prelude to the genocide in general.2020 Dadrian, “Armenian Genocide: an Interpretation,” 62. View all notes Dadrian does not see these events during the war years as main impetus for genocidal decision but merely as various “mechanical” factors precipitating the Turkish regime's resolve to destroy the Ottoman Armenian population.2121 Dadrian, “The Role of the Special Organisation in the Armenian Genocide,” 3. View all notes

Dadrian's approach, which we have attempted to summarize in broad strokes here, can be read as a prime example of teleological history writing. In order to view the three-year-long (1915–18) process of annihilation (or its symbol, the deserts of Der-i Zor) as the starting point of one's explanation, it is necessary to first trace a line back to those traces and hints of its origins within earlier historical events. The historical process is like a train that must pass through several intermediate stations before arriving at its final destination.2222 For similar interpretation in regard to the Holocaust, see Jacques Semelin, Purify and Destroy, the Political Uses of Massacre and Genocide (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 325; Ian Kershaw, Hitler, The Germans, And the Final Solution (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008) 246. View all notes The Role of 1914 Reform Agreement in Decision-Making Process

Leaving aside attempts at teleological description, I will argue that it was the Reform Agreement of February 1914 that first spurred the Unionist leadership to desire to solve the so-called “Armenian Reform Question” once and for all. The materials that I introduced in my book The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity and the others that I am introducing for the first time within this article show the problematic nature of the “wartime conditions” argument, namely, of genocide as a product of the contingencies of war.

The wartime policies of the Ottoman government toward the Armenians were not, as has been frequently claimed, the result of military exigencies. But this is not to argue that the downturn in Ottoman fortunes played no role whatsoever. Certainly, the disaster at Sarıkamış in January 1915 and the brutal struggle at Gallipoli in winter-summer 1915, which were seen even at the time as part of the empire's life and death struggle, both played a significant role in the ultimate decision to eliminate the empire's Armenian population. However, while devising measures against the Armenians, the authorities were well aware that the problem to be solved did not simply derive from the war. Rather, these measures were a part of a policy conceived, planned, and put into effect with the clear intent of eliminating the persistent burden-pain (gaile) of civil administration in the Armenian provinces once and for all. Even before the war the Interior Minister and Unionist triumvir Talat Pasha claimed, the Ottoman authorities had conceived of an approach “to eliminate [this problem] in a comprehensive and absolute manner” and had made several projections and considerations in this direction.

An official note written by Talat Pasha to the Grand Vizier on 26 May 1915 shows this quite clearly. In it, Talat states that, after signing the aforementioned reform agreement,

it is thought that this [ongoing] gaile (burden, trouble, pain), which occupies an important place among the vital problems of the Ottoman State, is finally reaching a fundamental resolution and that the means are being devised and introduced that will eliminate it completely. But then the war began and, as a result, not a single step had been taken toward conclusively resolving the problem. In Talat's view, the measures taken during the first months of the war would not provide a thoroughgoing solution either, but instead derived from wartime needs and exigencies, and these transitory measures needed to be made permanent and systematic.2323 Azmi Süslü, Ermeniler ve 1915 Tehcir Olayı (Van: Yüzüncü Yıl Üniversitesi Rektörlüğü Yayını, 1990), 110. View all notes

The sentiments expressed in Talat's letter are significant for two reasons. First, they show the meaningless of teleological history writing to the extent that the scenario for the annihilation of the Armenians in the deserts of Der-i Zor was already written in 1914. Second, the things written by Talat show us, on the other hand, that the decision for annihilation did not come to the agenda as a response to wartime necessities. The annihilation decision arose as an interesting amalgamation of ideas about decisively solving a structural problem (in this case, that of “Armenian reforms”) and the conditions created by the World War. In other words, no matter how much earlier a decision to annihilate the Armenians may have taken place, the question was not merely one of keeping it secret until the appropriate time in which it could be implemented, nor simply of a decision taken in accordance with wartime needs and military developments. In Talat's letter of 26 May 1915 both of these components are on open display.2424 For a detailed discussion of the subject, see Taner Akçam, Young Turks’ “Crime Against Humanity”: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 132–5. View all notes Was the Final Decision for Annihilation taken at the End of March 1915?

In past years Vahakn Dadrian and I discussed and debated in detail the question of a possible date for annihilation. Our shared view was that the Unionists did indeed take such a conscious decision, and that it was most likely taken over a series of meetings that took place at the end of March and early April 1915. It was Dadrian who first delineated this time frame. My contribution was to add new information and findings related to these dates. On the basis of the following information and evidence the argument has been made that (1) there was indeed a conscious decision to exterminate the Armenian population; and (2) it was taken at the end of March or beginning of April:2525 Where the sources are not specificly noted, more detailed information can be found in Taner Akçam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 159–73. Akçam, Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity, 156–85. View all notes

   In his memoirs, Unionist “Responsible Secretary” (Katib-i Mesul) Arif Cemil states that Bahaettin Şakir, the head of semi-secret Unionist organization, the Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) came to Istanbul in mid-March 1915 to discuss the Armenian question and returned to Erzerum only in early April. Upon his return Şakir brought with him the deportation decision, so that “shortly after returning of Doctor Bahaettin Şakir Bey to the Caucasus Front the new situation was fully clarified.”2626 Arif Cemil, I. Dünya Savaşında Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (İstanbul: Arba Yayınları, 1997), 246.
   View all notes
   Unionist Central Committee member Dr. Nazım stated (but without giving a specific date), that decision to annihilate the Armenians was taken at the conclusion of a series of lengthy discussions within the CUP Central Committee. This statement, made during the 1919–22 trials of Unionist leaders in Istanbul, is found in the indictment in the postwar trial against the former Unionist leadership.2727 Takvim-i Vekayi, no. 3540, 1st Session, Principal Indictment, 27 April 1919.
   View all notes
   A number of major changes in the make-up of the Special Organization were made in March 1915. The organization would be removed from the authority the War Ministry & Army and placed directly under the supervision of the Union and Progress Party; its principal directive would now be to “contend with internal enemies.”2828 Arif Cemil, I. Dünya Savaşında Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, 240.
   View all notes
   During the sessions of the main post-war trial against the Unionist leadership, a document was submitted by Cevat, one of the functionaries of the central branch of the Special Organization in Istanbul, to the panel of judges. This document, dated 3 February 1915, stated that the relations between the Army and units of the Special Organization had begun to be severed already at the beginning of February.2929 Takvim-i Vekayi, no. 3543, 2nd Session, 4 May 1919.
   View all notes
   Several other documents from the Ottoman archives confirm the accuracy of the descriptions in the documentary account submitted by Cevat. According to a cable sent from Kayseri to the Interior Ministry on 14 February, the War Ministry reported that it had ceased to collect volunteers for the Special Organization.3030 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 461/89, Cipher Cable from Kayseri District Governor Ahmet Mithat to the Interior Ministry, dated 14 February 1915.
   View all notes
   On 14 May 1919, at the trial's fifth session Cevat stated that “would mean 10.2.1331 [23 April 1915]” that “there was no more [Special Organization] activities in our place [the War Ministry].”3131 Takvim-i Vekayi, no. 3554, 5th Session, 14 May 1919.
   View all notes

On this date the Special Organization came under the control of the Union and Progress Party. At the head of the organization was Bahaettin Şakir. According to one of the organization's members, Arif Cemil, “after observing in that the Special Operation's activities in Istanbul dealing with external enemies, Doctor Bahaettin Şakir Bey took the decision already in Istanbul that he would occupy himself [and his organization?] with the country's internal enemies.”3232 Arif Cemil, I. Dünya Savaşında Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, 240. View all notes As we will see below, Şakir would continue to use the title “Head of the Special Organization” (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa Reisi).3333 The questions of if, at the end of March 1915, there were two separate Special Organizations (one attached to the Ottoman Army, the other, to the Committee/Party of Union and Progress) and what they were actually called continues to be a hotly debated subject among scholars of the period. The subject will be discussed in detail in a soon-to-be-published article by Oktay Özel, “The Role of Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (Special Organization) in the Armenian Genocide” (unpublished paper). View all notes

   (d) The Chamber of Deputies concluded its last session on 1 March 1915 and went into recess. In his memoirs Talat Pasha wrote that the reason for the Chamber's recess and delayed reopening was the Armenian Deportation: “The Special Organization had … determined that certain non-Turks in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Chamber of Notables had been spreading reports/information about vital decisions [in and around Parliament] to the Patriarchate and to the foreign embassies. As long as both houses were in session it was not possible to prevent the actions of such persons, who were representatives of the nation.”3434 Cemal Kutay, Talat Paşa'nın Gurbet Hatıraları, vol. 2 (İstanbul: Kültür Matbaası, 1983), 906–7.
   View all notes
   (e) Halil Menteşe, the Ottoman Foreign Minister during this period, travelled to Berlin in the middle of March. At the same time acting Finance Minister Cavit Bey was in Berlin holding meetings for the purpose of securing a loan. Talat, who sent a cable to Menteşe between the dates 18–23 March issued the directive that he should meet with the Germans on this matter “over which it did not seem appropriate to have Cemal to speak with Germans.” In his memoirs, Menteşe recounts that Talat met him on his return to Turkey and said “So, let's hear … what did you speak about in Berlin in regard to the Armenian deportation?”3535 İsmail Arar, ed., Osmanlı Mebusan Meclisi Reisi Halil Menteşénin Anıları (İstanbul: Hürriyet Vakfı Yayınları, 1986), 213–6.
   View all notes

The argument that the decision to annihilate the Armenians was taken in late March/early April has up to now been widely accepted. I believe that this thesis must be reexamined. I’m not claiming that meetings weren't held at the end March or that certain decisions weren't taken there. On the contrary, documents in our possession have clearly shown both that the meetings were held and that a number of decisions were taken at them. However, there is the rather strong possibility that the exterminatory decision or decisions had begun to be put into effect even before the meetings and decisions of the end of March. The question that we will try to answer, then, is whether the annihilation decision/s was/were taken before March 1915. The Letters of Bahaettin Şakir and the Decision to Exterminate the Armenians

My claim here is that there was an actual conscious decision taken to annihilate the empire's Armenian population and that it was taken before 3 March 1915. Moreover, there were other related decisions which preceded this final one. That said, I am nowhere close to being able to give a precise account of this chain of decisions. Nevertheless, in light of the new information and documentation that I will produce here, I pose several new questions and offer a number of preliminary findings on the matter that necessitate further research. The most compelling evidence I offer of a decision to annihilate the Armenians having been made long before the end of March 1915 (and most likely between 15 February and 3 March) is the two letters written by Bahaettin Şakir to the Unionist Plenipotentiary (Murahhas) in Adana, Cemal Bey in March and April 1915. These letters were originally published in 1921 by the Armenian journalist Aram Andonian in his Armenian-language work A Great Crime (Medz Vocirı). In the first letter, dated 3 March 1915, Şakir writes that

the Committee [of Union and Progress], as the bearer of the nation's honor, has decided to free the homeland from the inordinate ambitions of this accursed nation and to assume the responsibility for the blemish that will stain Ottoman history in this regard. The Committee, which cannot forget [the country's] bitter and unhappy history and whose cup runneth over with the unrelenting desire for revenge, has decided to annihilate all of Armenians living within Turkey, not to allow a single one to remain, and has given the government broad authority in this regard. On the question of how this killing and massacring will be carried out, the [central] government will give the necessary instructions to the provincial governors and army commanders. All of the Unionist regional representatives would concern themselves with following up on the matter in all of the places where they were found, and would ensure that not a single Armenian would receive protection or assistance.3636 Andonian, Medz Vocirı (Boston: Bahag Printing House, 1921), 116–7. Emphasis added. View all notes In the second letter, dated 7 April 1915, Bahaettin Şakir would reiterate his earlier message:

In response to what was written in the letter of 18 February 330 [3 March 1915] the Committee has decided to now annihilate and fundamentally extirpate [emphasis added] the various forces with which it has contended for years, henceforth taking efforts to pursue the path, and will unfortunately be forced to take brutal measures in this regard. Be assured that we are troubled by the frightfulness of these measures. Nevertheless, the Committee sees no other way to maintain the [country's] existence.3737 Ibid., 144–145. View all notes When Andonian published these letters, he was not aware that they originated from Bahaettin Şakir. In his book he stated that “they [the letters] were signed with a signature stamp most likely the stamp of one of the members of the Committee [of Union and Progress]'s Central Committee in Istanbul.”3838 Ibid., 126. View all notes In a letter written to a survivor of the Armenian genocide, Mary Terzian, on 28 July 1937, Andonian reveals how, in Berlin in 1921 he first learned that the signature under the letter belong to Bahaettin Şakir. “At the time my book was published,” he wrote,

I did not know that these letters were from Bahaddin Şakir Bey. As a signature, there was only an illegible paragraph, which, at first glance, seems to be a conventional marking. The issue was revealed to me … in 1921 in Berlin.3939 See, Taner Akçam, Killing Orders (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 229–238. View all notes Andonian's friends gave him old Armenian newspaper clippings published in Istanbul. In one of the newspapers he discovered that the letter in his book was reprinted and the signature at the bottom was printed as Bahaettin Şakir.4040 Ibid., 233. Andonian aslo provides the name of the newspaper: “It was a clipping from an old, undated issue of the newspaper ‘Joghovurti Tzaine,’ likely published in 1920.” We found the newspaper referred to by Andonian and confirmed his story. The date on the newspaper is 19 August 1920. I thank Ani Voskanyan for helping me locate the newspaper. View all notes Andonian continues,

since in my book the letter in question was not signed with a name, I was naturally curious to know why Behaeddin Shakir's name was written in at the end of the translation. I, therefore, wrote a letter to said … [newspaper and] … learned that the initials at the bottom of the two letters reproduced in my book composed the word “Beha,” a nickname given to Behaeddin Shakir by his close friends.4141 Ibid., 234. View all notes Şakir's letters were found among the 50 hand-written documents (some of which original) which were delivered over to Andonian by an Ottoman bureaucrat by the name of Naim Efendi, about whose originality doubts have persisted to this day. It was first asserted that the documents were all fabrications in a book published by the Turkish Historical Society in 1983, using arguments which, at first glance, were quite convincing.4242 Şinasi Oral and Süreyya Yuca, Ermenilerce Talat Paşa’ya Atfedilen Telgrafların Gerçek Yüzü (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1983). For English translation of the book see, Şinasi Oral and Süreyya Yuca, The Talât Pasha “Telegrams”: Historical Fact or Armenian Fiction? (Nicosia : Rustem, 2007). View all notes Regarding these two letters, the most important claim against their authenticity was that they were addressed to Adana, and that it was thus inconceivable that these letter could be found in the Aleppo Deportation Office in in which Naim Efendi claimed to have worked.4343 Ibid., 34–5, 40–41 (page numbers are from original Turkish book). View all notes The argument's logic was convincing, so much so as to largely discourage subsequent researchers from basing their research either on the letters attributed to Şakir or the other documents given to Andonian. Şakir's statement in these letters, that the decision to annihilate the Armenians was taken on 3 March 1915, was in effect ignored.

Today, however, we face a new reality, one in which Bahaettin Şakir's letters must viewed in a new light. In my latest work I showed that the Memoirs of Naim Efendi, which were published by Andonian along with the accompanying documents, were, in fact, authentic.4444 Akçam, Killing Order. View all notes Another major discovery made in the course of my research (and as yet unpublished) is that the signatures of Bahaettin Şakir on both of these letters were also original. This can be proven by comparing them with his signature from two other sources. The first of these is the daily Şurayı Ümmet, where can be found Şakir's signature under a number of editorial columns he published there. Here, the signature is identical to those of the Naim Efendi letters.4545 For the signatures in question, see: Şurayı Ümmet 30 October 1909, no. 192 and 30 December 1909, no. 201. I discovered that the signatures in the Şurayı Ümmet and those in his letters were identical in the years 1996–97, but I never used this information out of doubts over the authenticity of the Naim-Andonian documents. View all notes The second important source is the Paris registries (notebooks) of the Committee of Union and Progress. In 2017 these notebooks were published into Turkish and the originals of the letters were added in the appendices of his book.4646 Kudret Emiroğlu, Çiğdem Önal Emiroğlu, Osmanlı Terakki ve İttihat Cemiyeti Paris Merkezi Yazışmaları Kopya Defterleri (1906–1908) (İstanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yayınları, 2017). View all notes In these notebooks one can find around 100 examples of Bahaettin Şakir's signature. Despite the striking non-uniformity of these signatures, a great many of them are nearly identical with those of the letters.

Beyond proving the authenticity of the signatures, it is now possible to show that one of the central arguments of the Turkish Historical Society's book “disproving” the authenticity of the Naim Efendi documents – namely, the impossibility that the letter of Unionist plenipotentiary in Adana, Cemal derived from Aleppo Deportation Office – is also invalid. In his book, Andonian claims that, after Cemal Bey received the letters, he went from Adana to Aleppo, and there devoted himself to implementing the plans for the Armenian genocide. According to Andonian, Cemal Bey was one of Şükrü Bey's supporters, who was sent from Istanbul to serve as the Director of the Aleppo Office for the Resettlement of Tribes and Refugees (Halep İskân-ı Aşâir ve Muhâcirîn Müdürü) and who devoted himself with great dispatch to the task of organizing the deportations and massacres.4747 For Andonian's words on the subject, see: Medz Vocirı, 144 and 27. View all notes

We have in our possession a document from the Ottoman Archives confirming the accuracy of the information given by Andonian. Cemal Bey was indeed appointed as the Committee of Union and Progress's plenipotentiary in Aleppo; additionally, an investigation of Cemal Bey and his activities was opened during the post-war trials in regard to his role in the Armenian deportations and massacres.4848 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 98/168, Cipher cable from the Interior Ministry to the Provincial Governor of Konya, dated 15 April 1919: “The documents from the investigation of the Province's Director of Health Yunus Vasfi and the Union and Progress's Plenipotentiary for Aleppo Cemal Bey have been requested of the Court-Martial, where they are understood to have been left.” View all notes

There is also important information contained in Bahaettin Şakir's letters. In them, Şakir says that the government would give the army commanders and provincial governors the necessary instructions regarding how to carry out the killings and massacres. In the Ottoman Archive there are two separate cables sent to the eastern provinces of Erzurum Van, Bitlis, Mamüretülaziz (Elazığ) and Diyarbakır some 11 days after Şakir's letter in which there are certain passages confirming this information. One of them mentions the need “to refer to the Third Army Command in regard to the urgent measures to taken in response to Armenian actions.”4949 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 51/15, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the Provinces of Erzurum, Van, Bitlis & Diyarbakır, dated 14 March 1915. An identical cable was sent on the same day to the Province of Mamüretülaziz (BOA.DH.ŞFR., 51/17). View all notes

If these letters are indeed authentic, it is then necessary to conclude that: (1) a clear decision was taken by the Unionist Central Committee to annihilate the empire's Armenian population; and (2) this decision was taken before 3 March 1915. Bahaettin Şakir might have written the letter several days after this decision – there is no definitive proof one way or another – but we may assume that few days had passed. Furthermore, if there was an annihilation decision taken before 3 March it raises a number of other questions.

One of these is when exactly such a decision was taken and whether or not Bahaettin Şakir himself participated in the Central Committee meeting. On the basis of the information in our possession we may state with great confidence that the decision was taken between 15 February and 3 March 1915, but we do not feel confident enough to speculate on a more exact date than that. What is certain is that Bahaettin Şakir was no longer in Istanbul after the beginning of August 1914. Furthermore, since the Central Committee of the Committee of Union and Progress held their meetings in Istanbul, Şakir cannot have been physically present for such a decision. If Şakir did take part in this meeting, he could have only done so via telegrams at the local telegraph office.

Bahaettin Şakir travelled to Erzurum in August 1914 in order to coordinate the activities of the Special Organization,5050 In a cable sent by Bahaettin Şakir on 22 August 1914 he reports that he had arrived in Erzurum. (BOA.DH.ŞFR., 483/32). View all notes but he did not remain there, instead touring the region carrying out his duties and leading military operations in the Caucasus, especially in the surrounding areas of the cities Artvin, Ardanuç, and Ardahan. Even so, by his own admission he would return to Erzurum whenever he saw the need to do so. In a 11 November 1914 cable to Talat Pasha, he states: “I am in Hasan Kal with the [army] command. The provincial governor is carrying out the various matters in accordance with the wishes of the Army command. I will travel to and from Erzurum as it appears necessary.”5151 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 447/96, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 11 November 1914. View all notes Even before 3 March 1915, at which time the Unionist Central Committee is thought to have gathered in Istanbul, Şakir cannot have been present.

In fact, Şakir expressed his desire at various times to come to Istanbul and to discuss a number of topics face-to-face. For example, in a telegram sent from Erzurum on 7 October 1914, Şakir writes that

If time permits, I believe it is absolutely necessary for me to come to Istanbul and return again within 15 days in order to reiterate in an advantageous manner my thoughts and opinions that cannot be put down on paper.5252 BOA.DH.ŞFR, 443/77, Cipher cable from Acting Provincial Governor of Erzurum Cemal to Interior Minister Talat, dated 7 October 1914. View all notes He repeated the same desire in a cable on 24 January 1915. In it, he writes: “[Please] give your consent [for me] to travel within the week, via torpedo boat, steamship, or ferryboat from Trabzon to Istanbul and back, in order to discuss a great many things.”5353 BOA.DH.ŞFR., DHL.ŞFR, 459/4, Cipher cable from Bahaettin Şakir (in Artvin) to Interior Minister Talat dated 24 December 1914. View all notes

Despite these requests for travel to Istanbul, there are a sufficient number of documents showing that Şakir was in the Caucasus (in the Artvin-Ardahan region) from mid-December to mid-February and that he was there at the head of various Special Organization units, directly leading them in clashes with enemy forces.5454 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 454/74 and 455/12, Cipher cables from Bahaettin Şakir (in Artvin and Ardanuç) to Interior Minister Talat, dated: 20 and 23/24 December 1914. BOA.DH.ŞFR., 455/130 (28 December 1914) and 456/76 (4 January 1915) Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin relayed the cable or information that he received from Bahaettin Şakir to İstanbul. BOA.DH.ŞFR., 475/16 (10 January 1915), Trabzon Provincial Governor Cemal gave information about Bahaettin Şakir and his dispersed units in Ardahan. BOA.DH.ŞFR., 457/62 (12 January1915) and 457/93 (15 January 1915), In these cables that he sent from Artvin and Borçka, Bahaettin Şakir, who had just returned from Ardahan, requests soldiers and weapons. View all notes On the basis of these documents, I argue that there is a strong possibility that Şakir did indeed take part in the Central Committee meeting, but seated at the head of a telegraph machine in Erzurum. There is ample evidence that such meetings-by-telegram did take place between the Istanbul Central Committee and Şakir in Erzurum. For instance, in a cipher cable marked “secret” and sent by Talat Pasha on 26 November 1914 to the governor of Erzurum the former requests that Şakir be called “from the headquarter to Erzurum in order to communicate [directly] … with the Central Committee.”5555 BOA.DH.ŞFR., DH.ŞFR. 47/187, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the province of Erzurum, dated 26 November 1914. View all notes Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin replied that he would forward whatever questions that were asked by Şakir and then passed on the answers he received,5656 BOA.DH.ŞFR. 450/104, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 26/27 November 1914. View all notes but Talat Pasha wanted Şakir to come and be there in person. In response to this request, Şakir would arrive in Erzurum on 29 November and inform them of his presence there.5757 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 451/12, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 28/29 November 1914. View all notes It would thus not be incorrect to surmise that the annihilation decision might well have taken place via such a telegraphic “meeting.”

Şakir would remain in the environs of Artvin until the middle of February.5858 See the various cables sent by Bahaettin Şakir to Interior Minister Talat from Artvin. BOA/459/94 (1 February 1915); 460/78 (7 February 1915) and 461/34 (12 February 1915). View all notes Upon the death of Third Army Commander Hafız Hakkı Pasha from typhus, Şakir was urgently summoned to Erzurum by its provincial governor Tahsin.5959 BOA.DH.ŞFR., DH.ŞFR. 461/060, Cipher cable from Bahaettin Şakir to Interior Minister Talat, dated 13–14 February 1915 and marked “urgent; to be opened [only] by the recipient.” View all notes In short, he was in Erzurum on 3 March, the day that the letter was written. The Erzurum “Central Committee”

Without engaging in too much speculation on the exact date, I would nevertheless like to offer one more piece of information that we came across in the course of our research: there was another “central committee” that possessed the authority to take decisions at the local level in regard to Armenian matters. The decision to annihilate the Armenians was taken in this “central committee,” located in Erzurum, and the decision was then submitted to Istanbul for approval. The organization in question was actually the Central Committee of the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization (Kafkasya İhtilal Cemiyeti) established in Bayburt in September 1914.6060 We have no concise information on the founding date of the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization. While we can gather from Arif Cemil's memoirs [Arif Cemil, I. Dünya Savaşında Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, 26–8] that it was in the last week of August 1914, if we consider that one of its founders, Bahaettin Şakir arrived in Erzurum on 22 August 1915 and another founder, Kara Kemal reaches Trabzon on 12 September then the end of September seems a more likely date. [For Şakir's date of arrival, see: BOA.DH.ŞFR, 438/32. Regarding Kara Kemal's travels during this period, see: Mehmet Bilgin, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’nın Kafkasya Misyonu ve Operasyonları (İstanbul: Ötüken Yayınları, 2017), 168]. View all notes We know that Bahaettin Şakir used the title “Head of the Special Organization” (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa Reisi) in several telegraphic cables, and thus it would not be unreasonable to conclude that the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization and the Erzurum-based “Special Organization” were one and the same.6161 This is a reasonable inference, since the names that Bahaettin Şakir gave as the members of the Central Committee of the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization are the same names known as the central committee members of Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa in Erzurum. View all notes

In a cable he sent to Istanbul on 7 October 1914, Bahaettin Şakir provides the names of some of the persons who were members of the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization's Central Committee:

At Bayburt Kemal and I agreed to tie the Association to a central Committee. Muhiddin Bey is quite suitable. Although one might expect Bekir Bey's extreme moods to create problems in practice, I do not see any trouble in him being with me simply as a companion … For the two other persons, I see Hilmi Bey and Tahsin Bey as suitable [candidates].6262 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 443/77, Cipher cable from the Acting Provincial Governor of Erzurum Cemal to Interior Minister Talat, dated 7 October 1914. View all notes Unfortunately, we do not know who the other members were for this organization and can only guess, on the basis of the certain archival documents, that they were the provincial governors of Trabzon, Bitlis, Mamüretülaziz (Elazığ), Van and Sivas. For instance, in a cable sent from Erzurum on 16 October 1914, Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer reports that “Ali Muammer Bey was chosen [by] the Central Committee to serve as Deputy for Karahisar and the minutes [of the meeting?] were put in the mail.”6363 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 493/127, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated: 16 October 1914. View all notes There are other documents in our possession showing that other provincial governors came to Erzurum and communicated with the central government in Istanbul while there, such as the telegraph sent from Erzurum to Istanbul on 17 November 1914 by Cevdet, the provincial governor of Van.6464 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 498/2, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet (in Ezrurum) to Interior Minister Talat, dated 17 November 1914. View all notes

From some of the documents found in the Ottoman Archives we learn that this central committee [in Erzurum] took a great many important decisions regarding the Armenians, and that it subsequently informed the Third Army of them, along with other civil administrative units. In other words, decisions arrived at by the Erzurum Central Committee were not simply proposals, to be sent off to Istanbul for approval. Rather, the committee could take binding decisions and had the authority to direct others to carry them out.

The organization's authority and effectiveness were not limited to decisions concerning the Armenians. It also concerned itself in military matters and in many situations dictated orders to the Third Army of a military nature. We learn, for instance, from a report of 22 November 1914 that Bahaettin Şakir “spent his waking and sleeping hours in a room with the [Third] army commander,”6565 BOA.DH.ŞFR, 449/105, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 22 November 1914. View all notes and another reports shows him cancelling an order to retreat taken by the army commander.6666 BOA.DH.ŞFR, 450/62, Cipher cable from Provincial Governor of Erzurum Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 25 November 1914. View all notes This degree of involvement in military operations by the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization (and the Special Organization) and the latter's dictating and overruling of military decisions caused some consternation for the War Minister, Enver Pasha, and he wrote to Bahaettin Şakir stating that he needed “to distance himself from the [military] headquarters.” Additionally, he wrote to the Army commander ordering him to work to “separate him [Şakir] from the military headquarters.”6767 Mehmet Bilgin, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’nın Kafkasya Misyonu ve Operasyonları, 139, 184 (footnote no. 308). View all notes

We do not possess sufficient documentation to draw clearly delineate the relationship between the Unionist Central Committee in Istanbul and the Special Organization in Erzurum [or the Central Committee of the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization]. The reasons for this lack of evidence are that, first and foremost, the existing documents are not being made available to researchers, but also that attempts were made to resolve important matters between the two entities [Istanbul and Erzurum] via other channels, channels that left no paper trail, such as travelling back and forth or discussing the matter around telegram machine. As previously mentioned, his expressed desire to come to Istanbul on 7 October 1914 for a face-to-face meeting was accompanied by the explanation that there is urgent need “to reiterate … thoughts and opinions that cannot be put down on paper.”6868 BOA.DH.ŞFR, 443/77, Cipher cable from Acting Provincial Governor of Erzurum Cemal to Interior Minister Talat, dated 7 October 1914. View all notes In another cable from 24 January he reiterated his desire to come to Istanbul for a face to face meeting.6969 BOA.DH.ŞFR., DHL.ŞFR, 459/4, Cipher cable from Bahaettin Şakir (in Artvin) to Interior Minister Talat dated 24 January 1915. View all notes

Conversations conducted by telegraph were another method used for such discussions. We can understand from the aforementioned Talat Pasha cable of 26 November 1914, that some conversations were actually conducted in this manner. Unfortunately, we have no records of the meetings themselves. In situations in which some reports had to be conveyed by telegraph, they would often contain instructions that “the copy of the cable was burned here on the spot. Please ensure that Istanbul burns their copy,”7070 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 484/108, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat dated 20 August 1915. View all notes or to “destroy this telegram, along with the copy in the telegraph office.”7171 BOA.DH.ŞFR. 451/62, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 1 December 1914. View all notes The Erzurum Central Committee Decisions of 1 December 1914

We have one document that can serve as an example of the decisions taken by the Erzurum Central Committee. The document in question was a cable sent to Istanbul on 1 December 1914 with the instructions “To Interior Minister Talat Beyefendi – Urgent and Secret; to be opened by him alone.” In it mention is made that “it is being reported that the decisions were adopted tonight and communicated to the provinces of Van and Bitlis by the Central Committee."7272 Ibid. View all notes From this we can see that the Erzurum Central Committee conveyed their decisions directly to the provinces without needing prior approval from Istanbul. One of these decisions directly concerned military activities: “It has been written to Hasan İzzet Pasha that it was necessary for the military forces that had advanced from Mosul to Şünu to continue on to Basra (?) and in this way to reduce the danger [from] Van.”7373 Ibid. View all notes As can be seen, such decisions were a direct interference in military operations, and make War Minister Enver Pasha's irritation all the more understandable.

In the decision taken, it is stated that “Van is facing the same political situation as Bitlis” and the challenge there is defined as one of “preventing an internal revolt in Van and its environs.” For that reason, the need was stressed for the governors of Van and Bitlis to connect and communicate with one another. What needed to be accomplished was the arrest and extermination of the Armenians who were thought to be a problem. The exact wording of the order is as follows:

Those Armenians, both in the city centers [of Bitlis and Van] and in the surrounding [towns and villages] who are suspected of being potential leaders of the revolt or who would attack Muslims are to be arrested in advance [AND] in case of attacks on Muslims, they [those arrested] are all to be deported to Bitlis immediately in order that they be exterminated [emphasis added]. Among the other orders given in this direction were the disarming of all Armenian soldiers serving in the gendarmerie and their reassignment to other duties, along with the formation of various Muslim militia units.7474 Ibid. This crucial document is partially torn off. It's fair to assume that a significant portion of it is now lost. View all notes On the basis of this document we can confirm that a decision regarding the extermination of some Armenians in the environs of Bitlis and Van was taken by the Special Organization's Erzurum Central Committee on 1 December 1914.

In another cable, sent by Erzurum Governor Tahsin to the Interior Minister Talat on 20 December 1914 and marked “top secret, [to be] deciphered by the recipient alone,” the governor states that in Van and the surrounding regions “it has been learned that several events have come to pass, such as the telegraph lines being cut, a sergeant being killed, and the county executive (kaymakam) and his retinue being shot at,” and that these actions were the prelude to an open rebellion.7575 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 454/87, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 20 December 1914. View all notes It is proposed and requested of Istanbul that the previous decisions taken by the Erzurum Central Committee be immediately put into effect. What the Erzurum centre desired of Istanbul was not simply that orders be sent to the various places in question in order that the decisions they themselves took would be quickly put into effect. Beyond this, what was being requested is that the overall policy of solving the Armenian question be put into effect by sending orders to this effect to all regional officials;

For this purpose, it is in your excellency's capacity to communicate this matter secretly to the other provinces, either by sending the order [to the provinces] that the Central Committee's decisions be implemented immediately and without delay, or by entrusting me with the overall administration of this question.7676 Ibid. View all notes It is quite clear from this telegram that Governor Tahsin's request is a reiteration – an insistence, even – of an earlier request that the Erzurum Central Committee's decisions be put into effect at once.

In just these two examples of the correspondence between the administrative centres in Istanbul and Erzurum there are two important features. The first is that the idea of “annihilating the Armenians” – even if it limited to a specific region (Van and Bitlis) and specific group of people – is being communicated here clearly for the first time. The decision was taken in the affected region itself, and Istanbul is only subsequently informed of the situation with a request to approve the decision without delay. Second, it is clear that the decision in question (or the policies behind it) were not yet intended for the entire country; even so, an expansion of the policy to the encompass the entire country is proposed here. In other words, the Central Committee of the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization was not taking decisions intended to be limited solely to the Armenians in the region; rather it was forcing the government to take more radical decisions against the entire Armenian population.

When looking closely at the events in Van and its environs in this period, there is every reason to believe that the decisions taken in this regard were already being carried out. Hovannes Ter Martirosian's book provides a detailed account of this area and shows us that the systematic killing of Armenians (especially the adult male population in Başkale and the surrounding area) was already underway in December 1914. For example, eleven identified Armenians in Başkale were arrested on the pretext that they had to be brought to Van and were murdered on the way there. In some villages, the entire male population above the age of 10 was killed. The same method was used in the counties of Özalp and Saray, with the identified Armenians being arrested and told “We’re bringing you to Van” and then, being sent off in different age groups, were massacred on the road.7777 A-Do, Van 1915, The Great Events of Vasbouragan (London: Gomidas Institute, 2017), 73–7. View all notes Van Deputy Vramian sent a lengthy report to Talat Pasha on 18 February 1915 drawing his attention to the systematic killing going on in the region: “4. The Armenians were disarmed and sent off and resettled in some unknown location … 10. Massacres are being carried out in some villages and townships in the environs of Başkale and Saray.”7878 BOA.DH.ŞFR. 461/115, Cipher cable from Şükrü in name of the Van Provincial Governor to Interior Minister Talat, dated 18 February 1915. View all notes

This new information is of sufficiently different nature to alter our current understanding regarding the ultimate decision for an Armenian genocide or whether the decision/s were taken within the Unionists’ Central Committee in Istanbul and then relayed to the provinces. What is clear from the documents in questions is that the Central Committee in Istanbul was not the only deciding factor, and that the mechanism of government where by orders were sent from the central government to the provinces was not unidirectional. Policy decisions were also taken within the periphery itself, and while these were sent to the relevant parties it was also requested of the centre that they approve such decisions. We see then a rather dynamic centre–periphery relationship existing as part of the decision-making process.

In addition to our observations below in regard to the governors of the provinces of Van, Bitlis, Erzurum, Mamüretülaziz (Elazığ) and Diyarbakır, in particular, what we will argue below is this: the more radical policy decisions regarding the Armenians, while initially made at the regional level, would eventually serve to pressure the central government in Istanbul to adopt a more radical overall policy. The Provincial Governors Force the Central Government to Take Decisions

To better understand the dynamics of the relationship between the Istanbul and the Erzurum Central Committee we must also examine the role of provincial governors.7979 The importance of regional developments and the role of governors has been the subject of several recent studies. See, for example: Yektan Türkyılmaz, “Rethinking Genocide: Violence and Victimhood in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1915” (PhD diss., Duke University, 2011); Ümit Kurt, “Theatres of Violence on the Ottoman Periphery: Exploring the Local Roots of Genocidal Policies in Antep,” Journal of Genocide Research 21, no. 1 (2019): 351–71; Kieser, Talaat Pasha. View all notes As we have seen from some of the documents above, the Erzurum Central Committee does not seem to have taken the 1 December 1914 decisions on their own. There is a high likelihood that the decisions were taken as the result of a series of written and oral discussions or at meetings in which the provincial governors – especially those of Van, Bitlis, Sivas and Mamüretülaziz (Elazıḡ) – were present. As the cables concerning the Provincial Governors of Sivas and Van (Muammer and Cevdet, respectively) have shown, some provincial governors would frequently travel to Erzurum to take part in meetings. From some of these and other documents we learn that Erzurum was in constant communication with the other governors in the region and often devised joint positions and opinions on a variety of matters.

As a Central Committee member for the Erzurum branch of the Special Organization, Governor Tahsin took a particularly active role in this process. For instance, in a cable dated 3 March 1915 he informed the central government that “we are in communication with the regional governors and are reaching decisions.”8080 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 463/82, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 3 March 1915. View all notes On 19 April 1915 he sent another cipher telegram to Talat Pasha marked “to be decoded by the recipient alone” he states that “We are in communication with the governor of Bitlis. Since Şatak is the center of the revolt, I wrote to him that he should send the Kurds from Behtan[?].”8181 BOA.DH.ŞFR. 468/24, Cipher cable from Ezrurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 19 April 1915. View all notes At the head of this mechanism the various provincial governors were having joint meetings; in response to the events in Van, Erzurum Governor Tahsin sent a cipher cable to Interior Minister Talat on 22 April 1915 that included the instructions “to be decoded by [by the recipient] himself” and which stated that “we have not lost contact with Cevdet Bey and Mustafa Bey present by the [telegraf] machine,” thereby providing us with some insight into this continual communication.8282 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 468/66, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 22 April 1915. View all notes

Muammer, the provincial governor of Sivas whose cable of 16 October to Istanbul (see above) would suggest that he was a member of Erzurum Central Committee, was another regional governor who actively communicated in this manner. In a cable sent on 23 March 1915 he states that “communication will be undertaken with the Province of Ma’muretü’l-aziz and the results [achieved] will gradually be reported.”8383 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 465/138, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 23 March1915. View all notes Two days later a similar cable would be sent by Sabit, the governor of the latter province: “Just as communication has been established with the Province of Sivas, it is also requested that the provincial district governor be notified every day and that results be obtained.” 8484 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 466/19, Cipher cable from [Ma’müret] Elaziz Provincial Governor Sabit to Interior Minister Talat, dated 25 March 1915. View all notes

One of the significant aspects of the governors’ reports to Istanbul was the rather radical suggestions that they contained in regard to what should be done with the Armenians,8585 The radical decisions in question are not concerned solely with the Armenians. For instance, a cable sent by Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Istanbul on 18 November 1914 reports that 11 Kurdish deserters were sentenced to death in Hınıs and it mentions that “force is what the Kurds worship, even more than Allah … If a Kurd isn't punished, by God, he will [continue to] commit every misdeed and crime.” He then proposes that the other Kurdish deserters who are captured be sentenced to death en masse. The governor reports that he has forwarded his decision/proposal to Cevdet, the provincial governor of Van (BOA.DH.ŞFR., 449/26.) View all notes particularly the demand that a clear decision be given in regard to their extermination. Several communications from October to December 1915 can be given here as examples of this. The first to draw our attention was the cable sent by Bitlis Provincial Governor on 28 October 1914.8686 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 445/100, Cipher cable from Bitlis Provincial Governor Mustafa to Interior Minister Talat, dated 28 October 1914. View all notes In it, the governor reports that three gendarmes were killed on the road to Sason, and that of the 21 persons deemed responsible (all military deserters) six were apprehended and surrendered to the Court-Martial. The homes of the deserters were torched and the other villagers were given “one week … in which to hand over the perpetrators remaining [at large].” He added that he would continue to take harsh measures. In reply to the governor's message, given the next day, Istanbul gave its approval of the punishment meted out to those who were apprehended, and requested that the punishment be extended widely.8787 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 46/98, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to Bitlis Provincial Governor Mustafa, dated 29 October 1914. View all notes

On 7 November 1914, Cevdet, the governor of the province of Van wrote that it had been learned that Armenian gangs were fighting on the side of the Russians in Iran and the Caucasus, and that this had been viewed as a “general uprising by the Armenians.” In this situation the governor, who claimed that the need to protect the Muslim population had put him in a difficult position, suggested that the militia forces that had begun to be formed in Van be sent to the provinces with large concentrations of Armenians, such as Diyarbakır, Harput, Sivas and Adana.8888 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 456/97, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet to Interior Minister Talat, dated 7 November 1914. View all notes

Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin sent a cable to Talat Pasha on 17 November 1914 marked “Top Secret; To be deciphered by the recipient alone” that stated that “the time had come to take permanent decisions and orders in regard to the Armenians.”8989 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 448/75, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 17 November 1914. View all notes Talat responded on the following day (18 November), ordering Tahsin to “carry out what the situation demands but with well-considered measures until definitive orders are given in regard to the Armenians.”9090 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 46/303.1, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the provincial governor of Erzurum, dated 18 November 1914. View all notes Essentially, Istanbul was giving the green light to Erzurum for the violent actions that it would subsequently carry out.

A similar correspondence was undertaken with Van Provincial Governor Cevdet on 28/29 November 1914. In it, Cevdet lays out his intentions with regard to the Armenians, “to intentionally wait until the blaze (fire) get of the control … would be suicidal for us (göz göre göre ateşin saçağı sarmasını beklemek … kendimize sû-i kasd olur).” In his view, the “we stand before another [disaster such as that which was experienced in] Rumelia,”9191 Rumelia was the term used by the Ottomans to define their Balkan territories. It was actually the Balkans, not Anatolia that was the empire's political, intellectual, and economic core, and almost all members of Union and Progress Party originated from this region. The loss of Rumelia (Balkans) in 1912 was thus for a variety of reasons a traumatic experience for the Unionists. View all notes Thus, it was necessary to act “without waiting for the Armenian rebellion to spread” and “to behave as forcefully as possible” in order to allow any “calamity to befall us.”9292 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 451/19, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet to Interior Minister Talat, dated 28/29 November 1914. View all notes Replying in less than 24 hours, Talat writes that “Until decisive orders are given, it is necessary to carry out the measures demanded by the situation, but judiciously (hakimane) implemented.”9393 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 47/236, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the provincial governor of Van, dated 29 November 1914. View all notes

We learn from the telegrams of both 17 and 28/29 November 1914 that the central government in Istanbul fully understood what the governors of Erzurum, Van and Bitlis were demanding and gave them its approval for both the things that they had already done in the region and those that they wished to still do. Even so, no decision had yet been delivered concerning the entire country.

From 1 December onwards, the various provincial governors would continuously send such cables in an attempt to force Istanbul's hand.9494 It should be added that, as of early 1915 similar telegrams were sent to Istanbul by army commanders, who regularly reported on “Armenian activities” in their respective regions. The Turkish Military Archive (ATASE) regularly publishes these documents. For some examples see: Askeri Tarih Belgeleri Dergisi, no. 31 (Aralık 1982) and no. 85 (October 1985). View all notes So as to better understand the climate during this period it would behoove us to provide a few examples here. In a cable from 23 December 1914 Van Governor Cevdet reports that “the Armenians who have destroyed the telegraph lines around Gevaş and Reşadiye and have even dared to clash with the gendarmes are now being pursued by the gendarmes and militia forces that were dispatched from Van and Bitlis,” and concludes his telegram saying that “the Armenians … have committed and continue to commit atrocities … Without a doubt sir, we will be settling accounts with the Armenians.”9595 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 455/45, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet to Interior Minister Talat, dated 23 December 1914. View all notes In another message on 31 December, he demanded that “a general order and decision” be taken “regarding the Armenians, in accordance with the position that they have taken vis-a-vis our army advancing in the Caucasus.” Furthermore, it was absolutely necessary that, “should the opportunity present itself … a secret order [should be given] that could be acted upon accordingly.”9696 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 456/20, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet to Interior Minister Talat, dated 31 December 1914. View all notes Telegrams from Late March/Early April: How Should the Decision Be Implemented?

From some of the governors’ cables from late March and early April it can be inferred that they were aware of a decision to annihilate the Armenians having already been taken. If such a decision indeed existed, the governors would have no doubt wished to hear about it at the earliest possible moment. One noteworthy point in this regard is that, in their communications – both with Istanbul and with one another – the governors did not see the need to use vague language or euphemisms in referring to the annihilation of the Armenians, but spoke of it openly, even offering a number of tangible ideas regarding how such an extermination could or should be carried out.

Dr. Reşit, who had arrived in Diyarbakır on 3 March 1915 to take up his new position, notified Istanbul of what he had planned, and expressing the opinion that “it would be profitable in the meantime to implement practices as harsh and effective as necessary against the Armenians.” He demanded that as many as 30 gendarmes stationed near Baghdad “be ordered to assist to Diyarbakır that they might be of the most crucial service.”9797 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 463/80, Cipher cable from Diyarbakır Provincial Governor Reşit to Interior Minister Talat, dated 3 March 1915. View all notes

Sivas Governor Muammer submitted a report on Armenian activities in the region on 20/21 March 1915 in which he complained that “in light of the constant stream of Armenian actions and assaults taking place,” no order had been issued “that would/could be carried out against them.” The governor, who said that certain measures had been taken in response to the local conditions and as dictated by the course of events, asked to be informed immediately “if any decision was taken by the central government in regard to the Armenians.”9898 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 465/105, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 20/21 March 1915. View all notes

Muammer would also openly express the necessity of annihilating the Armenians in a cable dated 29 March 1915, as if he were already aware that such a decision had been taken. “The Armenians in the eastern provinces are currently taking a number of actions,” he reported, and claiming that although each provincial government had taken a number of measures in response to the specific conditions of their provinces, these were inadequate. If some decision for extermination had indeed been taken in Istanbul, he asked that it be sent to him without delay: “if a decision has been taken by the centr[al government] … that would ensure the orderly mass removal and elimination, I ask that you permit its communication without delay.” He then reports that, “if a decision has been made for annihilation and removal” now “would be a most conducive time to carry out” such a plan, since he currently had sufficient military forces at hand.9999 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 466/91, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 29 March 1915. Emphasis added. View all notes Finally, in a cable from 3 April 1915 the governor reminds the government of his previous cable on the subject from 28 March 1915, and again demands that he be informed of any decision for annihilation without delay.100100 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 466/140, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 3 April 1915. View all notes

In a telegram dated 18 April 1915 the provincial governor of Bitlis not only openly speaks of annihilation, but even informs his recipients how it is to be carried out. Viewing the “Armenian question” from the lens of his own historical perspective, writes with all frankness about the necessity of eliminating the Armenian population and provides a time table for such. According to the governor: “the annihilation, to the greatest extent possible, together with their material and moral power, of this element whose very existence appears a constant threat … to the stability of the homeland is necessary for the well-being of the nation.”101101 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 467/120, Cipher cable from Bitlis Provincial Governor Mustafa to Interior Minister Talat, dated 18 April 1915. Emphasis added. View all notes He then lays out the plan for the steps that the annihilation should follow, proposing that “during the course of drawing the line against the[se] impudent [persons] and their mass deportation” operations should be begun in the mountainous areas of the province, such as Hizan, Sason, Talori, and Gavar and eventually extended to the Plain of Muş. As for “the time and [manner of] implementation of exterminatory measures,” they must be “determined in accordance with the condition of the war and the policies of the state.”102102 Ibid. Emphasis added. View all notes

In many cables sent from other cities in the month of April the topic of discussion was often practical: what were the steps to be taken in order to implement the extermination decision that had been taken? For instance, on 18 April 1915 Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer sent Talat Pasha a cable marked “secret and private” in which he stated his “opinion that we will no longer be able to live with the Armenians as brothers in this country,” and adds that “if we do not crush them, they will obliterate us without mercy and at the first opportunity.” He then summarized the actions that were being taken in his area as “weakening them [the Armenians] and strengthen the Muslim element.” For this purpose, weapons were collected from the Armenians while the Muslims were armed.103103 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 467/127, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 18 April 1915. View all notes

A similar enthusiasm for the project can be seen in the communications of Tahsin, the provincial governor of Erzurum. In a cable dated 19 April 1915 he notifies his superiors of the events transpiring in Van, offering the assessment that “it means that the Armenian revolt has begun in Van, the most favorable place for it to begin,” and making a number of suggestions, saying that “the time has come to thoroughly solve the problem.” Among the governor's suggestions were for Bahaettin Şakir to travel to Van.104104 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 468/24, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 19 April 1915. View all notes Three days after this cable, on 22 April Tahsin sent Talat Pasha a cable marked “to be deciphered by the recipient himself” stating that “we have not lost contact with Cevdet Bey and Mustafa Bey who are always near to their telegraph machines” and reporting on the actions being carried out: “In light of the Armenian attacks on Muslims, it is only natural that they would be subject to reciprocal massacres. That's the way things work.” Moreover, he demanded that friendly nations be contacted in Istanbul to forestall potential problems from arising: “If the Sublime Porte already manages to win approval for its political proposals now, perhaps they will prevent them to create problems in the future.”105105 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 468/66, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 22 April 1915. View all notes

When Bitlis Governor Mustafa Bey sent his telegram on 22nd April as the events in Van were transpiring he was actually reporting the ongoing extermination: “I sent strong detachments [to Van] from two [different] directions. In light of what Cevdet Bey and I decided upon, they will comb/sweep (taramak) the villages on the way to Van and, if necessary, we will reinforce the units in Van itself upon their arrival there. In their current state, the telegraph lines are functioning properly.”106106 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 468/70, Cipher cable from Bitlis Provincial Governor Mustafa to Interior Minister Talat, dated 22 April 1915. View all notes From the cable it can be understood that squads would set out from Bitlis and carry out massacres in the villages before reaching Van. Toward a Conclusion

The Unionist Central Committee took a decision regarding the annihilation of the Armenians on 3 March 1915, as Bahaettin Şakir recounted. This fact, together with a series of other documents that we discovered in the Ottoman Archives, provide new clues regarding the question at what level such a decision or decisions were made, and raise the opportunity, a review and reevaluation of scholarly opinion up to now.

As the documents show, the first radical steps toward the eventual extermination of the Armenians were taken within the four provinces of Erzurum, Van, Bitlis, and Mamüretülaziz (Elazığ). The first of these extermination decisions was taken by the Central Committee of the Erzurum branch of the Special Organization on 1 December 1914, and it was limited in scope to a specific group of Armenians (who were suspected of being potential leaders of the revolt or who would attack Muslims) in the Van-Bitlis region. The decision was communicated to the governments of both Van and Bitlis and then brought to the attention of the central government in Istanbul. These facts show that the radicalization of policy vis-a-vis the Armenians began first in the affected regions and only subsequently made its way to Istanbul.

Again, the documentation shows that the Erzurum Special Organization's Central Committee did not want only an immediate approval from Istanbul for the decisions it took for its own purposes; but also it demanded that the exterminatory decision vis-a-vis the Armenians be expanded to include the entire country. We also learned that these initiatives and decisions were taken in communication and coordination with the governors of the provinces of Van, Bitlis, and Ma’müretü-l’aziz, and that Sivas and Diyarbakır were also a part of this communication network.

The regional governors pressured Istanbul (specifically the Unionist Central Committee) to take more radical decisions on the treatment of the Armenians, and did so in a manner that suggests that their efforts were coordinated. It shows that the governors played a crucial role in the evolution of what would eventually become an empire-wide decision. The governors were not simply subordinates receiving orders, but active participants in the decision-making process and the central government in Istanbul, which was under pressure from the governors, gave them a relatively free hand to act in a manner they saw fit and in accordance with the conditions in their specific areas. We may conclude from all this that by the end of December no overall decision had been taken for the annihilation of the Armenians, but that the policies that the aforementioned governors saw as “appropriate to the requirements of the region” had begun to be brought into effect.

Nevertheless, we may also conclude from some of the decisions taken during the month of December that steady pressure from the provinces had begun to bear fruit. A cable sent to Erzurum, Van and Bitlis on 27 December 1914 includes a demand for lists of Armenian police and government officials who were known to be troublemakers. These persons were to be removed from their respective provinces and deported elsewhere.107107 BOA/DH.ŞFR., 48/166, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the provinces of Erzurum, Van & Bitlis, dated 27 December 1914. View all notes This decision was in line with the earlier one taken by the Erzurum Central Committee on 1 December.

However, the decision taken by the Central Committee in December was not limited to this incident. In a 30 December 1914 report Enver's childhood friend and then-Naval Attaché in the German Embassy in Istanbul, Lieutenant Hans Humann states that the decision had been taken to form militia units to be sent into action against both the Christian communities of the Entente Powers as well as against the opposition.108108 The German original reads: “wenn nötige eine Miliz zu bilden, die jeder Zeit in der lage ist gegen die christliche Elemente der Triple-Entente und auch gegen the opposition in der Turkishen politik vorzugehen” Hans Humann, “Vertrauliche Mitteilung,” 30 Dezember 1914: Jäckh Papers, Yale University Library, Group no. 467, Box 1, Folder 19. View all notes This decision can be understood as an “approval” of that taken by the Erzurum Central Committee on 1 December 1914. In this event, the December decisions of both the Erzurum Central Committee and the Istanbul government can be seen as important intermediate steps toward the final government decision to exterminate the empire's Armenian population.

The decisions are significant for having been taken in the period before either the British Gallipoli landing or the Ottoman defeat at Sarıkamış. Certainly, these two struggles – especially the latter – had a crucial influence on the 3 March 1915 decision reported by Bahaettin Şakir, but it remains significant that these earlier local decisions were taken in a period before the empire had experienced serious military setbacks and faced the prospect of actually losing the war.

As for the cables sent at the end of March and in early April, they mostly dealt with the question of how such a decision – one that had in effect already been taken – was to be implemented. All these telegrams shown here support the assertion that the annihilation decision was taken before 3 March as informed by Bahaettin Şakir, and afford new significance to the Istanbul meetings at which Şakir was present. It now appears that the Istanbul meetings at the end of March and beginning of April concerned themselves with the question of how the early decisions would have to be implemented. Disclosure Statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author. Notes on Contributor

Taner Akçam holds the Kaloosdian & Mugar Chair of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. He is the author of more than ten scholarly works as well as numerous articles in Turkish, German, and English on Armenian Genocide and Turkish Nationalism. His well-most known books are A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility (2006) and Young Turks’ “Crime Against Humanity”: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire (2012), which received several awards. Akçam's latest book is Killing Orders: Talat Pasha's Telegrams and the Armenian Genocide (2018). Notes

1 Bahaettin Şakir, born in 1874 and assassinated in 17 April 1922 by Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in an operation called Nemesis, was one of the founding members of Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). He belonged to the radical wing of the party and (after 1905 in particular) successfully converted the party, which had heretofore been a largely intellectual/ideological movement, into a well-organized activist body. In addition to being a the member of CUP Central Committee, he was also the head of movement's semi-covert paramilitary entity known as the Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa) that played a crucial role in extermination of the Armenian population. For more information on Şakir and his political life see, Şükrü Hanioğlu, Preparation for a Revolution, The Young Turks 1902–1908 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 130–91; Vahakn N. Dadrian, “The Role of Turkish Physicians in the World War I Genocide of Ottoman Armenians,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 1, no. 2 (1986): 169–92; Hikmet Çiçek, Bahaettin Şakir, İttihat ve Terakki’den Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’ya bir Türk Jakobeni (İstanbul: Kaynak Yayınları, 2004).

2 Just two example: Raymond Kevorkian, The Armenian Genocide A Complete History (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011), 222 and 243–44, and Hans Lukas Kieser, Talaat Pasha: Father of Modern Turkey, Architect of Genocide (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 230.

3 Donald Bloxham, “The First World War and the Development of the Armenian Genocide,” in A Question of Genocide Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire, ed. Ronald Grigor Suny, Fatma Müge Göçek and Norman M. Naimark (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 260.

4 Ibid.

5 For a general overview of the debate and especially the controversy between V. N. Dadrian and Ronald Suny see Armenian Forum, no. 2 (1998). The journal is a special issue with the articles of both authors; Bloxham, “The First World War and the Development of the Armenian Genocide,” 260–76.

6 For a general overview and assessment of Dadrian's writings on the subject, see: Taner Akçam, “Vahakn N. Dadrian: Ermeni Soykırımında Kurumsal Roller”; Taner Akçam, 1915 Yazıları (İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2010), 299–321.

7 V. N. Dadrian, “The Role of the Special Organisation in the Armenian Genocide during the First World War,” in Minorities in Wartime, ed. Panikos Panayi (Oxford and Providence: Berg Publishers, 1993), 3, 4.

8 Ibid., 4.

9 In many of his works Dadrian examined the subject of Islamic theology forming the intellectual foundation for the “culture of genocide.” See, for instance, V. N. Dadrian, History of Armenian Genocide (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1995), 3–7.

10 Vahakn Dadrian, “The Role of Military in the Destruction of Ottoman Armenians: A Study in Historical Continuities,” Journal of Political and Military Sociology 20, no. 2 (1992): 271–2.

11 Ibid., 259.

12 Ibid., 268.

13 Ibid.

14 Vahakn N. Dadrian, “Armenian Genocide: an Interpretation,” in America and Armenian Genocide, ed. Jay Winter (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 86.

15 Vahakn Dadrian, “The Role of Military in the Destruction of Ottoman Armenians,” 270.

16 Ibid., 273.

17 Vahakn Dadrian, “The Convergent Roles of the State and Governmental Party in the Armenian Genocide,” in Studies in Comparative Genocide, ed. Levon Chorbajian, George Shirinian (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), 103.

18 Ibid., 116.

19 V. N. Dadrian, “The Turkish Military Tribunal's Prosecution of the Authors of the Armenian Genocide: Four Major Court-Martial Series,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 11, no. 1 (1997): 29.

20 Dadrian, “Armenian Genocide: an Interpretation,” 62.

21 Dadrian, “The Role of the Special Organisation in the Armenian Genocide,” 3.

22 For similar interpretation in regard to the Holocaust, see Jacques Semelin, Purify and Destroy, the Political Uses of Massacre and Genocide (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 325; Ian Kershaw, Hitler, The Germans, And the Final Solution (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008) 246.

23 Azmi Süslü, Ermeniler ve 1915 Tehcir Olayı (Van: Yüzüncü Yıl Üniversitesi Rektörlüğü Yayını, 1990), 110.

24 For a detailed discussion of the subject, see Taner Akçam, Young Turks’ “Crime Against Humanity”: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 132–5.

25 Where the sources are not specificly noted, more detailed information can be found in Taner Akçam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility (New York: Metropolitan, 2006), 159–73. Akçam, Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity, 156–85.

26 Arif Cemil, I. Dünya Savaşında Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (İstanbul: Arba Yayınları, 1997), 246.

27 Takvim-i Vekayi, no. 3540, 1st Session, Principal Indictment, 27 April 1919.

28 Arif Cemil, I. Dünya Savaşında Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, 240.

29 Takvim-i Vekayi, no. 3543, 2nd Session, 4 May 1919.

30 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 461/89, Cipher Cable from Kayseri District Governor Ahmet Mithat to the Interior Ministry, dated 14 February 1915.

31 Takvim-i Vekayi, no. 3554, 5th Session, 14 May 1919.

32 Arif Cemil, I. Dünya Savaşında Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, 240.

33 The questions of if, at the end of March 1915, there were two separate Special Organizations (one attached to the Ottoman Army, the other, to the Committee/Party of Union and Progress) and what they were actually called continues to be a hotly debated subject among scholars of the period. The subject will be discussed in detail in a soon-to-be-published article by Oktay Özel, “The Role of Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (Special Organization) in the Armenian Genocide” (unpublished paper).

34 Cemal Kutay, Talat Paşa'nın Gurbet Hatıraları, vol. 2 (İstanbul: Kültür Matbaası, 1983), 906–7.

35 İsmail Arar, ed., Osmanlı Mebusan Meclisi Reisi Halil Menteşénin Anıları (İstanbul: Hürriyet Vakfı Yayınları, 1986), 213–6.

36 Andonian, Medz Vocirı (Boston: Bahag Printing House, 1921), 116–7. Emphasis added.

37 Ibid., 144–145.

38 Ibid., 126.

39 See, Taner Akçam, Killing Orders (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 229–238.

40 Ibid., 233. Andonian aslo provides the name of the newspaper: “It was a clipping from an old, undated issue of the newspaper ‘Joghovurti Tzaine,’ likely published in 1920.” We found the newspaper referred to by Andonian and confirmed his story. The date on the newspaper is 19 August 1920. I thank Ani Voskanyan for helping me locate the newspaper.

41 Ibid., 234.

42 Şinasi Oral and Süreyya Yuca, Ermenilerce Talat Paşa’ya Atfedilen Telgrafların Gerçek Yüzü (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1983). For English translation of the book see, Şinasi Oral and Süreyya Yuca, The Talât Pasha “Telegrams”: Historical Fact or Armenian Fiction? (Nicosia : Rustem, 2007).

43 Ibid., 34–5, 40–41 (page numbers are from original Turkish book).

44 Akçam, Killing Order.

45 For the signatures in question, see: Şurayı Ümmet 30 October 1909, no. 192 and 30 December 1909, no. 201. I discovered that the signatures in the Şurayı Ümmet and those in his letters were identical in the years 1996–97, but I never used this information out of doubts over the authenticity of the Naim-Andonian documents.

46 Kudret Emiroğlu, Çiğdem Önal Emiroğlu, Osmanlı Terakki ve İttihat Cemiyeti Paris Merkezi Yazışmaları Kopya Defterleri (1906–1908) (İstanbul: Tarih Vakfı Yayınları, 2017).

47 For Andonian's words on the subject, see: Medz Vocirı, 144 and 27.

48 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 98/168, Cipher cable from the Interior Ministry to the Provincial Governor of Konya, dated 15 April 1919: “The documents from the investigation of the Province's Director of Health Yunus Vasfi and the Union and Progress's Plenipotentiary for Aleppo Cemal Bey have been requested of the Court-Martial, where they are understood to have been left.”

49 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 51/15, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the Provinces of Erzurum, Van, Bitlis & Diyarbakır, dated 14 March 1915. An identical cable was sent on the same day to the Province of Mamüretülaziz (BOA.DH.ŞFR., 51/17).

50 In a cable sent by Bahaettin Şakir on 22 August 1914 he reports that he had arrived in Erzurum. (BOA.DH.ŞFR., 483/32).

51 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 447/96, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 11 November 1914.

52 BOA.DH.ŞFR, 443/77, Cipher cable from Acting Provincial Governor of Erzurum Cemal to Interior Minister Talat, dated 7 October 1914.

53 BOA.DH.ŞFR., DHL.ŞFR, 459/4, Cipher cable from Bahaettin Şakir (in Artvin) to Interior Minister Talat dated 24 December 1914.

54 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 454/74 and 455/12, Cipher cables from Bahaettin Şakir (in Artvin and Ardanuç) to Interior Minister Talat, dated: 20 and 23/24 December 1914. BOA.DH.ŞFR., 455/130 (28 December 1914) and 456/76 (4 January 1915) Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin relayed the cable or information that he received from Bahaettin Şakir to İstanbul. BOA.DH.ŞFR., 475/16 (10 January 1915), Trabzon Provincial Governor Cemal gave information about Bahaettin Şakir and his dispersed units in Ardahan. BOA.DH.ŞFR., 457/62 (12 January1915) and 457/93 (15 January 1915), In these cables that he sent from Artvin and Borçka, Bahaettin Şakir, who had just returned from Ardahan, requests soldiers and weapons.

55 BOA.DH.ŞFR., DH.ŞFR. 47/187, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the province of Erzurum, dated 26 November 1914.

56 BOA.DH.ŞFR. 450/104, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 26/27 November 1914.

57 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 451/12, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 28/29 November 1914.

58 See the various cables sent by Bahaettin Şakir to Interior Minister Talat from Artvin. BOA/459/94 (1 February 1915); 460/78 (7 February 1915) and 461/34 (12 February 1915).

59 BOA.DH.ŞFR., DH.ŞFR. 461/060, Cipher cable from Bahaettin Şakir to Interior Minister Talat, dated 13–14 February 1915 and marked “urgent; to be opened [only] by the recipient.”

60 We have no concise information on the founding date of the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization. While we can gather from Arif Cemil's memoirs [Arif Cemil, I. Dünya Savaşında Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, 26–8] that it was in the last week of August 1914, if we consider that one of its founders, Bahaettin Şakir arrived in Erzurum on 22 August 1915 and another founder, Kara Kemal reaches Trabzon on 12 September then the end of September seems a more likely date. [For Şakir's date of arrival, see: BOA.DH.ŞFR, 438/32. Regarding Kara Kemal's travels during this period, see: Mehmet Bilgin, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’nın Kafkasya Misyonu ve Operasyonları (İstanbul: Ötüken Yayınları, 2017), 168].

61 This is a reasonable inference, since the names that Bahaettin Şakir gave as the members of the Central Committee of the Caucasus Revolutionary Organization are the same names known as the central committee members of Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa in Erzurum.

62 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 443/77, Cipher cable from the Acting Provincial Governor of Erzurum Cemal to Interior Minister Talat, dated 7 October 1914.

63 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 493/127, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated: 16 October 1914.

64 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 498/2, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet (in Ezrurum) to Interior Minister Talat, dated 17 November 1914.

65 BOA.DH.ŞFR, 449/105, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 22 November 1914.

66 BOA.DH.ŞFR, 450/62, Cipher cable from Provincial Governor of Erzurum Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 25 November 1914.

67 Mehmet Bilgin, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’nın Kafkasya Misyonu ve Operasyonları, 139, 184 (footnote no. 308).

68 BOA.DH.ŞFR, 443/77, Cipher cable from Acting Provincial Governor of Erzurum Cemal to Interior Minister Talat, dated 7 October 1914.

69 BOA.DH.ŞFR., DHL.ŞFR, 459/4, Cipher cable from Bahaettin Şakir (in Artvin) to Interior Minister Talat dated 24 January 1915.

70 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 484/108, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat dated 20 August 1915.

71 BOA.DH.ŞFR. 451/62, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 1 December 1914.

72 Ibid.

73 Ibid.

74 Ibid. This crucial document is partially torn off. It's fair to assume that a significant portion of it is now lost.

75 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 454/87, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 20 December 1914.

76 Ibid.

77 A-Do, Van 1915, The Great Events of Vasbouragan (London: Gomidas Institute, 2017), 73–7.

78 BOA.DH.ŞFR. 461/115, Cipher cable from Şükrü in name of the Van Provincial Governor to Interior Minister Talat, dated 18 February 1915.

79 The importance of regional developments and the role of governors has been the subject of several recent studies. See, for example: Yektan Türkyılmaz, “Rethinking Genocide: Violence and Victimhood in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1915” (PhD diss., Duke University, 2011); Ümit Kurt, “Theatres of Violence on the Ottoman Periphery: Exploring the Local Roots of Genocidal Policies in Antep,” Journal of Genocide Research 21, no. 1 (2019): 351–71; Kieser, Talaat Pasha.

80 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 463/82, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 3 March 1915.

81 BOA.DH.ŞFR. 468/24, Cipher cable from Ezrurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 19 April 1915.

82 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 468/66, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 22 April 1915.

83 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 465/138, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 23 March1915.

84 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 466/19, Cipher cable from [Ma’müret] Elaziz Provincial Governor Sabit to Interior Minister Talat, dated 25 March 1915.

85 The radical decisions in question are not concerned solely with the Armenians. For instance, a cable sent by Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Istanbul on 18 November 1914 reports that 11 Kurdish deserters were sentenced to death in Hınıs and it mentions that “force is what the Kurds worship, even more than Allah … If a Kurd isn't punished, by God, he will [continue to] commit every misdeed and crime.” He then proposes that the other Kurdish deserters who are captured be sentenced to death en masse. The governor reports that he has forwarded his decision/proposal to Cevdet, the provincial governor of Van (BOA.DH.ŞFR., 449/26.)

86 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 445/100, Cipher cable from Bitlis Provincial Governor Mustafa to Interior Minister Talat, dated 28 October 1914.

87 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 46/98, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to Bitlis Provincial Governor Mustafa, dated 29 October 1914.

88 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 456/97, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet to Interior Minister Talat, dated 7 November 1914.

89 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 448/75, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 17 November 1914.

90 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 46/303.1, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the provincial governor of Erzurum, dated 18 November 1914.

91 Rumelia was the term used by the Ottomans to define their Balkan territories. It was actually the Balkans, not Anatolia that was the empire's political, intellectual, and economic core, and almost all members of Union and Progress Party originated from this region. The loss of Rumelia (Balkans) in 1912 was thus for a variety of reasons a traumatic experience for the Unionists.

92 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 451/19, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet to Interior Minister Talat, dated 28/29 November 1914.

93 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 47/236, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the provincial governor of Van, dated 29 November 1914.

94 It should be added that, as of early 1915 similar telegrams were sent to Istanbul by army commanders, who regularly reported on “Armenian activities” in their respective regions. The Turkish Military Archive (ATASE) regularly publishes these documents. For some examples see: Askeri Tarih Belgeleri Dergisi, no. 31 (Aralık 1982) and no. 85 (October 1985).

95 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 455/45, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet to Interior Minister Talat, dated 23 December 1914.

96 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 456/20, Cipher cable from Van Provincial Governor Cevdet to Interior Minister Talat, dated 31 December 1914.

97 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 463/80, Cipher cable from Diyarbakır Provincial Governor Reşit to Interior Minister Talat, dated 3 March 1915.

98 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 465/105, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 20/21 March 1915.

99 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 466/91, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 29 March 1915. Emphasis added.

100 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 466/140, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 3 April 1915.

101 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 467/120, Cipher cable from Bitlis Provincial Governor Mustafa to Interior Minister Talat, dated 18 April 1915. Emphasis added.

102 Ibid. Emphasis added.

103 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 467/127, Cipher cable from Sivas Provincial Governor Muammer to Interior Minister Talat, dated 18 April 1915.

104 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 468/24, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 19 April 1915.

105 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 468/66, Cipher cable from Erzurum Provincial Governor Tahsin to Interior Minister Talat, dated 22 April 1915.

106 BOA.DH.ŞFR., 468/70, Cipher cable from Bitlis Provincial Governor Mustafa to Interior Minister Talat, dated 22 April 1915.

107 BOA/DH.ŞFR., 48/166, Cipher cable from Interior Minister Talat to the provinces of Erzurum, Van & Bitlis, dated 27 December 1914.

108 The German original reads: “wenn nötige eine Miliz zu bilden, die jeder Zeit in der lage ist gegen die christliche Elemente der Triple-Entente und auch gegen the opposition in der Turkishen politik vorzugehen” Hans Humann, “Vertrauliche Mitteilung,” 30 Dezember 1914: Jäckh Papers, Yale University Library, Group no. 467, Box 1, Folder 19.

Source: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14623528.2019.1630893


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