Real Turkish Heroes of 1915

Raffi Bedrosyan, Toronto, 24 August 2013

Germany has decided to name several neighborhoods, streets, buildings, and public schools in Berlin and other German cities after Adolf Hitler and other Nazi “heroes.”

If the above statement were to be true, how would you react? How do you think Germans would react? How do you think Jews still living in Germany would react? My guess is that you, the Germans, and the Jews would all find it inconceivable, offensive, and unacceptable.

Raffi Bedrosyan, Toronto, 24 August 2013

Germany has decided to name several neighborhoods, streets, buildings, and public schools in Berlin and other German cities after Adolf Hitler and other Nazi “heroes.”

If the above statement were to be true, how would you react? How do you think Germans would react? How do you think Jews still living in Germany would react? My guess is that you, the Germans, and the Jews would all find it inconceivable, offensive, and unacceptable.

And yet, it is true in Turkey, where it is acceptable to name several neighborhoods, streets, and schools after Talat Pasha and other Ittihat ve Terakki (Committee of Union and Progress) “heroes” who not only planned and carried out the Armenian Genocide, but were responsible for the loss of the Ottoman Empire itself.

At last count, there were officially 8 “Talat Pasha” neighborhoods or districts, 38 “Talat Pasha” streets or boulevards, 7 “Talat Pasha” public schools, 6 “Talat Pasha” buildings, and 2 “Talat Pasha” mosques scattered around Istanbul, Ankara, and other cities. After his assassination in 1922, Talat was originally interred in Berlin, Germany, but his remains were transferred to Istanbul in 1943 by the Nazis in an attempt to appease the Turks. He was re-buried with full military honors at the Infinite Freedom Hill Cemetery in Istanbul. The remains of the other notorious Ittihat ve Terakki leader, Enver Pasha, were also transferred in 1996 from Tajikistan and re-buried beside Talat, with full military honors; the ceremony was attended by Turkish President Suleyman Demirel and other dignitaries.

Is this hero worship misguided or deliberate? Is the denial of 1915 only state policy, or is it wholeheartedly accepted by the Turkish public, brainwashed by the state version of history?

Undoubtedly, there was mass participation in the genocide committed by the Ittihat ve Terakki leaders, resulting in the removal of Armenians from their homeland of 3,000 years, as well as the immediate transfer of their wealth, property, and possessions to the Turkish and Kurdish public, and to thousands of government officials. Yet, despite this mass participation and the hero worship, there were also a significant number of ordinary Turks and Kurds, as well as government officials, who refused to participate in the massacres and plunders. There is complete silence and ignorance in Turkey about these righteous officials who refused to follow government orders and instead tried to save and protect the Armenians. They paid dearly for their actions, often with the loss of their positions or even their lives as a consequence. This article will cite some examples of these real and unsung heroes.

Celal Bey was the governor of Konya, a vast central Anatolian province and a hub for the Armenian deportation routes from north and west Anatolia to the Syrian desert. He knew exactly what the Armenians’ fate would be along these routes, or if they survived the deportations and reached Der Zor; he was previously the governor of Aleppo and had witnessed the atrocities there. Celal Bey had attempted to reason with the Ittihat ve Terakki leaders, saying that there was absolutely no Armenian revolt in Anatolia, nor in Aleppo, and that there was no justification for the mass deportations. However, one of his subordinates in Marash inflamed the situation by arresting and executing several Marash Armenians, triggering a resistance by the Armenians. As a result, Celal Bey was removed from his governor’s post in Aleppo and transferred to Konya. Once there, he refused to arrange for the deportation of the Konya Armenians, despite repeated orders from Istanbul. He even managed to protect some of the Armenians who were deported from other districts and arrived in Konya. By the time he was removed from his post, in October 1915, he had saved thousands of Armenian lives. In his memoirs about the Konya governorship, he likened himself to “a person sitting beside a river, with absolutely no means of rescuing anyone from it. Blood was flowing down the river, with thousands of innocent children, irreproachable old men, and helpless women streaming down the river towards oblivion. Anyone I could save with my bare hands, I saved, and the rest went down the river, never to return.”

Hasan Mazhar Bey was the governor of Ankara. He protected the Ankara-Armenian community by refusing to follow the deportation orders, stating, “I am a vali [governor], not a bandit. I cannot do this. Let someone else come and sit in my chair to carry out these orders.” He was removed from his post in August 1915.

Faik Ali (Ozansoy) Bey was the governor of Kutahya, another central Anatolian province. When the deportation order was issued from Istanbul, he refused to implement it; on the contrary, he gave orders to keep the deported Armenians arriving in Kutahya from elsewhere, and treat them well. He was soon summoned to Istanbul to explain his insubordination, and the police chief of Kutahya, Kemal Bey, took the opportunity to threaten the local Armenians—either convert to Islam or face deportation, he said. The Armenians decided to convert. When Faik Ali Bey returned, he was enraged. He removed the police chief from his post, and asked the Armenians if they still wished to convert to Islam. They all decided to remain Christian, except one. Faik Ali’s brother, Suleyman Nazif Bey, was an influential and well-known poet who urged his brother not to participate in this barbarism and stain the family name. Faik Ali Bey was not removed from his post despite his offers of resignation. He ended up protecting the entire Armenian population of Kutahya, except for the one who converted to Islam and was deported.

Mustafa Bey (Azizoglu) was the district governor of Malatya, a transit point on the deportation route. Although he was unable to prevent the deportations, he managed to hide several Armenians in his own home. He was murdered by his own son, a zealous member of the Ittihat ve Terakki Party, for “looking after infidels [gavours, in Turkish].”

Other government officials who defied the deportation orders included Reshit Pasha, the governor of Kastamonu; Tahsin Bey, the governor of Erzurum; Ferit Bey, the governor of Basra; Mehmet Cemal Bey, the district governor of Yozgat; and Sabit Bey, the district governor of Batman. These officials were eventually removed from their posts and replaced by more obedient civil servants, who carried out the task of wiping out the Armenians from these locations.

One of the most tragic stories of unsung heroes involves Huseyin Nesimi Bey, the mayor of Lice, a town near Diyarbakir. While the governor of Diyarbakir, Reshit Bey, organized the most ruthless removal of the Armenians in the Diyarbakir region—with a quick massacre, rather than lengthy deportation, immediately outside of the city limits—Huseyin Nesimi dared to keep and protect the Lice Armenians, a total of 5,980 souls. Reshit summoned Huseyin Nesimi to Diyarbakir for a meeting, but arranged to have his Circassian militant guard Haroun intercept him en route. On June 15, 1915, Haroun murdered Huseyin Nesimi and threw him into a ditch beside the road. Since then, the murder location, halfway between Lice and Diyarbakir, has become known as Turbe-i Kaymakam, or the Mayor’s Grave. The Turkish records document this murder as “Mayor killed by Armenian militants.” In an ironic twist of history repeating itself, in October 1993 the Turkish state army attacked Lice, supposedly to go after the Kurdish rebel militants there; instead, they ended up burning down the entire town and killing the civilian population. This became the first case the Kurds took to the European Human Rights Court, resulting in a 2.5 million pound compensation against the Turkish state. At the same time, several wealthy Kurdish businessmen were targeted for assassination and murdered by then-Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. One of the victims was a man named Behcet Canturk, whose mother was an Armenian orphan who had managed to survive the Lice massacres of 1915.

Governor Reshit was also responsible for firing and murdering several other government officials in the Diyarbakir region who had defied the deportation orders: Chermik Mayor Mehmet Hamdi Bey, Savur Mayor Mehmet Ali Bey, Silvan Mayor Ibrahim Hakki Bey, Mardin Mayor Hilmi Bey, followed by Shefik Bey, were all fired in mid- to late-1915. Another official, Nuri Bey, the mayor of first Midyat and then Derik, an all-Armenian town near Mardin, was also fired by Reshit Bey, and subsequently murdered by his henchmen. His murder was blamed on Armenian rebels. As a result, all of the Armenian males in Derik were rounded up and executed, and the women and children deported.

The names of these brave men are not in the history books. If mentioned at all, they are labeled as “traitors” from the perspective of the official Turkish version of history. While the state and the masses committed a huge crime, and while that crime became a part of their daily life, these men rejected the genocidal campaign, based on individual conscience, and despite the temptation of enriching themselves. These few virtuous men, as well as a significant number of ordinary Turks and Kurds, defied the orders and protected the Armenians. They are the real heroes, and represent the Turkish version of similar characters in “Schindler’s List” or “Hotel Rwanda.”

Citizens of Turkey today have two choices when remembering their forefathers as heroes: to either go with the mass murderers and plunderers who committed “crimes against humanity,” or the virtuous human beings with a clear conscience who tried to prevent the “crimes against humanity.” Getting to know these real heroes will help Turks break loose from the chains of denialist history over four generations, and start to confront the realities of 1915.

Sources

Tuncay Opcin, “Ermenilere Kol Kanat Gerdiler (They protected the Armenians),” Yeni Aktuel, 2007, issue 142.

Ayse Hur, “1915 Ermeni soykiriminda kotuler ve iyiler (The good and the bad in the 1915 Armenian Genocide),” Radikal newspaper, April 29, 2013.

Seyhmus Diken, “Kaymakam Ermeniydi, Oldurduler… (The mayor was Armenian, they killed him…),” Bianet, April 23, 2011.

Orhan Cengiz, “1915: Heroes and Murderers,” Cihan News Agency, Nov. 2, 2012.

Tuncay Opcin, “Ermenilere Kol Kanat Gerdiler (They protected the Armenians),” Yeni Aktuel, 2007, issue 142.

Ayse Hur, “1915 Ermeni soykiriminda kotuler ve iyiler (The good and the bad in the 1915 Armenian Genocide),” Radikal newspaper, April 29, 2013.

Seyhmus Diken, “Kaymakam Ermeniydi, Oldurduler… (The mayor was Armenian, they killed him…),” Bianet, April 23, 2011.

 

4 comments
  1. Talaat Pasha Avenune

    As I understand the history of modern Turkey, the Kemalists brought the leaders of the “Ittihat ve Terakki (Committee of Union and Progress)” to “justice”.

    Naming streets after Talaat Pasha and the other prominent members of the CUP or raising monuments in their honor, are not done, because of any change of Turkish sentiments in regard to those under whose watch Ottoman Empire was dismembered. The naming is done with the sole purpose of raising anti-Armenian sentiments, especially as the 100th anniversary of the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide gets closer.

    These are intended as visible reminders to the average Turk that Armenians assassinated, period. Damn the rest.

  2. Righteous Turks

    My late father-in-law was born in Eregli, Konya in 1915. His younger sister was born two years later there as well. The family stayed in Eregli until the early 20s when their father died of what is believed to have been an untreated appendicitis. Their mother, with the help of her husband’s business partners and friends, moved the family to Latakia, Syria, to be close to her brothers. Years later, their Turkish friends came to Lebanon, inquired about them and found the family for a reunion.

    Incidentally, after my father-in-law passed away, I was able to verify his claim of relatives in Albania when I saw, a few years ago, the photograph of his cousin in the AGBU magazine about the few Armenians native to Albania. The resemblance was striking.

    There have been righteous Turks. Let us do the right thing and counter this anti-Armenian campaign in Turkey by naming some streets or erecting some monuments in Armenia as homage to righteous Turks.

  3. Righteous Turks II

    Two well-known "Today's Zaman" columnists (Orhan Kemal Cengis, Nov. 1, 2012 "1915: Heroes and Murderers" and Sahin Alpay, Jan. 20, 2013 "Six Years After Hrant Dink" have raised the issue of the "righteous Turks" in their remarkable articles.

    On Jan. 22, 2013 I wrote the following to "Today's Zaman": "Once again we come across in "Today's Zaman" remarkable articles by liberal and courageous writers, the everlasting legacy of Hrant Dink. The sheer hatred and insults toward Dink started when he declared the Armenian heritage of Ataturk's adopted daughter Sabiha. This was one of the main reasons for the harassment Dink suffered by the Turkish establishment–'insulting the Turkish ethnicity'. On the contrary, the essence of Dink's work was helping Turks and Armenians to work together toward reconciliation through their common history, and to acknowledge the reality of the Genocide, where the ethnic Armenians were uprooted from their 3,000 years old homeland and ruthlessly "relocated" into the Syrian deserts where they were annihilated."

    After six long years the dark clouds are still hovering above the sky. The current Turkish government either is unable or more likely doesn't want to bring the perpetrators [of Dink's assassination] to justice.

    In "Today's Zaman" (Nov. 2, 2012) I also raised the issue of the righteous Turks. Hundreds of them who had "risked their lives to save their neighbors". It's hopefully time–before the centenary of the Genocide–for the Armenia's government to acknowledge them by erecting appropriate monuments with their engraved names in the Genocide museum in Yerevan.  My second wish is that Istanbul authorities get rid of the statues, museums, and streets named after the Gang of Dictators, the three infamous Pashas–Talaat, Enver and Jemal–who led the Ottoman Empire to its demise.

  4. Forgiveness or Revenge

    As I read the comments, I can't help but think what will the Iraqis say, in one-hundred years about the invasion of their country by the Americans. I am not sure if just a confession of the past misdeeds would be enough. Someone has to pay the price one way or the other–or may be offering the other cheek? In the case of the Turks, judging by their history it would be wrong to give them a second option. It's also true for the Americans.

    Neighbor from Iran
     

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