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James J. Reid. "Total War, the Annihilation Ethic, and the Armenian Genocide, 1870-1918"

from R. Hovannisian (ed). The Armenian Genocide: History, Politics, Ethics, New York, 1992, pp. 21-47.

Current discussions about the Armenian Genocide assume an entirely unrealistic assessment of the genocide's generation. Numerous writings claim that Armenians died simply because they were the victims of a war, not of a purposeful Ottoman policy to exterminate them.

    Turks reject the characterization of their forebears as the perpetrators of genocide. While acknowledging the deaths of Anatolian Armenians during the First World War, they view those deaths as part of the carnage which likewise took the lives of civilian Moslems in the same region.

Such assessments betray a naive lack of awareness about the methods and aims of warfare in the period of the 'Great War.' Armenians (and others) were exterminated primarily because military ethics of the time permitted generals to view civilians as valid targets of war. The above statement is naive primarily because it actually proves the case that Armenians were victims of a war machine intending to deal death to civilians. A study of militarism as it developed over the nineteenth century will prove that such large numbers of civilian victims could not be the accidental victims of war.

The Armenian Genocide of 1915-18 was the culmination of a militaristic doctrine which aimed at destroying autonomous components of the Ottoman Empire, especially those deemed agents of the Russian Empire, or other colonial powers. Whatever other ideology influenced the destroyers of Armenia, modern militarism was the chief ideology permitting an unfettered ethic of destruction and annihilation. The other ideologies may have aided in promoting the genocide, but none of them contained a doctrine and living practice of militarism. Traditional forms of warfare survived, but increasingly became subverted to the ethic and philosophy of reform militarism. Racism alone cannot destroy an entire people, only a military/ bureaucratic apparatus capable of wielding a totally destructive force can do so.


Reform militarism was that ideal of military development which established a broad currency from the wars of the French Revolution onward. All states hoping to survive the competition for empire which gathered momentum in the nineteenth century, and which was a major cause of the First World War of 1914-18, needed to reform their armies. The Ottoman Empire was no different. Before examining this phenomenon, some political aspects of Ottoman developments must be summarized. If the Ottoman army used the Prussian reform model to develop its military organization and military ethic, the political orientations adopting the reforms were derived from Ottoman conditions.

Autocracy (Istibdad)

The chief reason for the formulation of an Ottoman militarist ideology and a reform military was the rule of the Ottoman sultans, and efforts by the sultans to protect their regime from overthrow by a wide variety of forces. The crisis of 1826 originated in the Greek Revolution in which the Ottoman army failed to perform satisfactorily. The result was the destruction of the Janissary Corps, and the formation of a two-tiered army system: the nizam/redif army, and the irregular cavalry (popularly called bashibozuks, and seen by many as the remnants of the old timar order). As in everything else, the Ottoman sultan ensured the loyalty of his standing army by permitting the organizations supporting irregular cavalry to survive. Nonetheless, the nizam became the tool of Ottoman autocracy, and the irregular cavalry served the standing army or pr y New or Young Ottoman ideals, perceived the environment of his times as oppressive. Under the restrictions of censorship, his novel Bir Olunun Defteri (Journal of a Dead Man), used an ordinary plot line to portray a pessimistic social condition, which was the product of 'tyranny.' A history of Abdul-Hamid's reign published in 1909-10 (when censorship was briefly removed) suggested that Abdul-Hamid's martial rule originated in the empire's emergency (especially the Balkan revolutions which plagued Abdulaziz's last year as sultan). This autocracy was totalitarian in only a very rudimentary sense. If censorship attempted to control criticism and even supportive analysis of the government, there was no effort to employ a totalitarian revolutionary doctrine as a disguise for oppressive military rule. The autocrat's aggressive domination of the society he ruled became the basis for the foundation of a reform military establishment, and the subjection of semi-autonomous politico-military organizations (derebeys, tribal chiefs, and other local authorities) as irregular military formations. In Ottoman autocracy, the reform military developed a special ideological presence of its own, supporting the sultanate for most of the nineteenth century, but becoming an independent actor on its own terms after 1908, and especially after 1913. The Young Turk military leadership assumed the position of the autocratic dictator using the same excuse that the military emergency of the empire did not permit a republic to exist.

Ottoman autocratic militarism separated itself from all forms of Middle Eastern military traditions, except to dominate and control surviving elements of those traditions (Islamic concepts of jihad, various irregular armies). This reform militarism consciously connected itself with European military theories and practices. From 1836 to 1839, the Sultan Mahmud II instituted the advice of the Prussian officer Helmuth von Moltke. Moltke was later responsible for perfecting the doctrine of total offensive warfare which led Prussia to victory against Denmark, Austria, and France. Variations of his doctrine influenced Prussian warfare, and the doctrines of Prussia's allies (including the Ottoman Empire). Moltke's program, accepted by Mahmud II, was to build a total war army based upon the three-level organization of nizam (standing army), redif (reserve), and mustahfiz (home guard, second-level reserve with old men). The army was also divided by branch - infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Unit organization followed the European model (battalion, battery, and squadron). Each unit was to have a chain of command from battalion head (major) to sergeants and corporals. The weakest link in the entire reform was the officer corps. Severe shortages existed as late as the wars of 1875-78, and European soldiers of fortune were imported to take even high commands to alleviate the problem. The purpose of the army was, of course, to wage total warfare in the style of Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic armies. As such, the army was intended as a tool of aggression, and a conscious player in the arena of warfare (not simply the recipient of other armies' aggressions).

This army became the extension of the autocrat's ideological existence, and enabled him to dominate his subjects by force, thus denying them even the traditional means of local autonomy. The nizam formulated upon Moltke's advice became active almost immediately, fighting wars in Kurdistan which von Moltke observed himself. The nizam suppressed similar revolts in the following decades, often using brutal and annihilating tactics. The Ottoman general 'Omer Pasha, an Austrian Croat emigre, commanded the nizam in the brutal suppressions of numerous revolts in Bosnia (1851), Montenegro (1852), Thessaly (1854), and Crete (1867), among other places. The redif and irregular cavalry supplemented the nizam in suppressing revolts everywhere in the empire. As the empire's collapse continued, the nizam became the chief means of imposing order from Yemen to Macedonia in an increasingly anarchic situation.

Militarism thus came to serve as the chief ideological component in Ottoman autocratic rule. This ideology contained at its heart an international component originating in European military reform and warfare with roots in the Napoleonic wars. If the Ottoman army had anti-Europeanizing reactionaries in its officer corps, the institution itself was alien to the Ottoman Empire, originated in the need to fight against European armies, and always contained both European soldiers of fortune or pro-European officers. Many of the latter recognized the superiority of European armies, and attempted to make the Ottoman army competitive. As will be demonstrated later, autocratic militarism contained an ethic which could condone the eradication of civilian populations which posed no immediate military threat.


Islamic movements developed as a response by Muslims to the perceived inadequacies of secular rulers who could not resist European colonial expansion. In many cases, Islamic movements saw Middle Eastern rulers, among them the Ottoman sultan, as an agent of atheism fit only to be supplanted by an Islamic ruler. During the course of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman sultan attempted to rectify his negative image among Muslims by portraying himself as the Caliph (based on the nebulous claims of the shadow caliphs at Cairo, into whose family the Ottoman sultans had married in the sixteenth century), or, at the least, as the leader of the jihad ('holy war') against European colonial powers (especially Russia, and later Britain). This claim was never more than a manipulation, as is shown by the 'asylum' granted the Algerian leader 'Abd al-Qadir after his release from internment in France. The Ottoman state guaranteed that the leader of the Algerian jihad against France would not escape to lead more revolts against France. The Ottoman sultan wished for the legitimacy of an Islamic leader without most of the problems attending that leadership. He hoped to use jihad against Russia, but disdained the leadership of Indian jihad movements, and refused to take an active role in organizing African resistance to the New Imperialism. Jihad thus came to be one face of the total-war doctrine.

The doctrine of jihad was never interpreted in a unified way in the nineteenth century. Some Muslim scholars argued that there was no jihad obligation in regions ruled by Christian powers where there was no threat to the Muslim population. Others argued that Muslims were required either to fight the jihad or to migrate from regions conquered by Christian powers. Likewise, differing interpretations existed about the fate of Christians under Muslim rule. Prisoners of war who resisted could be killed (an atrocity according to the modern law of war emanating from the West), but some madhbabs (schools of law) either made the killing of prisoners impossible, or disallowed execution completely. People of the Book (ahl-al-kitab: Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians) received a protected status (dhimmi, or treaty, status) if they accepted Muslim rule, paid a poll tax, and made no resistance. Jihad doctrine was specific and infiexible in this matter. Armenian, Greek, Nestorian, Syrian, and Coptic Christians living under Ottoman rule always held a dhimmi status, as did Ottoman Jews. The wars of the nineteenth century altered the situations of these groups. Making matters worse, Christian missionaries protected by European consuls, alarmed the reawakening Muslim community by converting Middle Eastern Christians to Western versions of Christianity. These converts appeared to gain a greater power and protection by an alien and 'Christian' government. The dhimmi status of Ottoman Christians thus became tenuous. Armenians on the border with Russia were the most threatened, because they were closest to one of the most aggressive 'Christian' powers. The jihad doctrine thus became confused with regard to Christians.

Ottoman troops attacking Armenian, Greek, and Nestorian Christians often did so in violation of the Islamic law. Not only did they not issue the summons (da'wah) to convert to Islam, but they attacked dhimmis without obtaining the proper legal clearance to do so.

The Islamic ideology of warfare had long ceased to address the realities of modern warfare. Fundamentalist literalism insisted upon the archaic immutability of the law, with the result that new circumstances and conditions were either overlooked or addressed through circumlocutory reasoning, by which most new issues and developments had to be considered by the holy law. Most Ottoman irregulars (except Christian Mirdite Albanians, for instance) used a loose version of jihad to sanction their military existence in wartime. Even these troops recognized, however, that the era of bow-bearing, sword-wielding cavalry had long existed only as a memory. Total-war armies had replaced the old cavalry, and surviving elements of the old-style cavalry ceased to wage war according to the principles and practices described in the jihad doctrine, and Islamic history. The irregulars no longer fought in the traditional fashion. They used rifles and waged the cut-throat warfare of the guerrilla. The Islamic law of jihad was adapted to the conditions of modern warfare, and was exploited to explain the more brutal practices of total war.

Ottoman autocracy and its successor, the Young Turk military dictatorship, employed jihad within the framework of a total-war psychology, and bent the law of war to serve the purposes of total war. If jihad presented one face of Ottoman war policy, total war machtpolitik served as the spirit behind the policy. Islamic law could be used to justify attacks on Armenian dhimmis, even in contravention of the original Islamic law.


Turkish nationalism was quite new. Elements of Turkish nationalist ideas took modern form in the 1860s, and the Young Turk revolutionary party was only established in 1895. Turkist ideologies did not produce a special military philosophy which could be called modern. At best, nationalist historiography could only identify military heroes of the Ottoman and medieval past. Traditional Ottoman methods of warfare had followed the Islamic ideal of warfare into obsolescence. Ottoman armies no longer fought large-scale cavalry battles using swords, bows, and antiquated muskets. Traditional strategy and tactics may have been in use in the eighteenth century, but no traditional army fought a major pitched battle after 1829.

Turkist politicians, writers, and soldiers saw the Ottoman military past as a romantic ideal to inspire the population and motivate the soldier. No one was foolish enough to imagine that the tactics and strategy of Mehmed II and Selim I could be used with success in the nineteenth century. Turkist generals (Enver Pasha, Ataturk, and others) recognized total warfare as the most significant method of modern war, and implemented total-war policies in the management of their armies. Total-war ethics dominated their approach to enemies, and subjects.

The only aspect of Turkist ideals which could have influenced Ottoman military thought was the revolutionary/terrorist legacy of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Turkism (and Islamist Ottomanism, its predecessor) had assumed the identity of the romantic, nationalist revolutionaries, mainly by the travel of Ottoman radicals to Europe. A string of terrorist incidents and periods of activity punctuated the late Ottoman period: the Kuleli conspiracy (1859), the Young Ottoman conspiracy (1867), the Suavi assassination plot (1878), Enver Pasha's days as a komitaji ('guerrilla') revolutionary in Macedonia, and his invasion of the Young Turk cabinet of ministers with troops (1913). As a parallel to similar movements in Europe (1830, 1848-49, 1870, and the Anarchists and Marxists), the various Turkisms developed only a populist doctrine of militarism (a National Guard concept at best), which in most cases was reduced mainly to a terrorist program involving a clique of individuals. Modern total war could be influenced by the Machiavellian outlooks of vigorous revolutionaries, but most of these revolutionaries were not military thinkers, and did not produce sound military philosophies. The independent existence of the military establishment was rarely altered by revolutionaries, and, in fact, usually altered the revolutionaries' perceptions of their mission. Many Young Turks were trained army officers, and included reform army ideals in their political programs.

If nationalist racism played a role in the annihilation of Armenia, it was simply another face used by the militaristic elite in applying its ethic of annihilation to a disintegrating situation. Modern Turkist ideologies could only look to the military arm of the deposed autocrat's institution to develop their own military legacy. As a consequence, total-war ethics predominated, and led to the Armenian Genocide.

Other factors

Several other factors also played a role in the late Ottoman military situation, including tribalism, the influx of European professional soldiers into the Ottoman officer corps, and subject nationalisms (such as those influenced by pan-Slavism in the Balkans, or Armenian and Arab nationalism). These aspects need not be discussed at length here.


Total war may be defined as the method of waging war which seeks to attack all sectors of an enemy society, including enemy civilian non-combatants. Total war encompasses tactics (confrontation in battle) as well as strategical measures aimed at destroying enemy communications, economy, and patterns of life. The modern doctrine of total war emerged in the deeds of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, the Prussian general whose doctrine of the offensive served as the basis of machtpolitik, or 'power politics.' The doctrine of total war was less a theory than a guideline for action based upon the accomplishments of armies in the field. Military intellectuals from Clausewitz to von Schlieffen summarized these deeds into a workable philosophy of war. The Prussian doctrine, which influenced the Ottoman practice of total war, was the dominant military ideology in Europe from 1870 to 1918 (revived later from 1933 to 1945), and served as the engine driving the competition for power in the race for empire from 1880 to 1914. The Prussian victory over France in 1870 caused the other European states to study the offensive doctrine of total warfare with great interest, and they reformed their armies on this basis.

Philosophy and practice of the offensive doctrine

Helmuth von Moltke evolved his strategic and tactical thinking from Napoleonic concepts of offensive warfare as interpreted by von Clausewitz and the Prussian General Staff. Offensive doctrine required armies to mobilize rapidly, march swiftly against the enemy before he could mobilize effectively, execute a series of maneuvers which would encircle the enemy army, and bring a massive firepower of artillery and rifles to bear upon the trapped enemy, thus annihilating the enemy force. This massive battle was known as the Vernichtungsschlacht or the Kesselschlacht ('Battle of Annihilation'). Variations of this strategy and its tactical features were used in the military ideologies of various European armies in the period 1870-1945.

Total-war thinking also made room for a defensive strategy, which von Moltke included in his overall plan after 1870. Armies of the nineteenth century adopted defensive stances at certain eras (1815-70, 1915-38), but continued to maintain total-war capacities from their defensive positions. The most devastating form of total war from the defensive or stationary position was the bombardment, best analyzed by a study of the Crimean War (the sieges of Silistria, Sebastopol, and Kars), the siege of Paris in 1870-71, the First World War, and the Second World War. Von Moltke's decision to bombard Paris in 1870 was undertaken 'not... to destroy Paris, but to exert a final pressure on the inhabitants.' Warfare against civilians had reached a new stage of ferocity with the total-war doctrine.

The influence of the total-war doctrine was long in coming to the Ottoman army. The sultan initially wanted a better army to control his subjects. A total-war army was developed to better subject insurrectionary populations. This orientation represented a genocidal psychology at work in the Ottoman army even in the late 1830s. The generals of the sultan did not readily accept cy of defeats from 1875 to 1878 produced such terror concerning the loss of empire, that a call for more efficient generals and strategies was engendered. The courtmartial of Suleyman Husni Pasha in 1878 witnessed the beginning of change. Suleyman had lost Bulgaria for the Ottoman Empire. He had behaved so shamefully that fellow officers even began to consider him a traitor and a Russian spy. He sacrificed entire arrmies to the Russians, retreated when he was supposed to attack, and attacked when he was required to retreat. He scattered his armies over a long front, and opened them to the possibility of defeat from the beginning of his command. The proceedings of his trial not only examined all these factors, but many officers indicated that offensive strategy was needed to destroy the Russian army.

Efforts to improve the education of Ottoman officers led to the institution of the Prussian military mission in the Ottoman Empire. The Imperial School of Military Science (Mekteb-i funun-u harbiye-i shahane or simply, Harbiye) employed Colmar von der Goltz to teach courses, and Goltz was also empowered to make inspections of the Ottoman army itself. Goltz was a hero of the Franco-Prussian War, and a foremost practitioner of the offensive doctrine. He was well-acquainted with von Moltke's total-war doctrine, and especially the offensive strategy and tactics at its core. Goltz influenced a large number of younger Ottoman officers, creating a generation who would wage total war with vigor. Mahmud Shevket Pasha, an Ottoman military intellectual, actually translated Goltz's book Das Volk in Waffen into Turkish for use in the Harbiye. Enver Pasha was the foremost practitioner of total war in the Ottoman Empire from the time of his experiences in Macedonia to the First World War and the Armenian Genocide. He belonged to the generation trained under Goltz's tutelage, and directed that total-war doctrine from the revolutionary/terrorist perspective of a fanatical Young Turk.

Total war was also subdivided into 'great war' and 'small war' categories. Great war was any conflict between two or more regular armies and major powers (one of which was the Ottoman Empire). Regular armies also fought small wars, which were wars fought against irregular or guerrilla armies, and the peoples they represented. Small war was total war waged againse civilian communities and partisans, most of whom did not belong to a major power. Colonial wars of the nineteenth century were small wars. The suppression of insurrections and the oppression of poorly-armed subjects in the Ottoman Empire was usually a total war waged against small communities or minorities through the means of small-war strategies and tactics. Social reform in the Ottoman autocratic state often meant a war of destruction and annihilation waged against an unwanted population seeking to continue its existence under the pre-reform particularist order system in which religious and cultural groups existed with a degree of autonomy. Autocracy destroyed unwanted autonomy by waging small war, imposing alien groups with small-war capacities in most areas (Albanians, Circassians, Bedouin, and Kurds served as these alien occupiers). If pseudo-traditional tactics were employed by the irregulars, the state's manipulation of these irregulars made Ottoman small war a form of total war.

Small war reflected total-war philosophy in the nineteenth century in the more aggressive and destructive approach of the army commanders to attacking and pursuing the irregular force. C. E. Callwell argued that the commander of a field force needed to seek tactical engagement rather than strategic standoff. Tactics, the engagement of the enemy in battle, favored the regular army, because it could overwhelm the irregular force easily. Strategy, the maneuvering of forces before engagement, favored the irregular, who could fight a hit-and-run war and wear down his opponent. Destructiveness in fighting the small war went as far as the massacre, which annihilated a village or the population of a region. The Algerian Wars of 1830-47 were wars to the death, and the French army spared no one in occupying a region. Lieutenant Clemens Lamping, for example, recorded the massacre of all the men in an Algerian village by his Foreign Legion regiment in c. 1840. The Russian army waged wars of extermination in the Caucasus and Central Asia between 1829 and 1920. The Ottoman army likewise fought innumerable campaigns against tribes and peoples between 1853 and 1918, the period when such campaigns came under the management of the total-war doctrine.

Ethics of total war

The ethic of total war permitted the total destruction of the enemy. This notion of annihilation was best seen in the concept of the Vernichtungsschlacht, or 'battle of annihilation.' Generals did not always mean that the enemy should be totally exterminated, but that the enemy army must be destroyed completely, and that the civilian population must become demoralized (often through exposure to harsh conditions of war, such as bombardment in the example of the siege of Paris mentioned above). Total-war ethics lowered the standard by which the military could identify targets to attack and non-combatants to avoid attacking. The elder Helmuth von Moltke might be seen as a transitional figure, who esteemed the chivalric values of saving the weak at one time in his life, and who gradually arrived at the point where he could argue for a bombardment of civilian populations. After him, the attack on civilian targets became more and more a normal procedure in European warfare. The Nazi Holocaust advanced the destruction of civilian targets to an ultimate degree by creating a military bureaucracy aimed at destroying civilian populations en masse. The Law of War became the rule of expediency necessary to the waging of total war. Concentration camps concentrated potential enemies in a limited space to free the army to wage lightning war, and by the Second World War the concentration camp became the internment site for large populations of civilians as well as prisoners of war. Bombardment came to the total annihilation of cities and their civilian populations. This movement toward massive annihilation of civilian populations in European wars was permitted in part by the lowered ethical standards of a military trained in total-war strategies and tactics. Total destruction solved the general's problem of dealing with potentially enemy populations.

This ethic of annihilation, transferred from the more restrained Prussian setting of the late nineteenth century to the disintegrating circumstances of the Ottoman Empire, resulted in a more intense application of the total-war strategy. The Armenian Genocide was the more intense application of the total war's extermination goals. If massacres had occurred in the Ottoman Empire under more 'restrained' conditions in the nineteenth century, the introduction of a total-war capacity to an intensely revolutionary military elite (represented by Enver Pasha), to an elite which had used terrorism in its small war capacity, could only mean that a genocide would result.


The above discussion was necessary to demonstrate that the Ottoman state was subject to a series of influences which combined to create the Armenian Genocide. Emergent nationalism in the Middle East and the Balkans does not suffice to explain why the Ottoman state eliminated nearly a million and a half Armenians. If Turkism, Islam, and tribal rivalries in eastern Anatolia all played a role in the genocide, only the addition of an ethic of total destruction could allow for such a massive extermination. Two strains of influence conspired to create the annihilation of Armenia. First, Armenian villages were attacked by bands of irregular soldiers for a century before the First World War of 1914-18. Such attacks were part of a pattern of oppression inflicted on all subject groups of the Ottoman Empire in that century. This pattern of oppression is easily demonstrated, even using the scarce Turkish sources of the period. Second, the reform of the Ottoman Empire, spearheaded by the reform of the Ottoman army, meant that subject groups failing to fit into the increasingly assimilationist social models would be destroyed or violently assimilated by a state which emphasized social reform first through suppression by the autocratic military organization created by the state. When this military organization learned the ethic of total destruction imported from the European armies described previously, assimilation ceased to be the goal, and annihilation emerged as the primary aim of the elite. Generals such as Enver Pasha, who had been revolutionary terrorists, abandoned all restraints imposed by the particularist order ideology of the old Ottoman state which had permitted large numbers of semi-autonomous groups to exist and survive. Here the ethic of total destruction allowed free reign to an uncontrollable and autocratic general who saw the destruction of Armenia and the annihilation of its people as an expedient operation aimed at rescuing the (Turkish) remnant of the Ottoman Empire. To explain the deaths of Armenians as 'part of the carnage' which occurred on a general scale, as Heath Lowry does, ignores the purposeful application of an annihilation ethic to subject populations by a military elite. Armenians were not the random victims of war, but the civilian targets of a total-warfare army. The following examination will explain just how this total-war ethic developed in the Ottoman Empire, and how it was applied to Ottoman subjects, with particular reference to Armenia and the Armenian Genocide.

The aim of the following discussion is to evaluate the Armenian Genocide within the total-war pattern and separate it from both the Turkish and Islamist aspects described previously. This work is important as an approach to any Ottoman documents which might appear in the future. The passionate search for a secret archive absolutely and irrevocably proving an Armenian Genocide has overlooked the need to prove destructive intentions as exemplified by oppressive military practices.

Small war and massacre as a pattern of oppression, 1853-1918

The Ottoman state began to employ an extensive small-war policy when its military reform failed in certain respects, specifically in the formation of a modern cavalry. The nizam possessed a very poor cavalry, and supplemented this force with zaptiye bands in peacetime, and irregular auxiliary cavalry in wartime. These irregulars caused most of the problems in the destruction of subject villages and the massacre of their inhabitants. To make matters worse, and to exemplify the small-war role of the irregulars, the Ottoman army began to equip the irregulars with repeating rifles from the early 1870s, thus placing a tool of destruction into the hands of a murderous crew. Winchester repeating rifles purchased in the United States were used to murder and massacre Armenians, Bulgarians, and others in larger numbers than before, especially during the disturbances of 1875-78. Irregulars received increasingly sophisticated weapons in subsequent years, and these guns could not be equalled by most anti-Ottoman subjects.

In the Crimean War (1853-56) irregular troops were used to fight small-war campaigns by the Allied armies (Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire). The proclamation of jihad brought thousands of irregulars to serve 'Omer Pasha in Bulgaria and Mustafa Zarif Pasha in Armenia. 'Omer Pasha placed irregular troops under British and French officers, serving in separate commands. The Algerian Muslim general Yusuf, who commanded French spahis and other irregulars in Algeria, was given command of the French contingent of bashibozuks. The British Indian officer W. F. Beatson, who had commanded irregular horse in India, received command of the British force. These European officers were intended to lead these irregulars as raiders to harass the enemy column in march and camp, to seize supplies, and to disrupt enemy communication lines (all small-war tasks). Unfortunately, the irregulars also attacked civilians, killing even children. The Vicomte de Noe, serving under Yusuf in the irregular command, even received complaints that his bashibozuks had cut a live infant to pieces before its parents in order to extort money and belongings from the parents. W. F. Beatson was a good study in denial. British authorities proved that Beatson's troops had committed numerous irregularities, even murder, in their station near the Dardanelles: reports sent by Stratford de Redcliffe, and various British consuls, enumerate some of their atrocious deeds. Beatson, however, continued to deny any problem existed even after the war was over. Lord Raglan refused to use the irregulars because they were unreliable soldiers, and he feared they would commit massacres and terrible atrocities.

The worst episode of the Crimean War occurred on the Caucasian front. Early in 1854, an Ottoman officer named Mehmed Pasha offered to pay a bounty for every Christian head his troops brought him. He sent his troops on raids into Armenia and Georgia (under Russian rule) to spread mayhem, a part of which was this hunt for heads. Humphry Sandwith, Chief Medical Officer of the Anatolian army under the British Commissioner William F. Williams, actually witnessed soldiers placing decapitated heads at Mehmed Pasha's feet. Sandwith noted further that these soldiers (both regulars and irregulars) attacked civilians, especially the old and the weak, or anyone not in a position to resist.

The wars of 1875-78 provide even more instances of the use of irregulars to attack civilians and murder them. Even if one forwards the argument that the irregulars were undisciplined and uncontrollable as troops, the continued employment of these troops by the Ottoman regular army is enough to blame the Ottoman state for the atrocities and massacres they committed. The Ottoman state could simply have refused to use irregulars any more, and this would have solved the problem of destruction, mayhem, pillage, murder, and massacre, as the French had done in the Crimean War. Instead, the Ottoman state increased these troops' destructive capacity by supplying them with repeating rifles, which no subject could hope to equal. The worst episodes of the period 1875 to 1878 include the Bulgarian massacres of 1876, and the slaughter and pillage in Armenian villages in 1877. The advance of Suleyman Pasha's army in the Eski Zaghra region of Bulgaria was also accompanied by innumerable atrocities and slaughter of civilians, usually involving irregular troops. The exportation of revolution by means of small war was best illustrated by the Sukhum Kale expedition of 1877, in which the Ottoman fleet took a force of Circassian irregulars to Abkhazia, released them into the region with a large store of Martini-Henry repeating rifles (to be distributed among the Caucasian Muslims for their revolt against Russia), and encouraged them to fight a destructive and murderous war against Russians in the region, and their allies, sparing no one. Literally hundreds of other incidents occurred outside the framework of these major catastrophes. None of these incidents represented the anonymous forces of war victimizing soldier and civilian alike in a blind unseeing process. These campaigns represented war waged purposefully, directed by regular army officers employing small-war strategies and tactics aiming at the destruction of civilian and military.

The Armenian massacres of 1894-96 represent a specific small-war action undertaken in peacetime to exterminate at least a portion of the empire's Armenian subjects. Irregular Kurdish troops known as the Hamidiye, armed with sophisticated repeating rifles, descended upon Armenian villages, especially in the Sassun district, and began massacring the inhabitants. In some instances they were aided by regular troops, but in general, a regular army field command stood by to give the irregulars support in their destructive activities. This action, from a military standpoint, was a small-war operation, and employed the annihilation ethic derived from the total-war strategy.

Small war advanced to a new stage of development with the emergence of various nationalist movements from the 1890s. Almost all political factions (religious or nationalist) engaged in partisan war against all other factions and the Ottoman state. This partisan warfare was a natural growth from the conditions which had prevailed in the empire for more than a century. Recent Turkish claims that the Armenians are terrorists appear absurd when the history of these partisan movements is studied. The Young Turk movement itself began as a terrorist movement aimed at the Sultan Abdul-Hamid and his state, and these Young Turk terrorists, among whom was Enver Bey (later Pasha), fought a violent partisan war against the government and enemies of the Young Turks. Enver became an expert in small war by first fighting a partisan war against Macedonian rebels, and then becoming an outlaw partisan himself. These partisan rebels were called komitajilar ('partisans') and included Macedonian rebels (Muslim and Christian), and, ultimately, Young Turk army officers who revolted against the state. Captain A. F. Townshend described them as follows:

    Call them what you please, komitadjis or patriots, revolutionaries or brigands, they have become a force to be reckoned with and a terror to the countryside. The local men have burned their boats and they are all as mad as dogs. They then arrive at a Greek village, in which they produce consternation; they give the inhabitants an hour to renounce their own Church and embrace that of the band. In case of refusal they open fire on the village and shoot a few men, women, and children, making a special point of dealing with the priest and schoolmaster if they can lay their hands on them; incidentally they burn some houses.

These Muslim komitajis violated Islamic law by issuing the da'wah ('summons to convert to Islam') to dhimmis already protected by treaty from attack by Muslims. The summons had to be issued to the Greek komitajis, their opponents, not to peaceful villagers.

Enver Bey led a column of Ottoman troops against komitaji bands in July 1907. His force moved from village to village in a campaign of annihilation directed against the bands and their supporters. His campaign was waged precisely in the manner of the partisans, and followed the pattern described by Townshend. At the beginning of the Young Turk revolution, Enver fled into the hills to avoid capture by Hamidian forces, intending to fight like a komitaji, and attract a band of likeminded partisans around himself. He aimed at fighting a terrorist campaign against government forces. Ahmed Niyazi, a major like Enver, disappeared into the hills with his entire company of soldiers, taking government supplies and ammunition, and fought a similar war against government forces and other enemies. Some versions of Turkish nationalism even praise this komitajilik of the officers, and the ethic of destruction it encompassed. Partisan warfare strongly influenced Enver Pasha's philosophical outlook. The ethic of destruction was well-stated in his memoirs of the Tripoli campaign in 1912, when he wrote: 'Hope, in contrast to the above [a defeated Italian officer] would always be better. Killing and dying for the vatan ("fatherland") is valued for us as luck!'

This small-war pattern was carried into the First World War, and was applied in the Armenian Genocide. The merging of great- and small-war patterns is evident in the Armenian Genocide, as the following section will examine.


The destruction of Armenia and Armenians resulted from a confluence of military trends which joined in the First World War. Ottoman military oppression of the subject peoples had normally employed small-war practices such as raids to destroy villages and settlements. Major wars with Russia or Greece elevated the level of attacks on the subjects, but destructive forays also occurred between major wars. In a situation where civilians were already significantly oppressed and attacked, the introduction of the total-war annihilation ethic intensified the attack on civilians to a dramatic and cataclysmic new height. The key to understanding the Armenian Genocide rests with an evaluation of this operational aspect. Total-war doctrine and its annihilation ethic were as much a part of the Young Turk officers' ideology as was Turkism, which could not name any recent or contemporary military heroes or thinkers of any stature. The international total-war doctrine became the military philosophy of the Young Turk regime. Without this philosophy of war, the Armenian Genocide would have assumed entirely different proportions. Armenia might not have been liquidated, though it is evident that massacres would have occurred locally, as in previous wars. The annihilation ethic of the total-war ideology alone could produce a genocide. Various factors such as strident Turkist nationalism and local group rivalries exacerbated by the drive to war upon any group remotely connected with Russia elevated the destructiveness of the annihilation ethic to previously-unknown heights. Only in the colonial wars of the nineteenth century did destructiveness of this type achieve such powerful completeness. The same annihilation ethic did not prove so destructive in Western Europe until later. The atrocities which were inflicted in Belgium, France, and elsewhere did not equal the ferocity or brutality of Armenia's liquidation.

The Armenian debacle emerged from the small-war trends of the past, and exploded in terrible dimensions as a result of the First World War, in which annihilative tendencies had been unleashed. Armenians died in larger numbers than before because radicalized political agendas produced by the empire's collapse were linked with the most aggressive military philosophy of the nineteenth century. The genocidal destruction of Armenia began with the usual localized attacks which developed as a result of the war declaration. A small war driven by annihilation ethics developed as the first mode of attack upon Armenia.

Zeitun village, which had always been somewhat independent, was assaulted by zaptiyes in 1914. The zaptiyes molested the inhabitants, drove them from their homes, and raped the women. Upgrading the title and the uniforms of the zaptiyes did not change their behavior. By March 1915, 4-6000 regular troops marched on the village, and the deportations began. Zeitun was not located in the war zone, and, in fact, rested far away from the theater of war. To suggest that the Armenians of Zeitun died because they existed in the midst of fighting armies, as the Turkophile revisionists do, makes no sense, and even appears absurd. The fact that Zeitun was reduced by both the regular army and the irregular gendarmes indicates that a total-war philosophy was applied to Zeitun at least. The establishment of more stringent controls over the irregular zaptiye troops by the Ottoman state in the late nineteenth century demonstrates that the attacks on Armenian villages by zaptiyes alone fell directly within the small-war policy of the Ottoman high command. The jihad declaration of 1914 gave sanction to other bands of irregulars, not zaptiyes, to attack any allies of Russia. The heightened application of total-war offensive doctrines, and the allied annihilation ethic, ensured that the Islamic law of war would be applied in a far more destructive manner than ever before. The lack of internal restraints on such practices as the killing of war-prisoners in some of the madhhabs enabled the application of a genocidal policy toward Armenia, and an annihilation philosophy toward British and Indian prisoners from Kut.

The raids signified the survival of an older method of dealing with Armenia (within a broader total-war orientation), while the deportations (surgun [forced migration], Todesgang [death march]) constituted something totally new, despite the use of an older name. The deportations arose from the state's need to implement the offensive strategy, or at least to give support to a mass (conscripted) army, and not from traditional Ottoman surgun practices of the sixteenth century or earlier. Surgun of the earlier type originated in, and was influenced by, Byzantine resettlement policies and the conditions of Ottoman expansion in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. Deportation of this type had as its purpose the resettlement of subject populations in zones where they would benefit the Ottoman state, Ottoman elites, or some Ottoman patron. The authorities directing the deportations were motivated to save most of the deportees because they gained economic or political benefits by keeping them alive. The aim was resettlement, not destruction or annihilation. Surgun, originating in slave raids, survived into the nineteenth century, functioned as part of the jihad principle in many instances, but in general involved the preservation of the captives' lives. Revisionists use the concept of surgun to argue for a removal of the Armenians from the Caucasian war zone as a means of protecting the Armenians and resettling them in a more peaceful environment.

The sudden appearance of deportation as a method of dealing with unwanted populations is confusing, and tempts the student to look to surgun as a sixteenth-century precedent. Even though forced migration and resettlement were harsh, the aim was not to kill the population, but to better enslave it, and to weaken the community from which it came. A variety of factors served as the source of the 1915 deportations, most of which had more ominous intentions than did the original surgun. A distant ancestor of the 1915 deportations was ironically first employed with the empire's Muslim population. The new laws of conscription (askere alma; literally, 'taking for military service') required a universal induction of all (Muslim) males into the army from the reign of Mahmud II (the 1830s on, especially under von Moltke's influence).

Unfortunately, the conscription process was not orderly for a very long period in the nineteenth century. Matters worsened even more in wartime. Villages were stripped of all able-bodied males, including the oldest men serving in the mustahfiz. Those who refused to serve, fled into the hills and became bandits. The nizam often imposed conscription in a symbolic way as punishing a recalcitrant Bedouin, Kurdish, or Turkmen tribe, thus demonstrating the operation's usage as a bureaucratic apparatus supporting small-war activities. Conscription seemed much like a deportation of men taken away to do extremely distasteful forced labor. For all intents and purposes, this conscription was a form of the corvee. As late as the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, eyewitnesses saw Ottoman civilians forced into prisons awaiting transportation to the army for military service. On another occasion, the same witness saw a column of iconvicts' shackled together being brought through a north-east Anatolian village within the war zone. These 'convicts' may have been deserters or conscripts forced into unwilling servitude. If these men were indeed conscripts, their plight genuinely resembled impressment, and signified an undoubted deportation. If they were bandits captured by local authorities, they were also likely to be deserters from the army. Their treatment clearly shows a precedent for the deportations of Armenian men to serve in military and labor battalions during the First World War. These removals from home and village destroyed the economy of Anatolia and other regions of the Empire, and undermined the capacity of autonomous local societies to remain unique, independent, and resistant to social reform. Such social changes did not go unnoticed, and the destructive result of removing the men from their vatan (autonomous homeland) served as a lesson for the removal of Armenian men as conscripts in the First World War. People removed from their homeland by bureaucratic and military decree would generally resist less once away from home, and, in fact, could be herded into specific areas quite easily, and even murdered, especially if they were poorly armed, or had no weapons at all. Armenian soldiers were therefore conscripted as laborers (military corvee), and given no weapons.

The initial phase of the First World War deportations was put into place when Armenian men were conscripted into the army, thus removing them from their villages and homes, making seizure of the stay-at-homes easier. These deportations also resulted from the realization that Armenians could be driven away from their homes in adverse conditions. In previous wars, Armenian villages were attacked, villagers were murdered or massacred, and extensive looting, raping, and abduction forced many others to flee for safety to the north or south. The absence of the Armenians made the plundering of the villages easier, and served as a signal to the government to initiate a wholesale, bureaucratically-run operation to make 'requisitions' easier. Even if this motive was not a major factor in the policy of Enver or other high officials, it certainly moved officers at lower levels of the provincial military and civil bureaucracy.

Abduction served as another source of deportation and its operational deployment. One aspect of the nineteenth-century raids on Armenian (and other) villages was the abduction of young women and boys. As late as the early (and mid-) nineteenth century, such raids had exclusively sought to capture young people for the purpose of selling them to the slave markets, centered mainly on Istanbul. Abolition of slavery during the reign of Mahmud II, and further legislation on the matter in the Tanzimat, did not put an end to slave-raiding in mountain areas, and as late as the end of the nineteenth century, abduction still existed. One incident in the war of 1877-78 proved particularly ominous. The Kurdish chief, Shaikh Jalal al-Din, attacked the village of Jaim in the Van district in about May 1877. Jaim was only one of many villages so attacked in this month by Kurdish raiders serving the Ottoman state. Responding to a call for irregular troops by Ismail Hakki Pasha, several Kurdish chiefs left long strings of burning and looted villages in their wake. The people of Jaim were treated differently, however. The usual atrocities were perpetrated upon entering the village. A few men were beaten, some girls were raped, and so on. Uniquely, however, several hundred Armenian villagers were forced to carry their own property on their backs the entire distance to the town of Van, where the spoils were divided. Some of those abducted in this manner died from over-exertion, and were left dead along the roadside. As usual, young women and boys were seized and taken to the villages of their captors. The development of total-war policy graduated such minor and scattered incidents into a consistent policy. The Armenian deportations of 1915-18 were bureaucratically-administered abductions attended by the same behavior witnessed on the earlier occasions (looting, rape on a massive scale, and murder).

The deportations of 1915 and 1916 became part of a total-war strategy developed by the Young Turk Ottoman government, and required massive military and bureaucratic facilities to be operated. Small war, or local raiding by rival neighbors, might have produced massacres, but could not cause a genocide within the parameters of the raid context as it had traditionally existed in the nineteenth century. Enver Bey's operation of a small war against the komitajilar in Macedonia advanced the war of the raid to a new destructive level correlative to total-war practice. Genocide did not yet occur under these circumstances, though a genocide could have developed. The deportations of the Armenians, the massacres of Armenian men in labor battalions, and the raids resulting in massacres, were managed as an aspect of the annihilation ethic during a period when the Ottoman army fought an aggressive offensive war against the Russian army. Since no tactical engagement of any serious proportion could be offered by Armenians (most of the men had been conscripted or fled their homes to evade service), the operation was considered mainly a strategic move to destroy Armenia by forcing its population to split apart, die, and be removed from the home district. Available evidence suggests that the expulsions and deportations were made as a means of destroying Armenia even before a war could' start. The Ottoman state posted public decrees which claimed that the Armenians were a serious threat to public order, that they troubled the empire's peace and security (as if the war had not already done that), and that they were a threat to Ottoman citizens. Taken within the context of the jihad declaration of 1914, the decree against Armenians fitted well into the overall war plans of the Ottoman state. The jihad declaration attempted to motivate the Tsar's Muslim subjects to revolt en masse against Tsarist autocracy, while the anti-Armenian decree declared the Armenians enemies of the Ottoman (Muslim) state to be expurgated as agents of the Tsarist (Christian) state to the north. The decree demonstrates, therefore, that Armenia was destroyed as part of an overall total-war strategy against the Ottoman Empire's declared enemies.

The Ottoman high command organized the deportations as a means of annihilating Armenia. Military-age Armenians had been removed by conscription or through flight into the hills, where they joined Turks, Kurds, and others who likewise sought to escape conscription, and who also exhibited insurrectionary tendencies. The Russian defeat of the Ottoman offensive in 1914 (organized according to the classic Prussian offensive doctrine), necessitated the liquidation of Armenia in the eyes of the Ottoman leadership if the territory of eastern Anatolia were to be rescued from the fast-disappearing lands of the empire. The fact that the operation was a bureaucratic one should not deceive the student into thinking that a non-war policy of extermination was employed here. Just as Nazi concentration camps were built to contain prisoners and fifth-columnists deemed dangerous to Nazi expansionist drives, so also was the destruction of Armenia considered a war objective. Indeed, the same total-war doctrine originally developed by Prussia guided the strategic war planning of the Ottoman Young Turk military dictatorship and the Nazi totalitarian regime8 The Ottoman military dictatorship was guided by the annihilation ethic in destroying Armenia. Unlike previous applications of this annihilation ethic inside Europe, annihilation was employed in the literal sense. Only in Europe's colonial wars, as in the Herero campaign of South West Africa, could similar parallels to the Armenian Genocide be observed.

Descriptions of the massacres and deportations abound in the eyewitness literature of the First World War period. Foreign observers, Muslim Ottoman subjects (then in revolt against the Young Turk regime), and Armenian survivors, have produced a vast literature on the subject. Jakob Kunzler observed in August 1915:

    "two Turkish officials [who] appeared in Urfa. The rumor was that they hurried out in order to drive forward the extermination of the Armenian people with all their might, and they had the sanction of the highest [state] authority for doing so. They ordered on this basis, scarcely the moment they arrived in Urfa, the killing of all gathered prisoners. 'Why should we feed them any longer?' they said."

Fa'iz el-Ghusein, the son of a Bedouin, saw a column of deportees near Urfa (El-Raha). Only the women remained, and they were starving, beaten, and dying. Those who lagged behind received a beating from the butt end of a gendarme's rifle. 'But if one lagged from sickness, she was either abandoned, alone in the wilderness, without help or comfort, to be a prey to wild beasts, or a gendarme ended her life with a bullet.' A most powerful parallel to the Armenian deportations was the 'death march' from Kut, in which British and Indian captives taken after the surrender of Kut, were driven into Anatolia across the same hostile deserts as the Armenians, only in a different direction, and across a wider expanse of desert. These prisoners of war were maltreated in the extreme, but in precisely the same manner as the Armenians.

Raids, massacres of villagers, massacres of Armenian conscripts in work battalions, and the deportation columns represented parts of an overall total-war strategy implemented by the Ottoman state and military high command. The heart of this policy was constituted of an annihilation ethic, which drew its inspiration from the philosophy and practice of modern warfare as adapted by the Ottoman army and directed by the Ottoman state during the course of the period 1853-1918. This policy of total war was derived from the exigencies of international military conflicts contemporaneous with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and the Ottoman state did not have any other Middle Eastern tradition which could implement an aggressive and competitive military operation of the magnitude which developed in the First World War. The best method for demonstrating the practical aspects of the genocide is the study of Ottoman reform militarism and its governance of Ottoman subjects.

The assumption that Armenians died incidentally from accidents of war cannot withstand even a cursory examination of the issue of war and its prosecution in eastern Anatolia. Armenians died because the Ottoman army and its auxiliaries aimed at social unity through extermination of unwanted subject communities which had always existed lawfully within the highly particularized structure of the Ottoman social system. On the other hand, leaders such as Enver Pasha had not arrived at the level attained by Hitler. If Enver Pasha was insane, he did not exhibit the dramatic abnormalities observable in Hitler's character. In any case, the Young Turk regime was not totalitarian to the same degree as the Nazi regime. The military dictatorship of the Young Turks was founded on a total-war army inherited from the autocrat Abdul-Hamid II, and employed the annihilation ethic - the driving engine of any total-war army - in fighting the Russians and eradicating unwanted subjects. Young Turk nationalism was not sophisticated enough to produce a racist dogma powerful enough to exterminate all Christians, or all pro-Russian communities within the empire. While racism and other dogmas or motives certainly played a role, militarism had long existed as a force struggling to preserve the empire's boundaries, oppress the multitude of subjects clamoring for some form of self-determination, and exterminating small and large groups of subjects as a means of simplifying social control. Germany had been unified some 60 years before Hitler came to power on the basis of a popular dogma, while the Ottoman Empire continued to be far too complicated, even in 1915, to permit any given messianic movement of the Nazi type free reign to dominate society. In conclusion, then, it must be said that the jingoism, or war-chauvinism, which affected all European states after 1870, also affected the Ottoman state, and particularly the Europeanized and pro-Prussian military elite. This war-chauvinism retained at its core the offensive ideology of the total-war doctrine, and it is with this doctrine that one must begin the study of the Armenian Genocide.

In conclusion, the examination of the Armenian Genocide must be seen as a product of both the century-long oppression of subjects, and the military reforms which introduced the European military ethic of annihilation to a traumatized Ottoman military elite. To study the genocide without examining this factor is similar to studying the Nazi Holocaust without researching the Nazi SS, the Gestapo, and the military policies which augmented Nazi political and racial doctrines. This chapter has taken only the first step in evaluating Ottoman military developments which could lead to a genocide.

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