The law about the migration of Armenians known as the Deportation Law was prepared on 27 May 1915 with the initiations of the Internal Affairs Minister Talat Bey and decided by the Assembly of Ministers on 1 June and put into force. The law was tried to be implemented in a period when the war was on with all its speed. The Ottoman Empire avoided a negative attitude towards Armenians who were its own citizens in this fragile atmosphere. The deportation and placement issue emerging suddenly was being implemented within the framework of regulations specially enacted by the Internal Affairs Ministry Directorate of Placement of Tribes and Immigrants.
For the placements of Armenians to be carried out justly, Internal Affairs Minister Talat Bey listed the precautions to be taken by the abovementioned directorate as: those who are needed to transfer will be taken to their placement places in easy circumstances and under protection of their lives and properties. Until their final placements in their destinations, they will be supported from the immigrant fund for their living. They will be given lands and properties according to their former financial circumstances (BOA, DH. ŞFR, nr: 53/305; BOA, MVM, nr: 198/163). Houses will be constructed by the government for immigrants. Seed will be given to farmers and tools and material will be given to artisans. The portable properties and assets that they left behind will be brought to them; in case this is not possible the price for these will be given in money. The real estates belonging to Armenians in the cities and towns evacuated will be counted and these will be given to other immigrants placed in the village after determining the types, amounts and values of them. The properties that the immigrants to be placed in the villages evacuated by Armenians can use, which are unmovable properties to bring income such as olive groves, mulberry groves, yards and gardens, inns, factories, storage and shops, will be sought or rented by auction; the income to be obtained will be recorded to safety by subdivision of treasury to be given to their owners (BOA, MVM, Nr: 198/163; BOA, DH. ŞFR, Nr: 54/202, 381; 55/107; Osmanlı Belgelerinde Ermeniler 1994: 11-12).
The Ottoman government had left some regions outside of the deportation law in the beginning. However, when it was seen that Armenians engaged in terrorist activities in places such as Erzurum, Aydın, Trabzon, Samsun, Çanakkale, Adapazarı, Konya etc., a significant part of these were migrated. At this stage, it was seen that some Armenians converted. Talat Bey sent instructions to the governors of Samsun, Erzurum and Trabzon to distribute and place these people in a way that they would not be able to come together in city centres (BOA, DH ŞFR, Nr. 920). Despite all good intentions of the government, it was seen that some of the converted Armenians participated in terrorist activities and helped Armenian guerrilla groups, though they had submitted their conversion documents to the office of shayh al-islam. After this, Talat Bey asked the provinces to implement the commands of the deportation law without any exception by ciphered instructions which he sent to the provinces on 20 July and where he stated that the conversion of such people did not have any meaning and they abused the toleration given to them (BOA, DH ŞFR, Nr: 1338).
Internal Affairs Minister Talat Bey asked in his ordinance dated 11 September 1915 that the lonely families whose men were subject to transfer are placed in the villages and towns where no Armenians or foreigners live and are given some money for their living. Also, children who were younger than 10 years old and were not subject to transfer would be placed in orphanages. In case the orphanages were not sufficient, they would be given to wealthy Muslim families where their education and life were ensured. It was allowed for widowed or unmarried women up to 20 years old who were not deported, to marry Muslim men on their own consent (BOA, DH ŞFR, Nr: 278, 30 August 1331).
During the deportation, all kinds of needs of Armenians were met, precautions were taken for their security, and food stocks were put in ranges and stations on the migration routes. While the government sent funds to the provinces in concern, foreign diplomats and missionaries helped the immigrants within the knowledge of the government (Babacan, 2014: 139). With the commands sent to the provinces, it was asked that the debts of Armenians to individuals or to the states are either delayed or completely written off. On the other hand, health attendants were appointed to treat Armenians in case of illnesses and also prosecutions about the criminals subjected to deportation were delayed (Halaçoğlu 2001: 67-68).
It was asked that girls up to 20 years old and boys up to 10 years old who were not migrated, distributed to Muslim villages and given as adopted children to families here and so their security was ensured. It was underlined that administrators and officers behaving against the instructions were to be punished (BOA, DH ŞFR, Nr: 921). Also, those occupied with trading, families known by local administrations and occupied with their own businesses would be taken under security by changing their places inside the provinces (BOA, DH ŞFR, Nr: 3822). Armenian deputies and their families were also left in their own places.
Internal Affairs Minister Talat Bey determined the points to be careful about during the placements with the instructions dated 28 August 1915:
The report of the Directorate of Placement of Tribes and Immigrants which organized the deportation contains striking information about the applications carried out about Armenian orphans during the transfer. According to this report, orphaned children who are in miserable conditions and struggling with death in the high mountains, village ruins, ways and cities of war were come across and the state hastily founded orphanages to protect their lives and took all of them under protection. When the conditions of the period are considered, the application to build such an institution and hold them onto their life is a proof that the understanding of the social state was maintained (Babacan 2014: 149).
As a result of the activities of Immigrant Director Şükrü Bey who was dealing with Armenians in the Urfa region, an orphanage was opened in Urfa for Armenian orphans. Some Armenian women were assigned as caretakers and governesses. Similar activities were carried out in neighbouring cities as well. An orphanage was opened in Elazığ for 700 Armenians and an Armenian nurse was appointed for every 10 or 15 children (Atnur 2005: 54).
When the number of immigrants increased in the southern provinces where Armenians were migrated, the administrators in the region started to have difficulties in the supply of food, accommodation and placements of soldiers and people under their responsibility. Of course in the meantime, the protection of orphaned Armenians and lonely women who were in need became difficult. For this reason, the necessity for the orphaned children not to be sent to this region anymore and the return of those coming already here to inner region appeared. When their transfer to even Istanbul came to be spoken of, The Immigrant Directorate stated that this was not possible and they could stay inside Anatolia and safe cities like Sivas (BOA, DH. ŞRF, nr. 61/20). Along with this, children were placed in orphanages not only in Sivas, but also in other provinces such as Izmit, Konya, Balıkesir and Adapazarı. This kind of placement continued till the end of the war. However, among Armenian children who lost their parents directly or indirectly due to the war, those whose parents were found were returned to their parents (Atnur 2005: 56-57).
Although the leader of the activities concerning Armenian children was Internal Affairs Minister Talat Bey, the Fourth Army Commander Celal Pasha who was responsible for the region where Armenians were migrated to also holds an important position in this process. It is emphasized in domestic and foreign sources that Celal Pasha carried out important activities for Armenians and their orphans in Syria and Lebanon, although he was under blockade by the Allied Forces in a period when the Turkish Army, Arabs and Armenians coming to the region were facing hunger. One of the significant activities of Cemal Pasha was to gather Armenian orphans in an orphanage he founded in the Ain Toura Monastery and make sure they were taken care of and educated (Atnur 2005: 58-59).
When the available orphanages, schools and newly-built buildings were not sufficient to raise the Armenian orphans, the state founded orphanages in some monasteries. Although the government wanted orphans to be kept away from missionaries and took military and administrative precautions against this and thought of getting rid of them by preventing American and German missionaries to transform their schools left without students due to the deportations of Armenians into orphanages, they allowed and even supported these activities of American missionaries because of impossibilities. Also, it was allowed in the region under Cemal Pasha’s responsibility that Armenians founded orphanages for lonely children. Similarly, the facts that there were Armenian orphanages in Istanbul and some Armenians formed orphanages in religious buildings show that the Turkish government did not avoid benefitting from Armenian institutions in solving the problems concerning Armenians orphans (Atnur 2005: 64).
It drew attention that Armenian orphans were primarily placed in institutions and orphanages where they could get the education of their own religion; those not placed were given to Armenian families and if this was also insufficient, they were given to Muslim families. It is not fair to evaluate the fact that lonely Armenian children were raised according to Islamic traditions in Muslim families as a policy to Islamize them. A government following such a goal cannot be expected to place orphans in schools or orphanages under Armenian control or foreign responsibility. Moreover, the students registered to Muslim orphanages and given Muslim names by the law were not given religious education. It was natural that these children young in age were influenced by the religion of the families whose houses they were staying in. It should be considered that all of these were carried out so that the children would continue their lives (Babacan 2014: 151-152).
Rather than religious suppressions or infusions, the most urgent needs of Armenian children to be able to stay alive was food. The Internal Affairs Ministry often warned the governors and other authorities to supply food to orphans and women and informed that the needed money would immediately be sent (BOA, DH ŞFR, Nr: 61/18). After complaints that Armenians, mostly children and women, in Ulukışla were given little bread reached the government, Talat Bey warned the lieutenant governor of Niğde (Atnur 2005: 69-70).
Despite all of these precautions and instructions desired to be implemented, attacks on immigrants could not be prevented in some regions. Though it is natural to see such disorder and lack of discipline in war conditions, the Internal Affairs Ministry immediately opened investigations against those having abusive and malevolent behaviours; they were sent to Martial Court to be tried, and those who were proven guilty of the offense were punished with the heaviest penalties. Among those tried, the number of those punished by various penalties, including the death penalty, was 1,397 (Beyoğlu 2001: 191). It is also an interesting point that some of the criminals were in co-operation with Armenian confederates (Taşkıran 1996: 140).
Prime Ministry Ottoman Archive (BOA)
Dâhiliye Nezareti Şifre Kalemi (DH. ŞFR)
Meclis-i Vükela Mazbataları (MVM)
Dâhiliye Nezareti Emniyet Umum 2. Şube, (DH. EUM 2.Şb.)
Books and Articles
Adıvar, Halide Edip (1996), Mor Salkımlı Ev, Istanbul.
Atnur, İbrahim Ethem (2005), Türkiye’de Ermeni Kadınları ve Çocukları Meselesi (1915-1923), Ankara.
Babacan, Hasan (2014), Mehmed Talât Paşa 1874-1921, Ankara.
Beyoğlu, Süleyman (2001), “1915 Tehciri Hakkında Bazı Değerlendirmeler”, Ermeni Meselesi Üzerine Araştırmalar, İstanbul, p. 207-222.
Gazigiray, A. Alper (1982), Ermeni Terörünün Kaynakları, İstanbul.
Halaçoğlu, Yusuf (2001), Ermeni Tehciri ve Gerçekler, Ankara.
Osmanlı Belgelerinde Ermeniler (1915-1920) (1994), Ankara.
Sonyel, Salahi R. (1997), “Tehcir ve ‘Kırımlar’ Konusunda, Ermeni Propagandası, Hıristiyanlık Dünyasını Nasıl Aldattı”, Belleten, Vol. 161, p. 137-175.
Taşkıran, Cemalettin (1996), “1915 Ermeni Tehciri Sırasında Osmanlı Devleti’nin Aldığı Tedbirlere Bir Bakış”, Beşinci Askeri Tarih Semineri Bildirileri I, Ankara, p. 132-141.