While the Ottoman government was carrying out Armenian deportations in the negative conditions of war, it made great efforts to ensure the protection of the corteges. Primarily the dispatchment and settlement decision taken in the Assembly of Ministers and the instructions sent to local governors by the Internal Affairs Ministry emphasized on the security of lives and properties, taking necessary precautions, dismissing the gendarme and officers abusing Armenians and submitting them to Martial Courts (BOA. Meclis-i Vükela Mazbatası, Nr. 198/24) (BOA, DH, ŞFR. Nr. 54/9; 54/156, 54/162; 55/292).
When the news that a cortege of 500 people between Erzurum-Erzincan during the dispatchment of Armenians was attacked by Kurds was heard, an instruction sent from the Internal Affairs Ministry on 14 June 1915 ordered that Armenians are to be protected on the way during the dispatchment, the people are never allowed to involve in the issue and mutual fighting is not allowed; for this reason precautions are taken in the dispatchment routes and those attempting murder or seizing against Armenians are to be severely punished (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 54/9, 54/10). In the instructions sent to the Elazığ province on 26 June 1915, it was stated that Armenian corteges were attacked by Dersim bandits and ordered that these attacks are prevented and immediate precautions are taken to ensure the security of the corteges during the dispatchment (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 54/162). In the instructions sent to Trabzon province on 28 August 1915, the severe punishment of those engaging in seizing and looting against Armenians (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 55/266); and in the instructions sent to Ankara province on 29 August 1915, the protection of Armenians regardless of dispatchment or not from all kinds of abuses and the delay of dispatchment in the places where security is not ensured, and the submission of related officers to Martial Court in the cases of attacks on Armenians were ordered (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 55/290). When it was heard by the government that the properties of Armenian corteges were seized and they were exposed to attacks in some regions and the local governors abused their positions, the government started to take more radical precautions in order to prevent these events. On this issue, the government ordered in instructions sent to the provinces of Armenian dispatchments that no cortege was allowed to depart without guards, the number of guards was increased and those attacking Armenian corteges were arrested and punished. An investigation was opened for Tokat Gendarme Commander within this context; Aziziye Governor Hamid Bey was dismissed from his position because of his illegal activities and his submission to Martial Court was decided; and the Tenos Governor was dismissed (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 57/105; 57/116). The gendarmes accompanying the corteges in the Urfa region were sent to Martial Court for their negligence (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 57/309). In order to prevent abuses to Armenians subjected to dispatchment from Urfa through the Resulayn and Nusabin way, the route of dispatchment was changed (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 57/277). In the cipher sent to the Konya province on 18 September 1915, it was stated that the fact that a gendarme whipped Armenian migrants in Karaman station was heard and it was ordered that those holding such behaviors and indulging these behaviours are investigated and severely punished (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 56/64).
As it is stated above, when some undesired events took place during the dispatchment and settlement of Armenians and some officers engaged in some actions against the decisions of the government, the government took country-wide action to investigate the situation and punish whoever was responsible. For this purpose, with the letter of Talat Pasha on 28 September 1915, the Council of Ministers decided on the establishment of investigation committees on 30 September 1915. In this decision, it was pointed out that it was understood that some civilians and some officers performed abuses and illegal activities during the dispatchment and settlement of Armenians; for this reason, in order to investigate these in their places and send those found guilty to Martial Courts, three committees composed of the Council of State deputy Seyyid Haşim and Gendarme major Galip Bey under the chairmanship of Chief Justice Hulusi Bey for the provinces Hüdavendigar and Ankara and the sandjaks Izmit, Karesi, Eskişehir, Karahisar-I Sahib, Kayseri, Niğde; Izmir Gendarme Regional Inspector Governor Hüseyin Muhyiddin Bey and Ankara province Civil Inspector Muhtar Bey under the chairmanship of Court of Appeals Chair Asım Bey for Adana, Aleppo and Syria provinces and Maraş, Urfa and Zor sandjaks; Istanbul Commencement Public Prosecutor Nihad Bey and Gendarme major Ali Naki Bey under the chairmanship of former Bitlis governor Mahzar Bey for the provinces Erzurum, Trabzon, Sivas, Elazığ, Diyarbakır and Bitlis and Canik sandjak were created (BOA. Meclis-i Vükela Mazbatası Nr. 199/35). The government, having a very sensitive attitude for the prevention of the events, asked the committee members to be prepared before the release of the decision from the Council of Ministers. In this context, letters were written to the Ankara Province Civil Inspector Muhtar Bey and Bitlis Former Governor Mahzar Bey beforehand (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 56/179; 56/186).
In the instruction given to these investigation committees, it was ordered that the investigation was done about gendarme, police, chiefs, and officers, and those found guilty and who abused their positions according to the results of the investigation were sent to Martial Courts (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 56/267).
These courts, known as “Martial Courts (Military Commission)” in the Ottoman state (Köksal: 1996), tried those with crimes abusing the internal and external security of the state in the regions where military law is applied and riots, revolution, guerrilla activities and those engaging in activities which are in contradiction with any law, command, and instruction provisions published by the government during the war.
Based on the reports given by these investigation committees which did examinations in the regions where Armenians were subjected to dispatchment and settlement, many officers abusing their positions were dismissed and sent to Martial Courts to be tried. These courts, different from the courts established due to the pressures of Allied Forces in the armistice period, made judgments dependent on the reports of the above committees. According to the lists in the attachment of the writing sent from the Internal Affairs Ministry to the Foreign Affairs Ministry on 19 February 1916, 12 March 1916, and 22 May 1916, the distribution of those tried in Martial Courts according to provinces is as follows (BOA. HR. SYS. Nr. 2882/29).
The number of soldiers, policemen and members of Special Organizations among the 1670 people arrested to be tried in Martial Courts is 528. There were high-ranking people like majors, captains, lieutenants, gendarmes, company commanders, police commissaries, and policemen among these. Also, 170 public officials such as medical directors, debt collectors, governors, mayors, district managers, scribes, dispatchment directors, merchandise managers, land registry directors, village headmen, telegraph directors, registry office directors, first secretaries, and the chairs of the Derelict were tried. On the other hand, 975 people from guerrilla groups and local people who attempted attacks and seizing during the dispatchment of Armenians were also sent to Martial Courts to be tried.
These people sent to Martial Courts were tried for the crimes of murder, damaging the properties of Armenians, robbery, taking money and belongings by force, bribery, looting and pickpocketing, marriage with Armenian girls without permission, and abusing their duty.
The penalties given as a result of the trials in Martial Courts until the middle of 1916 and the phases of the courts are as follows:
|67 people||Death penalty|
||Hard labour, money, castle imprisonment, leg iron, and exile|
||Release and rejection of trial|
||On-going court and in the phase of investigation|
||Submission to parents|
||Those not given a decision about yet|
When we evaluate the numbers above, it is possible that the number of those sentenced to various penalties among the ones not given a decision about or having on-going trial could increase even more.
The Internal Affairs Ministry ordered the Konya province not to allow the escape of Ahmed of Siroz and his friend Halil who were sentenced to death due to the crimes of murder and seizing against Armenians. They were sent to Konya to be tried in the 4th Army Martial Court and to imprison them in Konya until demand from Cemal Pasha, and then those people who were sentenced to death in the Syria Martial Court were executed in Damascus (BOA. HR. SYS. Nr. 2882/29-25). (BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 55 A/177) (Erden, 2003, p. 269).
When we look at the precautions and trials during the dispatchment and settlement of Armenians, we see that the Ottoman central government took all necessary precautions for the security of lives and properties of Armenians and punished the government officers taking illegal actions and abusing their positions and the citizens engaging in banditry. Is it possible that a government aiming at extermination and massacring could be so sensitive about the issues of security of lives, dismissing and punishing public officials committing crimes and engaging in abuses?
BOA. Meclis-I Vükela Mazbatası, Nr. 198/24.
BOA. DH, ŞFR. Nr. 54/9; 54/156, 54/162; 55/292.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 54/9, 54/10.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 54/162.
BOA. DH. ŞFR.Nr. 55/266.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 55/290.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 57/105.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 57/309.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 57/277.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 56/64.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 56/179; 56/186.
BOA Meclis-I Vükela Mazbatası Nr. 199/35.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 56/267.
BOA. HR. SYS. Nr. 2882/29.
BOA. DH. ŞFR. Nr. 55 A/177.
BOA. HR. SYS. Nr. 2882/29–25.
Fuad, Ali Erden (2003), Suriye Hatıraları, Haz. Alpay Kabacalı, Istanbul.
Kabacalı, Alper (1994), Talat Paşa’nın Anıları, Istanbul.
Köksal, Osman (1996) Tarihsel Süreci İçinde Bir Özel Yargı Organı Olarak Divan-ı Harb-ı Örfiler (1877–1922), Ankara University Institute of Social Sciences, Unpublished Doctoral Thesis, Ankara.