Hamidiye Diyarbekir

A ceremony before the departure of a squadron of hamidiye from Diyarbekir that had joined to Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa (AGBU Nubar Library, Paris). 





The decision to exterminate Armenians was made between the March 20-25, 1915, during several meetings of the Central Committee of the CUP. The implementation of the extermination plan was entrusted to the Special Organization (Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa), a paramilitary group led by a political bureau, including members of the Unionist Central Committee, such as Drs. Bahaeddin Şakir and Mehmed Nâzım, Atıf Bey and Yusuf Rıza Bey.

The headquarters of the Special Organization was based at the headquarters of the CUP in Istanbul. The Organization was represented by Kuşçubaşızâde Eşref [Sencer] in the Ministry of War, which provided the training and equiped the forces of the Special Organization, as well as provided it with funding. Its officers were recruited from among members of the party and those who carried out the orders were recruited from among criminals released by the Ministry of Justice, or among Circassian and Kurdish tribes. The brigades operated in specific places by attacking convoys of Armenian deportees.


The role of the administration and Unionist local secretaries

In the division of labor, the planning of the deportations was organized by the Directorate for the Settlement of Tribes and Migrants (Iskan-ı ve Aşâyirîn Muhâcirîn Müdüriyeti, or IAMM), under the direction of Muftizâde Şükrü Kaya. The latter had been sent to Aleppo in late August 1915 in order to establish a Sub-Directorate for Deportees. The police drew up lists of people to be deported. Gendarmes were supposed to “escort” the convoys. The division of the Treasury was also drawn on to recover and distribute abandoned properties.” The coordinators of these operations were the secretaries and officials delegated by the Committee of Union and Progess in the provinces.


The role of the Army in Mass Violence

The Third Army, controlling the six eastern vilayets, was directly involved in the atrocities committed against civilians between December 1914 and February 1915 on the Caucasian front and in the vilayets of Van and Bitlis, in cooperation with brigades of the Special Organization.






The elimination of Armenian conscripts in the Ottoman Third Army and adult men

 Convoi d’hommes adultes arméniens emmenés sous escorte depuis le konak ou siège du gouverneur du gouverneur (vali) de Mezre, pour une destination inconnue (coll. Pères mekhitaristes de Venise).Convoy of Armenian men being escorted, leaving Mezre for an unknown destination (Mekhitarist Fathers Collection, Venice).On the order of Enver Pasha, the Minister of War, on February 28, 1915, tens of thousands of Armenian conscripts serving in the Third Army were disarmed and assigned to labor battalions (amele taburiler) or executed.

In May 1915, the authorities imprisoned and killed men aged 16 to 60 or ordered the conscription of the spared 16-19 year-old and 41-60 year-old Armenian males in districts with dense Armenian population.

These men were assassinated far from towns and villages in remote areas.


The arrest of Armenian Elites

Circulaire adressée par le ministère de l’Intérieur, Direction générale de la police nationale, au commandant en chef de l’armée ottomane et à d’autres institutionsOn April 24, 1915, by order of the Minister of the Interior, Talât, the authorities proceeded to arrest the Armenian elite in Istanbul and in provincial towns.

These men were executed on the spot or exiled and temporarily interned in Çangırı (near Kastamonu) and Ayaş (near Ankara) before being murdered. By the end of the war, April 24 (April 11 in the Julian calendar, used by the Ottoman Armenians at the time) was chosen as the day of commemoration for the Armenian genocide.



Circular sent by the Ministry of the Interior and the Directorate General of the National Police to the commander-in-chief of the Ottoman Army and other institutions, ordering "the arrest of leaders and committee [political party] members […] widely known by the police," dated April 24, 1915 and signed by the Minister of the Interior, Mehmed Talât.



The deportations in Zeytun and the resistance in Van

Le nid d’aigle de Zeytoun The heights of Zeytun [Süleymanlı]. Zeytun’s population, deemed combative and recalcitrant toward the central government, was deported first by early April 1915 (Mekhitarist Fathers Collection, Venice).

From the end of March 1915, the first signs of the genocidal campaign of the CUP could be seen: the Armenian population of Zeytun (now Süleymanlı) and Dörtyol was deported.

On April 18 and 19, about 15,000 surrounding villagers took refuge in the city of Van, fleeing the massacres committed by the brigades of the Special Organization. During the previous days, two Armenian leaders had been murdered on the orders of the vali Cevdet.

After April 20, taking refuge in their two neighborhoods, the Armenians of Van resisted Turkish forces for more than a month until Russian troops approached the city.

These events were presented in Istanbul as an Armenian revolt, and utilized to justify the beginning of the deportations.

In May 1915, having occupied the vilayet of Van, the Russian army counted 55,000 corpses, i.e. more than 50% of the Armenian population of the province.



Resistance and fleeing towards the Caucasus in the vilayet of Van

Convoi d’Arméniens fuyant vers le CaucaseConvoy of Armenians fleeing to the Caucasus, photographed a few kilometers from Kızılkilise (AGBU Nubar Library, Paris)

In late July 1915, while the Russian army was approaching Bitlis, a general evacuation order came from St. Petersburg. The Armenians of Van, Chadakh and Khizan then left for the Caucasus, thus escaping the massacres.





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The deportation of women, children and the elderly

An examination of the deportation process shows that the removal of the Armenian populations of the six Eastern vilayets - the historic lands of the Ottoman Armenians - was a priority for the Committee of Union and Progress. The deportation of women, children and elderly men was preceded by extermination on the spot of men considered healthy and potentially dangerous. The convoys sent from the Eastern vilayets in May and June 1915 were systematically destroyed along the way and only a small minority of the deportees reached the relocation sites. On the other hand, from July to September 1915, the Armenians of Western Anatolia and Thrace were sent to Syria as families, often by train, and made their way on foot to Cilicia.




General map of the massacres and deportations in the Ottoman Empire





The Sites of Slaughter of the Special Organization

Used by the historian Raymond Kévorkian (Le génocide des Arméniens, Paris, 2006) to designate major massacre sites set up by the Special Organization on the roads of deportation, the term slaughterhouse site refers to the phrasing used by some contemporary witnesses to the genocide, such as the consul of the United States in Kharpert [Harput, present-day Elazığ], Leslie Davis, in his report on the slaughterhouse province (The Slaughterhouse Province: an American diplomat's report on the Armenian genocide, 1915-1917, first publication New Rochelle, 1989). The two most important slaughterhouse sites were located in gorges serving as checkpoints for the convoys: the site of Kemah, southwest of Erzincan on the upper Euphrates, where tens of thousands of men were exterminated in May and June of 1915 under the direct supervision of Dr. Bahaeddin Şakir, head of the Special Organization; and Kahta in the mountains south of Malatya, through which five hundred thousand deportees passed.





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Kara KemalKara Kemal (1866-1928). A program called Millî İktisat (national economy) was the economic dimension of the Armenian genocide, serving both as a justification and a direct incentive for its implementation, from the top of the state to the actors in the field. This program mainly benefited the Unionist elite and the party state constituted by the Committee of Union and Progress, but also the CUP supporters in general. Officially, the aim of the Millî İktisat was to set up a “Turkish” entrepreneurial class by transferring ownership of Armenian businesses and properties to them. The activities of the “commissions of abandoned properties” (emval-i metruke) also allowed the Young Turk regime to monopolize the movable and immovable properties of deported peoples, and the supposedly inalienable vakıf properties of religious institutions. Among vakıf goods, many monasteries and churches symbolizing the millennia-old presence of Armenians in these regions were destroyed after 1915-1916.

An influential member of the CUP, he was appointed Minister of Supply in the government of Said Halim. He was asked to implement the Millî İktisat (“national economy”) program and run the emval-i metruke or “abandoned goods” commissions, i.e. the legalized looting of Armenian properties.








 Cemal pachaCemal Pasha, a prominent member of the Committee of Union and Progress, Minister of the Navy, commander of the Fourth Ottoman Army, along with leaders of Bedouin tribes. Syria was under his control, but he had no power over the administration of the concentration camps (AGBU Nubar Library, Paris). The final step of the annihilation process targeted deportees from Asia Minor and Cilicia, and to a lesser extent, from the Armenian provinces of Eastern Anatolia. Twenty concentration camps were established in Syria and Upper Mesopotamia starting in October 1915. These camps were managed by the Sub-Directorate of Deportees, part of the Directorate for the Settlement of Tribes and Migrants (Iskan-ı ve Aşâyirîn Muhâcirîn Müdîriyeti, or IAMM), under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior, and have held about 700,000 deportees. Over 100,000 Cilicians were also sent to rural and remote areas along a line stretching from Aleppo to the Red Sea.

In March 1916, about 500,000 remained interned in camps in Syria and Mesopotamia and other relocation sites. The final decision to exterminate them was then made by the Unionist Central Committee. From April to December 1916, two sites, Ras ul-Ayn and Der Zor, were part of the systematic killings that left hundreds of thousands dead, mostly women and children.

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Aleppo concentration camps


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Table of Victims Who Died “a Natural Death”  in Concentration Camps

(related to hunger, disease and weather)

Location of the camp
Period of activity in the camp

estimated number of victims

Mamura Summer - Autumn 1915

c. 40,000

Islahiye August 1915 to January 1916

c. 60,000

Karlık et Sebil Summer 1915 to Autumn 1916

c. 10,000

Rajo, Katma et Azaz Autumn 1915 to Spring 1916

c. 60,000

Munbuj [Manbij] Autumn 1915 to February 1916


Bab et Akhterim October 1915 to Spring 1916

c. 50,000

Arabpunar Early October to mid-november 1915

c. 4,000

Ras ul-Ayn October 1915 to late March 1916

c. 13,000

Dipsi November 1915 to April 1916

c. 30,000

Lale and Tefrije
December 1915 to February 1916

c. 5,000

Meskene November 1915 to septembre 1916

c. 60,000

Abuharar, Hamam November 1915 to April 1916


Deir Zor November 1915 to November 1916

c. 40,000