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İbrahim KAYA
05 December 2006 - Turkish Weekly
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="justify">On 27 May 1915, the Ottoman Empire passed a law for the resettlement of the people who posed security threat to the Ottoman Army. This obviously included especially the Armenians who were engaged in rebellious activities. The relocation was painful because displacing thousands of people and resettling them was not an easy task. The year 1915 witnessed the killing of some Armenians by some elements of the local Muslim population for revenge on their route to their new settlements. Some government officials also contributed to this campaign. However, Talat Bey made it clear that the relocation of the Armenians was not aimed at massacring them.

Dbto immigrate and the places to which they were relocated, Talat Bey explained the aim of the relocation  as follows:


The objective sought by the government in evicting the Armenians from their resettlement and moving them to the areas marked for resettlement is rendering this ethnic element unable in engaging in anti-government activities and prevent them from pursuing their national aim of founding an Armenian government. The annihilation of these people is, not only out of question, but also the authorities should ensure their safety during their movement and see to it that they are properly fed, making the necessary expenditures from the Refugee Fund. Apart from those evicted and moved, the Armenians allowed to stay should be exempt from further evictions. As communicated earlier, the Government has taken a firm decision not to move families of soldiers sufficient number of artisans as well as Protestant and Catholic Armenians. Firm measures should be taken against those who attacked the moving parties or any gendarmes or officials who instigate such attacks. These people should be immediately expelled and court-martialed. Provinces and sandjaqs will be held responsible for the recurrence of any such events.[25]


Compared with the decisions taken at the Wansee meeting, it is clear from the position taken by the government that the extermination of the Armenians was not the objective of the 1915 Relocation. Equally true that many Armenians lost their lives during the relocation. The number of the Armenians and how they lost their live does not fall within the scope of this paper which compares the features of the official Nazi and Ottoman positions here.


It also becomes clear from the above quotation that not all the Armenians but some of them were relocated in contrast with the Nazis who tried to exterminate all the Jews wherever they were found. The Nazis also tried to exterminate other ethnicities like the Gypsies, Poles, Slavs and all political opponents and homosexuals. As explained in the relevant section of this paper, the aim of the Nazis was to create a Europe with no inferior races. However, the Armenian relocation of 1915 contradicts with this total campaign, as an infamous Armenian author accepts that sometimes the Armenian Catholics and Protestants as well as the Armenians of Istanbul and Izmir (Smyrna) were exempted from the deportation decrees.[26] As pointed out by Halaço?lu, of course, when some those allowed to stay were seen engaged in harmful activities, they, too, were relocated irrelevant of their creed.[27]

Aftermath of the World Wars and Justice

A special international tribunal was formed for the prosecution of those who committed war crimes in the Nazi era. The Nuremberg Tribunal condemned twelve to death by hanging. It is striking that only twelve people were responsible for the extermination of six million Jews and others. By prosecuting twelve was supposed to bring justice. Justice has been a key word with regard to the Armenian case as well.

As the relocation was beginning, the Allies issued a joint declaration on 24 May 1915. They alluded to the “assistance of Ottoman authorities” in harming the Armenians and announced that “they will hold personally responsible ... all members of the Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres”.[28] This declaration is a result of the wide coverage by the European press of the relocation which was presented as an attempt to massacre of the Armenians by the Armenian committees and some Allies that wanted the American entrance in the World War I on their side. However, the Americans maintained their neutrality towards Turkey.

When the Armistice was signed on 30 October 1918, Turkey lay at the mercy of the European Allies. As they announced, they had to punish all those who were responsible for the alleged Armenian massacre. Justice, however, required appropriate jurisdiction, legal evidence, and the machinery to administer the applicable laws. There were two different mechanisms with regard to the Armenian case, one is domestic and the other one is international, to punish the alleged criminals. By the end of the war, the ruling party’s leading figures fled from the country and a new government with strong opposition, if not hostility to, the former ruling party was installed by the sultan. The new government formed a special Court Martial whose statutes were set forth on 8 May 1915. The principal task of the tribunal was the investigation of the alleged “massacres and unlawful personal profiteering” as well as the charge of “overthrow of the government”.[29] The second charge makes it clear that the tribunal directly involved in politics and the punishment of those associated with the former governing party. The political considerations of the special tribunal were reflected on its composition and decisions as well as the way it operated. It was composed of non-professionals of law, composed of Armenian members who may have not been completely unbiased, operated under pressure, sometimes with intervention, of the government and Allies which occupied Istanbul, relied on the testimonies of the people who had never been to the places where the massacres allegedly taken place and testimonies of the children who were even under the age of five as eye-witnesses.[30] Since the criminals of the Holocaust were not punished by the domestic tribunals, but by an international tribunal, there is no need to go deeper in the Turkish Court Martial formed after the World War I.

The first attempt to form an international tribunal was made by the Ottoman government which requested two lawyers each from Denmark, Spain, Sweden and Holland “to participate in the international committee to be formed to investigate if any injustices were made during relocation”.[31]  The delegates of the international committee were to visit places where the alleged massacres occurred to make investigations and to establish the facts which would have led to prosecution of alleged criminals. However, the attempt failed since the mentioned neutral countries were reluctant to participate.


The inevitable biased decisions of the Turkish ‘special’ tribunals under the circumstances touched upon above caused disappointment in the Turkish population, often reflected in the Istanbul press. This prompted the British to initiate measures for the transfer of the detainees, who were arbitrarily arrested by the new government in Istanbul, often, by the directives of the occupying Allied forces, to British custody in Malta.[32] The total number of the Malta deportees were more than one hundred and forty. The prominent members of the Turkish society, like the former Grand Vizier, speaker of parliament, chief of general staff, ministers, members of parliament, senators, army commanders, governors, university professors, editors, journalists composed the deported.[33]


On 4 August 1920, the British Cabinet decided that "The list of the deportees be carefully revised by the Attorney General with a view to selecting the names of those it was proposed to prosecute, so that those against whom no proceedings were contemplated should be released at the first convenient opportunity."[34] And the Attorney General wrote to the Foreign Office that the "British High Commissioner at Istanbul should be asked to prepare the evidence against those interned Turks whom he recommends for prosecution on charge of cruelty to native Christians. " [35]

Sir Harry Lamb, the political-legal officer of the British High Commission at Istanbul, stated on the issue of evidence of the alleged massacre:

"No one of the deportees was arrested on any evidence in the legal sense...The whole case of the deportees is not satisfactory...There are no dossiers in any legal sense. In many cases we have statements by Armenians of differing values...The Americans must be in possession of a mass of invaluable material..." [36]

Then, the British Foreign Office decided to ask the assistance of the US State Department. On 31 March 1921, Lord Curzon telegraphed to Sir A. Gedes, the British Ambassador in Washington, the following:

"There are in hands of His Majesty's Government at Malta a number of Turks arrested for alleged complicity in the Armenian massacre...There is considerable difficulty in establishing proofs of guilt...Please ascertain if United States Government are in possession of any evidence that would be of value for purposes of prosecution."[37]

The Embassy returned the following reply:

"I regret to inform Your Lordship that there was nothing therein which could be used as evidence against the Turks who are being detained for trial at Malta. The reports seen...made mention of only two names of the Turkish officials in question and in these case were confined to personal opinions of these officials on the part of the writer, no concrete facts being given which could constitute satisfactory incriminating evidence...I have the honour to add that officials at the Department of State expressed the wish that no information supplied by them in this connection should be employed in a court of law...Having regard to this stipulation and the fact that the reports in the possession of the Department of State do not appear in any case to contain evidence against these Turks..., I fear that nothing is to be hoped from addressing any further enquiries to the United States Government in this matter." [38]

The Attorney-General's Department returned the following reply:

"...It seems improbable that the charges made against the accused will be capable of legal proof in a Court of Law...Until more precise information is available as to the nature of the evidence which will be forthcoming at the trials, the Attorney-General does not feel that he is in a position to express any opinion as to the prospect of success in any of the cases submitted for his consideration." [39]

Upon the receipt of this reply, W.S. Edmonds, Under-Secretary in the Eastern Department of the Foreign Office, minuted:

"From this letter it appears that the changes of obtaining convictions are almost nil... It is regrettable that the Turks have confined as long without charges being formulated against them..."[40]

Sir H. Rumbold, the High Commissioner in Istanbul, wrote:

"Failing the possibility of obtaining proper evidence against these Turks which would satisfy a British Court of Law, we would seem to be continuing an act of technical injustice in further detaining the Turks in question. In order, therefore, to avoid as far as possible losing face, in this matter, I consider that all the Turks... should be made available for exchange purposes." [41]

From now on, the Turkish detainees at Malta were not considered as "offenders" for prosecution, but rather as "hostages" for exchange against British prisoners in Anatolia.[42] Subsequently all Turkish deportees at Malta were exchanged with the British prisoners of war. The Law Officers of the Crown abstained from accusing anyone of Turkish deportees of massacre of the Armenians and all Turkish deportees were released and repatriated without being brought before a tribunal. The findings of the British obviously contradicts what the Tribunal found in the Holocaust trials.


This paper examined the main differences of the Holocaust and Armenian case. It has become clear that they had not much in common. Anti-Semitism and Nazism provided the ideological background for the Holocaust. There is no doubt that without anti-Semitism and racist ideology, the laws discriminating Jews would not have passed. The Holocaust was the intentional and planned organized crime as expressed  by the Wansee Conference. Not only the Jews but also other ‘inferior races’ became the victims of the Nazis. Moreover, no victim involved in any activity against the Nazis. The perpetrators were brought before the justice after the World War II.

The Armenian case greatly, if not completely, differs from the Holocaust. No anti-Turk or anti-Muslim element, let alone anti-Armenism, existed in the Ottoman legal and social system. In contrast with the victims of the Nazis, the Armenians formed revolutionary organizations and carried out activities to terrorize the civilian population of both Muslim and non-Muslim. The Armenians’ corroborations with Russians, hostile of the Ottomans, in the World War I left the government with no alternative but to relocate those who posed security threats to other parts of the Empire. It is unfortunate that during the relocation lost their lives. But there is no evidence that the casualties were intentional. On contrary, official legal documents provides that the casualties were to be kept minimum. Although the Western press widely covered the relocation and told the stories of massacres as a apart of the war-time propaganda, the alleged criminals were released even without charges being formulated against them before an international tribunal, because neither Britain nor the USA was able to provide any evidence capable of legal proof in any court of law.

The following quotation from a Nobel Prize winning Israeli statesman, Shimon Peres, closes the discussion:

“We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through but not a genocide...Israel should not determine a historical or philosophical position on the Armenian issue. If we have to determine a position, it should be done with great care not to distort the historical realities.”[43]


* Ibrahim KAYA: International Law Lecturer. Canakkale Onsekiz Mart Universty and USAK - ISRO. BA (Ankara), LLM (Nottingham, UK), PhD (Keele, UK).

[1] For example see Richard G. Hovannasian, ‘Etiology and Sequele of the Armenian Genocide’, in George J. Andreopulos (ed.), Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions,  (Philedelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), pp. 125-126.

[2] For a recent example of this see Vahakn N. Dadrian, ‘The documentation of the Armenian Genocide in the Light of Persistent Turkish Denials’ Conference paper delivered at Generations of Genocide, Wiener Library, 26-27 January 2002, London/UK.

[3] Heat W. Lowry, ‘The U.S. Congress and Adolf Hitler on the Armenians’, Political Communication and Persuasion, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1986, pp. 111-140.

[4] The facts given in this part is based on the information supplied by Haim Bresheeth, Stuart Hood and Lisa Jansz, The Holocaust, Turkish translation, Soyk?r?m,(?stanbul: Milliyet Yay?nlar?, 1996). Various internet resources, including thinkquest, Massuah, the Institute for the Study of the Holocaust,, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are also referred to. The views contrary to those which summarized here may be found at and the works of David Irving.

[5] Emil Fackenheim at

[6] Eight centuries ago the Jews were hunted in Germany, expelled from England, France and finally from Spain in 1492.

[7] Yavuz Ercan, Osmanl? Yönetiminde Gayrimuslimler (Non-Muslims under the Ottoman Rule), (Ankara:Turhan Kitapevi, 2001), p. 3.

[8] See Ercan, Osmanl? Yönetiminde…,pp.1-23.

[9] Vartan Artinian, The Armenian Constitutional System in the Ottoman Empire, (Istanbul),  p.11.

[10] Yves Ternon, The Armenians, (Delmar:Caravan Books, 1981), pp. 37, 38 and 49.

[11] Jamanak, Facts from the Turkish Armenians, Istanbul, 1980, p. 4.

[12] For a full record of the Turkish-Jewish relations during the Ottoman Empire and the Holocaust see Stanford J. Shaw, The Jews of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, (New York: New York University Press, 1991) and Turkey & The Holocaust, (London: MacMillan Press, 1993).

[13] Telford Waugh, Turkey, Yesterday, to-Day and To-Morrow, (London: Chapman & Hall, 1930), p. 130.

[14] Hovannisian, Etiology and Sequence…, p. 119.

[15] Shavarsh Toriguian, The Armenian Question and International Law, (Beirut: Hamaskaine Press, 1973), p. 88.

[16] Düstur, II, pp.938-961.Also cited by Gülnihal Bozkurt, Gayrimuslim Osmanl? Vatanda?lar?n?n Hukuki Durumu (The Legal Status of the Non-Muslim Ottoman Citizens), (Ankara: Turkish Society for History, 1996), p. 181.

[17] Artinian, The Armenian Constitutional…, p. 59.

[18] Artinian, The Armenian Constitutional…, p. 65.

[19] Ternon, The Armenians, pp. 74-82.

[20] Yair Auron, The Banality of Indifference, (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2000) pp. 102 and 112-113.

[21] Interview with a Jewish journalist and activist, Lucien Wolf, of the Daily Graphic, 6 July 1896. (Quoted by Auron, The Banality of…, p. 117.)

[22] Louise Nalbandian, Armenian Revolutionary Movement, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1963), pp. 110.111.

[23] Mandelstam, La Societe des Nations et les Puissances Devant le Probleme Armenien, 1970, pp. 472-473. (Quoted by Toriguian, The Armenian Question..., p.98.)

[24] Journal of Military History Documents, 81, December 1982, Document No: 1830.

[25] BOA, Chipper Desk, No: 55/292. (Also published in Armenians in Ottoman Documents Directorate of Ottoman Archives, Ankara, 1995, pp. 94-95. The English translation quoted by Yusuf Halaço?lu, ‘Realities behind the Relocation’ in Türkkaya Ataöv, The Armenians in the Late Ottoman Period, (Ankara: Turkish Historical Society, 2001),  pp. 111-112.

[26] Hovannisian, Etiology and Sequence…, p. 124.

[27] Halaço?lu, Realities behind …, p. 122.

[28] FO 371/2488/51010 (28 May 1915) (Also cited by Vahakn N. Dadrian, ‘Genocide as a Problem of National and International Law: The World War I Armenian Case and Its Contemporary Legal Ramifications’ The Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1989, p. 262.)

[29] Takvimi Vekayi, No: 3540, 5 May 1919 and Takvimi Vekayi, No: 3571, 13 June 1919.

[30] See Senol Kantarc?, “Speeches on the Armenians Attributed to Atatürk and his Help to the Victims of Armenian Terrorists and ‘Court Martials’” Armenian Studies, Vol. 1, Issue 4 and Nejdet Bilgi, Ermeni Tehciri ve Bo?azlayan Kaymekem? Mehmed Kemal Beyin Yarg?lanmas?(Armenian Relocation and the Trial of Governor of Bogazlayan Mehmet Bey), (Ankara: Köksav, 1999).

[31] BOA, HR:MÜ. 43/17, 6 May 1919.

[32] Dadrian, Genocide as a Problem of…, p. 285.

[33] Bilal N. ?im?ir, The Deportees of Malta and the Armenian Question, (Ankara: Foreign Policy Institute, 1992), pp. 18-33.

[34] FO 371/5090/E.9934: Cabinet Officer to Lord Curzon of 12.8.1920.

[35] FO 371/6499/E.1801: Law Officers to Foreign Office of 8.2.1921.

[36] FO 371/6500/E.3554: Inclosure, minutes by Sir H.Lamb, dossier Veli Nedjdet.

[37] FO 371/6500/E.3552: Curzon to Geddes. Tel No 176 of 31.3.1921.

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