25/2/1915 Turkey starts to deal with the Armenians

The Ottoman Empire is in trouble. Its ruling triumvirate brought Turkey into the war on Germany’s side in the hope that this would restore the empire’s former glory. Unfortunately a series of reverses mean that the empire is now threatened with destruction. British forces have landed at Basra and are menacing Mesopotamia. The disastrous defeat at Sarikamish means that Anatolia is vulnerable to a Russian invasion. And the French and British naval attack on the Dardanelles forts on the 19th of February suggests they are planning an assault on Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire’s capital. As if to emphasise the threats faced by the Ottoman Empire, today the British and French navies again attack the forts at the mouth of the Dardanelles. This time they also land raiding parties to smash up the Turkish defences.
But the Young Turks who rule the Ottoman Empire are not going down without a fight. They start preparing their armed forces for a defensive war. They also turn their attention to ethnic groups within the empire whose loyalty is doubtful. The Armenian minority in Anatolia is seen as particularly troublesome. As Christians living in a Muslim empire their allegiance to the Ottoman Empire cannot be taken for granted. The Armenians are suspected, perhaps with some cause, of preferring the Russians to their Turkish masters.

Ismail Enver, Turkey’s minister of war, goes further. Armenian treachery, he asserts, is the reason why his army was destroyed when he led it against the Russians at Sarikamish. It was his own decision to lead men without proper winter clothing and equipment across freezing snow covered mountains in the depths of winter, but to Enver it was somehow the fault of the Armenians that his freezing and starving soldiers died in their thousands.
Enver now takes the first steps towards dealing with these troublesome Armenians. He issues orders that all Armenians in the Turkish army are to be disarmed and transferred to labour units. The Turkish army has many labourers attached to it, filling all kinds of non-combat roles. Enver is not however taking weapons from Armenian soldiers because the army needs more labourers. Rather, he is afraid that they will desert, taking their guns with them, and become pro-Russian guerillas. And there is another more sinister reason for disarming the Armenian soldiers, one that is understood by Enver’s subordinates without needing to be stated explicitly. The Armenians are being disarmed so that they can be killed.

German 1914 ethnographic map of Asia Minor and the Caucasus (Wikipedia)

Ethnicities of the Caucasus region (Mental Floss)

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