31/12/1917 Chaos in Trebizond as the Russian army disintegrates #1917Live

The war against Turkey had gone well for Russia, but now the Bolsheviks have signed an armistice with the Turks, agreeing to return their gains since the war’s start. Russian forces are now withdrawing from the former frontline. The situation is becoming chaotic as the Russian army disintegrates, leaving a power vacuum in the countryside.

In the Black Sea port of Trebizond (also known as Trabzon), Russian troops are out of control, defying their officers to either commandeer ships to bring themselves home or engaging in riotous bacchanalia. The Russian army commanders in Trebizond declare martial law in an attempt to bring the disorders to an end, but the effort is futile; they no longer have any means with which to enforce their authority.

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Trebizond in more peaceful times (Karalahana – Turkey’s Black Sea Region: Old Trabzon photos)

18/12/1917 Russia and Turkey agree an armistice #1917Live

The Russians have already signed an armistice with the Germans and Austro-Hungarians and are about to begin negotiations for a peace treaty with them. Now they also sign an armistice with Turkish representatives at Erzincan. The Caucasus front against Turkey had been the one theatre of the war where things had gone well for the Russians, with considerable gains of territory achieved after repelling an initial Turkish invasion. Now, in keeping with Bolshevik plans to use peace negotiations to trigger revolution across the world, the Russians agree an armistice with the Turks based on the principle of no annexations and no indemnities. The Turks cannot believe their luck: after years of defeat they are about to recover all the lands they have lost.

In truth, the Russians do not really have much of an option. The Russian army in the Caucasus is beginning to disintegrate, gripped by the same revolutionary spirit that has consumed Russian armies to the north. Soldiers want to return home now to benefit from the recently announced land owners. They no longer want to fight and die or be told what to do by their former masters. But in Petrograd Lenin and his Bolshevik colleagues hope that the Turkish armistice is just a step on the road to world revolution.

8/8/1916 The Armenian calvary continues

The Turkish authorities continue their extermination of the Armenians. While many Armenians have been shot or otherwise executed, most are suffering a slow death from starvation, dehydration, sickness or exposure. The Turks have sent the Armenians on death marches from their homes in Anatolia to camps in the Syrian desert. Little or no food or shelter is provided to the Armenians while they are on the move. Once in the desert they find themselves left to die.

The extermination is not happening in secret. While the Turkish authorities are keen to deny that anything untoward is taking place, their abuse of the Armenians is being extensively reported. In neutral America the press carries frequent reports of the Armenians’ sufferings, relying on information gleaned from US diplomats in the Ottoman Empire or from journalists operating there.

Today the New York Times carries another report on the Armenian calvary based on a diplomatic source in the Turkish Empire. The paper notes that the source is not an American one, which may mean that the account derives ultimately from a German or Austro-Hungarian diplomat; many of Turkey’s allies have been shocked by what is happening. The report paints a disturbing picture.

“The witnesses have seen thousands of deported Armenians under tents in the open, in caravans on the march, descending the river in boats and in all phases of their miserable life. Only in a few places does the Government issue any rations, and those are quite insufficient. The people, therefore, themselves are forced to satisfy their hunger with food begged in that scanty land or found in the parched fields.

“Naturally, the death rate from starvation and sickness is very high and is increased by the brutal treatment of the authorities, whose bearing toward the exiles as they are being driven back and forth over the desert is not unlike that of slave drivers. With few exceptions no shelter of any kind is provided and the people coming from a cold climate are left under the scorching desert sun without food and water. Temporary relief can only be obtained by the few able to pay officials.”

image source (Wikipedia)

18/4/1916 Russian forces seize Trebizond; the scale of Turkey’s abuse of the Armenians becomes increasingly apparent

In eastern Anatolia the Turks have been on the back foot since the Russian capture of Erzurum. Russian advances are continuing, taking advantage of the Turks’s disarray and encountering little or no effective resistance. Today the ancient city of Trebizond (also known as Trabzon) falls, abandoned by the Turkish military.

Their victories should be a source of great rejoicing to the Russian forces, but their advances are leading to a shocking discovery. The territories they are advancing into used to house the Ottoman Empire’s thriving Armenian community, but now the Armenians are gone. Seeing them as disloyal and pro-Russian, the Turks are removing the Armenians from Anatolia. Some have been murdered en masse (several thousand of Trebizond’s Armenians have reportedly been driven into the sea or thrown overboard from boats). Most though have been deported from their homes and sent off on death marches, dying from exhaustion or lack of food and water while facing the constant threat of robbery, rape and murder from the ghouls who see the deportations as an opportunity for random cruelty and personal enrichment. The survivors of the death marches find themselves in remote concentration camps, where they are deprived of food, water and shelter, with no future ahead of them save a lingering death.

It seems also that the Armenians are not the only victims of the fear and loathing of Turkish authorities. Members of the Assyrian and Greek communities are also facing persecution and abuse, including murder.

The diplomats of Turkey’s German and Austro-Hungarian allies have reported the scale of the horror back to their respective capitals. The Germans have made some protests but they are wary of alienating Turkey and do not press the Turkish leaders too closely on the issue.

But blood will have blood. There are reports that the Russians are wreaking vengeance on the Turkish civilians in areas they have conquered.

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The surrender of Trebizond (Western Front Association)

Armenian Genocide (Mental Floss)

16/2/1916 Disaster for Turkey as Erzurum falls to Russia

Russian forces under General Yudenich are attacking the fortified Turkish town of Erzurum. A flanking attack allowed the Russians to attack unexpectedly from the north, throwing the Turks into disarray. Yesterday they began to flee Erzurum lest they be surrounded. Now Cossacks ride into Erzurum itself, followed by the rest of the Russians. The Russians capture some 5,000 enemy prisoners, with more likely to follow as they pursue the retreating enemy.

Erzurum was the lynchpin of Turkish defences in eastern Anatolia. Its fall is a disaster for the Turks, undermining their whole position in this theatre. The hasty retreat from Erzurum allows the Russians to capture large numbers of guns and other items of military equipment and other supplies. The Russians also capture several Turkish standards. Turkish losses of men are considerable; to the 5,000 men taken prisoner must be added another 10,000 casualties and as many as 10,000 who have deserted from the army.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Yudenich now prepares to press on and exploit the advantage his men have gained.

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Cossacks in Erzurum (Shot in the Dark)

15/2/1916 Erzurum: Yudenich smashes the hapless Turks

The Russian army is attacking the Turks in eastern Anatolia. After capturing the frontline town of Köprüköy, they have pressed on to Erzurum, lynchpin of Turkish defences in the region. Erzurum is heavily fortified and believed to be impregnable, but Russia’s Yudenich has sent his men on a flanking march to attack the town from the less well-protected north.

The Russian attack began on the 11th. Since then they have been picking off Erzurum’s forts one by one. After the first fort fell the Turks became increasingly demoralised, retreating into the town rather than resisting to the end.

Fighting continues around the perimeter, but now aerial reconnaissance reveals to Yudenich that the battle is as good as won. The Turks in Erzurum are packing up and pulling out, hoping to get away before they are surrounded by the Russians.

image source (Wikipedia)

11/2/1916 Erzurum: Russia attacks Turkey’s impregnable fortress

Russian forces under General Yudenich have defeated the Turks at Köprüköy in eastern Anatolia. Now the Russians move against the Turkish town of Erzurum. Erzurum is heavily fortified and believed by many to be impregnable. Yudenich however plans to show the Turks otherwise.

Instead of advancing directly on Erzurum from Köprüköy and attacking the strongest enemy defences, Yudenich sends his men on a flanking march to attack Erzurum from the more mountainous north of the city, where the defences are weaker. Learning from the Turkish disaster of Sarikamish last year, Yudenich has made careful efforts to keep his troops adequately supplied. He has had the railway extended from Sarikamish and has widened the road from Köprüköy to increase the number of motor vehicles it can carry. He has also brought in aircraft to provide aerial reconnaissance, a novelty on the Caucasus front.

Now the Russians attack. The Turks are stunned by the direction of the attack. In bitter hand to hand fighting the Russians seize one of Erzurum’s key outer forts, leaving the way clear for further gains tomorrow.