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The Role of Turkish Physicians i0n the World War i Genocide of Ottoman Armenians

The Role of Turkish Physicians i0n the World War i Genocide of Ottoman Armenians

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Holocaust and
Genoade
Studies,
Vo\
1,No 2,pp 169-192,1986 8756-6583/86 $3 00+0 00Printed
in
Great Britain Pergamon Journals Ltd
THE ROLE OF TURKISH PHYSICIANS IN THE WORLD WAR IGENOCIDE OF OTTOMAN ARMENIANS
VAHAKN N. DADRIAN
State University of New York
Geneseo
Abstract
— The research which has been done into the Turkish genocide ofArmenians in World War I has seldom dealt with the identities of the perpetrators.This study reveals the crucial role played by Turkish physicians in planning andcarrying out this genocide. These physicians were influential in propagating thenationalist ideological justifications for this cnme, as well as in organizing andleading units which killed Armenians through mass deportations, shooting, medicalmurder, medical experiments and other means. The evidence raises manydisturbing questions regarding medical ethics when wedded to a radical, exclusivenationalist ideology
INTRODUCTIONVery little has been written about the World War I Turkish genocide of the Armenians,a crime still denied by official Turkish statesmen and obscured by denial of access to therelevant archival material. This preliminary and incomplete study relies primarily onEuropean material, especially British intelligence reports from the 1918-21 period of theirmilitary occupation of Turkey and German eyewitness accounts. Germany's wartimealliance and friendship with the Ottoman Empire lends a particular importance to theseaccounts. Other sources include American reports, mostly from physicians and nurses,
1
and the trial records and documents of the Turkish Military Tribunal of December 1918 toMay 1919, which set out to identify and punish the perpetrators. Although there arenumerous Armenian accounts which are invaluable to the research of this history, theyhave not been heavily relied upon in order to avoid any suspicion of bias.All these sources point to the same disturbing facts regarding the framers, organizersand leading perpetrators of the genocide of the Armenians: doctors in particular, andmedical personnel in general, played a central role in the entire process. Turkishphysicians testifying before the Turkish Military Tribunal, and in public accounts relatednumerous stories of their colleagues poisoning Armenians, drowning them at sea, havingthem butchered and performing medical experiments on them (ostensibly for the good ofmankind). Such systematic medical murder would today naturally be associated with Nazidoctors dunng the Holocaust. On the strength of the material presented here, it seems theyhad their precursors in the Ottoman Empire.Turkish doctors were not only involved in medical murder during the Armeniangenocide, but also in the very planning of the systematic murder. Foremost among thesewere Drs. Nazim and Behaeddin Sakir, the two dominant figures of the Supreme Directorateof the Central Committee of the ruling Ittihad party, which came to power in 1908.
2
It wasthe Central Committee which set the ideological tone and political programme of this party,while the Supreme Directorate served as a sort of Pohtbureau charting the course of theOttoman Empire's external and internal affairs.
169
 
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WORLD WAR I ARMENIAN GENOCIDE 171
Both Nazim and Sakir had received their medical education in Istanbul, with Nazimgetting additional training in Paris where, as political exiles, the two doctors were preparingthe ground to overthrow the regime of Abdul Hamid. They helped precipitate the YoungTurk revolution in 1908, and thereafter became permanent fixtures in the leadership of theparty. They achieved their positions of decisive power in the 1912-18 period, during whichtime they exercised their authority from behind the scenes (except for three months duringwhich Dr. Nazim served as Minister of Education). During the post-revolutionaryperiod,Dr.Nazim briefly served as Chief Physician at Soloniki Municipal Hospital, while Dr. §akir wasProfessor of Legal (Ethical) Medicine at Istanbul Medical School.In the pre- and post-revolutionary period, they had acquired considerable expenencein forging the Ittihad party into an instrument for the homogenization of Turkey, resolutelycombatting various nationalities of the Empire who resisted assimilation and sought topreserve their ethnic identity. That cumulative experience has a bearing upon theconception, organization and implementation of a scheme of wartime genocide aimed atthe Armenians, whose selection as a target for comprehensive destruction was influencedby several factors. These included a history of protracted Turko-Armenian conflict,including episodic Turkish massacres, the demographic vulnerability of the Armenianpopulation and the progressive dismantling of the Empire through a series of armedstruggles as a result of which a host of nationalities, aided by European powers, extricatedthemselves from Ottoman oppression. As one student of the period observed, by 1913 'theAlbanians, Greeks and Slavs' were no longer subject nationalities: 'only the Armeniansand Arabs remained'.
3
The sway of the pan-Turanist strain in Turkish nationalism, seekingto unify all Turkic peoples under Ottoman rule, somewhat eclipsed the pan-Islamic aspectof it. This prompted the Ittihadists to focus their attention on eastern Turkey, the Caucasusand beyond, and relegate Arabistan to relative insignificance. Armenians in this respectwere the hated roadblock, and the absence of a parent state to intervene on their behalfrendered them even more vulnerable.As the proceedings of the 1919-20 Turkish courts-martial revealed, these two doctorsplayed a pivotal role in the formation, deployment and direction of the Special Organizationunits, the key, lethal instrument in the destruction of the Armenians. Its ranks were filledalmost entirely by 'bloodthirsty murderers', criminals who through special dispensation,issuing jointly from the Ministries of Justice and the Interior, were released from the manyprisons of the Empire and were organized into killer units consisting of fifty to two hundredmen each under the label of 'cete', denoting a combination of roles associated withvolunteers and brigands. They were led by a special group of officers who were graduatesof the Ottoman War Academy.
4
The series of indictments and verdicts by the Turkish Military Tribunal emphasize thispivotal role played by the two doctors. The key indictment read in court on 28 Apnl 1919,cites Dr. Nazim eight times, seven of which portray him as a principal organizer of theSpecial Organization killer units.
5
Though many of these units initially were employed asguerillas against Russia on the Caucasian border regions, the court maintained in theidictment that "these cnminals and outlaws' were mainly organized for 'massacring anddestroying the deportee convoys' of the Armenians and that other claims were pretences'used to deceive gullible people'. The indictment cites a 15 July 1915 cable from theGovernor or Erzurum province describing the 'gendarmes and brigands operating underthe name of Special Organization' as perpetrators of 'assaults and attacks'.
6
The eighthreference to Dr. Nazim clearly cites him as one of the ultimate decision-makers andarchitects of the genocide. He is quoted as saying that the anti-Armenian measures were

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