EgyptAir flight MS804

The German Railway, the American Hospital and the Armenian Genocide

Nestled in the highest reaches of the Taurus Mountains that ring the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea, in 1915 a group of Armenians still lived in the last remaining fragment of a medieval Armenian kingdom. In their inaccessible enclave, this holdout from a remote past dating to the time of the Crusades, Armenians of the town called Zeytun proudly retained their sense of independence. All around them, and all across the historic provinces of Armenia, Armenians had submitted to Islamic rule. Zeytun singularly held out. Even its autonomy was recognized by the Ottoman Turkish sultans who in the early 1500s extended their empire into the region known as Cilicia.

As a method for securing their dominion, Islamic rulers typically required the disarming of Christians. Because they were never obligated to submit to this requirement, the Armenians of Zeytun faced constant pressure. Periodically assaulted by neighboring Muslim groups, again and again they demonstrated a capacity to defend themselves against all attempts to subdue their tiny alpine principality and retained their rights to local self-rule. In the mid-19th century, the Ottoman Empire embarked upon policies of direct administration, bureaucratic control, and suppression of minorities. However, unlike Armenians elsewhere across the Ottoman state who increasingly faced persecution and massacres during the autocratic rule of the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II (1876-1909), the Armenians of Zeytun maintained their city and held off the forces sent to suppress their way of life.

When the Young Turk radicals, under the leadership of Enver, Talaat, and Jemal, established dictatorial rule in 1913, they embarked upon a transformation of Ottoman society by promoting Turkism, a form of nationalism with the core principle of “Turkey for the Turks” that sought to reduce and exclude the role of Christian populations in the Ottoman Empire.

Among the plans they devised was also the eradication of the Armenian population. As they went about organizing their scheme, one of the questions on the minds of the Young Turk leaders was the reaction of this most resistant group. In peacetime the Armenians of Zeytun had been prepared to defy the Ottoman government’s lawless conduct if it meant preventing massacre and to combat their assailants in order to defend life and liberty. By the second decade of the 20th century, 19th-century-style heroics were long behind them, and the configuration of forces that preserved a precarious societal balance in the mountain range had substantially altered.

In alliance with Germany, by entering in October 1914 the war then being waged on the European continent, the Young Turk regime effectively expanded the war into a global conflict.

Even in their remote fastness Zeytun Armenians were in full grasp of the state of anxiety created by the scale of the First World War. Appreciating the risks they faced, they sought to defuse tensions by cooperating with the government, unaware that the Young Turk dictatorship was already seeking occasion to proceed with the implementation of their plans to deport and eradicate the Armenians from their homeland. In contrast, Young Turk offi cials escalated their provocations through house searches, the abuse of women, arbitrary arrests, false accusations, and harsh imprisonments.

With wounded pride, the divided community resisted providing Turkish offi cials a pretext for attacking its population. As the oppression of the regional authorities increased, the central government’s decision to disarm the Armenian conscripts in the Ottoman army especially alarmed the inhabitants of Zeytun, who were more alert to the implications of this new policy than the Armenian population at large.

With their hometown surrounded by an armed Muslim population consisting of Turks and Kurds pressing upon the Armenian enclave, and now especially distrustful of the Young Turk government which had opted for war, dozens of Zeytun recruits deserted their units and sought shelter around their hometown. When they gathered in a monastery further above the town, the Young Turk regime seized the moment to declare Armenians in a state of rebellion and began a region-wide systematic deportation.

The April 1915 deportation of the Armenians of Zeytun marked a watershed moment in the unfolding of the Armenian Genocide. The town of Zeytun was emptied of its Armenian population in a matter of days. To Armenians, who as Christians were assigned second-class citizenship, and inferiority as infi dels in the eyes of Muslims, Zeytun had remained a symbol of the alternative to foreign domination. Its submission after centuries of stubborn resistance sent ripples across the Armenian community of the Ottoman Empire. To the Young Turks, the elimination of Zeytun insured their supremacy and signaled that the Armenian population would succumb to their broader policy of removal, dispossession, and extermination՛՛:

The Armenian Assembly of America
Armweeklynews [04.06.2016]
The German Railway, the American Hospital and the Armenian Genocide