The Ottoman Armenian Tragedy is a Genuine Historic Controversy
Hew Strachan
Feroz Ahmad
Arend Jan Boekestijn
Brendon J. Cannon
Mary Schaeffer Conroy
Youssef Courbage
Paul Dumont
Bertil Duner
Gwynne Dyer
Edward J. Erickson
Philippe Fargues
Michael M. Gunter
Paul Henze
Eberhard Jäckel
Firuz Kazemzadeh
Yitzchak Kerem
William L. Langer
Bernard Lewis
Guenter Lewy
Heath W. Lowry
Andrew Mango
Robert Mantran
Justin McCarthy
Michael E. Meeker
Hikmet Ozdemir
Stephen Pope
Michael Radu
Jeremy Salt
Stanford Shaw
Norman Stone
Hew Strachan
Elizabeth-Anne Wheal
Brian G. Williams
Gilles Veinstein
Malcolm Yapp
Thierry Zarcone
Robert F. Zeidner

Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford.

Professor Hew Strachan is a Scottish military historian, well known for his work on the administration of the British Army and the history of the First World War. He was educated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge with a B.A., 1971 and M.A. 1975. Professor Strachan is Chichele Professor of the History of War at All Souls, Oxford University. He was Professor of Modern History at the University of Glasgow from 1992 to 2000. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Historical Society. He was appointed a deputy lieutenant of Tweeddale in 2006. He is a member of the Academic Advisory Panel of the Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power Studies. [info]

major publications

  • European armies and the conduct of war (London, 1983)
  • Wellington's legacy: The reform of the British Army 1830-54 (Manchester, 1984)
  • From Waterloo to Balaclava: Tactics, technology and the British Army (Cambridge, 1985)
  • The Politics of the British Army (Oxford, 1997)
  • The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War (Oxford, 1998)
  • The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms (Oxford, 2001)
  • The First World War: A New Illustrated History (London, 2003)
  • The First World War in Africa (Oxford, 2004)
  • Relevant publications: The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War (Oxford, 1998)
  • The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms (Oxford, 2001)
  • The First World War: A New Illustrated History (London, 2003)

Source: The First World War: Hew Strachan (New York, 2004)

"In 1894-6 Armenian revolutionary activity had culminated in violence which had been bloody and protracted. Moreover, it was a movement which enjoyed Russian patronage. In 1914 both Sazonov, the foreign minister, and the governor-general of the Caucasus sketched out plans to foment revolt. At least 150,000 Armenians who lived on the Russian side of the frontier were serving in the Tsar’s army. Enver persuaded himself that his defeat at Sarikamish had been due to three units of Armenian volunteers, who included men who had deserted from the Ottoman side. The Ottoman 3rd Army knew of the Russian intentions and anticipated problems as early as September. Its soldiers began murdering Armenians and plundering their villages in the first winter of the war. On 16 April 1915, as the Russians approached Lake Van, the region’s Ottoman administrator ordered the execution of five Armenian leaders. The Armenians in Van rose in rebellion, allegedly in self-defence. Within ten days about 600 leading members of the Armenian community had been rounded up and deported to Asia Minor.

…The best that could be said of the Armenians’ loyalty to the Ottoman Empire were characterized by attentisme, and the possibility of a rising in the Turkish rear was one which the Russians were ready to exploit. Significantly, the first note of international protest was prepared by Sazonov as early as 27 April, although it was not published until 24 May. In it he claimed that the populations of over a hundred villages had been massacred. He also said that the killings had been concerted by agents of the Ottoman government.

This became the crux. On 25 May 1915, Mehmed Talat, the minister of the interior, announced that Armenians living near the war zones would be deported to Syria and Mosul. His justifications for the decree were rooted in the needs of civil order and military necessity, and it was sanctioned by the Ottoman council of ministers on 30 May. The latter included provisions designed to safeguard the lives and property of those deported. But three days earlier the council had told all senior army commanders that, if they encountered armed resistance from the local population or ‘opposition to orders…designed for the defence of the state or the protection of public order’, they had ‘the authorisation and obligation to repress it immediately and to crush without mercy every attack and all resistance’.

It is impossible to say precisely how many Armenians died. Part of the problem is uncertainty as to how many were living in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 in the first place. Calculations range from 1.3 million to about 2.1 million. The difficulty of dispassionate analysis is compounded, rather than helped, by the readiness of Armenians and others to use the word ‘genocide’. In terms of scale of loss such a word may be appropriate: estimates approaching a million deaths are probably not wide of the mark. In terms of causation the issue is more complex. The initial violence was not centrally orchestrated, although it was indirectly sanctioned by the pan-Turkish flourishes of Enver and others. Once it had begun, it did, however, provoke the very insurrection that it had anticipated. The violence of war against the enemy without enabled, and was even seen to justify, extreme measures against the enemy within.

By this stage –late May 1915- the Turkish leadership was ready to give shape to the whole, to Turkify Anatolia and to finish with the Armenian problem. It defies probability to suppose that those on the spot did not take the instructions from the council of ministers as carte blanche for rape and murder. The hit squads of the Teskilat-i Mahsusa set the pace. This was most certainly not a judicial process, and it did not attempt to distinguish the innocent from the guilty or the combatant from the non-combatant. The American consul in Erzurum, Leslie Davis, reported from Kharput, the principal transit point, in July that ‘The Turks have already chosen the most pretty from among the children and young girls. They will serve as slaves, if they do not serve ends that are more vile’. He was struck by how few men he could see, and concluded that they had been killed on the road. Many thousands of Armenians also succumbed to famine and disease. Mortality among the 200,000 to 300,000 who fled to the comparative safety of Russia rose to perhaps 50 percent, thanks to cholera, dysentery and typhus. The Ottoman Empire, a backward state, unable to supply and transport its own army in the field, was in no state to organize large-scale deportations. The Armenians were put into camps without proper accommodation and adequate food. Syria, whither they were bound, was normally agriculturally self-sufficient, but in 1915 the harvest was poor and insufficient to feed even the Ottoman troops in the area. The situation worsened in the ensuing years of the war, the product of the allied blockade, maladministration, hoarding and speculation. By the end of 1918 mortality in the coastal towns of Lebanon may have reached 500,000." Pp. 112-114

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