REAL TURKISH HEROES OF 1915

TURKEY | AUGUST 1, 2013 1:21 PM
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By Raffi Bedrosyan

Germany has decided to name several neighborhoods, streets, buildings
and public schools in Berlin and other German cities after Adolf
Hitler and other Nazi heroes.

If this revelation were to be true, how would you react? How do you
think Germans would react? How do you think Jews still living in
Germany would react? My guess is you, the Germans and the Jews would
all find it inconceivable, offensive and unacceptable.

And yet, it is true, acceptable and inoffensive in Turkey to name
several neighborhoods, streets and schools of Istanbul and other
Turkish cities after Talaat Pasha and other Ittihat ve Terakki
"heroes," who were not only the planners and perpetrators of the 1915
annihilation of the Armenian citizens of the Ottoman empire, but also
the government leaders responsible for the loss of the Ottoman empire
itself. At last count, there were eight officially-named Talaat Pasha
neighborhoods or districts, 38 Talaat Pasha streets or boulevards,
seven Talaat Pasha Public Schools, six Talaat Pasha Buildings and
two Talaat Pasha Mosques, scattered around Istanbul, Ankara and other
cities. After his assassination in 1922, he was originally interred in
Berlin, Germany, but his remains were transferred in 1943 to Istanbul
by the Nazis attempting to appease the Turks, and re-buried with full
military honors at the Infinite Freedom Hill Cemetery in Istanbul. The
other notorious Ittihad ve Terakki leader Enver Pasha's remains were
also transferred in 1996 from Tajikistan and re-buried beside Talaat,
with full military honors, attended by Turkish President Suleyman
Demirel and other dignitaries. Is this hero worship misguided or
deliberate? Is the denial of the 1915 events a state policy only,
or also unquestionably and wholeheartedly accepted by the Turkish
public, brainwashed by the state version of history?

Undoubtedly, there was mass participation in the genocide committed
by the Ittihadist leaders, resulting in the removal of Armenians
from their homeland of 3,000 years, and the immediate transfer of
Armenian wealth, property and possessions to the Turkish and Kurdish
general public, as well as thousands of government officials. And yet,
despite the mass participation and hero worship for the leaders of
these "crimes against humanity," there were also a significant number
of ordinary Turks and Kurds, and several government officials who
refused to participate in the massacres and plunders, and instead,
tried to prevent them. There is complete silence and ignorance in
Turkey about these righteous Turkish officials, who refused to follow
the government orders to destroy the Armenian people, and instead,
tried to save and protect them, and paid dearly for their actions,
resulting in the loss of their positions, or even their lives as
a consequence.

This article will cite some examples about these real heroes.

Celal Bey was governor of Konya, a vast central Anatolian province,
and a key concentration point for the Armenian deportation routes from
the north and west Anatolia on the way to the Syrian desert. He knew
exactly what the fate would be for the Armenians on the deportation
routes, or if they survived the deportations and reached Der Zor,
because he was previously governor of Aleppo and had witnessed the
atrocities against the Armenians there. He had tried to reason with
the Ittihad ve Terakki leaders that there was absolutely no Armenian
revolt in Anatolia nor Aleppo, and that there was no justification
for the mass deportations. However, one of his subordinates in Marash
had inflamed the situation by arresting and executing several Marash
Armenians, triggering a resistance by the Armenians. As a result, Celal
Bey was removed from his governor's post in Aleppo and transferred
to Konya. He refused to arrange for the deportation of the Konya
Armenians, despite repeated orders from Istanbul. He even managed to
keep and protect some of the Armenians deported from other districts
arriving in Konya. By the time he was removed from his post in October
1915, he had saved thousands of Armenian lives. In his memoirs about
the Konya governorship, he likened himself to "a person sitting beside
a river, with absolutely no means of rescuing anyone from it. Blood
was flowing down the river, with thousands of innocent children,
irreproachable old men, and helpless women streaming down the river
towards oblivion. Anyone I could save with my bare hands, I saved,
and the rest went down the river, never to return."

Hasan Mazhar Bey was governor of Ankara, who protected the Ankara
Armenian community by refusing to follow the deportation orders,
stating that "I am a Vali (Governor), not a bandit. I cannot do this.

Let someone else come and sit in my chair to carry out these orders."

He was removed from his post in August 1915.

Faik Ali (Ozansoy) Bey was governor of Kutahya, another central
Anatolian province. When the deportation order for the Kutahya
Armenians was issued from Istanbul, he refused to implement it, and
on the contrary, he gave orders to keep and treat well the deported
Armenians arriving in Kutahya from elsewhere. As he was summoned to
Istanbul to answer for his subordination, the police chief of Kutahya,
Kemal Bey, took this opportunity to threaten the local Armenians
to either convert to Islam or to face deportation. The Armenians
decided to convert. When Faik Ali Bey returned, he was enraged, he
removed the police chief from his post, and asked the Armenians if
they still wished to convert to Islam. They all decided to remain as
Christian Armenians except one. Faik Ali's brother was an influential
and well-known poet, Suleyman Nazif Bey, who urged his brother not to
participate in the barbarianism and not to stain his family name. Faik
Ali Bey was not removed from his post despite his offers of resignation
and he ended up protecting the entire Armenian population of Kutahya,
except for the one who converted to Islam, who was deported.

Mustafa Bey (Azizoglu) was district governor of Malatya, a transit
point on the deportation route. Although he was unable to prevent the
deportations, he managed to hide several Armenians in his own home. He
was murdered by his own son, a zealous member of the Ittihat Terakki
Party, for 'looking after infidels (gavours)'.

Other government officials who defied the deportation orders included
Reshit Pasha, governor of Kastamonu; Tahsin Bey, governor of Erzurum;
Ferit Bey, governor of Basra; Mehmet Cemal Bey, district governor of
Yozgat and Sabit Bey, district governor of Batman. These officials
were eventually removed from their posts and replaced by more obedient
civil servants, who completed the task of eliminating the Armenians
from these locations.

One of the most tragic stories of unsung heroes saving the Armenians
is about Huseyin Nesimi Bey, mayor of Lice, a town near Diyarbakir.

Diyarbakir Governor Reshit Bey was in the process of organizing the
most ruthless destruction of Armenians in the Diyarbakir region, not
even bothering with deportation but quick massacre of all the Armenians
immediately outside the city limits. Meanwhile, Huseyin Nesimi dared
to keep and protect the Lice Armenians, numbering 5,980 souls. Reshit
summoned Huseyin Nesimi to Diyarbakir for a meeting, but arranged
to have his Circassian militant guard Haroun intercept him en route
to Diyarbakir. On June 15, 1915, Haroun murdered the mayor and threw
him into the ditch beside the road. Since then, the murder location,
halfway between Lice and Diyarbakir, has become known as "Turbe-i
Kaymakam" (Mayor's Grave). Turkish records document this murder as
"Mayor killed by Armenian militants." In an ironic twist, or as history
repeats itself, the Turkish state army attacked Lice in October 1993,
supposedly going after Kurdish rebel militants, but ended up burning
down the entire town, killing the civilian population as well. This
act became the first case taken to the European Human Rights Court by
the Kurds, resulting in a compensation of 2.5 million pound sterling
against the Turkish state. At the same time, several wealthy Kurdish
businessmen were targeted for assassination and murdered by the then
Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. One of the victims was a man
named Behcet Canturk, whose mother was an Armenian orphan girl who
had managed to survive the Lice massacres of 1915.

Diyarbakir Governor Reshit was also responsible for firing and
murdering several other government officials in the Diyarbakir region,
who had defied the deportation orders for the Armenians. Chermik mayor
Mehmet Hamdi Bey, Savur mayor Mehmet Ali Bey, Silvan mayor Ibrahim
Hakki Bey, Mardin mayors Hilmi Bey, followed by Shefik Bey were all
fired in mid to late 1915, for refusing to deport the Armenians.

Another official named Nuri Bey, Mayor of first Midyat and then Derik,
an all Armenian town near Mardin, was also fired by the Diyarbakir
Governor Reshit Bey, and subsequently murdered by his henchmen. The
murder of the mayor of Derik was then blamed on Armenian rebels,
resulting in rounding up and execution of all Armenian males in Derik,
followed by the deportation of the women and children.

The names of these brave men are not in the history books. If mentioned
at all, from the perspective of the official Turkish version of
history, they are labelled as 'traitors'. While the state and masses
committed a huge crime, while the crime became a part of daily life,
these men rejected to participate in the genocidal campaign, based
on individual remorse and conscience, despite the temptations of
enriching themselves like the rest of the government officials. These
few virtuous men, as well as a significant number of ordinary Turks
and Kurds, defied the orders to eliminate the Armenians, by keeping and
protecting them. They are real heroes, representing a Turkish version
of characters similar to the ones in the movies 'Schindler's List'
or 'Hotel Rwanda'. Citizens of Turkey have two choices today when
remembering their forefathers as heroes, either go with the mass
murderers and plunderers who committed 'crimes against humanity',
or the virtuous human beings with a clear conscience who tried to
prevent the 'crimes against humanity'. Getting to know these real
heroes will help Turks break loose from the chains of brainwashed
history over four generations, and confront the realities of 1915.

Selected sources:

Tuncay Opcin, 'Ermenilere Kol Kanat Gerdiler (They protected the
Armenians)', Yeni Aktuel, 2007, Issue 142

Ayse Hur, '1915 Ermeni soykiriminda kotuler ve iyiler (The good and
the bad in the 1915 Armenian Genocide)', Radikal newspaper, 29.04.2013

Seyhmus Diken, 'Kaymakam Ermeniydi, Oldurduler... (The Mayor was
Armenian, they killed him...)', Bianet, 23.04.2011

Orhan Cengiz, '1915: Heroes and Murderers', Cihan News Agency,
02.11.2012

(Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer as well as a concert pianist,
living in Toronto, Canada. For the past several years, proceeds from
his concerts and two CDs have been donated to the construction of
school, highway, water, and gas distribution projects in Armenia
and Karabagh-projects in which he has also participated as a
voluntary engineer. Bedrosyan was involved in organizing the Surp
Giragos Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd Church reconstruction project, and in
promoting the significance of this historic project worldwide as the
first Armenian reclaim of church properties in Anatolia after 1915. In
September 2012, he gave the first Armenian piano concert in the Surp
Giragos Church since 1915.)

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