Nearly a century ago and through 61 criminal court proceedings the Istanbul Courts-Martial had already prosecuted some 300 Young Turk Ittihadist chieftains accused of complicity in the massacres of 1915. Even though they did not produce any practically significant results, they nevertheless led to the revelation of a large mass of documentary evidence.
The volume under discussion is titled The Court-Martial Proceedings of the Military Tribunal 1919-1922 (Tehcir ve Taktil. Divan-. Harb-. .rfi Zab.tlar.. 1919-1922). Compiled jointly by Vahakn Dadrian and Taner Akçam. Istanbul, Bilgi University Press, 2010, 2d edition, 733 pp.
As noted in the Preface by the two authors, despite the fact that some 100 years have passed since the tragedy, the withholding and concealment of the court records relative to the judicial proceedings is but a paramount fact indicative of the importance of their contents. The silence and fear associated with the disclosure of these proceedings is clearly illustrated in this prefatory statement. This state of mind bespeaks of a design to foil any attempt to unravel the concealed aspects of the tragedy of 1915.
The present attempt to acquaint with potential readers, involves a book comprising the record of the proceedings of the criminal trials relative to the World War I genocide. Launched in November 1918, the Courts-Martial set forth to prosecute the Ittihadist leaders under the charges of a) entering World War I, b) massacre against the Christian minorities: primarily the Armenians, c) illegitimate and unlawful state transactions. Following 62 court proceedings in the period between 1919 and 1922, 20 death verdicts were issued but only 3 of them could be actually executed. There is the following conclusive observation in the work of Vahakn N. Dadrian, the world renowned expert on genocidology.
“Even though belated in their initiation and thus futile in essence, some Armenian political leaders attempted to emulate the independence-oriented revolutionary drives and tactics of the European nations in the Balkans. Notwithstanding the role of some other ancillary factors, the Armenians having been deprived of external help, ended up suffering a most horrible failure.”
In general the Armenians continue to circumvent and overlook this aspect of the problem-deliberately. At issue here is the inability of the Armenian leadership cadres to apply standards of statesmanship in their thinking as they failed to grasp the importance of the principle of raison d’fetat, i.e, the justification of the existence and function of the state as an institution. The fact to consider is that a state, i.e., a government, can only pursue a gmodernh system of governance through which strictly self-interest-policies can be adopted. These leadership shortcomings led to the rise of opportunities through which the Ittihadists set out to carry out their policy of annihilation.
Continuing, Dadrian added the following:
“Aware of the vulnerability of the Armenians and of the resulting opportunities to profit from it, the Turkish leaders pounced upon the Armenians and crushed them with boundless fury and vindictiveness. It appears that the the Turkish leaders’ apprehension of issuing from a process of gradual disintegration of their Empire, coupled with a cumulative sense of anger and irritability, led to the eruption of a lethal anti-Armenian rage. The Armenian revolutionary movement and the ensuing period of Armenian Reforms proved as catalysts in this respect.”
As it happened in the period of Abdul Hamid era massacres, the consequences of the February 1914 Armenian Reform Agreement, through which the Ittihadist regime was compelled to embrace a historically renewed scheme of Armenian Reform, proved cataclysmic as these reforms helped precipitate the great catastrophe. To refer to Dadrian again:
“Without exaggeration one may assert that the onset of this delicate phase of evolving political developments proved to be the death warrant of the Armenian people, comparable to the issuance of a ferman. Demands for “equality of rights,” then “semi-autonomy”, to be followed by “complete autonomy” were signposts heralding the onset of a replica of the Balkan model of emancipation from Ottoman rule. Intent on avoiding a duplication of this Balkan syndrome, the Ittihadist leaders resolved to seek and apply a radical solution to the problem. This meant the adoption of the Hamidian precept, namely to eliminate the Armenians themselves.”
With the onset of World War I the requisite conditions for the implementation of these precepts were at hand. Two existing conditions served to facilitate that task, namely, the administrative astuteness of the perpetrators and the battle-tested martial aptitudes of the Ottoman army. According to Dadrian, this bold Turkish undertaking was held to be realizable and affordable on account of a paramount factor characterizing the aftermath of the late nineteencentury series of Abdul Hamid era massacres, i.e. impunity. It is precisely for this reason that it is impossible to fully grasp the World War I Armenian Genocide without fully taking into account this problem of impunity attending the antecedents of that Genocide.
Commenting on the courts-martial that were held in the period between 1919 and 1922, Dadrian offers the following comment:
“The criminal prosecution of high-ranking state functionaries, and government officials identified with the Ittihad political party, was a highly noteworthy event. It was likewise remarkable that prominent Turkish witnesses testified for the benefit of Armenian victims as they demanded punitive justice for the criminally incriminated perpetrators. It was likewise most remarkable that for the first time in Ottoman-Turkish high-ranking politicians and military officers, in total disregard of the risks involved, dared to testify on behalf of the Armenian victims.”
There is much semblance between these courts-martial, on the one hand, and the contemporary Ergenekon trial series in the modern Republic of Turkey, on the other. The Armistice-period Turkish liberal press rather extensively covered these courts-martial proceedings, especially Sabah, Alemdar, Hadisat, Ileri, Ikdam, Zaman and Yeni Gazete. Counterposed to these, were a band of those newspapers that were identified with or sympathetic to Ittihad. The fact remains, however, that the disinformation and the slanders they put forth could not minimize the critical import of the layout of original official documents and first-hand eyewitness accounts.

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