Young Turks Plot Armenian Genocide

Wikimedia Commons [1,2], Agaonline

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 168th installment in the series. Note: This article has been updated.

February 15, 1915: Young Turks Plot Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917, in which the Ottoman government killed around 1.5 million of its own subjects through massacres, forced marches, starvation and exposure, was unprecedented in its scale. But there were plenty of precedents in the history of the Ottoman Empire for violence against ethnic and religious groups, ordered or sanctioned by the state.

In the modern era these included the massacre of 20,000 Maronite Christians by Druze mobs in 1860; the massacre of up to 300,000 Armenians and 25,000 Assyrian Christians by Turkish and Kurdish paramilitary units and gangs in 1894-1896; communal violence by both Armenians and Azeris that left up to 10,000 in both communities dead in 1907; and the massacre of up to 30,000 Armenians by Turkish mobs in 1909. After the First Balkan War the Ottoman government also forcibly expelled around 200,000 Greeks from the coastal provinces of Asia Minor to the islands of the Aegean Sea in 1913-1914 (while 400,000 Muslim Ottoman subjects were also expelled from Europe by the victorious members of the Balkan League). State-sanctioned ethnic violence was also common in the neighboring Russian Empire, where the Tsarist government encouraged pogroms against Jews in hopes of driving them to emigrate.

In the Ottoman Empire all these violent campaigns had the single goal of producing a cohesive, ethnically homogenous Turkish stronghold covering Anatolia and parts of the Levant and southern Caucasus—areas famous (or notorious) throughout history for their ethnic diversity, due to their position at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. In short the idea of using violence to settle internal ethnic problems was nothing new.

The last straw, as far as the Ottoman government was concerned, were the Armenian reforms forced on the Ottoman Empire by Europe’s Great Powers in February 1914. The ruling Committee of Union and Progress (known in Europe as the “Young Turks”) feared—probably correctly—that these reforms would allow Russia to undermine Ottoman authority in Anatolia by encouraging the nationalist aspirations of the Armenians, who looked to their fellow Christians in Russia as patrons and protectors.

This threat to the Turkish heartland was unacceptable to the CUP, who had long suspected the Armenians of disloyalty and now believed they meant to trigger the final breakup of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time the Christian Armenians were also a stumbling block to the geopolitical aspirations of CUP leaders who wanted to unite the Ottoman Turks with their Muslim Turkic cousins in Central Asia, an ideology called “Pan-Turanism” (pan-Turkish nationalism).

As early as February 23, 1914, War Minister Enver Pasha (top, left) wrote a memorandum asserting “the non-Muslims had proven that they did not support the continued existence of the state. The salvation of the Ottoman State would be linked to stern measures against them.” The outbreak of the Great War just a few months later provided the CUP with a unique opportunity to cancel the reforms, along with the rest of the humiliating “capitulations” to the Great Powers, and settle the “Armenian question” once and for all.

The Young Turk triumvirate composed of Enver Pasha, Interior Minister Talaat Pasha (top, middle), and Navy Minister Djemal Pasha, were finally moved to action in February 1915 by reports that Armenian volunteers were helping the Russian army in the Caucasus, along with rumors (again, possibly true) that Armenian militants behind the lines were stockpiling weapons in preparation for an uprising to help the Russian advance.

In the second half of February 1915 Bahaettin Şakir Bey (top, right), a key figure in the Ottoman government’s shadowy secret police, the “Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa” or “Special Organization,” traveled from eastern Anatolia to Constantinople to warn the other CUP leaders about the alleged preparations for rebellion by Armenian “gangs.” Şakir argued that in light of “the behavior which the Armenians had exhibited towards Turkey and the support which they extended to the Russian army . . . one needed to fear the enemy within as much as the enemy beyond.”

Although few authenticated records of their meetings in February have survived (perhaps because the proceedings weren’t committed to paper in the first place; much of the supposed documentation is disputed) by the end of the month the CUP had agreed on the outlines of a plan for the total extermination of the empire’s Armenian population. The CUP put the plan into motion swiftly but subtly. The first priority was to disarm thousands of Armenian soldiers serving in the Ottoman Army, the most likely source of resistance; the most delicate step, this had to be done without arousing any suspicions about the measures to follow. Using his authority as war minister, on February 25, 1915 Enver Pasha issued an order for all Armenian soldiers to turn in their rifles and report to labor battalions, where they would supposedly be employed building military roads and similar projects.

Another key step was getting approval from the Ottoman Empire’s ally and patron Germany, and on March 18, 1915 Foreign Minister Halile Mentese visited Berlin to inform the Germans of their plans and ask for their support. This was potentially tricky matter, as German leaders might understandably have qualms about consigning fellow Christians to a gruesome fate. However Kaiser Wilhelm II (who oddly considered himself the protector of the Muslim world) was more than ready to acquiesce in any measures Germany’s ally might take to shore up their fragile empire; likewise, German military leaders were prepared to excuse almost anything on the grounds of military necessity. Although some German diplomats protested, top German officials were aware of the plans for genocide from the beginning, and remained supportive to the bitter end.

Over the next few months, the Ottoman Ministry of the Interior sent secret orders to the governors of the eastern provinces, delivered in person by “Responsible Secretaries,” with instructions about how, when, and where to carry out the “deportations” and mass killing of their Armenian populations. Most of the dirty work would be left to paramilitary units organized by the Special Organization, including hardened criminals recruited from prison. Anticipating objections from the Ottoman Parliament, on March 1 the CUP decided to suspend the legislative body indefinitely.

Tragically the Russian advance from the east, and the Allied naval assault on the Dardanelles beginning February 19, 1915, only served to hasten these preparations, as the CUP rushed to secure the Ottoman Empire’s strategic core in case Constantinople fell. In fact the first deportations, in the Çukurova district of the Adana province in southeast Anatolia, were already under way by late February—justified on the grounds that Armenians living along the Mediterranean coast were cooperating with the British navy. Meanwhile a purge of high-ranking Armenians was also under way: the Armenian second director of the Ottoman Bank, S. Padermadjian, was quietly murdered on February 10.

Indian Troops Mutiny in Singapore

Although the Central Powers never succeeded in their plan of fomenting large-scale colonial rebellions to undermine the British and French Empires, their hopes weren’t entirely implausible. Across Asia and Africa, many native subjects were understandably resentful of racially discriminatory policies implemented by high-handed colonial governments, and native troops were no more eager than their Western peers to be fed into the cauldron of modern warfare.

On February 15, 1915, around 850 Indian infantry soldiers mutinied in Singapore as the city’s large Chinese population was celebrating the lunar New Year. Taking advantage of this distraction, the mutineers seized control of the city, murdering a total of 47 British officers and civilians and freeing German prisoners-of-war in the hopes the latter would join their insurrection (most of the POWs wisely stayed on the sidelines).

The mutiny was short-lived, as British troops quickly regained control of the city with the help of landing parties from French, Japanese, and Russian ships; within a week it was all over. Meanwhile neighboring Malaysian potentates came to their imperial masters’ aid by hunting down fugitives who escaped to the mainland and tried to hide out in the jungles of the Malay Peninsula. But as the violent episode made clear, Britain and France had their hands full: between fighting an industrial war in Europe and policing far-flung empires, where simmering discontent threatened to boil over into open resistance, it’s no surprise their resources were stretched almost to the breaking point.

Note: This article has been updated. See author's note in comments.

See the previous installment or all entries.

The Psychology Behind Kids' L.O.L. Surprise! Doll Obsession

Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Isaac Larian, the founder and CEO of toymaker MGA Entertainment, is an insomniac. Fortunately for him, that inability to sleep forced him to get up out of bed one night—a move that ended up being worth $4 billion.

Larian’s company is the architect of L.O.L. Surprise!, a line of dolls with a clever conceit. The product, which retails for about $10 to $20, is encased in a ball-shaped plastic shell and buried under layers of packaging, forcing children to tear through a gauntlet of wrapping before they’re able to see it. The inspiration came on that highly profitable sleepless night, which Larian spent watching unboxing videos on YouTube. It resulted in the first toy made for a generation wired for delayed gratification.

The dolls first went on sale in test markets at select Target stores in late 2016. MGA shipped out 500,000 of them, all of which sold out within two months. A Cabbage Patch Kid-esque frenzy came the following year. By late 2018, L.O.L. Surprise! (the acronym stands for the fancifully redundant Little Outrageous Little) had moved 800 million units, accounted for seven of the top 10 toys sold in the U.S., and was named Toy of the Year by the Toy Association. Videos of kids and adults unboxing them garner millions of views on YouTube, which is precisely where Larian knew his marketing would be most effective.

A woman holds a L.O.L. Surprise doll and packaging in her hand
Cindy Ord, Getty Images for MGA Entertainment

The dolls themselves are nothing revolutionary. Once freed from their plastic prisons, they stare at their owner with doe-eyed expressions. Some “tinkle,” while others change color in water. They can be dressed in accessories found in the balls or paired with tiny pets (which also must be "unboxed"). Larger bundles, like last year’s $89.99 L.O.L. Bigger Surprise! capsule, feature a plethora of items, each individually wrapped. It took a writer from The New York Times 59 minutes to uncover everything inside.

This methodical excavation is what makes L.O.L. Surprise! so appealing to its pint-sized target audience. Though MGA was advised that kids wouldn’t want to buy something they couldn’t see, Larian and his executives had an instinctual understanding of what child development experts already knew: Kids like looking forward to things.

Dr. Rachel Barr, director of Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project, told The Atlantic that unboxing videos tickle the part of a child’s brain that enjoys anticipation. By age 4 or 5, they have a concept of “the future,” or events that will unfold somewhere other than the present. However, Barr said, they’re also wary of being scared by an unforeseen outcome. In an unboxing video, they know the payoff will be positive and not, say, a live tarantula.

L.O.L. Surprise! is engineered to prolong that anticipatory joy, with kids peeling away wrapping like an onion for up to 20 minutes at a time. The effect is not entirely novel—baseball card collectors have been buying and unwrapping card packs without knowing exactly what’s inside for decades—but paired with social media, MGA was able to strike oil. The dolls now have 350 licensees making everything from bed sheets to apparel. Collectors—or their parents—can buy a $199.99 doll house. So-called “boy toys” are now lurking inside the wrappers, with one, the mohawk-sporting Punk Boi, causing a mild stir for being what MGA calls “anatomically correct.” His tiny plastic genital area facilitates a peeing function.

Whether L.O.L. Surprise! bucks conventional toy trends and continues its popularity beyond a handful of holiday seasons remains to be seen. Already, MGA is pushing alternative products like Poopsie Slime Surprise, a unicorn that can be fed glitter and poops a viscous green slime. An official unboxing video has been viewed 4.2 million times and counting.

The 8 Most Anticipated Horror Movies of 2019

Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Michele K. Short, Universal Pictures

Between Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and Halloween, 2018 was a killer year for horror moviesand 2019 is shaping up to be just as impressive. While remakes seem to be dominating the schedule in the coming months, there are plenty of sequels, adaptations, and even a few promising original titles coming out as well. Here are some of the scary movies we're most looking forward to seeing this year.

1. Us

In 2017, Jordan Peele revolutionized the horror genre with Get Out. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker plans to do the same again with Us, which features a predominantly black cast—a rarity for a horror movie. "I dedicated a lot of myself to creating a new horror mythology and a new monster," Peele said of the film. "I think that monsters and stories about monsters are our best ways of getting at deeper truths and facing our fears as a society ... It’s also important to note that this movie, unlike Get Out, is not about race. It is instead about something I feel has become an undeniable truth. That is the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies." Us, which stars Elisabeth Moss and Lupita Nyong'o, arrives in theaters on March 22, 2019.

2. IT: Chapter 2

Stephen King fans were thrilled with 2017's IT, the second adaptation of the horror master's beloved 1986 novel. Andy Muschietti is sitting in the director's chair again for the second chapter, which will follow the Losers Club as they return to Derry, Maine in their adult years. While Bill Skarsgård will reprise his role as Pennywise, impressive new additions to the cast include Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and James McAvoy. The film debuts on September 6, 2019.

3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you’ve been a horror fiend since childhood, you’ll no doubt remember Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. The books included memorable illustrations by Stephen Gammell, some of which no doubt haunted many children’s nightmares. The film adaptation will be released on August 9, 2019.

4. Zombieland 2

Venom director Ruben Fleischer's feature debut, 2009's Zombieland, was an instant hit with both horror and comedy fans. And they've been waiting 10 years for a sequel. Finally, we’ll be getting a second film this year with Fleischer directing and Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and even Bill Murray all confirmed to return. Zombieland 2 is set to hit theaters on October 11, 2019.

5. Happy Death Day 2U

The hilariously bad-but-fun Happy Death Day (2017) surprised audiences with how flat-out entertaining it was, so much so that fans were thrilled to hear there were plans for a sequel. Much like the original movie, the second film will follow protagonist Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she’s killed every single day. But this time, the killer is coming for her friends, too. Happy Death Day 2U premieres on February 14, 2019.

6. Pet Sematary

Though Mary Lambert's original Pet Sematary (1989) was not met with much critical acclaim, fans of the Stephen King novel were pleased with the adaptation, and are excited to see the story come to life again. The remake, which is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and stars John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, debuts on April 5, 2019.

7. Child’s Play

When rumors began swirling that there was going to be another Chucky movie, and that it would be a remake of the original Child’s Play at that, people—including the original series creator Don Mancini—didn't initially seem too excited.

But as more details—including a cast list that includes Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry—were made public, interest in the project seemed to grow. Child’s Play hits theaters June 21, 2019.

8. The Prodigy

Creepy kids will never fail to make terrifying horror movie villains. In The Prodigy, Taylor Schilling’s character discovers something supernatural might be happening to her son when he starts acting as if he’s possessed. (Spoiler alert: He probably is). The film will be released on February 8, 2019.

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