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.

10 Bold Breaking Bad Fan Theories

Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.
Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.
Ben Leuner, AMC

It’s been nearly six years since Breaking Bad went out in a blaze of gunfire, but fans still haven’t stopped thinking about the award-winning crime drama. What really happened to Walter White in the series finale? What’s the backstory on Gus Fring? And what did Jesse Pinkman’s doodles mean?

While El Camino, Vince Gilligan's new Breaking Bad movie, offers definitive answers to at least one of these questions, these fan theories offer some alternative answers—even if they strain the limits of logic and sanity along the way. Read on to discover the surprising source of Walt’s cancer diagnosis, and why pink is always bad news.

1. Walter White picks up traits from the people he kills.

Walter White is an unpredictable guy, but he’s weirdly consistent on one thing: After he kills someone, he kind of copies them. Remember how Krazy-8 liked his sandwiches without the crust? After Walt murdered him, he started eating crustless PB&Js. Walt also lifted Mike Ehrmantraut’s drink order and Gus Fring’s car, leading many fans to wonder if Walt steals personal characteristics from the people he kills.

2. Gus Fring worked for the CIA.

Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda) in Breaking Bad
Giancarlo Esposito and Javier Grajeda in Breaking Bad.
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Who was Gus Fring before he became the ruthless leader of a meth/fried chicken empire? Well, we know he’s from Chile. We also know that any records of his time there are gone. And we know that cartel kingpin Don Eladio refused to kill him when he had the chance. Since Don Eladio has no qualms about eliminating the competition, Gus must have some form of protection. Could it be from the U.S. government? A detailed Reddit theory suggests that Gus was once a Chilean aristocrat who helped the CIA install the dictator Augusto Pinochet in power. Once Pinochet became a liability, Gus went to Mexico at the CIA’s behest to infiltrate a drug cartel. His alliance with U.S. intelligence kept him alive even as his work got more violent, and helped him bypass the normal immigration issues you'd typically encounter when you’ve murdered a bunch of people.

3. Madrigal built defective air filters that gave Walter white cancer.

Madrigal Electromotive is a corporation with varied interests. The German parent company of Los Pollos Hermanos dabbles in shipping, fast food, and industrial equipment … including air filters. According to one fan theory, Gray Matter—the company Walter White co-founded with Elliott Schwartz—purchased defective air filters from Madrigal and installed them while Walt still worked at the company. The filters ultimately caused Walt’s lung cancer, pushing him into the illegal drug trade and, eventually, business with Madrigal.

4. Color is a crucial element in the series.

Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) and Hank Schrader (Dean Norris)
Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris as Marie and Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad.
Ben Leuner, AMC

Color is a code on Breaking Bad. When a character chooses drab tones, they’re usually going through something, like withdrawal (Jesse) or chemo (Walt). Their wardrobe might turn darker as their stories skew darker—like when Marie ditched her trademark purple for black while she was under protective custody. Also, pink signals death, whether it’s on a teddy bear or Saul Goodman’s button down shirt.

5. Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead exist in the same universe.

Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead both aired on AMC, but according to fans, that’s not all they have in common. There’s an exhaustive body of evidence connecting the two shows—and one of the biggest links is Blue Sky. The distinctively-colored crystal meth is Walt and Jesse’s calling card on Breaking Bad, but it’s also Merle Dixon’s drug of choice on The Walking Dead. Coincidentally, his drug dealer (“a janky little white guy” who says “bitch”) sounds a lot like Jesse.

6. Walter white froze to death and hallucinated Breaking Bad's ending.

Bryan Cranston in the 'Breaking Bad' series finale
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In her review of the Breaking Bad series finale “Felina,” The New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum suggested an alternate ending in which Walt died an episode earlier, as the police surrounded his car in New Hampshire. He could’ve frozen to death “behind the wheel of a car he couldn’t start,” she theorized, and hallucinated the dramatic final shootout in “Felina” in his dying moments. This reading has gained traction with multiple fans, including SNL alum Norm Macdonald.

7. Jesse’s superheroes are a peek into his inner psyche.

In season 2 of Breaking Bad, we discover that Jesse Pinkman is a part-time artist. He sketches his own superheroes, including Backwardo/Rewindo (who can run backwards so fast he rewinds time), Hoverman (who floats above the ground), and Kanga-Man (who has a sidekick in his “pouch”). The characters are goofy, just like Jesse, but they may also reveal what’s going on in his head. Backwardo represents Jesse’s tendency to run from conflict. Hoverman reflects his lack of direction or purpose, while Kanga-Man hints at his codependency.

8. Madrigal was founded by Nazi war criminals.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) in 'Breaking Bad'
Bryan Cranston and Michael Bowen in Breaking Bad.
Ursula Coyote, AMC

This might be one of the wilder Breaking Bad theories, but before you write it off, consider Werner Heisenberg: The German physicist, who helped pioneer Hitler’s nuclear weapons program, is the obvious inspiration for Walt’s meth kingpin moniker. While Heisenberg only appears in name, there are plenty of literal Nazis on the show. Look no further than Uncle Jack and the Aryan Brotherhood, who served as the Big Bad of season 5. At least one Redditor thinks all these Nazi references are hinting at something bigger, a conspiracy that goes straight to the top. The theory starts in South America, where many Nazis fled after World War II. A group of them supposedly formed a new company, Madrigal, through their existing connections back in Germany. Eventually, a young Chilean named Gus Fring worked his way into the growing business, and the rest is (fake) history.

9. Walter white survived, but paid the price.

Lots of Breaking Bad theories concern Walt’s death, or lack thereof. But if Walt actually lived through his seemingly fatal gunshot wound in “Felina,” what would the rest of his life look like? According to one Reddit theory, it wouldn’t be pretty. The infamous Heisenberg would almost certainly stand trial and go to prison. Although he tries to leave Skyler White with information to cut a deal with the cops, she could also easily go to jail—or lose custody of her children. The kids wouldn’t necessarily get that money Walt left with Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, either, as they could take his threats to the police and surrender the cash to them. Basically it amounts to a whole lot of misery, making Walt’s death an oddly optimistic ending. (This is one theory El Camino addresses directly.)

10. Breaking Bad is a prequel to Malcolm in the Middle.

Bryan Cranston in the series premiere of 'Breaking Bad'
Bryan Cranston in the series premiere of Breaking Bad.
Doug Hyun, AMC

Alright, let’s say Walt survived the series finale and didn’t stand trial. Maybe he started over as a new man with a new family. Three boys, perhaps? This fan-favorite theory claims that Walter White assumed a new identity as Malcolm in the Middle patriarch Hal after the events of Breaking Bad, making the show a prequel to Bryan Cranston’s beloved sitcom. The Breaking Bad crew actually liked this idea so much they included an “alternate ending” on the DVD boxed set, where Hal wakes up from a bad dream where "There was a guy who never spoke! He just rang a bell the whole time! And then there was another guy who was a policeman or a DEA agent, and I think it was my brother or something. He looked like the guy from The Shield."

Fan Notices Hilarious Connection Between Joaquin Phoenix's Joker and Superbad's McLovin

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

There seems to be exactly one funny thing about Todd Phillips's latest film, Joker.

As reported by Geek.com, someone on Twitter by the name of @minalopezavina brilliantly pointed out that Arthur Fleck from Joker and McLovin from Superbad are pretty much in the same costume.

This meme is a nice moment of comic relief in an otherwise very serious movie. In fact, Joker is so dark that the United States Army had issued warnings about possible shootings at theaters playing the film. The warnings coincided with criticisms that the film might be too violent, with fears that the villain-led storyline would result in copycat events in real life.

Both Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have weighed in on the controversy, with the director explaining to The Wrap, "It wasn’t, ‘We want to glorify this behavior.’ It was literally like ‘Let’s make a real movie with a real budget and we’ll call it f**king Joker’. That’s what it was.”

All we can say is the amount of chatter behind Joker certainly led to both packed theaters, and endless memes online.

[h/t Geek.com]

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