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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.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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