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Young Turks Plot Armenian Genocide

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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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15 Things You Might Not Know About Chewbacca
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images
ANTONIN THUILLIER, AFP/Getty Images

Even if you don't know the name Peter Mayhew, you surely know about Chewbacca—the seven-foot tall Wookiee he has played onscreen for over three decades. In honor of Mayhew’s birthday, here are 15 things you might not know about Han Solo's BFF.

1. HE WAS INSPIRED BY GEORGE LUCAS'S DOG.

The character of Chewbacca was inspired by George Lucas’s big, hairy Alaskan malamute, Indiana. According to Lucas, the dog would always sit in the passenger seat of his car like a copilot, and people would confuse the dog for an actual person. And in case you're wondering: yes, that same dog was also the inspiration behind the name of one of Lucas’s other creations, Indiana Jones.

2. HIS NAME IS OF RUSSIAN ORIGIN.

The name “Chewbacca” was derived from the Russian word Sobaka (собака), meaning “dog.” The term “Wookiee” came from voice actor Terry McGovern; when he was doing voiceover tracks for Lucas's directorial debut, THX 1138, McGovern randomly improvised the line, “I think I just ran over a Wookiee” during one of the sessions.

3. HE'S REALLY, REALLY OLD.

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Chewbacca is 200 years old.

4. PETER MAYHEW'S HEIGHT HELPED HIM LAND THE ROLE.

Peter Mayhew
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Mayhew was chosen to play everyone’s favorite Wookiee primarily because of his tremendous height: He's 7 feet 3 inches tall.

5. HIS SUIT IS MADE FROM A MIX OF ANIMAL HAIRS, AND EVENTUALLY INCLUDED A COOLING SYSTEM.

For the original trilogy (and the infamous holiday special), the Chewbacca costume was made with a combination of real yak and rabbit hair knitted into a base of mohair. A slightly altered original Chewie costume was used in 1999's The Phantom Menace for the Wookiee senator character Yarua, and a new costume used during Episode III included a specially made water-cooling system so that Mayhew could wear the suit for long periods of time and not be overheated.

6. ONE OF STANLEY KUBRICK'S CLOSEST CREATORS DESIGNED THE COSTUME.

Chewbacca's costume
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To create the original costume for Chewbacca, Lucas hired legendary makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, who was recruited because of his work on the apes in the “Dawn of Man” sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Freeborn had also previously worked with Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove to effectively disguise Peter Sellers in each of his three roles in that film.) Freeborn would go on to supervise the creation of Yoda in The Empire Strike Back and Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi.

Lucas originally wanted Freeborn’s costume for Chewie to be a combination of a monkey, a dog, and a cat. According to Freeborn, the biggest problem during production with the costume was with Mayhew’s eyes. The actor’s body heat in the mask caused his face to detach from the costume's eyes and made them look separate from the mask.

7. FINDING CHEWBACCA'S VOICE WAS BEN BURTT'S FIRST ASSIGNMENT.

The first sound effect that director George Lucas hired now-legendary sound designer Ben Burtt for on Star Wars was Chewbacca’s voice (this was all the way back during the script stage). During the year of preliminary sound recording, Burtt principally used the vocalization of a black bear named Tarik from Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California for Chewbacca. He would eventually synchronize those sounds with further walrus, lion, and badger vocalizations for the complete voice. The name of the language Chewbacca speaks came to be known in the Star Wars universe as “Shyriiwook.”

8. ROGER EBERT WAS NOT A FAN.

Roger Ebert was not a fan of the big guy. In his 1997 review of the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, Ebert basically called Chewbacca the worst character in the series. “This character was thrown into the first film as window dressing, was never thought through, and as a result has been saddled with one facial expression and one mournful yelp," the famed critic wrote. "Much more could have been done. How can you be a space pilot and not be able to communicate in any meaningful way? Does Han Solo really understand Chewie's monotonous noises? Do they have long chats sometimes? Never mind.”

9. HE WAS ORIGINALLY MUCH MORE SCANTILY CLAD.

In the summary for Lucas’s second draft (dated January 28, 1975, when the film was called “Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars”), Chewbacca is described as “an eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bushbaby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face … [and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”

10. HIS DESIGN WAS BASED ON RALPH MCQUARRIE'S CONCEPT ART.

Chewbacca’s character design was based on concept art drawn by Ralph McQuarrie. Lucas had originally given McQuarrie a photo of a lemur for inspiration, and McQuarrie proceeded to draw the character as a female—but Chewbacca was soon changed to a male. McQuarrie based his furry design on an illustration by artist John Schoenherr, which was commissioned for Game of Thrones scribe George R.R. Martin’s short story “And Seven Times Never Kill a Man.” Sharp-eyed Chewbacca fans will recognize that Schoenherr’s drawing even includes what resembles the Wookiee’s signature weapon, the Bowcaster.

11. HE WON A LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD.

Fans were angry for decades that Chewie didn’t receive a medal of valor like Luke and Han did at the end of A New Hope, so MTV gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards. The medal was given to Mayhew—decked out in full costume—by Princess Leia herself, actress Carrie Fisher. His acceptance speech, made entirely in Wookiee grunts, lasted 16 seconds. When asked why Chewbacca didn’t receive a medal at the end of the first film, Lucas explained, “Medals really don’t mean much to Wookiees. They don’t really put too much credence in them. They have different kinds of ceremonies.”

12. HE HAS A FAMILY BACK HOME.

According to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, Chewbacca had a wife named Mallatobuck, a son named Lumpawaroo (a.k.a. “Lumpy”), and a father named Attichitcuk (aka “Itchy”). In the special, Chewie and Han visit the Wookiee home planet of Kashyyyk to celebrate “Life Day,” a celebration of the Wookiee home planet’s diverse ecosystem. The special featured appearances and musical numbers by Jefferson Starship, Diahann Carroll, Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur, and marked the first appearance of Boba Fett. Lucas hated the special so much that he limited its availability following its original airdate on November 17, 1978.

13. MAYHEW'S BIG FEET ARE WHAT KICKSTARTED HIS CAREER.

Mayhew’s path to playing Chewbacca began with a string of lucky breaks—and his big feet. A local London reporter was doing a story on people with big feet and happened to profile Mayhew. A movie producer saw the article and cast him—in an uncredited role—as Minoton the minotaur in the film Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. One of the makeup men on Sinbad was also working on the Wookiee costume with Stuart Freeborn for Star Wars and suggested to the producers that they screen test Mayhew. The rest is Wookiee history.

14. MAYHEW KEPT HIS DAY JOB WHILE SHOOTING STAR WARS.

Peter Mayhew
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During the shooting of Star Wars, Mayhew kept working his day job as a deputy head porter in a London hospital. Though he was let go because of his sudden varying shooting schedule at Elstree Studios, he was eventually hired back after production wrapped.

15. DARTH VADER COULD HAVE BEEN CHEWBACCA.

Darth Vader
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David Prowse, the 6’5” actor who ended up portraying Darth Vader—in costume only—originally turned down the role of Chewbacca.  When given the choice between portraying the two characters, Prowse said, “I turned down the role of Chewbacca at once. I know that people remember villains longer than heroes. At the time I didn’t know I’d be wearing a mask, and throughout production I thought Vader’s voice would be mine.”

Additional Sources: Star Wars DVD special features
The Making of Star Wars: The definitive Story Behind the Original Film, J.W. Rinzler

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Shopping Malls Might be Dying, But Miami Is Planning to Build the Largest One in North America
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Shopping malls and the "American Dream" are two things that are often said to be dead or dying, but one developer sees it a little differently.

Part shopping outlet and part theme park, American Dream Miami is slated to become the largest mall in North America when it opens in Miami-Dade County, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Indeed, "mall" might not be the best word for this mega-complex. In addition to retail outlets, plans are in the works for an aquarium, water park, ski slope, live performing arts center, Ferris wheel, submarine ride, skating rink, and 2000 hotel rooms.

The project is being developed by Triple Five Group, which operates the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada—currently the two current largest shopping and entertainment centers on the continent. It also owns the American Dream Meadowlands in New Jersey.

This announcement comes at a time when shopping malls are being shuttered across the country. More than 6400 stores closed last year, and another 3600 are expected to go out of business this year, according to Business Insider.

American Dream Miami will cost $4 billion and cover 6.2 million square feet. Developers hope it will attract tourists as well as local thrill seekers who want a closer entertainment option than Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. Developer Eskandar Ghermezian was reportedly inspired by a comment made by his daughter, who complained there was nothing to do in the area when it rained.

Critics of the project, however, called it "American Nightmare," arguing it would harm the environment and cause traffic congestion. The developer still needs to obtain several permits before construction can begin.

[h/t Sun-Sentinel]

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