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“I killed Armenians”: Diaries of a Turkish Captain Azil Kemal

You may read the first part

Captain Azil Kemal wrote in his diaries:

Monday April 26, 1915:

“After I finished my mission of exterminating all the Armenians in the village of Ilije last saturday, I received another mission from Colonel Tewfik bey Monasterli to locate an Armenian terrorist couple who assassinated the German officer Otto von Bommel in the town of Mamahatoun, in the Erzurum province in East Turkey. The German consul in this province was Scheuber-Richter.

While waiting to meet with the colonel, I joined a group of officers who were bragging about their ingenuous methods of disposing of Armenians. The methods at this junction of the extermination order were pretty artisanal.

Midhat Chukru took care of the town of Isbir: “I ordered the people who could walk to move to a field outside town and to dig a ditch 2 meters deep. They brought their own shovels and tools. Totally naked, I commanded the lot to descend to the ditch and to lie down and fill the ditch. And we buried them alive. The ones who looked up were shot in the head…”

I was enjoying these stories and could not listen to the remaining methods: The colonel had arrived.

Mamahatoun was about 100 km from Ilije and it took us 2 days to arrive at night. I declined the invitation of the kaymakam Cengiz Efkan (administrative servant of a canton or caza) to share dinner with him and sleep in his palace.

Early the next morning, I waited in the police post overlooking main square and let the zapties (soldiers and police force) and the Tchetes loose on the Armenian houses and shops. Yesterday, the Moslem properties had white circles printed on their doors.

The Tchetes are irregulars who were freed from prison for common crimes, and they depended of the Central Committee of the Ittihad party.

The Tchetes were to follow a procedure in the extermination process.

As 4 of them enter a house, first they kill the handicapped and elder people, they proceed to grabbing the babies in their legs and banging their heads on walls, then they raped the girls and slaughtered them afterward, and they loot all the valued objects they liked.

Killing in houses in the larger towns were prohibited for fear of spreading epidemics.

The product in shops were confiscated for the troops on the frontlines.

Many Chechens and Cherkessk volunteered for these dirty jobs on the promise of getting a house in the burned Armenian towns and villages…

And suddenly a total Silence hovered over the place. Cengiz said: “The job is finished. They are all dead

The sergeant shouted: “We caught the couple assassin of the German officer”

Sergeant Chemsi was cursing the couple “khenzil guiavour” (infidel pig)

Siranouch and Stepan Mardikian denied any wrongdoing. They were tortured in public. As the hands of the spouse were shopped off, Stepan had to satisfy the Turks with whatever charges they wanted him to confess. And they were shot.

I later learned that it was the vali of Erzurum who ordered the assassination in order to set the German officers against the Armenians. (Is it probable that this young German officer expressed opposition to the methods of killing?)

At night, I heard someone crying in the forest. A 20 year-old Turkish soldier was crying his heart out. I finally managed to hear the reason “It is not the killing of Armenians. It is the brutal methods used that do not dignify the human being. I cannot kill babies or rape women…”

“I committed genocide on Armenians…” Diaries of a Turkish Captain (fiction novel)

The Turkish Captain  Azil Kemal was sent on a mission to Erzerum province (East of Turkey) on April 24, 1915.

The mission stated “Displace the Armenians from the villages of Erzerum, and you may give a larger meaning to the term “Displacement” if necessary...”

Azil Kemal kept a diary that ran for a month, from April 24 to May 25, 1915.

The province of Erzurum had many Armenian villages such as Mamahatoun, Ilije, Khenous, Mouch

In context first:

Catherine II of Russia had started extensive expansion toward the Ottoman provinces in the Caucasus and Turkey had to sign many treaties relinquishing vast territories. The was this trend: The Christians in general, and particularly the Armenians, sided with the invading orthodox Tsarist Russian troops and offered them logistical support and manpower. As the Russians occupied a Turkish town, the Armenians would “take revenge” for one reason or another…

In 1895, the Russian armies invaded Turkey again and when they withdrew, Sultan Abdul Hamid II ordered the extermination of Armenians and blamed them for the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. The campaign of killing lasted a year and no foreign nations complained.

In 1915, Turkey sided with Germany in WWI against France, England and Russia.

The Russian armies vanquished Enver Pasha (the strongman of the triumvirate of Young Turkey) at Sarikamich in January of 1915. Many young Armenians joined the Russian troops.

The Turks had blockaded the city of Van for a month in order to quell uprising in support of the Russian troops.

Enver had met with the German von der Goltz in Istanbul  on April 29, 1914 and planned the total extermination of Armenians.

Captain Azil Kemal wrote in his diary:

“Saturday, April 24, 1915,

The inhabitants of the village of Ilidje received the order “Men from age 16 to 70 are to assemble in the church early morning. The remaining people are to stay at home”

(Males from age 20 to 45 had already been dispatch far away to participate in public work. Mainly, the tacit reason was to gather all weapons from the armed Armenians)

The Kara-Sou river, a tributary of the Euphrates River, crosses Ilidje.

About 300 males gathered in the church. Azil gave order to group the people in lots of 30 and taken to the river.

The lot entered an embarkation and were asked to descend to the hold through a small opening. The lot was squeezed in an iron net and hauled out by a crane and the net was drowned in the fast river, with its human content.

In order to hasten the process, the lot was increased to 35 people.

At 1 pm, the soldiers and guards reclaimed a break for lunch, though we had about 100 to finish off.

We ate pasterma, salep, simit… We drank wine and raki and we smoked…

We returned to the village and we massacred the remaining invalids, women, children and babies.

By 5 pm, the village was emptied and we burned it down…” To be continued

Note 1: Talaat Pasha (the second in the triumvirate of revolutionary group of Young Turks) was minister of the interior and was to organize and execute the genocide plan. After the WWI war, he fled to Berlin in 1919 and was assassinated by Soghomon Tehlirian.

Note 2: Before the massacre of Ilidje, 30,000 Armenians were already killed in the town of Zeitoun in the center of Turkey.

Note 3: Azil Kemal, as most of the Young Turks were atheists, but it was convenient to bring the religious issue in order to “ethnically cleans” Turkey…

Note 4: The French author Jean-Claude Belfiore is from an Armenian mother and a Sicilian father. He published “Hannibal: An unbelievable destiny

Note 5:  The author did his best to fool the reader that the book is a genuine diary from an actual Turkish officer. The cover features an old picture of a Turkish officer, and throughout the book the author made sure to give the impression that the story was extracted from a diary.

The introduction informed us that the diary covered 4 block-notes, 100-page each, and written in Turkish but with Armenian characters! And that Azil was married to the Armenian Anzi and had a one year old son Erol-Hagop (Jack) and that he was an Armenophone.

Note 6: It is infuriating to the reader to notice the great trouble that an author makes to fool the buyer. After the first two chapters, it become obvious that it is a novel written in diary form. It is highly improbable that an officer under so much stress can write about his adventure extensively, clearly, smoothly and with minute details. Let alone very funny dialogues.

A diary is an exercise to relieve the anxieties and frustrations of a person who needs to let a big load off his shoulders. You jot down a few sentences to remind you of the events for later editing.




June 2023

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