The ghastly fate of the Armenian enclave of Zeitoun, mentioned in the foregoing post, raises the question of why the Zeitounlis of 1895 were able to thwart their Muslim antagonists while those of 1915 succumbed to them utterly. In an essay published in 1916 that may be seen here, the British historian Arnold Toynbee revealed three reasons:
1) Most men of military age (intially ages 20 to 45 and eventually 18 to 50), including Armenians, had been mobilized for military service in the fall of 1914 as part of a general levy after the Ottoman Empire's entry into World War I. A call-up of Armenians aged 18 to 50 would have removed not only Zeitoun's young men, its natural defenders, but veterans of the earlier fight who would have become their leaders. Armenians in the Ottoman army were later reorganized into unarmed labor battalions and as the genocide began in 1915, Toynbee noted, these units “were surrounded by detachments of their combatant Moslem fellow soldiers and butchered in cold blood.”
2) The Ottoman army of 1915 was far better organized than that of 1895. Most of the planning and staff work was being done not by Turks but by German officers serving with them. Indeed, in his “History of the Armenian Genoicde,” Vahakn Dadrian noted that the chiefs of staff of the Ottoman High Command included Major General Bronsart von Schellendorff, who spoke of “the Armenian” as “just like the Jew, a parasite,” and who himself ordered that Armenians be deported through “severe” measures, and Lieutenant General Hans von Seeckt, later to become the architect of the post-World War I force that formed the nucleus of Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Commenting on the annihilation of the Armenians, Von Seeckt airily declared that “The requirements of the war made it necessary that Christian, sentimental, and political considerations simply vanish.” The presence of such men explains the “Prussian thoroughness put into the execution of (the Turks’) scheme,” making “the margin of ineffectiveness," as Toynbee noted, “narrow. ... In towns such as Zeitoun, ... where we have sufficient testimony to cross-check the estimates presented, the clearance, by deportation or massacre, seems to have been practically complete.”
3) Even with most of the men of fighting age removed from Zeitoun, the Turks were taking no chances with a place that had given them such trouble a generation before. They preceded their roundup of the remaining male Zeitounlis with “a formidable concentration of troops in the town” during a campaign to confiscate weapons from the Armenians – a gun-control effort whose description by Toynbee is worth quoting at length:
“A decree went forth that all Armenians should be disarmed. The Armenians in the Army were drafted out of the fighting ranks, re-formed into special labor battalions, and set to work throwing up fortifications and constructing roads. The disarming of the civil population was left to the local authorities, and in every administrative center a reign of terror began. The authorities demanded the production of a definite number of arms. Those who could not produce them were tortured, often in fiendish ways; those who procured them for surrender, by purchase from their Moslem neighbors or by other means, were imprisoned for conspiracy against the Government. Few of these were young men, for most of the young had been called up to serve; they were elderly men, men of substance and the leaders of the Armenian community, and it became apparent that the inquisition for arms was being used as a cloak to deprive the community of its natural heads. ...
[on] the 8th April, the date of the first deportation at Zeitoun ... the public crier went through the streets announcing that every male Armenian must present himself forthwith at the Government Building. ... The men presented themselves in their working clothes, leaving their shops and work-rooms open, their ploughs in the field, their cattle on the mountain side. When they arrived, they were thrown without explanation into prison, kept there a day or two, and then marched out of the town in batches, roped man to man, along some southerly or south-easterly road. They were starting, they were told, on a long journey — to Mosul or perhaps to Baghdad. It was a dreadful prospect ... But they had not long to ponder over their plight, for they were halted and massacred at the first lonely place on the road.”
In “The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam” (Pages 196-197), Bat Ye’or describes the fate of the women and children who remained:
“The deportations consisted of transferring certain populations, particularly women and children, from Armenian villages to the desert of Dayr al-Zur, between Syria and Iraq.
“Convoys were pushed on foot over interminable routes through difficult country, where dearth of water, food, and shelter at night increased the suffering. All along the way, the corteges of women and children were subjected to rape, robbery, and cruelties by brigands, plunderers, villagers, and by their exclusively Muslim escorts. In every town and village they passed through, the Armenians were massed in front of the town hall and displayed to the Muslims, who alone could choose slaves from among them. In some cases, women with their children were able to escape death or slavery by their conversion to Islam, ratified by an immediate marriage to a Muslim. Those who survived the ordeals of the journey – the hunger, thirst, exhaustion and rape – arrived at Dayr al-Zur. Informed of a convoy’s arrival, Arab and Kurdish tribes lay in wait to inflict the final outrage. The corpses were abandoned in the desert.”
After delving into this dreadful history, I can only repeat the deathless vow of the late great Jeff Cooper in his stinging 1972 rejoinder to then New York Police Commissioner Patrick Murphy’s call for the disarmament of Americans:
“The man who attempts, plans, or even wishes to disarm me must be regarded as my mortal enemy. ... I, for one, will not be disarmed. Not while I live. Mark that well.”