1919: Mehmed Kemal, for the Armenian genocide

3 comments April 10th, 2010 Headsman

Ninety-one years ago today,* the tottering Ottoman Empire hanged one of its officials in Istanbul for his role in the mass slaughter of its Armenian minority during the First World War.

Kemal Bey’s hanging in Bayezid Square occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. Here, on its last legs, the remains of a sultanate splintered apart in the war instituted tribunals for wartime offenses by the Young Turks who had run the government during the war — a sop to the British occupying forces making worrying noises about international trials for much bigger fish.

Much testimony at the trial pointed to the governor’s fervor for massacres; an Armenian priest who survived the slaughter later wrote that a Turkish officer had told him that Kemal “made a vow on the honor of the Prophet: I shall not leave a single Armenian alive in the sanjak of Yozgat.”

A response to the New York Timesreport of the hanging noted that “his part was that of an executioner. The originators of the plan to exterminate the Armenians were primarily Enver, Tallat, and Djemal.”

These “Three Pashas” who had driven Ottoman policy during the war had fled abroad. They would be condemned to death in absentia, and though none would hang, neither would they outlive Mehmed Kemal by as much as four years.

They were among the many unpunished perpetrators of the slaughter hunted down by Armenian assassins. The latter two were avenged by Operation Nemesis; Enver Pasha died in battle in Tajikistan during the Russian Civil War.

Though overshadowed in historical import by those three, our day’s principal is distinguished as the first person executed for “crimes against humanity.”

This novelty, combined with the trial’s victor’s-justice character, were immediately controversial, and remain so in the fraught politicking around the genocide. (This genocide-denialist paper describes, on page 13, the rowdy funeral scene that erupted the next day, also attested** by annoyed British officials.)

Events would soon outstrip these tribunals and lay waste to all parties’ plans for the Ottoman carcass, incidentally leaving the Armenian issue permanently unresolved.

The month after Mehmed Kemal swung, western allies went one dismemberment too far by backing the irredentist Greek state’s landing at Smyrna — an intervention that was to backfire catastrophically for the Greeks, and help birth the Turkish Republic.

* A few secondary sources say April 12 rather than April 10, but the earlier date appears much better attested.

** e.g., a diplomatic note cited in The Burning Tigris, p. 337: “Not one Turk in a thousand will think that any other Turk deserves to be hanged for massacring Christians.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Political Expedience,Politicians,Public Executions,Turkey

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1915: Eleven Arab nationalists

1 comment August 21st, 2009 Headsman

On August 21, 1915, the Turkish governor of Syria had 11 Arab nationalists publicly hanged in Beirut for seditious contacts with the French.

A larger and more famous batch would follow these the next year, like today’s victims the fruit of the French consul‘s leaving an incriminating list of potential allies in its embassy when it bugged out.

According to Charles Winslow,

[i]n all, fifty-eight individuals were tried and sentenced to death; forty-five of these were either out of the country or avoided arrest; two were given reprieves; and the other eleven, ten Muslims and one Christian, were disgracefully hanged. This public display of terror was only a prelude to additional steps taken as part of the wartime policy of repression…

Lightly defended, Jemal argued that he had no means other than those of terror to hold the area. He claimed that the executions had, in fact, forestalled a rising in Syria. Others, however … see Jemal’s actions in Syria as turning the tide against Istanbul, “causing the Arab Muslims in the area to make up their minds once and for all to break away from the Turkish Empire.” Jemal had perpetrated a “Remember-the-Alamo” for the Lebanese. Throughout the country, the story of his perfidy was passed from person to person and from village to village … One can hardly measure the significance of these hangings in stimulating people to abandon their Ottoman attachment.

By the next year, Arabs had risen in revolt, in alliance — as Pasha had feared — with the Triple Entente.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lebanon,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Ottoman Empire,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Separatists,Treason,Wartime Executions

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