1915: Cerkez Ahmed, disposable fanatic

Add comment September 30th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1915, Ottoman major Cerkez Ahmed (often Ahmet) hanged in Damascus.

The officer had been an important figure months earlier in the opening campaigns of Armenian genocide in the eastern province of Van where he operated as a paramilitary chief that verged so close to a brigand that he was eventually treated as one. Most egregiously, when two reformist Armenian parliamentarians named Vartkes Seringulian and Krikor Zohrab were arrested and deported to Syria, it was Ahmed who ambushed and murdered them.* (He was also the assassin in the prewar years of opposition journalist Ahmed Samim, but he’d long since been amnestied for that horror.)

Although in this he was enacting the state’s own policy, his proclivity for gorging himself on the valuables of his victims provided an impetus — a pretext, really — to eliminate him. The official communiques between officials determining his fate (and that of an associate) paint a grim and cynical picture. The following quotes can be found piecemeal in a number of sources, but they’re marshaled comprehensively in the open source volume Documentation of the Armenian Genocide in Turkish Sources under the heading “The Case of a Special Organization Major”.

The brigands Halil and Ahmed visited me today. They stated that having completed the massacres in the Diyarbekir area, they came to Syria to do the same for which purpose they said they are ready to receive the orders. I have them arrested. Awaiting your excellency’s orders.

-Telegram from the governor of Aleppo to Cemal Pasha, one of the “Three Pashas” who ran Turkey as a triumvirate


I feel dishonored. I served my country. I desolated Van and environs. Today, you car’t find a single Armenian there … I killed off the Armenian Deputies Zohrab and Vartkes. I grabbed Zohrab, threw him down, took him under my feet and with a big rock crushed his head — crushed and crushed until I killed him off.

-Ahmed, complaining to the intelligence officer Ahmed Refik (according to the latter’s postwar account)


In as much as I am convinced that Cerkez Ahmed committed these crimes by the order of Diyarbekir governor Reshid,** do you still find the liquidation of Ahmed absolutely necessary? Or, should I be merely content with Halil? Kindly respond by tomorrow evening.

-Cemal to fellow triumvir Talaat Pasha


His liquidation in any case is necessary. Otherwise he will prove very harmful at a later date. Talat.

-Talat’s reply to Cemal (on September 15/28, 1915)


The verdict against Cerkez Ahmed is execution. The requisite step will be taken in Damascus tomorrow morning.

-Cemal’s order (on September 16/29)

And he was.

“Undoubtedly Cerkez Ahmed was a scoundrel who deserved to be hanged not once but nine times,” mused the historian Ziya Sakir — who published these ciphered messages in 1943. “With three words uttered by administrative chief Talaat, the life of this creature, who was exploited for the sake of fanatic partisanship, was snuffed out.”

Many years later, Cemal Pasha’s chief of staff Gen. Ali Fuad Erden would reflect on this affair in his memoirs,

Indebtedness to given executioners and murderers is bound to be heavy … those who are used for dirty jobs are needed in times of necessity [in order to shift] responsibility. It is likewise necessary, however, not to exalt but to dispose of them like toilet paper, once they have done their job.

* Reshid Akif Reshid, an Ottoman senator and briefly a state councilor during World War I, provided noteworthy testimony to the postwar Ottoman parliament about the Armenian genocide, detailing the systematic use of extralegal “brigand” paramilitaries in conducting the slaughter: official orders from Istanbul to a provincial official ordered various Armenian communities “deported”; simultaneously, the ruling Committee of Union and Progress “undertook to send an ominous circular order to all points [in the provinces], urging the expediting of the execution of the accursed mission of the brigands. Thereupon, the brigands proceeded to act and the atrocious massacres were the result.”

** The governor referred to here is Mehmed Reshid, one of the genocide’s most enthusiastic agents and “the butcher of Diyarbakir” in Armenian memory. He was arrested after the war and might have been a candidate for this very blog but escaped the prospect of hanging by breaking out of prison and committing suicide when on the verge of recapture.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Murder,Ottoman Empire,Outlaws,Soldiers,Syria,Theft,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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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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