Episode #3 of the course Deadliest dictators in history
Enver Pasha (1881–1922) was a military general and leader of Turkey during World War I. During his time as minister of war in Turkey from 1913-1918, he instituted and orchestrated an ethnic cleansing of Armenians, “Directive 8682.” The most commonly studied genocide after the European Jewish Holocaust of World War II, the Armenian genocide that occurred under Enver’s directive resulted in the systematic deaths or removal of 1 to 1.5 million people.
Ismail Enver was born in Constantinople, Turkey, now called Istanbul. He grew up well-educated and entered into military service after graduating from school with honors. Although Enver was proud of his military strategy, he was considered incompetent by the German military commanders who worked with him. Enver led the Turkish forces in their infamous defeat against the Russians at the Battle of Sarikamish in 1914. The Turks were defeated because of Enver’s lack of consideration for the weather and terrain, but Enver came to blame the local Armenians, who had sympathized with and supported the Russians.
Enver decided that Armenians should be removed or exterminated from Turkey for their disloyalty. The government began to release propaganda statements that the Armenians were a threat to national security. In 1915, Enver initiated his plan to remove Armenian soldiers from Turkish military regiments. This premeditated move ensured that the Turkish gang members who killed Armenians throughout the country would not be stopped by interference from any Armenian soldier who wanted to protect Armenian civilians. Enver avoided the potential for military uprisings by removing Armenian sympathies from his military.
In April, Turkish soldiers began shooting male citizens of the city of Van. A few days later, 250 Armenian intellectuals and leaders were rounded up, deported, and assassinated. The date is known as Red Sunday or Genocide Remembrance Day. The next month, Turkish soldiers began to round up Armenian citizens for mass executions. Within months, people were marched into the Syrian deserts and left without any supplies or support. Armenian women were sold as slaves and displayed naked on public streets. 25 concentration camps were established around Turkey, often near the borders with Iraq and Syria, where Armenians were enclosed, beaten, and starved.
In 1917, Enver believed that his troops were strong enough to invade southern Russia. He attacked and lost both ground and soldiers while tens of thousands of Armenian refugees escaped with protection from British troops. Enver was dismissed as the minister of war, and a few days later, Turkey signed the Armistice of Mudros. All three of Turkey’s leading pashas went into hiding. Enver went to Berlin, not returning to Turkey until 1920.
In 1921, he returned to fight in the Turkish War of Independence. He served until 1922; there are conflicting stories about how he died—perhaps in an ambush during a surprise attack by the Red Army, perhaps in retreat, perhaps in hand-to-hand combat with a leading revolutionary. Regarded as a “national hero,” his body was cared for and preserved by locals until it could be returned to be buried in his homeland nearly 75 years later.
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