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Centuries of Genocide

America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915
 

Jemal, Ahmed


Ahmed Jemal [Djemal, Cemal] Pasha (1872-1922) was the overseer of the Armenian Genocide. A graduate of the War Academy, Jemal was posted in 1898 to the Third Army in Salonika where the new captain joined the underground movement of Ottoman officers known as the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which was opposed to the regime of Sultan Abdul-Hamid (Abdulhamit) II. He used his position as a military inspector and staff officer to spread the CUP network in Thrace. By the time of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, Jemal was one of the leaders of the movement and was soon on the executive committee of the CUP. He rejoined his military unit to help suppress the April 1909 counter-revolution. Thereafter he served in a succession of military and administrative posts as the CUP's main trouble-shooter across the Ottoman Empire. In August 1909 he was appointed vali (governor-general) of Adana after the massacre of Armenians in the province. He came to prominence with the January 1913 CUP coup d'etat, which he helped engineer. Thereupon he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general, given command of the First Army based in Istanbul and made military governor of the city, where he also brutally suppressed the liberal opposition. In December 1913 he joined the CUP cabinet as Minister of Works. His appointment as Minister of the Navy in February 1914 placed the key Ottoman ministries in the hands of the CUP and signaled the complete consolidation of power by the Young Turk dictatorial triumvirate of Enver, Talaat and Jemal.

From the time of the Ottoman entry into WWI in November 1914 until December 1917, Jemal was stationed in Damascus as commander of the Fourth Army and served simultaneously as military governor of Syria including the regions of Palestine and Hijaz (Arabia). He led unsuccessful campaigns in 1915 and 1916 against the British in Egypt by advancing on the Suez Canal. Before the British turned the tide, Jemal's administration of Syria had devastated the civilian population in the region. Arab nationalists were summarily hanged, Zionists were persecuted and steps taken to remove Jewish settlements, grain requisitions in Lebanon had driven the populace to the brink of starvation. These calamities, however, paled in comparison to the destruction of the deported Armenian population carried out in Syria during Jemal's rule. By virtue of the fact that he controlled all the resources and the agencies of government in Syria, Jemal had oversight over the final leg of the deportation of the Armenians and the extermination of the surviving population. By mid-1915 Syria was dotted with concentration camps where the weaker members of the Armenian population were starved to death and where the still able-bodied were employed as virtual slave laborers on construction projects, the most notorious being the Baghdad rail line then still to be laid through the mountain passes of northern Syria. Lastly, the infamous killing sites of Rakka, Ras ul-Ain, and Deir el-Zor were locations in his jurisdiction. In this respect, of the Young Turk triumvirs who conspired and executed the Armenian Genocide, Jemal held responsibility as the final enforcer of the secret plan of extermination.

With the surrender of the Ottomans in 1918, Jemal joined Enver and Talaat in flight, first to Berlin, then to Switzerland and Russia. He made contact with the Bolsheviks in Moscow who facilitated his travel to Afghanistan, where he reorganized the Afghan army to carry on the fight against the British. In the meantime he was tried in absentia by a military tribunal in Istanbul, found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death. While in Moscow, he also established contact with Mustafa Kemal and assisted Enver's uncle, Halil, who negotiated on Kemal's behalf for a supply of arms, ammunition and gold from the Bolsheviks. Jemal was assassinated in Tbilisi in 1922 by two Armenians on his trail.

—Rouben Paul Adalian

 


 
 
 
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