Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS-Ottomans and Armenians: A Study in Counterinsurgency

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS-Ottomans and Armenians: A Study in Counterinsurgency

Article excerpt

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS Ottomans and Armenians: A Study in Counterinsurgency, by Edward J. Erick- son. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 299 pages. $95.

Reviewed by Michael M. Gunter

Edward J. Erickson, Professor of Mili- tary History at the Coimnand and Staff Col- lege, Marine Corps University and a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel, has written an illuminating study of the connec- tion between military necessity and popu- lation transfer concerning the Armenian question during World War I. As a combat veteran and practitioner of war, Erickson brings to the debate valid insights often lacking from annchair intellectuals and academics. Furthermore, Ottomans and Ar- menians is mostly based on Turkish docu- ments and articles often ignored or simply unavailable in this hoary debate, although at times Erickson juxtaposes them against pro- Armenian articles to illustrate the opposing points of view. This is a military history of late Ottoman counterinsurgency campaigns. Its basic thesis is that the Ottoman decision to relocate Armenians in 1915 was a purely military course of action related to national security that sat within a context of a 25- year period of persistent empire-wide insur- gency and counterinsurgency.

The author traces the long history of Ar- menian revolutionary committees [gomidehs] dating from the latter part of the 19th century and the Ottoman counterinsurgency respons- es. The outbreak of World War I brought the situation to a head, and was "largely a result of the machinations of the allied powers, which encouraged and supported the eastern Anatolian Armenian revolutionary commit- tees to coimnit acts of terrorism and minor insurrections in early 1915" (p. 221). Erick- son argues that "these small and localized, but widespread, acts of Armenian violence appeared to metathesize [metastasize] during a major Armenian insurrection at Van in April 1915, which drove the Ottoman government into the belief that the Armenian insurrection was an imminent and existential threat to Ot- toman national security" (p. 221).

Erickson writes: "The lines of commu- nications supporting those Ottoman fronts ran directly through the rear areas of the Ot- toman annies in eastern Anatolia that were heavily populated by Annenian communi- ties and, by extension, by the heavily anned Armenian revolutionary committees" (pp. 161-62). The Ottoman armies at the fronts in Caucasia, Mesopotamia, and Palestine were not self-sufficient in supplies, and therefore were dependent on the roads and railroads leading from the west. Erickson observes that, "The Armenian revolution- ary committees began to attack and cut these lines of communications in the spring of 1915 and to the Ottomans presented an acute danger" (p. 162).

The Ottoman response was to relocate the Armenian population, which was giving support to the invading Russian enemy in the eastern provinces, and "was based on the same rationale that the Americans, British, and Spanish used to remove insurgent popu- lations in the Philippines, the Boer Republics, and Cuba" (p. 191). Such actions "became a template for the destruction of guerrillas and insurgents in the twentieth century" (p. 187) and were employed later by the British in Malaya in the 1950s, the French in Algeria, and the Americans in Vietnam.

In the appendix, Erickson reviews the five extant historical theses of why the Arme- nians were relocated, presenting his in con- text. He also poses a nmnber of provocative and unanswered historical questions about these events. Although the primitive state of Ottoman resources led to what might be termed criminal deaths due to neglect, star- vation, and just plain murder, Erickson ques- tions the Armenian genocidal thesis because these "horrific events were an unintended consequence of government policies and military strategies designed to end a threat to national security from 'enemies within'" (p. …

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