Topic: GW - Atrocities
İbrahim Arikan, Bir Mehmetcigin Canakkale, Galicya, Filistin Cephesi Anıları Harp Hatıralarım, Ankara, 2007.
The most encouraging thing to occur in Turkey today is the number of books relating to personal reflections of the war by ordinary Turkish veterans. These are not in the genre of personality cult for Ataturk but deal with ordinary soldiers who did what they had to do with their actions framed in the exigencies of the times. So it was refreshing to see the release in January 2007 of the book by former Signals Sergeant Major İbrahim (Arikan) from the village of Akviran located in the province called Kırklareli or commonly known in English as Eastern Thrace. The book was called: Bir Mehmetcigin Canakkale, Galicya, Filistin Cephesi Anıları Harp Hatıralarım, which translated means: A Turkish Soldier's War Memories at Gallipoli, Galacia and Palestine Fronts. İbrahim enlisted as a private at the beginning of the war in the 3rd Infantry Battalion of the 61st Infantry Regiment. As a Sergeant Major, İbrahim was captured during the September 1918 offensive in northern Plaestine and ended up as a POW in the Ramle Prison Camp. Upon his release as a POW, he was discharged.
A common enough story.
In his memoirs, he makes the following allegation found at p. 236:
At Ramle Prison Camp our interpretor was a fat Armenian. He wore the uniform of a British Officer complete with a Sam Brown belt but without any rank insignia. He was obese weighing about 120 kilograms. He snorted and grunted like a wild pig. We could see hatred in his face when looking at us. He was taking his revenge against the Turks. On every occasion he always insulted us.
One day he called out: "Hauptman Ahmetoglu Ali!"
There was no anwer. The term "Hauptman" means "Captain" in German while in Turkish the term is "Yüzbaşı". Our captain Ali failed to respond and refused to respond.
Later the Armenian yelled: "Yüzbaşı Ahmetoğlu Ali!"
Our captain Ali now answered. The Armenian was infuriated. He shouted to our captain.
"Why dont you respond? For many years you have been comrades with Germans. Haven't you learned their language?"
Captain Ali told the Armenian that we were all Turks. This made the Armanian angrier still.
"Are you insulted" he asked. "You murdered our women and children by throwing them into Tigris River. Isn't that insulting for us?"
He was attempting to take revenge for something about which we knew nothing and nor were we responsible for the action.
During the distribution of meals, our senior officer such as Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and other officers were in the same line with the rest of us. This insulted our pride and gave us a feeling of sadness. We held our officers in high esteem obeyed them. This humiliation of the officers insulted our national pride.
On 21 September 1918 we were entrained to El Kantara.
The claim is quite serious: The British allowed Armenians with a grievance against the Ottomans, a free hand to humiliate Turkish troops.
There is every appearance in this critique that there was poor planning by the British authorities in dealing with such a large influx of prisoners. The collapse of the Ottoman front in Northern Palestine was rapid revealing a capture of 75,000 Ottoman soldiers in the space of two weeks, something very much in excess of the numbers captured over the previous four years. In view of the overwhelming numbers, there was no time for niceties.
As to the Armenian, the pejorative description indicates a tension that existed between İbrahim and the interpreter. It was hardly objective and in itself, insulting and thus not designed to elicit sympathy from anyone outside a confined audience who perceived all Armenian men in this characatured sense.
On the other side, there is no complaint about lack of food, shelter or other assistance. So apart from some very close ethnic tension which was not within the province of British care, this complaint seems just a bit stretched. It is a sure thing that this summary will meet with scorn amongst those who see ethnicity as the most important guage of civilisation and thus see the above as part of the greater Armenian plot to disparage Turks. Then there will be the bulk of Turks and other people who will read this and agree with the conclusions. Apart from some ethnic tension, there was no systematic abuse of Ottoman POWs.
Citation: Ramle Prison Camp, September 1918