Topic: GW - Atrocities
Yücel Yanıkdağ, Ill-fated Sons of the Nation: Ottoman Prisoners of War in Russia and Egypt, 1914-1922.
Of more credibility in allegations of mistreatment of Ottoman POWs by British authorities is found in the unpublished doctoral dissertation submitted to Ohio State University in 2002 by Yücel Yanıkdağ called Ill-fated Sons of the Nation: Ottoman Prisoners of War in Russia and Egypt, 1914-1922, available on UMI Microfilms.
Yanıkdağ trots out the usual qualitative complaints of unfair treatment in that the German and Austrian POWs received preferential treatment and cites anecdotal evidence to substantiate his case. This is of course a matter of perception. The actual facilities given to the Ottoman POWs are a matter of record and to be found in the files of the POW camps. Food requisitions, roll numbers and sickness lists tend to be well documented as they all incurred an expense on the Imperial public purse and thus had to be carefully accounted. No on is able to prove one way or the other a qualitative charge but there is definite evidence of quantitative treatment and from the records, there appears to be little difference of treatment.
Of more substance in Yanıkdağ's thesis is the reliance of British statistics to make a further claim. Yanıkdağ at p. 150 goes to Statistics of the Military Effort, 1914-1920, (London: HMSO,1922), and cites pp. 630, and 635.
Here is the charge: The Imperial British forces held 150,041 Ottoman POWs during the Great War. Of this number, 10,742 Ottoman POWs died from various reasons. Now for the kicker. The British Statistics clearly state that the most common cause of death amongst the Ottoman POWs was pellagra disease. This insidious killer was specifically caused by a niacin deficiency. And here Yanıkdağ thinks he is on a winner as this is finally a qualitative charge. Yanıkdağ compares the death rate by this disease with the Ottoman POWs which came to 7.1% while the Austrian and German POWs suffered mortality rates of 2.9% and 2.6% respectively. Yanıkdağ believed that this was conclusive quantitative evidence of preferential treatment, especially in matters of diet.
While it may appear to be the ace in the hole, the reality of pellagra is a bit different. The onset of pellagra requires about four to five years to become fatal. Since the bulk of the prisoners were taken in 1918 and released in 1920, a two year window at best, it is difficult to understand the process of food being the determinant. It would appear as though those who died of pellagra had already contracted the illness at least two or more years prior to captivity. This would not have been recognised by the British authorities who fed the Ottoman POWs the same rations their own troops received. There is no doubt that this was a dreadful diet which most people would find difficult to consume at the best of times. However, since the Ottoman POWs were afflicted with pellagra as a pre-existing illness and related to their pre-enlistment and service diet, it is disingenuous to lay the blame upon the Imperial authorities because they happened to be the last link in a chain. This was a fault of the Ottoman Government for failing to distribute a public health message regarding niacin deficiency to the general Ottoman population and thus prevent it in the home. It was a failure of the Ottoman armies to ignore the problem and provide a diet that was impoverished in niacin. The British authorities were the last link who also failed to do anything.
On this charge, there was nothing deliberate but a chain of neglect that originated in the various households of the Ottoman POWs prior to the war.
As for the differentiation in treatment between the Ottoman POWs and the Germans and Austrians as highlighted by the differential in death rates of pellagra, this may also be dismissed for similar reasons. The lower death rates of the Germans and Austrians had less to do with British teatment differentials and more to do with the pre war diet of the POWs. The only conclusion that may be reached is that both the Germans and Austrians had diets rich in niacin prior to military service and thus were able to survive the rigours of the POW camp existence far better than the Ottoman POWs.
So superficially, it would appear Yanıkdağ may have an issue but when examined under the cold hard facts, Yanıkdağ's thesis says more about the appalling Ottoman public health program prior to the war than the treatment of Ottoman POWs in British camps.