Nov. 2, 1918 was a turning point in Turkish, German, and Armenian history.
Three days after the Marine Minister of Ottoman-Turkey signed the Mudros Ceasefire Treaty aboard the British warship Agamemnon, accepting defeat in the First World War, a German submarine picked up three people from three different port locations in Istanbul and spirited them away to Sivastopol in Crimea, and then to Germany. Who were these three persons running away from Istanbul in the middle of the night?
They were the leaders of the Ottoman government—Talat, Enver, and Cemal—the triumvirate that led Ottoman-Turkey into World War I, ultimately causing the deaths of millions of Ottoman citizens, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and the deliberate annihilation of the Armenian people from the lands they had inhabited for 4,000 years. Their imperialistic dreams of creating an all Turkic empire called Turan that stretched from Europe to the Caucasus, the Middle East, and into Central Asia—manipulated and encouraged by Germany at the expense of Great Britain and Russia—had failed miserably. Hundreds of thousands of Ottoman Army conscripts had died, and millions of Muslim civilians had become displaced for the sake of this dream. The 1.5 million Armenians regarded as an obstacle to this dream were killed outright or driven to the Syrian desert for a slow death.
Both Turkish and world public opinion had branded Talat, Enver, and Cemal as the “Most wanted men and criminals against humanity.” German intelligence reports were circulated claiming that these three would be immediately arrested and hanged from street light poles as soon as the Allied occupation forces landed in Istanbul. German leaders who had encouraged the Ottomans to enter the war for their own imperialistic dreams, and who had turned a blind eye to the systematic slaughter of the Armenians during the war, were now afraid that these three would start “singing” upon arrest, would rightly or wrongly blame the Germans for their excesses, and would shift responsibility for the crimes against humanity onto the Germans themselves. Therefore, an escape plan was hatched.
On the night of Nov. 2, 1918, the German boat first picked up Talat, Istanbul Governor Bedri Bey, and five others from the Port of Moda on the Asian shores of Istanbul. The password used to let the Turks come aboard the boat was “Enver.” The boat then sailed to Arnavutkoy, on the European side of Istanbul, to pick up Enver and a few other Ittihat Terakki Party (or Committee of Union and Progress, CUP) leaders. Following north on the Bosphorus, the boat had a final stop at Istinye for Cemal, before sailing into the Black Sea toward Crimea.
Beginning in May 1919, Talat, Enver, and Cemal were tried in absentia by a Turkish military tribunal in Istanbul for “treason, war crimes, and crimes against civilians.” On July 5, 1919, the court sentenced all three to be executed. Of course, they were nowhere to be found in Turkey. And it was left to the Armenians to carry out the death sentences through “Operation Nemesis,” named after the Goddess of Revenge in Greek mythology.
Talat was executed in Berlin in 1921, Cemal in Tbilisi in 1922, and Enver in Bukhara in 1922. Other Ittihat Terakki mass murderers also met justice by Armenian operations, most notably Bahattin Shakir, the leader of the Special Organization (Teskilat-I Mahsusa), who organized the implementation of the deportations and mass murders, employing convicted murderers for this purpose, and Cemal Azmi, the governor of Trabzon, who organized the mass drowning of the Armenians of the Black Sea region by shipping them to sea and overturning their boats.
For almost a hundred years, the official history books of the Turkish state have portrayed Britain, Russia, and France as imperialistic powers, with Ottoman-Turkey heroically fighting against them. They have not once mentioned that Ottoman-Turkey was itself an imperialistic entity, whose blindly ambitious leaders sent millions of citizens to their deaths without blinking an eye.
The official history books of the Turkish state still portray these three treacherous cowards, who ran away as soon as the war was lost, as national heroes, with their names given to dozens of neighborhoods, schools, streets, and mosques. The official history books still do not mention how much property and assets these three and their followers stole from the Armenians. In fact, the Turkish state passed legislation awarding the houses and assets of murdered Armenians to the families and heirs of these three persons and other executed Ittihat Terakki leaders as “blood money”; they continue to receive payments to this day. The denialist policy of the Turkish state was not challenged by the successive brainwashed generations within Turkey. But today, civil society and enlightened citizens of Turkey have started to see the truth and, more importantly, have started to pressure their government to acknowledge the truth, if not out of empathy for the Armenian victims, then for the sake of stopping the embarrassment to themselves as Turkish citizens caused by these blatant lies and denial.