Special Organization (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa)

Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa

The official history and historians keep making up a story about the Special Organization by  saying that this organization was an intelligence agency established due to the circumstances during Tripoli and Balkan Wars and that it was entrusted with operational authorities as a necessity. However SO’s internal operations are not mentioned. Its connection with 1915 Genocide is always rejected most seriously. In fact, Galip Vardar, a member of the Organization, refers to the dual structure of the organization: “The Special Organization was an organization which was very large-scale created one. It would be adjusted according to the domestic and foreign policies and war necessities. Its troop basis included mobs. All these people were to open path for the army, to facilitate the operations of the army, to shoot the enemy from inside and to collect a lot of information. Here, the prevailing mood was the same mood which prevailed in persuading bandits once upon a time in the Balkans. The dignitaries of the Union and Progress Committee had devoted themselves to that case throughout their whole lives.”[1] Vardar glorifies the Special Organization, namely, this scum of the earth with these words.

Bozarslan summarized the Special Organization’s establishment, role and function with those sentences: “We can say that, during the World War I that represents the last years of the Empire, the most important example of the phenomenon of getting ganged is the Special Organization which was created by the Union and Progress Committee and prevailed the Ottoman official military and civilian bureaucracies. Playing the decisive role in the Armenian Genocide, the Special Organization consisted of the individuals who were engaged but non-commissioned in the formal bureaucracy.  It is known that in the Special organization, together with Dr. Reşit, Governor of Diyarbakır, many individuals such as Yakup Cemil, whose criminal pasts impede their statesmanship, and some persons of the ulama and gentry –whose personal and collective biographies are not written yet. There are some information that the Special Organization which reflects a “Mameluke system” of the modern periods in a sense included especially the persons who are of Balkan and Caucasus origin. On the one hand, the Special Organization was obliged to fulfil the activities which the State could not exercise officially and, on the other hand, played an important role in plundering the Armenian properties and established a link between the processes of getting ganged and personal enrichment.”[2]

Establishment of the Special Organization

There is no regular and substantial document about the Special Organization. The related documents in the governmental archives had been sorted out and destructed by Aziz Bey [Hüseyin Aziz Akyürek], Security Chief, circa 15 September 1918 upon the resignation of Talat’s council of ministers.[3] We are collecting the information concerning this organization from various memories and distributed archive papers. The Special Organization has a special budget from the discretionary fund controlled by War Minister Enver Pasha. The Organization performs its operation by the fedai officers.[4] Part of these officers has been discharged in appearance from the army, but was subject to an iron discipline and hierarchy.  Once it was connected to the Internal Ministry during the Genocide, it started to use this ministry’s discretionary fund. However, we find in the crypto correspondence that it can use both ministries’ funds. Because the Organization’s military intelligence service was accountable to the War Ministry and its civilian part was accountable to Talat Pasha.

Before and after the war, the Special Organization conducted intense propaganda against the opponents by making use of journalists, writers, predicators and religious functionaries.[5]

UPC’s belief of realizing of its dream to found a Great Turan Empire as a state policy occurring before the World War due to the war facilities needed an organization to be in service for this purpose. Here, the Special Organization is the name of the secret organization ganged up with this design. We don’t have enough information when and how the organization was founded. The reason is that many documents concerning it have been destructed. One of its senior officials, Kuşçubaşı Eşref says that the Organization was founded between 1911 and 1913. In various memories, there are some data about its re-establishment towards the end of July or the beginning of August 1914. The Party Secretary whose code name is A. Mil says that the discussions relating to the matter have started after the defeat in the Balkans and the establishment has been on the end of July 1914. Tevfik Bıyıkoğlu informs that the Organization has been established with a secret order of War Ministry Enver Pasha on August 5, 1914. In short, the result which can be from the available information is that a group around Enver Pasha had started to denominate themselves with this name about 1911.[6]

In a study made within the framework of the activities for the Centenary of the Genocide, we saw that the constitution of the Special Organization was realized following the mobilisation declared on August 2, 1914 within the scope of the urgent measures taken in the direction of the lesson learned from the Tripoli and Balkan Wars and that a headquarter was formed to coordinate the territorial troops to maintain an unconventional warfare. This commission consists of Major Süleyman Askerî, Public Security Director General Aziz Bey [Hüseyin Aziz Akyürek], Dr. Nazım Bey and Atıf Bey [Kamçıl/Kambur Atıf].[7]  Orhan Koloğlu mentions its constitution date as August 5, 1913 and adds Dr. Bahaettin Şakir to the commission staff: “There were some famous names in the Organization’s high ranking members:[8] Yakup Cemil, Dr. Rusuhi, Cavalry Lieutenant Colonel Hüsamettin (Ertürk), Eşref and Haci Sami Kuşçubaşı brothers, Ömer Naci, Mümtaz, Captain Rıza, Nuri Pasha (Mataracı), Eyüp Sabri (Akgöl), Yusuf Şetvan, İzmitli Mümtaz.[9] In another study based on Eşref Kuşçubaşı’s works, the organization was dated between 1911 and 1913 unofficially and it is read: “Whether the Organization is called as the Provisional Government of Western Thrace or the Bouncer Officers [Fedai Zabıtan] or the Eastern Affairs [Umur-u Şarkiye] or the Special Organization doesn’t matter unless it is composed of same type of people under the leadership of Enver Pasha.”  And it is emphasized that, by connecting the date of constitution of the Organization to the nonofficial and illegal organizations founded by Enver Pasha before becoming the War Ministry and the Deputy Commander-in-chief, there is an organic bond with various armed groups as well as the Union and Progress Committee.[10] The high ranking members of the Union and Progress Committee could issue orders on behalf of Enver Pasha on the basis of their close link with him.[11]

Structure of the Special Organization

The Special Organization has a blurred and transitive staff in the sense of civil-military relations in the triangle of ‘Army-Party-Security.’ It central core is the officers belonging to the 3rd Army. In this connection, its staffs match up with the staffs of the Army of Action and Tripoli troops. It is also possible to say that it had been reorganized in 1913 from the fedai officers after the Balkan War. The Special Organization’s staffs had gained and developed experience in respect of ethnic cleansing during the resistance movements in Macedonia, the operations of the Army of Action, the Tripoli and Balkan War and the pre-war practices in Aegean and Thrace before the war experiences of practical, they won and they have developed. The most important staffs were gathered during the Aegean and Thracian practices: Mahzar Müfit Kansu, Dr. Reşid, İbrahim Bedrettin, Gen. Pertev Demirhan, Sarı Edip Efe, Eşref Kuşçubaşı, etc.

Toynbee conveys the following information about the destruction of Christians from the Aegean: “Turks’ attacks against the Western Anatolian Greeks intensified in the spring of 1914. By spreading terror, all Greek communities were de-territorialized; their houses, lands and immovable were confiscated, and the people were killed in this process.” “The development of events shows this is systematic. Terror gravitated from one region to another and executed through the ‘gangs’ gathered from Rumelian immigrants as well as the local residents and seemingly related to Ottoman gendarmerie.”[12]

The Union and Progress Committee realizes their plan to cleanse non-Turkish elements from the Aegean with a large staff. In Çeşme, 40.000 Greeks evaporated from their historical territory within a week. The number of non-Turkish exterminated under this plan varies from 150,000 to 1.5 million according to various authorities. Also, needless to say, all assets of these elements were seized. The Special Organization provided the services, which can’t be accomplished by the governmental institutes, with the measures taken in the places where non-Turkish elements always in doubt in respect of commitment and loyalty constitute a majority have doubts. Acts towards the inner enemy, namely the non-Turkish and non-Muslim people of the Empire, started before the World War I as seen in the examples before World War I started. Later, following revising this ethnic cleansing plan including expulsion of the Greek population in Thrace and Aegean and confiscation of their properties as part of the national economy policy, a larger plan, namely genocide, was applied to the historical Armenia.

Mission of the Special Organization

Vahakn N. Dadrian points out that the Special Organization was created as an unit against Armenians before the Ottoman Empire has gone to war: “There is nothing wrong to say that organization of this unit was based on the experiences gained from the Aegean practices. (…) When the war started, a very secret task force was formed for the purpose of keeping Armenians under oppression. This organ consisted of National Security Director and Talat’s close friend Canpolat,  Police Chief Bedri, his assistant Mustafa Reşat [Mimaroğlu] and National Security Directorate’s two department chiefs Aziz [Akyürek] and Esat [Ahmet Esat Uras]. These men, especially, Bedri who was the Chief of 3rd Section and Political Section in the Security Directorate between 1915-1917 and his assistant Reşat played an important role in the Armenian genocide. The same things can be said for Canpolat who was the head of the Empire’s Security and Gendarmerie (also, wartime Interior Minister). These gendarmerie companies and platoons in charge of relocation in the provinces were under his authority.”[13] Mentioning that Esat Bey [Ahmet Esat Uras] attended at this meeting, Dadrian says that he himself prepared a draft as the person charged to take the minutes of the discussion about the genocide details. Five participants of this meeting are Talat, Dr. Nazım and Dr. Şakir, Canpolat and Colonel Seyfi [Düzgören] who was the director of the General Staff II. Department in charge of planning and management of the Special Organization’s secret activities.[14] As seen, the managing staffs are taken shape in a circle of committee-party-army-security. Zürcher noted that some of the party’s provincial chairpersons helped to organize this genocide by the Special Organization under the direction of Bahaettin Şakir, Political Affairs Director. [15] 

However there is some allegations, especially in the works published in the frame of the State’s 2015/Genocide Centenary strategy that the Special Organization was not directly associated with the Genocide process: “The historians advocating the Armenian Genocide propounded the name of the Special Organization. The allegation that it is the organization carrying out the genocide is based on Naim Andonian’s documents and memoirs. But, according to the information by Lewy Gunter, the fact that the advocators’ assertion about the Special Organization is based on the documentation is completely groundless. American researcher Stoddart says that the Special Organization did not take a role in deporting Armenians.”[16] Additionally, Stoddart’s words that “The Special Organization was not still finished” must be examined in detail. [17]

Behiç Erkin gives important information about the Special Organization in the person of Yakup Cemil, one of the wartime commanders of the organization and the Union and Progress Committee’s famous fedai: “this guy has done all kinds of cruelty and persecution with his gangs; so, his execution has been proper and well-timedly.”[18] Ahmet Refik (Altınay), one of the intelligence officers of those times, documents these facts with clearer statements: “At the beginning of the war, many gangs [chete] were sent to Anatolia from İstanbul. These gangs composed of the killers and thieves dismissed from prisons. They were drilled for one week in the yard of the War Ministry and sent to the border of Caucasian by means of the Special Organization. Most of killings during the Armenian atrocity were carried out by these gangs.”[19]

Pre-War Operations of the Special Organization in The Historical Armenia

Immediately after the creation of the gangs, in August, military actions were started within Russia. At the same time, the attacks and massacres occur against Armenians in the region. Especially on the borders of Caucasus, some individual attacks were started to the Armenian villages, intellectuals, political and religious leaders in September. “The gangs were counting their principal tasks as attacking and plundering the Armenian villages. If they can’t get men, they were raping women, and they were usurping all money and valuable articles.[20]

In his report dated 5 December 1914 from Erzurum, the German Consul Schwarz summarizes the events as “the attacks against Armenians of Erzurum”: “Armenians living in rural areas around Erzurum are quite uncomfortable with some developments and are regarding these as a harbinger of a new extermination. On the first day of December, three gang members had been guests, had eaten and stayed up all night in the house of a preacher well-esteemed among Armenians in Osni village of Erzurum.  On next morning, they forced the father to accompany them to the border of the village, and then, they shot him…”[21]

Resources of the Special Organization: Criminals – Prisoners

The Special Organization caused by Enver to found within the body of the pre-war War Ministry contains in itself many Muslims from the regions controlled Britain and Russia as well the Ottoman citizens. They begin their propaganda works in these regions long before the war. Later, hundreds of ordinary criminals from prisons and bashibazouk chetes in the mountains are engaged for national service in the ranks of the Special Organization.[22] They are promised for legal support to be given at the end of this mobilization[23]. These affairs are conducted by Rıza Bey, Nail Bey and Cemal Azmi Bey under their co-decision.[24] Relevant decrees were issued later.

The Genocide Process

With the start of the war motorization, the Special Organization begins its Responsible Secretaries to Trabzon by sea and Erzincan by land from İstanbul.  This most active unit created with Germans’ suggestions and support would perform intelligence and sabotage actions against the Allied Powers, especially Russia in Caucasia. However, these initiatives do not work out anywhere; in January 1915, all hopes are dashed and the Special Organization’s units and gangs introvert. Bahaettin Şakir: “….The center of gravity of the war is neither Egypt or Basra or Rumeli… It is the East.”[25]

Upon this failure story, the Union and Progress Committee’s leaders determined a new mission for the Special Organization with Dr. Şakir’s insistence: Annihilation of Armenians all over Turkey and especially in six Eastern provinces.[26] In the light of the decisions, the Special Organization’s troops are reconstructed. The most important decision is that these troops would be disconnected with the army anymore. The troops would act independently in the region and be subject to Bahaettin Şakir. The genocide researchers emphasizes that the Special Organization were directed by Bahaettin Şakir: “The operations were being directed by Bahattin Şakir  who returned to Erzurum by the end of May ― mostly, against Governor Tahsin Bey.”[27] The Special Organization’s privileged person Ömer Naci is being engaged in suppressing resistances and facilitating genocide in Mardin, Ayn-Wardo, Hazax…

There are a lot of reports sent by German commanders about the Special Organization’s operations to their superiors. These reports documents that the Organization was one of the most important actors during the Genocide. Lieutenant Colonel Stange in Erzurum: “The whole Armenians were killed by the chetes (voluntaries), tribes or similar groups around Mamahatun (Tercan), and it is certain that the escorts connived at these killings.”[28]

Sait Çetinoğlu

[1] Galip Vardar, İttihad ve Terakki İçinde Dönenler. Ed. S.N. Tansu, YZY, p. 387-388

[2] Hamit Bozarslan, Türkiye’de Devlet Komitacılık ve Çetecilik Konusunda Birkaç Hipotez, Resmi Tarih Tartışmaları-1 Ed. F.Başkaya,  Özgür Ün. Kitaplığı 2005, p. 181.

[3] Ternon, Bir Soykırım Tarihi, ed. R. Zarakolu, Belge,  2013, p. 272

[4] Bilge Criss, İşgal Altında İstanbul 1918-1923, iletişim 2008, p. 145

[5] Bilge Criss, İşgal Altında İstanbul…, p. 146

[6] Taner akçam, İnsan Hakları ve Ermeni Sorunu, İmge, 2002, p. 169-171

[7] Ahmet Tetik, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (Umur-ı Şarkiyye Dairesi) Tarihi Vol.: 1, 1914-1916, İşbankası Y., 2014, p. 15

[8] Orhan Koloğlu, Curnalcilikten Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’ya, Kırmızı Kedi Y., 2012, p. 98

[9] Orhan Koloğlu, Curnalcilikten Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’ya Kırmızı Kedi Y., 2012, p. 89

[10] Atilla Çeliktepe, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa’nın Siyasi Misyonu, IQ 2002, p. 73-74-75

[11] Philip H. Stoddard, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa,  Arma, 2003, p. 2

[12] Arnold J. Toynnbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey NY 1970, p 36

[13] Vahakn N. Dadrian, Ermeni Soykırımında Kurumsal Roller, Trans. Attila Tuygan, Belge, 2004, p. 28

[14] Vahakn N. Dadrian, Ermeni Soykırımında Kurumsal Roller, Trans. Attila Tuygan, Belge, 2004, p. 28

[15] Erik Jan Zürcher, Modern Türkiye’nin Tarihi…, p. 171

[16] Şükrü Altın, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, Bir Gizli Teşkilatın Öyküsü, İlgi Kitap, 2014, p. 187-188

[17] Şükrü Altın, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa…, p. 370  

[18] Behiç Erkin, Hatırat  1876-1958, Ed. Ali Birinci, TTK, 2010, p. 154-55

[19] Ahmet Rekif, İki komite İki Kıt’al, Kebikeç, Ed. H. Koyokan, 1994, p. 27

[20] Taner Akçam, İnsan Hakları, p. 241

[21] Wolfgang Gust, Alman Belgeleri, Ermeni Soykırımı 1915-1916, Alman dışişleri Bakanlığı Siyasi arşiv Belgeleri, Trans. Z. Hasançebi-A. Takcan, Ed. S. Adalı- S. Çetinoğlu, Belge, 2012, p. 195

[22] Serdar Dinçer, Alman Belgelerinde Alman – Türk silah Arkadaşlığı, p. 359

[23] ATAŞE, BDH Kol., Kls. 249, D.1036, F.9

[24] Ahmet Tetik, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa…, p. 285

[25] BOA, DH. ŞFR, D.459, V4(3); ATASE, BDH Kol, KLS 246, D.1022, F.1-93

[26] Vahakn N. Dadrian, Ermeni Soykırımında Kurumsal Roller, Trans. Attila Tuygan, Belge, 2004, p. 29

[27] Yves Ternon, bir Soykırım Tarihi, Ed. Ragıp Zarakolu, Belge, p. 314

[28] Wolfgang Gust Alman Belgeleri Ermeni Soykırımı,  1915-16, p. 116