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Mehmed Reshid

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Mehmed Reshid

Mehmed Reshid
Governor of Diyarbekir
Incumbent
Assumed office
25 March 1915
Preceded by Hamid Bey
Personal details
Born 8 February 1873
Russian Empire
Died 6 February 1919(1919-02-06) (aged 45)
Political party Committee of Union and Progress (CUP)
Spouse(s) Mazlûme Hanım
Alma mater Constantinople Military School of Medicine
Profession Doctor

Dr. Mehmed Reshid (Turkish: Mehmed Reşit Şahingiray; b. 8 February 1873 - 6 February 1919)[1] was the governor (vali) of the Diyarbekir vilayet of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. He is known for organizing the wartime destruction of the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek communities of Diyarbekir.[2] He was known as the "butcher of Diyarbakir".[3][4]

Biography

Reshid was born on 8 February 1873 to a Circassian family in the Russian Caucasia, but due to increasing Russian persecution, he fled with his family to Constantinople In 1874.[5]

He enrolled in Constantinople's Military School of Medicine and was one of the founders of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). In 1894, Reshid was appointed as an assistant to the German professor Düring Pasha at the Haydarpaşa hospital. When his links to the CUP were discovered by police in 1897 he was exiled to Libya.[5] He served as a doctor in Tripoli until 1908, when he returned to Constantinople following the Young Turk Revolution. He resigned from his position in the Ottoman military the following year, and pursued a career in state administration that took him from İstanköy to the Lebanon to Karesi and ultimately Diyarbekir.[6]

Diyarbekir governorship

Over the years, Reshid became increasingly radicalized and by 1914 he was convinced that the Christians of the empire were to blame for its economic woes.[1] During his tenure as district governor of Karesi, he had organized the forced deportation of the Ottoman Greeks (Rumlar) in the Aegean, whom he no longer considered to be faithful citizens of the empire. This policy was supported by the Ottoman Interior Minister Talat Pasha.[7]

In 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I on the side of the Central Powers and fighting erupted at the border against Russia. In the spring of 1915, the Russians advanced successfully into Ottoman territory and the quick march of their army toward Diyarbakir, according to historian Uğur Üngör, must have confirmed Reshid's "apocalyptic fear" of the Russians and their perceptions of all Armenians to be Russian spies.[2] Before the war, the economic and political competition between the Muslim and Christian urban elite also played an important role in the violence.[2]

His particularly strong hatred for the empire's Armenians was made manifest in the mass murders of Armenians and Syriacs he organized in the Diyarbekir province following his accession to the governorship on March 25, 1915, at the height of World War I. Reshid had persuaded himself that the native Armenian population was conspiring against the Ottoman state and he had accordingly drawn up plans for the "solution of the Armenian question."[8] He recounted in his memoirs:

My appointment to Diyarbekir coincided with a very delicate period of the war. Large parts of Van and Bitlis had been invaded by the enemy [i.e., the Russians], deserters were transgressing, pillaging and robbing everywhere. Yezidi and Nestorian uprisings in or at the border of the province required the application of drastic measures. The transgressional, offensive and impudent attitude of the Armenians was seriously endangering the honor of the government.[9]

Over the next two months the Armenians and Assyrians of the province were targeted in a brutal campaign of extermination and were wiped out by way of wholesale massacres and deportations.[10] According to the Venezuelan officer and mercenary Rafael de Nogales, who visited the region in June 1915, Reshid had recently received a three-worded telegram from Talat Pasha to "Burn-Destroy-Kill," an order cited as official government approval of his persecution of the Christian population.[11][12] He is said to have burned 800 Syriac Christian children alive by himself after enclosing them in a building.[13] Nesimi Bey and Sabit Bey, the governors of the districts of Lice and Sabit, respectively, are both suspected to have been assassinated under the express orders of Reshid for their opposition to the killings.[14] Anywhere between 144,000 to 157,000 Armenians, Syriacs and other Christians, or 87 to 95% of the province's Christian population, were killed or deported during Reshid's tenure as governor of Diyarbekir.[15]

When later asked by the CUP secretary general Mithat Şukru Bleda how he, as a doctor, had had the heart to kill so many people he replied:

Being a doctor could not cause me to forget my nationality! Reshid is a doctor. But he was born as a Turk....Either the Armenians were to eliminate the Turks, or the Turks were to eliminate the Armenians. I did not hesitate when I was confronted with this dilemma. My Turkishness prevailed over my profession. I figured, instead of wiping us out, we will wipe them out....On the question how I, as a doctor, could have murdered, I can answer as follows: the Armenians had become hazardous microbes in the body of this country. Well, isn’t it a doctor’s duty to kill microbes?[16]

When asked by Bleda how history might remember him, Reshid simply responded, "Let other nations write about me whatever history they want, I couldn't care less."[17]

Final years

Most of the jewelry and possessions Reshid had confiscated from the Armenians were, in theory, to be forwarded to the central government's treasury. Talat Pasha's concern for these valuables resulted in an investigation into Reshid for embezzlement, which found that he had amassed a personal fortune from the killings. A doctor, Hyacinth Fardjalian, attested, "I myself saw Rechid Bey arrive at Aleppo by a train bound for Constantinople with 43 boxes of jewellery and two cases of precious stones."[18] He was transferred to Ankara province, where he had been appointed the new governor. At this time he purchased a mansion on the Bosphorus. When Talat found out about this, he had Reshid removed from his post.[19]

On November 5, 1918, a little less than a week after Ottoman capitulation to the Allies, Reshid was arrested and sent to Bekirağa prison in Constantinople. His role in the massacres was exposed in the Constantinople press, though he would go on to deny his actions and having ever committed any crime. Reshid managed to escape in January 1919, but when government authorities cornered him he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.[20]

Legacy

Despite his role in the destruction of the Christian communities of Diyarbekir, Reshid was embraced by the authorities of the newly established Republic of Turkey. In Ankara, a boulevard was named after him in his honor.[3] The Ministry of Economy saw to it that his wife Mazlûme Hanım was properly cared for and in 1928 provided shops formerly belonging to deported Armenians to help support her livelihood. Reshid's family was also given two houses and, in a 1930 decree signed by President Mustafa Kemal and other members of the cabinet, was allocated further Armenian properties.[21]

See also

Notes

Bibliography

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