Ottoman Labour Battalions
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Ottoman Labour Battalions
Men of the Labour Battalions

Ottoman labour battalions (Turkish: Amele Taburlar?, Armenian: , Greek , Tagmata Ergasias, but more often the transliterated Turkish name is used) was a form of unfree labour in the late Ottoman Empire. The term is associated with disarmament and murder of Ottoman Armenian soldiers during World War I,[1][2] of Ottoman Greeks during the Greek genocide in the Ottoman Empire[3] and also during the Turkish War of Independence.[4]

Armenians in labour battalions

Armenians did not serve in the armed forces in the Ottoman Empire until 1908. Soon after the Young Turk Revolution, which declared that unfair distinction between Muslim and Christian members of the Empire would end, the Armenians, now treated as equal citizens, became subject to conscription like other members of the society. This meant that they had to serve in the military.

On 25 February 1915, the Ottoman General Staff released the War Minister Enver Pasha's Directive 8682 which stated that as a result of Armenian attacks on soldiers and the stockpiling of bombs in Armenian houses, "Armenians shall strictly not be employed in mobile armies, in mobile and stationary gendarmeries, or in any armed services."[5] Enver Pasha explained this decision as "out of fear that they would collaborate with the Russians." [6] Traditionally, the Ottoman Army only drafted non-Muslim males between 20-45 years old into the regular army. Younger (15-20) and older (45-60) non-Muslim soldiers had always been used as logistical support through the labour battalions. Before February, some of the Armenian recruits were utilized as labourers (hamals); they would ultimately be executed.[7]


The Greek novelist Elias Venezis later described the situation in his work Number 31328 ( ? 31328). Of the 3000 "conscripted" into Venezis' labour brigade, only 23 survived.

Leyla Neyzi has published a study of the diary of Ya?ar Paker, a member of the Jewish community of early 20th century Ankara who was drafted to the Labour Battalions twice, first during the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) and then again during World War II, a war in which Turkey did not take part. Neyzi's paper on the basis of Paker's diary published by Jewish Social Studies presents an overall picture for the conditions in these battalions, which were composed entirely of non-Muslims.[8]


  1. ^ Foreign Office Memorandum by Mr. G.W. Rendel on Turkish Massacres and Persecutions of Minorities since the Armistice, March 20, 1922, Paragraph 35
  2. ^ USA Congress, Concurrent Resolution, September 9, 1997
  3. ^ The Ethnic Cleansing of Greeks from Gallipoli, April 1915
  4. ^ Notes on the Genocides of Christian Populations of the Ottoman Empire
  5. ^ Kaman Gürün (1986), The Armenian File. Palgrave McMillan. ISBN 978-0312049409
  6. ^ Suny 2015, pp. 244
  7. ^ Toynbee, Arnold. Armenian Atrocities: The Murder of a Nation. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915, pp. 181-2.
  8. ^ Strong as Steel, Fragile as a Rose: A Turkish Jewish Witness to the Twentieth Century, Leyla Neyzi paper on the basis of Ya?ar Paker's diary published in the Jewish Social Studies in Fall 2005

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