In 1913, Mehmet Reşid was appointed governor of Karesi, a region that could almost be described as the testing ground of the Armenian Genocide. Reşid Bey played a significant role in the forced deportation of Greeks from the region, and this ‘success’ brought him the rank of the General Secretary of the General Inspectorate for the provinces of Van, Bitlis, Diyarbekir and Mamuretülaziz. He was appointed to this post because Interior Minister Talaat Pasha considered him “active, competent and patriotic”.
Mehmet Reşid Bey was born in Russia in 1873, and was the child of a Circassian family that had to flee persecution to Istanbul in 1874. In 1899, during his studies at the Military Medical School, he was to become a founder of an organisation that would leave its imprint on the next 30 years of the Ottoman Empire. The name of the organization they founded on June 2, in the courtyard of the Medical School, with İshak Sükûti, İbrahim Temo and Abdullah Cevdet, was İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).
Following his graduation as a doctor, he was appointed assistant to Düring Pasha, the German military doctor posted in Istanbul. Buoyed by the declaration of the Second Constitutional Era, Mehmet Reşid resigned as doctor and returned from Tripoli to Istanbul, to begin a career as a bureaucrat. His administrative career began in İstanköy/Kos, and continued in Lebanon. In 1913, Mehmet Reşid was appointed governor of Karesi, a region that could almost be described as the testing ground of the Armenian Genocide. Reşid Bey played a significant role in the forced deportation of Greeks from the region, and this ‘success’ brought him the rank of the General Secretary of the General Inspectorate for the provinces of Van, Bitlis, Diyarbekir and Mamuretülaziz. He was appointed to this post because Interior Minister Talaat Pasha considered him “active, competent and patriotic”.
‘A sensitive time’
Appointed Governor of Diyarbekir on 25 March 1915, the time when Reşid Bey arrived in the city, in his own words, “coincided with a most sensitive time of the war.” One of Reşid’s plans to make it through this period was to “sort out the question of Armenians, who damaged the honour of the government with their aggressive attitude”. This is what he wrote in a telegram to Talaat Pasha before his departure from his previous post, Mosul, to Diyarbekir: “Since we should do whatever we can in the meantime, in my opinion, we should take the shortest cut regarding the Armenians.”
The moment he stepped foot in the city, he initiated a broad inquest. He had all the Armenian notables of the city arrested. The detainees were tortured to force confessions of plans to revolt, and were murdered. In a telegram to Talaat Pasha at the end of May, he wrote, “Armenians have to be exiled to Mosul and Cizre”.
Reşid elaborately planned to provoke the Muslim folk along the deportation route against the Armenians, and this was how he explained the end he prepared for Armenians to Ramanlı Mustafa: “Look, Agha! There are a lot of rich Armenians here. You, your brother Ömer and your men will find boats. I will hand over convoys of Armenians to you. If anyone asks anything, you will say, ‘We’re taking you to Mosul’… You will take them on the Tigris with the boats. When you get to a place where no one can see you, you will kill them all and throw their bodies into the Tigris… All their properties will go to your men. And all the gold, money and jewellery, you can have half, and bring the other half to me so I can give it to the Red Crescent.”
Thus, the Armenian population of Diyarbekir, which exceeded 56 thousand in 1914, when he was appointed, would drop to 1849 by 1917. Along with the Armenians who came to Diyarbekir on the deportation route, Reşid Bey would eventually annihilate 90% of the Christians in the province during his term as governor. Reşid’s victims were not only Christians. He summoned Lice District Governor Nesimi Bey, who opposed the deportation order, to Diyarbekir, and had him killed before he reached his destination.
Reşid would later be appointed to Ankara, where his embezzlement of properties left behind by Armenians would anger even Talaat Pasha, and he was deposed. According to Haçig Fardjalian’s account, he would take 43 boxes full of jewellery from Diyarbekir to Ankara.
In November 1918, he was put in the Bekirağa Military Prison as a perpetrator of the Genocide. In January 1919, he managed to escape, but committed suicide, fearing he would be executed when he was captured. He left behind the following response he gave in 1917 to Mithat Şükrü Bey, who asked him how he could have carried out such acts as a doctor by profession, explaining the brutality he inflicted in 1915 in the clearest manner: “(…) Armenian bandits were harmful microbes that had infested this nation’s body. Is it not the doctor’s task to kill microbes?”
However, the Republican regime remembered him not for his crimes, but with pride. As the Grand National Assembly of Turkey declared him “national martyr” in 1922, his family was given shops and houses left behind by Armenians.
Sources: Ayhan Aktar, ‘Diyarbakır 1915: Kötülüğün arkeolojisi [Diyarbakır 1915: The archaeology of evil’], Taraf, 1 February 2012; Hans-Lukas Kieser, ‘From ‘Patriotism’ to Mass Murder: Dr. Mehmed Reşid (1873-1919)’, in ‘A Question of Genocide: Armenians and Turks at the End of the Ottoman Empire’, Oxford University Press, 2011; Uğur Üngör, ‘The Making of Modern Turkey: Nation and State in Eastern Anatolia, 1913-1950’, Oxford University Press, 2011.