Doctors and the Armenian genocide

The Armenian and Assyrian genocide that took place between 1914 and 1923, along with the Pontian Greek mass murders, provided the template for the Holocaust: forced emigration, expulsions, property confiscations, forced labour, public torture and executions, medical experiments, elementary gassings, starvation and death marches.

These resulted in the deaths of up to 1,500,000 Armenians, perhaps 250,000 Assyrian Christians and 350,000 Pontian Greeks.

The Turkish government, a last relic of nineteenth-century nationalism, maintains its odious denial that genocide even occurred.

This is at odds with the mass of historical evidence, now reaching a torrent, confirming the planned extermination of a group of people that was carried out with such brutal success.

What is not well known is the role of doctors in the genocide – another ominous precedent for the Holocaust.

Our knowledge of this comes from the distinguished Armenian historian Vahakn Dadrian, who demonstrated that the genocide was largely directed and carried out by doctors, prominent members of the Ittihadist Party who came to power in a coup in 1908.

Medical personnel did not merely supervise proceedings; they were directly involved in the killings, often participating in torture.

The most prominent physicians were Dr Behaeddin Sakir and Dr Mehmett Nazim, who played pivotal roles in the establishment and deployment of the Special Organization units, extermination squads staffed by violent criminals released from prisons to undertake killings.

Sakir worked at one time as the chief physician of Soloniki Municipal Hospital and Nazim – described as “a doctor by profession and not without promise” – in what must be regarded as one of the most misguided appointments in the history of medicine, was the professor of Legal (Ethical) Medicine at Istanbul Medical School.

Utterly unrepentant to the end of his life, Nazim was thought to have been responsible for a million murders. Continue reading

Robert M. Kaplan is a forensic psychiatrist and author.

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