Labour Battalions (Ottoman Empire)

Men of the Labour Battalions
Greek genocide
Young Turk Revolution · Ottoman Greeks · Pontic Greeks · Ottoman Empire
The genocide
Labour Battalions · Death march · Massacre of Phocaea
Evacuation of Ayvalik · İzmit massacres · Samsun deportations · Amasya trials · Burning of Smyrna
Foreign aid and relief
Relief Committee for Greeks of Asia Minor · American Committee for Relief in the Near East
Responsible parties
Young Turks or Committee of Union and Progress · Three Pashas: Talat, Enver, Djemal · Bahaeddin Şakir · Teskilati Mahsusa or Special Organization · Nureddin Pasha · Topal Osman · Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
See also
Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) · Greeks in Turkey · Population Exchange · Greek refugees · Armenian genocide · Assyrian genocide · Turkish courts-martial of 1919–1920 · Malta Tribunals

Ottoman labour battalions (Turkish: Amele Taburları, Armenian: Աշխատանքային բատալիոն, Greek: Τάγματα Εργασίας, Tagmata Ergasias, but more often the transliterated Turkish name αμελέ ταμπουρού 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][5][6]


During World War I, the Ottoman Empire relied on the labor battalions for the logistical organization of the army. The Empire had a scarce railway infrastructure at the time. According to Hilmar Kaiser, to men assigned to the battalions varied between 25'000 to 50'000, depending on whether it was war or peace.[7] The laborers were assigned to perform construction works on the roads and railways and to transport the supplies the army needed in the battle front.[7] Most of the recruits were Christians, amongst which the Armenians were the largest contingent besides the Greeks and Syriac Christians.[8]

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, following the defeat of the Ottomans in the Battle of Sarikamish,[9] 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."[10] Enver Pasha explained this decision as "out of fear that they would collaborate with the Russians."[11] The Armenians which before were deployed in the Battle of Sarikamish were disarmed and included into the labor battalions.[9] 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.[12]


The Greek novelist Elias Venezis later described the situation in his work Number 31328 (Το Νούμερο 31328). According to his account, of the 3000 "conscripted" into Venezis' labour brigade, only 23 survived.[13]

Leyla Neyzi has published a study of the diary of Yaşar Paker, a member of the Jewish community of early 20th century Angora/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.[14]


  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. ^ Morris, Benny; Ze'evi, Dror (2019). The Thirty-Year Genocide. Harvard University Press. p. 387. ISBN 9780674240087. Many of the Greek deportations involved chiefly women and children as, by early 1915, most army-age Greek men had been mobilized in Ottoman labor battalions or had fled their homes to avoid conscription.
  4. ^ "Notes on the Genocides of Christian Populations of the Ottoman Empire". Retrieved 2020-04-13.
  5. ^ Morris, Benny; Ze'evi, Dror (2019). The Thirty-Year Genocide. Harvard University Press. p. 404. ISBN 9780674240087. Early 1921 saw continued pressure for mass conscription of able-bodied Greeks. They were destined for labor battalions, which, 'in reality,' a missionary wrote, meant they would 'starve or freeze to death.'
  6. ^ Andrew R. Basso (2016). "Towards a Theor ds a Theory of Displacement A y of Displacement Atrocities: The Cher ocities: The Cherokee Trail of Tears, The Her ears, The Herero Genocide, and The P o Genocide, and The Pontic Gr ontic Greek Genocide eek Genocide". Genocide Studies and Prevention. 10 (1). doi:10.5038/1911-9933.10.1.1297. The Pontic Greeks suffered similar gendered genocide (gendercidal) policy outcomes. The brutal amele taburları were organized and Pontian men were sent there to be slave labourers for the Ottoman Army. In this sense, the YT (Young Turks) and later Kemalist regimes solved two problems at once: they were able to move military materiel and were able to do so by killing Pontian men by indirect means (working them to death) which eliminated a significant portion of the population able to resist genocide.
  7. ^ a b Kaiser, Hilmar (2002). Kieser, Hans-Lukas; Schaller, Dominik J. (eds.). Armenian genocide and the Shoah. Chronos. pp. 190–191. ISBN 978-3-0340-0561-6.
  8. ^ Kaiser, Hilmar (2002). Kieser, Hans-Lukas; Schaller, Dominik J. (eds.). p.191
  9. ^ a b Kaiser, Hilmar (2002). Kieser, Hans-Lukas; Schaller, Dominik J. (eds.). p.193
  10. ^ Kaman Gürün (1986), The Armenian File. Palgrave McMillan. ISBN 978-0312049409
  11. ^ Suny 2015, pp. 244
  12. ^ Toynbee, Arnold. Armenian Atrocities: The Murder of a Nation. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915, pp. 181–2.
  13. ^ Elias Venezis (2006). González Rincón, Manuel (ed.). Number 31328: The Book of Slavery (in Spanish). Universidad de Sevilla. p. 12. ISBN 9788447210565. From Ayvalik town, there were three thousand prisoners heading to the interior. At the end of 1923, once the armistice was signed, and with the consequent population exchange, only twenty-three of those three thousand prisoners came back alive.
  14. ^ Strong as Steel, Fragile as a Rose: A Turkish Jewish Witness to the Twentieth Century, Leyla Neyzi paper on the basis of Yaşar Paker's diary published in the Jewish Social Studies in Fall 2005

Further reading

  • Zürcher, Erik-Jan: Ottoman labour battalions in World War I, in: Kieser, Hans-Lukas / Schaller, Dominik J. (eds.): Der Völkermord an den Armeniern und die Shoah = The Armenian genocide and the Shoah, Zurich 2002: Chronos, pp. 187-196.