After the Ottoman Empire surrendered to the Allies in 1918, its newly-organized government, headed by Ahmed Izzet Pasha, decided to try the leaders of the Young Turks and the members of the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) for involving the Ottoman Empire in World War I and organizing the Armenian Genocide.
The move was an attempt to distance the new government from the legacy of the Young Turks and prevent the possible punitive actions by the Allies who had defeated the Ottomans in the war.
In December of that year, the Ottoman Government set up Inquiry Commissions under the chairmanship of Ankara’s former Governer Mazhar Bey to collect evidence for the trials. The provinces of the Empire were then divided into ten investigative districts; prosecutors, inquiring judges and secretaries were appointed for each district. And the commissions began gathering up encoded telegraphs, official writings, instructions, orders, as well as eye-witness accounts-of the massacres of Armenians.
On January 8, 1918, Military Tribunals of first, second and third instances were established in Istanbul. During the court hearings, investigation was conducted into the criminal actions of the leaders of the Young Turk Government; the members of the Central Committee of the CUP, the regional secretaries and officials, the special organization that had committed the Armenian slaughters called “Teshkilat Mahsuse,” as well as the organizers of the deportation and carnage of the Armenians of Yozgat, Trebizon and Byoyukdere (a suburb of Constantinople) and Harpoot.
Under the existing law, the accused were to be tried in the locales where they had committed their crimes, but on February 5, 1919, the Istanbul Military Tribunal decided to prosecute the accused in Istanbul.
By a special decree of Sultan Mahmed VI Vahideddin (1918 to 1922), the leaders of the CUP and ministers of government were brought before the Military Tribunal of Istanbul for judgment. Their crimes were condemned in 1919 by Grand Vizier Damad Ferid.
The trial of the leaders and ministers of the CUP began in Istanbul on April 27, 1919 and continued until June 26 with 13 sittings. During these trials, 11 party-affiliated and high-ranking statesmen were sentenced in absentia alongside another 20 political figures who were present at court. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the British Command exiled 77 prisoners to the island of Malta on May 28.
The first verdict against the Young Turks was reached on July 5, 1919. Sentenced to death in abstentia were: Interior Minister Talaat Pasha, the Grand Vizier and CUP Chairman; Military Minister Enver Pasha, the Minister of the Marine and Commander of the 4th Turkish army in Syria during World War I; Teshqilat Mahsuse Central Committee member Jemal Pasha; and Minister of Public Education, Doctor Nazim.
The remaining 27 were sentenced to different prison terms, while a small group of accused officials were acquitted because of the absence of evidence. The verdict did not contain a single reference to the criminals who had been banished to Malta from the Turkish prison under the protection of the English Command. Later many of them, after returning from exile, held different high positions in the Republic of Turkey.
The trials of the regional secretaries and other officials of the CUP took place on June 21, 23, 28 of 1919 and a verdict was reached on January 8 1920. Three of the 36 people accused were sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment, the others to imprisonment of several years.
The verdict for the perpetrators of the massacres of Yozgat Armenians’ was reached on 8 April 1919. Deputy Governor of Yozgat and Governor of Boghazlyan Kemal Bey were sentenced to death. Yozgat’s Police Chief Tevik Bey was convicted to 15 years of penal servitude. The verdict of the perpetrators of the Trebizon massacres was reached on May 22, 1919. Two of the eight criminals, Governor of Trabzon Jemal Azmi Bey, and the CUP Secretary for Trebizond, Nayim Bey, were sentenced to death in absentia; the others were convicted to different years of imprisonment. The verdict of the perpetrators of the Armenian and Greek massacres of Byoyukdere was proclaimed on May 24, 1919. All those accused received prison terms of several years. The verdict of the active organizers of the deportation and slaughter of Harpoot Armenians was reached on January 13, 1920. Behaeddin ShaKir Bey, a member of the CUP, was sentenced to death, and Resneli Nazim Bey, a CUP Secretary, was convicted to 15 years of penal servitude.
The Treaty of Sevres signed on August 10, 1920 authorized the League of Nations to carry out certain steps for punishment of the Ottoman criminals convicted in the Armenian Genocide. According to the treaty, the Turkish Government was required to hand over to the Allied Powers the persons whose surrender may be required by the latter as being responsible for the massacres committed during the continuance of the state of war on territory which formed part of the Turkish Empire on August 1, 1914.
The decisions and reports of the trials of 1919 to 1920 were published in the appendices of the “Takvim Vekayi,” an official Turkish newspaper. All the title pages have the following heading: “Report of the Trial of the Military Tribunal made up by His Majesty Sultan’s Imperial Order Dated 8 March 1335 (1919).”
Publications on these trials were also found in the contemporary Armenian and Turkish press.
The documents (encoded telegraphs and letters) attached to the verdicts attested to the fact that Armenians were not deported or massacred for security reasons. The documents collected during the court hearings and attached to the verdicts proved that the Armenian deportations were aimed at total annihilation of the Armenian population. This plan for “final solution” was perpetrated exceptionally on the initiative of the CUP Central with instructions and secret orders received from the centre.
The trials of the Young Turks’ Government, organized between 1919 and 1920 by the Turkish authorities, are unique evidence proving that the Armenian Genocide was a politically organized and committed act.
These trials and verdicts are important arguments against the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the official Turkish historiography. Most of the officials found guilty during the trials, however, became associates of Kemal Ataturk, who set up a rebel government in Ankara and expelled the allies from Anatolia. After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, these criminals were given important positions in the Turkish military and state.