Labour Battalions (Ottoman Empire)

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For more information on similar units, see labour battalion. For Turkish labour battalions during World War II, see The Twenty Classes.
Men of the Labour Battalions

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 Pontic and Anatolian Greeks during the Turkish War of Independence (see: Greek genocide,[3] Central Army.)

Armenians in labour battalions[edit]

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 on "Increased security and precautions" to all military units calling for the removal of all ethnic Armenians serving in the Ottoman forces from their posts and for their demobilization. They were assigned to the unarmed labour battalions. The directive accused the Armenian Patriarchate of releasing State secrets to the Russians. Enver Pasha explained this decision as "out of fear that they would collaborate with the Russians".[4] Traditionally, the Ottoman Army only drafted non-Muslim males between the ages of 20 and 45 into the regular army. The 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), though they would ultimately be executed.[5]


The Greek novelist Elias Venezis later described the situation in his work Number 31328 (Το Νούμερο 31328).

Leyla Neyzi has published a study of the diary of Yaşar 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 during World War II 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.[6]


  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. ^ Notes on the Genocides of Christian Populations of the Ottoman Empire
  4. ^ Suny 2015, pp. 244
  5. ^ Toynbee, Arnold. Armenian Atrocities: The Murder of a Nation. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915, pp. 181–2.
  6. ^ 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