Special Organization (Ottoman Empire)

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Special Organization
تشکیلات مخصوصه
Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa
Emblem of the Special Organization
Emblem of the Special Organization
Agency overview
Jurisdictional structure
Operations jurisdictionOttoman Empire
Operational structure
Parent agency

The Special Organization (Ottoman Turkish: تشکیلات مخصوصه, romanizedTeşkilât-ı Mahsusa, abbreviated TM) was an intelligence, paramilitary, and secret police organization in the Ottoman Empire known for its key role in the commission of the Armenian genocide.[1] Originally organized under the Ministry of War, the organization was shifted to answer directly to the ruling party Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in February 1915.[2] Led by Bahaeddin Şakir and Nazım Bey and formed in early 1914 of tribesmen (especially Circassians and Kurds) as well as more than 10,000 convicted criminals—offered a chance to redeem themselves if they served the state—as a force independent of the regular army.[3]


The exact date of establishment is unclear or disputed. According to some researchers, the organization might have been established by Enver Pasha, who placed Süleyman Askeri in charge of the organization on 17 November 1913.[4][5] Its establishment date is rather vague since it was really a continuation of various smaller groups established by Enver Pasha and friends in the aftermath of 1908 Young Turk Revolution.[6]

The organization maintained a clandestine budget and command structure controlled by the War Ministry. Its existence was kept secret from parliament and the public, and its existence, and crimes, were only revealed with foreign occupation and the 1919 military tribunals.[7]


The Special Organization was founded to be a vanguard for a Muslim uprising in Bulgarian occupied Western Thrace during the Balkan Wars.[7] The effort resulted in the short-lived Provisional Government of Western Thrace.


Armenian genocide[edit]

Enver Pasha assumed the primary role in the direction of the Special Organization and its center of administration moved to Erzurum.[8] The first leader of the Special Organization was Süleyman Askeri Bey. After his death, he was replaced by Ali Bach Hamba on 14 April 1915, who held the post until the Armistice of Mudros.[5] The last director, Hüsamettin Ertürk, worked as an agent in Istanbul of the Ankara government following the Armistice.[9] He wrote a memoir called İki Devrin Perde Arkası (Behind the Scenes of Two Eras).[10]

Many members of this organization who played particular roles in the Armenian genocide also participated in the Turkish national movement.[11] The Special Organisation, which was made of especially fanatical Unionist cadres, was expanded from August 1914 onwards.[12] Talaat Pasha, as the Interior Minister, gave orders that all of the prisoners convicted of the worst crimes, such as murder, rape and robbery, could have their freedom if they agreed to join the Special Organisation to kill Armenians and loot their property.[13] Besides the hardened career criminals who joined in large numbers to have their freedom, the rank and file of Special Organisation killing units included Kurdish tribesmen attracted by the prospect of plunder and refugees from Rumelia, who were thirsting for the prospect of revenge against Christians after having been forced to flee from the Balkans in 1912.[14]

As explained in the key indictment at the trial (in absentia) of the Three Pashas, the Armenian genocide massacres were spearheaded by the Special Organisation under one of its leaders, the Turkish physician Dr. Behaeddin Shakir. The Special Organisation was much feared by all and were by all accounts the ones responsible for the worst violence against the Armenians.[15] The American historian Gerard Libaridian wrote about the lethal combination in the Special Organisation of fanatical Unionist cadres commanding convicts newly released from prison:

The release of the vilest, unbridled animal passions served well the government's purpose of ensuring extermination in the most humiliating, dehumanizing fashion. The torture of thousands of women and children became a source of satisfaction for hundreds who sought and found official sanction from government officials as well as Muslim clergymen, since the murder of Armenians was characterized, like the war against the Entente, as a jihad or holy war. Human imagination labored to devise new ways of mutilating, burning and killing

— Gerard Libaridian

To prevent ordinary Muslims, whatever they be Turks, Kurds or Arabs, from saving the lives of the Armenians, a decree declaring the penalty for sheltering Armenians was death by hanging and the destruction of one's home was passed; despite this decree, a number of ordinary Turks, Kurds and Arabs did shelter Armenians from the fury of the Special Organisation.[16] Other ordinary Turks, Kurds and Arabs did assist the army, the gendarmes and the Special Organisation in the deportations and killings, motivated by the desire to loot Armenian property, to have Armenian women and girls as sex slaves or because of incitements by Muslim clergymen saying that the genocide was an act of jihad.[16] As the gendarmes rounded up the Armenians for deportation, it was common for slave markets to be established where for the right price a Muslim man could buy Armenian women and/or girls to use as his sex slaves.[17] Besides genocide against the Armenians, the CUP regime waged the Assyrian genocide against the Assyrian minority and the Pontic Greek genocide against the Pontic Greeks in Pontus. In Thrace and western Anatolia the Special Organization assisted by government and army officials, deported all Greek men of military age to labor brigades beginning in summer 1914 and lasting through 1916.[18]

Other activities[edit]

During World War I Eşref Sencer Kuşçubası was allegedly the director of operations in Arabia, the Sinai, and North Africa.[19] He was captured in Yemen in early 1917 by the British military and was a POW in Malta until 1920 and subsequently released in exchange for British POWs.[5] However, Ahmet Efe has written that the Ottoman military archives have detailed information on the organization's personnel, and that Kuşçubası is not mentioned.[5]

In Libya, Nuri Killigil organized operations involving propaganda, subversion, terrorism and sabotage; he coordinated these operations with the Senussi.[20][21]


This list includes allegedly notable members, according to an interview with its purported former leader Eşref Kuşçubaşı by U.S. INR officer Philip H. Stoddard:[4][22] Although the bulk of its 30,000 members were drawn from trained specialists such as doctors, engineers, and journalists, the organization also employed criminals denoted başıbozuk, who had been released from prison in 1913 by amnesty.[4][23]


The organization was dismantled following a parliamentary debate and replaced by the Worldwide Islamic Revolution Organization (Turkish: Umûm Âlem-i İslâm İhtilâl Teşkilâtı) after World War I. This organization held its first meeting in Berlin. However, it was forced underground by the British, who refused to let these German allies operate.[23]

In 1921, Atatürk founded another secret organization called the National Defense Society (Turkish: Müdafaa-i Milliye Cemiyeti), headed by the former chief of the Special Organization, Hüsamettin Ertürk.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bloxham, Donald (2003). "The Armenian Genocide of 1915–1916: Cumulative Radicalization and the Development of a Destruction Policy". Past & Present. 181 (181): 141–191. doi:10.1093/past/181.1.141. ISSN 0031-2746. JSTOR 3600788.
  2. ^ Akçam, Taner (2019). "When Was the Decision to Annihilate the Armenians Taken?". Journal of Genocide Research. 21 (4): 457–480. doi:10.1080/14623528.2019.1630893. S2CID 199042672.
  3. ^ Lay summary in: Ronald Grigor Suny (26 May 2015). "Armenian Genocide". 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War. It was the progenitor of the National Security Service of the Republic of Turkey, which was itself the predecessor of the modern National Intelligence Organization.
  4. ^ a b c Eren, M. Ali (1995-11-11). "Cumhuriyeti Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa kurdu". Aksiyon (in Turkish). 49. Feza Gazetecilik A.Ş. Archived from the original on August 23, 2007. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
  5. ^ a b c d Kılıç, Ecevit (2007-12-17). "Türk istihbaratının kurucusu bir vatan haini miydi?". Sabah (in Turkish). Retrieved 2008-12-27.
  6. ^ "Teskilat-i Mahsusa" Philip H. Stoddard (translated by Tansel Demirel), 1993, Arma Yayinlari, Istanbul, pp. 49–54.
  7. ^ a b Gingeras, Ryan (2014). Heroin, Organized Crime, and the Making of Modern Turkey. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-19-871602-0.
  8. ^ Enver Paşa, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa'nın yönetilip yönlendirilmesinde birinci derecede rol üstlenmişti., Recep Maraşlı, Ermeni Ulusal Demokratik Hareketi ve 1915 Soykırımı, Pêrî Yayınları, 2008, ISBN 978-975-9010-68-3, p. 252. (in Turkish)
  9. ^ Berkes, Niyazi (1959-12-31). "2 Devrin Perde Arkası". Oriens (in Turkish). 12 (1/2). BRILL: 202. doi:10.2307/1580200. JSTOR 1580200.
  10. ^ Özbek, Öner (2008-09-13). "Yakup Cemil: Devlet içinde devlet olan adam". Taraf (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 2008-09-13. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
  11. ^ Taner Akçam, Türk Ulusal Kimliği ve Ermeni Sorunu, İletişim Yayınları, 1992, ISBN 9789754702897 p. 155.
  12. ^ Akçam 2007, pp. 133–34.
  13. ^ Akçam 2007, p. 135.
  14. ^ Akçam 2007, pp. 134–35.
  15. ^ Akçam 2007, pp. 145–46.
  16. ^ a b Libaridian, Gerard J (2000). "The Ultimate Repression: The Genocide of the Armenians, 1915-1917". In Walliman, Isidor; Dobkowski, Michael N (eds.). Genocide and the Modern Age. Syracuse, New York. p. 205. ISBN 0-8156-2828-5.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  17. ^ Karsh & Karsh 1999, p. 157.
  18. ^ Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany, Cornell University Press, 2006, IBN 9780801472930, p. 273.
  19. ^ "Teskilat-i Mahsusa" Philip H. Stoddard (translated by Tansel Demirel), 1993, Arma Yayinlari, Istanbul.
  20. ^ Hamit Pehlivanlı, "Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa Kuzey Afrika'da (1914-1918)", Atatürk Araştırma Merkezi Dergisi, Sayı 47, Cilt: XVI, Temmuz 2000. (in Turkish)
  21. ^ Strachan, Hew (2003) [2001]. The First World War: To Arms. Vol. I. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 745–54. ISBN 978-0-19-926191-8.
  22. ^ Parker, Richard Bordeaux (2001). The October War: A Retrospective. University Press of Florida. p. 126. ISBN 0-8130-1853-6. Retrieved 2008-12-21. I'm Phil Stoddard, who, at the time, was the deputy director of INR's Near East-South Asia Office.
  23. ^ a b c Bovenkerk, Frank; Yeşilgöz, Yücel (2004). "The Turkish Mafia and the State" (PDF). In Cyrille Fijnaut, Letizia Paoli (ed.). Organized Crime in Europe: Concepts, Patterns and Control Policies in the European Union and Beyond. Springer. pp. 594–5. doi:10.1007/978-1-4020-2765-9. ISBN 1-4020-2615-3.


Further reading[edit]