The debate about the World War I deportation and massacre of Armenians in eastern Anatolia has become more contentious with time. Opponents of Turkey's European Union accession treat the Armenian question as original sin. Yet much of the historical debate upon which politicians pass judgment is tinged more by polemic than by fact. Nine decades after hundreds of thousands of Armenians—and millions of others—died during World War I, it is important to dig down into the archives to show what the historical record really says.
There is little argument that many Armenians perished during World War I, but there remains significant historical dispute about whether Armenian civilians died in the fog of war or were murdered on the orders of the Ottoman government. More specifically, the debate about whether or not there was a genocide of Armenians rests upon three pillars: the record of the Turkish courts-martial of 1919-20 during which the new Turkish government, formed following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, tried and hanged some Ottoman officials for war crimes; documents produced in the Memoirs of Naim Bey, an account allegedly written by an Ottoman official claiming to have participated in the deportation of Armenians; and the role of the "Special Organization" (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa), somewhat equivalent to the Ottoman special forces.
Recently, two researchers have debated the nature of the World War I Armenian massacres and, more specifically, the role in the massacres by the Special Organization and the group's relationship to a Prussian artillery officer known in the records only by his last name, Stange. The first, Vahakn Dadrian, director of Genocide Research at the Zoryan Institute for Contemporary Armenian Research and Documentation, wrote that Stange was the "highest-ranking German guerilla commander operating in the Turko-Russian border," one of several "arch-accomplices in the implementation of the massacres," and a Special Organization commander. Dadrian argued that the Ottoman government diverted the Special Organization units to deportation duty in rear areas where they became the principal agent in the Armenian massacres. He bases his claims against Stange on secondhand German reports of massacres in Stange's area of operations and uses controversial testimony from the 1919 Istanbul courts-martial proceedings to support his claim about Special Organization redeployments. Since that time, many parties have taken Dadrian's assertions at face value. 
Last year, however, Guenter Lewy, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, challenged Dadrian's findings on the grounds that Stange was neither a Special Organization guerilla leader nor did his unit operate in the area of the massacres.
In history, details matter. Given the importance that contemporary officials place on the events of nine decades past, clarifying Stange's operations is critical to the current debate. In this regard, the official 27-volume Turkish military history of the World War I campaigns, while seldom utilized in Western scholarship, is a valuable tool. The volumes are not readily accessible to university researchers; they are only available at a single military bookstore on a restricted Turkish army compound in Ankara. Far from the politicized debate surrounding the massacres, these histories shed light on nitty-gritty details such as which officers and units were deployed where and when. Within the set, the Third Army histories help flesh out Stange's wartime record.  They were published simultaneously to Dadrian's 1993 article and so should not be dismissed as a Turkish response to Dadrian's work. They also provide an important source of information which Dadrian, genocide scholars, and other historians of the period have not yet taken into account.
Ottoman Irregular Forces in Eastern Anatolia
Analyzing the events of 1915 requires an understanding of the Ottoman military for, too often, treatments of the period confuse units and muddle Ottoman military terms. Between 1914-18, there were five groups of Ottoman military and paramilitary forces engaged on the Caucasian front. The Ottoman regular army was a uniformed conscript force led by professional officers who were trained in conventional military tactics and who responded to military discipline and orders. It fought on all Ottoman fronts during the war.
Assisting them were the jandarma, a paramilitary gendarmerie or rural police force trained to military standards and led by professional officers. Every province had at least one mobile jandarma regiment and also numbers of static jandarma battalions. The Ministry of the Interior controlled the jandarma in peacetime but, with the Ottoman mobilization on August 3, 1914, command passed to the Ministry of Defense.
In addition, there was the tribal cavalry (aşiret, formerly the hamidiye). In 1910, the Ministry of Defense integrated the twenty-nine tribal cavalry regiments into the regular army. Used as both conventional cavalry and for internal security duties, members were mostly Kurdish and Circassian, poorly disciplined, and led by tribal chieftains. However, in the army reorganization of 1913, these regiments were reclassified as reserve cavalry (ihtiyat süvari) regiments of the regular Ottoman army.
The gönüllü, paramilitary volunteer forces, allowed Turks and Islamic ethnic groups living outside the Ottoman Empire to join the war effort and fight together. These were often poorly led and armed but organized into units so that they could assist the regular army in both combat and non-combat operations. During World War I, most volunteers serving in the Caucasus were "Greek Turks," "Caucasian Turks," Laz, or Muslim refugees from the European provinces such as Macedonia or Epirus lost in 1913. By definition, the volunteers were not released Ottoman convicts.
The Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa or Special Organization, a multi-purpose special volunteer force led by professional officers, was equivalent to a modern special operations force. It sought to foment insurrection in enemy territory, fight guerillas and insurgents in friendly territory, conduct espionage and counterespionage, and perform other tasks unsuited to conventional military forces. While many histories suggest the Special Organization received orders from the Committee of Union and Progress or the Ministry of the Interior, the archival record suggests that the Ministry of Defense commanded the Special Organization during World War I.
Finally, there were numbers of non-military groups operating in Anatolia during the war. These non-military çeteler (which may be translated as bandit, brigand, insurgent, or guerilla groups depending on context) were local groups not subject to centralized command and control. Çeteler was a catchall term that was used by both the Ottomans to describe insurgents and authentic criminal bands and also by foreign observers to describe groups of killers, whose origins were often unknown.
The Stange Detachment
Where then did Major Stange fit in? Shortly before the outbreak of World War I, the German Kaiser charged General Otto Liman von Sanders to lead a military mission to the Ottoman Empire to assist in rebuilding the Ottoman army after its defeat in the Balkan wars. Liman von Sanders assigned Captain Stange, a Prussian artillery specialist, to command the Erzurum fortress artillery. Stange was a conventional military officer with no special knowledge of guerilla operations. His assignment to the Ottoman Third Army in Erzurum reflected his mainstream skills. He occupied his time working on the defenses until the outbreak of war offered him the chance to lead troops against the Russians.
According to the original Ottoman war plan, the Third Army was ordered to stand on the defensive in the Caucasus while the bulk of the Ottoman army concentrated in Thrace. However, in early September 1914, a revised campaign plan directed the Third Army to conduct offensive operations in the event of war. When war broke out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire on November 2, the Ottomans were actively planning a winter offensive in the Caucasus. The plan called for the three army corps of the Third Army to encircle the Russian army at Sarakamiş with a supporting operation on the Black Sea flank between Batum and Ardahan, in modern day Georgia. There were no regular Ottoman army combat units on the Turco-Russian frontier from the Black Sea south for about 100 kilometers for this supporting attack. Nevertheless, Ottoman border forces pushed across the frontier and, on November 22, closed in on the Russian town of Artvin. Flushed with success, on December 6, the general staff ordered the Third Army to push onward toward Ardahan. It was in this capacity that Stange entered the scene. Ottoman strategists committed every available Third Army division to the Sarakamiş offensive. The Third Army headquarters ordered Stange to take command of the Eighth Infantry Regiment, two artillery batteries, and the Çoruh Border Security Battalion. This newly organized force was designated the Stange Detachment (Ştanke Bey Müfrezesi) and ordered to take Artvin while the rest of the army moved toward their main objective. None of the troops were trained in guerilla or unconventional warfare. Against light opposition, Stange pushed forward and took the town on December 21.
At the same time, other Ottoman forces were operating in the area. Bahattin Şakir, a high-ranking member of the governing Committee of Union and Progress, commanded the Special Organization force, which had infiltrated its forward units near Batum to foment an uprising among Laz and Turkic peoples inside the Russian Empire. In addition to this mission, Şakir ordered Ziya Bey, an artillery major commanding the Special Organization men on the ground in Russia, to encircle and destroy çeteler that included a number of Armenians. The Special Organization also attacked regular Russian army units, capturing four officers and sixty-three Russian soldiers in late November. One Turkish source also mentions a large force of volunteers operating in the Çoruh River valley under Yakup Cemil Bey. Another Turkish source asserts that Yakup Cemil's detachment was a Special Organization force composed of çeteler. In this bitter internecine fighting, many civilian Turks, Armenians, and other local ethnic groups were massacred indiscriminately.
With so many different units and organizations operating in the area, there was bureaucratic wrangling over how to unify the command as the Sarakamiş campaign approached. In the end, Stange took command of the entire force—regulars, border security battalions, volunteers, and the Special Organization. However, the Special Organization and volunteers continued to receive their orders from Şakir, who wanted to retain control of the operation while Stange answered to the X Corps commander, in whose sector he operated.
On December 22, the X Corps and Third Army ordered Stange, the Special Organization, and the volunteers to converge separately on Ardahan. The Special Organization, now locally commanded by Captain Halit Bey, cooperated and joined the advance. Despite bad winter weather, these forces began to encircle the city on December 29. Because Stange controlled neither the Special Organization nor the volunteers, he sent coordination copies of his own detachment orders to Halit, who passed these on to the adjacent volunteers. This was a clumsy arrangement, and there is no indication that the Special Organization and volunteers reciprocated. The result was an uncoordinated attack on Ardahan. Stange's detachment suffered heavy casualties while Special Organization and volunteer losses were light. The Ottomans failed to hold the city for long. In early January 1915, the Russians retook the city with bayonet assaults. Over the next month, the Ottomans conducted a fighting retreat back toward Artvin.
At the end of January 1915, Şakir consolidated some of the Special Organization units into a Special Organization Regiment (Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa Alay) commanded by Halit. This regiment was assigned nine officers and 671 men. Halit also gained control over a group of volunteers known as the Baha Bey Şakir Force. Subsequently and because of the deteriorating tactical situation, Şakir ordered the Special Organization Regiment to cooperate with Stange in defensive operations along the border. Additionally, a smaller Special Organization detachment commanded by Riza Bey conducted operations around Murgal, northwest of Artvin. Istanbul also sent Stange about 1,600 replacements. Fighting was hard, and the Ottomans were pushed back. On February 16, three Russian infantry and two cavalry regiments, Cossacks, and an Armenian battalion attacked a rear guard of Halit Bey's Special Organization soldiers. The Special Organization fought well and covered Stange's regulars as they retreated.
On March 1, 1915, the Russian army launched a major attack to restore the frontier, pushing back Stange, the Special Organization, and the volunteers. In reaction to what appeared to be a disastrous retreat, on March 20, the X Corps reorganized the Ottoman forces on the northeast frontier, forming the Lazistan Area Command (Lazistan ve Havalisi Komutanlıgı) [See Table 1]. By this time, Şakir had left Erzurum, and Stange finally received unitary command over the regular army unit as well as the Special Organization and volunteers. Stange immediately set about coordinating a defense with a combined force of 4,286 men, six machine guns, and four cannon.
Lazistan Area Command - March 28, 1915
Source: TCGB, Kafkas Cephesi 3ncü Ordu Harekatı, Kuruluş 12 (Organizational Chart 12)
The Third Army sent Staff Lieutenant Colonel Vasıf to be Stange's chief-of-staff in the expanded command while Stange collected supplies, engineers, and cavalry from the Third Army Lines of Communications Command. In addition, the military mobilized all men in the Trabzon vilayet (province) between the ages of 17-18 and 45-50 while a Special Organization unit from Istanbul joined the Lazistan area command's Special Organization regiment.
Stange reorganized his augmented command into field forces and static forces. The field forces, which held the defensive lines against the Russians, were composed of the 8th Infantry Regiment, the Trabzon Jandarma Regiment, and the Special Organization Regiment. The static forces, which were responsible for rear area security, were composed of the Riza, the Trabzon, and the Samsun Jandarma regiments. On April 14, 1915, Stange had over 6,000 men assigned to his command. Table 2 shows Stange's revised command arrangements.
Lazistan Area Command - 15 April 1915
Source: TCGB, Kafkas Cephesi 3ncü Ordu Harekatı, Kuruluş 13 (Organizational Chart 13)
These arrangements solidified the Ottoman defense, which by mid-April was successfully holding a line about ten kilometers west of the prewar Ottoman-Russian frontier. They also show a return to a conventional military organizational architecture, mirroring the organization of regular Ottoman infantry divisions in 1915, which contained three regiments each with a machine gun company. A general support element of artillery, engineers, and cavalry augmented the regiments. The field force was, practically speaking, staffed and organized as a regular infantry division. This reflects Stange's conventional background and the tactical necessity to put an effective and standard defense on the empire's northeast frontier. The tempo of fighting dropped, and the front remained stationary until early 1916. Throughout this period the Special Organization Regiment remained on the line and engaged in conventional defensive operations. In late January 1916, the recently promoted Major Halit relieved Stange; he returned to Erzurum.
Early 1916 was a period of disaster for the Ottoman strategic position in northeastern Anatolia and the Caucasus. The Russians seized Erzurum, Rize, and Trabzon. Regular army infantry divisions reinforced the Lazistan Area Command. Several Special Organization battalions in the sector were transferred to the adjacent Çoruh Detachment in May 1916 where they continued to participate in frontline duties. The remaining Special Organization troops were distributed into two elements, which were designated as the First and Second Special Organization regiments and assigned to a newly-formed coastal detachment.
Other Special Organization units were redeployed to the IX Corps sector on the Erzincan front near the village of Tuzla. These units served directly under a provisional corps commanded by Staff Lieutenant Colonel Şevket and conducted offensive operations in conjunction with the Ottoman Thirteenth Infantry Division. On June 6, 1916, three Special Organization companies were assigned to the newly formed Haçköy Detachment on the line south of Tuzla. The detachment also had an infantry battalion, two cavalry squadrons, and artillery. The Special Organization continued to participate in conventional operations on the Caucasian front for the remainder of the summer. On July 29, 1916, the First and Second Special Organization regiments were inactivated and a single regiment reestablished. Major combat operations in the Ottoman Third Army area began to diminish in the late summer and, by mid-fall 1916, had almost completely stopped. This was a result of both combat exhaustion and severe weather.
The published paper trail of the Special Organization formations on the Caucasian front ends in 1917, and the Special Organization does not appear in the 1918 Ottoman Caucasian orders of battle. It is unclear what happened to the Special Organization officers and men assigned to the units at that time. However, the deportation of Armenians was completed in 1916, and it appears certain that the Special Organization formations in this study remained on the front during that period.
Many historians find military chronicles dry and difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless, when it comes to the controversy over the fate of Armenians in 1915, they are crucial. Many contemporary historians accuse the Special Organization and Major Stange of complicity in genocide. The records, though, do not lend such accusations credence.
The official military histories of the modern Turkish Republic portray the operations of organized Ottoman Special Organization units on the Caucasian front from December 1914 through the end of 1916 as largely conventional. There is little evidence of a cover-up, especially as these histories are technical, not intended for the public, and predate the scholarly controversy over allegations of Special Organization complicity in Armenian genocide. Importantly, the official histories fully cite archival sources and often reproduce reports and orders.
Early Special Organization operations near Batum were unconventional and involved guerilla warfare operations. However, the Sarikamiş offensive provided the engine that drove the Special Organization into the arms of regular army commanders like Stange. Subsequent and perennial manpower shortages kept the Special Organization engaged in conventional military operations. From the record of unit assignments and locations on the front, it appears that the Special Organization units associated with Stange were not redeployed from the Caucasian front to deport and massacre Armenians.
Nor does it seem possible that Stange was involved in the deaths of Armenians. The modern Turkish histories show that he commanded regular army forces engaged in conventional offensive and defensive operations until late March 1915. Although he technically commanded all Ottoman forces near Ardahan in 1914, he exercised no real control over the Special Organization or volunteers. After Stange gained command of the Lazistan Area Command, he held direct command over Special Organization forces, which he employed on the defensive line in a conventional manner. In effect, from December 11, 1914 through March 20, 1915, Stange can be characterized as a detachment commander who cooperated with the Special Organization in conventional operations. After March 20, 1915, Stange was an area commander who commanded Special Organization forces for conventional defensive operations. The record demonstrates that Stange was neither a Special Organization commander, nor was he a guerilla leader. Indeed, Stange was unhappy with the discipline and training of both the Special Organization and irregular forces, reflecting his lack of authority over them.
The Turkish histories do reveal an intriguing alternative possibility concerning who might have been redeployed to deport Armenians. The reserve cavalry regiments (the former aşiret or tribal cavalry) were grouped into four reserve cavalry divisions that were mobilized into the Reserve Cavalry Corps in August 1914. The tactical performance of this corps was abysmal, and its levels of discipline and combat effectiveness low. Consequently, the Ottoman General Staff inactivated the Reserve Cavalry Corps on November 21, 1914, and only seven of the twenty-nine reserve cavalry regiments remained with the colors in the Third Army. The remaining regiments were dissolved, and "10,000 reserve cavalrymen dispersed throughout the region and returned to their villages." Most of these men were tribal Kurds or Circassians and, unemployed following demobilization, many may have been attracted to the work of deporting the Armenians in the spring of 1915. Clearly, many Armenians died during World War I. But accusations of genocide demand authentic proof of an official policy of ethnic extermination. Vahakn Dadrian has made high-profile claims that Major Stange and the Special Organization were the instruments of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Documents not utilized by Dadrian, though, discount such an allegation.
 Aram Andonian, comp., The Memoirs of Naim Bey: Turkish Official Documents Relating to the Deportations and Massacres of Armenians (Newtown Square, Pa.: Armenian Historical Society, 1965, reprint of London, 1920 ed).