Unconventional Warfare in the Ottoman Empire – The Armenian Revolt and the Turkish Counterinsurgency


“The Armenian Question in the Ottoman Empire all too often has descended into a debate on the meaning of genocide. Yet, as Edward Erickson has shown, Armenian rebellion can be better considered from an analysis of insurgency and counterinsurgency in World War I. Nicholas Warndorf has added to this study with consideration of the place of Armenian rebellion among other examples of insurgency, showing how Armenian revolt and Ottoman reaction shared many characteristics with other historical insurgencies. In particular, the extensive literature of insurgency and counterinsurgency can be applied successfully to the Armenian case. Warndorf’s examination demonstrates that study of the Armenian Question is best viewed as a history like other histories, amenable to the tools of the historian, rather than the ideologue.”

Dr. Justin McCarthy, Professor for History at the University of Louisville, Kentucky.

“In Unconventional Warfare in The Ottoman Empire, Mr. Warndorf has expertly mined deep beyond the surface of historical events of an important, but little known, part of history. He uncovers causes and effects of counterinsurgencies that would serve us well to understanddeeply due to its direct applicability to our times.”

Rob Waite, internationally recognized author of the best sellers, “No Magic Bullets and The Lost Art of General Management.”

“It is sometimes very simple to write an astonishing book: just use the instruments of the historian and compare counterinsurgency operations in space and time, like Warndorf did in his remarkable work. Without any constraints, he describes the military-historical aspects of the Armenian-operations of the Ottoman army during world war one as a kind of counterinsurgency operation. Especially illuminative is the closer look to recent American military manuals for this kind of warfare. This underlines the continuity of counterinsurgency methods and procedures in the historical dimension.”

Dr. Dirk Reitz is military-historian and visiting lecturer at the University of Technology, Chemnitz.

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The present study deals with the uprising of the Ottoman Armenians in Eastern Anatolia during the First World War. The asymmetric warfare (unconventional warfare) of armed insurgents posed particular challenges not only to the former Ottoman army, but also to the armies of other states. The assumption that the Armenian underground fighters defended themselves, refutes the author with relevant sources. As noted by Nicholas Warndorf in his well-researched case study, during the Boer War (1899-1902), the British army had already used tactics of counterinsurgency against the resisting Boers. During the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), the US Army also used rebellion strategies against the Philippine rebels. After the entry into the war, the Ottoman army was involved in a multiple-front war.

A further complication was that the armed Armenian underground fighters operated from Ottoman territory as well as from the land of the neighbouring countries and were supported materially as well as logistically by the war opponents. The author compares the operations of the Ottoman army against the Armenian guerrillas regarding their tactics and strategy in counterinsurgency with those of the British army in South Africa and the US Army in the Philippines, and shows examples of how the Ottomans and the Western powers have dealt with rebellion in general, and how effective the counterinsurgency was.

The question arises as to which degree of potential threat the Armenian insurgents had for the Ottoman army, and which military and political objectives Russia pursued? Warndorf describes the situation in Eastern Anatolia and examines the question whether the resettlement of Armenian civilians from the frontline can be justified. In addition, the author does away with the widespread myths about the Ottoman army. This book is excitingly and comprehensibly written. It fills an important gap in Ottoman counterinsurgency research.

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