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Volunteers from Prison

30 October 1914
Ottoman soldiers, c 1914

On 30 October 1914, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I. To fill the gaps in manpower in the armed forces, the state recruited people as 'volunteers'. A major category of volunteers included convicted prisoners, who were ready to be used in any form of violent operation in return for their release and also certain material gain. Prisoners from various jails across Anatolia applied to become volunteers to fight in the armed bands of the Special Organization (Teșkilat-ɪ-Mahsusa). This paramilitary organization carried out operations to intimidate the non-Muslim population in Anatolia, particularly the Armenians. The Special Organization is said to have raised as many as 30.000 fighters at its height, most of whom consisted of prisoner-volunteers.

Read more? Mehmet Beșikḉi, 'Mobilizing Miltary Labor in the Age of Total War' in: Fighting for a Living. A Comparative History of Military Labour 1500-2000 (Amsterdam 2013)