Death did not just come to those in the convoys from disease, cruelty, and neglect. Late in 1914, the Ottoman government began assembling killing squads known as the Teshkilati Mahsusa or “Special Organization.” These “butchers of the human species” as Vehib Pasha dubbed them, the commander of the Ottoman third army, were recruited from criminals in Turkish prisons.
The killing squads would prey on the convoys, appearing suddenly out of the desert, cutting down deportees randomly by the sword. Then, they would ride off again, leaving the survivors terrified and traumatized. Their aims were two-fold: help along the death toll and ensure the living was subjugated by terror and uncertainty.
Those remaining in Armenian towns and villages were no safer. In June 1915, the massacres began. Young, able-bodied men were killed in the main, as they were seen as most likely to form a core of resistance, as were community leaders and intellectuals. Communal squares began to fill with hanging bodies.
But hanging was not the only method of death. German eyewitnesses saw whole villages shut into churches and stables before the doors were locked and the buildings set on fire. In June 1915, the Armenian leaders of Trebizond were placed in a boat where they were tightly bound together before being thrown into the Black Sea. Oscar Heizer, the American consul at Trabzon also saw children loaded into boats before being pushed overboard.
Others, in towns or on the long march across the desert were crucified or thrown off cliffs.
The body count was such that corpses began to attract undue attention and provide ample evidence for the outraged international community to begin their protests so much so that the order was given to bury the corpses so they were hopefully out of sight and so out of mind.
But the sheer numbers must have made this impossible. A quicker method of disposal was to dump corpses in rivers and the sea. But this in itself had problems. Corpses in the Euphrates at Erzincan were so numerous they actually altered the course of the river for a few meters.