Russians Capture Trabzon

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 232nd installment in the series. 

APRIL 15, 1916: RUSSIANS CAPTURE TRABZON

While Russia’s main spring offensive on the Eastern Front failed at the Battle of Lake Naroch from March 18-30, 1916, Russian arms won great victories further afield in the opening months of 1916, most notably on the Caucasian Front. After a breakthrough at Köprüköy in January, Russian troops captured the ancient and strategically sited city of Erzurum in February, and then continued to advance west into the Turkish heartland of central Anatolia.

On April 15, 1916 the Russians delivered another discouraging setback to the Ottoman Empire with the occupation of Trabzon, another ancient city with both symbolic and strategic importance, abandoned without a fight by the outnumbered Turks. Originally founded in 756 BCE by Greek colonists from the nearby port of Sinope, Trapezous was known to the Romans as Trebizond and during the decline of the Byzantine Empire became the seat of its own empire from the 13th-15th centuries.

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In the context of the First World War, its location on the north coast of Anatolia would allow the Russians to begin delivering supplies to the Caucasian Army partly by sea, avoiding the circuitous and time-consuming journey over the incredibly primitive terrain of the Caucasus and eastern Anatolia, with few roads and these mostly unfinished. It also boosted Allied morale and cemented Russian claims to territory in Asia Minor ahead of the long-expected breakup of the Ottoman Empire (now being negotiated by Allied diplomats in what would become the Sykes-Picot Agreement). 

As in other recently conquered territories in Anatolia, the advancing Russians were shocked to find the region’s once-thriving Armenian Christian population had been more or less wiped out. Trabzon had been home to roughly 30,000 Armenians before the war, all of whom were massacred or deported during the ongoing Armenian genocide, including thousands herded out into the water or dumped from boats and drowned in the Black Sea at Trabzon.

The anonymous author of “The Russian Diary of an Englishman in Petrograd,” believed to be the diplomatic courier Albert Stopford, noted reports that the Turks were targeting many other minorities besides Armenians, including Christian Greeks and Assyrians: “When the Russians got to Erzrum there was not one Christian alive save six girls in the American Consulate. The guide of the Tiflis Hotel was a Christian Turk, not Armenian and his town was a little to the south of Erzrum. There all the Christians were also massacred – 840, including his old grandmother.” 

Meanwhile diplomatic documents from the Ottoman Empire’s own ally, Imperial Germany, confirmed that the genocide was still in full swing in the spring of 1916 and left little doubt that it was officially sanctioned. The German ambassador to Constantinople, Wolff-Metternich, wrote to the Imperial chancellor Bethmann Hollweg on March 27, 1916: “Despite all the assurances to the contrary, the Porte is apparently beginning to decimate the remainder of the deported and, if possible, to exterminate those who have escaped the misery and the disaster before peace is made.” 


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On April 1, 1916, Ernst Jacob Christoffel, the head of a German charity for the blind in Malatya, left an even more detailed report of his personal observations in a letter to the German embassy in Constantinople: 

Not a single Armenian sound is to be heard anywhere. Thousands were killed in Gemerek. In the area surrounding Yozgad, the population from 6 Armenian villages was massacred, all of them, even the infants… There were 500 men in a village near Sivas with which I have good relations; 30 of them are still alive. A family of 18 lost 14 of its members through sickness and murder. Out of other large families, one or 2 members are still alive. There are not isolated cases, but rather the rule. The number of those killed may be inferred from this. 

Armenians who managed to survive the death marches then had to endure conditions in “concentration camps” that were in fact death camps, left to die in the desert with no food, no medicine, and no shelter. Often the process was hurried along by raids by itinerant neighbors looking to steal any remaining possessions or kidnap and rape Armenian women. April 6, 1916, Ernst Rössler, the German consul in Aleppo, wrote in a letter to the embassy in Constantinople: “During the past few days, the Armenian concentration camp in Ras-ul-Ain was attacked by the Circassians and other similar people living nearby. The largest part of the unarmed 14,000 inmates was massacred. There are no further details at this point; I will be informed of them later.”

On April 27 Rössler noted independent reports from Muslim Arabs serving in a labor corps, shocked at their first encounters with the genocide:

As the building of two bridges proved to be necessary… the 4th Army delivered a Syrian Muslim pioneer battalion for this purpose about 15 April. These people, who were transported in two days from Damascus to Ras-ul-Ain and who did not know anything about the plight of the deported Armenians and, as it can be presumed, were not influenced along the way, were quite horrified upon their arrival. They were of the opinion that the Armenians had been massacred by soldiers. This again demonstrates the common belief that the act had been done under orders. In any case, this was the opinion generally widespread in the area. 

ESCADRILLE LAFAYETTE FORMED 

Over two thousand miles to the west, on April 16, 1916 France celebrated one of the biggest symbolic demonstrations of unofficial American support yet, with the formation of the Escadrille Lafayette or “Lafayette Squadron,” an all-volunteer force of American pilots who joined this independent unit to help roll back German air superiority on the Western Front. 

Originally known as the Escadrille Américaine (the name was changed in December 1916 under diplomatic pressure from Germany), the Escadrille Lafayette was actually one of two American volunteer squadrons that served in France, later augmented by the Lafayette Flying Corps (below, American pilots in the Escadrille). Both were composed mostly of young, upper-class American college men with the means to travel to France and support themselves during a long leave of absence from schools like Harvard and Princeton.

Wikimedia Commons// Public Domain 

The Escadrille Lafayette was founded by a handful of colorful characters, as reflected in their decision to adopt a lion cub called “Whiskey” as the Escadrille’s mascot, who traveled with them wherever they served (or went on leave). One of the early volunteer flyers, James McConnell, remembered some of the difficulties associated with transporting Whiskey during leave in Paris: 

The little chap had been born on a boat crossing from Africa and was advertised for sale in France. Some of the American pilots chipped in and bought him. He was a cute, bright-eyed baby lion who tried to roar in a most threatening manner but who was blissfully content the moment one gave him one's finger to suck… Lions, it developed, were not allowed in passenger coaches. The conductor was assured that “Whiskey” was quite harmless and was going to overlook the rules when the cub began to roar and tried to get at the railwayman's finger. That settled it, so two of the men had to stay behind in order to crate up "Whiskey" and take him along the next day. 

The Escadrille Lafayette went into action almost immediately at Verdun, taking to the air for the first time as a combat unit on April 20, followed by its first kill on April 24. With their birds’ eye view of the action, its pilots also played an important role observing and reporting enemy troop movements and artillery positions. They also gained a rare aerial perspective on the incredible destruction wrought by modern warfare. On May 23, 1916, volunteer pilot Victor David Chapman described the scene at Verdun from the air: 

The landscape – one wasted surface of brown powdered earth, where hills, valleys, forest and villages all merged in phantoms – was boiling with puffs of dark smoke. Even above my engine’s roar I could catch reports now and then. To the rear, on either side, tine sparks like flashed of a mirror, hither and yon, in the woods and dales, denoted the heavy guns which were raising such a dust… Even from above, one had the sense of great activity and force in the country to the rear. From every wood and hedge peeped out “parcs” of autos, wagons, tents and shelters, – while all the roadsides showed white and dusty with the ceaseless travel.

McConnell left a similar description of Verdun seen from the air: 

Now there is only that sinister brown belt, a strip of murdered Nature. It seems to belong to another world. Every sign of humanity has been swept away. The woods and roads have vanished like chalk wiped from a blackboard; of the villages nothing remains but gray smears where stone walls have tumbled together. The great forts of Douaumont and Vaux are outlined faintly, like the tracings of a finger in wet sand. One cannot distinguish any one shell crater, as one can on the pockmarked fields on either side. On the brown band the indentations are so closely interlocked that they blend into a confused mass of troubled earth. Of the trenches only broken, half-obliterated links are visible. 

Pilots also had a front-row seat for artillery bombardments, as many claimed they could actually see the shells hurtling through the air. McConnell described the strange, alarming feeling of flying through a fusillade: 

Columns of muddy smoke spurt up continually as high explosives tear deeper into this ulcered area. During heavy bombardment and attacks I have seen shells falling like rain… A smoky pall covers the sector under fire, rising so high that at a height of 1,000 feet one is enveloped in its mist-like fumes. Now and then monster projectiles hurtling through the air close by leave one’s plane rocking violently in their wake. Airplanes have been cut in two by them. 

See the previous installment or all entries

K-Swiss Has Cooked Up an Entire Line of Breaking Bad Sneakers

Breaking Bad lives on in sneaker form.
Breaking Bad lives on in sneaker form.
K-Swiss

Breaking Bad has been off the air for nearly seven years, but there’s no sign that AMC’s breakthrough drama is showing any hints of slowing down. On the heels of their success with a limited-edition Breaking Bad sneaker in October 2019, K-Swiss has returned to the seedy underbelly of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with an entire line of shoes.

The company announced a joint venture with Sony Pictures Consumer Products for three new sneakers based on the popular drug-running series starring Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a chemistry teacher-turned-unlikely drug kingpin. All of the K-Swiss x Breaking Bad Classic 2000 varieties are based on the K-Swiss Classic 2000 low-top design and take inspiration from different elements of the show.

The Cooking shoe has a yellow color scheme that takes after the protective suits worn by Walter and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) during meth cooks. K-Swiss will make 1144 pairs available:

The K-Swiss x 'Breaking Bad' Classic 2000 Cooking sneaker is pictured
The K-Swiss x Breaking Bad Classic 2000 Cooking sneaker.
K-Swiss

The Cleaning shoe (1162 pairs) is patterned after the jumpers worn by the two during the cleaning of their elaborate underground lab built by drug lord Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito):

The K-Swiss x 'Breaking Bad' Classic 2000 Cleaning sneaker is pictured
The K-Swiss x Breaking Bad Classic 2000 Cleaning sneaker.
K-Swiss

The Recreational Vehicle design, with a stripe that looks like the exterior of White’s mobile meth laboratory, resembles the October 2019 shoe release. K-Swiss will make 1396 pairs available:

The K-Swiss x 'Breaking Bad' Classic 2000 Recreational Vehicle sneaker is pictured
The K-Swiss x Breaking Bad Classic 2000 Recreational Vehicle sneaker.
K-Swiss

The Cooking and Cleaning shoes have “Heisenberg,” Walter’s alias, written on the sole:

The K-Swiss x 'Breaking Bad' Classic 2000 Cooking sneaker sole with 'Heisenberg' printed on it is pictured
The K-Swiss x Breaking Bad Classic 2000 Cooking and Cleaning sneakers have 'Heisenberg' printed on the sole.
K-Swiss

All the sneakers come packaged in a Breaking Bad periodic table box. Men’s sizes retail for $80 to $90. No women’s sizes have been announced. You can find them in limited quantities online at KSwiss.com, FootLocker.com, Footaction.com, and ChampsSports.com beginning February 20.

8 Surprising Facts About Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman in 1981.
Andy Kaufman in 1981.
Joan Adlen, Getty Images

For fans of the late comedian Andy Kaufman (1949-1984), the debate over whether Kaufman was more interested in antagonizing audiences or making them laugh still rages. During a career that saw him appear on stage and on television (Taxi), the performer often blurred the lines between his real persona and the characters he inhabited.

For more on Kaufman, keep reading. Thank you very much.

1. Andy Kaufman got a letter from his doctor that kept him from being drafted.

Born in New York City on January 17, 1949, Kaufman was raised in Great Neck, Long Island and displayed an interest in performing from an early age, entertaining children at their birthday parties when Kaufman himself was only 8 years old. After graduating from high school in 1967, Kaufman though he might be drafted for military service but didn’t wind up serving. His doctor wrote a letter explaining that Kaufman seemed to have no basic grasp of reality, let alone the Vietnam conflict. Joining the Army, the doctor wrote, might cause Kaufman to completely lose his mind. The letter, which likely contained a good measure of hyperbole, earned him a permanent 4-F deferment from service. He went on to attend Grahm Junior College in Boston.

2. Andy Kaufman’s stand-up act was very, very bizarre.

Kaufman got his start in the early 1970s performing at comedy clubs in New York and Los Angeles. Unlike most comics of the time, Kaufman didn’t write a conventionally-structured act. Instead, he would take on the role of performance artist, confusing audiences with stunts like reading from The Great Gatsby and threatening to start over if they complained. He would also drag a sleeping bag on stage and climb into it or do his laundry with a portable dryer. These appearances were sufficiently provocative that Kaufman sometimes hired off-duty police officers to break up fights in the crowd or intercept people trying to attack him.

3. Andy Kaufman once opened for Barry Manilow.

Before Kaufman got television exposure, it was easy for bookers to assume he was a polished and conventional performer. As a result, Kaufman got a number of gigs in the early 1970s opening for established musical acts like the Temptations and Barry Manilow. Appearing onstage in 1972 before the Temptations came out, Kaufman wept and then shot himself in the head with a cap gun. Similarly bizarre behavior was also displayed before a Manilow concert, with irate members of the audience having to be calmed down by Manilow himself.

4. Andy Kaufman was once voted off of Saturday Night Live.

Kaufman succeeded in drawing attention to himself on stage, which led to being invited to perform on Saturday Night Live beginning in 1975. During these appearances, Kaufman would take material from his act, including his lip-syncing of the theme to the Mighty Mouse animated series. Such stunts drew a mixed reception from viewers. From 1975 to 1982, Kaufman made a total of 14 appearances on the show. Then, producers decided to offer viewers the chance to “vote” Kaufman off by calling in to cast their ballot. On the November 20, 1982 broadcast, 195,544 callers asked that the show not permit him to come back on. They outnumbered the 169,186 viewers who called in support of him. While the bit was intended to be humorous, Kaufman honored the results and never appeared on Saturday Night Live again.

5. Andy Kaufman once took his entire audience out for milk and cookies.

Kaufman eventually took his show to Carnegie Hall in 1979, where he was greeted by 2800 people who had come to appreciate his eccentric approach to performing. At the show's conclusion, he invited the entire audience to board buses waiting outside the building. Kaufman took them to the New York School of Printing in Manhattan, where he served the nearly 3000 attendees milk and cookies. He later gave them a ride on the Staten Island Ferry.

6. Andy Kaufman thought about franchising Tony Clifton.

One of Kaufman’s great ruses on the public was dressing as the abrasive lounge singer Tony Clifton, complete with prosthetic chin and torso padding, all while insisting Clifton was an entirely different person. Kaufman sometimes enlisted associates, including his brother Michael and his writing partner Bob Zmuda, to put on the make-up. In 2013, Michael told Vice that Kaufman’s plan was to have Clifton become a roving character. “Andy had been talking about franchising Tony Clifton before he died,” Michael Kaufman said. “He was going to have one in every state.”

7. Andy Kaufman insisted on an Andy Kaufman stand-in for Taxi.

When Kaufman agreed to appear on Taxi (1978-1983) as Latka Gravas, a version of the “Foreign Man” character he had been performing on stage, he had a peculiar request: He wanted to be expected on set for only two of the five shooting days for each episode. While Kaufman didn’t seem to want to do it at all, the paycheck allowed him to pursue his more experimental brand of comedy. Producers agreed. In 2018, co-star Carol Kane, who played Kaufman's love interest, told The Hollywood Reporter that the cast “would work with a fake Andy who wore a sign around his neck that said ‘Latka.’”

Kaufman also showed up to shoot an episode as his alter ego Tony Clifton, insisting that he was not Kaufman. Star Judd Hirsch got so angry that he had Clifton thrown off the set.

8. Andy Kaufman broke character for Orson Welles.

While there were certainly times Kaufman spoke from the heart, it was rare to see him break any one of his myriad characters in front of an audience. That happened—fleetingly—when Kaufman appeared on The Merv Griffin Show in 1982 on a night it was being guest-hosted by legendary film director Orson Welles. Sporting a neck brace from his stint in professional wrestling, Kaufman didn’t keep up appearances for long. After Welles told him he was “fascinated” by his characters, talk turned to Kaufman’s “Foreign Man,” his Elvis Presley imitation, and his “third character,” Tony Clifton. “Well, he wasn’t a character,” Kaufman said, correcting himself. “There’s a lot of debate over whether it’s a character or a real guy, and that’s Tony Clifton, but that’s a whole other story.”

“That’s metaphysics,” Welles replied.

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