Armenians and American Interests under Russia

Rev. George F. Herrick

[The American Review of Reviews, July 1916]

Politics in the Near East has long been a witches' cauldron of large dimensions. American missionaries resident at Constantinople have, by the necessities of their position, been obliged carefully to watch the stew without stirring it. Their constant service and sympathy have been given to the suffering peoples by whom they have been surrounded. They are there to help the people, who are often in dire need of help.


Watch the racial and national impact and clashing they must. They must do this the more carefully and warily when the sky is darkest and the storm clouds are most threatening.

Their friends of the West have long been calling to them, "Watchmen, what of the night? Are there any signs of dawn?" Then suddenly, when other calamities seem to be overpast, when the war with Italy and the barbarous Balkan wars are ended comes the tremendous shock and clash of this world war.

For the past two years no American in Turkey has claimed any "open vision." Those who could remain at their post have done their work under sore limitations, and the work they have done has been, in large part, giving help to those overtaken by terrible suffering. There was never yet a night so dark or a darkness so prolonged that dawn and a full day did not follow. Americans resident in Turkey have lived and worked in expectation of such a day.


On August 1, 1914, Turkey stood at the parting of the ways. Shall she join the Allies, her two old and tried friends, England and France, now linked with her ancient enemy Russia? Shall she yield to the threefold pressure of the Power that in recent years has been posing as her friend, Germany? Shall she take the middle course and keep strictly neutral in the war?

t required scarcely more than "horse sense" to see that the third course alone was the path of safety. So thought the Sultan. Such was the judgment of Yusuf Izeddin, the heir-apparent, the ablest member of the Imperial House, fallen at last the victim of his bitter enemy Enver, the Minister of War. With the Sultan and the heir-apparent agreed the Grand Vizier, the Sheikh ul Islam, and at least two others of the cabinet. But Enver and Talaat, with the compelling influence of the Germans, made a majority, and the tightening of the suicidal cord began.


For a long time the cord seemed soft as velvet. The Turks succeeded far beyond their own hopes. The glories of their brilliant past were suffering eclipse before their marvelous victories over England and France combined. They were to recover their European possessions. They were to drive Russia out of the Caucasus and extend their eastern boundary to the Caspian. They were to wrest Odessa, Sevastopol, and all the northwest coast of the Black Sea from defeated Russia, repossess Egypt and Tripoli, gain over the Mohammedans of India and become, with Persia and Afghanistan, the dominant Asiatic power.

All this was writ large in the Turkish papers of Constantinople last summer. So ended the year 1915—but hold!


The Turks chuckled over the "utter defeat" and collapse of Russia and the "fall" of the Grand Duke Nicholas in the summer of 1915, because the "defeat" was under his leadership; or was his "exile" due to the fact that his personal influence in the army was prejudicial to the safety of the Czar and his government!

It seems not to have penetrated the Turkish intelligence that when the Allies had discovered that the Turks—and Germans—had defended and guarded access to their front door, the Dardanelles, with such skill as to make forcing an entrance too costly, the natural thing to do next would be to try the back door. What if that "exile" Nicholas were getting busy with an efficiency and ampleness of preparation equal to German efficiency, all through the autumn months, to do something later on!


The Turks and Germans had, they thought, made Erzerum, their strongest Asiatic fortress, lying six thousand feet above sea level, quite impregnable to any attack by Russia, and they were taking breath in winter, ready for a spring campaign. Why did the Turks fail to guess that perhaps the Russian bear, legions of them, might choose midwinter in a Greenland climate, under masses of snow, to overleap all barriers and successfully defy all opposition to their possession of the city which was the great stronghold and defense of Turkey on the northeast?

The Turks declared the place "of no military value," after they had lost it.

The Russians took no rest till they had driven the defeated Turks southward beyond Mush, Bitlis, and Van, and had taken possession of those cities and their villages, and had also pushed northward to the Black Sea coast and then westward toward Trebizond, a city which has held a proud place in history for more than two thousand years, next to Erzerum in its value to the Turks.


Trebizond fell to Russia on April 15, two months after Erzerum. When one considers the terrain on which the Russian armies have had to operate since the fall of Erzerum and the distances they have marched in an enemy's country, what they have accomplished in these four months is simply marvelous. Trebizond is not so important a commercial port as Samsoun and, as a harbor, Sinope is incomparably better than either of these places. It is, in fact, the one fine harbor on the south shore of the Black Sea. Since the fall of Trebizond the Black Sea is potentially Russian, and the advance of the Russian armies along the south shore cannot long be effectually resisted.

The rapid movement of the Russian armies southward is still more immediately important. When Mosul, Bagdad, and the whole eastern portion of the Berlin-Bagdad railway are in Russian hands, Turkey and the Turks will be at the mercy of their mighty ancient foe. Russia has ten times the population of Turkey, and with the knowledge close at hand of the treatment their fellow Christians, the Armenians, have suffered at the hands of the Turks now in power, the mercy the Turks can hope for from Russia can best be stated in minus terms. They are trembling, and with reason, at what the near future will reveal.

What is to be the effect of these stupendous changes upon the fortunes of the Armenian people and upon the stability of American institutions in all the Near East?

As to the Armenians, one thing is already certain.


Whether this would be true if, instead of "Armenians" we were to say "Christians," remains to be seen. It may be decided in the near future. But for the Armenians the case is clear. It admits neither of discussion nor experiment. The writer, in a public utterance three years ago, declared that the stability of the Turkish Government would depend on the readiness of those in power, in fact as well as in words, hereafter to put their Christian fellow countrymen on full equality with themselves. They have never been ready to do this. How unready they were has been demonstrated with horrible and ghastly distinctness during the past year. Kindly as we may still feel toward the Turkish people, the case against their government is closed. Judgment is pronounced. Christians of every race refuse to submit to independent Turkish rule.

The Armenians, a race with an honorable record in history extending back more than two thousand years, are still a live and virile people. The Turks undertook their extermination. The undertaking was impossible of accomplishment. There are now living, scattered in many lands, close on three million Armenians. A large part of Armenia has already passed under Russian rule. Before the war the Armenian population of South Russia was very large. Probably nearly two million Armenians are now Russian subjects. The portions of Turkey already conquered by Russia have a large Armenian population.

Among the hundreds of thousands—half a million probably in all—scattered in Persia, Egypt, America, and other countries, many of that people will return to their beloved fatherland when they feel sure that they will be safe and prosper under Christian rule. They count on the growing liberality of the Russian Government in recent years.

Some of the largest and most intelligent and progressive portions of the Armenian race have had their homes south of the Taurus range of mountains. It is yet too soon to tell what is to be the future of that portion of the Turkish dominions, or how the final settlement at the end of the war will leave the Armenians of that region.

Concerning the future of Constantinople the prophet who will speak with authority has not yet received his commission. There are now at least 125,000 Armenians and 200,000 Greeks in that city.


Coming to the question which more immediately concerns Americans, the first query which will arise in many minds will be, "Will not Russian rule be prejudicial to American interests, especially to missionary work in the provinces newly acquired by that government?"

It is well known that till recent years American missionaries, deprecated any encroachment of Russian power into Turkey. A glance backward will help to understand the position of the early missionaries, and a consideration of events and changes which have taken place in recent years will furnish us with grounds for our confidence that the position and work of Americans in those lands will be stronger than ever in the past.

The writer's personal acquaintance with conditions in Turkey began in 1859. Then, and for many years thereafter, it was not permitted American missionaries even to pass through Russia on their way to Persia or to Van. "My imperial master, the Czar of all the Russias, will not permit American missionaries to gain a foothold for influence in Turkey," said the Russian Ambassador at Constantinople three-quarters of a century ago.

Years later, General Ignatieff, then Russian Ambassador in Constantinople, was asked to order the visé of the passport of an American missionary who wished to pass through Russia on his way to Persia. When he saw that the profession of the gentleman was left blank, he demanded that the blank be filled out. The American Minister replied: "The gentleman is an American citizen. He is to make no stop on Russian soil. He cannot, therefore, exercise his profession, whatever it be, in Russia. I have ordered his passport made out in this form. Kindly see that it is viséd." The Ambassador winced at seeing the corner he was in and for once yielded.

In 1895-1896 the Turks charged the American missionaries—falsely, as they afterward learned—with fostering Armenian sedition, and in March, 1897, they sent Rev. George P. Knapp from Bitlis to Alexandretta under guard, and were prevented from expelling him from the country by the effective interposition of Mr. Riddle, then American Chargé d Affaires, supported by the British Ambassador, Sir Philip Currie. It was then that the Russian Ambassador, Count Nelidoff, said to the Grand Vizier, who complained of the American missionaries, "Why don't you send them out of the country?" An edict for their expulsion was issued by the Sultan. Sir Philip Currie promptly informed the Grand Vizier that such an act would" incur the displeasure of his government! The edict was suppressed and its issue denied. The denial furnished the reason for the writer to seek an interview with the keeper of the archives of the British embassy, with the result that the fact above stated concerning the edict of expulsion was verified.

This was twenty years ago. Till that time Americans resident in Turkey felt little desire to see Turkish shiftiness replaced by rigid Russian intolerance. Their hopes for reforms in the interest of the Christian population of Asia Minor, based on Article 61 of the Berlin treaty of 1878, had been disappointed by the failure of Great Britain's efforts, though such able men as Sir Charles Wilson and Lieutenant (the late Earl) Kitchener were sent into the country.


German influence soon gained the ascendency. This became very evident to Americans nearly ten years ago, in the case of what was there called "the Chester scheme" for building some two thousand kilometres of railway in Asia Minor. The plan was foredoomed to failure, but not at all because of Turkish opposition. The scheme, if carried out, would have been a great boon to Turkey. But German influence, and concessions they had already obtained, completely blocked the American plans. Those plans, if carried out, would have been a serious, check on German influence. Indeed, combined with English and French influence, would have checkmated Germany, and the Turks would not have been on the side of Germany in the present war.


Coming to the problem that now faces Americans and their institutions in the Near East, under Russian rule, the first thing to be noticed is the very great change which has taken place in recent years in the condition of those institutions. Property investment in buildings and their grounds was small in the early years. There was no stamp of permanence in the plants of schools and hospitals. All that has changed. Even our embassy was lodged in rented buildings till less than ten years ago. Our consulate is still so lodged. The separate incorporated bodies that represent American missionary, educational, and philanthropic work in what we have known as Turkey—not including Egypt —are twenty-four, viz.:

1.     The American Board.
2.     * Woman's Board of Missions, Boston.
3.     * Woman's Board of Missions of the Interior.
4.     * Woman's Board of Missions for the Pacific.
5.     Euphrates College.
6.     Central Turkey College, including Hospital.
7.     * St. Paul's College, Tarsus.
8.     * Anatolia College, Marsovan.
9.     * International College, Smyrna.
10.     Thessalonica Agricultural and Industrial Institute.
11.     American Bible Society.
12.     Bible House, Constantinople,
13.     American Tract Society.
14.     Presbyterian Board of Missions.
15.     Presbyterian Woman's Board of Missions.
16.     American Friends' Mission.
17.     National Armenia Relief Association.
18.     Reformed Church in America.
19.     Young Men's Christian Association.
20.     Young Women's Christian Association.
21.     American Hospital, Konia.
22.     Robert College.
23.     Constantinople College (for girls).
24.     Syrian Protestant College.

[* Working with and under the general direction of the American Board.]

Besides the above, there are thirty-four institutions, not separately incorporated, under the direction of the American Board:


The College at Marash.
The Collegiate Institute at Smyrna.
The Anatolia (Collegiate ) School at Marsovan.
High schools at Gedik Pasha, Constantinople, at Adabazar, at Brusa, at Talas, Caesarea, at Sivas, at Aintab, at Adana, at Hadjin, at Bitlis, at Van, at Erzerum, and at Mardin.


Theological schools at Marash, at Marsovan, and at Mardin.
Collegiate and Theological Institute at Samokov, in Bulgaria.


High school (to become a college) at Van.
High schools at Barderag, at Sivas, at Talas, Caesarea, at Erzerum, and two industrial schools at Oorfa, and schools at Trebizond and Ordoo, the latter under native control.


At Marsovan, at Talas, Caesarea, at Sivas, at Harpoot, at Van, at Adana, at Mardin, and at Diarbekir.

The reason no church or other ecclesiastical buildings are included in this list is that, while in the early years of American missionary work in Turkey the Protestant communities were aided pecuniarily in the erection of their churches and common school buildings, this property is now owned and controlled by the native communities.

No details are here given of the great work of the Bible Society, of the publication and other work centered at the Bible House, or of the most important and extended work of the Presbyterian Board in Syria.

The American money expended in the establishment and administration of these institutions during the eighty-five years of their existence has been nearly $40,000,000. They represent to-day in actual ownership of property a little over $8,000,000, and their actual yearly running expenses, in addition to receipts from native sources, were, before the war, just about $1,000,000.

Only six of these institutions have as yet come under Russian rule, but the six institutions at Harpoot, Diarbekir, and Mardin are likely also to come under Russian rule.

The attitude of Russian officials toward Americans in charge of those institutions is all that can be desired and furnishes a reassuring promise for the future. In view of the close relation formed between Russia and England and France, the relation of that great empire to Americans in Turkey has totally changed. In any event, American institutions in that land will, it is believed, be safer under Russian than they would be under German rule.

The hour of disillusion for the Turks has struck. It is the crucial hour for their government, perhaps the hour of doom. For the people it may be a new beginning, the significance of which they can as yet but very imperfectly estimate. Russia has some thirty million Moslem subjects, peaceful and prosperous like the Moslem subjects of Great Britain, France, and Holland. The Turks are enduring intolerable suffering as the result of the entrance of their government into the war. The return of peace will find them stripped of all that makes life worth living. In despair they will cling to any sincere offers of help. Such offers will be made by those they are now told to count their enemies. But Americans only will be so situated that they can give them both the material and the spiritual aid of which they will be conscious they are in dire need. It may be our privilege and our glory to take the lead in saving not only an ancient Christian race, but a vigorous Moslem race also from destruction.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —


A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury