Lord Bryce's Report on Turkish Atrocities in Armenia
By Lord Bryce
[The New York Times/Current History, November 1916]
Most appalling of all the documents of the world war is the record of Turkey’s wholesale massacres of the Christian men. women, and children of Armenia, as revealed in a detailed report prepared by Lord Bryce, the former British Ambassador to the United States, which fills a volume of 600 pages. Lord Bryce’s material, much of which was finished by American and other neutral workers in Armenian, is edited by Arnold J. Toynbee, late Fellow of Ballion College, Oxford. The volume contains 150 documents, all the authentic evidence obtainable up to July, 1916, as to the massacres and deportations of Armenians and other Christian dwelling in Asia Minor and the northwestern corner of Persia invaded by Turkish troops. All the evidence goes to show the deliberate purpose of the Turkish authorities to exterminate the Armenian Nation, the most colossal crime, says Lord Bryce, in the history of the world. CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE herewith presents the more striking portions of the report.
Lord Bryce prefaces his volume with the following analysis of the evidence:
This complication has been mass in the spirit proper to a historical inquiry; that is to say, nothing has been omitted which could throw light on the facts, whatever the political bearing of the accounts might be. In such an inquiry no racial or religious sympathies, no prejudices, not even the natural horror raised by crimes, ought to distract the mind of the inquirer from the duty of trying to ascertain the real facts.* * *
Let us, however, look at the evidence itself.
1) Nearly all of it comes from eyewitnesses, some of whom wrote it down themselves, while others have it to persons who wrote it out at the time from their statements, given to them aurally. Nearly all of it, moreover, was written immediately after the events described, when the witnesses’ recollection was still fresh and clear.
2) The main facts rest upon the evidence coming from different and independent sources. When the same fact is stated by witnesses who had no communication with one another, and in many cases did not even speak the same language, the presumption in favor of its truth becomes strong.
3) Facts of the same or of a very similar nature occurring in different and independent witnesses. as there is every reason to believe—and indeed it is hardly denied—that the massacres and deportations were carried out under general orders proceeding from Constantinople, the fact that persons who knew only what was happening in one locality record circumstances there broadly resembling those which occurred in another locality goes to show the general correctness of both sets of accounts.* * *
4) The volume of this concurrent evidence from different quarters is so large as to establish the main facts beyond all questions. Errors of details in some instances may be allowed for. Exaggeration may, in the case of native witnesses, who were more likely to be exited, be also, now and then, allowed for. But the general character of the events stands out, resting on foundations too broad to be shaken, and even details comparatively unimportant in themselves are often remarkably corroborated from different quarters.
5) In particular it is to be need that many of the most shocking and horrible accounts are those for which there is the most abundant testimony from the most trustworthy neutral witnesses. None of the worst cruelties rest on native evidence alone. If all that class of evidence were entirely struck out the general effect would be much the same, though some of the minor details would be wanting. One may, indeed, say that an examination of the neutral evidence tends to confirm the native evidence as a whole by showing that there is in it less of exaggeration than might have been expected. * * *
6) The vast scale of these massacres and the pitiless cruelty with which the deportations were carried out may seen to some readers to throw doubt on the authenticity of the narratives. Can human beings (it may be asked) have perpetrated such crimes on innocent women and children? But a recollection of previous massacres will show that such crimes are part of the long-settled and the often-repeated policy of the Turkish rulers.
In Chios, nearly a century ago, the Turks slaughtered almost the whole Greek population of the island. In European Turkey in 1876 many thousands of Bulgarians were killed on the suspicion of an intended rising, and the outrages committed on women were, on a smaller scale, as bad as those here recorded. In 1895 and 1896 more than a hundred thousand Armenian Christians were put to death by Abdul Hamid, many thousands of whom died as martyrs to their Christian faith, by abjuring which they could have saved their lives.
All these massacres are registered not only in the ordinary press records of current history but in the reports of British diplomatic and consular officials written at the time. They are as certain as anything else that has happened in our day. There is, therefore, no antecedent improbability to be overcome before the accounts here given can be accepted. All that happened in 1915 is in the regular Turkish policy. The only differences are in the scale of the present crimes, and in the fact that the lingering sufferings of deportations, in which the deaths were as numerous as in the massacres, and fell with special severity upon the women, have in this latest instance been added.
The evidence is cumulative. Each part of it supports the rest because each part in independent of the others. The main facts are the same, and reveal the same plans and intentions at work. Even the varieties are instructive because they show those diversities of temper and feeling which appear in human nature everywhere.
The Turkish officials are usually heartless and callous. But here and there we see one of a finer nature, who refuses to carry out the orders given him and is sometimes dismissed for his refusal. The Moslem rabble is usually pitiless. It pillages the houses and robs the persons of the hapless exiles. But now and then there appear pious and compassionate Moslems who try to save the lives or alleviate the miseries of their Christian neighbors. We have a vivid picture of human life, where wickedness in high places deliberately lets loose the passions of racial or religious hatred, as well as the commoner passion of rapacity, yet cannot extinguish those better feelings which show as points of light in the gloom.
It is, however, for the reader to form his own judgment on these documents as he peruses them. They do not, and by the nature of the case can not, constitute what is called judicial evidence, such as a court of justice obtains when it puts witnesses on oath and subjects them to cross-examination. But by far the larger part (almost all, indeed, of what is here published) does constitute historical evidence of the best kind, inasmuch as the statements come from those who saw the events they describe and recorded them in writing immediately afterward. They corroborate one another, the narratives given by different observers showing a substantial agreement, which becomes conclusive when we find the salient facts repeated with no more variations in detail than the various opportunities of the independent observers made natural.
Turks Confess Main Facts
The gravest facts are those for which the evidence is most complete, and it tallies fatally with that which twenty years ago established the guilt of Abdul Hamid for the deeds that have made his name infamous. In this case there are, moreover, what was wanting then—admissions which add weight to the testimony here presented—I mean the admissions of the Turkish Government and of their German apologists. The attempts made to find excuses for wholesale slaughter and for the removal of a whole people from their homes leave no room doubt as to the slaughter and the removal. The main facts are established by the confession of the criminals themselves. What the evidence here presented does is to show in detail how these things were effected, what cruelties accompanied them, and how inexcusable they were. The disproval of the palliations which the Turks have put forward is as complete as the proof of the atrocities themselves.
This preface is intended to deal only with the credibility of the evidence here presented, so I will refrain from comment on the facts. A single observation, at rather a single question, may, however, be permitted from one who has closely followed the history of the Turkish East for more than forty years. European travelers have often commended the honesty and the kindliness to the Turkish peasantry, and our soldiers have said that they are fair fighters. Against them I have nothing to say, and will even ass that I have known individual Turkish officials who impressed me as men of honesty and good will. But the record of the rulers of Turkey for the last two or three centuries, from the sultan on his throne down to the district Mutessarif, is, taken as a whole, an almost unbroken record of corruption, of injustice, of an oppression which often rises into hideous cruelty.
The Yong Turks, when they deposed Abdul Hamid, came forward as the apostles of freedom, promising equal rights and equal treatment to all Ottoman subjects. The facts here recorded show how that promise was kept. Can we still continue to hope that the evils of such a Government are curable? Or does the evidence contained in this volume furnish the most terrible and convicting proof that it can no longer be permitted to rule over subjects of a different faith?
Turkish Reign of Terror
Before presenting documents of specific outrage Lord Bryce and Mr. Toynbee print a series of letters covering in a general way the whole catalogue of horrors visited upon the Armenians by their Turkish masters. One of these, written from Constantinople in July, 1915, contains the following sentences:
From May 1 onward the population of the City of Erzerum, and shortly afterward the population of the whole province, was collected at Samsoun and embarked on shipboard. The population of Kaisaria, Diarbekir, Ourfa, Trebizond, Sivas, Harpout, and the district of Van have been deported to the deserts of Mesopotamia, from the southern outskirts of Aleppo as far as Mosul and Baghdad.
“Armenia without the Armenians“—that is the Ottoman Government’s project. The Moslems are already being allowed to take possession of the lands and houses abandoned by the Armenians. * * *
The exiles will have to traverse on foot a distance that involves one or two months’ marching, and sometimes even more, before they reach the particular corner of the desert assigned to them for their habitation, and destined to become their tomb. We hear, in fact, that the course of their route and the stream of the Euphrates are littered with the corpses of exiles, while those who survive are doomed to certain death, since they will find in the desert neither house, nor work, nor food.
It is simply a scheme for exterminating the Armenian Nation wholesale without any fuss. It is just another form of massacre, and a more horrible form.
A letter from the same source, dated Constantinople, Aug. 15, 1915, states:
It is now established that there is not an Armenian left in the provinces of Erzerum, Trebizond, Sivas, Harpout, Bitlis, and Diarbekir. About a million of the Armenian inhabitants of these provinces have been deported from their homes and sent southward into exile.
These deportations have been carried out very systematically by the local authorities since the beginning of April last. First of all, in every village and every town the population was disarmed by the gendarmerie and by criminals released for this purpose from prison. On the pretext of disarming the Armenians these criminals committed assassinations and inflicted hideous tortures. Next, they imprisoned the Armenians en masse on the pretext that they had a political organization, and had in their possession arms, kind of social standing was pretext enough. After that they began the deportation. And first, on the pretext of sending them into exile, they drove from their homes those who had not been imprisoned, or those who had been set at liberty through lack of any charge against them, then they massacres them. Not one of these escaped slaughter.
Before they stared they were examined officially by the authorities, and any money or valuables in their possession were confiscated. They were usually shackled—either separately or in gangs of five to ten. The remainder—old men, women, and children—were treated as waifs in the province of Harpout and placed at the disposal of the Moslem population. The highest official, as well as the most simple peasant, choose out the woman or girl who caught his fancy, and took her to wife, converting her by force to Islam. As for the children, the Moslems took as many of them as they wanted, and then the remnant of the Armenians were marched away, famished and destitute of provisions, to fall victims to hunger, unless that were anticipated by the savagery of the brigand bands.
In the province of Diarbekir there was an outright massacre, especially at Mardin, and the population was subjected to all the aforementioned atrocities.
In the provinces of Erzerum, Bitlis, Sivas, and Diarbekir the local authorities gave certain facilities to the Armenians condemned to deportation—five to ten days’ grace, authorization to effect a partial sale of their goods, and permission to hire a cart in the case of some families. But after the first few days of their journey the carters abandoned them on the road and returned home. These convoys were waylaid the day after the start, sometimes several days after, by bands of brigands or by Moslem peasants of brigands fraternized with the gendarmes and slaughtered the few grown men or youths who were included in the convoys. They carried off the women, girls, and children, leaving only the old women, who were driven along by the gendarmes under blows of the lash, and died of hunger by the roadside. An eyewitness reports to us that the women deported from the province of Erzerum were abandoned some days ago on the plain of Harpout, where they have all died of hunger (fifty or sixty a day).
The only step taken by the authorities was to send people to bury them, in order to safeguard the health of the Moslem population.
Thousands of Corpses
The same barbarities have been committed everywhere, and by this time travelers find nothing but thousands of Armenian corpses all along the roads in these provinces. A Moslem traveler, on his was from Malatia to Sivas, a nine hours’ journey, passed nothing but corpses of men and women. All the male Armenians of Malatia had been taken there and massacred; the women and children have all been converted to Islam. No Armenian can travel in these parts, for every Moslem, and especially the brigands and gendarmes, considers it his duty now to kill them at sight.
Recently MM. Zohrab and Vartkes, the Armenian members of the Ottoman Parliament who had been sent off to Diarbekir to be tried by the Council of War, were killed before they got there, near Aleppo. In these provinces one can only travel incognito under a Moslem name. * * *
The Armenian soldiers, too, have suffered the same fate. They were also all disarmed and put to constructing roads. We have certain knowledge that the Armenian soldiers of the province of Erzerum, who were at work on the road from Erzerum to Erzingan, have all been massacred. The Armenian soldiers of the province of Diarbekir have all been massacred of the Diarbekir-Ourfa road, and the Diarbekir-Harpout road. From Harpout alone 1,800 young Armenians were enrolled and sent off to work at Diarbekir; all were massacred in the neighborhood of Arghana. We have no news from the other districts, but they have assuredly suffered the same fate there also.
In certain towns the Armenians who had been consigned to oblivion in the prisons have been hanged in batches. During the last month alone several dozen Armenians have been hanged in Kaisaria. In many places the Armenian population, to save their lives, have tried to become Mohammedans, but this time such overtures have not been readily accepted, as they were at the time of the other great massacres. At Sivas the would-be converts to Islam were offered the following terms: They must of age to the Government, which would undertake to place them in orphanages, and they must consent for their own part to leave their homes and settle wherever the Government directed.
At Harpout they would not accept the conversion conditional in each case upon the presence of a Moslem willing to take the convert in marriage. Many Armenian women preferred to throw themselves into the Euphrates with their infants, or committed suicide in their homes. The Euphrates and Tigris have become the sepulcher of thousands of Armenians.
All Armenians converted in the Black Sea towns—Trebizond, Samsoun, Kerasond, etc.—have been sent to the interior, and settled in towns inhabited exclusively by Moslems. The town of Shabin-Karahissar resisted disarmament and deportation and was thereupon bombarded. The whole population of the town and the surrounding country, with the Bishop at their head, was pitilessly massacred.
In short, from Samsoun on the one hand to Sughart and Diarbekir on the other, there is now not a single Armenian left. The majority have been massacred, part have been carried off, and a very small part have been converted to Islam.
History has never recorded, never hinted at, such a hecatomb. We are driven to believe that under the reign of Sultan Abdul-Hamid we were exceedingly fortunate. Several important documents in the indictment are written by German eyewitnesses, who call upon the German Government to stop the Murderous deeds of their ally. One such document, addressed to the German Foreign office by four teachers at Aleppo, is printed separately at the close of this article as CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE had previously obtained it through other channels.
Another narrative given by Lord Bryce was printed in the Sonnenaufgang and the Alleghenies Missions-Zeitschift in October and November, 1915, respectively. After its appearance in the latter periodical the German censor forbade its reproduction and confiscated all copies on which he could get his hands, but a few were smuggled out of Germany. The article is in part as follows:
Between May 10 and May 30, 1,200 of the most prominent Armenians and other Christians, without distinction of confession, were arrested in the Vilayets of Diarbekir and Mamouret-ul-Aziz.
It is said that they were to be taken to Mosul, but nothing more has been heard of them.
On May 30, 674 of them were embarked on thirteen Tigris barges, under the pretext that they were to be taken to Mosul. The Vali’s aid de camp, assisted by fifty gendarmes, was in charge of the convoy. Half the gendarmes started off on the barges, while the other-half rode along the bank. A short time after the start the prisoners were stripped of all their money (about $6,000 Turkish) and then of their clothes; after that they were thrown into the river. The gendarmes on the bank were ordered to let none of them escape. The clothes of these victims were sold in the market of Diarbekir.
About the same time 700 young Armenian men were conscribed and were then set to build the Kara-Baghtche-Habashi road. There is no news of these 700 men, either. It is said that in Diarbekir five or six priests were stripped naked one day, smeared with tar, and dragged through the streets.
In the Vilayet of Aleppo they have evicted the inhabitants of Hadjin, Sheer, Albustan, Goksoun, Geben, Shivilgi, Furnus, and the surrounding villages, Fundadjak, Hassan-Beyli, Harni, Lappashli, Dort Yol, and others.
They have marched them off in convoys into the desert on the pretext of setting them there. In the village of Tel-Armen (along the line of the neighboring villages about 5,000 people were massacred, leaving only a few women and children. The people were thrown alive down wells or into the fire. They pretend that the Armenians are to be employed in colonizing land situated at a distance of from twenty-four to thirty kilometers from the Baghdad Railway. But as it is only the women and children who are sent into exile, since all the men, with exception of the very old, are at the war, this means nothing less than the wholesale murder of the families, since they have neither the labor nor the capital from clearing the country. * * *
For a whole month corpses were observed floating down the River Euphrates nearly every day, often in batches of from two to six corpses bound together. The Turkish military authority in control of the Euphrates, the Kaimakam of Djerablous, refuses to allow the burial of these corpses, on the ground that he finds it impossible to establish whether they belong to Moslems or to Christians. He adds that no one has given him any orders on the subject. The corpses stranded on the bank are devoured by dogs and vultures. To this fact there are many German eyewitnesses. An employer of the Baghdad Railway has brought the information that the prisons at Biredjik are filled regularly every day and emptied every night—into the Euphrates. Between Diarbekir and Ourfa a German cavalry Captain saw innumerable corpses lying unburied all along the road.
The following telegram was sent to Aleppo from Arabkir: “We have accepted the true religion. Now we are all right." The inhabitants of a village near Anderoum went over to Islam and had to hold to it. At Hadjin six families wanted to become Mohammedans. They received the verdict: “Nothing under 100 families will be accepted."
Aleppo and Ourfa are the assemblage places for the convoys of exiles. There were about 5,000 of them in Aleppo during June and July, while during the whole period from April to July many more than 50,000 must have passed through the city. the girls were abducted almost without exception by the soldiers and their Arab hangers-on. One father, on the verge of despair, besought me to take with me at least his 15-year-old daughter, as he could no longer protect her from the persecutions inflicted upon her. The children left behind by the Armenians on their journey are past counting.
Women whose pairs came upon them on the way had to continue their journey without respite. A woman bore twins in the neighborhood of Aintab; next morning she had to go on again. She very soon had to leave the children under a bush, and a little while after she collapsed herself. Another, whose pains came upon her during the march, was compelled to go on at once and fell down dead almost immediately.
Massacres in Mush District
The following harrowing narrative of happenings at Mush [also spelled Moush] was told by a German eyewitness, and was turned over to Lord Bryce by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief:
The Winter was most severe in Mush; the gendarmes were sent to levy high taxes, and as the Armenians had already given everything to the Turks, and were therefore, powerless to pay these enormous taxes, they were beaten to death. The Armenians never defended themselves except when they saw the gendarmes ill-treat their wives and children, and the result in such cases was that the whole village was burned down, merely because a few Armenians had tried to protect their families.
Thus the Winter passed, with things happening every day more terrible that one can possibly describe. We then heard that massacres had started in Bitlis. In Mush everything was being prepared for one, when the Russians arrived at Aqlice, which is about fourteen to sixteen hours’ journey from Mush. This occupied the attention of the Turks, so that the massacre was put off for the tome being. Hardly had the Russians left Lice, however, when all of the districts inhabited by Armenians were pillaged and destroyed.
This was in the month of May. At the beginning of June, we heard that the whole Armenian population of Bitlis had been got rid of. It was at this time that we received news that the American missionary, Dr. Knapp, had been wounded in an American house and that the Turkish Government had sent him to Diarbekir. The very first night at Diarbekir he died, and the Government explained his death as a result of having overeaten, which of course nobody believed.
When there was no one left in Bitlis to massacre their attention was diverted to Mush. Cruelties had already been committed, but so far not too publicly; now, however, they started to shoot people down without any cause and beat them to death simply for the pleasure of doing so. In Mush itself, which is a big town, there are 300 villages, each containing about -500 houses. In all these not a single male Armenian is now to be seen, and hardly a woman either, except for a few here and there.
In the first week of July 20,000 soldiers arrived from Constantinople by way of Harpout with munitions and eleven guns, and laid siege to Mush. As a matter of fact, the town gad already been beleaguered since the middle of June. At this stage, the Mutessarif gave orders that we should leave the town and go to Harpout. We pleaded with him to let us stay, for we had in our charge all the orphans and patients; but he was angry and threatened to remove us by force if we did not do as instructed. As we both fell sick, however, we were allowed to remain at Mush. I received permission, in the event of our leaving Mush, to take the Armenians of our orphanage with us; but when we asked for assurances of their safety, his only reply was: “You can take them with you, but being Armenians their heads may and will be cut off on the way."
On July 10 Mush was bombarded for several hours on the pretext that some Armenians had tried to escape. I went to see the Mutessarif and asked him to protect our buildings; his reply was: “Serves you right for staying instead of leaving as instructed. The guns are here to make an end of Mush. Take refuge with the Turks." This, of course, was impossible, as we could not leave our charges. Next day a new order was promulgated for the expulsion of the Armenians, and three days’ grace was given them to make ready. They were told to register themselves at the Government Building before they left. Their families could remain, but their property and their money were to be confiscated. The Armenians were unable to go, for they had no money to defray the journey, and they preferred to die in their houses rather than be separated from their families and endure a lingering death of the road.
As started above, three days’ grace was given to the Armenians, but two hours had scarcely elapsed when the soldiers began breaking into the houses, arresting the inmates and throwing them into prison. The guns to fire and thus the people were effectually prevented from registering themselves at the Government Building. We all had to take refuge in the cellar for fear of our orphanage catching fire. It was heart-rending to hear the cries of the people and children who were being burned to death in their hearing them, and when people who were out in the street during the bombardment fell dead the soldiers merely laughed at them.
The survivors were sent of Ourfa, (there were none left but sick women and children;) I went to the Mutessarif and begged him to have mercy on the children at least, but in vain. He replied that the Armenian children must perish with their nation. All our people were taken from our hospital and orphanage; they left us three female servants. Under these atrocious circumstances, Mush was burned to the ground. Every officer boated of the number he had personally massacred as his share in riding Turkey of the Armenian race.
Harpout a Cemetery
We left for Harpout. Harpout has become the cemetery of the Armenians; from all directions they have been brought to Harpout to be buried. There they lie, and the dogs and the vultures lick their bodies. Now and then some man throws some earth over the bodies. In Harpout and Mezré the people have had to endure terrible tortures. They have had their eyebrows plucked out, their breasts cut off, their nails torn off; their torturers hew off their feet or else hammer nails into them just as they do in shoeing horses. This is all done at night time, and in order that the people may not hear their screams and know of their agony soldiers are stationed around the prisons beating drums and blowing whistles. It is needless to relate that many died of these tortures. When they die, the soldiers cry: “Now let your Christ help you!"
One old priest was tortured so cruelly to extract a confession that, believing that the torture would cease and that he would be left alone if he did it, he cried out in his desperation: “We are revolutionists!" He expected his torture to cease, but on the contrary the soldiers cried: “What further do we seek? We have it here from his own lips!" And instead of picking their victims as they did before, the officials had all the Armenians tortured without sparing a soul.
Early in July 2,000 Armenian soldiers were ordered to leave for Aleppo to build roads. The people of Harpout were terrified on hearing this, and a panic started in the town. The Vali sent for the German missionary, Mr. Ehemann, and begged him to quiet the people, repeating over and over again that no harm whatever would befall these soldiers. Mr. Ehemann took the Vali’s word and quieted the people. But they had scarcely left when we heard that they had all been murdered and thrown into a cave. Just a few managed to escape, and we got the reports from them. It was useless to protest to the Vali. The American Consul at Harpout protested several times, but the Vali takes no account to him, and treats him in a most shameful manner.
A few days later another 2,000 Armenian soldiers were dispatched via Diarbekir, and in order to hinder them the more surely from escaping, they were left to starve on the way, so that they had no strength left in them to flee. The Kurds were given notice that the Armenians were on the way, and the Kurdish women came with their butchers’ knives to help the men. In Mezré a public brothel was erected for the Turks, and all the beautiful Armenian girls and women were placed there. At night the Turks were allowed free entrance.
The permission for the Protestant and Catholic Armenians to be exempted from deportation only arrived after their deportation had taken place. The Government wanted to force the few remaining Armenians to accept the Mohammedan faith. A few did so in order to save their wives and children from the terrible sufferings already witnessed in the case of others. The people begged us to leave for Constantinople and obtain some security for them. On our way to Constantinople we only encountered old women. No young women or girls were to seen.
In November we knew already that there would be a massacre. The Mutessarif of Mush, who was a very intimate friend of Enver Pasha, declared quite openly that they would massacre the Armenians at the first opportune moment and exterminate the whole race. Before the Russians arrived they intended first to butcher the Armenians, and then fight the Russians afterward. Toward the beginning of April, in the presence of a Major Lange and several other high officials including the American and German Consuls, Ekran Bey quite openly declared their intention of exterminating the Armenian race. All these details plainly show that the massacre was deliberately planned.In a few villages destitute women come begging, naked and sick, for alms and protection. We are not allowed to give them anything, we are forbidden to do anything for them, and they die outside. If only permission could be obtained from the authorities to help them! If we cannot endure the sight of these poor people’s sufferings, what must it be like for the sufferers themselves?
It is a story written in blood.
Story of Red Cross Nurses
One of the most terrible of all the tales of horror collected by Lord Bryce was supplied by two Danish Red Cross nurses, formerly in the service of the German Military Mission at Erzerum and engaged early last year in Red Cross work at Erzingan, (Both of which places have since been occupied by the Russians). While they were at Erzingan the Armenians of the city were notified that they were to be deported, and were compelled to sell their property at ruinous prices. A convoy of these wretched creatures, were driven from the city toward Harpout, and soon stories were brought back by survivors of the wholesale butchery of the Armenians by their Turkish guards. Later the two Danish nurses learned of this from some of the very soldiers themselves, and determined to accompany one of the caravans of unfortunates, believed that they could prevent further slaughter.
The following morning, at a very early hour, we heard the procession of exiles passing in front of our house, along the high road leading in to Erzingan. We followed them and kept up with them as far as the town, about an hour’s walk. Mr. G. came with us. It was a very large gang—only two or three of them men, all the rest women and children. Many of the women looked demented. They cried out: “Spare us, we will become Moslems or Germans, or whatever you will; only spare us! We are being taken to Kamakh Boghaz to have our throats cut!" and they made an expressive gesture. Others kept silent, and marched patiently on with a few bundles on their backs and their children arms. Others begged us to save their children.
Many Turks arrived of the scene to carry off children and girls, with or without their parents’ consent. There was no time for reflection, for the crowd was being moved on continually by the mounted gendarmes brandishing their whips. On the outskirts of the town the road to Kamakh Boghaz branches off from the main highway.
At this point the scene turned into a regular slave market; for our part, we took a family of six children from 3 to 14 years old, who clutched hold of us, and another little girl as well. We entrusted the latter to our Turkish cook, who was on the spot. She wanted to take the child to the kitchen of Dr. A.’s private house, and keep her there until we could come to fetch her; but the doctor’s adjutant, Riza Bey, gave the woman a beating and threw the child out into the street. Meaning, with cries of agony, the gang of sufferers continued its march, while we returned to the hospital with our six children. Dr. A. gave us permission to keep them in our room until we had packed our belongings. They were given food and soon became calmer. “Now we are saved!" they had cried when we took them. They refused to let go of our hands. The smallest, the son of a rich citizen of Baibourt, lay huddled up in his mother’s cloak; his face was swollen with crying and he seemed inconsolable.
Once he rushed to the window and pointed to a gendarme: “That’s the man who killed my father!" The children handed over to us their money, 475 plasters, (about $5,) which their parents had given them with the idea that perhaps the children, at any rate, would not be shot.
We then rode into the town to obtain permission for these children to travel with us. We were told that the high authorities were in session to decide the fate of the convoy which had just arrived. Nevertheless, Sister B. succeeding getting word with some one she knew, who gave her the authorization to take the children with her, and offered to give them false names in the passport. This satisfied us, and, after returning to the hospital, we left the same evening with baggage and children and all, and installed ourselves in a hotel at Erzingan. The Turkish orderlies at the hospital were very friendly, and said: “You have done a good deed in taking these children." We could get nothing but one small room for the eight of us.
During the night there was a frightful knocking at our door, and we were asked whether there were two German ladies in the room. Then all became quiet again, to the great relief of our little ones.
Efforts to Save Children
Their first question had been, Would we prevent them from being made Mohammedans? And was our cross (the nurses’ Red Cross) the same as theirs? After that they were comforted. We left them in the room, and went ourselves to take tea in the hotel cafe. We noticed that some discharged hospital patients of ours, who had always shown themselves full of gratitude toward us, behaved as if they no linger recognized us.
The proprietor of the hotel began to hold forth, and every one listened to what he was saying: “The death of these women and children has been decreed at Constantinople." The Hodja (Turkish priest) of our hospital came in, too, and said to us, among other things: “If God has no pity on them, why must you have pity? The Armenians have committed atrocities at Van. That happened because their religion is ekzik, [inferior]. The Moslems should not have followed their example, but should have carried out the massacre with greater humanity." We always gave the same answer—that they ought to discover the guilty and do justice upon them, but that the massacre of women and children was, and always will remain, a crime.
Then we went to the Mutessarif himself, with whom we had succeeded in obtaining an interview before. The man looked like the devil incarnate, and his behavior bore out his appearance. In a bellowing voice he shouted at us: Women have no business to meddle with politics, but ought to respect the Government!" We told him that we should have acted in precisely the same way if the victims had been Mohammedans, and that politics had nothing to do with our conduct. He answered that we had been expelled from the hospital, and that we should get the same treatment from him; that he would not stand us, and that he would certainly not permit us to go to Harpout to fetch our belongings, but would send us to Sivas. Worst of all, he forbade us to take the children away, and at once sent a gendarme to carry them off from our room.
On our back to the hotel we actually met them, but they were hurried past us so quickly that we had not even a chance to return them their money. Afterward we asked Dr. Lindenberg to see that this money was restored to them; but, to find out where they were, he had to make inquiries of a Turkish officer, and just at the moment of our departure, when we had been told that they had already been killed, and when we had no longer any chance of making a further search for them, the aforementioned Riza Bey came and asked us for their money, on the ground that he wanted to return it to children! We had already decided to spend it on relieving other Armenians.
At Erzingan we were now looked askance at. They would no longer let us stay at the hotel; but took us to a desert Armenian house. The whole of this extensive quarter of the town seemed dead. People came and went at will to loot the contents of the houses; in some of the houses families of Moslem refugees were already installed. We had now a roof over our heads, but no one would go to get us food. However, we managed to send a note to Dr. A., who kindly allowed us to return to hospital. The following day the Mutessarif sent a spring less baggage cart, in which we were to do the seven days’ journey to Sivas. We gave him to understand that we would not have this conveyance, and upon the representatives of Dr. A., they sent us a traveling carriage, with the treat to have us arrested if we did not start at once. * * *
One day’ we met a convoy of exiles, who had said good-bye to their prosperous Villages, and were at that moment on their way to Kamakh Boghaz. We had to draw up a long time by the roadside while they marched past. The scene will never be forgotten by either of us; a very small number of elderly men, a large number of women—vigorous figures with energetic features—a crowd of pretty children, some of them fair and blue eyed, one little girl smiling at the strangeness of all she was seeing, but on all the other faces the solemnity of death. There was no noise; it was all quiet, and they marched along in an orderly way, the children generally riding on the ox carts; and so they passed, some of them greeting us on the way—all these poor people, who are now standing at the throne of God, and whose cry goes up before Him. An old woman was made to get down from her donkey—she could no longer keep the saddle. Was she killed on the spot? Our hearts had become as cold as ice.
The gendarme attached to us told us then that he had escorted a convoy of 3,000 women and children to Mama Khatoun (near Erzerum) and Kamakh Boaghaz. “Hep gildi bildi,” he said—“all far away, all dead." We asked him: why not kill them in their villages?" answer: “It is best as it is. They ought to be made to suffer; and besides, there would be no place left for us Moslems with all these corpses about. They will make a stench!"
We spent a night at Enderessi, one day’s journey from Shabin Kara Hissar. As usual, we had been given for our longing an empty Armenian house. On the wall there was a pencil scrawl in Turkish “Our dwelling is on the mountains, we have no longer any need of a roof to cover us; we have already drained the bitter cup of death, we have no more need of a judge."
The ground floor rooms of the house were still tenanted by the women and children. The gendarmes told us that they would be exiled next morning, but they did not know that yet; they did not know what had become of the men of the house; they were restless, but not yet desperate.
Shot in Cold Blood
Just after I had gone to sleep I was awakened by shot in our immediate neighborhood. The reports followed one another rapidly, and I distinctly heard the words of command. I realized at once what was happening, and actually experience a feeling of relief at the idea that these poor creatures were now beyond the reach of human cruelty.
Next morning our people told us that ten Armenians had been shot—that was the firing that we heard—and that the Turkish civilians of the place were now being sent out to chase the fugitives. Indeed, we saw them staring off on horseback with guns. At the roadside were two armed men standing under a tree and dividing between them the clothes of a dead Armenian. We passed a place covered with clotted blood, though the corpses had been removed. It was the 250 road makers, of whom our gendarme had told us.
Once we met a large number of these laborers, who had so far been allowed to do their work in peace. They had been sorted into three gangs—Moslems, Greeks, and Armenians. There were several officers with the latter. our young Hassan exclaimed: “They are all going to be butchered." We continued our journey, and the road mounted a hill. Then our driver pointed with his whip toward the valley, and we saw that the Armenian gang was being made to stand out of the highroad. There were about 400 of them, and they were being made to line up on the edge of a slope. We know what happened after that.
Two days before we reached Sivas we again saw the same sight. The soldiers’ bayonets glittered in the sun.
At another place there were ten gendarmes shooting them down, while Turkish workmen were fishing off the victims with knives and staves. Here ten Armenians had succeeded in getting away.
Later on, in the Mission Hospital at Sivas, we came across one of the men who had escaped. He told us that about 100 Armenians had been slaughtered there. Our informant himself had received a terrible wound in the nape of the neck and had fainted. Afterward ha had recovered consciousness and had dragged himself in two days to Sivas.
Twelve hours’ distance from Sivas we spent the night on a Government building. For hours a gendarme, sitting in front of our door, crooned to himself over and over again:
“Ermenleri hep kesdiler”—“the Armenians have all been killed!" In the next room they were talking on the telephone. We made out that they were giving instructions as to how the Armenians were to be arrested. They were talking chiefly about a certain Ohannes, whom they had not succeeded in finding yet.
One night we slept in an Armenian house where the women had just heard that the men of the family had been condemned to death. It was frightful to hear their cries of anguish. It was no use of our trying to speak to them. “Cannot your Emperor help us?" they cried. The gendarme saw the despair of our faces, and said: “Their crying bothers you; I will forbid them to cry." However, he let himself be mollified. He had taken particular pleasure in pointing out to us all the horrors that we encountered, and he said to young Hassan:” First we kill the Armenians, then the Greeks, then the Kurds." He would certainly have been delighted to add: “And then the foreigners!" Our Greek driver was the victim of a still more ghastly joke: “Look, down they’re in the ditch; there are Greeks there, too!"
Heroic Work of Americans
At the important City of Van a small group of American missionaries, doctors, and nurses behaved splendidly trying to do what they could to succor the Armenians. Matters in this region were complicated by the Russian campaign against the Turks, which embittered the latter greatly against the Armenians, who were accused of Sympathy with the Russians, and by the fact that the Armenians resisted the Turks by force of arms in an endeavor to save their lives and property. Several of the Americans during the Van reign of terror died of disease, which ravaged the city and outlying districts. The persecution against the Armenians of Van was carried out by Djevdet Bet, a brother-in-law of the renowned Enver Pasha, leader of the Young Turks. One of the hordes of Armenian refugees who sought shelter within the group of buildings of the American mission at Van Gratefully exclaimed:
“What would we do without this place? This is the third massacre during which I have taken refuge here."
From the annual report for 1915 presented by the Medical Department at Urmia to the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States these extracts are taken:
A sad case was that of the mother of a girl of 12 who was being taken away to a life of slavery. The mother protested and tried to save their child, who was ruthlessly torn from her. As the daughter was being dragged away the mother made so much trouble for her oppressors, and clung to them so tenaciously, that they stabbed her twelve times before her wounds. Some people were shot as they ran, and children that they were caring were killed or wounded with them. In some cases men were lined up so that several could be shot with one bullet, in order not to waste ammunition on them.
One of the most terrible things that came to the notice of the Medical Department was the treatment of Syrian women and girls by the Turks, Kurds, and local Mohammedans. After the massacre in the village of ———, almost all the women and girls were outraged, and two little girls, aged 8 and 10, died in the hands of Moslem villains. A mother said that not a woman or girl above 12 (and some younger) in the village of ——— escaped violation. This is the usual report from the villages.
One man, who exercised a great deal of authority in the northern part of the Urmia Plain, openly boasted of having ruined eleven Christian girls, two of them under 7 years of age, and he is now permitted to return to his home in peace and no questions are asked. Several women from 80 to 85 years old have suffered with the younger women.
The most diabolically cold-blooded of all the massacres was the one committed above the village of Ismael Agha’s Kala, when some sixty Syrians of Gawar were butchered by the Kurds at the investigation of the Turks. These Christians had been used by the Turks to pack telegraph wire from over the border, and while they were in the City of Urmia they were kept in close confinement, without food or drink. On their return, as they reached the valleys between the Urmia and Bardost Plains, they were all stabbed to death, as it was supposed, but here again, as in two former massacres, a few wounded, bloody victims succeeded in making their way to our hospital.
Armenians of Moush Wiped Out
A refugee called Roupen, from the district of Sassoun, communicated these details to the Armenian community of Moscow, whither he escaped:
In the month of May the Turks attempted to force their way into Sassoun, and at the same time the massacres began again without warning at Harpout, Erzerum, and Diarbekir. The Armenians repulsed the town of Moush, [also spelled Mush,] where a large number of Turkish troops were concentrated. This was the situation when the Turks perpetrated the great massacre of Moush at the end of June. Half the inhabitants of Moush were massacred, the other half were driven out of the town. The Armenians never knew that at that moment the Russian troops were only two or three hours’ distance from Moush.
The massacres extended over the whole plain of Moush. The Armenians, who had managed to retreat on to the heights of a slender supply of munitions, attacked the Turks in the valleys and gorges of Sassoun, and inflicted considerable losses upon them. A fraction of the Armenians who escaped the massacre broke though the Turkish lines and reached Van, which was already in the hands of the Russian troops. The number of Armenian victims is very large. In the town of Moush alone, out of the 15,000 Armenian inhabitants there are only 200 survivors; out of the 59,000 inhabitants of the plain hardly 9,000 have escaped.
Early in June the authorities ordered the Armenians to surrender their arms and pay a large money ransom. The leading Armenians of the town and the headmen of the villages were subjected to revolting tortures. Their finger nails and their toe nails were forcibly extracted; their teeth were knocked out, and, in some cases, their noses were whittled down, and the victims thus done to death under shocking, lingering agonies. The female relatives of the victims who came to the rescue were outraged in public before the very eyes of their mutilated husbands and brothers. The shrieks and death cries of the victims filled the air, yet they did not move the Turkish beast. * * *
In the town of Moush itself the Armenians, under the leadership of Gotoyan and others, in trenched themselves in the churches and stone-built houses and fought for four days in self-defense. The Turkish artillery, manned by German officers, made short work of all the Armenian positions. Every one of the Armenians, leaders as well as men, was killed fighting; and when the silence of death reigned over the ruins of churches and the rest, the Moslem rabble made a descent upon the women and children and drove them out of the town into large camps which had already been prepared for the peasant women and children. The ghastly scenes which followed may indeed sound incredible; yet these reports have been confirmed from Russian sources beyond all doubt.
The shortest method of disposing of the women and children concentrated in the various camps was to burn them. Fire was set to large wooden sheds in Alidjan, Megrakom, Khaskegh, an other Armenian villages, and these absolutely helpless women and children were roasted to death. Many went mad and threw their children away; some knelt down and prayed amid the flames in which their bodies were burning; others shrieked and cried for help which came from nowhere. And the executioners, who seem to have been unmoved by this unparallel savagery, grasped infants by one leg and hurried them into the fire, calling out to the burning mothers: “Here are your lions." Turkish prisoners who had apparently witnessed some of these scenes were horrified and maddened at remembering the sight. They told the Russians that the stench of the burning human flesh permeated the air for many days after.
Killed by Official Order
Armenian refugees who reached the Caucasus supplied details of their experiences from which the following has been recorded in the Bryce report:
The Turks gathered together about 5,000 Armenians by treachery and deception from twenty Armenian villages around the monastery of St. Garabed, at Mush, and massacred them. This took place near the wall of the monastery. before the massacre began, a German officer stood on the wall and harangued the Armenians to the effect that the Turkish Government had shown great kindness to and had honored the Armenians, but that they were not satisfied and wanted autonomy; he then, by the report of a revolver, gave the signal for the general massacre. Among the massacred were two monks, one of them being the father superior of Sourp Garabed, Yeghishé Vartabed, who had a chance of escaping, but did not wish to be separated from his flock, and was killed with them. From the Sahajian district about 4,000 Armenians found refuge in the forests of the monastery, and fought against themselves alive on wheat, raw meat without salt, turtles, frogs, etc. Some of them finally surrendered, but no one knows the fate of the remainder. The monastery of St. Garabed was sacked and robbed. The Turks opened the tomb of St. Garabed and destroyed everything. Turkish chiefs took up their quarters in the monastery with imprisoned Armenian Girls.
According to another report no one was spared in Mush, not even the orphans in the German Orphanage. Some of these were killed and others deported. The Rev. Krikor and Mr. Marcar Ghougaxsian, teachers in the German Orphanage, were killed, and only two escape death, Miss Matgarid Nalbandian and Miss Maritza Arisdakesian. These were graduates of the German Seminary at Mezré, and owe their lives to a kind German lady.
According to the reports of some Armenians who had found refuge in the forests of Sourp Garabed and finally made their way to the Caucasus, Hilmi Bey was appointed for the purpose of clearing the Armenian provinces of Armenians. This man reached Erzerum on May 18, and then went to Khnyss, Boulanik, Khlat, etc., massacring every Armenian in these places. According to a letter dated June 19 (July 3), written to one of these refugees, Hilmi Bey had three army corps (?) with him, a body of gendarmes, and the volunteers of Hadji Moussa Bey and Sheik Hazret, who had come to Mush to massacre the Armenians. To these forces were joined the Turkish mob of Mush, the Turkish refugees from Alashkerd and Badnotz, Keur Husein Pasha and Abdul-Medjid Bey. The Massacres were directed by Governor Djevdet of Van, Commander Halil of Diliman, Governor Abd-ul-Khalak of Bitlis, and Governor Servet Bey of Mush. The order for massacre was given on June 28, (July 11). According to Turkish Government statistics 120,000 Armenians were killed in this district.
Slaughter at Trebizond
The Armenians of the important port of Trebizond, which has since been occupied by the Russians, also went through the troves of deportation and massacre. The decree of deportation affecting the Trebizond Armenians was promulgated on June 24, 1915. Subsequent happenings are thus described by G. Gorrini, late Italian Consul General at Trebizond: From June 24, the date of the publication of the infamous decree, until July 23, the date of my own departure from Trebizond, I no longer slept or ate; I was given over to nerves and nausea, so terrible was the torment of having to look on at the wholesale execution of these defenseless, innocent creatures.
The passing of the gangs of Armenian exiles beneath the windows and before the door of the Consulate; their prayers for help, when neither I nor any other could so anything to answer them; the city in a state of siege, guarded at every point by 15,000 troops in complete war equipment, by thousands of police agents, by bangs of volunteers, and by the members of the Committee of Union and Progress; the lamentations, the tears, the abandonment’s, the imprecations, the many suicides, the instantaneous deaths caused by sheer terror, the sudden unhinging of men’s reason, the conflagrations, the shooting of victims in the city, the ruthless searches through the houses and in the countryside, the hundreds of corpses found every day along the exile road, the young women converted by force to Islam of exiled like the rest, the children torn away from their families or from the Christian schools, and handed over by force to Moslem families, or else placed by hundreds on board ship in nothing but their shirts, and then capsized and drowned in the Black Sea and the River Deré Menderé—these are my last ineffaceable memories of Trebizond, memories which still, at a month’s distance, torment my soul and almost drive me frantic.
When ones has had to look on for a whole month at such horrors, at such protracted tortures, with absolutely no power of acting as one longed to act, the question naturally and spontaneously suggests itself, whether all the cannibals and all the wild beasts in the world have not left their hiding places and retreats, left the virgin forests of Africa, Asia, America, and Oceania, to make their rendezvous at Stamboul.
Unfortunates of Baiburt
Baiburt, mentioned often in the news as the scene of fighting between Russians and Turks, was also the scene of terrible outrages. According to an Armenian lady deported from Baiburt, who communicated her experiences to the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief. the Armenian population of the place was deported in three batches. She went with the third batch. She told of her sufferings on the road as follows:
We had got only two hours away from home when bands of villagers and brigands in large numbers, with rifles, guns, axes, etc., surrounded us on the road, and robbed us of all we had. The gendarmes took my three horses and sold them to Turkish mouhadjirs, pocketing the money. They took my money and the gold pieces from my daughter’s neck, also all our food.
After this they separated the men, one by one, and shot them all within six or seven days—every male above 15 years old. By my side were killed two priests, one of them over 90 years age. The brigands took all the good-looking women and carried them off on their horses. Very many women and girls were thus carried off to the mountains. Among them my sister, whose one-year-old baby they threw away; a Turk picked it up and carried it off, I know not where. My mother walked till she could walk no further and dropped by the roadside on a mountain top.
We found on the road many of those who had been deported from Baiburt in the previous convoys; some women were among the killed, with their husbands and sons. we also came across some old people and little infants still alive but in a pitiful condition, having shouted their voices away.
We were not allowed to sleep at night in the villages, but lay down outside. Under cover of the night indescribable deeds were committed by the gendarmes, brigands, and Villagers. Many of us died from hunger and strokes of apoplexy. Others were left by the roadside, too feeble to go on.
One morning we saw fifty or sixty wagons with about thirty Turkish widows, whose husbands had been killed in the war; and these were going to Constantinople. One of these women made a sign to one of the Gendarmes to kill a certain Armenian whom she pointed out. The gendarme asked her if she did not wish to kill him herself, at which she said: “Why not? and, drawing a revolver from her pocket, shot him dead.
The worst and most unimaginable horrors were reserved for us at the banks of the Euphrates and in the Erzingan Plain. The mutilated bodies of women, girls, and little children made everybody shudder. The brigands were doing all sorts of awful deeds to the women and girls that were with us, whose cries went up to heaven. At the Euphrates the brigands and gendarmes threw into the river all the remaining children under 15 years old. Those that could swim were shot down as they struggled in the water.
In a recent cablegram Lord Bryce adds: “All the civilized nations able to assist the Armenians today should know that the need is still extremely urgent. Several hundred thousand exiles who survived the horrors of deportation are now perishing of exposure and starvation in the Arabian Desert. Latest reports of neutral eyewitnesses describe terrible conditions. Sick people are throwing themselves into graves, begging grave diggers to bury them; women are going mad and eating grass and carrion; parents are putting children out of their misery, digging their own graves and awaiting death. The future of the Armenians Nation depends of saving the refugees in Russia, but this requires worldwide assistance for feeding, clothing, housing, and repatriation."
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald