Ambassador Morgenthau's Story

By Henry Morgenthau
Seventh Article

[The World's Work, November 1918]

[Note: In the period 1918-1919, The World's Work serialized the memoirs of Henry Morgenthau, formerly the U. S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. The book appeared in nine consecutive issues of the magazine. From the seventh, eighth, and ninth articles, the following excerpts constitute the ambassador's commentary on the Armenian Question and the genocide perpetrated by the government in Constantinople.—JFM]

…. Such were the mental characteristics of the Turk in his days of military greatness. In recent times his attitude toward foreigners and his subject peoples had superficially changed. His own military decline, and the ease with which the infidel nations defeated his finest armies, had apparently given the haughty descendants of Osman a respect at least for their prowess. The rapid disappearance of his own Empire in a hundred years, the creation out of the Ottoman Empire of new states like Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Rumania, and the wonderful improvement which had followed the destruction of the Turkish yoke in these benighted lands, may have increased the Ottoman hatred for the unbeliever, but at least they had a certain influence in opening his eyes to his importance. Many Turks also now received their education in European universities; they studied in their professional schools, and they became physicians, surgeons, lawyers, engineers, and chemists of the modern kind. However much the more progressive Moslems might despise their Christian associates, they could not ignore the fact that the finest things, in this temporal world at least, were the products of European and American civilization. And now that one development of modern history which seemed to be least understandable to the Turk began to force itself upon the consciousness of the more intelligent and progressive. Certain leaders arose who began to speak surreptitiously of such things as "Constitutionalism," "Liberty," "Self-Government" and to whom the Declaration of Independence contained certain truths that might have a value even for Islam.

These daring spirits began to dream of overturning the autocratic Sultan and of substituting a parliamentary system for his irresponsible rule. I have already described the rise and fall of this Young Turk movement under such leaders as Talaat, Enver, Djemal and their associates in the Committee of Union and Progress, The point which I am emphasizing here is that this movement presupposed a complete transformation of Turkish mentality, especially in its attitude toward subject peoples. No longer, under the reformed Turkish state, were Greeks, Syrians, Armenians, and Jews to be regarded as "filthy Giaours."


All these peoples were henceforth to have equal rights and equal duties. A general love feast now followed the establishment of the new regime, and scenes of almost frenzied reconciliation in which Turks and Armenians embraced each other publicly, apparently signalized the absolute union of the once antagonistic peoples. The Turkish leaders, including Talaat and Enver, visited Christian churches and sent forth prayers of thanksgiving for the new order, and went to Armenian cemeteries to shed tears of retribution over the bones of the martyred Armenians who lay there. Armenian priests reciprocally paid their tributes to the Turks in Mohammedan mosques. Enver Pasha visited several Armenian schools, telling the children that the old days of Moslem-Christian strife had passed forever and that the two peoples were now to live together as brothers and sisters. There were cynics who smiled at all these demonstrations and yet one development encouraged even them to believe that an earthly Paradise had arrived. All through the period of domination only the master Moslem had been permitted to bear arms and serve in the Ottoman army. To be a soldier was an occupation altogether too manly and glorious for the despised Christian. But now the Young Turks encouraged all Christians to arm and enrolled them in the army on an equality with Moslems. These Christians fought, both as officers and soldiers, in the Italian and the Balkan wars, winning high praise from the Turkish generals for their valor and skill. Armenian leaders had figured conspicuously in the Young Turk movement; these men apparently believed that a constitutional Turkey was possible. They were conscious of their own intellectual and industrial superiority to the Turks, and knew that they could prosper in the Ottoman Empire if left, alone, whereas, under European control, they would have greater difficulty in meeting the competition of the more rigorous European colonists who might come in. With the deposition of the Red Sultan, Abdul Hamid, and the establishment of a constitutional system, the Armenians, now for the first time in several centuries, felt themselves to be free men.


But, as I have already described, all these aspirations vanished like a dream. Long before the European War began, the Turkish democracy had disappeared. The power of the new Sultan had gone, and the hopes of regenerating Turkey on modem lines had gone also, leaving only a group of individuals, headed by Talaat and Enver, actually in possession of the state. Having lost their democratic aspirations these men now supplanted it with a new national conception. In place of a democratic, constitutional state they resurrected the idea of Pan-Turkism; in place of equal treatment of all Ottomans, they decided to establish a country exclusively for Turks. I have called this a new conception; yet it was new only to the individuals who then controlled the destiny of the Empire, for, in reality, it was merely an attempt to revive the most barbaric ideas of their ancestors. It represented, as I have said, merely an atavistic reversion to the original Turk. We now saw that the Turkish leaders, in talking about liberty, equality, fraternity, and constitutionalism, were merely children repeating phrases; that they had used the word "democracy" merely as a ladder by which to climb to power. After five hundred years' close contact with European civilization, the Turk remained precisely the same individual as the one who had emerged from the steppes of Asia in the Middle Ages. He was clinging just as tenaciously as his ancestors to that conception of a state as consisting of a few master individuals whose right it is to enslave and plunder and maltreat any peoples whom they can subject to their military control. Though Talaat and Enver and Djemal all came of the humblest families, the same fundamental ideas of master and slave possessed them that formed the statecraft of Osman and the early Sultans. We now discovered that a paper constitution and even tearful visits, to Christian churches and cemeteries could not uproot the inborn preconception of this nomadic people that there are only two kinds of people in the world—the conquering and the conquered.

When the Turkish Government abrogated the Capitulations, and in this way freed themselves from the domination of the foreign Powers, they were merely taking one step toward realizing this Pan-Turkish ideal. I have alluded to the difficulties which I had with them over the Christian schools. Their determination to uproot these, or at least to transform them into Turkish institutions, was merely another detail in the same racial progress. Similarly, they attempted to make all foreign business houses employ only Turkish labor, insisting that they should discharge their Greek, Armenian, and Jewish clerks, stenographers, workmen, and other employees. At one time they showed a disposition to make all foreign houses keep their books in Turkish, the idea being to furnish employment exclusively for Turks and to train them in modern business methods. I had some difficulty in arranging a compromise by which they could keep them in both French and Turkish. The Ottoman Government even refused to have any dealings with the representative of the largest Austrian munition maker unless he admitted a Turk as a partner. They developed a mania for suppressing all languages except Turkish. For decades French had been the accepted language of foreigners in Constantinople; all street signs were printed in both French and Turkish. One morning the astonished foreign residents discovered that all these French signs had been removed and that the names of streets, the directions on street cars and other public notices, appeared only in those strange Turkish characters, which very few of them understood. Great confusion resulted from this change, but the ruling powers refused to restore the detested foreign language.


These leaders not only reverted to the barbaric conceptions of their ancestors, but they went to extremes that had never entered the minds of the early Sultans. Their fifteenth and sixteenth century predecessors treated the subject peoples as dirt under their feet, yet they believed that they had a certain usefulness and did not disdain to make them their serfs. But this Committee of Union and Progress, led by Talaat and Enver, now decided to do away with them altogether. The old conquering Turks had made the Christians their servants, but their parvenu descendants bettered their instruction, for they determined to exterminate them wholesale and Turkify the Empire by massacring the non-Moslem elements. Originally this was not the statesmanlike conception of Talaat and Enver; the man who first devised it was one of the greatest monsters known to history, the "Red Sultan," Abdul Hamid. This man came to the throne in 1876, at a critical period in Turkish history. In the first two years of his reign he lost Bulgaria, as well as important provinces in the Caucasus, his last remaining vestiges of sovereignty in Montenegro, Serbia, and Rumania, and all his real powers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Greece had long since become an independent nation, and the processes that were to wrench Egypt from the Ottoman Empire had already begun. As the Sultan took stock of his inheritance, he could easily foresee the day when all the rest of his domain would pass into the hand of the infidel. What had caused this disintegration of this extensive Turkish Empire? The real cause, of course, lay deep in the character of the Turk, but Abdul Hamid saw only the more obvious fact that the intervention of the great European Powers had brought relief to these imprisoned nations. Of all the new kingdoms which had been carved out of the Sultan's dominions, Serbia—let us remember this fact to her everlasting honor—is the only one that has won her own independence.M.

Russia, France, and Great Britain have set free all the rest. And what had happened several times before might happen again. There still remained one compact race in the Ottoman Empire that had national aspirations and national potentialities. In the northeastern part of Asia Minor, bordering on, Russia, there were six provinces in which the Armenians formed the largest element in the population. From the time of Herodotus this portion of Asia has borne the name of Armenia. The Armenians of the present day are the direct descendants of the people who inhabited the country three thousand years ago. Their origin is so ancient that it is lost in fable and mystery. There are still undeciphered cuneiform inscriptions on the rocky hills of Van, the largest Armenian city, that have led certain scholars—though not many, I must admit—to identify the Armenian race with the Hittites of the Bible. What is definitely known about the Armenians, however, is that for ages they have constituted the most civilized and most industrious race in the Eastern section of the Ottoman Empire. From their mountains they have spread over the Sultan's dominions, and form a considerable element in the population of all the large cities. Everywhere they are known for their industry, their intelligence, and their decent and orderly lives. They are so superior to the Turks intellectually and morally that much of the business and industry had passed into their hands. With the Greeks, the Armenians constitute the economic strength of the Empire. These people became Christians in the fourth century and established the Armenian Church as their state religion. This is said to be the oldest Christian church in existence.

In the face of persecutions which have had no parallel elsewhere, these people have clung to their early Christian faith with the utmost tenacity. For fifteen hundred years they have lived there in Armenia, a little island of Christians surrounded by backward peoples of hostile religion and hostile race. Their long existence has been one unending martyrdom. The territory which they inhabit forms the connecting link between Europe and Asia, and all the Asiatic invasions—Saracens, Tartars, Mongols, Kurds, and Turks—have passed over their peaceful country. For centuries they have thus been the Belgium of the East, Through all this period the Armenians have regarded themselves not as Asiatics, but as Europeans. They speak an Indo-European language, their racial origin is believed by scholars to be Aryan, and the fact that their religion is the religion of Europe has always made them turn their eyes westward. And out of that western country, they have always hoped, would some day come the deliverance that would rescue them from their murderous masters. And now as Abdul Hamid, in 1876, surveyed his shattered domain, he saw that its most dangerous spot was Armenia. He believed, rightly or wrongly, that these Armenians, like the Rumanians, the Bulgarians, the Greeks, and the Serbians, aspired to restore their independent, mediaeval nation, and he knew that Europe and America sympathized with this ambition. The Treaty of Berlin, which had definitely ended the Turco-Russian War, contained an article which gave the European Powers a protecting hand over the Armenians. How could the Sultan free himself permanently from this danger? An enlightened administration, which would have transformed the Armenians into free men and made them safe in their lives and property and civil and-religious rights, would probably have made them peaceful and loyal subjects. But the Sultan could not rise to such a conception of statesmanship as this. Instead, Abdul Hamid apparently thought that there was only one way of ridding Turkey of the Armenian problem—and that was to rid her of the Armenians. The physical destruction of 2,000,000 men, women, and children by massacres, organized and directed by the state, seemed to be the one sure way of forestalling the further disruption of the Turkish Empire.

And now for nearly thirty years Turkey gave the world an illustration of government by massacre. We in Europe and America heard of these events when they reached especially monstrous proportions, as they did in 1895-96, when nearly 200,000 Armenians were most atrociously done to death. But through all these years the existence of the Armenians was one continuous nightmare. Their property was stolen, their men were murdered, their women were ravished, their young girls were kidnapped and forced to live in Turkish harems. Yet Abdul Hamid was not able to accomplish his full purpose. He attempted to exterminate the Armenians in 1895 and 1896, but found certain insuperable obstructions to his scheme. Chief of these were England, France, and Russia. These atrocities called Gladstone, then eighty-six years old, from his retirement and his speeches, in which he denounced the Sultan as "the great assassin," aroused the whole world to the enormities that were taking place. It became apparent that unless the Sultan desisted, England, France, and Russia would intervene, and the Sultan well knew, that, in case this intervention took place, such remnants of Turkey as had survived earlier partitions would disappear. Thus Abdul Hamid had to abandon his satanic enterprise of destroying a whole race by murder, yet Armenia continued to suffer the slow agony of pitiless persecution. Up to the outbreak of the European War not a day had passed in the Armenian vilayets without its outrages and its murders. The Young Turk regime, despite its promises of universal brotherhood, brought no respite to the Armenians. A few months after the love feastings already described, one of the worst massacres took place at Adana, in which 35,000 people were destroyed.


And now the Young Turks, who had adopted so many of Abdul Hamid's ideas, also made his Armenian policy their own. Their passion for Turkifying the nation seemed to demand logically the extermination of all Christians—Greeks, Syrians, and Armenians. Much as they admired the Mohammedan conquerors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they stupidly believed that these great warriors had made one fatal mistake, for they had had it in their power completely to obliterate the Christian populations and had neglected to do so. This policy was in their opinion a fatal error of statesmanship, and explained all the woes from which Turkey had suffered in modern times, Had these old Moslem chieftains, when they conquered Bulgaria, put all the Bulgarians to the sword, and peopled the Bulgarian country with Moslem Turks, there would never have been any modern Bulgarian problem and Turkey would never have lost this part of her Empire. Similarly, had they destroyed all the Rumanians, Serbians, and Greeks, the provinces which are now occupied by these races would still have remained integral parts of the Sultan's domain. They felt that the mistake had been a terrible one, but that something might be saved from the ruin. They would destroy all Greeks, Syrians, Armenians, and other Christians, move Moslem families into their homes and upon their farms, and so make sure that these territories would not similarly be taken away from Turkey. In order to accomplish this great reform, it would not be necessary to murder every living Christian. The most beautiful and healthy Armenian girls could be taken, converted forcibly to Mohammedanism and made the wives or concubines of devout followers of the Prophet.

Their children would then automatically become Moslems and so strengthen the Empire as the Janizaries strengthened it formerly. These Armenian girls represent a high type of womanhood, and the Young Turks, in their crude intuitive way, recognized that the mingling of their blood with the Turkish population would exert an eugenic influence upon the whole. Armenian boys of tender years could be taken into Turkish families and be brought up in ignorance of the fact that they were anything but Moslems. These were about the only elements, however, that could make any valuable contributions to the new Turkey which was now being planned. Since all precautions must be taken against the development of a new generation of Armenians, it would be necessary to kill outright all men who were in their prime and thus capable of propagating the accursed species. Old men and women formed no great danger to the future of Turkey, for they had already fulfilled their natural function of leaving descendants; still they were nuisances, and, therefore, should be disposed of.


Unlike Abdul Hamid, the Young Turks found themselves in a position where they could carry out this "holy" enterprise. Great Britain, France, and Russia had stood in the way of their predecessor. But now these obstacles had been removed. The Young Turks, as I have said, believed that they had defeated them and that they could, therefore, no longer interfere with their internal affairs. Only one Power could successfully raise objections and that was Germany. In 1898, while all the rest of Europe was ringing with Gladstone's denunciations and demanding intervention, Kaiser Wilhelm the Second had gone to Constantinople, visited Abdul Hamid, pinned his finest decorations on that bloody tyrant's breast and kissed him on both cheeks. The same Kaiser who had done this in 1898 was still sitting on the throne in 1915, and was now Turkey's ally. Thus, for the first time in two centuries, the Turks, in 1915, had their Christian populations utterly at their mercy. The time had finally come to make Turkey exclusively the country of the Turks.

Part III

The Turkish province of Van lies in the remote northeastern corner of Asia Minor; it touches the frontiers of Persia on the east and its northern boundary looks toward the Caucasus. It is one of the most beautiful and most fruitful parts of the Turkish Empire and one of the richest in .historical associations. The city of Van, which is capital of the vilayet, lies on the eastern shores of the lake of the same name; it is the one large town in Asia Minor in which the Armenian population is larger than the Moslem. In the fall of 1914, its population, of about 30,000 people, represented one of the most peaceful and happy and prosperous communities in the Turkish Empire. Though Van, like practically every other section where Armenians lived, had had its periods of oppression and massacre, yet the Moslem yoke, comparatively speaking, rested upon its people rather lightly. Its Turkish Governor, Tahsin Pasha, was one of the more enlightened type of Turkish officials. Relations between the Armenians, who lived in the better section of the city, and the Turks and the Kurds, who occupied the mud huts in the Moslem quarter, had been tolerably agreeable for many years.


The location of this vilayet, however, inevitably made it the scene of military operations, and made the activities of its Armenian population a matter of daily suspicion. Should Russia attempt an invasion of Turkey one of the most accessible routes lay through this province. The war had not gone far when causes of irritation arose. The requisitions of army supplies fell far more heavily upon the Christian than upon the Mohammedan elements in Van, just as they did in every other part of Turkey. The Armenians had to stand quietly by while the Turkish officers appropriated all their cattle, all their wheat and all their goods of every kind, giving them only worthless pieces of paper in exchange. The attempt at general disarmament that took place also aroused their apprehension, which was increased by the brutal treatment visited upon Armenian soldiers in the Caucasus. On the other hand the Turks made many charges against the Christian population, and, in fact, they attributed to them the larger share of the blame for the reverses which the Turkish armies had suffered in the Caucasus.

The fact that a considerable element in the Russian forces was composed of Armenians aroused their unbridled wrath. Since about half the Armenians in the world inhabit the Russian provinces in the Caucasus and are liable, like all Russians, to military service, there was certainly no legitimate grounds for complaint, so far as these Armenian levies were bona fide subjects of the Czar. But the Turks asserted that large numbers of Armenian soldiers in Van and other of their Armenian provinces deserted, crossed the border and joined the Russian army, where their knowledge of roads and the terrain was an important factor in the Russian victories. Though the exact facts are not yet ascertained, it seems not unlikely that such desertions, perhaps a few hundred, did take place. At the beginning of the war, Union and Progress agents appeared in Erzerum and Van and appealed to the Armenian leaders to go into Russian Armenia and attempt to start revolutions against the Russian Government, and the fact that the Ottoman Armenians refused to do this contributed further to the prevailing irritation. The Turkish Government has made much of the "treasonable" behavior of the Armenians of Van and have even urged it as an excuse for their subsequent treatment of the whole race. Their attitude illustrates once more the perversity of the Turkish mind. After massacring hundreds of, thousands of Armenians in the course of thirty years, outraging their women and girls, and robbing and maltreating them in every conceivable way, the Turks still apparently believed that they had the right to expect from them the most enthusiastic "loyalty." That the Armenians all over Turkey sympathized with the Entente was no secret. "If you want to know how the war is going," remarked a humorous Turkish newspaper, "all you need to do is to look in the face of an Armenian. If he is smiling, then the Allies are winning; if he is downcast, then the Germans are successful." If an Ottoman Armenian soldier should desert and join the Russians, that would unquestionably constitute a technical crime against the state, and might be punished without violating the rules of all civilized countries. Only the Turkish mind, however—and possibly the German—could regard it as furnishing an excuse for the terrible barbarities that now took place.

Though the air, all during the autumn and winter of 1914-15 was filled with premonitions of trouble, the Armenians behaved with remarkable self-restraint. For years it had been the Turkish policy to provoke the Christian population into committing overt acts, and then seizing upon such misbehavior as an excuse for massacres. The Armenian clergy and political leaders saw many evidences that the Turks were now up to their old tactics, and they therefore went among the people, cautioning them to keep quiet, to bear all insults and even outrages patiently, so as not to give the Moslems the opening which they were seeking. "Even though they burn a few of our villages," these leaders would say, "do not retaliate, for it is better that a few be destroyed than that the whole nation be massacred."


When the war started, the central government recalled Tahsin Pasha, the conciliatory governor of Van, and replaced him with Djevdet Bey, a brother-in-law of Enver Pasha. This act in itself was most disquieting. Turkish officialdom has always contained a minority of men who do not believe in massacre as a state policy and cannot be depended upon to carry out strictly the most bloody orders of the central government. Whenever massacres have been planned, therefore, it has been customary first to remove such "untrustworthy" public servants and replace them with men who are regarded as more reliable.

The character of Tahsin's successor made his displacement still more alarming. Djevdet had spent the larger part of his life at Van; he was a man of unstable character, friendly to non-Moslems one moment, hostile the next, hypocritical, treacherous, and ferocious according to the worst traditions of his race. He hated the Armenians and cordially sympathized with the long-established Turkish plan of solving the Armenian problem. There is little question that he came to Van with definite instructions to exterminate all Armenians in this province, but, for the first few months, conditions did not facilitate such operations; Djevdet himself was absent fighting the Russians in the Caucasus and the near approach of the enemy made it a wise policy for the Turks to refrain from maltreating the Armenians of Van. But early in the spring the Russians temporarily retreated. It is generally recognized as good military tactics for a victorious army to follow up the retreating enemy. In the eyes of the Turkish generals, however, the withdrawal of the Russians was a happy turn of war mainly because it deprived the Armenians of their protectors and left them at the mercies of the Turkish army. Instead of following the retreating foe, therefore, the Turk's army turned aside and invaded their own territory of Van. Instead of fighting the trained Russian army of men, they turned their rifles, machine guns, and other weapons upon the Armenian women, children, and old men in the villages of Van. Following their usual custom, they distributed the most beautiful Armenian women among the Moslems, sacked and burned the Armenian villages and massacred uninterruptedly for days. On April 15th, about 500 young Armenian men of Akantz were mustered to hear an order of the Sultan; at sunset they were marched outside the town and every man shot in cold blood. This procedure was repeated in about eighty Armenian villages in the district north of Lake Van, and in three days 24,000 Armenians were murdered in this atrocious fashion. A single episode illustrates the unspeakable depravity of Turkish methods. A conflict having broken out at Shadak, Djevdet Bey, who had meanwhile returned to Van, asked four of the leading Armenian citizens to go to this town and attempt to quiet the multitude. These men made the trip, stopping at all Armenian villages along the way, urging everybody to keep public order. After completing their work these four Armenians were murdered in a Kurdish village.


And so when Djevdet Bey, on his return to his official post, demanded that Van furnish him immediately 4,000 soldiers, the people were naturally in no mood to accede to his request. When we consider what had happened before and what happened subsequently, there remains little doubt concerning the purpose which underlay this demand. Djevdet, acting in obedience to orders from Constantinople, was preparing to wipe out the whole population, and his purpose in calling for 4,000 able-bodied men was merely to massacre them, so that the rest of the Armenians might have no defenders. The Armenians, parleying to gain time, offered to furnish five hundred soldiers and to pay exemption money for the rest; now, however, Djevdet began to talk aloud about "rebellion," and his determination to "crush" it at any cost. "If the rebels fire a single shot," he declared, "I shall kill every Christian man, woman, and child, up to here" pointing to his knee. For some time the Turks had been constructing entrenchments around the Armenian quarter and filling them with soldiers, and, in response to this provocation, the Armenians began to make preparations for a defense. On April 20th, a band of Turkish soldiers seized several Armenian women who were entering the city; a couple of Armenians ran to their assistance and were shot dead. The Turks now opened fire on the Armenian quarters with rifles and artillery; soon a large part of the town was in flames and a regular siege had started. The whole Armenian fighting force consisted of only 1,500 men; they had only 300 rifles and a most inadequate supply of ammunition, while Djevdet had an army of 5,000 men, completely equipped and supplied. Yet the Armenians fought with the utmost heroism and skill; they had little chance of holding off their enemies indefinitely, but they knew that a Russian army was fighting its way to Van and their utmost hope was that they would be able to defy the besiegers until these Russians arrived. As I am not writing the story of sieges and battles, I cannot describe in detail the numerous acts of individual heroism, the cooperation of the Armenian women, the ardor and energy of the Armenian children, the self-sacrificing zeal of the American missionaries, especially Dr. Usher and his wife and Miss Grace H. Knapp, and the thousand other circumstances that make this terrible month one of the most glorious pages in modern Armenian history. The wonderful thing about it is that the Armenians triumphed. After nearly five weeks of sleepless fighting, the Russian army suddenly appeared and the Turks fled into the surrounding country, where they found appeasement for their anger by again massacring unprotected Armenian villages. Dr. Usher, the American medical missionary, whose hospital at Van was destroyed by bombardment, is authority for the statement that, after driving off the Turks, the Russians began to collect and to cremate the bodies of Armenians who had been murdered in the province, with the result that 55,000 bodies were burned.

I have told this story of the "Revolution" in Van not only because it marked the first stage in this organized attempt to wipe out a whole nation, but because these events are always brought forward by the Turks as a justification of their subsequent crimes. As I shall relate, Enver, Talaat, and the rest, when I appealed to them in behalf of the Armenians, invariably instanced the "revolutionists" of Van as a sample of Armenian treachery. The famous "Revolution," as this recital shows, was merely the determination of the Armenians to save their women's honor and their own lives, after the Turks by massacring thousands of their neighbors, had shown them the fate that awaited them.

Part IV

The destruction of the Armenian race in 1915 involved certain difficulties that had not impeded the operations of the Turks in the massacres of 1895 and other years. In these earlier periods the Armenian men had possessed little power or means of resistance. In those days Armenians had not been permitted to have military training, to serve in the Turkish army or to possess arms. As I have already said, these discriminations were withdrawn when the revolutionists obtained the upper hand in 1908. Not only were the Christians now permitted to bear arms, but the authorities, in the full flush, of their enthusiasm for freedom and equality, encouraged them to do so. In the early part of 1915, therefore, every Turkish city contained thousands of Armenians who had been trained as soldiers and who were supplied with rifles, pistols, and other weapons of Defense. The operations at Van once more disclosed that these men could use their munitions to good advantage. It was thus apparent that an Armenian massacre this time would generally assume more the character of warfare than those wholesale butcheries of defenseless men and women which the Turks had always found so congenial. If this plan of murdering a race was to succeed, two preliminary steps would, therefore, have to be taken; it would be necessary to render all Armenian soldiers powerless and to deprive of their arms the Armenians in every city and town. Before Armenia could be slaughtered, Armenia must be made defenseless,


In the early part of 1915, the Armenian soldiers in the Turkish army were reduced to a new status. Up to that time most of them had been combatants, but now they were all stripped of their arms and transformed into workmen. Instead of serving their countrymen as artillerymen and cavalrymen, these former soldiers now discovered that they had been transformed into road laborers and pack animals. Army supplies of all kinds were loaded on their backs, and, stumbling under the burdens and driven by the whips and bayonets of the Turks, they were forced to drag their weary bodies into the mountains of the Caucasus. Sometimes they would have to plow their way, burdened in this fashion, almost waist high through snow. They had to spend practically all their time in the open, sleeping on the bare ground—whenever the ceaseless prodding of their taskmasters gave them an occasional opportunity to sleep; they were given only scraps of food; if they fell sick, they were left where they had dropped, their Turkish oppressors perhaps stopping long enough to rob them of all their possessions—even of their clothes. If any stragglers succeeded in reaching their destinations, they were not infrequently massacred. In many instances Armenian soldiers were disposed of in even more summary fashion, for it now became almost the general practice to shoot them in cold blood. In almost all cases the procedure was the same. Here and there squads of 50 or 100 men would be taken, bound together in groups of four, and then marched out to a secluded spot a short distance from the village. Suddenly the sound of rifle shots would fill the air, and the Turkish soldiers who had acted as the escort would sullenly return to camp. Those sent to bury the bodies would find them almost invariably stark naked, for, as usual the Turks had stolen all their clothes. In cases that came to my attention, the murderers had added a refinement to their victims' sufferings by compelling them to dig their graves before being shot.


Let me relate a single episode which is contained in one of the reports of our Consuls and which now forms part of the records of the American State Department. Early in July, 2,000 Armenian "amélés"—such is the Turkish word for soldiers who have been reduced to workmen—were sent from Harpoot to build roads. The Armenians in that town understood what this meant and pleaded with the Governor for mercy. But this official insisted that the men were not to be harmed, and he even called upon the German missionary, Mr. Ehemann, to quiet the panic, giving that gentleman his word of honor that the ex-soldiers would be protected. Mr. Ehemann believed the Governor and assuaged the popular fear. Yet practically every man of these 2,000 was massacred, and his body thrown into a cave. A few escaped, and it was from these that news of the massacre reached the world. A few days afterward another 2,000 soldiers were sent to Diarbekir. The only purpose of sending these men out in the open country was that they might be massacred. In order that they might have no strength to resist or to escape by flight, these poor creatures were systematically starved. Government agents went ahead on the road, notifying the Kurds that the caravan was approaching and ordering them to do their congenial duty. Not only did the Kurdish tribesmen pour down from the mountains upon this starved and weakened regiment, but the Kurdish women came with butchers' knives in order that they might gain that merit in Allah's eyes that comes from killing a Christian. These massacres were not isolated happenings; I could detail many more episodes just as horrible as the one related above; throughout the Turkish Empire a systematic attempt was made to kill all able-bodied men, not only for the purpose of removing all males who might propagate a new generation of Armenians, but for the purpose of rendering the weaker part of the population an easy prey.

Dreadful as were these massacres of unarmed soldiers, they were mercy and justice themselves when compared with the treatment which was now visited upon those Armenians who were suspected of concealing arms.. Naturally the Christians became alarmed when placards were posted in the villages and cities ordering everybody to bring all their arms, to headquarters. Although this order applied to all citizens, the Armenians well understood what the result would be, should they be left defenseless while their Moslem neighbors were permitted to retain their arms. In many cases, however, the persecuted people patiently, obeyed the command, and then the Turkish officials almost joyfully seized their rifles as evidence that a "revolution" was being planned and threw their victims into prison on a charge of treason. Thousands failed to deliver arms simply because they had none to deliver, while an even greater number tenaciously refused to give them up, not because the were plotting an uprising, but because they proposed to defend their own lives and their women's honor against the outrages which they knew were being planned. The punishment inflicted upon these recalcitrants forms one of the most hideous chapters of modern history. Most of us believe that torture has long ceased to be an administrative and judicial measure, yet I do not believe that the darkest ages ever presented scenes more horrible than those which now took place all over Turkey. Nothing was sacred to the Turkish gendarmes; under the plea of searching for hidden arms, they ransacked churches, treated the altars and sacred utensils with the utmost indignity, and even held mock ceremonies in imitation of the Christian sacraments. They would beat the priests into insensibility, under the pretense that they were the centres of sedition. When they could discover no munitions in the churches, they would sometimes arm the bishops and priests with guns, pistols, and swords, then try them before courts-martial for possessing weapons against the law, and march them in this condition through the streets, merely to arouse the fanatical wrath of the mobs. The gendarmes treated women with the same cruelty with which they treated their husbands. There are cases on record in which women accused of concealing weapons were stripped naked and whipped with branches freshly cut from trees, and these beatings were even inflicted on women who were with child. Violations so commonly, accompanied these searches that Armenian women and girls, on the approach of the gendarmes, would flee to the woods, the hills, or to mountain caves.


As a preliminary to the searches everywhere, the strong men of the villages and towns were arrested and taken to prison. Their tormentors here would exercise the most diabolical ingenuity in their attempt to make their victims declare themselves to be "revolutionists" and to tell the hiding places of their arms. A common practice was to place the prisoner in a room, with two Turks stationed at each end and each side. The examination would then begin with the bastinado. This is a form of torture not uncommon in the Orient; it consists of beating the soles of the feet with a thin rod. At first the pain is not marked; but as the process goes slowly on, it develops into the most terrible agony, the feet swell and burst, and not infrequently, after being submitted to this treatment, they have to be amputated. The gendarmes would bastinado their Armenian victim until he fainted; they would then revive him by sprinkling water on his face and begin again. If this did not succeed in bringing their victim to terms, they had numerous other methods of persuasion. They would pull out his eyebrows and beard almost hair by hair; they would extract his finger nails and toe nails; they would apply red-hot irons to his breast, tear off his flesh with red-hot pincers and then pour boiling butter into the wounds. In some cases the gendarmes would nail hands and feet to pieces of wood—evidently in imitation of the crucifixion, and then, while the sufferer writhed in his agony, they would cry:

"Now let your Christ come and help you!"

These cruelties—and many others which I forbear to describe—were usually inflicted in the night time. Turks would be stationed around the prisons, beating drums and blowing whistles, so that the screams of the sufferers would not reach the villagers.

In thousands of cases, the Armenians endured these agonies and refused to surrender their arms simply because they had none to surrender. However, they could not persuade their tormentors that this was the case. It, therefore, became customary, when news was received that the searchers were approaching, for Armenians to purchase arms from their Turkish neighbors, so that they might be able to give them up and escape these frightful punishments.


One day I was discussing these proceedings with a responsible Turkish official, who was describing the tortures inflicted. He made no secret of the fact that the Government had instigated them, and, like all Turks of the official classes, he enthusiastically approved this treatment of the detested race. This official told me that all these details were matters of nightly discussion at the headquarters of the Union and Progress Committee. Each new method of inflicting pain was hailed as a splendid discovery, and the regular attendants were constantly ransacking their brains in the effort to devise some new torment. He told me that they even delved into the records of the Spanish Inquisition and other historic institutions of torture and adopted all the suggestions found there. He did not tell me who carried off the prize in this gruesome competition, but common reputation throughout Armenia gave a preeminent infamy to Djevdet Bey, the Vali of Van, whose activities in that section I have already described. All through this country Djevdet was generally known as the "horseshoe of Bashkala," for this connoisseur in torture had invented what, was perhaps the masterpiece of all—that of nailing horseshoes to the feet of his Armenian victims.

Part V

Yet these happenings did not constitute what the newspapers of the time commonly referred to as the Armenian atrocities; they were merely the preparatory steps in the destruction of the race. The Young Turks displayed greater ingenuity than their predecessor, Abdul Hamid. The injunction of the deposed Sultan was merely "to kill, kill," whereas the Turkish democracy hit upon an entirely new plan. Instead of massacring outright the Armenian race, they now decided to deport it. In the south and southeastern section of the Ottoman Empire lie the Syrian Desert and the Mesopotamian Valley. Though part of this area was once the scene of a flourishing civilization, for the last five centuries it has suffered the blight that becomes the lot of any country that is subjected to Turkish rule; and it is now a dreary, desolate waste, without cities and towns or life of any kind, populated only by a few wild and fanatical Bedouin tribes. Only the most industrious labor, expended through many years, could transform this desert into the abiding place of any considerable population. The central government now announced its intention of gathering the 2,000,000 or more Armenians living in the several sections of the Empire and transporting them to this desolate and inhospitable region. Had they undertaken such a deportation in good faith it would have represented the height of cruelty and injustice. As a matter of fact, the Turks never had the slightest idea of reestablishing the Armenians in this new country. They knew that the great majority would never reach their destination and that those who did would either die of thirst and starvation, or be murdered by the wild Mohammedan desert tribes. The real purpose of the deportation was robbery and destruction; it really represented a new method of massacre. When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.

All through the spring and summer of 1915, the deportations took place. Of the larger cities, only Constantinople, Smyrna, and Aleppo were spared; practically all other places where a single Armenian family lived now became the scenes of these unspeakable tragedies. Scarcely a single Armenian, whatever his education or wealth, or whatever the social class to which he belonged, was exempted from the order. In some villages placards were posted ordering the whole Armenian population to present itself in a public place at an appointed time—usually a day or two ahead, and in other places the town crier would go through the streets delivering the order vocally. In still others not the slightest warning was given. The gendarmes would appear before an Armenian house and order all the inmates to follow them. They would take women engaged in the domestic tasks without giving them the chance to change their clothes. The police fell upon them just as the eruption 'of Vesuvius fell upon Pompeii; women were taken from the washtubs, children were snatched out of bed, the bread was left half-baked in the oven, the family meal was abandoned partly eaten, the children were taken from the school room, leaving their books open at the daily task, and the men were forced to abandon their plows in the fields and their cattle on the mountain side. Even women who had just given birth to children would be forced to leave their beds and join the panic-stricken throng, their sleeping babies in their arms. Such things as they hurriedly snatched up—a shawl, a blanket, perhaps a few scraps of food-—was all that they could take of their household belongings. To their frantic questions: "Where are we going?" the gendarmes would vouchsafe only one reply: "To the interior."

In some cases the refugees were given a few hours, in exceptional instances a few days, to dispose of their property and household effects. But the proceeding, of course, amounted simply to robbery. They could sell only to Turks, and since both buyers and sellers knew that they had only a day or two to market the accumulations of a lifetime, the prices obtained represented a small fraction of their value. Sewing machines would bring one or two dollars—a cow would go for a dollar, a houseful of furniture would be sold for a pittance. In many cases Armenians were prohibited from selling or Turks from buying even at these ridiculous prices; under pretense that the Government intended to sell their effects to pay the creditors whom they would inevitably leave behind, their household furniture would be placed in stores or heaped up in public places, where it was usually pillaged by Turkish men and women. The government officials would also inform the Armenians that, since their deportation was only temporary, the intention being to bring them back after the war was over, they would not be permitted to sell their houses. Scarcely had the former possessors left the village, when Mohammedan Mohadjirs—immigrants from other parts of Turkey—would be moved into the Armenian quarters. Similarly all their valuables, money, rings, watches, and jewelry, would be taken to the police stations for "safe keeping" pending their return, and then parceled out among the Turks. Yet these robberies gave the refugees little anguish, for far more terrible and agonizing scenes were taking place under their eyes. The systematic extermination of the men continued; such males as the persecutions which I have already described had left were now violently dealt with.

Before the caravans were started, it became the regular practice to separate the young men from the families, tie them together in groups of four, lead them to the outskirts, and shoot them. Public hangings without trial—the only offense being that the victims were Armenians—were taking plate constantly. The gendarmes showed a particular desire to annihilate the educated and the influential. From American Consuls and missionaries I was constantly receiving reports of such executions and many of the events which they described will never fade from my memory. At Angora all Armenian men from 15 to 70 were arrested, bound together in groups of four, and sent on the road in the direction of Caesarea. When they had traveled five or six hours and had reached a secluded valley, a mob of Turkish peasants fell upon them with clubs, hammers, axes, scythes, spades, and saws. Such instruments not only caused more agonizing deaths than guns and pistols, but, as the Turks themselves boasted, they were more economical, since they did not involve the waste of powder and shell. In this way they exterminated the whole male population of Angora, including all its men of wealth and breeding, and their bodies, horribly mutilated, were left in the valley, where they were devoured by wild beasts. After completing this destruction, the peasants and gendarmes gathered in the local tavern, comparing notes and boasting of the number of "giaours" that each had slain. In Trebizond the men were placed in boats and sent out on the Black Sea; gendarmes would then come up in boats, shoot them down and throw their bodies into the water.

When the signal was given for the caravans to move, therefore, they consisted for the greater part of women, children, and old men. Any one who could possibly have protected them from the fate that awaited them had been destroyed. Not infrequently the prefect of the city, as the mass started on its way, would wish them a derisive "pleasant journey." Before the caravan moved the women were sometimes offered the alternative of becoming Mohammedans, Even though they accepted the new faith, which few of them did, their earthly troubles did not end. The converts were compelled, to surrender their children to a so-called "Moslem Orphanage," with the agreement that they should be trained as devout followers of the Prophet. They themselves must then show the sincerity of their conversion by abandoning their Christian husbands and marrying Moslems. If no good Mohammedan offered himself as a husband, then the new convert was deported, however strongly she might protest her devotion to Islam.

At first the Government showed some inclination to protect these deporting throngs. The officers usually divided them into convoys, in some, cases numbering several hundred, in others several thousand. The civil authorities occasionally furnished ox-carts which carried such household furniture as the exiles had succeeded in scrambling together. A guard of gendarmerie accompanied each convoy, ostensibly to guide and protect it. Women, scantily clad, carrying babies in their arms or on their backs, marched side by side with old men hobbling along with canes. Children would run along, evidently regarding the procedure, in the early stages, as some new lark. A more prosperous member would perhaps have a horse or a donkey, occasionally a farmer had rescued a cow or a sheep, which would trudge along at his side, and the usual assortment of family pets, dogs, cats, and birds, became parts of the variegated procession. From thousands of Armenian cities and villages these despairing caravans now set forth; they filled all the roads leading south; everywhere, as they moved on, they raised a huge dust, and abandoned debris—chairs, blankets, bed clothes, household utensils, and other impediments—marked the course of the processions. When the caravans first started, the individuals bore some resemblance to human beings; in a few hours, however, the dust of the road plastered their faces and clothes, the mud caked their lower members, and the slowly advancing mobs, frequently bent with fatigue and crazed by the brutality of their "protectors," resembled some new and strange animal species. Yet for the better part of six months, from April to October, 1915, practically all the highways in Asia Minor were crowded with these unearthly bands of exiles. They could be seen winding in and out of every valley and climbing up the sides of nearly every mountain—moving on and on, they scarcely knew whither, except that every road led to death. Village after village and town after town was evacuated of its Armenian population, under the distressing circumstances already detailed. In these six months, as far as can be ascertained, about 1,200,000 people started on this journey to the Syrian Desert.

"Pray for us," they would say as they left their homes—the homes in which their ancestors had lived for 2,500 years. "We shall not see you in this world again, but sometime we shall meet. Pray for us."

Part VI

The Armenians had hardly left their native villages when the persecutions began. The roads over which they traveled were little more than donkey paths and what had started a few hours before as an orderly procession soon became A disheveled and scrambling mob. Women were separated from their children and husbands from their wives. The old people soon lost contact with their families and became exhausted and footsore. The Turkish drivers of the ox-carts, after extorting the last penny from their charges, would suddenly dump them and their belongings into the road, turn around and return to the villages for other victims. Thus in a short time practically everybody, young and old, was compelled to travel on foot. The gendarmes, whom the Government had sent supposedly to protect the exiles, in a very few hours became their tormentors. They followed their charges. with fixed bayonets, prodding anyone who showed any tendency to slacken the pace. Those who attempted to stop for rest, or who fell exhausted on the road, were compelled, with the utmost brutality, to rejoin the moving throng. They even assailed pregnant women with bayonets; if one, as frequently happened, gave birth along the road, she was immediately forced to get up and rejoin the marchers. The whole course of the journey became a perpetual struggle with the Moslem inhabitants. Detachments of gendarmes would go ahead, notifying the Kurdish tribes that their victims were approaching and Turkish peasants were also informed that their long awaited opportunity had arrived. The Government even opened the prisons and set free the convicts, on the understanding that they should behave like good Moslems to the approaching Armenians. Thus every caravan had a continuous battle for existence with several classes of enemies—their accompanying gendarmes, the Turkish peasants and villagers, the Kurdish tribes, and bands of Chétés or brigands. And we must always keep in mind that the men who might have defended these wayfarers had nearly all been killed or forced into the army as workmen, and that the exiles themselves had been systematically deprived of all weapons before the journey began.

When they had traveled a few hours from their starting place, the Kurds would sweep down from their mountain homes. Rushing up to the young girls they would lift their veils-and carry the pretty ones off to the hills. They would steal such children as pleased their fancy and mercilessly rob all the rest of the throng. If the exiles had started with any money or food, their assailants would appropriate it, thus leaving them a hopeless prey to starvation. They would steal their clothing, and sometimes even leave both men and women in a state of complete nudity. All the time that they were committing these depredations the Kurds would freely massacre, and the screams of old men and women would add to the general horror. Such as escaped these attacks in the open would find new terrors awaiting them in the Moslem villages. Here the Turkish roughs would fall upon the women, leaving them sometimes dead from their experiences or sometimes ravingly insane. After spending a night in a hideous encampment of this kind, the exiles, or such as had survived, would start again the next morning. The ferocity of the gendarmes apparently increased as the journey lengthened, for they seemed almost to resent the fact that part of their charges continued to live. Anyone who dropped on the road was frequently bayoneted on the spot. The Armenians began to die by hundreds from hunger and thirst. Even when they came to rivers, the gendarmes, merely to torment them, would sometimes not let them drink. The hot sun of the desert burned their scantily clothed bodies and their bare feet, treading the hot sand of the desert, became so sore that thousands fell and died or were killed where they lay. Thus, in a few days, what had been a procession of normal human beings became a stumbling horde of dust-covered skeletons, ravenously looking for scraps of food, eating any offal that came their way, crazed by the hideous sights that filled every hour of their existence, sick with all the diseases that accompany such hardships and deprivations, but still prodded on and on by the whips and clubs and bayonets of their executioners.


And thus, as the exiles moved they left behind them another caravan—that of dead and unburied bodies, of old men and women dying in the last stages of typhus, dysentery, and cholera, of little children lying on their backs and setting up their last piteous wails for food and water. There were women who held up their babies to strangers, begging them to take them and save them from their tormentors, and failing this, they would throw them into wells or leave them behind bushes, that at least they might die undisturbed. Behind was left a small army of girls who had been sold as slaves—frequently for a medjidie, or about eight cents—and who, after serving the brutal purposes of their purchasers, were forced to lead lives of prostitution. A string of encampments, filled by the sick and the dying, mingled with the unburied or half buried bodies of the dead, marked the course of the advancing throngs. Flocks of vultures followed them in the air, and ravenous dogs, fighting one another for the bodies of the dead, constantly pursued them. The most terrible scenes took place at the rivers, especially the Euphrates. Sometimes, when crossing this stream, the gendarmes would push the women into the water, shooting all who attempted to save themselves by swimming. Frequently the women themselves would save their honor by jumping into the river, their children in their arms. "In the last week in June," I quote from a consular report, "several parties of Erzerum Armenians were deported on successive days and most of them massacred on the way, either by shooting or drowning. One, Madame Zarouhi, an elderly lady of means, who was thrown into the Euphrates, saved herself by clinging to a boulder in the river. She succeeded in approaching the bank and returned to Erzerum to hide herself in a Turkish friend's house. She told Prince Argoutinsky, the representative of the All-Russian Urban Union in Erzerum, that she shuddered to recall how hundreds of children were bayoneted by the Turks and thrown into the Euphrates, and how men and women were stripped naked, tied together in hundreds, shot and then hurled into the river. 'In a loop of the river near Erzingan, she said, the thousands of dead bodies created such a barrage that the Euphrates changed its course for about a hundred yards."

It is absurd for the Turkish Government to assert that it ever seriously intended to "deport the Armenians to new homes;" the treatment which was given the convoys clearly shows that extermination was the real purpose of Enver and Talaat. How many exiled to the south under these revolting conditions ever reached their destinations? The experiences of a single caravan show how completely this plan of deportation developed into one of annihilation. The details in question were furnished me directly by the American Consul at Aleppo, and are now on file in the State Department at Washington. On the first of June a convoy of three thousand Armenians, mostly women, girls, and children left Harpoot. Following the usual custom the Government provided them an escort of seventy gendarmes, under the command of a Turkish leader, ——— Bey. In accordance with the common experience these gendarmes proved to be not their protectors, but their tormentors and their executioners. Hardly had they got well started on the road when—as before—Bey took 400 liras from the caravan, on the plea that he was keeping it safely until their arrival at Malatia; no sooner had he robbed them of the only thing that might have provided them with food than he ran away, leaving them all to the tender mercies of the gendarmes.

All the way to Ras-ul-Ain, the first station on the Bagdad line, the existence of these wretched travelers was one prolonged horror. The gendarmes went ahead, informing the half-savage tribes of the mountains that several thousand Armenian women and girls were approaching. The Arabs and Kurds began to carry off the girls, the mountaineers fell upon them repeatedly, killing and violating the women, and the gendarmes themselves joined in the orgy. One by one the few men that accompanied the convoy were killed. The women had succeeded in secreting money from their persecutors, keeping it in their mouths and hair; with this they would buy horses, only to have them repeatedly stolen by the Kurdish tribesmen. Finally the gendarmes, having robbed and beaten and killed and violated their charges for thirteen days abandoned them altogether. Two days afterward the Kurds went through the party and rounded up all the males who still remained alive. They found about 150, their ages varying from 15 to 90 years, and these they promptly took away and butchered to the last man. But that same day another convoy from Sivas joined this one from Harpoot, increasing the numbers of the whole caravan to 18,000 people.

Another Kurdish Bey now took command, and to him, as to all men placed in the same position, the opportunity was regarded merely as one for pillage, outrage, and murder. This chieftain summoned all his followers from the mountains and invited them to work their complete will upon this great mass of Armenians. Day after day and night after night the prettiest girls were carried away; sometimes they returned in a pitiable condition that told the full story of their sufferings. Any stragglers, those who were so old and infirm and sick that they could not keep up with the marchers, were promptly killed. Whenever they reached a Turkish village all the local vagabonds were permitted to prey upon the Armenian girls. When the diminishing band reached the Euphrates they saw the bodies of 200 men floating upon the surface. By this time they had all been so repeatedly robbed that they had practically nothing left except a few ragged clothes and even these the Kurds now took, the consequence being that the whole convoy marched for five days completely naked under the scorching desert sun. For another five days they did not have a morsel of bread or a drop of water. "Hundreds fell dead on the way," the report reads, "their tongues were turned to charcoal and when, at the end of, five days, they reached a fountain, the whole convoy naturally rushed toward it. But here the policemen barred the way and forbade them to take a single drop of water. Their purpose was to sell it at from one to three liras a cup and sometimes they actually withheld the water after getting the money. At another place, where there were wells, some women threw themselves into them, as there was no rope or pail to draw up the water. These women were drowned, and, in spite of that, the rest of the people drank from that well, the dead bodies still remaining there and polluting the water. Sometimes, when the wells were shallow and the women could go down into them and come out again, the other people would rush to lick or suck their wet, dirty clothes, in the effort to quench their thirst. When they passed an Arab village in their naked condition the Arabs pitied them and gave them old pieces of cloth to cover themselves with. Some of the exiles who still had money bought some clothes; but some still remained who traveled thus naked all the way to the city of Aleppo. The poor women could hardly walk for shame; they all walked bent double."


On the seventieth day a few creatures reached Aleppo. Out of the combined convoy of 18,000 souls just 150 women and children reached their destination. A few of the rest, the most attractive, were still living as captives of the Kurds and Turks; all the rest were dead.

My only reason for relating such dreadful things as this is that, without the details, the English-speaking public cannot understand precisely what this nation is which we call Turkey. I have by no means told the most terrible details, for a complete narration of the sadistic orgies of which these Armenian men and women were the victims can never be printed in an American publication. Whatever crimes the most perverted instincts of the human mind can devise and whatever refinements of persecution and injustice the most debased imagination can conceive, became the daily misfortunes of this devoted people. I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this. The great massacres and persecutions of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenian race in 1915. The slaughter of the Albigenses in the early part of the thirteenth century has always been regarded as one of the most pitiful events in history. In these outbursts of fanaticism about 60,000 people were killed. In the massacre of St. Bartholomew about 30,000 human beings lost their lives. The Sicilian Vespers, which has always figured as one of the most fiendish outbursts of this kind, caused the destruction of 8,000. Volumes have been written about the Spanish Inquisition under Torquemada, yet in the eighteen years of his administration only a little more than 8,000 heretics were done to death. Perhaps the one event in history that most resembles the Armenian deportations was the expulsion of the Jews from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella. According to Prescott 160,000 were uprooted from their homes and scattered broadcast over Africa and Europe. Yet all these previous persecutions seem almost trivial when we compare them with the sufferings of the Armenians, in which at least 600,000 people were destroyed and perhaps as many as 1,000,000. And these earlier massacres, when we compare them with the spirit that directed the Armenian atrocities, have one feature that we can almost describe as an excuse; they were the product of religious fanaticism and most of the men and women who instigated them sincerely believed that they were devoutly serving their Maker. Undoubtedly religious fanaticism was an impelling motive with the Turkish and Kurdish rabble who slew Armenians as a service to Allah, but the men who really conceived the crime had no such motive. Practically all of them were atheists, with no more respect for Mohammedanism than for Christianity, and with them the one motive was a cold-blooded, calculating state policy.


The Armenians are not the only subject people in Turkey who have suffered from this policy of making Turkey exclusively the country of the Turks. The story which I have told about the Armenians I could also tell with certain modifications about the Greeks and the Syrians. Indeed, the Greeks were the first victims of this nationalizing idea. I have already described how, in the few months preceding the European War, the Ottoman, Government began deporting its Greek subjects along the coast of Asia Minor. These outrages aroused little interest in Europe or the United States, yet in the space of three or four months about 400,000 Greeks were taken from their age-long homes on the Mediterranean littoral and removed to the Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea. For the larger part these were bona fide deportations; that is, the Greek inhabitants were actually removed to new places and were not subjected to wholesale massacre. It was probably for the reason that the civilized world did not protest against these deportations that the Turks afterward decided to apply the same methods on a large scale not only to the Greeks but to the Armenians, Syrians, Nestorians, and others of its subject peoples. In fact, Bedri Bey, the Prefect of Police at Constantinople, himself told one of my secretaries that the Turks had expelled the Greeks so successfully that they had decided to adopt the same method to all the other races in the Empire.

The martyrdom of the Greeks, therefore, comprised two periods, that antedating the war, and that which began in the early part of 1915. The first affected the Greeks living on the sea coast of Asia Minor. The second affected those living in Thrace and in the territories surrounding the Sea of Marmora, the Dardanelles, the Bosphorus, and the coast of the Black Sea. These latter, to the extent of several hundred thousand, were sent to the interior of Asia Minor. The Turks adopted almost identically the same procedure against the Greeks as that which they had adopted against the Armenians. They began by incorporating the Greeks into the Ottoman army and then transforming them into labor battalions, using them to build roads in the Caucasus and other scenes of action. These Greek soldiers, just like the Armenians, died by thousands from cold, hunger, and other privations. The same house to house searches for hidden weapons took place in the Greek villages and Greek men and women were beaten and tortured just as were their fellow Armenians. The Greeks had to submit to the same forced requisitions, which amounted, in their case, as in the case of the Armenians, merely to plundering on a wholesale scale. The Turks attempted to force their Greek subjects to become Mohammedans; Greek girls, just like Armenian girls, were stolen and taken to Turkish harems and Greek boys were kidnapped and placed in Moslem households. The Greeks, just like the Armenians, were accused of disloyalty to the Ottoman Government; the Turks declared that they had furnished supplies to the English submarines in the Marmora and also of acting as spies. The Turks also declared that the Greeks were not loyal to the Ottoman Government but that they also looked forward to the day when the Greeks outside of Turkey would become a part of Greece. These latter charges were unquestionably true; that the Greeks, after suffering for five centuries the most unspeakable outrages at the hands of the Turks, should look longingly to the day when their territory should be part of the fatherland was to be expected. The Turks, as in the case of the Armenians, seized upon this as an excuse for a violent onslaught on the whole race. Everywhere the Greeks were gathered in groups and, under the so-called protection of Turkish gendarmes, they were transported, the larger part on foot, into the interior. Just how many were scattered in this fashion is not definitely known, the estimates varying anywhere from 200,000 up to 1,000,000. These caravans suffered great privations, but they were not submitted to general massacre as were the Armenians, and this is probably the reason why the outside world has not heard so much about them. The Turks showed them this greater consideration not from any motive of pity. The Greeks, unlike the Armenians, had a government which was vitally interested in their welfare. At this time there was a general apprehension among the Teutonic Allies that Greece would enter the war on the side of the Entente, and a wholesale massacre of Greeks in Asia Minor would unquestionably have produced such a state of mind in Greece that its pro-German King would have been unable longer to have kept his country out of the war. It was only a matter of state policy, therefore, that saved these Greek subjects of Turkey from all the horrors that befell the Armenians. But their sufferings were still terrible and constitute another chapter in the long story of crimes for which civilization will hold the Turks responsible.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury