Armenia's Sufferings in a New Phase
Turkish Invasion of the Caucasus Under the Brest Treaty Struggle of the Georgians

[The New York Times/Current History, July 1918]

By the terms of the Brest-Litovsk treaty the Bolshevist Government of Russia gave up to Turkey the districts of Batum, Kars, and Erivan, comprising the southwestern portion of the Caucasus, between the Black and Caspian Seas. This region includes the Russian part of the former Kingdom of Armenia, with Turkish Armenia adjoining it on the south. It is inhabited largely by Armenians and by that other ancient people, the Georgians, between whom and the Turks there has been an age-long and deadly feud. Hundreds of thousands of Armenian refugees from Turkish persecution in Asia Minor had taken refuge here under the Russian flag in the last three years, especially after the first Petrograd revolution gave promise of liberty under a republic. Now Georgians and Armenians alike find themselves betrayed into the hands of their Turkish enemies.

Soon after the signing of the treaty on March 3, 1918, the Turks sent armed forces to take possession of the three districts named. They met with resistance both from the Armenians and from the Georgians, but neither of the betrayed nationalities had an army competent to cope with the enemy. The result was a new reign of terror, similar to that of the massacres in Turkish Armenia, and the world was horrified anew by the atrocities that ensued.


The Armenian National Council on April 14 addressed the following protest to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the President of the Reichstag:

The Armenian National Council, as the supreme body for the expression of the will of the Armenian people, is addressing you in connection with the tragic state of things in Armenia. Armenia is flooded with blood and, only recently saved from centuries of slavery, is again condemned to fresh sufferings. Following upon the withdrawal of the Russian troops, Turkish troops have already invaded the undefended country and are not only killing every Turkish Armenian but also every Russian in Armenia.

In spite of the terms of the peace treaty, which recognizes the right of self-determination for these Caucasian regions, the Turkish Army is advancing toward Kars and Ardahan, destroying the country and killing the Christian population. The responsibility for the future destiny of the Armenians lies entirely with Germany, because it was Germany's insistence that resulted in the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the Armenian regions, and at the moment it rests with Germany to prevent the habitual excesses of the Turkish troops, increased by revengefulness and anger.

It is hard to believe that a civilized State like Germany, which has the means for preventing the excesses of her ally, will permit the Brest-Litovsk treaty to be used by the German people, who have been involved in war against their own will, as a means for the creation of incalculable sufferings.

The National Council firmly believes that you will undertake the necessary measures, which depend solely upon you, to influence the Turkish authorities with a view to saving the Armenian people from fresh horrors.


To this protest the Bolshevist Government of Russia added the following:

The offensive of the Turkish troops and detachments on the Caucasian front has been followed by the murder of the whole Armenian population. The peaceful population of women and children have been killed without mercy and their property has been plundered and burned.

The peace treaty, which we were forced to sign at Brest-Litovsk, left the determination of the future destiny of the people of the provinces of Ardahan, Kars, and Batum to themselves. The events which have taken place in these provinces testify that the old policy of the annihilation of the Armenian people is still to be applied.

On the Turkish front the advantage of the war was on the side of Russia, and Russia was forced to give up Ardahan, Kars, and Batum only because Germany was the ally of Turkey. The responsibility for all the horrors which the Armenian population is now suffering in those regions already occupied by the Turkish troops lies, therefore, with the German Government, which directly helped Turkey to secure these regions.

The People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs protests against such abuse of the right of self-determination of the populaton of these provinces, and expresses the hope and insists on the necessity of immediate and energetic intervention on the part of Germany in the Caucasus, with a view to stopping further murders and the annihilation of the peaceful population, such as has taken place in Ardahan.

The Armenians and Georgians fought the advancing Turks, but their efforts were in vain; on April 17 Batum fell to the Turks, and the Ottoman troops were said to have a firm grip on these and other portions of the Caucasus.


The rugged mountain region between the Black and Caspian Seas, known as the Caucasus, covers 180,603 square miles and consists of 14 provinces. The population in 1914 was 11,735,100, of whom 87 per cent, were illiterate; there are no less than 46 distinct nationalities among the inhabitants, chief of which are the Georgians and Armenians. The Georgians were the only nationality to maintain their independence up to the end of the eighteenth century. Georgia existed as a State long before the Christian era; Alexander the Great conquered the country. In 1080 the Kingdom of Georgia was established by David III. Peter the Great of Russia, recognizing its importance, entered into an alliance with the kingdom, and in 1721 Russian and Georgian troops penetrated to Baku, the rich industrial district bordering on the Caspian Sea. King Heraklius II, who reigned during the middle and end of the eighteenth century, received high praise from Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great for his military prowess and intellect, and in 1768 Russia and Georgia took joint action against the Turks.

In 1783 the Turks and Persians invaded Georgia, and Russia again concluded a treaty of protection, in which Georgia's independence was guaranteed. In 1801 Russia violated this treaty by annexing Georgia as a Russian province. The people revolted, but the uprising was unsuccessful. The Georgian mountaineers, however, never became reconciled to Russian dominion, and in connection with the Circassians carried on guerrilla warfare for forty years. In 1864 they were finally defeated and given the choice of submitting or emigrating to Turkey. Only 90,000 submitted and 418,000 emigrated to Turkey.

The jubilee of 100 years' alliance between the Kingdom of Georgia and Russia was celebrated in Tiflis, Sept. 26, 1901. At that time Czar Nicholas II issued a manifesto acknowledging the loyalty of the Georgian people, who "voluntarily placed the kingdom under our protection," expressing imperial thanks to the Georgian Nation, and extending the promise of "my special attention and care for this brave nation, which is united with us by common ties of religion." This in face of the further fact that in 1811 the independence of the Georgian Church, which had existed since the year 542, was abolished by the Russians and only six Bishoprics out of twenty-eight were allowed to remain, while more than $350,000,000 of church property was confiscated!


D. Ghambashidze, in a recent statement regarding the Georgian Nation, alludes to the progress made in the second half of the nineteenth century as follows:

The number of daily papers and weeklies in 1913 was twenty-four, and the number of books published in the same year on various subjects was about 240, amounting to 460,000 copies. It must also be remembered that 75 per cent, of the total population can read and write, and there are many schools and libraries. Eighty-five per cent, of the total population is composed of peasantry, whose chief occupation is very intensive agriculture, tobacco, wine, cotton, and silk being included in their products. The co-operative movement is also very strong in Georgia, there being about 400 co-operative societies, nearly 70 per cent, of the peasants being members.

During the last eight centuries the nobility of Georgia has devoted its attention chiefly to military occupations. There were about 5,700 officers in the Russian Army, among whom may be mentioned the very distinguished Generals, Princes Bagration, Amilakhvari, Tchavachavadze, Orbelliani, and Amiradjebi. Prince Imeretinski has acted as Governor General of Poland, and through his wise rule won great respect among the Poles. He was instrumental in obtaining the permission of the Emperor for the erection of a monument to the great Polish poet Mickevits in Warsaw. General Kazbek was Commander of the fortress of Vladivostok and General Orbelliani was Commander in Chief of the Russian troops stationed in Finland.

Among the Georgian Bishops the most celebrated was Bishop Gabriel, whose famous sermons have been translated into English by the Rev. Dr. Malan, one-time Vicar of Oxford. There were also a great many Georgian professors at various Russian universities, among them the celebrated physiologist, Professor Tarhanov; the philologist, Professor D. Tchubinov, and Petriev, the late Dean of Odessa University. Distinguished Georgians like Prince Tchavachavadze and Eristov were members of the Russian House of Lords, while Mr. Tsereteli, the celebrated Georgian Deputy in the Duma, acted as one of the leaders during the present revolution.

The Armenian Nation also goes far back into ancient history. Six centuries before Christ the texts engraved on the rocks by King Darius mentioned Armenia by its present name. During centuries immediately before and after the beginning of the Christian era Armenia was an independent kingdom occupying the region between Mesopotamia and the valleys south of the Caucasus Mountains. This kingdom became Christian about the same time as the Roman Empire, and since then the Armenian Church has not ceased to be independent, not only of the Eastern, Greek, and Slavic Churches, but also of the Roman Church.

Professor Meillet of the Collège de France, Paris, states that there has been an Armenian literature since the fifth century of our era, and that the old Armenian writings are more original and interesting than the ancient Slavic literatures, which date from several centuries later. Historians of art agree that in architecture, from the fifth to the ninth century, the Armenians were creators of new forms. Professor Meillet adds that at a time when the very name of France did not yet exist, and when the French language had not been differentiated from the Latin, Armenia was playing a great part in history and had an important literature of its own. At the period of the Crusades the Armenians founded a kingdom in Cilicia and aided the Crusaders. Since the last of the Crusades there have been no independent Armenians. Mussulman, Persian, and Turkish States have dominated their former country. In the nineteenth century the Caucasus portion was taken by Russia. But the Armenian Nation had its own customs, language, literature, and church, and all these it has kept. It had the will to live, and in spite of its subjugation it has lived.


Armenians, hindered by persecution from tilling their lands, emigrated to other countries, where they developed eminent qualities. Industrious farmers, attached to their native land, they have yet known how, under necessity, to adapt themselves to all the professions of the modern world. Thus they came to fill a large place in Constantinople, in Egypt, in Transylvania, in Poland, and more recently in Baku, in the whole basin of the Mediterranean, and even in America. Everywhere they have made useful citizens; it was an Armenian, Althen, who introduced the cultivation of madder in Southern France. In their own country, where they had preserved a patriarchal system, most of them remained farmers. The Armenian Church, which has not ceased to be autonomous, is the most democratic of the ancient Christian Churches; it is the only one in which laymen take part with the priests in the election of the head of the Church, the Catholicos, who lives in the Convent of Etchmiadzin, in Russian Armenia.

In the nineteenth century, though possessing no intellectual centre of their own, the Armenians found means for giving a modern literature to Russian Armenia and another to Turkish Armenia. Occupying a part of Asia that is a natural passageway between the Orient and the Occident, says Professor Meillet, they have been, since the fifth century, carriers of European civilization. Their vanguard position has made of them the martyrs of Western culture. Their success and their European character made them odious to their Turkish masters, who were less industrious than they. By the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 Turkey pledged herself to introduce reforms and ameliorations in Armenia, and to protect these people from attacks by the Kurds and Circassians; but the pledge was never kept. After the massacres at Sassun in 1894 Europe made a more imperious demand for reforms; Sultan Abdul Hamid promised them and immediately ordered the great massacres of 1895 and 1896, which won for him the name of the Red Sultan.


The Young Turk revolution promised to improve the lot of the Armenians by instituting liberty in the Ottoman Empire; in reality the Young Turks desired only to make a unified empire of which they should be masters; they tried to "Turkify" all the races under them by persecuting those who wished to keep their own character; in 1909 they caused the Armenians at Adana to be massacred.

When the Young Turk Government allied itself with the Central Empires, learning organization from the Germans, it organized the destruction of the Armenians in 1915 on scientific lines. It ordered the deportation of these people from land which they had occupied for more than 2,000 years, and, after massacring the men and seizing the young women, it caused the rest of the women and the children to perish of hunger, thirst, and fatigue along the highways into which they had been driven; it sent them to die in the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were thus destroyed. When the victorious Russian troops entered Erzerum and Trebizond they found only a few dozens of Armenians out of the tens of thousands who had inhabited those cities. The German authorities knew of these massacres; they made no protest.

In Syria the Christian population was destroyed by other methods; all the food was taken away, and then the district was isolated and the entrance of new food supplies forbidden. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians died of hunger. Germany knew of this crime; it did not protest.


The great war gave the Young Turk leaders their long-desired opportunity to crush the Armenians. Henry Morgenthau, the United States Ambassador at Constantinople at that time, says in a recent statement:

During the Spring of 1915 they evolved their plan to destroy the Armenian race. They criticised their ancestors for neglecting to destroy or convert the Christian races to Mohammedanism at the time when they first subjugated them. Now, as four of the great powers were at war with them and the two others were their allies, they thought the time opportune to make good the oversight of their ancestors in the fifteenth century. They drafted the able-bodied Armenians into the army without, however, giving them arms; they used them simply to build roads or do similar work. Then, under the pretext of searching the houses for arms, they pillaged the belongings of the villagers…. The final and worst measure was the wholesale deportation of the entire population from their homes and their exile to the desert, with all the accompanying horrors on the way….The facts contained in the reports received at the embassy from absolutely trustworthy eyewitnesses surpass the most beastly and diabolical cruelties ever perpetrated or imagined in the history of the world.


Many of these horrors were told in detail in the monumental report of Viscount Bryce, portions of which were published in CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE, November, 1916. To these may be added a statement made to Mr. Morgenthau personally by an eyewitness—a German missionary!—and put into writing at the American Embassy in Constantinople, which reads in part as follows:

It was that very afternoon that I received the first terrible reports, but I did not fully believe them. A few millers and bakers, whose services were needed by the Government, had remained, and they received the news first. The men had all been tied together and shot outside of the town. The women and children were taken to the neighboring villages, placed in houses by the hundreds, and either burned alive or thrown into the river. (Our buildings being in the main quarter of the town we could receive the news quite promptly.) Furthermore, one could see women and children pass by with blood streaming down, weeping…. Who can describe such pictures? Add to all this the sight of burning houses and the smell of many burning corpses.

Within a week everything was nearly over. The officers boasted now of their bravery, that they had succeeded in exterminating the whole Armenian race. Three weeks later when we left Moush, the villages were still burning. Nothing that belonged to the Armenians, either in the city or the villages, was allowed to remain. In Moush alone there were 25,000 Armenians; besides, Moush had 300 villages with a large Armenian population.

We left for Mezreh. The soldiers who accompanied us showed us with pride where and how and how many women and children they had killed. We were very pleased to see upon our arrival at Harpoot that the orphanages were full. This was, however, all that could be said. Mamuret-ul-Aziz has become the cemetery of all the Armenians; all the Armenians from the various vilayets were sent there, and those who had not died on the way came there simply to find their graves.

Another terrible thing in Mamuret-ul-Aziz were the tortures to which the people had been subjected for two months, and they had generally treated so harshly the families of the better class. Feet, hands, chests were nailed to a piece of wood; nails of fingers and toes were torn out; beards and eyebrows pulled out; feet were hammered with nails, as they do with horses; others were hung with their feet up and heads down over closets…. Oh! How one could wish that all these facts were not true! In order that people outside might not hear the screams of agony of the poor victims, men stood around the prison wherein these atrocities were committed, with drums and whistles.

On July 1 the first 2,000 were dispatched from Harpoot. They were soldiers, and it was rumored that they would build roads. People became frightened. Whereupon the Vali called the German missionary, Mr. ——— and begged him to quiet the people; he was so very sorry that they all had such fears, etc. They had hardly been away for a day when they were all killed in a mountain pass. They were bound together, and when the Kurds and soldiers started to shoot at them some managed to escape in the dark. The next day another 2,000 were sent in the direction of Diarbekr. Among those deported were several of our orphans (boys) who had been working for the Government all the year round. Even the wives of the Kurds came with their knives and murdered the Armenians. Some of the latter succeeded in fleeing. When the Government heard that some Armenians had managed to escape they left those who were to be deported without food for two days in order that they would be too weak to be able to flee. All the high Catholic Armenians, together with their Archbishop, were murdered. Up to now there still remained a number of tradesmen whom the Government needed and therefore had not deported; now these, too, were ordered to leave, and were murdered.


The total Armenian population in the Turkish Empire in 1912 numbered between 1,600,000 and 2,000,000. Of tese 182,000 escaped to the Russian Caucasus, where now again they have been placed in peril of extermination at the hands of the Turks. About 4,200 escaped into Egypt, while 150,000 still remain in Constantinople. To these figures must be added the relatively small number of survivors still in hiding or scattered in distant provinces. Mr. Morgenthau concludes that 1,000,000 Armenians were harried out of their homes in Asia Minor, and that the murdered number between 600,000 and 800,000. The remainder, in pitiful want of the barest necessities of life, hold out their hands to the Christian fellowship of America for aid.

In how far was the German Government responsible for the murder and deportation of the Armenians in Turkey? Mr. Morgenthau, summing up the story of his own fruitless efforts to get Baron Wangenheim, the German Ambassador, to intervene in their behalf, says: "Let me say most emphatically, the German Government could have prevented it." Now again it is the German Government that has handed over the Armenian refugees in the Russian Caucasus to the tender mercy of the Turks.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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