The Murder Of Armenia
Not the least service performed by Lord Bryce and Mr. Toynbee in their little pamphlet on “Armenian Atrocities” (Hodder & Stoughton), is that they have told the truth in carefully chosen words of moderation; that they have rejected all “coffee-house gossip” and unsubstantial rumor; that they have expressed themselves with almost as much detachment as if they were telling a tale of deeds done “long ago, and ill-done, too.” Any expression of violence and deep anger, even of a desire for vengeance, is absent from this truthful and detached record of what is perhaps the most horrible story of the world.
The tale is in each the same. It comes from forty or fifty centers — populous towns, each linked by telegraph to Constantinople and Berlin. On a given date, all the male adult Christian population are led away from the city and massacred in some neighboring valley. In some cities as at Trebizond or some coast or river town, the nuisance of shooting or hacking these populations to death is averted by taking them out to sea and sinking them there — a clean, expeditious job, whereby thousands can be destroyed in a few minutes. If that were all that were done — and this at the most is all that could be regarded as necessary by some Eastern conqueror or potentate of the Dark Age — a deed would have been accomplished, frightful but not unparalleled. But what followed is unprecedented — an action committed not in the heat of battle or lust, or animated by fanatic religious fervor, but an action such as might be undertaken by skillful, efficient insects, who hated not or loved not, but just had chosen so. From every town the Christians women and girls and old men and women were assembled in great companies. All their houses and household goods had already been seized by the Turks of the town. Under the charge of some of the lowest ruffians of each city, they were dispatched to their allotted destination, some hundreds of miles away. These caravans traversed the mountains and burning desert, oppressed with hunger and thirst. Their tracks could be marked by those who fell out by the way, and were left to die. The girls had largely been trained at the German and American Mission Schools — some of the women in Europe — even in Germany. Many could speak European languages, and would have passed as Europeans. They were driven forward by the blows and whips of their intolerable escort. Many of them had had their clothes torn from them, and were toiling naked over the desert sands. Pregnant women gave birth to children on the way, and were driven forward with the rest, and died. At every village and town the prettiest girls were sold to the local Governors or rich Turks to do with them as they pleased, or for the brothels of Anatolia or Constantinople. At night their escorts or the neighboring Kurds inflicted upon the remainder every element of bestiality or lust — under the sanction of the Governors, that “they could do with them what they pleased.” We read of their arrival at various Turkish towns, but of no attempt of the Turks to succor them, and of any attempt to do so by native Christians who remained being sternly forbidden. When all the young and pretty women had gone, their escorts, tired of the work, would kill the remainder; literally, as in the Scriptural text, seeking the blessing that accompanies those who “taketh thy children and dasheth them against the stones.”
Gradually, under the subjugation of this process, the very elements of humanity seem to have been beaten out of them. They had no men except the oldest, no priest to preach the religion which has sustained them against the Turk for five centuries. “Many began to doubt the existence of God,” says on witness. “Don't you see what has happened? God has gone mad,” was the cry of another. “The Armenians on their arrival in a Turkish town,” says one, “could not be recognized, as the result of their twelve days march. Even in this deplorable state, rapes and violent acts are of everyday occurrence.” Some women carried poison with them, others pocks and shovels to bury the dead. The later caravans on the road came upon the remains of the former, “women, husbands, and sons killed; old people and infants still alive, but in pitiful condition, having shouted their voices away.” Those who were too weak to keep up were bayoneted and thrown into the river, “and their bodies floated down to the sea or lodged in the shallow river on rocks, where they remained for ten or twelve days and putrefied.” They were not allowed to sleep in the villages, but lay down outside. “Under cover of the night, indescribable deeds were committed by the gendarmes, brigands, and villagers.” The people found themselves in the necessity of eating grass. When this particular party reached the Euphrates, “the worst and most unimaginable horrors were reserved for us. The mutilated bodies of women, girls, and little children (those who had gone before) made everyone shudder. The brigands were doing all sorts of evil deeds to the women and girls that were with us, whose cries went up to heaven. All the remaining children under fifteen were flung into the river.” In other testimonies (these are, in the main, American Consuls, German or Swiss missionaries), “the caravans are exposed in front of the Government buildings in every town or village where they pass, in order that the Moslems may take their choice.”
The journey's end, as Mr.Toynbee remarks, is an exact copy of the scheme by which the Young Turks settled the problem of the pariah dogs of Constantinople. The survivors were finally deposited mainly at the “agricultural colonies” — one southeast of Aleppo, which was uninhabited, owing to the fever of the marshes: the other in the burning desert beyond Der-el-Zor, on the banks of the Euphrates. A visitor sees the first party herded through Aleppo (where the German Consul is all powerful), creatures scarcely human, and deposited in the swamps, where all perished. The remainder were driven on to Der-el-Zor, given up on the way to the Kurds and the Bedouin. A Swiss missionary, Fraulein Beatrice Rohner, describes from personal observation this last scene: “It was evident from their clothing that they had been well-to-do ... It was a daily occurrence for five or six children to die by the roadside. “Why do they not kill us at once?” they cried to her. “For days we have had no water to drink, and our children are crying for water. At night the Arabs attack; they steal the clothes we have been able to get together; they carry away by force our girls, and outrage our women. If any of us are unable to walk, the convoy of gendarmes beat us. Some of our women threw themselves down from the rocks into the Euphrates in order to save their honor — some of these with their infants in their arms.” This evidence dates from months ago. Death by now has provided a merciful release.
The remains of the Armenian nation have fled into Trans-Caucasus, over the mountains, under every circumstance of cold and hunger; but with hope instead of utter despair for guiding star. Attempts are being made by American and English friends to succor them, but they are dying like flies from privation and disease. More subscriptions for the Lord Mayor's Fund might save a few. But over the greater part of Asia Minor “Delenda est Armenia” waves over the bones of a murdered nation. Christianity in the East is dead — and the certificate of its destruction can be truthfully given by the “Young Turks,” the “Committee of Union and Social Progress,” when they welcome the German Emperor to the capital of his coveted “place in the sun.”
What can be said of German complicity? This: (1) That from May to October, 1915, when the vast tragedy was being accomplished, there were German Consuls, all powerful, at every town, who could have telegraphed the facts to their Ambassador at Constantinople, and in an hour from there to Berlin; (2) that all demands made by the American Consuls to the German Consuls to appeal for stoppage or amelioration of these horrors were refused; (3) that the record of the Belgian atrocities had been published a few month before, and that these atrocities differed in degree only, but not in kind, from the German; (4) that Enver Pasha had been educated at Berlin, decorated with German Orders, and would undoubtedly have followed any advice given him by his Royal ally; and (5) that the Turks in Anatolia being incredibly stupid and unreachable, the whole apparatus of trade, commerce and culture had fallen into the hands of the Armenians, and the elimination of a million of them would leave a gap specially suited to the kind of German immigration which most feels the pressure of population at home, and most desires opportunity for expansion abroad. More than this at present we cannot say.
But no German emigrants will go to a protected Anatolia. No German Empire will stretch from Berlin to Baghdad: and a bankrupt, decimated, limited race, bound in between secure boundaries, will learn, at length, that God exists, and His wheels grind exceedingly small. I remember following Mr. George Russell in resigning my position on the Balkan Committee, when Enver and Talaat and other “Young Turks” were feted in London, and quoted glibly passages from Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill, and concealed successfully the eternal hatred and disdain, the eternal ferocity of the Turk. I am glad today that I was not deceived by that “gang of ruffians,” as Lord Bryce calls them, who have successfully combined the vices of the East and the West. We cannot reverse the vast holocaust of misery and outrage which for six months has cried to Heaven for vengeance and cried in vain. But we can swear an oath and keep it with an equal mind that the sword shall not be sheathed until Turkey-in-Asia is rent in pieces; that no Christian, or people of other race, shall henceforth be ruled by the Turk; and that the Turks shall obtain no advantage — nor the Germans either — from the lands they have depopulated and the people they have destroyed. If that can be accomplished this war will not altogether be fought in vain, or our dead sacrificed without a purpose. We cannot forget our own past guiltiness in the matter. John Bright appealed to posterity for vindication against a cynical Parliament and an absurd coalition in opposing the Crimean War. We were told later on by a Tory statesman that we had then put our money on the wrong horse. We had not put it on a “horse” at all, but on a ravening, half-maniacal wild beast, thirsting always for blood and outrage. A generation afterwards, J.R. Green saw England, under Disraeli, “drifting into war — into war on the side of the Devil and in the cause of Hell.” The result was the destruction of the San Stefano treaty and the substitution for it of the Treaty of Berlin — from which most of modern European tragedies, including this war, have directly arisen. Today, the amateur diplomatist blames Sir Edward Grey for not having made an alliance with Turkey instead of finding himself openly at war with her, and she the Kaiser's friend. We can congratulate him and his people on that friendship: a live nation cemented to a corpse, for whose misdeeds he is responsible, and who, in the fullness of time, even perhaps through this desperate sortie to the East in which he is engaging, will drag him down into the same destruction as she is destined inevitably to endure.