Murdering a Nation
TURKEY'S ARMENIAN CAMPAIGN
In these bewildering days, when one appalling tragedy succeeds another in increasing rapidity, the constant effort to adjust one's sense of proportion is often only a partial success. Few people regard the Germano-Turkish attempt to exterminate the Armenians as the supreme horror and crime of the great war. A high, mountainous plateau, remote from railways and water-ways, with few good roads and bridges, and no means of transport except pack-horses, has proved a happy hunting ground for the ruthless Turk. Again and again whole towns and villages were easily wiped out. Many weeks, and even months, before news of the crime would reach the coast. While the Armenians were passing through what has been aptly called “the ghastliest chapter of their ghastly history,” no details of the massacres, and still more cruel deportations to desert places, which began early in 1915, reached us till December.
The first check came at the fall of Erzeroum. Dr. Ida Stapleton, writing from that city just after its occupation by the Russians, said:— “The aim of those in authority here was to totally destroy the Armenians as a people; and horribly they have succeeded. It is not finished yet, for whenever the Turkish army retreats the suffering is sure to go on. The head of the Committee of Union and Progress fiercely told my husband that if the Russians killed so much as one Turkish woman they would kill a hundred Armenians. It was a foolish boast, as they had already done their worst. Kamil Pasha ordered all the Greeks also to leave, just seemed as if he sat up nights to think of something more wicked to do. It was zero weather. The Greeks begged to stay, offering large sums. Permission seemed granted, but after 10 days, when the Russian advance was more certain, the order was carried out. They were told ‘we must suffer, and so must you.’ I visited all the families I knew, as they were going, they felt, to their death. Some of the Turks thought the treatment of the Armenians shameful, and went to the Governor repeatedly, only to be told savagely that if they secreted or helped one of that race tbey would be hanged in front of their own doors.”
It was marvellous that with such thorough organisation to ensure their destruction so many Armenians should have escaped over the Russian border. Viscount Bryce estimates that half a million flew to the Caucasus alone, and is chiefly in this region that such large numbers have been saved, notwithstanding their terrible privations. The tremendous problem of repatriating this broken remnant of a brave nation, whose “supreme characteristic is their genius for martyrdom,” is engaging the earnest attention of all true friends of Armenia, among whom are the late American Ambassador, Mr. Morgantheau, and Viscount Bryce. Thousands of these have been streaming back to their ruined country ever since March, when the snow was still on the ground, and though the Russian Government has done much to aid the pioneer relief party sent out by the Lord Mayor's Fund from London to the Caucasus, and the commission of the American Board, whose missionaries have stuck to their posts all through the horrors and sufferings of their hunted flock, they all agree that all the relief agencies together have been wholly inadequate to supply even food and shelter and clothing for such a vast number of people. And yet, amid such conditions, the report of the London commission says:— “If any evidence were required of the undying vitality of the Armenian race here it was the young men and women, having recovered from the first stunning shock of their disaster, have set to work to rebuild their life in Van and here in the town of their exile, Erivan. They have themselves established various institutions, such as a labour exchange, teachers' union, board of trustees for orphanages and schools, information bureau for lost relatives, and regular relief committee, which distributes Government relief in the towns and districts.”
A later report says:— “We saw a good deal of the returning refugees on our three days' journey from Van to Khoi. The Cities' Union has organised feeding stations on the way, providing food and shelter for the nights. The Whole country of the Van district has been very much devastated, and the town almost entirely in ruins. In the Kavash district less than a third of the houses remain.”
The report was written al Erivan (where 23,000 had refuge) at a time when that part was in full spring beauty, and is described as a paradise of colour and fruit blossom. It proceeds:— “It is strange that this has been the scene only a few months ago of one of the most appalling tragedies of history. Over the shoulders of Mount Ararat, which towers up into the clouds and down into the plain below, came pouring a stream of fugitive humanity, terror-stricken, wounded, famished, and dying by hundreds on the roadside. It is said that through Tydir alone, the frontier port near Erivan, 100,000 persons fled into Russia; and yet one may, in spite of the sufferings of these people, claim them as fortunate in having escaped the far worse fate of their compatriots who were deported to the deserts of Mesopotamia or vilely slaughtered by the wav. They thronged the frontier towns and spread themselves out in two directions. Thousands of women and children, sick and sore and starved, sheltered in every available cover. Thousands more simply squatted down in the open, exposed to the blazing sun and torrential rains. The bishop laboured to bring order out of this chaos, to get the dead buried and stay the ravages of disease.”
In a report of a meeting held at the Mansion House, under the auspices of the Armenian Refugees Fund, to arrange for the repatriation of the Armenian people, at which the Lord Mayor presided, many practical speeches were made by Viscount Bryce, O.M., Sir Mark Sykes. M.P., Mr. T. P. O'Connor, M.P., and others. Lady Ramsay, a member of the executive committee of the Friends of Armenia, said:— “The Armenians were the first nation to adopt Christianity, and ever since have upheld their faith through the most terrible experiences that any nation could have passed through, the present time being their worst. The Turkish Government has been trying to kill them off. They have been for many years a great educational force in the land, their advancement being guided to an enormous extent by the American missions. I consider they are the proper people to be in the ruling position in Turkey. They love their country, and are striving to return and begin life again in a reconstructed land.”
One has, only to remember the isolated position and geographical difficulties of their ruined country (where industries largely depended on agricultural pursuits) to be able to imagine the tremendous labours that face the Russian Government. The commissioners and the missionaries, who are working in close association with unsparing effort to supply the shattered sufferers with seed, implements, cattle, and, in fact, all the necessaries of life. And this in a climate where winter is very severe, and in parts lasts six months, with deep snow on the ground for weeks at a time. The most urgent need has been to have the neglected vineyards dug by hand, which costs about £3/10/ per acre. In Persian Armenia especially the vineyards have been the first wealth of the plain. In ordinary years 1,200 acres would produce £14,000 sterling, beside keeping the workers – a very conservative estimate. The commissioners employed some 460 families on such an area, and so preserved many vinevards from destruction for at least a time. It has been one of the most effective means of distributing relief.
An added problem is the almost equal poverty of the Moslem population in the desolated districts. From past experience they know that their only help comes through Christian sympathy. The members of the Armenian Commission, while distributing bread and tea to some Turkish refugees, were not surprised when they exclaimed, “Our people killed your people, and you show such kindness to us. What does it mean?” They are beginning to understand. The report of the American Board says:— “The prestige of missions and the missionaries has tremendously increased. With a superb disregard for themselves they have stack to their work thus, and the witness of the people who have learned the fine art of dying for their faith cannot be forgotten, and will be an abiding force in the land.”