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The Times, 8 oktober 1915
Bron: The Times

The Armenian Massacres

Exterminating A Race

A Record Of Horrors

To one who remembers the rejoicings which welcomed the bloodless Turkish Revolution of 1908, the fraternization of Moslem and Christian, the confidence in a better future for the Armenians which survived even the Adana massacre of 1909, the story of the systematic persecution of the Armenians of Turkey is a bitter tale to tell. Talaat Bey and his extremist allies have out-Hamided Abdul Hamid. They have even shocked their German friends, thus attaining eminence in “frightfulness” to which the “Red Sultan” never soared.

When the Committee of Union and Progress finally decided to mobilize its forces against the Triple Entente, one of its first steps was to make an end of “all that nonsense about Armenian reforms,” as the Grand Vizier styled the latest reform scheme imposed by the Powers. One of the two European Inspectors-General, who were to watch over the Administration of the six Eastern Provinces of Turkey-in-Asia, had already set forth on his journey, greeted on his way by salaaming officials and escorted by respectful gendarmes. Then came the mobilization of the Turkish Army, and before he had even reached his destination he was bundled off, returning the Constantinople with a minimum of pomp and ceremony. At once occasional raids on Armenian villages began to be reported from the “Six Villayets”.

No massacre took place during the Turkish mobilization or the early stages of the Caucasus campaign. It was not until Enver Pasha's Army had invaded Russian territory, and another Turkish force, composed in part of Kurdish irregulars, had invaded Azerbaijan, that massacres began. At Ardahan the Turkish regulars are said by the Russians to have killed 15 civilians during their brief occupation of the town, but their irregular allies and bands of Turkish fedais committed horrible crimes at Oity, Ardanush, Artum, and other places which they occupied, unchecked by the regulars. Armenians were thrown over cliffs, their women violated and abducted, their children frequently Islamised. The invasion of Azerbaijan was attended by similar excesses. The bulk of the Armenian population, after suffering great privations, escaped into Russian territory. According to Russian newspapers and American missionaries, over 2,000 were killed, often by order of Turkish Consuls, in North-West Persia. Kurdish tribesmen committed gruesome atrocities near Bayesid, and, when the worst of the winter was over, began to raid the Armenian villages near Van. The defeat of Sary Kamish, inflicted by an army which included many Armenians, had infuriated Enver's ruthless temper. The systematic massacre of the 25,000 Armenians of the Bashkala district, of whom less than 10 per cent are said by Russian newspapers to have escaped slaughter or forced conversion, appears to have been ordered and carried out at this period.

The full description of the horrors that ensued along the frontier must be left to our Russian allies. Suffice it to say that late in April the Armenians in the Van district who had collected arms to defend themselves against the Kurds before the war were attacked by Kurds and Turkish gendarmes. In some places they were massacred; in others they more than held their own, and finally they captured the town of Van and took a bloody vengeance on their enemies. Early in May a Russo-Armenian army entered Van.

Talaat Bey's policy
It is said by the Turks in their defence that the decision to deport the Eastern Armenians was only arrived at after the discovery of an Armenian plot in Constantinople and after the Van outbreak. But the Armenians executed in Constantinople in April were men of the Hintchak society who had been in prison for over a year, and the deportation or massacre of Armenians had begun at many places before the Van Armenians were criminal enough to help themselves. There can be no doubt that Enver, who has never shrunk from violent methods, approved of the policy that was adopted. Commanding officers in the provinces received orders in April and May authorising them to deport all individuals or families whose presence might be regarded as politically or militarily dangerous, and in the case of some of the Cilician Armenians, deportation had begun earlier. But Talaat, who was in all probability the chief mover in the expulsion of Greeks from Western Anatolia, who has never scrupled to lie to an Ambassador or to encourage pro-Turkish intrigue in the dominions of friendly Powers, is the chief author of these crimes. “I intend to prevent any talk of Armenian autonomy for 50 years” and “The Armenians are a... race; their disappearance would be no loss” are sayings attributed to him on excellent authority. He has had worthy supporters among the extremists of the Committee of Union and Progress, such as Mukhlis Bey, Carusso Effendi and his Jewish revolutionary supporters, Midhat Shukri and others, among officials such as the Valis of Diarbekr and Angora, and among the officers of gendarmerie, who, if one-tenth of the tales told by European and American refugees is true, have cast off all trace of the European training which French and British officers laboriously tried to instil in them and have too often become little better than licentious banditti.

Massacre areas
Eastern Anatolia, Cilicia, and the Anti-Taurus region have been the scene of the worst cruelties on the part of the authorities and the population. In many cases the massacres were absolutely unprovoked. Thus at Marsovan, where there is an important American college, the authorities early in June ordered the Armenians to meet outside the town. They surrounded them there and the police and an armed mob killed, according to the Americans, 1,200 of the younger and more active Armenians whom the local Committee leaders and the gendarmerie most feared. The richer Armenians were allowed to avoid death by conversion to Islam, for which doubtful privilege they paid heavily. The poorer in some cases begged to be allowed to deny their faith and thus save their families, but as they had no money they were killed, or exiled. The younger women were distributed among the rabble. The rest of the community were driven across country to Northern Mesopotamia.

At Angora the Vali arrested the Armenian manager of the Imperial Ottoman Bank, who was sent away in a carriage and killed by the Vali's orders some miles from the town. Mukhlis Bey, a prominent member of the Committee of Union and Progress, then produced an order from the Central Executive of the Committee ordering the slaughter of the most prominent Armenians whether Gregorian or Catholic. The order was served on the Military Commandant, who refused to obey it. Mukhlis then armed the rabble and 683 unarmed Armenians were killed. Many were Catholics, whose cruel fate is known to have aroused vigorous protests on the part of the Vatican.

At Bitlis and Mush a large number, according to some accounts 12,000 Armenians, many of them women, are reported to have been shot or drowned. At Sivas, Kaisari, and Diarbekr there were many executions, and several Armenian villages are reported completely wiped out. At Mosul the unhappy Armenians who were brought from the north in gangs were set upon by the mob. Many were killed and turks and Kurds came from as far as the Persian border to buy the women.

At Urfa, where the male Allied subjects formerly resident in Syria and one of two prisoners of war are now interned by Djemal Pasha's orders, the first massacre took place in the third week of August. It was witnessed by the some of the Allied women and children who recently escaped from Syria. An English girl of 10 years of age saw an Armenian's brains blown out and the bodies of women and children burnt with kerosene. Several smaller massacres followed the first outbreak, in which about 150 Armenians were killed. The military took no part in it, but left full freedom to the rabble, who slightly wounded several French prisoners who has been allowed to walk in the town. It is not surprising that the British, French, and Russian women who have escaped from Uria should express the liveliest apprehensions as to the fate of their menfolk prisoners in what is probably the most fanatical town in Turkey, and the scene of the burning of about 6,000 Armenians of both sexes in the Cathedral during the Hamidian massacres.

A desperate resistance
The massacred Armenians had mostly given up their arms in accordance with the advice of their clergy. At four widely separated places resistance was offered. At Shaban Karahissar in North-East Anatolia, the Armenians took up arms, held off the Turkish troops for some time, and were finally overwhelmed. Some 4,000 were believed to have been killed or sold — the fate of the women and children — at this place. At Kharput, on hearing of the intention of the authorities to deport them, the Armenians rose on June 3, and for a week held the town. They were then overpowered by troops with artillery, and were mostly killed. The outbreak at Zeitun seems to have taken place in March and to have been a very trivial affair. The Armenians of the town of Zeitun, though formerly a turbulent race, handed over the few insurgents to the Turks, hoping thus to be spared, but Fakhry Pasha, the author of the second Adana massacre, nevertheless killed a few of the townsmen on the spot, and may have drafted the rest into labour battalions. The women, children, and infirm were sent to Zor — described by a most competent authority as a “human dustbin” where they are reported to by dying in large numbers.

The Armenians of Jebel Musa were ordered to quit their homes late in July. Believing very naturally that the Turks proposed to make away with them, they rose in revolt to the number of 600. Though poorly provided with arms, they held out for a month against about 4,000 Turkish troops. Their losses were slight. Those of the Turks, who seem to have been troops of inferior quality, are said by refugees from Syria to have amounted to from 300 to 400. The fighting was ruthlessly waged. The Turks carried off some 20 Armenian women and children, and executed 2 prisoners before the Armenian position. The Armenians retaliated by executing a Turkish major, a notable who had plundered one of their villages, and other prisoners whom they took. Ammunition was running low early in September, and a massacre seemed inevitable when French warships and a British vessel arrived and took off the Armenians to the number of 4,000, mostly women and children.

It may be noted that the only massacres reported in the Arab countries — namely, north of Baghdad, where about 1,000 Armenians are said on Armenian authority to have been killed at the end of their long journey from the North; and at Kebusie, in the Homs district, where a body of 250 Armenian deportees were killed, forcibly converted or, in the case of the girls, sold — were committed by the military, apparently Turks and Kurds.

Deportation or starvation
It remains to describe Talaat Bey's methods in detail. Massacre was followed by a crueller system of persecution than Abdul Hamid ever invented. The Red Sultan's abominations were seldom accompanied by the wholesale deportation of the survivors; the violation and abduction of women and the conversion of children, though sadly frequent in some places, were by no means general in the massacres of 1894-1896. Then the wild beast was allowed to run amok for 24 hours, and was then usually chained up.

In Talaat Bey's campaign the preliminary massacre, which was sometimes omitted, was followed by the separation of the able-bodied men from their women folk. The former were drafted into labour battalions or simply disappeared. The women, children, and old men were next driven slowly across country. They were permitted to take no carts, baggage animals, or any large stock of provisions with them. They were shepherded from place to place by gendarmes, who violated some of the women, sold others, and robbed most. Infirm or aged folk, women great with child, and children were driven along till they dropped and died by the way. Gendarmes who returned to Alexandretta described with glee to Europeans how they robbed the fugitives. If these refused to give up their money their escort sometimes pushed them into streams or abandoned them in desolate places.

A European who witnessed the exodus of some of the Armenians of Cilicia says that most were footsore, all looked half starved, and no able-bodied man could be seen among them. At Osmanic on the road between Aleppo and Adana they were given only 8 hours' notice by the town crier to make ready for their departure. The French and British refugees from Urfa saw the bodies of “hundreds” of women and children lying by the road and met another of these lamentable half-starved caravans. An American who accompanied a group of Armenian exiles from Malatia reports that the road to Urfa was marked all along its course by the bodies of those who had died. Travellers by the Anatolian Railway report that the hills near Bilejik Geive, and other stations in the hinterland of Brusa were crowded with Armenians from Brusa, Ismid, and other settlements near Constantinople, who had no shelter and were begging their bread. Large bodies of the exiles are said to have been simply led into the desert south of the Euphrates and left there to starve.

The tallest poppies
The policy which lost the Committee leaders Macedonia and is as old as King Tarquin, seems to have been revived by Talaat. Just who had been amnestied fell frequent victims to the bravi of the Committee, so now the Armenians who had cooperated most loyally with the Turkish Revolutionaries were among the first to feel the weight of Talaat's hand.

Haladijian Effendi, ex-Minister of Public Works, was arrested in Constantinople after the discovery of an alleged Armenian plot, and in spite of his friendly relations with the Committee, of which he was a member, and his friendship with Talaat and Djavid Beys, was hurried into Anatolia, where he has disappeared. It is not known whether he is dead or alive. Garo Pasdermatjian, who took part in the attack on the Imperial Ottoman Bank in 1896, and was one of Talaat's intimates, was also arrested. So were Vartkes, as popular a member of the Turkish Chamber of Deputies as Pasdermatjian, Aghnuni, the very able leader if the Dashnakist Society in Constantinople, Zohrab Effendi, M.P for Constantinople, an able but unpopular lawyer, who belonged to the Committee Party, Vartan Papazian, and other Armenians, several of whom were members of Parliament.

According to Armenian refugees from Syria, whose story is largely borne out by independent evidence, several of the prisoners arrived at Urfa in July. They were there entertained to dinner by the Chief of Police, who during the meal received a telegram from the Vali of Diarbekr bidding him send the prisoners to Diarbekr at once. They started before midnight, and early next morning were killed on the way by “brigands”. Zohrab is known to have met his fate there, and it is believed that Aghuni, Vartkes, Papazian and Pasdermatiijian died with him. Of Aghnuni's death and that of Vartkes and Papazian there seems no doubt. A number of priests and at least one bishop wren reported executed by military courts.

Women and children sold
Torture has been frequently used in the case of Armenian prisoners and suspects. The sale by Bird's police of Armenian children of both sexes to the keepers of disorderly houses and Turks of bad moral character has provoked protest in Constantinople. The object of the conversion of children reported from some districts and the very general sale of women and girls appears to be political. Foreigners believe that Talaat has countenanced these crimes with the object of breaking up the strong social structure of the Armenian community in Turkey.

There are Turcophils who aver that the Armenians do not really object to such proceedings. One is reminded of a youthful and “highly well-born” traveller who, returning from Macedonia in the days of band warfare, reported as proof of Ottoman lenity that he had seen Slav girls dancing with Turkish irregulars. This cruel comedy had, of course, been arranged by an officer of gendarmerie, for the average Christian peasant girl in Macedonia would as soon dance with a Turk as an Anglo-Indian lady would consent to divert an Afghan with the danse du ventre. The belief that Armenians “do not mind” is a cruel falsehood. The Armenian woman of the country towns is nowadays often quite well educated and always strictly brought up, and her sufferings are doubtless as great as those of the average English or French farmer's daughter would be were she subjected to similar cruelty.

German and Turkish protests
The attempts of the American Ambassador to procure some alleviation of the lot of Armenians have thus far proved unsuccessful. Mr Morganthau, in the opinion of good observers, wasted too much diplomatic energy on behalf of the Zionists of Palestine, who were in no danger of massacre, to have any force to spare. Talaat and Bedri simply own that persecuting Armenians amuses them and turn a deaf ear to American pleadings. German and Austro-Hungarian residents in Turkey at first approved of the punishment of Armenian “traitors”, but the methods of the Turkish extremists have sickened even Prussian stomachs. True the Jewish Baron von Oppendeim, now in Syria, has been preaching massacre, and the German Consular officials al Aleppo and Alexandretta have followed suit, perhaps with the idea of planting German colonists in the void left b the disappearance of the Armenians when the war is over. But the German Government has grown nervous. On August 31 the German and Austro-Hungarian Ambassadors protested to the Grand Vizier against the massacre of Armenians and demanded a written communication to the effects that neither of the Government had any connexion with these crimes. Turkey has not, so far, given her Allies a certificate of unblemished character, and the bestowal of the Ordro pour la Mérite on Envor Pahsa by the Kaiser is not likely to give the impression that Germany is in earnest.

There has been some Turkish protests against these abominations. The Turks of Aintab refused to permit the exile of the local Armenians. One of the Turkish Provincial Governors-General, who name had best not be mentioned lest he be transferred to another post — or world — has saved many exiles from starvation. Rahmi Boy, the bold Vali of Smyrna who has treated the interned British and French residents of the town right well, has repeatedly protested to the Porto against these crimes and has refused to hand over suspected Armenians for trial. The Sheikh-ul-Islam has salved his conscience by a tardy resignation, and Djahid and Djavid Boys have uttered plaintive protests when it was too late. In a few days' time Parliament will meet and Talaat and his colleagues will then explain and defend their Armenian policy to the House. One can imagine what line their defence will follow — the necessity of securing national unity at this critical hour, the importance of checking dangerous and unpatriotic agitation, the deplorable crimes committed by the Armenians, the sufferings of tortured Muslims under British and Russian rule, and much more rhetoric of this kind. One cannot, unfortunately, imagine the Chamber of Deputies refusing to vote the fullest confidence in Talaat and Enver. Massacres will probably cease and the Armenians to be left to starve quietly.