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Stories Of Liberated Armenians -nyt191907
Stories of Liberated Armenians
by MAJOR STEPHEN TROWBRIDGE, ALEPPO, SYRIA
Member of the American Red Cross Commission to Palestine
A BIG British transport steamed slowly through the Suez Canal, approaching Port Said. The decks were covered with men in khaki returning from Mesopotamia and along the rails of the lower decks were crowded 586 Armenian refugees from Baghdad. Scarcely a man was to be seen among them and very few middle aged or old women. The majority were young women and children. Here was one of the waves of the war, started upon its course by the tempest of cruelty which raged in Asia Minor, Armenia, Kurdistan and Northern Mesopotamia. The Turkish Government, with calculating malice and brutal effectiveness, had driven southward and eastward into exile hundreds of thousands of the Armenian race. The British forces entering Baghdad and Ramadieh found many fragments of these Armenian people shut up in Arab huts and tents and city houses. Orders were issued to liberate every refugee and gather all in Baghdad. The widows and orphans were placed under the care of Dr. Lavy, American Consul and representative of the American committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief. In seven or eight months thousands of the deportees were set free from their humiliating bondage in the plains of Nineveh and Babylon and many found employment in the market of Baghdad or in the camps about the city. "But the girls and young women had been through such an odyssey of suffering, and so many of the little children were orphans, without even a relative to volunteer to care for them, that the British authorities decided to send these 586 down the Tigris and around Arabia to the refugee camp on the sands at Port Said - a name meaning "the Blessed Haven." Scarcely any of these Armenians wish to emigrate to North or South America. From every corner of the provinces of Turkey have these people come and they are intent upon returning to their home towns. This is desire, although they know that their houses have been looted and occupied by the Turks or have been burned to ashes. They look to the British to protect them and have strangely bright and persistent hopes that they will find at least some of their at least some of their men folk men still in the land of the living.
The tragic narratives of these people show what a shame it would be if America and the Allies should compromise with the Turkish Government or deal leniently in the final terms. It is not a question of restricting the Turks. They should not be allowed to maintain any fraction of power, for they do not govern and do not know what government is. The Turks, the Circassians and the Kurds wreck and ruin everything they touch. They are never constructive, but only destructive and their alliance with Germany has made them worse than before. The Arabs, too, have used the dreadful opportunity to violate and steal. Let the Armenian women and girls give their own statements. And I who have seen their scars and have watched their faces and their eyes as they speak, can vouch for the veracity of the witness they bear.
Aghavni came from Solos in the province of Brousa. Aghavni means "Dove" in Armenian. Solos was an entirely Armenian village of more than eight hundred families.
"All of us were driven out in the deportations of the summer of 1915. My husband was drafted and sent to the Dardanelles. Whether he was killed or not I do not know. I have lost him completely. Chazar was his name and he was a stonemason by trade. I was still counted a bride though we had been married three years. My little boy could not stand the marching in the summer heat and he died on the road from sunstroke. My father, mother and sister were ordered to stay for a time in Konia. I was told to move on. Later I heard that my father had died at Masken near Aleppo. My older brother, twenty-two tears of age, died of hunger, and my little brother, a lad of ten, perished from the cold in December in the foothills of the Taurus. My third brother, age eighteen, was seized by the Circassians at Dier Zoar on the Euphrates and cut to pieces. I was made a servant in an Arab hut. From that house I was roughly turned out and taken by another Arab to Ramadieh, far to the southeast. When the British advanced from the direction of Baghdad the Arab locked me up, but I knocked and called and at last they heard me." "What is your idea of the British" I asked.
"God bless them one and all. They saved our lives, and had they come sooner they would have saved thousands more. I can never express to you how very kind they were. They took us to a large comfortable house in Baghdad where each of us was given a bed. The American Consul, Dr. Lavy, took care of us."
"What are the scars on your forehead, your cheeks and your chin?"
"The Arabs had tattooed me with indigo, after the manner of Mohammedan women and when I was set free I felt the shame of these marks so keenly that I persuaded a British doctor to cauterize each spot. I would rather be disfigured than branded as I was before."
The story of Kronik, the wife of Toros Karasarkisian of Bilejik near Brousa is as follows:
"My husband was a carpenter and was sent by the army to work at Kerkuk, near Baghdad. Then our family made the long journey and joined him. My brother-in-law, who was a sergeant in the Kerkuk garrison, was taken to Bitlis. One night he was strangled, then slashed to death, as I know from eye-witnesses who escaped. A telegram was sent to his wife to say that he died in hospital." (Note the craft of sending this telegram to avoid any punishment after the war, if the British should make an enquiry.) "My little girl Anna was scarcely two when the Turkish mounted police came and tied my husband hand and foot and dragged him off to Mosul. They charged him with being a spy. This was utterly false. He always stuck to his trade and never mixed in political affairs. I have never since heard a word from him.
"Beautiful young girls, even some five and six years old, were violated by the Turks, especially the Army officers, and were then passed on to the Arabs, Circassians and Kurds. They dragged the girls by the hair and arms. Every one over eight was violated and they were left to wend their way into the towns to beg for bread. We were tattooed by force, our arms and feet being firmly bound beforehand."
"The English sought out every house in Baghdad and freed the Women and children. They opened an orphanage and Consul Lavy, who was put in charge, cared for us with gifts from America."
Santoukht of Sivas is a most attractive girl, fourteen years of age, with an inexpressible sadness in her face. Her father died of typhus before the deportation. Her brother, twenty-five years of age, was drafted into the Turkish army and has not been seen since. Santoukht and her mother were ordered to take the road to Aleppo. They were driven purposely by waterless routes from Aleppo to Deir Zoar and the mounted police kept them away from the wells so that they were obliged to drink foul water. Her mother became exhausted and was just able to drag herself along. After two days without water they came to a filthy greenish pool, into which a corpse and a camel had been thrown the day before. The mother was so weak and so parched that she bowed herself down and drank of this awful water and soon afterward died in great pain.
Santoukht had a sister with two babies, and on the way to Aleppo the soldiers separated the sisters saying, "Let whoever will have these two." At Kerkuk (near Baghdad) a Turk sent his wife to the bath one day and dragged Santoukht into his house. For nearly a year he kept her secretly as a slave. When the English entered the town she escaped, pregnant, and appealed to an English officer who rescued her and took care of her like a father.
Angele of Akshehir, province of Konia, fourteen years old, is a large plump rosy girl with blue eyes and soft brown hair, a good evidence of Dr. Lavy's generous care during the months of convalescence. She told me this pitiful story:
"My father by paying a £45 tax according to Turkish law had been let off from military service, so when the deportation orders came my mother and father, my sister eighteen years old, my two brothers and myself all went off together. Most of the Armenians leaving Akshehir had to walk or hire wagons, but by paying one pound each through a brakeman on the railway we managed to board a cattle car as far as Bozanti in Konia province in the Taurus Mountains. Thence we marched to Osmanich and Maskanieh. By paying two pounds each we secured a raft and floated down the Euphrates, for our orders were to proceed to Dier Zoar."
"From there we went on foot to Miadin where the Arabs tortured my father until he died of fever and fear. The Turkish guards now drove us off into the Eastern desert, a fearfully hot waste, with no trees or grass, or inhabitants. The guards picked out all the boys above ten and shot them."
My big brother was also dragged off in this way and put to death. We were withdrawn by the Circassians one hour from the village, to a certain hill, twelve or fourteen were taken at a time, heads cut off and the bodies thrown into a large hewn tank which had served as a reservoir or well.
"When my group was taken the well was full. The Circasians had become tired of the horrid work and they threw me unwounded into the reservoir where I fell in the midst of the bleeding corpses. By and by some Arabs of the worst sort came and dragged out the bodies to steal the clothing. They stripped off my dress and threw me back again. I was too nauseated and too terrified to speak or to resist. The cries of the living were awful. Some were suffocated by bodies thrown in by the Circassians. When I cried for mercy an Arab came and slashed my arm, and as he climbed past me he struck me on the head. Then a Circassian noticed that I was slowly crawling out and he fired, wounding me in the foot.
"For six days I was in that terrible place, without food or drink. My lips became cracked and parched from thirst so that I rubbed blood on them to moisten them. I longed to die and prayed to God mercifully to shorten my agony. After the first day there was an awful stench. The Circassians, looting and reviling, ordered the Arabs to gather brushwood and burn the bodies in the tank. We who still survived dragged out selves to the farthest corner. Brush was thrown in and then splashed with petroleum and set on fire. There were piteous cries as the smoke and flames spread in our direction."
Here the girl broke down and it was some time before she could continue her narrative.
"Finally an Arab came and found me and declared that he would take me to be his wife. An Arab woman standing at the mouth of the tank said, 'Leave her alone. She is smeared with blood and she is deformed by her wounds. She will die anyway.' But the Arab replied, 'If she lives she is ours. If she dies what do we care? I am going to take her.' He carried me to a stream, utterly exhausted and nauseated. Here he brought me some water to wash, and some coarse bread. But I could not eat it that day. For six months I lay sick and wounded, outside the Arab's goats' hair tents. My wounds festered at first but slowly began to heal. An aged Arab took pity and bound them up and changed the rags once in a while. At last I recovered."
"These Arabs migrated and sold me for three lean sheep to people of the town of Ramadieh. A small Armenian boy went and told the British soldiers that a Christian girl named Angele was held as a servant in a certain Arab house in Ramadieh. The British came into the house and gave me medical treatment and set me free, they put me in a lorry and sent me to Baghdad. And now God has given me strength to recover and to make the journey to Port Said."
Seranoush Ghazarian of Tokat is a beautiful girl of thirteen, with clear skin and dark eyes and early brown hair. She bears conspicuous tattoo marks upon her forehead, nose, cheeks, chin and wrists. By nature she is a graceful, gentle girl, and through her experiences an infinite sadness has come into her face. It was with an effort that she controlled her sobs and told of her experience in the deserts. She was nine years old when set out on the march with her mother, aunt and cousins. Her father was bound and carried off to Sivas where he was killed. Her aunt died of thirst in the mountains.
At last they came to a stream and drank and drank. The Turks commanded them all to become Moslems but they refused to deny Christ.
The Turks took the young cousin by force, after beating the mother for objecting. One of the Arab women seized Seranoush by the arm and threw her into the stream, but afterwards dragged her out and made her a slave. She was so ill from exhaustion that she could not eat and was so wasted and thin that the Arabs counted her as good for nothing and abandoned her. Then an Arab from a different tribe found her and an Arab woman took care of the child after a fashion. Later she was given in marriage to a certain Arab who sometimes petted her and again he beat her. He was forty years of age and kept the ten-year-old wife for about fourteen months.
An Armenian steward from Dr. Lavy's orphanage came to buy dates and discovered. Seranoush and several other girls. An Armenian young man was sent from Baghdad on horseback to rescue her, but as she was dressed in ragged Arab clothes and her skin was tanned and tattooed, he did not know that she was an Armenian girl when he passed her in the market-place. As she walked by him a second time she quickly made the sign of the Cross and in a moment he had her with him in the saddle and galloped away. The older girls had Arab babies and for utter shame they dare not go to the home provided by the American Consul. So they remained in Felluja for some time and refused to disclose their identity.
Among the 586 survivors who have reached the shelter of the refugee camp at Port Said there are 200 women, five infants, six men, 186 girls and 189 boys. The American Red Cross Commission to Palestine and the Near East maintains a diet kitchen where 1.235 convalescents and young children are provided for daily. A group of industrial shops have been started where embroidery, refugee garments, army shirts, wooden combs, blue cotton cloth, woolen rugs and many other useful things are made. The Red Cross has also provided baths and school tents, and has built a children's ward as part of the camp hospital. In a large tent near the Suez Canal eighty lively children have the happiest kind of a time in their day nursery. The camp is administrated by British officers serving under General Allen by, but much of the actual relief distribution and the employment of more than one thousand of the refugees is entrusted to the American Red Cross. Captain J.A. Brown, formerly of the faculty of the Syrian Protestant College, Beirut, Syria, is the Red Cross officer commanding. He is ably assisted by Lieutenants Loehr and MacQuiston and by Miss Kinney, Miss Putney, Miss Blake and Miss Campion. There is a good team spirit, and America has, through these representatives, won the esteem and affection and fervent gratitude of these eight thousand homeless Armenians.
pic 261, DISTRIBUTING BIBLES TO THE REFUGEES - The Greagorian priest is distributing Bibles of the British and Foreign Bible Society to the school children at Port Said.
pic 261, WOMEN REFUGEES FLEEING ACROSS THE DESERT
pic 262 SAVED AT LAST! One of the rescued Armenian girls who had previously studied in a mission school in her old mountain home
pic 262, MOJOR STEPHEN TROWBRIDGE TELLING BIBLE STORIES TO RESCUED CHILDREN IN JERUSALEM
A hard copy of this article or hundreds of others from the time of the Armenian Genocide can be found in The Armenian Genocide: News Accounts From The American Press: 1915-1922