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THE MASSACRES OF ARMENIANS IN 1915
A Monthly Magazine of the New York Times
By George R. Montgomery
Director of the Armenia-America Society
A refutation, from authentic sources, of the allegation that the Turks were not guilty of wholesale slaughter of the Armenians - Testimony of German and Turkish eyewitnesses of the crime
In the September issue of Current History Rear Admiral Colby M. Chester (retired) had an article entitled "Turkey Reinterpreted," in the course of which, along with other misstatements, he made the following assertion:
So, the Armenians were moved from the inhospitable regions where they were not welcome and could not actually prosper to the most delightful and fertile part of Syria. Those from the mountains were taken into Mesopotamia , where the climate is as benign as in Florida and California, whither New York Millionaires journey every year for health and recreation. All this was done at great expense of money and effort, and the general outside report was that all, or at least many, had been murdered.
It seems almost a pity to upset the good old myth of Turkish viciousness and terribleness, but in the interest of accuracy I find myself constrained to do so, although it makes ma feel a bit like one who is compelled to tell a child that Jack the Giant Killer really found no monstrous men to slay.
In due of time the deportees, entirely unmassacred, and fat and prosperous, returned (if they wished so to do), and an English prisoner of war who was in one of the vacated owns after it had been repopulated told me that he found it filled with these astonishing living ghosts. A against these untrue words I quote extracts from a letter addressed in January, 1919, from Berlin, to President Wilson by Ramin T. Wegner, a German eyewitness of the Armenian deportations: A one of the few Europeans who have been eyewitnesses of the dreadful destruction of the Armenian people from its beginning in the fruitful fields of Anatolia up to the wiping out of the mournful remnants of the race on the banks of the Euphrates, I venture to claim the right of setting before you these pictures of misery and terror which passed before my eyes during nearly two years, and which will never be obliterated from my mind. * * *
- * * But what is Siberia compared with the Mesopotamian steppes? There we find a long tract of land without grass, without trees, without cattle, covered with stunted weeds, a country where the only inhabitants are Arab Bedouins, destitute of all pity; a stretch of gray limestone plains miles in extent, bare wastes of rock and stone, ruined river banks, exposed to the rays of a merciless sun, ceaseless Autumn rains and frosty Winter nights. Leaving sheets of ice behind them. Except its two large rivers there is no water. The few small villages scarcely suffice to feed a handful of Bedouins, who in their wretched poverty regard any traveler as a welcome prey. * * *
The Armenians were driven into this desolate waste with the alleged purpose of forcibly transplanting them from their homes to a strange land - a purpose which, even had it been the real one, is repugnant to every human feeling. * * *
Parties which on their departure from the homeland of High Armenia consisted of thousands, numbered on their arrival in the outskirts of Aleppo only a few hundreds, while the fields were strewn with their odors, lying about desecrated, naked, having been robbed of their clothes, or driven, bound back to back, to the Euphrates to provide food for the fishes. When in the desert I went through the deportees' camp. When I sat in their tents with the starving and dying I felt their supplicating hands in mine, and the voices of their priests, who had blessed many of the dead on their last journey to the grave, adjured me to plead for them, if I were ever in Europe again. * * *
I am making no accusation against Islam. The spirit of every great religion is noble, and the conduct of many a Mohammedan has made us blush for the deeds of Europe. I do not accuse the simple people of Turkey, whose souls are full of goodness; but I do not think that the members of the ruling class will ever, in the course of history, be capable of making their country happy, for they have destroyed our belief in their capacity for civilization. * * *
With the ardor of one who has experienced unspeakable, humiliating sorrows in his own tortured soul, I utter the voice of those unhappy ones whose despairing cries I had to hear without being able to still them, whose cruel deaths I could only helplessly mourn, whose bones bestrew the deserts of the Euphrates, and whose limbs once more become alive in my heart and admonish me to speak.
Once already have I knocked at the door of the American people when I bought the petition of the deportees from their camps at Meskene and Aleppo to your embassy at Constantinople, and I know that this has not been in vain.
If you, Mr. president, have, indeed, made the sublime idea of championing oppressed nations the guiding principle of your policy, you will not fail to perceive that even in these words a mighty voice speaks, the only that has the right to be heard at all times - the voice of humanity.
As against Admiral Chester's words, I quote also from the pen of Ali Kemal Bey, then Minister of the Interior at Constantinople:
What are the facts of the case? Four or five years ago a crime universal and unique in history was being perpetrated in our country. Taking into consideration the gigantic magnitude and extent of the crime, it could not have been committed by four or five people, but proportionately by hundreds of thousands. If the victims had been 300.000 instead of 600.000 - if they had been even 200.000 or 100.000, 100.500 or even 1.000 criminals could not have wiped out so many people. It is already a proved fact this crime was mapped out and decreed by the General Centre of the Ittihad.
The following letter was written by a Swiss who had an opportunity to visit some of the deportees while they were passing through Cilicia and before they had reached the desert. It is dated Nov.16, 1915, and is printed in the late Lord Bryce's notable book, "The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire":
I have just returned from a ride on horseback through the Baghtche-Osmania Plain, where thousands of exiles are lying out in the fields and on the roads, without any shelter, and completely at the mercy of all manner of brigands. Last night, about 12 o'clock, a little camp was suddenly attacked. There were about fifty to sixty persons in it. I found men and women badly wounded - bodies slashed open, broken skulls and terrible knife wounds. Fortunately I was provided with clothes, so I could change their blood-soaked things, and then bring then to the next inn, where they were nursed. Many of them were so much exhausted from the enormous loss of blood that they died, I fear, in the meantime. In another camp we found thirty or forty thousand Armenians. I was able to distribute bread among them. Desperate and half-starved, they fell upon it: several times I was almost pulled down off my horse. A number of corpses were lying about unburied, and it was only by bringing the gendarmes that we could induce them to allow their burial. Mostly, the Armenians are not allowed to perform the last offices of love their relatives. Dreaded epidemics of typhoid fever broke out everywhere; there was a victim of it practically in every third tent. Nearly everything had to be transported on foot; men, women and children carried their few belongings on their backs. I often saw them break down under their burden, but the soldiers kept on driving them forward with the butt-ends of their rifles, even sometimes with their bayonets.
I quote the words written by Deschanel, when President of the French Chamber of Deputies and later President of France, in the introduction to "Au Pays de l'Epouvante," which was written by Henry Barby, the war correspondent of Le Journal:
At the beginning of 1915 there were in Turkey 2.000.000 Armenians, of whom less than 900.000 survive today, and the murdering of these more than a million people has been carried out with the most shameful cruelty. They were not all sent in platoons to execution. Those who were shot were the least unfortunate, because their suffering was short. Many hundred thousands of them were deported , constituting those sinister death caravans. * * * The Armenians furnished no provocation; they were mere victims. Their killing was consummated through a carefully prearranged plan. The infamous work was carried out systematically, so that not a city, not a village, not a family was spared.
I quote the words written by Herr Stuermer, Constantinople correspondent of the Kölnische Zeitung, in his book, "Zwei Kriegsjahre in Constantinople," published in 1917:
Here I can only give my final judgment on all these pros and cons, and say to the best of my knowledge and opinion that after the first act in this drama of massacre and death - the brutal "evacuation of the war zone" in Armenia proper - the meanest, the lowest, the most cynical, most criminal act of race fanaticism that the history of mankind has to show was the extension of the system of deportation, with its willful neglect and starvation of the victims, to further hundreds of thousands of Armenians in the capital and interior. And these were people who, through their place of residence, their preoccupation in work and wage-earning, were quite incapable of taking any active part in politics. * * *
With the most cold-blooded calculation and method, the numbers of Armenians to be deported were divided out over a period of many months; indeed, one may say over nearly a year and a half. * * * For the most part it was the sad fate of those deported to be sent off on an endless journey by foot to the far-off Arabian frontier, where they were treated with the most terrible brutality. There, in the midst of a population wholly foreign and but little sympathetic to their race, left to their fate on a barren mountainside, without money, without shelter, without medical assistance, without the means of earning a livelihood, they perished in want and misery.
The women and children were always separated from the men. That was characteristic of all the deportations. It was an attempt to strike at the very core of their national being and annihilate them by the tearing asunder of all family ties. That was how a very large part of the Armenian people disappeared.***
That stream of unhappy beings trickled on ever more slowly to its distant goal, leaving the dead bodies of women and children , old men and boys, as milestones to mark the way. The few that did reach the "settlement" alive - that is, the fever-ridden, hunger-stricken concentration camps - continually molested by raiding Bedouins and Kurds, gradually sickened and died a slower and even more horrible death.
Herr Stuermer's courageous setting forth of the facts in his correspondence to the Kölnische Zeitung and in letters to the German Foreign Office during the war resulted in his losing his position and necessitated his becoming an exile.
Had Admiral Chester looked the subject up in Current History he would have read in the July number for 1921 an article where facsimiles were given of some of the official Turkish documents bearing on the horrors of the deportations. The incriminating character of these documents was sufficient to win the acquittal of Talaat Pasha's assassin before a German jury. The official Turkish documents proved to be the express intent of the Turkish authorities and proved that they were not due to the savagery of unrestrained soldiers. A report dated Feb.26, 1916, from Committee for Settling the Deportees, was found among the official papers, and along with many similar documents has been included by Aram Andonian in "The memoirs of Naim Bey," published by Hodder & Stoughtin. It reads as follows:
I report for your information that hardly a quarter of the Armenians sent to the desert have arrived at their destination, with the exception of those sent to Syria as artisans. The rest have died from natural causes on the way. We have taken in hand measures to send also those that were for various reasons left in Aleppo.
The horrors and massacres of the deportation are not something with regard to which there are two sides. No Turkish writer has ever ventured to deny them, because they are established and attested beyond the shadow of a question. Yet in the face of facts never before denied, Admiral Chester does deny them, and says that doing s makes him feel "a bit like one who is compelled to tell a child that Jack the Giant Killer really found no monstrous men to slay." The Admiral quotes "an English prisoner of war who was in one of the vacated towns after it was repopulated" as saying that "he found it filled with these astonishing living ghosts." The Admiral adds: "In due course of time the deportees, entirely unmassacred and fat and prosperous, returned if they wished to do so." The vacated town to which he refers is doubtless Adana. Does the Admiral not know that after the armistice the French gathered up the 150.000 of the deportees that had survived them into Cilicia, whose capital city Adana is, with the promise and expectation of making Cilicia into an autonomous Armenia?
Dr. Johannes Lepsius, who has had access to German and Turkish official reports, in his book, "Deutschland und Armenien," published in 1919, makes the following estimate of losses:
According to the Patriarch's lists, the total number of Armenians in Turkey [at the beginning of the war] was 1.845.450. If those who fled into the Transcaucasus and into Egypt are estimated at 244.400, and those who were not deported at 204.700, the total number of deportees would be 1.396.350. According to the latest accounts, those who are still living in the districts around the desert [Mosul, Mesopotamia and Syria] are some 200.000 to 250.000. If, furthermore, we assume that 200.000have either become Moslems or represent the women and children in Turkish homes, that would mean that a round million of the Armenians met their death.
To show the utter untruth of Admiral Chester's assertions. I have brought forward testimony of Germans and Turks because such testimony is rather unfamiliar to the American public and also because the Germans were allies of the Turks in the war. I could adduce any amount more of testimony if more were required. Perhaps I have attached too much importance to Admiral Chester's misstatements. It is important, however, that there remain clear-cut on the pages of history, as one phase of the World War, the terrible tragedy of the Armenian deportations. As Herr Stuermet says in his book already quoted from:
This terrible catalogue of crime on the part of the Government of Talaat is, however, in spite of all censorship and obstruction, being dealt with officially in all quarters of the globe - by the American Embassy at Constantinople and in neutral and Entente countries - and at the conclusion of peace it will be brought as an accusation against the criminal brotherhood of Young Turks by a merciless court of all the civilized nations of the world. * * * The mixture of cowardice, lack of conscience and lack of foresight of which our [Imperial German] Government has been guilty in Armenian affairs is quite enough to undermine completely the political loyalty of any thinking man who has any regard for humanity and civilization. Every German cannot be expected to bear as lightheartedly as the diplomats of Pera the shame of having history point to the fact that the annihilation, with every refinement of cruelty, of a people of high social development, numbering over one and a half million, was contemporaneous with Germany's greatest power in Turkey.
These great facts must be perfectly clear, and the ill-informed or careless words of a retired American Rear Admiral, falsifying the facts, should not be allowed to stand without complete refutation.
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
- http://www.wilsonforarmenia.am - Wilson for Armenia - Armenian Cause and International Law