Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide

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Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide
Author Donald E. Miller, Lorna Touryan Miller
Publication Year 1993
ISBN ISBN 0520219562
Publisher University of California Press
Format Hardbound, Softbound
No. of Pages 274
Language English
Category Genocide

Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide, by Donald E. Miller and Lorna Touryan Miller, . UC Press, 1993 Hardcover; ISBN 0520079841 / ISBN 0520079841

Page 19

Late in July, 1915, when the thermometer registered from 105 to 115 degrees, as a group or more than l,000 women and chlldren from Harput [Kharpert] was being conducted southward near Veren Chiher, East of Diarbekir, they were turned over to a band of savage Kurds who rode among them, selecting the best looking women, girls and children. Terrified by the fears of their fate should chey fall into the hands of such ferocious brutes, the women resisted as best they could, thereby enraging the Kurds, who killed a number of their intended victims. Before carrying off those finally selected and subdued, they stripped most of the remaining women of their clothes, thereby forcing them to continue the rest of their journey in a nude condition. I was told by eyewitnesses to this outrage that over 300 women arrived at Ras-el-Ain, at that time the most easterly station to which the German-Baghdad railway was completed, entirely naked, their hair flowing in the air like wild beasts, and after travelling six days afoot in the burning sun. Most of these persons arrived in Aleppo a few days afterwards, and some of them personally came to the Consulate and exhibited their bodies to me, burned to the color of a green olive, the skin peeling off in great blotches, and many of them carrying gashes on the head and wounds on the body as a result of the terrible beatings inflicted by the Kurds.

One of the most terrible sights ever seen in Aleppo was the arrival early in Augusr, 1915, of some 5,000 terribly emaciaced, dirty, ragged and sick women and children, 3,000 on one day and 2,000 the following day. These people were the only survivors of the thrifty and well to do Armenian population of the province of Sivas, carefully estimated to have originally been over 300,000 souls! And what had become of the balance? From the most intelligent of those that miraculously reached Aleppo it was learned that in early Spring the men and the boys over 14 years old had been called to the police stations in the province on different mornings stretching over a period of several weeks, and had been sent off in groups of from 1,000 to 2,000 each, tied together with ropes, and that nothing had ever been heard of them thereafter. Their fate has been recorded by more than one eyewitness, so it is needless to dwell thereon here.3

3. US NATIONAL ARCHIVES, record group 59,867.4016/373

Page 20-24

... Ambassador Morgenthau in Constantinople, as well as correspondence sent directly to the Secretary of State in Washington, D.C. From these materials Jackson drafted his report. Typical of the entries is the following account given by a deportee from Kharpert.

On the 52nd day they arrived at another village, here the Kurds took from them everything that they had, even their shirts and drawers and for five days the whole caravan walked all naked under the scorching sun. For another five days they did not have a morsel of bread, neither a drop of water. They were scorched to death by thirst. Hundreds over hundreds fell dead on the way, their tongues were turned to charcoal and when at the end of the fifth day they reached a fountain, the whole caravan, naturally, rushed on it, but the policemen stood in front of them and forbade them to take even a drop of water, for they wanted to sell the water, from one to three liras the cup, and sometimes not giving the water, after getting the money. At another place where there were some wells, some women threw themselves into it, as there was no rope and pail to draw water but these were drowned and in spite of that the rest of the people drank from that well, the dead bodies still staying and stinking in it. Sometimes, in other shallow wells, when the women could enter and come out, the other people would rush and lick and such [sic] the wet dirty clothes, to quench their thirst.9 This source said that by the seventieth day, only 35 women and children remained from the original group of 3,000 exiles from Kharpert, and only 150 women and children survived from the entire caravan that arrived at Aleppo.

Rev. F.H. Leslie, an American missionary in Urfa, also corresponded vith Jackson:

For six weeks we have witnessed the most terrible cruelties inflicted upon the thousands of Christian exiles who have been daily passing through our city from the northern cities. All tell the same story and bear the same scars: their men were all killed on the first days march from their cities, after which the women and girls were constantly robbed of their money, bedding, clothing and beaten, criminally abused and abducted along the way. Their guards forced them to pay even for drinking from the springs along the way and were their worst abusers but also allowed the baser element in every village through which they passed to abduct the girls and women and abuse them. We not only were told these things but the same things occurred right here in our own city before our very eyes and openly on the streets.10

Rev. Leslie closes his letter with a plea for money to help him care for the deportees.

From Kharpert, Consul Leslie A. Davis wrote to Ambassador Morgenthau in Constantinople describing conditions he observed in the camps of Armenians deported from Erzerum and Erzinjan:

A more pitiable sight cannot be imagined. They are almost without exception ragged, filthy, hungry and sick. That is not surprising in view of the fact that they have been on the road for nearly two months with no change of clothing, no chance to wash, no shelter and little to eat....

As one walks through the camp mothers offer their children and beg one to take them. In fact, the Turks have been taking their choice of these children and girls for slaves, or worse. In fact, they have even had their doctors there to examine the most likely girls and thus secure the best ones.

There are very few men among them, as most of them have been killed on the road. All tell the same story of having been attacked and robbed by the Kurds. Most of them were attacked over and over again and a great many of them, especially the men, were killed....

The system that is being followed seems to be to have bands of Kurds awaiting them on the road to kill the men especially and incidentally some of the others. The entire movement seems to be the most thoroughly organized and effective massacre this country has ever seen.11

Davis also described specific events, such as this massacre on July 7, 1915, for which there were eyewitness accounts.

On Monday many men were arrested both at Harput and Mezreh and put in prison. At daybreak Tuesday morning they were taken out and made to march towards an almost uninhabited mountain. There were about eight hundred in all and they were tied together in groups of fourteen each. That afternoon they arrived in a small Kurdish village where they were kept overnight in the mosque and other buildings. During all this time they were without food or water. All their money and much of their clothing had been taken from them. On Wednesday morning they were taken to a valley a few hours' distance where they were all made to sit down. Then the gendarmes began shooting them until they had killed nearly all of them. Some who had not been killed by bullets were then disposed of with knives and bayonets.

The State Department files also contain correspondence from other consuls, such as Oscar S. Heizer in Trebizond, Edward I. Nathan in Mesina, and others, and their accounts are similar to those we have quoted.


Shortly after reports of the spring 1915 deportations began to appear in the Western press, Viscount James Bryce, a member of the British Parliament and former ambassador to the United States, secured the services of a young historian, Arnold Toynbee, to collect and organize eyewitness accounts by missionaries, doctors and nurses, travelers, and Armenian survivors themselves.13 Toynbee organized 149 separate statements by region so that it was possible to compare accounts from one city or village with another.14

One of the accounts was written by Rev. Haroutioun Essayan, the Vicar of the Apostolic Church at Aleppo, and was smuggled out in the sole of a shoe by a refugee who gave it to the Armenian Apostolic Bishop of Cairo, who then had the handwriting authenticated. In his letter, Father Essayan describes a group of ten thousand deported women and children that he had observed:

They had been on the road for from three to five months; they have been plundered several times over, and have marched along naked and starving; the Government gave them on one single occasion a morsel of bread--a few had it twice. It is said that the number of these deported widows will reach 60,000; they are so exhausted that they cannot stand upright; the majority have great sores on their feet, through having to march barefoot.15

In this group, Father Essayan saw no men or boys over eleven years old, the latter having all been slaughtered on the way. His letter also states, "one does not see a single pretty face among the survivors," implying that all such women had been abducted. In addition, Father Essayan said that one thousand Armenians were deported from one city, and only four hundred arrived in Aleppo. Of these survivors, he estimated that 60 percent were sick, and all were suffering from serious malnutrition.

Lest one assume that Father Essayan's report is biased because it was written by an Armenian, we can also cite similar evidence from a German missionary's account. Because Germany and Turkey were allies during the war, this document was particularly incriminating, and the German censor immediately moved to confiscate the publication:

Between the 10th and the 30th May [1915], 1,200 of the most prominent Armenians and other Christians, without distinction of confession, were arrested in the Vilayets of Diyarbekir and Mamouret-ul-Aziz [Kharpert]... On the 30th May, 674 of them were embarked on thirteen Tigris barges, under the pretext that they were to be taken to Mosul. The Vali's aide-de-camp, assisted by fifty gendarmes, was in charge of the convoy. Half the gendarmes started off on the barges, while the other half rode along the bank. A short time after the start the prisoners were stripped of all their money (about L6,000 Turkish) and then of their clothes; after that they were thrown into the river. The gendarmes on the bank were ordered to let none of them escape.16

Continuing his account, the author describes other atrocities he had observed or heard of:

For a whole month corpses were observed floating down the River Euphrates nearly every day, often in batches of from two to six corpses bound together. The male corpses are in many cases hideously mutilated (sexual organs cut off, and so on), the female corpses are ripped open.... The corpses stranded on the bank are devoured by dogs and vultures. To this fact there are many German eyewitnesses. An employee of the Baghdad Railway has brought the information that the prisons of Biredjik are filled regularly every day and emptied every night--into the Euphrates. Between Diyarbekir and Ourfa a German cavalry captain saw innumerable corpses lying unburied all along the road.17

In addition to reporting incidents of mass slaughter, this statement also gives examples of individual suffering. For example, a woman who gave birth to twins while being deported was allowed no time for recovery and was forced to start walking the next day. In despair, she placed the newborns under a bush and collapsed herself a short time later.18

Among the 149 documents contained in the Bryce/Toynbee volume, it is possible to find, almost at random, equally graphic passages detailing the deportations. Two final examples will suffice, both describing events in the city of Moush:

The leading Armenians of the town and the headmen of the villages were subjected to revolting tortures. Their finger nails and then their toenails were forcibly extracted; their teeth were knocked out, and in some cases their noses were whittled down. . . . The female relatives of the victims who came to the rescue were outraged in public before the very eyes of their mutilated husbands and brothers....19

The shortest method for disposing of the women and children concentrated in the various camps was to burn them. Fire was set to large wooden sheds in Alidjan, Megrakom, Khaskegh, and other Armenian villages, and these absolutely helpless women and children were roasted to death.20

The above account, offered by an Armenian, is substantiated by Alma Johannsen, a German missionary eyewitness to events in Moush: " When there was no one left in Bitlis to massacre, their attention was diverted to Moush. Cruelties had already been committed, but so far not too publicly; now, however, they started to shoot people down without any cause, and to beat them to death simply for the pleasure of doing so."21

She then describes how Moush was burned:

We all had to take refuge in the cellar for fear of our orphanage catching fire. It was heartrending to hear the cries of the people and children who were being burned to death in their houses. The soldiers took great delight in hearing them, and when people who were out in the street during the bombardment fell dead, the soldiers merely laughed at them....

I went to the Mutessarif and begged him to have mercy on the children at least, but in vain. He replied that the Armenian children must perish with their nation. All our people were taken from our hospital and orphanage; they left us three female servants. Under these atrocious circumstance Moush was burned to the ground.22

This German missionary left Moush for Kharpert, where, she reported conditions were no better: "In Harpout and Mezre the people have had to endure terrible tortures. They have had their eyebrows plucked out, their breasts cut off, their nails torn off; their torturers hew off their feet or else hammer nails into them just as they do in shoeing horses."23

These selected accounts are representative of the statements contained in the Bryce/Toynbee volume presented to the British Parliament. Because they are arranged by city, it is possible to corroborate statements by witnesses who did not know one another and could not have collaborated in concocting a story. This volume is extremely important not only because it provides detailed information but also because it was published within months of the time eyewitnesses wrote their accounts. Additionally, the report concludes with a summary of the genocide written by Arnold Toynbee, which continues to be a valuable overview of the events that occured in 1915 and 1916.

Page 88

Whether the gendarmes were responding directly to government orders to annihalate the Armenians or were commiting atrocities of their own accord, our interviews provide substantial documentation of actions that resulted in the deaths of thousands of deportees. The lowest level of involvment was complicity between gendarmes and local Kurds, Turks, and soldiers. For example, a survivor from Konia stated:

The soldiers would come and give us a bad time. Others from the hills and mountains would come and snatch girls and baggage, or whatever they could. You scream, "Gendarme, Gendarme," but there was no help, because they [the soldiers and abductors] were all together in this. I saw all of this myself. I saw them snatch girls or goods right from the horses or wagons, dragging them by force. I can still picture the whole thing right now. They would kidnap more of the older girls. They had brought some deportees on the cliff. They would tie them, shoot them, and throw them in the river. There were gendarmes among them, civilians and soldiers. Sometimes it would be the turn of a pregnant woman. They would look at each other and say, "boy or girl," and pierce her belly with the sword. Violence was also perpetrated in the very act of herding the caravans. Several survivors indicated that anyone who lagged behind the caravan was shot. For example, a survivor from Mezre recalled how the donkey on which her mother was riding kept dropping behind the rest of the caravan. This little girl repeatedly urged her mother to leave the donkey behind, but she refused because all their money was sewn into the bedding that was loaded on the donkey. The girl left her mother to catch up with her brother and the rest of the caravan. A short time later she heard a shot and then saw her mother's donkey, without its rider, being led behind the horse of a gendarme.

... A survivor from Aintab recalled his father's being struck by gendarmes after he had grown very weak: "The next morning, very early, the gendarmes got up the deportees to continue. They came and said, "Get up," and he wouldn't. So they beat him up so very badly. They beat him with their whips until his body was bleeding, and he fell down as though he were dead. Thinking that he was dead, the gendarmes left. I saw this with my own eyes."

There is also indication that gendarmes engaged in extortion from members of the caravans they were deporting. For example, a survivor from Gurin recalled this scene: "On the way, a few gendarmes-a few of them were taking us-wanted money. They spread a sheet on the ground, and the women, one by one, threw down what they had. They filled a whole bag." From the testimony that we heard, it appears that such greed was often mixed inseperably with violence.

Page 91

For example, Talaat does not challenge the fact that deportations occurred. However, he blames the victims for their own deaths, a theme that recurs in most justifications by perpetrators of genocide. He states that the Armenians collaborated with the Russians on the Caucasian front. In response, the government took the following actions:

The Porte, acting under the same obligation, and wishing to secure the safety of its army and its citizens, took energetic measures to check these uprisings. The deportation of the Armenians was one of these preventive measures.

I admit also that the deportation was not carried out lawfully everywhere. In some places unlawful acts were committed. The already existing hatred among the Armenians and Mohammedans, intensified by the barbarous activities of the former, had created many tragic consequences. Some of the officials abused their authority, and in many places people took preventive measures into their own hands and innocent people were molested. I confess it. I confess, also, that the duty of the Government was to prevent these abuses and atrocities, or at least to hunt down and punish their perpetrators severely. In many places, where the property and goods of the deported people were looted, and the Armenians molested, we did arrest those who were responsible and punished them according to the law. I confess, however, that we ought to have acted more sternly, opened up a general investigation for the purpose of finding out all the promoters and looters and punished them severely.4

Talaat divided the "looters" into two categories: those who pillaged out of personal hatred and for individual profit, and those who sincerely believed that they were serving the common good by punishing the Armenians for their allegedly traitorous acts. Regarding this latter group, Talaat states: "The Turkish elements here referred to were shortsighted, fanatical, and yet sincere in their belief. The public encouraged them, and they had the gcneral approval behind them. They were numerous and strong."5

Talaat offers the following justification for his government's unwillingness to punish these individuals: "Their open and immediate punishment would have aroused great discontent among the people, who favored their acts. An endeavor to arrest and to punish all these promoters would have created anarchy in Anatolia at a time when we greatly needed unity. It would have been dangerous to divide the nation into two camps, when we needed strength to fight outside enemies."6

What is noteworthy in Talaat's reflections is that he does not deny the deportations, nor does he deny that crimes were committed against the Armenians. But he distances himself from the abuses by blaming the Armenians for the necessity of deporting them, implying that any atrocities that occurred in the process of deportation were carried out by fanatical local Turks who were pursuing a personal vendetta, and he excuses himself from punishing these Turks because it would have been policically divisive.

Yet Talaat's remarks do not answer several significant questions: (1) why it was necessary to deport Armenians who were far from the Russian front; (2) why women and children had to be deported; (3) why the government armed the Special Organization and encouraged them to attack Armenian caravans; and (4) why events were orchestrated to make Armenian resistance practically impossible. (As discussed previously, some of the preliminary actions included disarming Armenians serving in the Turkish army, arresting Armenian political and religious leaders, seizing all weapons at a local level, creating hysteria among the local Turkish population toward the "traitorous" Armenians, and removing valis [regional officials] who refused to carry out abuses against the Armenians.) In Talaat's version of the events, the government did what was required, but the local Turkish population got out of hand.

4 Talaat Pasha, "Posthumous Memoirs of Talaat Pasha" Current History 15, no. 1 (October 1921): 295.

5 Ibid., 295

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