The Armenian Tragedy -nyt191702

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The Armenian Tragedy

(Published by New York Times Company, Times Square, New York)


By Edmund Candler [Written at Bagdad in April. 1917]

ONE of the best things that are being done in Bagdad is the salvage of Armenian women and children who have survived the massacres and who are now living in Mussulman families. These are being gathered into homes financed by the British Government, and their own community is looking after them.

I visited one of these institutions yesterday. The inmates were all young, many of marriageable age, and there were a great number of children under 6 who have already forgotten their language and their faith.

The bald statement of what they have suffered and seen is a damning and answerable arrangement against the Turkish Government. The first girl I saw was a child of 10 from a village near Erzerum. She and her family had started on donkeys with a few of their belongings, but in three days the Kurds had left them nothing, and they had to walk. The Turks had issued a proclamation in all the villages that the Armenians were to be sent away to a colony that was being prepared for them, and that their property was to be kept under the care of the Government during the war and then restored. This was more than a year ago. The gendarmes were very pleasant to them in their homes, and told them that they were to be given new land to cultivate, and that their journey would not be long. The first assurance, as they guessed, was visionary. In the second the gendarmes did not lie.

For many of them it was all over on the third day. Two or three hundred of the men were separated from the women and killed at a distance, shot or cut down with the sword. After that the same thing happened nearly every day. The guards were very haphazard; there was no system. Some of the women were pushed into the river, others thrust over precipices. Twelve hundred left the two villages near Erzerum; 400 only reached Ras-el-Ain. The survivors were all women and children; there was not a man among them, or a child over the age of 9.

I met a refugee from the Kara-Hissar district who, with six companions, had been saved by some Armenian women he found established in a Bedouin camp. Eight hundred families in all had left Kara-Hissar. Half of these were capsized and drowned on Arabs boats on the Euphrates. The survivors, when they reached Deir-ez-Zor, were placed in an interment camp. While here they approached the Mutesarrif, hoping to purchase their release. They offered him 3,000 liras. It was not enough. They made a second collection; every piastre they could raise was thrown into the pool. This time the sum was nearly 5,000 liras, and the Mutesarrif accepted the bribe on condition that they should sign a paper, "We, the Armenians of---, give this sum willingly to the Turkish Army." But it did not save them. The hated gendarmes accompanied them on the march began. Sticks and stones and knives and daggers were employed, and a few merciful bullets. But, as always happens, the assassins tired of their work; even the physical part of it was exhausting, and the last act was postponed from day to day. In the end a tired gendarme gave them the hint to of. The night was dark, and the guard more careless than usual, and the last remnants of the party, fifty-five in all made their escape.

Another man I heard of was the sole survivor of a group of refugees who disappeared between Ras-el-Ain and Nisbin. They were taken into the desert and formed in line, as in a Chinese execution, to be dispatched with the sword. There was no shortage of ammunition, I was told, but the sword was employed for reasons of economy. While waiting for his turn, it occurred to the Armenian that a bullet would be an easier death. So he broke from the line. In the confusion the gendarmes missed him. It was almost dusk; he hid in the brushwood; by a miracle he escaped, and found his way to Bagdad.

The main features of the massacres are much the same. The emigrants, if they are not killed on the road, are taken to some depot, where they are kept a few days. Here they find a large camp of two of three thousand or more. Soon notice comes from Constantinople that the refugees of a certain district have been allotted land for cultivation, and they are told they must start on their journey again. This, they know, is probably the death sentence, but they nourish a thin hope. For the first half day they are generally safe, as murder on a large scale is deprecated near a town. Nobody, for instance, saw any one killed in Trebizond; but left the city their bodies came floating down the river. The desert is a non-conductor. What is done there leaves only vague rumor.

The refugees, though unarmed, sometimes turn on their guard. More than once the assassins have paid dearly. There is a woman in Bagdad who was one of a band of 200 or 300 Armenian women from the hills who held a pass near Urfa. Their men had been treacherously killed off earlier, and they knew that obedience to the proclamation of exile was as fatal as resistance. They held the pass with their rifles nearly a week, and the Turks had to bring up artillery. Some fifty of them escaped. The woman who is now in Bagdad was rescued by a Turk of the better school, who respected her honor and on the journey treated her as his own daughter, though he failed to convert her to Islam.

Few Armenian women were so fortunate. Many were killed with as little scruple as the men. Planers or good looks were fatal in different ways. The old and ugly died by violence or were starved; the young were taken into the families of the Turks. A traveler now in Bagdad was given a letter by an official at Ras-el-Ain to deliver to the gendarme in charge on the road. "Choose a pretty one for me," he wrote, "and leave her in the village outside the town."

At Aleppo and Ras-el-Ain German officers stalked sode by side with these specters of famine and murder and death, and not a finger was raised or a word said.

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