Armenian Genocide Article | Massacre by Decree

THE NEW REPUBLIC
Massacre by Decree


THE NEW REPUBLIC MAGAZINE [January 27, 1917]

HALF a million Armenians were killed by order of the Ottoman government within the year 1915-16. Most of the men were massacred. Most of the women started to death; though some were herded into wooden sheds and burned, and others were sold at auction. Hundreds of children were tied together and drowned. The remainder of the Armenians under Turkish rule -- another half million -- are dying in the fever marshes and deserts to which they have been deported.

These charges are made by Viscount Bryce in his report on "The Treatment of Armenians in 1915-16." They are too sweeping to be accepted without considering the basic evidence. Obviously one can not take, per se, the testimony of a native who is inflamed by hatred of his hereditary oppressors, and prone to calor his narrative with eastern exaggeration. Nor should too much weight be attached to the report of a woman missionary perhaps influenced by religious prejudice, and made half hysterical by the stress of terrible circumstances. Skepticism must even tinge one's attitude toward witnesses of the Allied nations.

Much of the evidence in Lord Bryce's report falls into these groups. Equally much, however, can not so easily be is counted. A heavy balance of testimony comes from doctors, nurses, consuls, foreign residents of proved neutrality, and, most significantly of all. from German eye-witnesses. It should be noted that there are cases corroborated by people who could not possibly have communicated with each other, and who yet tell the same story of certain events. The reports which one would most prefer to disbelieve are usually fortified by just such evidence. For that matter there have been few or no attempts at denial, although, as in the case of Belgium, attempts have been made to invent extenuating circumstances. But it is hard to explain away the killing of 600,000 civilians, by massacre, starvation, and torture, as incidental to protection against sniping, or as incidental casualties in a country at war. This explanation becomes especially difficult in the face of the fact that here there was no war. It was simply an organized extermination.

With really remarkable system -- all the administrative genius of Turkey seems concentrated in its police department -- the plan was carried out. It the eastern vilayets the whole Armenian population was put to the sword. In the northern part they were deported and then massacred on the road. In Cilicia they were deported and murdered by the indirect but equally certain means of starvation.

The procedure most generally followed was to take the men outside of the village and shoot them. the rest of the inhabitants were then escorted away by a guard of gendarmes to exile somewhere in the south. These convoys dwindled very quickly. The infirm and aged were bayoneted, and Kurds and Brigands made frequent attacks; attacks which were never prevented by the gendarmes. The women and girls often killed themselves rather than be violated, and mothers drowned their babies in preference to seeing them starve. In these ways the number of exiles soon decreased. Some details of their experiences are found in "A Memorandum of a Convoy" by a foreign resident:

On the fifty-second day they arrived at another village, and here the Kurds took from them everything they had, even their shirts and drawers, so that for five days the whole convoy marched completely naked under the scorching sun. For several days they did not have a morsel of bread, nor even a drop of water. They were scorched to death by thirst. Hundreds upon hundreds fell dead on the way, their tongues turned to charcoal. . . . On the sixtieth day the gendarmes gathered together all the men and the sick women and children and burned and killed them all. The remainder were ordered to continue on their way. . . . On the seventieth day, when they reached Aleppo, 35 women and children were left out of the 3,000 exiles from H. and 150 women and children altogether out of the whole convoy of 18,000.

From the zone where straight massacre was in favor a German eye-witness sends a report. He was in the city of Moush, and Moush was being efficiently destroyed by bombardment.

We all had to take refuge in the cellar for dear of our orphanage catching fire. It was heartrending to hear the cries of the people and children who were being burned to death on their houses. But the soldiers merely laughed at them.

The survivors were sent to Ourfa (there were none left but sick women and children); 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. Under these atrocities circumstances Moush was burned to the ground. Every officer boasted of the number he had personally massacred as his share in ridding Turkey of the Armenian race.

We left for Harpout. Harpout has become the cemetery of the Armenians; from all directions they have been brought to Harpout to be buried. There they lie, and the dogs and vultures devour their bodies. 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. this is all done at night time, and in order that the screams and agony may not be heard soldiers are stationed round the prison, beating drums and blowing whistles.

In Mezre a public brothel was erected for the Turks, and all the beautiful Armenian girls and women were placed there. At night the Turks were allowed free entrance.

The people begged us to leave for Constantinople to obtain some security for them. On our way there we encountered only old women; no young women or girls were to be seen. . . . In a few villages destitute women come begging, naked and sick, for alms and protection. We are not allowed to give them anything, we are not allowed to take them in -- in fact, we are forbidden to do anything for them, and they die outside. If only permission could be obtained from the authorities to help them!

The work of extermination seems to have been simplified by the nearness of any body of water. In Trebizond children were placed by hundreds on board ship and then capsized into the Black Sea; and every day the river Yel-Deyirmeni brought down to the sea a number of corpses, mutilated and absolutely naked, the women with their breasts cut off. The Euphrates was of especial service to the Ottoman Government, as witness a report published in a German missionary journal (promptly confiscated by the German censor). Among other things this report conveys the information that for a whole month corpses were seen floating down the river. Certain prisons were filled every day, and emits every night into the Euphrates.

Only one way remains of possibly protecting one's peace of mind from Lord Bryce's report, of rendering it a sad but negligible document; and that is by sanctioning "military necessity." The Ottoman government, reinforced by German apologists who could not deny the evidence corroborated by their own countrymen, took this one way. They explained that no measures were taken until after the spring of 1915. At this time, it was asserted, the Armenians near the Russian border revolted, and some joined the Russian army. "In the face of his," argues a German writer, "it was the Ottoman government's duty to uphold public law and order. In wartime, measures of this kind assume especially weighty character."

Unfortunately Bryce does not leave the premise on which to hang these comforting conclusions. With proof and counter-proof, reference and cross-reference, he shows that the Armenian persecutions began long before the spring of 1915.

The Turkish campaign of 1914 was a failure. The dream of swift territorial expansion vanished. As the next best thing the Young Turks of the government decided to "Ottomanize" Armenia, while Europe was disarmament. Already in February, 1915, the search for weapons began. Sporadic massacres and outrages accompanied this inquisition for arms, especially in the vilayet of Van, near the Russian border. In the city of Van the alarmed Armenians refused to disarm and attempted a defense against the Turkish troops. This was the only shred of an excuse which the government had for considering the people "in revolt." It was admitted that the revolt was confined to the Armenians living near the Russian border, but the authorities at Constantinople declared that, in the present crisis, they could not be bothered with searching out among the large number of Armenians within the Turkish empire the comparatively few guilty ones and punishing them alone. Tallat Bey and Enver Pasha wept their regrets, but, "Alas," the former said, "Those who are innocent to-day may be guilty to-morrow", and, to protect Armenian innocence, one must supposed, they ordered the entire Armenian population systematically massacred of exiled.

How thoroughly the decree was carried out a certain traveler bears witness. He records what he saw on the shores of Lake Van:

Several search parties had already buries the dead and cleared the ground; nevertheless; here and there I saw remains of human bodies, of men and women, under piles of stones of scattered about the roadside. I discovered decomposing and horribly disfigured bodies of children; and on the shores of the lake and the banks of streams were skeletons, pieces of clothing, bones of human beings and animals lying all around. The stench of putrefaction was simply sickening. The country from Igdir to Van had indeed been a slaughterhouse a few months before. Entire villages had been completely wiped out. Except for some casual travelers, not a single soul was to be seen -- there were but vultures and howling dogs who fed upon the putrefied human remains.

Sinister reports have come that Berlin abetted Constantinople. One would rather not believe this; hoping instead that those were isolated cases where German officers were found in command of Turkish troops, and receiving a share in the booty of women and reassure. One would also prefer to discredit the well founded statement that the governments of the Teutonic Allies did not so much as protest against the massacres. Humanity refuses to think that a civilized nation was even fractionally responsible for such desolation as that on the shores of Lake Van.

S. K. T.


For a hard copy of this article or hundreds of others from the time of the Armenian Genocide, get a copy of The Armenian Genocide - News Accounts from the American Press: 1915-1922
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