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Testimony about the Armenian Genocide, Armenian Holocaust, the Medz Yeghen Eyewitnesses to Turkish Atrocities and Genocide

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Testimony about the Armenian Genocide, Armenian Holocaust, the Medz Yeghen

by Eyewitnesses to Turkish Atrocities and Genocide

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5. THE TOWN OF H.

Statement made by Miss DA., a Danish Lady in the Service of the German Red Cross at H., to Mr. DB. at Basle, and communicated by Mr. DB. to Lord Bryce.

Sister DA. left the German Red Cross Mission at H. in April, 1916, travelling through Ourfa to Aleppo, and thence by road and railway across Anatolia to Constantinople. Mr. DB. met her at Basle, on her way from Constantinople to Denmark, in the house of a mutual friend.

Sister DA. told Mr. DB. that on the 16th March, 1915, the German Vice-Consul appointed provisionally to Erzeroum (the Consul himself being interned in Russia) was passing through the town of H., accompanied by two German officers, and arranged to dine that evening with the German Red Cross Staff, after paying his respects to the Vali. At the hour fixed, only the two officers appeared. They said that they had called, with the Vice-Consul, upon the Vali, but after a time the Vali had shewn signs of being irked by their presence, and so they had taken their departure, leaving the Vali and the Vice-Consul together. The company waited for the Vice-Consul about two hours. He arrived about [45]9.30 p.m., in a state of great agitation, and told them at once the purport of his interview. The Vali had declared to him that the Armenians in Turkey must be, and were going to be, exterminated. They had grown, he said, in wealth and numbers until they had become a menace to the ruling Turkish race; extermination was the only remedy. The Vice-Consul had expostulated, and represented that persecution always increased the spiritual vitality of a subject race, and on grounds of expediency was the worst policy for the rulers. “Well, we shall see,” said the Vali, and closed the conversation.

This incident occurred on the 16th March, 1915, and Mr. DB. points out that it must have been practically simultaneous with an interview given by Enver Pasha at Constantinople to the Gregorian Bishop of Konia in the course of February, 1915, Old Style. In this interview the Bishop had asked Enver whether he were satisfied with the conduct of the Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman Army, and Enver had testified warmly to their energy, courage and loyalty—so warmly, in fact, that the Bishop at once asked whether he might publish this testimonial over Enver’s name. Enver readily consented, and the Gregorian Patriarchate at Constantinople accordingly circulated an authorised account of the interview to the Armenian, and even to the Turkish, press.12 Thus, in the latter part of February, 1915, the Central Government at Constantinople was advertising its friendly feelings towards its Armenian subjects, while by the 16th March, less than a month later, it had given its representative in a remote province to understand [46]that a general massacre of these same Armenians was imminent.

To return to Sister DA.’s narrative—she told Mr. DB. that between February and the beginning of May, 1915, about 400 Armenians had been arrested and imprisoned at H. They were the young men, the strong in body and the intellectuals. Most of their kind had been taken for the Army in the mobilisation of the previous autumn, but these 400 had been left, and were now thrown into prison instead of being conscribed.

At the beginning of May, the Vali of H. sent for the head of the German Protestant Mission Station in the town, and requested him to tell the Armenians that they must surrender their arms. Otherwise, he said, the most stringent measures would be taken against them. The missionaries must persuade them to deliver up the arms quickly. The head of the Mission Station called a meeting of Armenian notables, and put to them what the Vali had said. The Armenians decided to consult with their Turkish fellow-townsmen, and so a mixed meeting was held of all the Turkish and Armenian notables of H. At this meeting the Turkish notables urged the Armenians to give up their arms, and promised that, if they did so, they themselves would guarantee their security, and would see that they suffered nothing at the Government’s hands.

This promise induced the Armenians to comply. They collected their arms and presented them to the Vali, but the Vali declared that all had not been brought. The newest and most dangerous weapons, he said, had been in the hands of the 400 prisoners. These must be surrendered also, or the penalties he had threatened would still be inflicted on the whole Armenian community at H. So the notables went to the men in prison, and besought them to reveal where their arms were hidden; [47]all the Gregorian priests went, and the head of the German Mission Station went with them. The 400 were obstinate at first, but it was represented to them that, if they refused, they would be responsible for the destruction of the whole community, and at last they gave in. They revealed the hiding-places, and the arms were duly found and delivered up to the Vali.

The Vali immediately had photographs taken of all the arms collected, and sent them to Constantinople as evidence that an Armenian revolution was on the point of breaking out at H. He asked for a free hand to suppress it, and an order came back from Constantinople that he was to take whatever measures he considered necessary on the spot.

After that, the 400 young men were conveyed out of the town by night and never heard of again. Shots were said to have been heard in the distance.

Three days later, the rest of the Armenian community at H. was summoned by bugle to assemble before the Government Building, and then deported. The men were first sent off in one direction, and later the women and children, on ox-carts, in another. They were only given a few hours to make their preparations, and Sister DA. described their consternation as being terrible. They tried to dispose of their property, which the Turks bought up for practically nothing. Sewing-machines, for instance, sold for two or three piastres (4d. to 6d.). The process of deportation was extended to the whole Vilayet.

The Armenian children in the German Orphanage at H. were sent away with the rest. “My orders,” said the Vali, “are to deport all Armenians. I cannot make an exception of these.” He announced, however, that a Government Orphanage was to be established for any [48]children that remained, and shortly afterwards he called on Sister DA. and asked her to come and visit it. Sister DA. went with him, and found about 700 Armenian children in a good building. For every twelve or fifteen children there was one Armenian nurse, and they were well clothed and fed. “See what care the Government is taking of the Armenians,” the Vali said, and she returned home surprised and pleased; but when she visited the Orphanage again several days later, there were only thirteen of the 700 children left—the rest had disappeared. They had been taken, she learnt, to a lake six hours’ journey by road from the town and drowned. Three hundred fresh children were subsequently collected at the “Orphanage,” and Sister DA. believed that they suffered the same fate as their predecessors. These victims were the residue of the Armenian children at H. The finest boys and prettiest girls had been picked out and carried off by the Turks and Kurds of the district, and it was the remainder, who had been left on the Government’s hands, that were disposed of in this way.

As soon as the Armenians had been deported from H., convoys of other exiles began to pass through from the districts further north. Sister DA. did not see these convoys, because they made a detour round the town, and she never left the town precincts; but she talked with many people who did see them, and they gave a terrible description of their plight. The roads near the town, they said, were littered with the corpses of those who had died of sickness or exhaustion, or from the violence of their guards. And these accounts were confirmed by her own experiences last April (1916), on her journey to Aleppo. On the road to Aleppo from Ourfa she passed numbers of corpses lightly buried under a layer of soil. The extremities of the limbs were protruding, [49]and had been gnawed by dogs. She was told by people she met that unheard-of atrocities had been committed, and that there were cases of women who had drowned themselves to escape their tormentors.

It was Sister DA.’s impression that the deportation and massacre of the Armenians had ruined Turkey economically. The Armenians had been the only skilled workers in the country, and industry came to a stand-still when they were gone. You could not replace copper vessels for your household; you could not get your roof re-tiled. The Government had actually retained a few Armenian artisans—bakers, masons, etc.—to work for the Army, and whatever work was still done was done by these and a few others who had gone over to Islam. But though the sources of production were cut off, the Turks had not begun to feel the pinch. Having laid hands on the property of the Armenians, they were richer, for the moment, than before. During the past year bread had been plentiful and cheap, cattle and meat had been abundant, and there were still enough supplies, she thought, to last for some time yet. Under these circumstances, the Turkish peasantry were well content—except for the women, who resented the absence of their husbands at the war. The dearth of men, Sister DA. said, was everywhere noticeable. She had been told, however, that some Kurdish tribes had refused to furnish recruits, and that the Kizil Bashis of the Dersim had furnished none at all. The Government had been preparing an expedition against the Kizil Bashis to extort a toll of conscripts, but the plan had been thwarted by the Russian advance. In the Turkish villages agricultural work was being largely carried on by the Armenian women and children, who had been handed over to the Moslem peasants by the authorities. Sister DA. saw quantities of them everywhere, practically [50]in the condition of slaves. They were never allowed to rest in peace, but were constantly chivied about from one village to another.

As she came down to Aleppo she found the country under good cultivation. Great stores of bread had been accumulated for the army in Mesopotamia. In Anatolia, on the other hand, the fields were neglected, and she thought that there famine was not far off. But it was not till she reached Constantinople that she found any present scarcity. In the provinces only sugar and petrol had been scarce; at Constantinople all commodities were both scarce and dear.

Sister DA. was told at Constantinople that Turks of all parties were united in their approval of what was being done to the Armenians, and that Enver Pasha openly boasted of it as his personal achievement. Talaat Bey, too, was reported to have remarked, on receiving the news of Vartkes’13 assassination: “There is no room in the Empire for both Armenians and Turks. Either they had to go or we.” [51]

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