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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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D. ALEPPO.

[Contents]

12. “A word to the accredited representatives of the German people,” by Dr. Martin Niepage, Higher Grade Teacher at the German Technical School at Aleppo, at present at Wernigerode.

On my return in September, 1915, from Beirut to Aleppo, after a three months’ holiday, I heard, to my horror, that a new period of Armenian massacres had been initiated. I was told that they were far more terrible than those under Abdul Hamid; and that their object was to exterminate, root and branch, the intelligent, prosperous and progressive nation of the Armenians and to transfer their property to Turkish hands.

At first I was unable to believe such a monstrous report. I was told that in various quarters of Aleppo there were masses of half-famished human beings, the survivors of so-called “deportation-convoys,” and that in order to cover the extermination of the Armenian people with a political cloak, military reasons had been put forward, which were alleged to necessitate the expulsion of the Armenians from the homes they had occupied for over 2,500 years, and their deportation into the Arabian Desert. It was also said that individual Armenians had lent themselves to acts of espionage. [94]

After having investigated the facts and made enquiries on all sides, I came to the conclusion that the accusations against the Armenians related in all cases to trifling matters, which were taken as a pretext to slay ten thousand innocent persons for one who was guilty, to commit the most savage outrages against women and children, and to carry on a war of starvation against the deported persons with the object of destroying the whole nation.

In order to test the judgment which I had formed from the information I had obtained, I visited every place in the town in which there were any Armenians who had formed part of one of the convoys and had been left behind. I found in dilapidated caravansaries (hans) heaps of dead bodies, many of which were in an advanced state of decomposition, with living persons interspersed among them who were all near to the agony of death. In other yards I found heaps of sick and famished persons who were absolutely uncared for. Near the German Technical School, of which I am one of the higher grade teachers, there were four hans of this class with 700–800 deported persons who were starving. We, the teachers at the school, and our pupils had to pass them every day. Through the open windows we saw, each time we went out, the emaciated forms, covered with rags, of these miserable beings. Our school children had every morning almost to touch the two-wheeled carts drawn by oxen which they had to pass in the narrow streets, and in which every day 8–10 rigid corpses were carted away without coffins and without covering of any sort, the arms and legs protruding from the cart.

After having been a witness of these scenes during several days, I thought it my duty to draft the following report— [95]

“As teachers at the German Technical School at Aleppo we take leave humbly to submit the following report:—

“We deem it our duty to call attention to the fact that our educational work will lose its moral foundation and the esteem of the natives, if the German Government is not in a position to prevent the brutality with which the wives and children of slaughtered Armenians are treated in this place. The convoys which, on the departure of the exiles from their homes in Upper Armenia, consisted of 2,000–3,000 persons—men, women and children—arrive here in the south with a remnant of only two or three hundred survivors. The men are killed on the way, the women and children, excepting those of unattractive appearance and those who are quite old or quite young, are first abused by Turkish soldiers and officers, and then brought into Turkish or Kurd villages, where they have to go over to Islam. As regards the remnant of the caravans, every effort is made to reduce them by hunger and thirst. Even when a river is passed, those who are dying of thirst are not permitted to drink. As their only food a small quantity of flour is strewn on their hands as a daily ration; this they greedily lick off, but its only effect is to delay death from starvation for a little while longer.

“Opposite to the German Technical School at Aleppo in which we do our work as teachers, a remnant of some of these convoys is lying in one of the hans; there are about 400 emaciated forms; about 100 boys and girls, from five to seven years old, are among them. Most of them are suffering from typhoid and dysentery. On entering the yard one has the impression of coming into a lunatic asylum. When food is brought to them, one notices that they have lost the habit of eating. The stomach, weakened by months of starvation, has ceased [96]to be able to receive food. Any bread that is given to them is laid aside with an air of indifference. They just lie there quietly, waiting for death.

“How can we teachers read German fairy tales with our pupils, or, indeed, the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible? How can we ask them to decline and conjugate indifferent words, while round about in the neighbouring yards the starving brothers and sisters of our Armenian pupils are succumbing to a lingering death? In these circumstances our educational work flies in the face of all true morality and becomes a mockery of human feeling.

“And those poor creatures who in their thousands have been driven through the town and the neighbouring districts into the desert; nearly all of them are women and children, and what becomes of them? They are driven on from place to place, until the thousands dwindle into hundreds and until the hundreds dwindle into insignificant remnants. And these remnants are again driven on until the last survivors have ceased to live. Then only the final goal of the migration has been reached. Then the wanderers have arrived at ‘the new homes assigned to the Armenians,’ as the newspapers express it.

Ta’alim el aleman’ (‘that is the teaching of the Germans’) says the simple Turk, when asked about the authors of these measures.1 The educated Moslems are convinced that, though the German people may disapprove of such horrors, the German Government is taking no steps to prevent them, out of consideration for its Turkish Allies.

“Mohammedans of more refined feelings, Turks as well as Arabs, shake their heads disapprovingly; they [97]do not even conceal their tears when, in the passage of a convoy of deported Armenians through the town, they see Turkish soldiers inflicting blows with heavy sticks on women in advanced pregnancy or dying persons who cannot drag themselves any further. They cannot imagine that their Government has ordered these cruelties, and ascribe all excesses to the guilt of the Germans, who during the war are held to be the teachers of the Turks in all matters.2 Even the Mollahs declare in the Mosques that it was not the Sublime Porte but the German officers who had ordered the ill-treatment and annihilation of the Armenians.

“The things which in this place have been before everybody’s eyes during many months, must indeed remain a blot on Germany’s shield of honour in the memory of Oriental nations.

“Many educated persons, who do not wish to be obliged to give up their faith in the character of the Germans whom they have hitherto respected, explain the matter to themselves in the following manner: they say, ‘The German nation probably knows nothing of the horrible massacres which are on foot at the present time against the native Christians all over Turkey. How is it possible otherwise, having regard to the veracity of the German nation, that articles should appear in German papers showing complete ignorance of all these events, and only stating that some individual Armenians were deservedly shot by martial law as spies and traitors?’ Others say: ‘Perhaps the hands of the German Government are tied by some convention regulating the limits of its competence, or intervention does not appear opportune at the present moment.’ [98]

It is known to us that the Embassy at Constantinople was informed of all these events by the German Consulates. As, notwithstanding this fact, nothing has been altered in the system of deportation, our conscience compels us to make this report.3

At the time I composed this report, the German Consul at Aleppo was represented by his colleague from Alexandretta, Consul Hoffmann. The latter told me that the Embassy at Constantinople was fully informed of what was happening in the country by repeated reports from the Consulates at Aleppo, Alexandretta and Mosul, but that a report about the things which I had seen with my own eyes would be welcome as a supplement to the existing records, and as filling in the details. He promised to send my report by a sure agency to the Embassy at Constantinople. I thereupon drafted a report in the desired manner, giving a detailed description of the state of things in the han opposite our school. The Consul wished to add some photographs which he himself had taken in the han. They revealed heaps of corpses, between which young children, still alive, were crawling about or relieving nature.

In this revised form the report was signed not only by me, but also by my colleagues, Dr. Graeter (higher grade teacher) and Frau Marie Spiecker. The Director of our Institution, Herr Huber, also added his name and the following words: “The report of my colleague, Dr. Niepage, is not in any way exaggerated. For many weeks we have lived here in an air poisoned with sickness and the stench of corpses. Only the hope for a [99]speedy change of things makes it possible for us to continue our work.”4

The hoped-for change of things did not occur. I then thought of resigning my post as higher grade teacher at the German Technical School, stating as the ground for my decision that it appeared senseless and morally indefensible to give instruction and education as a representative of European culture, and at the same time to have to sit with folded hands while the Government of the country abandoned persons belonging to the same nation as our pupils to an agonizing death by starvation. But those around me, as well as the Director of the Institution, Herr Huber, dissuaded me from this intention. My attention was called to the fact that it would be useful for us to remain in the country as eye-witnesses of the events which were occurring. Perhaps our presence would have the effect of inducing the Turks, out of consideration for us Germans, to behave somewhat more humanely towards their unfortunate victims. I see now that I have far too long remained a silent witness of all these wrongs.

Nothing was improved by our presence, and we ourselves were able to give only very little help. Frau Spiecker, our energetic, brave fellow teacher, purchased some soap, and the lice-covered bodies of the women and children who were still alive in our neighbourhood were washed and freed from vermin (there were no men left). Frau Spiecker engaged some women, who prepared soup for those of the patients who were still able to eat. I myself distributed, every evening for six weeks, among the dying children the contents of two [100]pails filled with tea, cheese and soaked bread. But when the hunger-typhus or spotted-typhus spread into the town from these charnel-houses, we succumbed, together with five of our colleagues, and had to stop our relief work. Moreover, no help given to the exiles who came to Aleppo was of any use. We could only afford those condemned to death a few slight alleviations of their death agony.

What we saw here in Aleppo with our own eyes was, in fact, only the last scene of the great tragedy of the extirpation of the Armenians; only a trifling fraction of the horrors which were being perpetrated simultaneously in the other Turkish provinces. The engineers of the Bagdad railway, on their return from the section under construction, and German travellers, who on their way had met the caravans of the deported, spoke of still more abominable horrors. Many of these men could eat nothing for days; the impression of the loathsome things they had seen was too overpowering.

One of them (Herr Greif, of Aleppo) reported that heaps of corpses of violated women were lying naked on the railway embankment near Abiad and Ras-el-Ain. In the case of many, sticks had been driven into the anus. Another (Herr Spiecker, of Aleppo) saw Turks tie Armenian men together, fire several volleys of small shot with fowling pieces into the human mass, and go off laughing, while their victims slowly perished in frightful convulsions. Other men were sent rolling down steep slopes with their hands tied behind their backs. Below there were women, who slashed those who had rolled down with knives until they were dead. A Protestant minister who two years ago had given a most cordial reception to my colleague, Dr. Graeter, had his finger nails torn out. [101]

The German Consul at Mosul said in my presence in the German Club at Aleppo that he had seen so many children’s hands lying hacked off on his way from Mosul to Aleppo, that one could have paved the road with them.5

In the German Hospital at Ourfa there is also a little girl, both of whose hands have been hacked off. Herr Holstein, the German Consul at Mosul, also saw, in the neighbourhood of an Arab village, shortly before reaching Aleppo, shallow graves with freshly-buried Armenian corpses. The Arab villagers asserted that they had killed these Armenians by order of the Government. One of them said proudly that he personally had killed eight.

In many houses in Aleppo, inhabited by Christians, I found Armenian girls hidden away, whom some accidental circumstances had enabled to escape death; they had either remained behind in a state of exhaustion, having been taken for dead when their convoy was driven on; or some European had found an opportunity to purchase these miserable beings for a few shillings from the Turkish soldier who had last violated them. All these girls are in a state of mental collapse. Many had been compelled to look on while their parents had their throats cut. I know some of these pitiable creatures, who for months were unable to utter a word, and even now cannot be coaxed into a smile. A girl of [102]the age of 14 was received into the home of the depôt-manager of the Bagdad railway at Aleppo, Herr Krause. The child had been raped so many times by Turkish soldiers during one night that she had completely lost her reason. I saw her tossing on her pillow in delirium with hot lips, and I found it difficult to make her drink some water.

A German who is known to me witnessed the following incident in the neighbourhood of Ourfa; hundreds of Christian peasant women were forced by Turkish soldiers to take off all their clothes. For the amusement of the soldiers they had to drag themselves through the desert for days together in a temperature of 40° Centigrade, until their skin was completely burnt. Another person saw a Turk tear a child out of the womb of its Armenian mother, and throw it against the wall.

Other facts, some of them worse than the few instances given here, are recorded in the numerous reports of the German Consuls at Alexandretta, Aleppo and Mosul.6 The Consuls are of opinion that, up to the present date, about a million Armenians have perished by the massacres of the last months. Women and children, who either were killed or died from starvation, probably form one half of this number.

Conscience compels us to call attention to these things. Though the Government, by the annihilation of the Armenian people, only intends to further internal political objects, the execution of the scheme has in many respects the character of a persecution of Christians.

All the tens of thousands of young girls and women, who have been dragged away to Turkish harems, and the masses of children who have been collected by the [103]Government and distributed among Turks and Kurds, are lost to the Christian Churches and are compelled to go over to Islam. The opprobrious name of “Giaour” is again used against the Germans.

In Adana I saw a troop of Armenian orphans marching through the streets under the escort of Turkish soldiers. The parents have been slaughtered; the children must become Mohammedans. It has happened everywhere that adult Armenians were able to save their lives by declaring their readiness to go over to Islam. In some places, however, Turkish officials, wishing to throw dust in the eyes of Europeans, replied grandiloquently to Christians who had applied for admission into the Mohammedan fold, that religion is not a thing to play with, and preferred to have the petitioners killed. Men like Talaat Bey and Enver Pasha have repeatedly said, thanking distinguished Armenians, who brought them gifts, that they would have been still better pleased if the givers had presented them as Mohammedans. One of these gentlemen said to a newspaper reporter: “Certainly we are now punishing many innocent people, but we must protect ourselves, even from those who might become guilty in the future.” Such reasons are adduced by Turkish statesmen in justification of the indiscriminate slaughter of defenceless woman and children. A German Catholic priest reports that Enver Pasha had told Monsignore Dolci, the Papal representative at Constantinople, that he would not rest while one single Armenian was still living.

The object of the deportations is the extirpation of the entire Armenian nation. This intention is also evidenced by the fact that the Turkish Government refuses all help from missionaries, Sisters of Mercy, and Europeans settled in the country, and tries systematically [104]to prevent the giving of any such help. A Swiss engineer was to have come before a court-martial, because he had distributed bread in Anatolia among the starving women and children belonging to a convoy of deported persons. The Government did not scruple to deport Armenian pupils and teachers from the German schools at Adana and Aleppo, and Armenian children from the German orphanages; the protests of the Consuls and of the heads of the institutions were left unheeded. The offer of the American Government to take the deported persons to America on American ships and at America’s expense was refused.

What our German Consuls and many foreigners residing in Turkey think about the massacres of Armenians will one day be known from their reports. As regards the opinion of the German officers in Turkey I am unable to say anything. I often noticed when in their company an ominous silence or a convulsive effort to change the subject whenever any German of strong feelings and independent judgment began to speak about the fearful sufferings of the Armenians.7

When Field-Marshal von der Goltz travelled to Bagdad and had to cross the Euphrates at Djerabulus, there was a large encampment of half-starved, deported Armenians there. Shortly before the Field-Marshal’s arrival these wretched people, as I was told in Djerabulus, were driven under the whip a few miles off over the hills, sick and dying persons among the number. When von der Goltz passed through, all traces of the repulsive spectacle had been removed. When, soon afterwards, I visited the place with a few colleagues, we still found in the more out of the way places corpses of men and [105]children, remnants of clothes, and skulls and bones which had been partly stripped of the flesh by jackals and birds of prey.

The author of this report considers it out of the question that the German Government, if it were seriously inclined to stem the tide of destruction even at this eleventh hour, could find it impossible to bring the Turkish Government to reason. If the Turks are really so well disposed to us Germans as people say, then it is surely permissible to show them to what an extent they compromise us before the whole civilised world, if we, as their Allies, are to look on calmly, when hundreds of thousands of our fellow-Christians in Turkey are slaughtered, when their wives and daughters are violated, and their children brought up in the faith of Islam.8 Do not the Turks understand that their barbarous acts are imputed to us, and that we Germans shall be accused either of criminal connivance or of contemptible weakness if we shut our eyes to the abominable horrors which this war has brought forth, and attempt to ignore facts which are already known to the whole world? If the Turks are really as intelligent as people say, it should surely not be impossible to convince them of the fact that, by extirpating the Christian nations in Turkey, they are exterminating the productive factors and the intermediaries of European trade and general civilisation? If the Turks are really as far-seeing as people say, they will not be blind to the danger, that all civilized European States, after having discovered the things which were done in Turkey during the war, must form the conclusion that Turkey has forfeited the right of governing herself, and has, once for all, destroyed all belief in her capacity for becoming [106]civilized, and in her tolerance. Will not the German Government be acting in Turkey’s own best interests, if she prevents her from committing economic and moral suicide?

With this report I am attempting to reach the ear of the Government through the accredited representatives of the German people. These things, painful as they are, must no longer be passed over in silence at the sittings of the Committees of the Reichstag. Nothing would be more humiliating for us than the erection of a costly palace at Constantinople commemorating German-Turkish friendship, while we are unable to protect our fellow-Christians from barbarities unparalleled even in the blood-stained history of Turkey. Would not the funds collected be better spent in building orphanages for the innocent victims of Turkish barbarism?

When, after the Adana massacres in 1909, a sort of “reconciliation banquet” took place, in which high Turkish officials as well as the heads of the Armenian clergy took part, an Armenian ecclesiastic made a speech, the contents of which were communicated to me by the German Consul, Büge, who was present. He said: “It is true we Armenians have lost much in the days of these massacres, our men, our women, our children, and our possessions. But you Turks have lost more. You have lost your honour.”

If we persist in treating the massacres of Christians in Turkey as an internal affair, of no importance for us except as making us sure of Turkey’s friendship, then it will be necessary to alter the whole orientation of our German cultural policy. We must cease to send German teachers to Turkey, and we teachers must no longer speak to our pupils in Turkey of German poets [107]and German philosophers, of German culture and German ideals, and least of all of German Christianity.

Three years ago the German Foreign Office sent me as higher grade teacher to the German Technical School at Aleppo. The Royal Provincial Education Board at Madgeburg, on my departure, specially enjoined me to show myself worthy of the confidence reposed in me by the granting of leave of absence to take up the office of teacher at Aleppo. I should not perform my duty as a German official and as an authorised representative of German culture if, in face of the atrocities of which I was a witness, I were to remain silent and passively look on while the pupils entrusted to me are driven out to die of starvation in the desert.

To a person inquiring into the reasons which have induced the Young Turkish Government to order and carry out these terrible measures against the Armenians, the following answer might be given:—

The Young Turk has before him the European ideal of a united national State. He hopes to be able to “Turkify” the non-Turkish Mohammedan races—Kurds, Persians, Arabs, and so on—by administrative measures and by Turkish school education and by appeals to the common Mohammedan interest. He is afraid of the Christian nations—Armenians, Syrians and Greeks—on account of their cultural and economic superiority, and their religion appears to him an obstacle impeding “Turkification” by peaceful measures. Therefore they must be extirpated or forced into Mohammedanism. The Turks do not realise that they are sawing off the branch on which they themselves are sitting. Who is to bring progress to Turkey, except the Greeks, the Armenians and the Syrians, who constitute more than a quarter of the population of the [108]Turkish Empire? The Turks, the least gifted among the races living in Turkey, themselves form only a minority of the population, and are still far behind even the Arabs in civilisation. Is there anywhere any Turkish commerce, Turkish handicraft, Turkish manufacture, Turkish art, Turkish science? Even law and religion, even the literary language, is borrowed from the subjected Arabs.

We teachers, who for years have taught Greeks, Armenians, Arabs, Turks and Jews in German schools in Turkey, can only declare that of all our pupils the pure Turks are the least willing and the least capable. Whenever one hears about anything accomplished by a Turk, one can be sure, in nine cases out of ten, that the person concerned is a Circassian, or an Albanian, or a Turk with Bulgar blood in his veins. Judging from my own personal experience, I can only prophesy that the real Turk will never accomplish anything in commerce, manufacture or science.

The German newspapers have told us a great deal lately about the Turkish “hunger for education”; it is said that the Turks are thronging eagerly to learn German, and even that courses of instruction in that language for adults are being arranged in Turkey. No doubt they are being arranged, but with what result? They go on to tell one of a language course at a Technical School, which started with twelve Turkish teachers as pupils. The author of this story, however, forgets to add that after four lessons only six, after five lessons only five, after six lessons only four, and after seven lessons only three pupils presented themselves, so that after the eighth lesson the course had to be abandoned, before it had properly begun, owing to the indolence of the pupils. If the pupils had been Armenians, they would have persevered town to the end of the school [109]year, learnt patiently, and come away with a fair knowledge of the German language.

What is the duty of Germany, as well as of every civilized Christian nation, in face of the Armenian massacres? We must do all we can to preserve the lives of the 500,000 Armenian women and children who may now [beginning of 1916] be still in existence in Turkey and who are abandoned to starvation—to preserve them from a fate which would be a disgrace to the whole civilized world. The hundreds of thousands of deported women and children, who have been left lying on the borders of the Mesopotamian desert, or on the roads which lead there, will not be able to preserve their miserable existence much longer. How long can people support life by picking grains of corn out of horse dung and depending for the rest upon grass? Many of them will be beyond help on account of the underfeeding, which has continued for many months, and of the attacks of dysentery which are so prevalent. In Konia there are still a few thousand Armenians alive—educated people from Constantinople, who were in easy circumstances before their deportation, physicians, authors, and merchants; help for them would still be possible, before they succumb to the fate that threatens all. There are still 1,500 healthy Armenians—men, women and children, including grandmothers 60 years old and many children of six and seven—who are at work breaking stones and shovelling earth, on the part of the Bagdad Railway between Eiran and Entilli, near the big tunnel. At the present moment Superintendent Engineer Morf, of the Bagdad Railway, is still providing for them, but their names too have already been registered by the Turkish Government. As soon as their work is completed, that is to say, probably in two or three months, and they are no longer [110]wanted, “new homes will be assigned to them”—which means that the men will be taken away and slaughtered, the good-looking women and girls will find their way into the harems, and the others will be driven about in the desert without food, until the end comes.

The Armenian people has a claim to German help. When a few years ago massacres of Armenians threatened to break out in Cilicia, a German warship appeared off Mersina. The commander called on the Armenian “Katholikos” in Adana and assured him that as long as there was any German influence in Turkey, massacres tike those perpetrated under Abdul Hamid would be impossible.9 The same assurance was given by the German Ambassador von Wangenheim [since deceased] at an audience given to the Armenian Patriarch and the President of the Armenian National Council in April, 1915.

Even apart from our common duty as Christians, we Germans are under a special obligation to put a stop to the complete extirpation of the surviving half million of Armenian Christians. We are the Allies of Turkey, and having eliminated the influence of the French, English and Russians, we are the only foreigners who have any say in Turkey. We may indignantly repudiate the lies circulated in enemy countries accusing the German Consuls of having organised the massacres. We shall not, however, destroy the belief of the Turkish people that Germany has ordered the Armenian massacres, unless energetic action be at last taken by German diplomatists and German officers. If only the one reproach remained that our timidity and our weakness in dealing with our Ally had prevented us from preserving half a million women and children from death [111]by starvation, the image of the German War in the mirror of history would be disfigured, for all time, by an ugly feature. It would be a serious mistake to imagine that the Turkish Government would, of its own accord, desist from the extermination of the women and children, unless the strongest pressure were to be exercised by the German Government. A short time before my departure from Aleppo in May, 1916, all the women and children encamped at Ras-el-Ain, on the Bagdad railway, whose number was estimated at 20,000, were mercilessly slaughtered. [112]

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eBook and audio downloads for Testimony about the Armenian Genocide, Armenian Holocaust, the Medz Yeghen by Eyewitnesses to Turkish Atrocities and Genocide include: pdf, Open eBook, OEB, ePub & audio book MP3