Report by a resident of Syria on the condition of Armenian deportees, November 27, 1916
Addendum to "Report of an inhabitant of Athlit,
Mount Carmel, Syria."
[November 27, 1916]
The writer, when speaking of the treatment meted out to the Armenians by the Turks since the beginning of the war, fears that he will be accused of exaggeration. He has kept this view when describing atrocities committed by the Turks.
The writer has not been in Armenia proper, but has lived in Syria since the war began and has visited Konia and Constantinople, and has many acquaintances, including Germans.
The first news of the massacres. Turkish policy.
Opinion of local Germans.
During October and December 1915 several Germans, established as farmers in Palestine, returned to Haifa and Jaffa, and they were the first to bring the news of wholesale massacres among the Armenians. Nothing had been said on the subject in the Syrian and Palestinian press. At first these Germans maintained that they knew little about the matter, that they had only heard some reports which they considered very exaggerated. But from these and other Germans he met at Damascus he gathered that the Germans themselves thought that the Turks had determined to exterminate all the Armenians with the exception of about half a million. The Germans at that time, to give them their due, were horrified at the thought of such wholesale slaughter; there was however a notable exception, a Major Pohl, who was heard to say that he was sorry that as many as half a million Armenians should be spared. A number of Germans in Palestine sent their families away, openly saying that the Turk might one day treat Germans as they were then using the Armenians.
Armenians dying along the railway.
There were a number of reports of thousands of Armenians lying dead by the side of the railway between Anatolia and Syria, and the writer is able to corroborate these rumours by accounts given by his sister, who travelled from Constantinople to Palestine in December 1915.
The state of Armenians ordered south.
She saw the bodies of hundreds of Armenian men, women and children lying on both sides of the railway. Sometimes Turkish women were seen searching the corpses for anything that might be of value, at other times dogs were observed feeding on the bodies. There were hundreds of bleached skeletons.
At either Gulek or Osmania she saw thousands of starving and fever stricken Armenians. They had been ordered southward, but had been provided with no transport and had been waiting there for weeks. They were lying about the station, on the sides and some on the track itself. Some were jostled on to the line when the train arrived, and the engine ran over them, to the joy of the engine driver, who shouted to his friends: "Did you see how I smashed about of these Armenian swine?".
Attitude of Turkish officers.
The writer's sister fainted at the sight, and on recovery two Turkish Officers, speaking French, remonstrated with her on her lack of patriotism, since the Armenians were enemies. She also gives details of the misery and death caused by over-crowding railway carriages and trucks when transport was from time to time provided.
The greatest havoc was caused by typhus. Those who died from it were left unburied for days. One reason for this, as given to the writer by a superior Turkish Officer, was to increase infection in order that there should be greater mortality among the living. The Armenians however can claim some revenge, for the plague naturally did not confine itself to Armenians only, and the whole country through which these refugees passed was devastated; the writer saw dozens of villages in Syria empty of all inhabitants, killed off by typhus. No sanitary measures to combat the epidemic were taken.
The Armenians were ordered from their homes at the shortest notice, and no time was given for them to provide transport for their belongings or to dispose of their property. The Turks took possession of all, and relieved the unfortunate people of such things as they attempted to carry with them.
Lack of road transport.
The demand for road transport became so great that prices ran to a prohibitive height. The writer saw thousands of Armenians near Hassan-Beyli, in the Taurus mountains, lying out in the snow waiting for vehicles, and the same state of things prevailed at Aleppo and other transfer stations. There was no organization to meet the situation created by the forcible evacuation of the Armenian population, partly the result of Turkish incompetence, and partly through deliberate neglect.
Foreign public opinion. Djemal Pasha.
After a time European and more especially American public opinion began to be heard on the subject of Armenians, and upon this Djemal Pasha (the Great!) went to Constantinople and insisted that the massacres should cease, urging that it was not only a crime but a mistake. In addition he foresaw that useful source of forced labour could be tapped for his public works in Syria and Palestine. It was reported that Talaat was not disposed at first to listen, but that Djemal was powerful enough to over-ride opposition, and it is said that in this way the lives of over 100,000 Armenians were spared, but only on the condition that they should be sent to Syria. Djemal Pasha was promptly nicknamed the "Armenian Pasha" in Constantinople, but the Armenians were grateful and neutral ambassadors were duly impressed.
The Armenians, wishing to show their appreciation of Djemal Pasha's action and being prohibited from uttering their thanks, decided to march past his house in Constantinople in silence, and in this manner 40,000 Armenians paraded in front of Djemal, who stood on the balcony of his house for three hours with his arms folded like Napoleon the Great. The train by which Djemal returned to Syria was frequently stopped for him to receive the thanks of Armenians, which, however, the writer thinks were given by order; in fact the writer considers that the whole of Djemal's action was a mere farce to impress the outside world, and to increase the importance of Djemal. The treatment of the Armenians under Djemal's administration confirms him in this opinion.
Armenians under Djemal.
Djemal having thus got a large number of Armenians into his clutches decided to send them to remote parts of Syria and Palestine. The writer considers that his motive for this action was to prevent them from contaminating the existing population, and also to minimize the chances of neutrals witnessing their treatment.
They were sent to various camps where 3,000 to 5,000 were herded together, and the writer visited such camps in Hauran, Adflun, and south-east of the Dead Sea.
The inmates of these camps are entirely dependent on food and water supplied by Government; they were forbidden to enter towns or villages, or to work for pay; they were made to live in the desert. Men, women and children were put to hard labour, and each working man or woman received 2d. a day. That was their sole income on which they had to live.
In some cases there was no water near than 6 miles, and it had to be brought to the camp by rail. The trains frequently failed to run; the fact that there was a war in progress was a convenient excuse and was made to cover deliberate neglect.
The writer has seen an overdue train, carrying water, arrive. The Armenians, parched with thirst, rushed to the halting place, each carrying an earthen jar or a tin. As soon as the train stopped it was besieged by the mob, which was beaten back by the Turkish guard with the butt end of their rifles. The crowd being thrust back, all the taps of the tanks were then turned on and the water allowed to run to waste in full view of the hundreds who were dying for want of it. The administration duly despatched water to the desert, and that was enough as far as Djemal Pasha and his friends were concerned; an accident might have happened subsequently, but that was no fault of theirs - such was the view taken of the above incident by Djemal when he heard of it, according to a report which reached the writer.
Hunger and thirst swept away half the numbers in these camps in a few weeks. Those that lived led a wretched existence; all family life had been broken up; husbands, wives, children had been separated, and there was no means of finding out what had become of those who were missing. Immorality flourished; sanitation in its most elementary form did not exist.
In the meantime Djemal loudly proclaimed that he was colonizing waste lands with thrifty Armenians, which was enough for the inspired press of the Central Powers to give out to the world that in the last two years Syria and Palestine under Djemal's administration had flourished more than in the whole of the preceding 50 years.
A flat refusal was given to representatives of neutral countries who asked to go to Syria to witness the conditions under which the Armenians lived.
In the track of the Armenians, as they were driven along, female slave markets were established. The price of an Armenian girl from 12 to 14 years of age was from 2 mejidias to £1 (Turkish). The writer saw such a market in Damascus, and he was told by his relatives in Aleppo, and by American Missionaries, that thousands of young girls had been sold in open markets. The so-called intellectual leaders of the Moslem world, the Khojas, Ulemas, Padis, and Muftis, were not slow to avail themselves of the opportunities that these markets offered, and these frequently saved their pockets and increased the numbers of their slaves by claiming to have made converts, in which case no money transaction was demanded.
Conversion to Islam.
These alleged converts were usually young women, who were driven into harems, ostensibly for the purpose of being instructed in the "true faith"! Conversion to Islam was attempted on a large scale, among men as well as women, and with some success amongst those Armenians from certain parts of the Caucasus who had long practiced Turkish customs, and whose belief in Christianity was not deeply rooted. But the writer knows of a number of educated and wealthy Armenians of Constantinople and the coast towns who have professed their conversion. The latter seem, however, to have taken this step in the hope of preserving at least some of their property from confiscation.
So far, a description has been given of the destruction of the Armenian nation by organized deportation, accompanied by neglect and by the unchecked butchery of men and boys. The usual method employed was to organize labour battalions in which boys and men were collected together, and these were sent under a guard of about 20 Turkish solders to some out-of-the-way place, where no provision was made for rations or water. The guard were given orders to use their rifles without hesitation in case of desertion, or any sign of mutiny, on the part of those put under their charge. After a day or two the guard would return alone. The story given was either that the Armenians as a whole attempted to desert, or that there had been a mutiny, and that the guard in self-defence had been compelled to kill the lot. The writer never witnessed such a scene himself, but he had reports from trustworthy sources. One of his informants was an Armenian who, speaking and dressing like a Turk, had travelled from Armenia to Jaffa. There he mixed with a number of Turkish soldiers who had just executed the butchery of about 400 Armenians in the manner described above, and who regaled him with many repulsive details. This man on the following day came upon a heap of murdered Armenians, and journeying on to Aleppo he made a full report of his experience to the American Consul there.
The writer discussed these murders with German officers in Constantinople, and they admitted that they were entirely and unfortunately true.
Armenians in Constantinople.
Orders were issued that only Armenians who had been born in Constantinople would be allowed to remain there. This was a signal for a house-to-house search by the police, as well as arrests in the open streets. The witness has seen batches of Armenians being led through the streets, the victims of the zeal of the police in fulfilling this order. The raids are usually carried out at night, but he saw a wealthy and influential Armenian arrested in broad daylight and hurried away. Nothing more is seen or heard of those whom the police take. Unfortunately there are some Armenians who act as police spies and sell their countrymen.
The writer can give details of hundreds of young Armenian girls who have become prostitutes in Constantinople - the only means left to them by which they can support their parents. One he quotes in particular, a well-bred girl recently married, whose husband was killed before her eyes, and who was driven to her present position only after months of struggling to live decently.
The massacres continue.
Lately there has not been so much heard of Armenian massacres, but they continu[e] nevertheless; it is only that there are fewer means by which the outside world can hear of them.
The writer considers that the reason for this treatment of the Armenians is that they are an easy prey, and that Mohammedans, rich or poor, high or low, are by nature wedded to murder and robbery. The Turk in addition is still an invader who treats others under his power as subject races.
The Armenians morally and economically are utterly ruined; probably the most industrious and thrifty race in the Turkish Empire (and it is a Jew who described them as such) has ceased to exist.
PRO reference:-FO 371/2783/24258