Home Page
 

 Genocide Memorials
 Photo Collections
 Press Coverage
 Sample Documents
 Genocide Map
 Genocide FAQ
 Encyclopedia
 Entries
 Chronology
 Site Map
 Background
 Reading
 Related
 Organizations


Online Exhibits

Centuries of Genocide

America and the Armenian Genocide of 1915
 

Winston S. Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain (1940-45, 1951-55)


"In 1915 the Turkish Government began and ruthlessly carried out the infamous general massacre and deportation of Armenians in Asia Minor."

"There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons."

...it will be convenient to outline however briefly the subsidiary Armenian Tragedy which accompanied the revival of the Turkish power.

The events which have been described in Russia and in Turkey, and which were soon to be ratified by new disasters, were fatal to the Armenian people. The Great War had carried them through hideous slaughters to the fairest and broadest hope they had ever known; and then abruptly laid them — it may well be for ever — in the dust. The age-long misfortunes of the Armenian race have arisen mainly from the physical structure of their home. Upon the lofty tableland of Armenia, stretching across the base of the Asia Minor Peninsula, are imposed a series of mountain ranges having a general direction east and west. The valleys between these mountains have from time immemorial been the pathways of every invasion or counter-attack between Asia Minor in the west and Persia and Central Asia in the east. In antiquity the Medes, the Persians, and Romans; in the early centuries of the Christian Era the Persian Sassanids and Eastern Roman Emperors; and in the Middle Ages successive waves of Mongols and Turks — Seljukli and Osmanli — invaded, conquered, partitioned, yielded and reconquered the rugged regions in which an ill-starred race strove ceaselessly for life and independence. And after the rise of Russia to power the struggle for possession of the Armenian regions, as containing the natural frontiers of their own domains, was continued by Russia, Persia and the Ottoman Empire.

At the moment the Great War began Armenia, divided between Russia and Turkey, repressed by force or actual massacre, had no defense but secret societies and no weapons but intrigue and assassination. The War drew upon them a new train of evils. After the Balkan Wars the Pan-Turks cast away both 'Ottomanization' and 'Turkification' as means for recreating the State. They attributed the disasters which the Turkish Empire had sustained in part to the opposition of the non-Turkish races in their midst. In blunt but significant language they concluded that these races 'were not worth considering; they were worse than encumbrances; they could go to the devil.' The re-created State for which patriotic Turks hoped must be formed by Turks alone. The goal, if attainable, could be reached only by a long road and hard. The sooner therefore the Turkish people set out upon it in deadly earnest, the better. The Turks took this road from 1912 onwards; and the fact that they had done so went long unrecognized in Europe. The Armenians were, however, better informed. They saw that the incorporation of the Moslem areas of Caucasia in a great Turkish State would, if carried to achievement, place the Armenian plateau, including Russian Armenia, under Turkish sovereignty and jeopardize the whole future of their race. The outbreak of the Great War brought these issues to a head. The Turkish Government in furtherance of their own aims tried to secure Armenian support of Russian Armenians. A grim alternative was presented to the Armenian leaders. Should they throw their national weight as far as it lay in their power on the side of Russia or of Turkey, or should they let their people be divided and driven into battle against each other? They took the remarkable decision that if war should come, their people in Turkey and in Russia should do their duty to their respective Governments. They thought it better to face fratricidal strife in the quarrels of others than to stake their existence upon the victory of either side.

When Turkey attacked Russian Armenia, the Czar's Government, fearing that a successful defense of Caucasia by Armenians would dangerously inflame the Nationalist aspirations of the race, conveyed a hundred and fifty thousand Armenian conscripts to the Polish and Galician fronts and brought other Russian troops to defend Armenian hearths and homes in Caucasia. Few of these hundred and fifty thousand Armenian soldiers survived the European battles or were able to return to Caucasia before the end of the War. This was hard measure. But worse remained. The Turkish was plan failed. Their offensive against Caucasia in December 1914 and January 1915 was defeated. They recoiled in deep resentment. They accused the Armenians of the Turkish eastern districts of having acted as spies and agents on behalf of Russia, and of having assailed the Turkish lines of communication. These charges were probably true; but true or false, they provoked a vengeance which was also in accord with deliberate policy. In 1915 the Turkish Government began and ruthlessly carried out the infamous general massacre and deportation of Armenians in Asia Minor. Three or four hundred thousand men, women, and children escaped into Russian territory and others into Persia or Mesopotamia; but the clearance of the race from Asia Minor was about as complete as such an act, on a scale so great, could well be. It is supposed that about one and a quarter millions of Armenians were involved, of whom more than half perished. There is no reasonable doubt that this crime was planned and executed for political reasons. The opportunity presented itself for clearing Turkish soil of a Christian race opposed to all Turkish ambitions, cherishing national ambitions that could only be satisfied at the expense of Turkey, and planted geographically between Turkish and Caucasian Moslems. It may well be that the British attack on the Gallipoli Peninsula stimulated the merciless fury of the Turkish Government. Even, thought the Pan-Turks, if Constantinople were to fall and Turkey lost the war, the clearance would have been effected and a permanent advantage for the future of the Turkish race would be granted.

The arrival of the Grand Duke Nicholas in the Caucasus at the beginning of 1916, his masterly capture of Erzeroum in February 1916, and his conquests of Turkish territory in North-Eastern Asia Minor revived Armenian hopes. The entry of the United States raised them higher. But the Russian Revolution quenched this flicker. It is not possible here to follow the tangled conflicts of the Georgians, Armenians and Tartars which followed. Early in 1918 the Russian Army of the Caucasus abandoned the front in Asia Minor and dissolved into an armed rabble struggling to entrain for home. The Russians had gone. The Turks had not yet come. A desperate effort was made by the remaining Armenian manhood to defend their country. The Armenian elements of the Russian Army therefore held together, and with the help of volunteers succeeded for a time in holding back the Turkish advance. Their hundred and fifty thousand soldiers were already dead or scattered, and they could never muster more than 35,000 men. The Treaty of Brest-Litvosk in February 1918 was the signal for a general Turkish advance eastward. The Armenian line was overwhelmed; and by May not only had the Turks recovered the districts occupied by the Grand Duke, but they had taken the districts of Batum, Kars and Ardahan and were preparing to advance to the Caspian. Meanwhile the great Allies strode forward. British, French and United States troops beat down the German armies in France. The Anglo-Indian armies conquered Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria. At the very moment when the Turks had reached the goal in Caucasia for which they had run such risks and to which they had waded through crime and slaughter, their whole State and structure fell prostrate. The Armenian people emerged from the Great War scattered, extirpated in many districts, and reduced through massacre, losses of war and enforce deportations adopted as an easy system of killing, by at least a third. Out of a community of about two and a half millions, three-quarters of a million men, women, and children had perished. But surely this was the end.

The earlier miseries and massacres of the Armenians have been made familiar to the British people, and indeed to the Liberal world, by the fame and eloquence of Mr. Gladstone. Opinions about them differed, one school dwelling upon their sufferings and the other upon their failings. But at any rate in contrast to the general indifference with which the fortunes of Eastern and Middle-Eastern peoples were followed by the Western democracies, the Armenians and their tribulations were well known throughout England and the United States. This field of interest was lighted by the lamps of religion, philanthropy and politics. Atrocities perpetrated upon Armenians stirred the ire of simple and chivalrous men and women spread widely about the English-speaking world. Now was the moment when at last the Armenians would receive justice and the right to live in peace in their national home. Their persecutors and tyrants had been laid low by war or revolution. The greatest nations in the hour of their victory were their friends, and would see them righted.

It seemed inconceivable that the five great Allies would not be able to make their will effective. The reader of these pages will however be under no illusions. By the time the conquerors in Paris reached the Armenian question their unity was dissolved, their armies had disappeared and their resolves commanded naught but empty words. No power would take a mandate for Armenia. Britain, Italy, America, France looked at it and shook their heads. On March 12, 1920, the Supreme Council offered the mandate to the League of Nations. But the League, unsupported by men or money, promptly and with prudence declined. There remained the Treaty of Sèvres. On August 10 the Powers compelled the Constantinople Government to recognize an as yet undetermined Armenia as a free and independent State. Article 89 prescribed that Turkey must submit to 'the arbitration of the President of the United States of America the question of the frontier to be fixed between Turkey and Armenia in the vilayets of Erzeroum, Trebizond, Van and Bitlis, and to accept his decision thereupon, as well as any stipulation he may prescribe as to access of Armenia to the sea.' It was not until December 1920 that President Wilson completed the discharge of this high function. The frontier he defined gave Armenia virtually all the Turkish territory which had been occupied by Russian troops until they disbanded themselves under the influence of the Revolution; and era which, added to the Republic of Erivan, made an Armenian national homeland of nearly sixty thousand square miles.

So generous was the recognition in theory of Armenian claims that the Armenian and Greek population of the new State was actually outnumbered by Moslem inhabitants. Here was justice and much more. It existed however upon paper only. Already nearly a year before, in January 1920, the Turks had attacked the French in Cilicia, driven them out of the Marash district and massacred nearly fifty thousand Armenian inhabitants. In May Bolshevik troops invaded and subjugated the Republic of Erivan. In September, by collusion between the Bolsheviks and Turks, Erivan was delivered to the Turkish Nationalists; and as in Cilicia, another extensive massacre of Armenians accompanied the military operations. Even the hope that a small autonomous Armenian province might eventually be established in Cilicia under French protection was destroyed. In October France, by the Agreement of Angora, undertook to evacuate Cilicia completely. In the Treaty of Lausanne, which registered the final peace between Turkey and the Great Powers, history will search in vain for the word 'Armenia'.

Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, vol. 5, "The Aftermath" (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929).

 


 
 
 
  Armenian National Institute
1334 G Street, NW Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
 
  tel: (202) 383-9009        e-mail: ani@agmm.org
 
  Copyright © 1998-2014 Armenian National Institute. Read copyright notice and disclaimer.