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Edwin Munsell Bliss

TURKEY AND THE ARMENIAN ATROCITIES


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[page 368]

CHAPTER XX.

THE SASSUN MASSACRE.

A Deliberate Plan of The Turkish Government — Kurdish Raids — Armenians Defend Themselves — Kurds Reinforced by Regular Troops — Terrible Scenes of Slaughter — Stories of Survivors.

IN view of the situation set forth in the preceding chapter the European powers emphasized more earnestly than before their demand for reforms, and the Turkish Government became convinced that another step was necessary in order to avert what they feared would be the complete destruction of their power. What that step was it is the object of this chapter to describe, leaving the inference as to the plan to come later.

Among the different plains of Eastern Turkey there is none more fertile than the plain of Mush, about forty miles west of Lake Van. From the earliest times it has been noted for its harvests and for the general prosperity of its people, who partook, to a greater degree than was true of many other sections, of the vigor of the mountaineers. Bordered with high mountains on every side it was always an object of envy to the Kurdish tribes. Incursions had been repeatedly made and some result was manifest in the increase of Moslem villages here and there over the plain. Still, however, it was the center of Armenian influence in that section; even Bitlis and Van were scarcely more intensely Armenian than Mush.

It was natural also that some of the revolutionists should

[page 369] THE NEW ARMENIA.

turn their eyes to this section. Here if anywhere must be the center of the new Armenia, and an effort was undoubtedly made to stir some of the people to a revolution in opposition to the Turkish Government. The plain villagers, however, furnished very little encouragement for anything of this kind. They realized perhaps even more clearly than the mountaineers did that opposition to the combined force of the Turkish Government and the Kurdish tribes was worse than useless, and the agitators found themselves turned aside after accomplishing but very little. They then turned their attention to the mountain villages where the spirit of independence was more strongly manifest. In the summer of 1893 one of these men was captured near the city of Mush, and the government had suspicion that friends of his were gathering in the mountains on the east. They accordingly sent word to certain Kurdish chiefs whose men had been enrolled in the Hamidieh cavalry to make a raid. Knowing the character of the mountaineers, these chiefs made their preparations somewhat carefully. They gathered their men from every side, and it became evident to the Armenians that there was to be trouble. For a time there were simply ordinary raids; animals were carried off, occasionally a man was killed — sometimes Armenian, sometimes Kurd. Ordinarily when a Kurd was slain his body was secured for burial before his people could come to claim it.

At last there was a pitched battle in which the villagers were able to do considerable execution without heavy loss of life to themselves. The Kurdish chiefs finding themselves worsted withdrew, and no sufficient pressure could be brought to bear upon them to make them renew the contest. The Governor-General of the province, however, with troops and

[page 370] A WORSE SITUATION.

field pieces, infested the mountains but made no attack, preferring apparently to come into parley with the Armenians. He asked them why they did not submit to the government and pay taxes. Their reply was that they were not at all disloyal to the government, but could not pay taxes twice, to Kurds and to the government. If the Turkish authorities would give protection, they were perfectly willing to pay the taxes. During the winter several of their leaders were invited to Mush but declined to accept.

With the advent of the spring of 1894, the situation became worse. The government decided to make the advance and reiterated its instructions to the Kurdish chiefs to attack the whole section, west of the Mush plain and known now as Sassun, which included about forty villages. They came on every side and practically besieged the whole province. They stole animals, and the result was occasional contests in which one or more on either side fell. On one occasion the Kurds succeeded in securing the bodies of two of their comrades who had been killed, and carried them to the government at the city of Mush, reporting that the whole region was filled with armed men, who were defying the power of the government. Then followed a general attack upon the different villages. The Armenians had the better situation, and defended themselves with considerable success. The Kurds appeared to be unequal to the task of subduing them. The government reinforced them with soldiers, regular troops, but generally in disguise so as to retain as far as possible the appearance of the ordinary contests that had been going on for years between the villagers and the Kurdish chiefs.

Reinforced by these men, the Kurdish chiefs spread on every hand. They were assisted by the Turkish troops, not only in

[page 371] CAMPAIGN OF BUTCHERY.

positive attack, but in stratagems the most outrageous. Companies of troops would enter a village, telling the Armenians that they had come for their protection. They were received and quartered in the different houses; then in the night they rose and slew the villagers, men, women, and children. Realizing now the evident intent, the Armenians resolved to fight and sell their lives as dearly as possible. The result was that for nearly three weeks from the latter part of August there was a general campaign of butchery. So bitter was the contest, that the Governor of Mush, fearing that he had not sufficient force at hand, sent word to the general commander of the Turkish forces in Eastern Turkey, whose headquarters were at Erzingan, west of Erzrum, to gather what troops he could, to join with the troops already there, and the Kurds, in the fight.

Word meanwhile had been sent to Constantinople, that all Eastern Turkey was in rebellion, and the Sultan had issued a firman, calling upon his loyal subjects to put down the rebellion at all hazards. This firman was in the hands of the Commander Marshal Zekki Pasha as he came to Mush. He read it before the troops, then placed it upon his breast, and exhorted the men to do their duty. Especially on the last day of August, which was the anniversary of the Sultan’s accession to the throne, was this exhortation read, and by every means in his power he roused the troops to the bitterest attack. At this time all pretense of complaint of revolution was thrown aside. Villages against which no charge of disloyalty had ever been made, where there had been no trouble of any sort, suffered equally with those where there had been contests. The receipt of taxes amounted to absolutely nothing. On every hand it was proclaimed that there must be a clean sweep;

[page 372] BEGGING FOR MERCY.

that the whole population of the Armenian district must be exterminated. In one village the priest, and some of the leading men, went out to meet the Turkish officer, declaring their loyalty, and begging for mercy. It was all to no avail., The village was surrounded and every man put to death. The stories of individual outrages were such as scarcely can be believed. Private letters, from persons well qualified to know the truth, many of which are quoted in full in “The Armenian Crisis in Turkey,” by the Rev. F. D. Greene, give instances almost too terrible for belief. We quote a few:

“A number of able-bodied young Armenians were captured, bound, covered with brushwood and burned alive. A number of Armenians, variously estimated, but less than a hundred, surrendered themselves and pled for mercy. Many of them were shot down on the spot and the remainder were dispatched with sword and bayonet.

“ A lot of women, variously estimated from 60 to 160 in number, were shut up in a church, and the soldiers were “let loose” among them. Many of them were outraged to death and the remainder dispatched with sword and bayonet. A lot of young women were collected as spoils of war, Two stories are told. 1. That they were carried off to the harems of their Moslem captors. 2. That they were offered Islam and the harems of their Moslem captors; refusing, they were slaughtered. Children were placed in a row, one behind another, and a bullet fired down the line, apparently to see how many could be despatched with one bullet. Infants and small children were piled one on the other and their heads struck off. Houses were surrounded by soldiers, set on fire, and the inmates forced back into the flames at the point of the bayonet as they tried to escape.

[page 373] TREATMENT OF WOMEN.

“At Geligozan many young men were tied hand and foot, laid in a row, covered with brushwood and burned alive. Others were seized and hacked to death piecemeal. At another village a priest and several leading men were captured, and promised release if they would tell where others had fled, but, after telling, all but the priest were killed. A chain was put around the priest’s neck, and pulled from opposite sides till he was several times choked and revived, after which several bayonets were planted upright, and he raised in the air and let fall upon them.

“ The men of one village, when fleeing, took the women and children, some 500 in number, and placed them in a sort of grotto in a ravine. After several days the soldiers found them, and butchered those who had not died of hunger.

“ Sixty young women and girls were selected from one village, and placed in a church, when the soldiers were ordered to do with them as they liked, after which they were butchered.

“ In another village fifty choice women were set aside and urged to change their faith and become hanums in Turkish harems, but they indignantly refused to deny Christ, preferring the fate of their fathers and husbands. People were crowded into houses which were then set on fire. In one instance a little boy ran out of the flames, but was caught on a bayonet and thrown back.”

The following stories from survivors of the massacre will give a more vivid picture than any general description:

STORY OF A SURVIVOR OF THE SASSUN MASSACRE.

“ My name is Asdadur Giragosian. My home was on the sunny side of a high mountain, in the central village of

[page 374] KURDISH RAIDS.

the beautiful valley of Geligozan. This valley presents a charming scene when viewed from the top of one of the surrounding mountains, with many villages scattered here and there, and clumps of huge walnut trees between, giving the valley its name, ‘Valley of Walnuts.’

“Up to 1894 my family was a prosperous one, as were most of the families of Sassun. The Kurds who lived about us were, on the whole, friendly, though they frequently practiced their habitual business of stealing cattle and sheep, but we were generally able to re-take our own, or others in their place. Our family consisted of twelve members, and we had many cattle and sheep. In the whole village were two hundred families, who possessed in the aggregate more than 15,000 sheep. Of course each of the sixty Armenian villages in the Sassun district (of which 42 are now ruined) had many cattle and sheep.

“In the spring of 1894 the Kurds began to drive away our sheep more boldly than usual. At the same time the government, suspecting that there were many armed revolutionists in Sassun, sent to search for them, but failed to find them. They then wished to arrest some of our notables and take them to Mush as revolutionists, saying, ‘You have revolutionary societies here.’ We resisted and prevented their taking our men. As I said, the Kurds made several attacks that spring, carrying off our animals, and we pursued them and rescued the animals, killing one or two men, whom we buried so they could not find them. Twice they attacked with this result, but the third time we were not able to bury the two Kurds we killed, and they carried them to Mush and showed them to the government. A great tumult resulted, and it was reported, ‘ The Armenians of Sassun have rebelled and massa-

[page 375] FIGHTS WITH KURDS.

cred the Moslem inhabitants.’ Also, ‘ They are armed with rifles and cannon.’ The Turkish Government availed itself of the excuse, and instigated the Kurds to attack the Armenian villagers and massacre them. This they attempted to do, a large number attacking us, aided by many soldiers in disguise. But though the Kurds had been well armed by the government, we were able, owing to our superior position, to withstand them successfully for fifteen days. The Kurds were constantly repulsed, leaving many dead and wounded. During this time the Turkish soldiers were being rapidly collected in Merg-mozan. About twenty-five battalions of soldiers were gathered there. In these fights with the Kurds we lost only seven persons, but three Armenian villages were burned.

“The assembled soldiers now began to attack. One day we heard the sound of their bugles, and for a whole day they continued to advance with great tumult and besieged Geligozan on the sides. The road to a very high mountain named Andok was left open, and we were able to carry our families and animals there, but this in a hasty manner, while fighting with Turkish soldiers. Then the army divided, one part going toward Andok, the other coming toward us. We had already left the village and taken refuge among the rocks above it. Our position enabled us to withstand them all day, but we could see that they had burned the village of Husentsik, near our own. Toward evening they made a fiercer attack and got nearer us. Our ammunition was nearly exhausted, and we began to retreat. They now set fire to our village too, and from a distance, in the dark, we could see it burning. We fled to Andok, where our families and animals had been carried, but seeing that it was not a safe place to stay, we left

[page 376] FLEEING FOR LIFE.

it, and after a day’s journey over rocks and mountains, towards evening reached a ruined church. Here we passed the night, but in the morning soldiers appeared and we hastened our flight. All our goods and most of our animals we left there. Near evening we reached a mountain named Gala-rash (Black Castle). We were very tired and hungry, but had nothing to eat, so we killed a sheep and ate it. But few of the villagers were to be found, the greater part having fled to other places. From this place we fled in the dark to the neighboring Kurdish village, where our Aghas (chiefs) lived. Before morning we learned that Aghpig was also burned. Our Kurdish Aghas came out from the village to defend us against the soldiers, but did not succeed, and returned to the village, and we were obliged to continue our journey, though tired and thirsty.

“ When it was possible to stop, our first care was to find water and kill a sheep for food. The following day we learned that Hedink also was burned. Hearing this we fled to Heghgat, and then to a near mountain. The next morning we heard that Heghgat was burned. We descended from the mountain into a valley up which we slowly retreated, changing our position every day. But on the third day our pursuers appeared, and we left all our sheep and fled with our cattle. Soon we left the cattle too. One of my brothers, Atam, fled with the family, while my other brother, his fifteen-year-old daughter, and I, lagged behind and entered a forest, but when they saw my brother, two soldiers fired and he fell dead. Hearing the noise, the girl cried out and they saw her and shot her dead also. Me they did not find, and towards evening I came out of the forest, and hurrying forward, reached the family and told them of my brother’s and his

[page 377 - illustration]

The City of Harput in Eastern Turkey

[caption] THE CITY OF HARPUT IN EASTERN TURKEY. This is the eastern portion of the city, somewhat distant from the site occupied by the Euphrates College and the mission house. The hill is several hundred feet higher than the plain. Immediately in front of the dome is an Armenian Church. The city of Harput suffered very severely in the massacres.

[page 378 - illustration]

The City of Aintab, Northern Syria

[caption] THE CITY OF AINTAB, NORTHERN SYRIA. In the background is the old citadel. In the center is the Girls’School of the American mission. The building in the foreground gives a very good idea of the way in which the roofs are made. The stone roller is used especially when, after a period of drought, the rain moistens the mud surface of the roofs.

[page 379] SAVINGS

daughter’s death. We wept aloud and spent the night disheartened, tired and hungry. In the morning, thinking the soldiers had turned back, we returned to a village to obtain food. I found my brother’s body and buried it, but before I had time to bury the girl, the soldiers appeared. My remaining brother fled with the family, but I entered the forest. In the morning I found another refugee in the forest, who was seeking his family. He told me he had killed an ox, but had been obliged to leave it because the soldiers appeared. We were so hungry and faint that we could hardly walk, but we sought the ox and were about cooking some meat when soldiers again appeared.

“So we left the fire, climbed up the mountain, and hid behind some rocks. The soldiers saw us and two of them came to find us. We waited there for a few moments all trembling with terror. Suddenly a soldier appeared, aimed his gun at me and fired, the bullet piercing my leg. The other soldier also fired and pierced my thigh. Then they came up and severely wounded me with their short swords, in the shoulder and thigh. I shut my eyes and they thought me dead, and were about to depart when they saw my companion behind a rock; they fired at him with true aim, and I heard his horrible cry as he fell. Before leaving us, one of the soldiers suspecting I was still living, proposed to cut my body to pieces, but his companion rejected the proposition, objecting that there was no water to wash the swords. So they merely threw some large stones at me, which fortunately did no special harm. When the soldiers were far enough away I spoke to my companion to see if he was living, and he answered very feebly saying he could neither walk nor move, and I was in the same condition. Oh! our distress then! Tired, hungry,

[page 380] TERRIBLE SUFFERING.

thirsty, severely wounded, we should die in torture, or be the prey of wild beasts. I cried to the soldiers, ‘ We are still alive, come and put an end to our misery.’ I cried but they did not hear me.

“ After a while two Armenian fugitives passed by and saw us, and we besought them to carry us to a ruined sheep-cote near by. They were so hungry and weak they could hardly walk, and said they were not able to carry us, but yielding to our entreaties, they made a great effort and carried us there, gave us some water and fresh cheese and departed. We remained there three days, these friends coming to us at night and going away in the morning. We soon saw that this was too dangerous a place to stay, as we constantly heard the sound of guns and bullets passing over our heads. So they transferred us to another ruin, where we were tortured by the heat by day and the cold by night, naked and wounded. Our friends did not do much for us, not believing we could live. After three days my companion’s mother came, bringing some millet to cook for us, but going out to get some water, she heard the sound of bugles and fled, but soon returned and cooked it. The next day our brothers came with the woman and tried to cook some wheat, but were again frightened by the sound of the bugles and fled, my brother wishing to carry me with him, but I said, ‘ It is better for you and the family to escape. I must die.’ Toward evening they came back and carried us on their shoulders to another place, where some other families had already taken refuge. Soon they were obliged to leave this place also, fleeing in haste, and left me there. I remained in this dreary place eight days alone with my suffering save that they sometimes brought me a little food. After the eight days we heard that a firman had

[page 381] ESCAPE.

come ordering the massacre to cease. The soldiers then drove any fugitives they met, wounded or not, to the ruined villages. I remained thus among the ruins for two months, till my wounds were healed. As soon as I was strong enough, I left the ruins and slowly made my way to Vartenis (an Armenian village on the Mush plain). There I found my wife, but of the rest of the family I know nothing.”

With the man whose story is told above was a lad of seventeen years, named Serope Asdadurian, from the village of Mushakhshen, not far from Mush city. His statement shows the state of the region before the date of the massacre.

STORY OF SEROPE ASDADURIAN.

“ Our family consisted of fifteen members, of whom four are now living, the others having died by the hands of the Kurds and Turks.

“Before the year 1893 the brother of the celebrated robber chief, Mousa Bey, had abducted the daughter of the head man of our village. After a while the girl was rescued from his hands and married to a young man of Vartenis. In the spring of 1893 she visited her father’s house, after which her father wished to send her, under safe escort, to her husband at Vartenis. He besought my father to carry her, and he accepted the charge. On the way fifteen Kurds attacked the party and attempted to carry off the woman, but my father and his companions resisted, and delivered the woman safely to her husband, two of the Kurds being killed in the affray. My father fled to Russia, but soon returned, and for a month or so remained so concealed that no one saw him. After a while, however, it became known that he had returned, and suddenly one day the Mudir (Turkish petty governor) of the

[page 382] A CRIMSON STORM.

neighboring village surrounded our house with a band of zabtiehs (gendarmes) to seize my father. He knew that to be taken was probably to be killed with tortures, and determined to sell his life as dearly as possible. So when the zabtiehs burst open the door and came in my father killed one of them and rushed out with his rifle. But in his haste he struck his head violently against the frame of the door and fell, nearly dead. One of the zabtiehs fired and killed him. They then killed my mother, my two sisters, my uncle and four cousins. They carried away our cattle and sheep, robbed the house and burned it.”

So the crimson storm of carnage rolled on, until not less than thirty villages had been laid waste, so completely destroyed that even the names had been erased from the official records. As to the number of killed it is almost impossible to give accurate estimate. It must have been not less than five or six thousand, many put it much higher. Some soldiers said that a hundred fell to each one of them to dispose of, while others wept because the Kurds did more execution than they. Some, however, claimed to have been unwilling actors in the scene and suffered great mental torments. The wife of one noticed that he failed to pray, as had been his invariable custom. She spoke of it to him and he answered, “ God will not hear me. If there is a God he will take vengeance for these awful deeds. Is there any use to pray ? ” It is also told of other soldiers that on reaching their homes they inquired of Armenian acquaintances, “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth ? The Sassun women were constantly calling out to Him.”

At last the carnage stopped. The commander-in-chief of the fourth army corps at Erzingan reached the field in time

[page 383] ORDER RESTORED.

to save a few prisoners alive and to prevent the extermination of four more villages that were on the list to be destroyed. He then sent a telegram to Constantinople that rebellion had been overcome and that order had been restored in the province. For this he received a medal and the thanks of the Sultan.

 


Table of Contents | The Cover, Frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright Notice, etc.
Introduction | Preface | Turkey in Asia (map) | Table of Contents (as in the book)
List of Illustrations | 1. The Turkish Empire | 2. Population and Languages | 3. Religions
4. The Turks | 5. The Kurds | 6. The Armenians | 7. The Greeks | 8. Other Oriental Churches
9. Rise and Decline of Ottoman Power | 10. Turkey and Europe | 11. Russia and Turkey
12. Mahmud II | 13. Reform and Progress | 14. Treaties of Paris and Berlin
15. Condition of the Christians | 16. The Turkish Government | 17. Protestant Missions in Turkey
18. The Armenian Question | 19. General Situation in 1894 | 20. The Sassun Massacre
21. Politics and Massacre at Constantinople | 22. Massacres at Trebizond and Erzrum
23. Massacres in Harput District | 24. Aintab, Marash and Urfa | 25. Character of the Massacres
26. Religious Persecution | 27. Relief Work | 28. Partition of Turkey | 29. America and Turkey
30. General Survey | Alphabetical Index

Acknowledgements:

Source: Bliss, Rev. Edwin Munsell . Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities. Edgewood Publishing Company , 1896
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Irina Minasyan

See also:

J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris, Letters from the Scenes of the Recent Massacres in Armenia
Helen Davenport Gibbons, The Red Rugs of Tarsus
Maj. General James G. Harbord Conditions in the Near East: Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia

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