- Armenian Literature, History, Religion in in Russian

James Bryce


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[page 557]


Aleppo was not intended to be the final destination of the Armenian exiles. A certain number of the earlier arrivals were sent to the swampy, malarious districts a short distance to the south and southeast of the city, but by far the greater number were forwarded at least several days' journey further afield.

Aleppo lies on the inner edge of a great desert amphitheatre, which is buttressed by the Lebanon, the Taurus and the mountains of Kurdistan, and slopes very gradually south-eastward towards the alluvial lowlands at the head of the Persian Gulf, while southward it passes insensibly into the high desert lands of the Arabian Peninsula. This region presents a sharp climatic contrast to the tablelands of Anatolia and Armenia, which are the native country of the Armenian race. Climatically and geographically, Armenia and Anatolia are an integral part of Europe, while Syria and Mesopotamia are the outer fringe of Arabia, and akin, like it, to the Sahara region of North Africa. The frontier between the two climates is formed by the southward escarpment of the Taurus, and the transition between them is abrupt.

The ostensible motive for deporting the Armenians to this country was to remove them from the neighbourhood of the frontiers and from the coast and to plant them among a compact Moslem population of alien (Arabic) speech, where they would find themselves in political isolation as well as in a decisive numerical minority. The actual result was to subject people accustomed to a temperate climate to a climate of a Saharan character, and this under the worst conceivable conditions for such a change of environment—when the victims were destitute of food, clothing and shelter, and physically exhausted by months of travelling on foot over the roughest of roads.

The two chief places selected by the Ottoman Government as destinations for the exiles were Damascus, which lies due south of Aleppo, and is close, like Aleppo itself, to the inner rim of the amphitheatre, and Der-el-Zor, which lies considerably further inwards—six days' journey by carriage from Aleppo down the course of the Euphrates, where the river cuts through the desert between the mountains of Armenia and the alluvium of the Gulf. Some batches had been sent a further day's journey still, to Mayadin (Doc. 141), while there are even rumours of their presence (Docs. 11 and 121) within forty-eight hours' journey of Baghdad.

The condition of these exiles after their arrival is made sufficiently plain in the documents included in this section. Doc. 145 shows that by the12th July there were already large numbers of Cilicians bivouacked at Der-el-Zor, while it appears from Doc. 143 that they did not begin to arrive at Damascus until the 12th August, 1915.

[page 558]



Since the 12th August, 1915, convoys of Armenian exiles, consisting of from a few hundred to as many as two thousand individuals, have been marched through this city at varying intervals, averaging about two to three or more convoys per week.

On a sober estimate I should say that from 8,000 to 10,000 souls have already thus come through Damascus up to the present time. This has been going on since the 12th August, to my knowledge.

His Excellency the Governor-General of Syria informed me, upon my request, that these people are all Armenians who, because of uprisings and attempts to set up local revolutionary governments in the Vilayets of Van and Bitlis, are being exiled to the country round Damascus and will be distributed in groups of two, three and so on among the various more important towns and villages. His Excellency also informed me—upon my statement that, if the Government permitted, I believed that I could secure funds from the American Red Cross to aid these people, who undoubtedly would be very needy—that the Government would not sanction this, and that the Government was doing everything possible, furnishing food, tents, etc.

Numerous stories are current of hardship, want, suffering from hunger, forced marching when in no condition to walk, cruelty of guards, seizure of young women, giving away and selling of children that they might find homes, etc., etc., but I did not believe them, and even now I am sure that many of the worst stories that are circulating are much exaggerated. Still, there are some which I must credit.

One is that of a woman who, though six or seven months pregnant and naturally in no condition whatever to do the marches, was obliged to keep up with the procession until she dropped in her tracks and died. I have heard of several cases of young girls or boys being bought by people who wished to aid in some way and were importuned by parents to take their children as servants, that they might have homes. It was stated to me also that some soldier guards, in order to urge them on, whipped those who straggled on the march either from utter exhaustion or in quest of food or money from compassionate Christian inhabitants of the places through which they passed.

I have also heard of kindnesses extended by good Moslems who pitied these sufferers, and I overheard a common Moslem soldier—and it is known that such have hardly enough money for themselves—say that he had given two medjidias* to the Christian exiles.

*6s. 4d.



Several times I went to the quarter through which the exiles were marched, to see them with my own eyes. Never, however, could I time my visit with their passage.

Kahdem, on the outskirts of the city, is a large piece of common ground where, after passing through Damascus, all the exiles are collected preparatory, it seems, to their being dispersed to the various towns where they are finally to stay.

Some days ago I visited this place to get some idea of conditions. It is a large open tract, practically devoid of grass and possessing but few trees. It was nearly covered with groups of ragged, road-stained, dejected, wholly dispirited individuals. There were only a very few tents or shelters of any kind, and these had the air of being mere improvisations. At the outer fringe of the people I was met by a policeman, who conducted me to the man in charge of the encampment. I saw practically nothing, and learned only what he told me. He was most courteous. According to him (and he said he kept count of it) there were that day something over 2,000 Armenians present on this field ; up to that time about 20,000 had passed through Damascus for exile from practically all the vilayets inhabited by Armenians, except the region of Van. He thought they had not arrived from Van yet because it was so distant. A total of 100,000 Armenians were to be distributed among the towns surrounding Damascus before this deportation scheme would be complete, he said. A hospital for those who were ill had been instituted, and was then occupied by about fifty persons, I was informed. He further told me that there were practically no deaths, and that the Government furnished food for them, i.e., for all the exiles. I left the Director of the Encampment's tent, and the only thing I saw while being conducted to the road was the wagon, outbound, that plies between camp and hospital. It appeared to be well filled. The Spanish Consul took the road to Kahdem the same day. He did not go as close as I, I believe.

One of the exiled Armenians who came to see me said he was a native of Kessab, near Aleppo. According to his statements, he had been on the march some ten days, and. upon being questioned, he told me that the suffering en route had been extreme for those who were not very strong. He said that along the road they had passed the bodies of those in the convoy ahead of theirs who had succumbed. This man declared that his wife and family were coming by train. He nearly broke down in the telling, and said he had no idea what would become of him and cared less.

On the 11th September, 1915, the Spanish Consul and myself happened to be in the Christian quarter, when we came upon a procession of the Armenian exiles on their way to Kahdem. One becomes accustomed to poorly dressed, ragged people in the interior whose faces never seem to have expressed joy, but in the faces of this band of silently trudging automatons one saw written a great weariness, despair and hopeless suffering stoically

[page 560] DAMASCUS

borne. There were men, women and children, only some of whom took heed of us when we offered them what change we happened to have. The greater part seemed interested only in doggedly pursuing their march until the night's halt might allow them to rest. It was then a little after six o'clock.

Old and young people were the chief components of the procession. Here there passed a boy hardly over ten years of age, overburdened by a smaller child upon his back ; there a woman, with back bent by age, crawling painfully along by the aid of her staff ; now a wee infant, crying for its mother lost on the march, on the heels of an old patriarch, dragging along his last possession, a little donkey ; then a woman, evidently heavy with child, smothering a moan of pain at each forced step. Young women and men of middle age were noticeable by their absence. From various reports I have heard, it would appear that many exiles have been arriving by train, and that the total number that has passed this way now reaches 22,000.

From a person who has passed that way, I learn that, so far as he could judge, all Armenians south of Ismid were being exiled, and from the same informant, whose word cannot be questioned, I hear that thousands of Armenians were passed by him on the road. They were in the most horrible condition. At Osmania there were some 8,000 exiles quartered. He tells me that for some miles out from this place a most foul odour was noticeable, like that rising from a dirty chicken-run. Upon approaching the low ground on which the exiles were concentrated, the odour became sickening and noisome flies swarmed about him. Passing through the encampment, he saw many people ill, and the bodies of others half-submerged in the water that had collected in pools on the low-lying ground. Some told him they were only waiting for death to free them. On the road from there to Aleppo he passed thousands of exiles on the march, and at a small town near Aleppo he found about 100,000 Armenians encamped. He says that the mortality among these was very great. They had no food nor money to buy any, as it appeared that many convoys had been plundered on the road of what little they possessed by successive armed bands. The party of which my informant was a member had several times been accosted by armed persons in uniform, who thought they were Armenians.

I have heard from a source not quite so authentic, but in which a great deal of confidence may be placed, that the country lying north and north-east of Marash is being entirely denuded of Armenians ; that at Horns there was a concentration camp of about 30,000, practically all without shelter ; that there had been a massacre at Diyarbekir ; that exiles from Kaisaria were allowed to sell their property (a small price only could be obtained in this forced sale) before being sent to Der-el-Zor. From this same source I was also informed that it was rumoured that many



exiles had been drowned (by boats being overturned, and so on) in the Euphrates River, while making their crossing.

Just within the last few days—it is now the 3rd October— I was told by an eye-witness that a massacre took place on the 19th September at Ourfa, and that the Armenians were shot, stabbed, bayoneted or flayed by the population in general that day, but that afterwards the slaughter was still being continued by soldiers with bayonets and sharp sabres when this person left on the 22nd. It appears that the Armenian men were collected together, and that one by one they were led out to be slashed up and cut down by the long sabre-knives. In the first day's massacre three French and Russian civil prisoners were wounded by knife or flail ; but I gathered that they soon recovered and that that was all that happened to these prisoners. The person who came from Ourfa told me that en route many women, children and old men were passed, and that soldiers were seen to strike some of these when they stopped to get a drink of water. Soldiers were overheard to say : " Wait until we get you to the Euphrates, and see what happens to you there !" or words to that effect. This information was given me by a person who, as stated above, was actually present at the massacre and who heard the remark above mentioned.

I do not know whether I shall be able to get this through or not. In every instance the faith that might be placed in statements has been indicated as precisely as the writer is able to judge ; he can vouch absolutely, of course, only for the things seen or heard by himself as related above.

At Damascus everything appears to be very quiet. An egg was thrown into my carriage yesterday, the 2nd October, but that was by a small boy and indicated little. I do not believe that any trouble from the population is to be feared, unless incited by authority, and of this I have no apprehension.




Along the burning banks of the distant Euphrates, between sultry Mesopotamia and the Badiet-esh-Sham, the desolate desert of Syria, are encamped the several thousands of deported Armenians who have escaped the great massacre.

Their condition there is such that no words can express the horror of it. That is the unanimous testimony of the rare travellers who have succeeded in visiting the camps where the unhappy victims are dying off, between Aleppo and Baghdad. They are subjected to frightful sufferings—without shelter either against the deadly cold of last winter or against the terrific heat of the present summer, which grows more pitiless every day— and daily they are perishing in great numbers, though those struck down by death are the least to be pitied.

I am now in. a position to cite unimpeachable testimony as to the facts of these unheard-of atrocities.

A Turkish army-physician, Dr. H. Toroyan—an Armenian by birth, as appears by his name—was commissioned by the Young Turkish Government to visit the exiles' camps. The horrors of which he was a helpless witness in the course of his mission, and the hideous scenes at which he was present, affected him so deeply that he determined to make his way out of Turkey, at the risk of his life, in order to reveal to the civilised world the barbarity and infamy of the guilty parties—that is, of the present rulers of Turkey and their accomplices.

Dr. Toroyan, in spite of the almost insurmountable difficulties with which he had to contend, succeeded in escaping and reaching Caucasia. There I met him and his first words with me were these :

" My unhappy countrymen deported to Mesopotamia have besought me to make an appeal on their behalf to the whole civilised world, to the Caucasian Armenians in particular, and above all to the Armenians in America, whose women and children are dying every day—decimated by suffering, hunger and disease and subjected to the devilish cruelty of the zaptiehs who are in charge of them in their place of exile."

He proceeded to show me the notes which he had taken day by day in the course of his tour of inspection down the Euphrates. It is a long series of awful pictures-—stories of murders and tortures and revolting rapes. The bestial instincts of human nature are unleashed in the presence of tears and blood. The Turkish butchers amused themselves by massacring men " for pleasure " and hunting women like beasts of the field.



It was on the 25th November, 1915, that Dr. Toroyan left Djerablous and began to descend the Euphrates on a raft. At Djerablous he saw a convoy of Armenians from Syria and twenty-five Armenian families from Aintab, who were being driven along by gendarmes towards the military tribunal under blows of the lash. Other Armenian families were coming in from Kaisaria and Konia by railway. From the moment they left the train they became the victims of the most atrocious outrages. The Tchatchaus* carried off three hundred women and girls (the prettiest) in order to sell them as slaves. All these latter victims belonged to families from Diyarbekir, Mardin and Harpout.

But I will let Dr. Toroyan tell his own story :—

" This camp," he continued, " was still congested when I left it with Armenians from Adana and Cilicia. Most of them were women and girls. Two of them, whom I knew well but only recognised with difficulty, to so lamentable a condition were they reduced, cast themselves at my feet :

" ' Tell the gallant soldiers (of the Allies) to come quickly to Mesopotamia,' they cried to me between their sobs ; ' we are worse than dead.' "

The doctor went down on his raft with the current as far as Meskené. There he landed and, escorted by two Turkish gendarmes, paid a visit to the Armenian camp.

"The poor people were in rags which barely covered their bodies," he said, " and had nothing to shelter them against the weather. Some of them, crouched on the ground, were trying to protect themselves beneath tattered umbrellas, but most of them had nothing at all. I asked my gendarmes what all the strange little mounds of earth were which I saw everywhere, with thousands of dogs prowling round about them.

" ' Those are the graves of the infidels ! ' they answered calmly.

" ' Strange, so many graves for such a little village.'

" ' Oh, you do not understand. Those are the graves of these dogs—those who were brought here first, last August. They all died of thirst.'

" ' Of thirst ? Was there no water left in the Euphrates ? '

" ' For whole weeks together we were forbidden to let them drink.'

" I arrived at last at the extremity of this vast field of graves. There were two old men there, crouched on the ground, sobbing. I questioned them : ' Where are you from ? ' They made no answer. They were stupefied by suffering. Perhaps they had lost the power of speech. Further on, however, another exile,

* Tchetchens (?).



prostrate on the ground, in the midst of other victims belonging to the same family, did give me an answer. I learnt that the camp contained 5,000 Armenians from Mersina and other Cilician towns. " But now my two gendarmes came up to me. They pointed to a girl : ' Effendi, let us take her and carry her with us to Baghdad . . . .'

" Without waiting for my answer they called the poor girl. She approached, shrieking with terror. She said several words to me in French. Before she was deported she had been a schoolmistress at Smyrna. She was dying of hunger. I tried to learn from her precise details about the martyrdom of the exiles, but she could answer nothing but : ' Bread ! Bread ! ' Then she fainted and fell down unconscious.

" ' She is dead ! the schoolmistress, too, has died of hunger ! ' piteous voices cried around us. But the gendarmes were anxious to take advantage of their victim's unconsciousness to gain possession of her. Already they had seized her and were carrying her towards our raft. I stopped them. Then I poured several drops of brandy between the poor girl's lips and she came to herself again.

" A mother came to implore me. She offered her honour and her life if I would save her son, who was in agony, devoured by a fever. I gave her a little aspirine.

" And now they crowded round me in thousands—these poor emaciated beings with hollow cheeks and eyes, either dulled or unnaturally bright. From every side they nocked together with all the haste they could, and surrounded me with a tumult of despairing cries : ' Bread ! Medicine ! '

" The gendarmes rushed at them. Into this pitiful crowd they struck at random with kicks and blows as hard as they could. I left the scene, desperate at my powerlessness to alleviate this infinite suffering.

" I saw two women, one of them old, the other very young and very pretty, carrying the corpse of another young woman ; I had scarcely passed them when cries of terror arose. The girl was struggling in the clutches of a brute who was trying to drag her away. The corpse had fallen to the ground, the girl, now half-unconscious, was writhing by the side of it, the old woman was sobbing and wringing her hands.

" I could not interfer. I had the strictest orders. Shaking I took refuge on my raft, which was " I could not interfere, with rage and indignation, moored to the river bank.

" In the middle of the night I was awakened by desperate shrieks. My two gendarmes, who had remained on shore, had seized some Armenian girls. It was their intention to violate them, and they were striking savagely at the exiles who were trying to interfere. The tumult, which I heard without seeing it,



continued. At last the gendarmes returned, the boatman unmoored the raft and bent to his oars. We were starting. The great river boat glided slowly over the smooth water. Suddenly the gendarmes shouted and guffawed as if they were watching a fine farce : ' The girl ! the girl we had to-night ! ' I looked, and saw floating on the surface a corpse which they had recognised and which I recognised too. It was the schoolmistress from Smyrna, the poor girl to whom I had spoken only a few hours before. It was she who, in the darkness, had been the victim of these two wild beasts."


[page 566] DER-EL-ZOR.


At Der-el-Zor, a large town in the desert about six days' journey from Aleppo, we found the big han full to overflowing. All available rooms, roofs, and verandahs were occupied by Armenians. The majority were women and children, but there were also a certain number of men squatting on their quilts wherever they could find a spot of shade. As soon as I heard that they were Armenians, I started going round and talking to them. They were the people of Furnus (a village in the neighbourhood of Zeitoun and Marash) ; herded together here in these narrow quarters, they presented an extraordinarily melancholy appearance. When I enquired for children from our Orphanage at BM., they brought me a protégée of Sister 0., Martha Karabashian. She gave me the following account of what had happened.

One day Turkish gendarmes had come to Furnus and arrested and carried off a large number of men, to turn them into soldiers. Neither they nor their families knew where they were being taken to. Those who remained were told that they would have to leave their houses within the space of four hours. They were allowed to take with them as much as they could carry ; they might also take their beasts. After the lapse of the specified time the poor people had to march out of their village under the escort of soldiers (zaptiehs), without knowing where they were going or whether they would ever see their village again. To begin with, as long as they were still among the mountains and had some provisions left, things went well enough. They had been promised money and bread, and were actually given some in the early stages'—as far as I can remember, it was 30 paras (l 1/2d.) per head per day. But very soon these rations ceased, and there was nothing to be had but bulgur meal—50 drams (=150 grammes) per head per day. In this fashion the Furnusli, after four weeks of extremely hard travelling via Marash and Aleppo, had arrived at Der-el-Zor. They had already been three weeks there in the han, and had no idea what was to happen to them. They had no more money left, and the provisions supplied by the Turks had also dwindled almost to nothing. It was days since they had had any bread. In the towns they had been barred in at night, and not allowed to speak to the inhabitants. Martha, for instance, had not been allowed at BM. to go to the Orphanage. She said to me sadly : " We had two houses and we had to leave everything ; now there are mouhadjirs* in them." There had been no massacres in Furnus and the zaptiehs, too, had treated the people well. They had suffered principally

* Moslem immigrants from Europe.



from lack of food and water on the march through the burning hot desert. These Yailadji or Mountaineers, as they called themselves, suffered twice as much from the heat as other people. The zaptiehs escorting them told us then that, since the massacres, the Armenians had cherished such hatred against the Turks that the latter had always to go in fear of them. The intention now, they said, was to employ the Armenians in building roads, and in this way to move them on gradually to Baghdad. When asked the " wherefore " of this, the zaptiehs explained that the people had been in collusion with Russia. The Armenians themselves declared that they did not know the reason for their expulsion.

Next day, at the midday rest, we fell in with a whole convoy of Armenians. The poor people had made themselves primitive goat's hair tents after the manner of the Kurds, and were resting in them. But the majority lay on the burning sand without defence against the scorching sun. On account of the number of sick, the Turks had allowed them a day's rest. It is simply impossible to conceive anything more disconsolate than such a mass of people in the desert under the given circumstances. One could tell by their clothes that they had lived in considerable prosperity, and now misery was written on their faces. " Bread ! " " Bread ! " was the universal cry. They were the people of Geben, who had been driven out with their Pastor. The latter told me that every day there were five or six deaths among the children and the sick. This very day they had only just buried the mother of a girl about nine years old, who was now quite alone in the world. They besought me most urgently to take the child with me to our Orphanage. The Pastor gave precisely the same account of what had happened as the little girl at Der-el-Zor.

No one without personal experience of the desert can form anything approaching a conception of the misery and distress. The desert is mountainous, but almost entirely without shade. For days together the route leads over rocks and is extremely difficult going. On the left hand, as one comes from Aleppo, there is always the Euphrates, which trails along like a streak of clay, yet not near enough for one to be able to draw water from it. The poor people must suffer intolerable pangs of thirst ; no wonder that so many sicken and die.

As it was the midday halt, we, too, unpacked our provisions and prepared to eat. That morning we had had bread and tea ; our midday meal consisted once more of hard Arab bread, cheese and a tin of sardines. In addition we had a bottle of mineral water. It was not very sumptuous, and yet it was not an easy task to eat anything in face of that crowd of distressed and suffering humanity. We gave away as much as we possibly could, and each of my three companions silently pressed into my hand a medjidia (3s. 2d.) "for the poor people." A bag of bread from Baghdad, as hard as atone, was received with extraordinary gratitude.



[page 568] DER-EL-ZOR.

" We shall soak it in water and then the children will eat it," said the delighted mothers.

Another scene comes back to me, which will give an idea of their destitution. One of my companions threw away an empty glass bottle. An old man threw himself upon it, begged to be allowed to take it for himself, and gave profuse thanks for the boon. Then he went down to the river, washed it out, and brought it back filled with the thick clayey water, carrying it carefully in his arms like a treasure, to thank us for it once more. Now he had at least drinking water for his journey.

Followed by many good wishes we at last continued on our way, with the impression of this misery still weighing upon us. In the evening, when we reached the village, we met yet another Armenian convoy of the same kind. This time it was the people of Zeitoun. There was the same destitution and the same complaint about the heat, the lack of bread and the persecutions of the Arabs. A little girl who had been brought up by Kaisers -werth Deaconesses in the Orphanage at Beirout, told us of her experiences in good German :—

" Why does God allow it ? Why must we suffer like this ? Why did not they strike us dead at once ? " were her complaints; " In the daytime we have no water for the children and they cry of thirst. At night the Arabs come to steal our bedding and clothes. They have taken girls from us and committed outrages against women. If we cannot drag ourselves further on the march, we are beaten by the zaptiehs."

They also told us that other women had thrown themselves into the water to escape their shame, and that mothers with their new-born children had done the same, because they saw no other way out of their misery. Along the whole desert route there was a dearth of food—even for us who had money to pay for it—on account of the number of Turkish soldiers passing through and resting at every han. In Zeitoun, too, no one had been killed ; the people could mention no instance of it.

The Armenian is bound up with his native soil ; every change of climate is extremely upsetting to him, and there is nothing he misses so much as clear, cold water. For this reason alone residence in the desert is intolerable for him. A speedy death for the whole family at once seems a better fate to the mothers than to watch death by starvation slowly approaching themselves and their children.

On my arrival at Aleppo I was at once asked about the Armenians, and how they were doing for supplies. Their case had been taken up in every possible way, and representations had been made to the Government on their behalf. All that could be obtained was permission for the formation of an Armenian League of Help, which the Government at Constantinople as well as the Vali of Aleppo had sanctioned. The



Armenian community at Aleppo at once proceeded to raise a relief fund among themselves, and have been supporting their poor, homeless brethren with money, food and clothing.

In the Amanus mountains, on our second day's journey after leaving Aleppo, we met with Armenians again. This time it was the people of Hadjin and the neighbourhood. They explained to us that they were going to Aleppo, but they knew nothing beyond that. They had only been nine days on the road, and did not ask for any assistance. Compared with those in the desert, they were faring sumptuously ; they had wagons with them carrying their household goods, horses with foals, oxen and cows, and even camels. The procession making its way up through the mountains seemed endless, and I could not help asking myself how long their prosperity would last. They were still in the mountains on their native soil, and had no suspicion of the terrors of the desert. That was the last I saw of the Armenians, but such experiences are unforgettable, and I publish them here with the most earnest appeal for help. Many of the Armenians may be guilty and may only be suffering what they have brought upon themselves, but the poor women and children need our help.



[page 570]

 Contents   Cover   Map    Title page   Insert    Contents (as in the book)
Correspondence   Preface   Letters    Memorandum
Chapter I   II   III    IV    V   VI    VII   VIII   IX   X   XI    XII   XIII   XIV
Summary   Annexe   Index of place   Message


Source: Viscount Bryce The Treatment of Armenians.London, 1916
Scanned by: Irina Minasyan
OCR: Irina Minasyan
Corrections: Anna Vrtanesyan, Lina Kamalyan

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