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The Massacres of the Armenians

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To-day it is difficult to realise that less than half a century! ago over one million inhabitants of a peace-loving country were murdered, deported, or robbed of all they possessed and left to starve. Yet so it was with the Armenians. Visualise a million marching four abreast! They would take two days, eighteen hours, marching all the time, day and night, to pass a given point; the column from van to rearguard would stretch 189 miles.

This was the multitude that Turkey, and the nomad assassins who helped her, crushed out of useful existence; it was the greatest of modern martyrdoms; and it leaves a black stain on the Powers of Europe and Asia who permitted it. To-day in Turkey all is peace - the day of the bowstring and the Bosphorus has gone. With Mustafa Kemal, the idealist of the young Turks, she began, in 1923, a period of civilisation and emancipation which seems almost incompatible with the savagery and blood-lust that ordered a killing and ravishing of an ancient race merely because they were an ancient race. The world may have forgotten Armenia; Armenians will never forget what the world did to them.

Let us for a moment look at the origin of this Armenian race. It might almost be said that they came out of the Ark; for it was upon Mount Ararat - 17,112 feet above sea-level - that the Ark is said to have come to rest, with Noah and his zoological cargo, in 2348, b.c. following the second flight of the dove. This may be legend, or it may be true, but at all events Mount Ararat stands in the middle of the Armenian country. It has been ascended, of course, many times, but the best description of the summit is that given by Mr. James Bryce, who climbed it in 1876. He said it was "a little plain of snow, silent and desolate, with bright green skies above." This then was part of the home of the Armenian race. It was a race that bred two distinct types - the small, cultured men of the plains, and the tall, hooked-nosed men of the mountains; men with eyes piercing in their intensity; tireless men. Throughout the centuries the Armenian has been a persecuted man; he has lived almost constantly in fear of aggression from one foe or another; fears which were, alas, too frequently realised. But Nature invariably has her compensations. The elephant, because he could not reach the young shoots he loved, grew a trunk; the tiger, when he came to live in the jungle, like the leopard, grew a speckled hide - one of the first manifestations of camouflage.

So it was with the Armenian. He grew, not a trunk as the elephant, or spots like the leopard, but he was given that sense of wariness possessed by all hunted animals, be they human or brute; and that capacity for taking care of themselves. It was as well that he did, for he and his people had a great deal of tribulation to come to them. At the same time, hardship made them hard; there were no better brains in Asia at that time; no better men in the money market - when they were allowed to be there; intellectually they were a century ahead of their fellows and they earned all the unpopularity which intellectual superiority brings.

The martyrdom of the Armenian seemed to be almost never-ending; he was constantly on the defensive. From being a compact race, with its own place in the scheme of things, the Armenian nation became a butt for every kind of insult and atrocity. Through the ages its history has been one of independence - yet independence bought at a great price; often the price of home and fireside, more often, perhaps, of family and even life. Thus, as the diamond is made by being crushed between tremendous weights at enormous force, so was the Armenian character made by tribulations. When Druids were still offering their sacrifices at Stonehenge, the Armenian was a Christian. His race was the first, as a race and a nation, to embrace the teaching of Christ's Gospel. In a.d. 300 he had established a Christian community; it was nearly three hundred years later before Augustine, a Roman monk sent by Gregory the Great, brought the word to, and established it, in England.

Armenia lies in Asia Minor, a territory which includes 704,650 miles - about twelves times the extent of England and Wales. It is just south of the Black Sea and of the Caucasus. The great plateau upon which it is situated stretches as far east as the Indus River, and includes modern Afghanistan. In 95 b.c. Tigranes the Great reigned in Armenia Major; in 83 b.c. he became king of Syria and assumed the title of "King of Kings." See how ancient history, made familiar by the plays of Shakespeare, emerges from this story of this ancient race. In 54 b.c. we find Artavasdes assisting Pompey against Julius Caesar and the Parthians against Mark Antony - this was 36 b.c. - who subdued him and sent him loaded with silver chains to Egypt.

Then, Armenia underwent many troubles. In a.d. 15 she was subjected to Parthia, She was in turn, conquered by the Greeks and the Persians. Leon the last King of Armenia, was taken prisoner by the Saracens in 1375, released and died in Paris in 1393. The Moguls came, the Turks; and the Russians - and so it went on, a country being continually conquered yet emerging, in some miraculous fashion as an entity after each conquest. Though they are scattered all over the world, the Armenians have never lost their individuality or their personality. Both are unique to them. In 1604, when James I. ruled in England, Shah Abbas, of Persia, surrendered Armenia to the Turks. He was merciful to a degree, because when he did this he transported twenty-two thousand of the Armenian subjects to his own states. He realised, ahead of his time, just what a useful person the Armenian could be to any state. Unfortunately the Turks did not realise that fact.

They could not visualise the type of the Armenian. They could not realise that these men were representative of the Hittites of the Old Testament. They regarded them almost as vermin, and, as subsequently happened, they treated them as such. Still the tribulations of the Armenians continued; in 1828 they were overrun by the Russians. In 1878, Kars, Ardahan and Batoun were ceded to the Slavs, but as events turned out the inhabitants were not to be much happier under Russian rule than under Turkish.

For scores of years - one might almost say for centuries - the Armenians were a persecuted people. As we have said, they came through the fire of persecution cleansed and better in every way than their fellow-inhabitants of the Asiatic Continent. Lord Gromer once called them "the intellectual cream of the Near East." Their martyrdom is without parallel in history, yet they rose above it all. One of the finest specimens of Byzantine work in existence is the work of an Armenian - the famous Gutea de Argesh. From their ranks were recruited bankers, financiers, men of affairs in money matters and in occupations where mathematical precision is needed. They were the brains of Asiatic Turkey, and because of that Asiatic Turkey loved them not.

Abdul Hamid II. was the evil genius of the Armenians. It was during his reign that the tribulations came to a head. Abdul was born on September 22, 1842, being the second son of Sultan Abdul Medjid. He was even in childhood melancholy, querulous, jealous, sullen and sly. He was an object of dislike even in the Imperial Household. From his childhood he was, as we should term it now, "a bad piece of work"; in his manhood he showed no improvement, and he died unrepentant, and generally detested by the whole of the civilised world. Here is one example of his subtle cruelty. In the early days of his reign there was a reformer in Turkey - where reformers were almost as rare as the Dodo - by name, Midhat Pasha.

The Sultan encouraged Midhat - he gave him honours, but only to lead him to destruction. Within two months of his appointment as a Grand Vizier Midhat was banished to the Hedjas - two years later he was carefully and secretly strangled. They said that Abdul never forgot an injury; and he never gave an enemy a chance. Even in those days he favoured the European style of dress, and a famous London firm made his suits for him. Over them he usually wore a grey military overcoat, in the pockets of which he carried two revolvers. When he received guests at the Palace he invariably stood behind the door until the guests entered the room, his hands in his pockets, fingers on triggers. He took no chances, did Abdul! Contemporary observers record him as a man with eyes like a rabbit, and with nails bitten to the quick. This was Abdul whom Mr. Gladstone, emerging from his retirement, referred to as the "Great Assassin."

There are people to-day who say that Great Britain was in a measure responsible for the massacres of the Armenians. Posterity must judge for itself. Abdul came to the throne in 1876; the Russo-Turkish war of 1887, which Russia won, brought freedom for the Bulgarian people, and ended a reign of terror in Bulgaria by the Turks. The Treaty of Stefano stipulated that Turkey should "carry into effect without further delay the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by Armenians and to guarantee their security from the Kurds - a nomad race which might be compared to the modern Riffs. That stipulation focused Europe's attention upon Armenian affairs. It was bitterly resented by Turkey because it contained a clause that Russia should patrol with her troops part of Turkish Armenia until the reforms asked for were carried out. Then came in Turkish diplomacy, and it succeeded in overthrowing that Treaty and substituting a new one - the Treaty of Berlin, which was signed on July 13, 1878. By that plan six Powers were to be substituted for Russia, and her troops were to be withdrawn. But Great Britain went further, and committed what many people in later years called a great betrayal of a small nation. By the Cyprus Convention of June 4 the Sultan promised Britain to introduce necessary reforms for the protection of Christians and other subjects of the Porte in Asia-Minor, and as the price tor guaranteeing the integrity of Turkey's territory in Asia-Minor, Cyprus was given to Great Britain.

It was regarded as a masterly stroke of diplomacy at Westminster - later it was realised to be one of the greatest blunders that British diplomats had ever made. They had with a stroke of the pen antagonised Russia with little gain. Though Armenia was never mentioned in this Treaty, Britain had by inference placed it under her protection. When later the Armenian atrocities forced themselves upon European attention and Great Britain appealed to the other Powers who had signed this Treaty, Prince Bismarck - the pilot who was afterwards dropped - said that Germany cared nothing about Armenia and her reforms.

What crimes had these Armenian's committed that they should be massacred? None but that they were Christians and that they were of finer metal than their oppressors - more active, more intellectual, less brutish in their habits. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Mussulman could very well stop any Christian in the street and behead him, merely to test the sharpness of his sword. Men were obliged to carry a special handkerchief to wipe the shoes of any Mussulman who desired the service done for him. No posts in the Civil Service were open to them; none of the honours of office, which the Turks claimed for themselves. And if these conditions prevailed in Constantinople, in Armenia itself where the local officers were even more brutalised, they were worse. The Kurd was constantly pillaging and robbing.

It is a saying among the Turks that the Kurd will rob you but kill you first; and so the Kurds were very useful to their protectors the Turks, in harrying the Armenians. And so it went on until came the great massacres of 1894 and 1895. The full story will probably never be told because whole villages with all their inhabitants, vanished in a few hours. Like Kipling's three elephants who "let in the jungle" the Turks in various provincial Vilayets (the word means Province) swept in, murdered the inhabitants and departed.

The occasion for the first massacres was the pressure which had been put upon the Sultan by the Powers, to carry out the reforms he had promised - to give the Armenian a square deal in his own land, in accordance with the Treaty of Berlin. The Sultan preferred to reduce the Armenian population rather than to introduce reforms. He wished to make it an insignificant minority, without wealth, power or lands; he put plans into operation and systematically killed certain leading citizens in each of the six Vilayets concerned. He caused the shops to be looted, the houses to be burned down, the Christians villages to be destroyed, thus reducing the agricultural population as well as that of the towns. It was death or embrace Mohammedanism, he ordered - knowing full well what the choice of the majority would be.

So in 1894 and 1895 thirty of the principal towns were subjected to massacre. The killing was done by Turks assisted in many places by Kurds, and they were always prearranged. Usually a massacre was begun at such and such a time on a certain day and lasted a certain number of hours - usually four. More often than not it began at the close of the midday prayers. According to Sunni Law the killing and plundering of the Infidel is a virtue and an act of worship, and so each of these killings was regarded by its participants as a sort of Holy War.

In many cases the Armenians had received warning of the intended massacres - and often they appealed to the Civil authorities for protection, only to be told that there was nothing to be feared. Then the signal was given, and the result was always the same. Turkish soldiers and Kurd tribesmen rushed into the town or village, and every Armenian found there was killed. There was no quarter; it was not asked for; the victims knew it would not dc given.

Guns, pistols and knives were used - and most horrible - clubs, with which skulls were crushed and brains dashed out. Later, when the assassins had done their worst, the bodies were stripped and mutilated. Sometimes the actual greed of the murderers saved their victims' lives, for their desire for plunder was so great that they allowed them to escape - to creep away and hide in holes and corners until the Terror had passed by.

But it was bad enough, in all conscience. Women saw their men stabbed or clubbed to death; saw their bodies thrown into the roadway or into cesspools amidst the filth. Children ran screaming to hide beneath their mothers' skirts. The sights they saw on those days were to make an indelible impression upon their minds - long afterwards they would wake up in the night screaming. For the assassins did not kill the young women or the young children. A worse fate was reserved for the women; as for the children, they always hoped they would embrace Islam.

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