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The Massacres of the Armenians page 2

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How many of them did so one cannot tell. It is easy to speak of principles and of convictions while sitting in a comfortable chair listening to music from the ether; it is another thing to defend them when your father's mutilated body lies outside your dwelling-place - the hearthstone uprooted, the walls punctured by Turkish knives in search of spoil; the very roof falling in fragments about your ears. So, it must be admitted, many Armenians became followers of Islam - to the undying honour of a nation more gallant by far than any other little nation since history began to tell of cruelty and oppression, they were very few indeed.

In many cases, when shops and houses were destroyed in the towns, care was taken to burn the evidences of debt - even the fruits of the Armenians' frugality and trading were to be illiterated. They lost not only their property and their homes, but also their means of livelihood. They were left in poverty. Many of them left the Vilayets without a single coin to buy bread - they were later to die a more lingering death from starvation. In Erzeroum alone 80,000 people were killed; as many others fled before the assassins. Sometimes the clothing was stripped from them; women as well as men. In two provinces alone twenty-four villages were wiped out.

While all this was happening in the Provinces, in the capital underground influences were at work among the Armenians. Some of them who had money tried to help their defenceless brethren but the money never reached the hands of the persons for whom it was intended. Either the benefactor received a letter saying that his relative or friend had turned to Islam, or he heard nothing at all. A great silence had fallen upon whatever tragedy had taken place. Relief funds were raised in many countries, including Great Britain, but the difficulty was to get the relief to those who needed it. It was not until later, when the refugees began to arrive in places not under Turkish domination, that anything like adequate help could be given.

Thousands of refugees flocked out of the country over the Russian border; 100,000 made their way to the United States, many to Europe. Feeling ran high in England; meetings of protest were held, but while our Ambassador protested, the outrages went on. Lord Rosebery, writing to a correspondent in December, 1895, according to a letter published in the Times said:

"Our protests have been idle; our action has been futile; our menaces have been disregarded. Our diplomacy, so far as we know, has exhausted itself in representations which have been ignored.... Meanwhile, during all these months the Armenians whom we claim to protect have been plundered, murdered and ravished by hundreds and by thousands."

In Constantinople there were about 150,000 Armenians, practising various trades and industries, mechanics, shopkeepers, clerks and the like. They began to form secret societies, against the advice of their leaders, who realised that they were only giving the oppressors excuse for more oppression. They were impatient at the delay in the conversations between the Sultan and the Powers while their fellow-countrymen were being murdered. They met in cellars and discussed revolution. They asked the Patriarch to head a movement, and to demand of the Porte immediate reforms. The prelate declined and exhorted them not to break the law, but so maddened were these men that they organised a public demonstration and marched through the streets. They would have liberty or death, they said. Many of them found death. They met a party of Turkish police under the command of Major Servet Bey, who ordered them to disperse. There was a fight, Servet Bey was killed and the police fired on the mob and killed some twenty of them.

Next day came the beginning of the massacres which made the streets run red in blood. In Galata and other parts of the city, Softas or Mussulman religious zealots connected with the High School, attacked the Armenians with clubs and bludgeons, and some of the Kurdish, Circassian and other barbarians who were always hanging about Stamboul, attacked shops and private houses slaying right and left and doing their worst, as in the Provincial havoc, to bring a reign of terror to the Armenians. Further riots followed on the following day - hundreds of corpses floated in the Bosphorus. Over 7,000 persons perished in this massacre. A crowd of women and children were taken to the British Embassy at Therapia for protection, and the Armenian churches and the Patriarch's residence were filled with refugees. The Ministers of the Powers at the Porte made immediate protests, but nothing was done. Sir Philip Currie, the British Ambassador, had an interview with the Grand Vizier and insisted that immediate steps should be taken towards reform. But nothing was done, and again Sir Philip warned the Sultan that unless some steps were taken by the Ottoman Government to put an end to the state of anarchy existing, the British Government would attend to it themselves. This threat had its effect; for the next few years there was comparative peace.

But the end was drawing near for the "Great Assassin." He was beginning to disgust even his own people, and the young Turks - the progressives - became active. They formed secret societies on the Freemasonry model but with militant aims. A clerk in the Post Office, Talaat Bey, was a prime mover; another was a young idealist known as Mustafa Kemal. Corruption in Turkey had always begun at the top and worked downwards; these young men were determined to lop off the decaying branches. In 1908 the Sultan was told in clear and forcible tones that the abuses he countenanced - the corruption in public service - must cease. He was told to reform; and this time it came from inside and could not be disregarded. He promised, but did nothing, and on April 13, 1909, a mutiny broke out in the Constantinople Garrison. The Third Army Corps was in the provinces, but it marched to the capital and easily overwhelmed the mutineers. The Sultan, who was blamed for inciting the insurrection, was told by the National Assembly that he had forfeited his position as Khabil and was dethroned. His younger brother Mohammed V. was enthroned in his place. Abdul was exiled to Salonika where in the Villa Allatine he stayed, but was later taken to Beylerbey Palace on the Bosphorus, where he spent his time in carpentry, and refused to see any one. He died in 1918.

But the troubles of the Armenians were not over, for even while the young Turk movement was going forward and the Armenians were congratulating themselves upon a prospect of peace and security, the massacres of Adana took place - massacres less protracted but more bloody than any before them. Mohammed V. it was, too, who in 1915 ordered the terrible slaughter of the Zeytoonlis.

The story of the little band of Armenians who, when Turkish dominance had taken away their liberties, retreated into the mountains, was an epic in itself - a story of defiance and independence which lasted for three hundred years. They settled, these colonists who would not submit to the rule of Islam, in the mountains of the Taurus Range and there they remained happily. Their descendants, the inhabitants of Zeytoon, also preserved their independence. They refused to pay taxes to the Turkish Government; they refused to send recruits to her army - for five hundred years they kept their freedom. They called themselves the "British of Asia-Minor - unsubdued and unsubduable."

There they lived - this little community, and they carried with them the traditions of the Biblical ancestors. Their priests - that is to say, their bishops - brought into modem times the ideal of the medieval warrior-priest; as eager to lead in war as in prayer. And the women were heroic - not the Amazon type, these Armenian wives, but hardy women who could endure with their men. It was self supporting too, this small kingdom without a king; isolated and therefore compelled to provide its own means of support and defence. For the first they grew what they wanted to eat; for the second they forged by primitive means the weapons they required, taking the raw material from the heart of the mountains they inhabited.

When the Great War broke out they were still there - these Zeytoonlis - and the Turks wanted them to help. They refused. Not only did they refuse but they resisted the Turkish efforts to coerce them into war; it required in the end, two complete divisions with artillery, to deal with these mountaineers, and even then they could not subdue them. Force failed, but Turkish subtlety in diplomacy - that insidious quality which has characterised Turkish diplomacy - prevailed. The Turks promised, but they also threatened. They said that unless the mountain men surrendered, their fellow patriots - the Armenian population of Cilicia - would be rounded up and wiped out. This threat was too much for them. With the exception of a handful - some one thousand men - they surrendered.

Then came just another example of the Turkish promises that were made only to be broken. The abled-bodied men were marched off north to join the forces of the Sultan; the women and children and the old men - too old to fight - were driven to the Mesopotamian desert where many of them died of starvation or privation. There were mothers in this tragic cavalcade; there were expectant mothers; and there were women who were delivered of dead children. There were men, too old to march, who fell by the wayside and died; there were children almost too young to toddle who kept up with the pilgrimage of death until they fell exhausted and were seen no more by their parents. And this, mercifully, was the end of the ordeal of Armenia. In 1918 the Supreme Council of the Allied Powers recognised her independence and Turkey was forced to recognise it too. The capital was set up at Erivan and there the President M. Hambartsumian rules over his little state. It is a subsidiary state of Soviet Russia and it is certain that the Armenians, come to rest at last after their many tribulations, regard them as far more welcome than their old masters, the so-called gentlemanly Turk.

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