Mark Owen writes

The Armenian Genocide

In 1914 Turkey entered the World War 1 on Germany's side.  Then, as now, the Armenians had lived for centuries in an uncertain world, many times suffering fierce persecutions and death.  This change of circumstances was the signal for a new outbreak of atrocities against the Armenians living under Turkish rule, a repetition of massacres that saw the slaughter of these people in large numbers in 1879, 1894-6 and again in 1909.  With the onset of war, great fear swept through the ranks of the Armenians of Turkey, for the protective influence of France and England had thus been removed; they were now the enemy.
This fear drove many young Armenian Christian men to join the Sultan's armies, lest they be thought disloyal and a new outbreak of the age-long persecution of their people resulted.  Armenians were even cheered by the fact that the Sultan had actually publicly thanked these Armenian troops for their service.  The fear of new persecutions at the hands of the Muslim rulers had thus gradually disappeared.
However, this was but a lull in a coming storm, a holocaust that was to result in genocide. The Muslims of the country were now free to do as they wished with the Christians.  In May 1915 the Turkish Government, alleging disloyalty on the part of the Armenians, set out to deport the whole of the Armenian population to Syria and Mesopotamia.  Out of an estimated Armenian population in the country in 1915 of 1,800,000 only one-third remained by the end of the reign of terror.  Of the rest an estimated 600,000 or more died, large numbers of them after suffering untold torments.

The Turks enlisted the aid of Kurdish and Circassian fighters and even released groups of bandits and murderers from the prisons, to aid in the attacks on the Armenians.  In many villages, towns and cities, houses were entered into, women manhandled and males dragged off to death. Priests and other religious dignitaries, wealthy men and professors, all were herded together and marched to prisons and other places, where they were generally slaughtered soon after.  

In one city, Tschemesh-Gedzak, the men were all rounded up and taken to the prison.  Arriving there with word from Constantinople, Husein Pasha accused the assembled citizens of disloyalty to Turkey and of plotting to help the Allies in the war.  One by one the men assured him there had been no plotting and that they wanted to live as good citizens alongside their Turkish neighbours.  They breathed a sigh of relief when Husein went his way, apparently convinced, telling them they could all go to their homes the next morning.  It was pure deception. 

No sooner had Husein departed than the gendarmes drove the men to one corner of the prison courtyard.  Here they were held back before gun and bayonet while one by one each was pulled into a ring of soldiers and ordered to confess he had been plotting against the Sultan.  As each man denied the accusation he was stripped naked and beaten with leather thongs.  When the men collapsed under the beating they were revived and beaten again. The women and children in the city heard all through one night the sounds of their menfolk being ill-treated, with cries and other fearsome noises coming from the prison.
The next day all but one of the imprisoned men were dead. The town's elderly Christian priest was offered the choice of abjuring his faith in Christ and embracing Islam.  When he refused he was swiftly beheaded.  Another elderly man, Professor Poladian, president of the College, who had studied at Yale and who had been highly honoured and respected in Britain and France, was also offered such a choice.  When he refused the soldiers tore out his fingernails and tornails, one by one, and pulled out his hair and beard, then stabbed him to death.  The remaining prisoners were, under cover of darkness, tied together and herded beyond the prison walls to the river some 16 km away, where they were all bayoneted.  In the major centres a document was published which announced:

During the process of deportation of the Armenians, if any Muslim resident or visitor from the surrounding country endeavours to conceal or otherwise protect a Christian, first his house shall be burned, then the Christian killed before his eyes, and then the Muslim's family and himself shall be killed. 

It was rumoured that the Sultan had ordered that no Christian subject should be left alive in Turkey.  Everywhere the Muslims were celebrating.  The imams, or prayer readers, read special prayers in the mosques to celebrate the beginning of jihad, the holy war, or massacre of the Christians.  Nothing was sacred.  Haidar Pasha sent soldiers one day to seize a famous monastery, shooting down all the monks there as they sang a hymn.  A famous relic, said to be a piece of the lance that pierced the side of Jesus, along with everything else in the monastery, disappeared.
The monastery was cleared out and put to use as a slave-station for captive Armenian girls. To this place were brought hundreds of girl children, mostly between the ages of 7 and 12, shut up under strict rule, and prepared as Muslims.  Any rebellion was visited with awful cruelties until each girl became a submissive slave.  To the monastery came rich Turks from all over Asia Minor to select and buy as many little girls as they wished for their sexual pleasure. 

Soon after this great processions of Armenians were taken on death marches from their homes, the men separated from their families.  They were told they were being deported to this or that area, there to remain until the troubles were over.  They were given three days to prepare and were only allowed to taken minimal possessions with them. After they left all valuables and properties were seized by the Turks and Kurds.  In truth the vast majority were being marched to their deaths.  Here and there a particular party would halt and a massacre would take place out of sight of the villages.
Many blandishments were offered to persuade families to give up their young girls for the harems.  Promises of safe conduct, rarely kept, and other forms of aid were held out.  The girls, usually aged about 12 to 14, had to agree to convert to Islam.  Many mothers who refused to let their girls be taken away were themselves slaughtered on the spot. Other mothers whose daughters had gone off suicided.  Those who agreed were quickly inducted into the Islamic faith and soon after paraded, usually naked or near-naked, before potential purchasers.  The higher military officials had first choice.
In one city the Armenians were assembled and once again young girls were seized - ever the best prize for the Turkish men - and hustled off to a nearby monastery. The older women were bound together in groups of five and thrown into donkey carts.  Then the tormentors added another note of sadism.  They drove away the horses and donkeys and instead of using the animals, compelled the husbands to act as beasts and draw the carts containing their womenfolk.  And they were forbidden to speak to wives or daughters.  Eventually the soldiers tired of this charade and simply killed off the men, while making playthings of the females.
Deceptions of all kinds were practised.  In one place a group of Armenian orphans aged under 12 was left hungry and crying.  The Turks feigned concern and went about seeking some Christian teenage girls who would go with the orphans and look after them, having first agreed to embrace Islam.  Of 200 girls who volunteered only 14 were taken, the prettiest.  The group was lodged in a disused house and the girls set to work cooking a meal for the children.  While the youngsters ate the food the older girls were taken to another part of the building where, they were told, they would receive instruction in their new faith.  Later they heard children screaming.  Rushing to the door they found it locked.  Soon, however, it was flung open and in marched several Turkish officials, including Vahby Bey, Ferid Bey and Ali Riza Effendi.  The girls pleaded to know what had happened to the children but were merely answered with laughter. 

Next the men chose among themselves which of the girls they would take.  There followed a sexual orgy that was of such a horrendous nature that thirteen of the girls eventually perished from the cruelties inflicted on them.  The girls were stripped naked and subjected to a brutal sexual assault.  One managed to escape and tell the story of what happened but eventually she was recaptured and was never heard of again.  The orphans were then removed from the house.  It was later learned that the soldiers had tied the children together with ropes in groups of about 10 and force-marched them thus bound on a 15 km trek to the river where they had thrown them in alive and left them to drown.  The youngest, unable to keep up, were bayoneted or clubbed to death along the way and some bodies were later seen, still tied together, along the roadside.  Other bodies were washed up on the river banks.
Many of the women who marched were elderly.  They were usually killed off along the way, as were hundreds of babies.  Those women considered crazy by the guards were turned loose  on the plains to starve to death.  It was against the religion of Islam to kill an insane person! The young girls were raped by the soldiers guarding them.  One of the marchers who survived, Aurora Mardiganian, who later recounted her experiences in a dramatic book (Ravished Armenia, privately published in the USA in 1918, and from which most of these details come), recounted one particularly tragic sight.   Not far off the road as they marched they saw a lonely woman, an Armenian, while beside her on the ground were six bundles, ranging from a tiny one to one the size of a teenager, each wrapped in white, glistening in the sun.  The woman was a Christian pastor's wife who had vainly adopted the Muslim religion to save her family.  Beside her were the bodies of all six of her children, five young boys and girls and their 14-year-old daughter, Sherin, well known to Aurora.  The bereaved mother just sat without speaking or moving, numb with grief.

As the marchers progressed many were stripped of their clothes.  Rape was an everyday occurrence and the naked young girls were a target for the lascivious eyes of every soldier or villager as they went on their way.  Cruelties abounded. Small children and babies were often bashed to death, girls raped in front of their mothers, breasts cut off.  Small children, especially girls, perhaps 8 or 9, were often seized by villagers to be used as slaves.  Kurdish warriors swept down from the hills in bands on the long lines and seized prey, especially the girls, while the Turkish soldiers looked the other way.  This was their reward to aiding the Turks against the Christians.  Some of the older females left behind babies when they were seized.

The captive young girls were put on show in many places, where prospective purchasers could inspect them intimately.  Their captors carried whips, which they freely used on any girl who was unco-operative.  Farmers wanted strong girls to work as slaves in their fields, the others wanted pretty ones.  These latter would either work as household slaves or be re-sold in slave markets in Smyrna and Constantinople. Some young and pretty girls went to the homes of very old men. 

The Kurdish warriors treated the girls they seized brutally.  Any girl who resisted rape or showed any sign of rebellion was beaten with long rods until her flesh was purple and blood freely flowed.  Then intercourse was forced upon her.  The Kurdish men, it was noted, appeared to enjoy sex more when the girl had been cruelly beaten first.  As they travelled with their captors the girls would be hobbled each night to prevent escape.  When some girls were being inspected by Kiamil Pasha of Constantinople any who appeared to him to be stubborn were beaten by his soldiers with long springy rods.  They were laid on the floor and the soldiers lashed them with slow, measured strokes that cut into their flesh.  The rods they used were the same that were used in the Turkish prisons to bastinado prisoners to death.  If the girl fainted she was revived and the beating continued for the appointed number of strokes.

The rivers of the country often ran red with the blood of the slain Armenians.  Bodies were seen floating on the surface.  As the marchers continued through the weary kilometres the young children's bare feet were torn and bleeding and had to be kept wrapped in cloths.  The soldiers in some places forced mothers with very young babies to leave them behind, laid out in pathetic rows to die on the river bank, before they forded the waters.  Muslim women from the village nearby would care for them, said the soldiers.   This was another deception; the babies were left to die of exposure and starvation.
The marchers gradually had fewer and fewer clothes to wear and many went barefoot over the rough ground.  Very late one night a slim young girl appeared in the camp where Aurora Mardiganian was lodged.  She had crawled, unseen by the soldiers, from the khan, and she was quite naked and her feet were cut and bruised.  The story she told added yet further horror to all that had gone before.  The Armenians of her city, Keban-Maden, had been promised that their lives would be saved if they renounced their faith and became Muslims.  More than 400 of the people, mostly younger married ones, including the girl herself, a new bride, renounced their faith. 

Gathering the party of Armenian defectors together, the soldiers told them they would have to go to another city, Shabin Kara-Hissar.  No sooner had they left their own city than the soldiers robbed them of anything worth taking, then the majority of the soldiers returned to the city to take part in the looting there.  Meanwhile the few soldiers remaining tied the men together in groups of five and made them march forward in that manner.  During the first night they stripped all the women of their clothing and made them march onwards naked.  Later that night the soldiers raped the women while their bound husbands looked on helplessly.  If one of the men objected he was killed before the eyes of his wife.  Later than night the soldiers raided the camp and seized about a dozen of the youngest girls, aged from 8 to 10 years, dragging them to the khan.

Cruelty was the rule with everything the Turks did.  When a mother was about to give birth to a baby during a march she would be kept on her feet to the very last minute then, as soon as the child was born, and that right in front of the laughing soldiers, the woman would immediately be forced to her feet again and made to resume the march.  If she could not do so she would be left to die.  In any event most of the babies were killed off soon. Had they not been killed they would have starved anyway, as the marchers were already starving and lacked regular water.  As the days passed water became even scarcer for the villagers would not allow the exiles near their wells, even one of the revered holy men, a hadji.   Woman went on bended knees, pleading for a little water to quench their thirst but the Muslim Turks turned them away. 

Sometimes a party of soldiers would tire of the long march themselves and decide to finish their captives off.  Young women were not killed outright but first made use of as objects of sadistic lust.  But often they were mutilated as well - fingers, hands and breasts being cut off.  Some even had their eyes torn out and all eventually died under their suffering.  

The guards made great sport of any child who lagged behind, lifting the little boy or girl upon a bayonet, then tossing the body into the air, trying to spear it again as it descended. The distraught mothers could only hide their eyes.  To protest meant instant death for themselves.  As the lines of marching women approached distant cities they faced a special form of humiliation - nakedness. For the devout and conservative Christian women this was a terrible experience and one which seemed to be a constant feature throughout the period. 

The Turks took a special sadistic delight in stripping any remaining garments off the women and girls and watching them march naked through the streets before the gaze of the jeering Turkish crowds of Hassan-Chelebi and other cities.  They even lashed out with whips at any of the women who attempted to cover themselves with their hands.  Other cities likewise saw these strange processions of naked female captives.
In the city square at Hassan-Chelebi a large party of the naked women were paraded before an assemblage of high officials, among them Muamer Pasha, known for his cruelties as governor of Sivas, and his chief hangman-henchman, Tcherkess Kior Kassim.  This latter personage had superintended the massacre of 6,000 Armenian Christians at Tchamli-Bel Gorge, near Sivas.  In this city all boys aged between 8 and 15, some 500 or so, were seized.  They were, it was claimed  - falsely - to be given schooling at a monastery until their mothers could be reunited with them.  Later, not far from the city, the boys had been tied by the soldiers into groups of from 10 to 15 and then bayoneted or killed with swords.  Their bodies had been seen along the roadside.

When the boys had departed, the hangman himself walked among the assembled people and chose 12 very young girls, mostly between 8 and 12 years of age, to be taken to Constantinople for sale to rich Turks.  It was, the soldiers said, the custom among such people to buy the girls young and train them up for their later life in the harem as wives for sons or friends.  In one of the many marching columns was a company of 20 nuns, Sisters of Grace.  They had been forced by the Turkish soldiers from their convent, in spite of concessions promised by the Sultan, during the night and were barefoot and in their nightgowns.  Their feet were torn and bleeding from the march.  Each night they were subjected to sexual abuse by the soldiers and two of their number, American sisters, had been so distraught they had killed themselves.

Sometimes the Kurdish warriors ambushed the marchers.  In one ambush 4,000 were killed in the Divrig Gorge by Kasab Tabouri and his 'butcher regiment'.  This same party then lay in wait for another group of exiles at the gorge and soon they, too, were facing massacre.  During the battle the soldiers made sport of throwing the babies and little children over the cliffs to comrades below, who caught them on their bayonets.  Next they turned their attention to some of the women, forcing them at bayonet-point to jump from the cliff-faces.  Below the cliffs soldiers either caught them on their bayonet-points or beat them with stones as they landed.  Many women who managed to survive this ordeal were forced to climb the cliffs again, only to be sent down once more.   This sport was kept up until darkness fell, when the soldiers marched off singing, some bearing aloft the bodies of the babies still on their bayonets, others with older children under their arms and with one young girl forced to march at the head of the parade to the nearby barracks, to be used for the inevitable sexual of the soldiers.

Among other atrocities reported was the crucifixion outside the city of Malatia of 16 young Christian girls.  Armenians being marched to their own particular fate saw the naked bodies hanging on the crosses.  There was no refuge to be found anywhere.  A German school outside Malatia was supposedly under German protection and the 60 Armenian girls there were thought to be safe as Turkey was allied to Germany in the war.  But no young Armenian girl was safe in the country and soon even these girls had been seized by the Turks.  During this period even the poorest Turk could afford a SLAVE-GIRL or two, and what they did with them nobody knew or cared.  

Soldiers also engaged in a particular mode of cruel torment, much favoured in the Euphrates province.  First they would strip a girl naked and then command her to submit to their sexual demands.  If she refused she would be buried in a deep hole, only her bare shoulders protruding.  Then they would beat and torment the buried child about the head and shoulders.  Now and then they would remove the girl and if she still resisted, bury her helplessly again.  In one major incident soldiers took from a refugee camp an estimated 8000 or more children aged 5 years and older, who were delivered into the hands of a band of cut-throat Kurds, who bound them in groups and drove them like sheep to slaughter, at least the boys, their bodies being thrown into the river.  The girls were taken to Turkish cities for the usual purposes.

The Kurds were not content with taking their fill of sexual pleasures when they seized young girls but often cruelly tortured their victims, enjoying their screams of pain. One eye-witness reported seeing a young girl who displeased some Kurdish warriors thrown alive onto a flaming pile.  She tried to escape but they kept throwing her back until she burnt to death.

Those girls who found themselves being offered to rulers or important men were paraded before the assembled company and offered a choice: recant and embrace Islam or suffer.  Girls who refused were laid on the floor and whipped on the spot by a Negro servant with a fearsome whip made of bull's hide.  The girl's flesh would be torn and bleeding with just one blow.  With the whip poised for a second blow, the Negro waited.  The girl, now terrified with pain, would usually repeat the words they all waited to hear, the rek'ah  - 'There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.'  Most gave in quickly under such a terrible threat.  If a girl then refused the sexual advances of her new master she would soon suffer the consequences.
Aurora Mardiganian saw one such girl, first stripped naked, literally whipped to death before her eyes in the palace of Hadji Ghafour, an important man in the city of Shira, who wanted her in his bed. The man, a Muslim noted far and wide for his religious devotion, watched impassively as the young girl was reduced to a bleeding pulp before his eyes.  The other girls would promise anything after that display.  This girl had an older sister who also refused the man's advances.  Later the girls were taken to a window and a monstrous sight met their gaze.  It was the older sister.  Her nude beaten body was hanging by its feet from a rope attached to the window-sill. Her long hair hung from her swaying head.  Her arms were tied behind her back and a bandage, tied across her mouth, had obviously muffled her screams as she was being beaten to death. 

 The city of Diyarbekir, by the Tigris, once the capital of Armenia, was the chief place to which the dispossessed Armenians were driven from far and wide.  It was estimated that more than a million people had started out on the forced journeys to this city but that only about one in ten actually reached there.  And of these more than half, 50,000, had been since massacred within the city and beyond its walls.  The marchers often covered hundreds of kilometres, with little food or water being available.  Those who were spared were mainly females - women and children destined to become concubines or slaves of Muslim masters.  The ruler, or Vali, of that city, Nail Pasha was known as a cruel despot.  As prisons filled with Armenian men the problem of finding sufficient space for new batches of prisoners was simply solved - by killing some off. 

The soldiers of Nail Pasha boasted that the bodies of small Armenian children had been mixed with cement and built into the walls of the new houses  to fill the spaces between the stones.  And money was plentiful; it was simply taken from the Armenians.   Everywhere the figures bore testimony to the terrible slaughter going on.  One party of 40,000 was reduced to 2,000.  Another of 75,000 was reduced to just 500 persons.  Of some 4,000 exiles who left Tchemesh-Gedzak only 18 survived.  Most groups lost all their young and pretty girls.  Children under 10 were usually killed off, along with the elderly, although the Turkish women seemed to have a predilection for young girls; they often sought out those under 10 to become young slaves in their homes and on their farms.

Aurora Mardiganian described an incident that she witnessed while she and her party of captives waited outside the city.  On the evening of the second day, she said, a large company of women and children, about 2,000 in number, appeared at the southern gate, driven out to await death.  Some distance off they were massacred en masse.   They heard their piercing shrieks and dying screams all through the night.  At length there was a period of silence, descending suddenly, at dawn.  It was time for prayer and the Circassians, who were in league with the Turks and conducting the captive girls at that point, had interrupted their slaughter to kneel on their prayer mats and pray to Allah.  At daybreak, after prayers, the killers moved in to rob the bodies of anything of value.  Not all had been killed, though.  Some younger and prettier ones had been saved for the men's pleasure.  Later that day the soldiers played at sport, an age-long cruel game played with live people. 

The wild Circassian tribes were famous for this game.  They played it for many years.  They took their long slender German swords and arranged them in rows, buried in the ground, point upwards, to the height of a very small child.  In times past sometimes small children were used for this game but now, before the city, it was the young women who were to take part, all unwillingly.  As the horrified girls looked on at a distance they could see the men dragging the young women, some 15 or 20, to the rows of swords.  Each girl was forced to stand with a dismounted bandit holding her feet, halfway between a pair of swords in a long row.  The captives cried and begged but the men were heedless.  When all had been placed to the satisfaction of the band, the remaining Circassians mounted their horses and gathered at the end of the line. 

At a shouted signal the first horseman galloped down the row of swords.  He seized a girl, lifted her high in the air, and flung her down upon a sword- point, all without slackening his pace.  This game had been played often through the centuries and the men showed their skill.  Each one tried to seize as many girls as he could and fling them upon the sword-points, so that they were impaled in one throw.  Only the most skilful succeeded in impaling more than one girl.  If a girl missed her fate at the first try she was, sometimes with broken bones or bleeding wounds, set up in line again for the next try.  The game continued until all the girls were dead, impaled grotesquely upon the row of swords.  Some Jews from the city were forced to gather up the bodies of the slain Armenians.  The Muslims hated the Jews but did not kill them; instead they forced them to perform every unpleasant task they could find for them to do. 

In the city some of the girls were handed over to German army officers as a reward for their assistance to the Turks.  Being able to do as they pleased with their slave-girls the Germans immediately put them to work in manner that best suited them - naked.   The girls were expected to carry out the domestic tasks thus disrobed before their gaze, and being required to provide sexual pleasure when it was demanded.  The soldiers were brutal and the girls suffered many cruelties. On one occasion the German officers had drunk much whisky and were in a particularly cruel mood.  They sent for some of the girls and stood the trembling naked girls sideways in a row.  Using their breasts as targets they then shot at them with pistols, endeavouring to hit their nipples, but eventually killing most of them.  This was a sport indulged in very often by some of the Turks in the Vilayet of Van.  At length orders came for the Germans to leave the city.  They just packed up and went, abandoning their remaining female playthings.

Only in 1916, when the Russians conquered Turkish Armenia, was there an end to the worst of the massacres, although the Armenian people's sufferings were not yet over.  The Russians would not permit the displaced Armenians to return to their homes as they wanted to populate the country with Cossacks.

Confirmation of Aurora Mardiganian's story is found in an official document, running to 600 pages, prepared by Britain's Lord Bruce.  He drew his material from American and other neutral workers in Armenia.  The report was edited by noted historian Arnold J. Toynbee and was described as the 'most appalling of all the documents of the world war [i.e. World War 1].'  Here are just a few extracts from Lord Bruce's report: 

They carried off the women, girls and children, leaving only the old women, who were driven along by the gendarmes under blows of the lash, and died of hunger by the roadside . . . No Armenian can travel in these parts, for every Muslim, and especially the brigands and gendarmes, consider it his duty now to kill them at night . . .

The leading Armenians of the town [of Moush] and the headmen of the villages were subjected to revolting tortures.  Their fingernails and their toenails were forcibly extracted; their teeth were knocked out, and, in some cases, their noses were whittled down, and the victims thus done to death under shocking, lingering agonies.  The female relatives of the victims who came to the rescue were outraged [raped] in public before the very eyes of their mutilated husbands and brothers . . .

The brigands took all the good-looking women and carried them off on their horses.  Very many women and girls were thus carried off to the mountains, among them my sister, whose one-year-old baby they threw away; a Turk picked it up and carried it off, I know not where . . .

The shortest method of disposing of the women and children concentrated in the various camps was to burn them.  Fire was set to large wooden sheds in Adidjan, Megrakom, Khaskegh, and other Armenian villages, and these absolutely helpless women and children were roasted to death.  Many went mad and threw their children away; some knelt down and prayed amid the flames in which their bodies were burning; others shrieked and cried for help, which came from nowhere . . .
After the massacre in the village almost all the women and girls were outraged and two little girls aged 8 and 10 died at the hands of the Muslim villains.  One man, who exercised a great deal of authority in the northern part of the Urmis Plain, openly boasted of having ruined [raped] eleven Christian girls, two of them under 7 years of age.

Mark Owen, 1995 & 2013 -

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