Who Remembers The Armenians? I Do

“Armenian civilians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915,” according to Wikipedia. Photo is public domain, via Wikimedia.

From 1915 to 1923, up to 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated first by the Ottoman government and then by the Young Turks’-led government that took its place.

“The starting date is conventionally held to be April 24, 1915, the day that Ottoman authorities rounded up, arrested, and deported 235 to 270 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders from Constantinople to the region of Ankara, the majority of whom were eventually murdered,” according to Wikipedia, which I can quote from, and other copyrighted sources. “The genocide was … implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly, and the infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert.”

Many men were also imprisoned, tortured and forced to confess crimes they did not commit, according to Henry Morgenthau Sr., U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

“Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre,” Wikipedia notes. “Other indigenous and Christian ethnic groups such as the Assyrians and the Ottoman Greeks were similarly targeted for extermination by the Ottoman government in the Assyrian Genocide and the Greek Genocide, and their treatment is considered by some historians to be part of the same genocidal policy. Most Armenian diaspora communities around the world came into being as a direct result of the genocide.”

Morgenthau, also an American lawyer and businessman, was an eyewitness to genocide. In his 1918 book about the Armenian Genocide titled “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story,” Morgenthau wrote: “The Young Turks displayed greater ingenuity than their {Ottoman} predecessor, Abdul Hamid {II}. The injunction of the deposed Sultan was merely ‘to kill, kill’, whereas the Turkish democracy hit upon an entirely new plan. Instead of massacring outright the Armenian race, they now decided to deport it.”

The deportees’ destination was the Syrian desert, which Morgenthau described.

“… It is now a dreary, desolate waste, without cities and towns or life of any kind, populated only by a few wild and fanatical Bedouin tribes,” he wrote. “… Had they undertaken such a deportation in good faith it would have represented the height of cruelty and injustice. As a matter of fact, the Turks never had the slightest idea of reestablishing the Armenians in this new country. They knew that the great majority would never reach their destination and that those who did would either die of thirst and starvation, or be murdered. … The real purpose of the deportation was robbery and destruction; it really represented a new method of massacre. When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.

“All through the spring and summer of 1915 the deportations took place. Of the larger cities, Constantinople, Smyrna, and Aleppo were spared; practically all other places where a single Armenian family lived now became the scenes of these unspeakable tragedies. Scarcely a single Armenian, whatever his education or wealth, or whatever the social class to which he belonged, was exempted from the order. In some villages placards were posted ordering the whole Armenian population to present itself in a public place at an appointed time ~ usually a day or two ahead, and in other places the town crier would go through the streets delivering the order vocally.

“In still others not the slightest warning was given. The gendarmes would appear before an Armenian house and order all the inmates to follow them. They would take women engaged in their domestic tasks without giving them the chance to change their clothes. The police fell upon them just as the eruption of Vesuvius fell upon Pompeii; women were taken from the washtubs, children were snatched out of bed, the bread was left half-baked in the oven, the family meal was abandoned partly eaten, the children were taken from the schoolroom, leaving their books open at the daily task, and the men were forced to abandon their ploughs in the fields and their cattle on the mountainside.”

Depravity had no limits.

“Even women who had just given birth to children would be forced to leave their beds and join the panic-stricken throng, their sleeping babies in their arms,” Morgenthau wrote. “Such things as they hurriedly snatched up ~ a shawl, a blanket, perhaps a few scraps of food ~ were all that they could take of their household belongings. …

“In some cases the refugees were given a few hours ~ in exceptional instances a few days, to dispose of their property and household effects. But the proceeding, of course, amounted simply to robbery. They could sell only to Turks, and since both buyers and sellers knew that they had only a day or two to market the accumulations of a lifetime, the prices obtained represented a small fraction of their value. … Their household furniture would be placed in stores or heaped up in public places, where it was usually pillaged by Turkish men and women. The government officials would also inform the Armenians that, since their deportation was only temporary, the intention being to bring them back after the war was over, they would not be permitted to sell their houses.

“… These robberies gave the refugees little anguish, for far more terrible and agonizing scenes were taking place under their eyes,” Morgenthau added. “The systematic extermination of the men continued. … Before the caravans were started, it became the regular practice to separate the young men from the families, tie them together in groups of four, lead them to the outskirts, and shoot them. Public hangings without trial ~ the only offense being that the victims were Armenians ~ were taking place constantly. The gendarmes showed a particular desire to annihilate the educated and the influential.”

The Armenian Genocide was the first systematic genocide of the 20th century; sadly, it would not be the last.

Who remembers the Armenians? I do.