The Armenian Genocide
In the late 1800s, the oppression and the persecution of the Armenian population by the Turks was so severe that, there are testimonies stating that those who pronounced an Armenian word had their tongues cut. This popular Armenian song testifies that fact:
They entered the school and caught the school-mistress,
They opened her mouth and cut her tongue,
since the school-mistress had dared to teach Armenian to the Armenian children.
Consequently Armenians living in a number of towns of Cilicia (Sis, Adana, Tarson, Ayntap) and their environs had lost their mother tongue, the Armenian-speaking Ayntap became Turkish-speaking like the other Armenian-inhabited principal towns of Asia Minor. The terrible blow to the Armenian speech came from the Yenicheris who mutilated the tongue of those speaking Armenian. The Armenian language was forbidden by Turk mullahs and the use of several Armenian words was considered a blasphemy, for which a fine of five sheep was established.
Armenians were exiled from their historical native cradle. They were deported from Western Armenia (1915), Cilicia (1921) and from the Armenian localities of Anatolia (1922) as a result of the Genocide and the subsequent events. As a consequence of these historical events, a considerable part of the Western Armenians has been annihilated, while those who have been rescued miraculously survived somehow, after being plundered and left destitute and exhausted on the roads of exile. The Turkish excuse that Armenians were too friendly with Christian Russia and causing disturbances to benefit them is a poor excuse here, considering Cilicia is on the Mediterranean sea, far away from Russia.
After surviving in different countries of the world, many of the eye-witnesses of these terrifying scenes have been repatriated to their Motherland, Armenia, from Constantinople, Greece, France, the Balkan countries, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and other colonies and settled in newly-built localities symbolizing the memory of their former native cradles such as Nor (New) Arabkir, Nor Kilikia, Nor Zeytoun, Nor Hadjn, Nor Marash, Nor Ayntap, Moussa Ler, Yedessia (Urfa) and others.
Numerous representatives of the senior generation of the repatriates, who were the eye-witnesses of that horrible tragedy, have remembered and told us with tears in their eyes their deplorable past and how the Turks had bestially cut to pieces their fathers and mothers and had violated their sisters.
Following the overthrow of Sultan Abdul Hamid's reign and the declaration of the 1908 Constitution, the Young Turks, who formed the government, adopted Sultan Hamid's massacre policy and professing the Pan-Turkish and Pan-Islamic ideology, endeavored not only to preserve the Ottoman Empire, but also to annihilate, to amalgamate and turkize by force the Armenians and the other dependent peoples and to create a universal Pan-Turanic state.
This was essentially the beginning of Genocide, when the Young Turks feverishly prepared the total extermination of the Armenian people waiting for a propitious occasion. That occasion presented when the First World War burst out.
The awakening of spring, the picturesque scene of the "bunches and bunches of roses" is in sharp contrast with the horror of death (war) and the indifference of the terrible sultan (zalim sultan), the ruler of the country, in regard to the people's fate even at a time when "the whole world is weeping blood."
During this time great mischief was done to the Armenians living in Turkey when on the pretext of searching for "arms", the Turkish policemen ravaged the houses, plundered their properties, arrested and killed many Armenians.
Under the pretext of mobilization, Armenian males aged from 18 to 45 were forced into labor battalions and killed in secluded places according to special governmental instructions. The Armenian youth forcibly drafted to the Turkish army had the presentiment that "That was the road to death" and in fact "lots and lots of Armenians were there."
The Armenian youngster who was ready to serve in the Turkish army and to perform his civil duties in regard to the native land (vatan) he was living on, subsequently became aware that the "mobilization" was a pretext to seclude him from his kinsfolk.
There were at that time special government instructions in Turkey to isolate the Christians serving in the army from their regiments without any offense and to shoot them in secluded places, away from the public eye or to make them starve to death in prisons and the dungeons. The mother of the Armenian soldier cursed the mobilization, which was more like a massacre, since the young Armenians went away with the spring roses and nightingales, only forever.
The arrest of the Armenian intellectuals followed the mobilization and the arm-collection; it pursued the purpose of depriving the Armenian nation not only of its fighting force, but also of its leading mind. Almost all the intellectuals of Constantinople were arrested in one night and sent to the deserts of Mesopotamia and exterminated. Among them were the well-known lawyer, member of the Ottoman Parliament and writer, Grikor Zohrab, the poet Daniel Varoozhan, the historian-novelist Smbat Burat, the physicians Nazaret Taghavarian and Rouben Sevak, the great composer Komitas and many others.
On March 15 and April 3, 1915, Turks arrested Armenians throughout the country, systematic massacres were being committed in Erzeroum, Deurtyol and Zeytoun, bloody clashes were taking place in Bitlis, Van and Moosh, atrocities, plunder and murders was occurrng in Akn. A general massacre of the Christian Armenian population were noted all over Asia Minor.
In the vilayet of Van involved in war operations, the Turks had time, until the progress of the Russian troops, to exterminate on the spot thousands of Armenians. Armenian writers Hovhannes Toumanian and Alexander ShirvanzadÃ©, became witnesses of bewildering scenes when they acompanied the Russian army entering Van. "Nails had been hammered into the forehead of children," wrote H.Toumanian in his memoirs, "various body parts of live people had been cut and arranged in different patterns; games had been invented: people had been put below the waist in cauldrons and boiled so that the live half could see and feelâ€¦; they had cut with red-hot iron bars the various parts of the body and roasted them on fire; they had roasted live people; they had massacred children before the eyes of parents and parents before the eyes of children".
And when the Russian troops retreated, a great number of Armenians, who had heroically fought in the self-defensive combats of Van, Sassoun, Moush, Shatakh, Shapin-Garahissar and other localities, migrated with them to Eastern Armenia.
The atrocities had grown to an unspeakable extent also in Harpoot, Pontos, Malatia, Diarbekir, in the Armenian-inhabited localities of Western and Central Anatolia: Izmit, Bursa, Ankara, Konia and elsewhere. They exterminated everybody with an inexpressible cruelty, not sparing even the infants.
The life of the Armenians in Cilicia had also become a nightmare. The Baghdad railway, which had a particular economic importance, passed through Armenian-populated Cilicia. This circumstance troubled the Turkish government, since the laborious and active Armenians living in Cilicia could, by their prosperous state, become predominant in Turkey's economy. The Armenian villages and settlements were scattered in mountainous Cilicia from Hadjn, Zeytoun to Deurtyol and their populations, although engaged in silk-production, carpet-making and other national handicrafts, had a sufficiently enlightened new generation owing to the presence of Armenian and foreign schools and colleges.
Even after the outrageous massacres in many provinces, Turks had not been able to exterminate the naturally freedom-loving Cilicians. Zeytoun, the eagle-nest of Cilicia, had, for a long time, become the burning-point of Turkish tyranny and it was high time to square accounts with the bold inhabitants of Zeytoun as well.
The Cilicians, who were the worthy inheritors of the last Armenian Kingdom (11th-14th centuries) and had glorious traditions of the national-emancipatory struggle in the past, decided once again to fight in self-defense. But this plan was hindered by the Catholicos of Cilicia, Sahak Khabayan and many other Armenian notables, who, deceived by the false promises of "Reforms" by the Turkish government after the Russian-Turkish war of 1876-1877, called the Armenians to obedience, arguing that "a little movement could endanger all the Armenian population of the provinces of Turkey." There is a voluminous ballad "The black message came from the Catholicos" to this effect. The government, as elsewhere, had collected in Cilicia the arms of the Armenians, had drafted the young men into the Turkish army, while the cruel officers and policemen robbed and plundered the helpless people and violated the Armenian girls and women. Unable to endure these humiliations, about twenty young men of Zeytoun, under the leadership of Panos Chakerian, had recourse to self-defense and opened fire. On the following day 300 notables of Zeytoun were taken enchained to Marash, some of them were sent to the gallows by the Turks and the rest were exiled. Thereafter Zeytoun was ravaged.
The deportation and massacre of the Armenian population of Cilicia started in the spring of 1915. One after the other, Marash, Ayntap, Hadjn, Antiok, Iskenderun, Kessab and other Armenian-inhabited localities were deserted.
The armless, leaderless and helpless Armenian people were driven, with tearful eyes, from their native flourishing homes under the strokes of whips and bayonets. The extermination of the Armenians was realized both on the spot and in the places of exile, in the deserts of Mesopotamia, especially in Deyr-el-Zor and Ras-ul-Ayn.
The massacres began in April, on Easter Sunday, the day of the crucifixion of Christ, so that the Armenians, too, would be worthy of the Passion of Christ. "The Armenians will dye their Easter eggs with their own blood," said the Turks.
The desert of Deyr-el-Zor had become the living cemetery of the Armenian genocide, where there was no hope of salvation. Worldwide Christian nations stayed silent, while a laborious, creative and most ancient people were martyred and exterminated before the eyes of civilized mankind for the sin of being Armenian and Christian.
The deported Armenians passed this death road barefoot and bloodstained, with thirsty lips under the scorching sun, and everything was stained with the blood of the murdered people. The Armenian people were exterminated ruthlessly, lonely and helpless in their distress, the songs of the Armenian people was changed into a mournful prayer.
The desert air was saturated with the stench of corpses. The social evil was accompanied with the epidemic of Typhoid. There was no salvation from that widespread evil. The corpses of the Armenians were scattered everywhere, the Ottoman soldiers had become "butchers". The bewildering scenes followed one another, the tragic pictures of despoiled and child-deprived mothers and virgin girls, the dull sighs of agony "dying for the sake of faith".
Karapet Mkrtchian, an eighty-year old Armenian from Tigranakert (born in 1910) has narrated us with emotion and with a trembling voice the images impressed on his childhood memory. "On the way to Deyr-el-Zor, they detached us, the children, and led us toward the valley and put us in a line. The adults were about three to four hundred and we, the children, were nearly as many. They made us sit on the green field; we didn't know what would happen next. Breaking the line, my mother came several times to us, she kissed and kissed us and went back. We, my elder brother, my one-year old younger brother and myself, saw from a distance a row of women moving about, among which was our mother. When we came out of our house, our mother was dressed in national costume, a velvet dress embroidered with gold, her head was adorned with gold coins, on her neck was a golden chain, twenty-five gold coins were secretly sewn inside her dress on each side. When my mother came for the last time and kissed us like a madwoman, I remember, she was clad only in her white undergarments, there were no ornaments, no gold, and no velvet clothesâ€¦. We, the children, were unaware of the events happening there. In reality, they had taken off their clothes one after the other, had arranged the garments on one side, they had divested all the people of their robes, and they had cut their heads with an axe and had thrown them in the valleyâ€¦. My mother came for the last time, kissed us and went away. In fact, she had given a yellow gold coin to the sentry every time she came to see us, her three little children, and to kiss usâ€¦."
The 85-year-old Grikor Gyozalian (born in 1903) remembered with a feeling of infinite gratitude the kind old Christian-Arab woman from the village of Muhardi near the town of Hama, who distributed in secret every evening the rice she had cooked and the pieces of bread thrust in her belt to the Armenian orphans lying exhausted under the walls and then disappeared secretly in the darkness.
"It so happened," has narrated Harutyun Alboyadjian (born in 1904) from Fendedjak, "that the boys were put to flight, circumcised, forced to speak only Turkish, while the girls were raped, then either killed or taken as a wife for the purpose of ennobling their race."
Mariam Baghdishian (born in 1909) has narrated that she was five or six years old when, on the roads of the exile, together with her sister, they played with the curls of their mother lying on the sands of the desert, unaware that she was already dead; then a certain Arab woman took her home, where the little Mariam carried water from the well with a jug during four years. Once when they wanted to tattoo her face with blue ink, she ran secretly away and took refuge in the Armenian orphanage with the help of a priest.
"It happened also," Eva Chulian (born in 1903) from Zeytoun has narrated, "that they kidnapped the children or the daughters from the mothers, they raped the young brides and the girls and then, tying them up, threw them into the valley or into dried wells and, setting fire to them, burned them all." In this infernal turmoil, mothers lost their children; children lost their parents.
They were compelled to leave on the road their aged parents who were unable to walk and to continue their way to death with tearful eyes and under the shower of whip strokes of the Turkish policemen. These details have been narrated and sung by GayanÃ© Atoorian (born in 1909), a woman from the town of Zeytoun with a tattoo on her face.
In order not to deny their faith, not to become the wife of a Turk and not to bear Turkish children, the Armenian girls "threw themselves hand in hand into the river Euphrates."
Soghomon Yetenekian (born in 1900) from Mersin has narrated us in his memoirs: "Three to four hundred people untied their belts, fastened themselves together and one after the other jumped into the river Euphrates; the current of the river could not be seen then, the corpses had risen to the surface and were piled up one upon the other like a fortress; the dogs got enraged by eating human flesh."
The deportation and the massacre had embraced not only Western Armenia and Cilicia, but also the Armenian-inhabited localities of Eastern and Central Anatolia, in other words, the entire Ottoman Turkey. The executioner of the Armenian people, Talaat pasha, was insolently boasting that he had solved the Armenian problem in a few months, something Sultan Hamid himself had been unable to do for decades.
During these tragic days, however, the bold spirit of heroism, coming from the depth of centuries and inherited with the blood, reawoke in the soul of the Armenian people, who preferred "cognizant death" to slavery and decided to withstand violence with force. In July of the same year (1915) almost all the inhabitants of the seven villages of Moussa Dagh decided not to obey to the order of the disastrous deportation.
Movses Panossian (born in 1885), the 104-year-old participant of the heroic battle of Moussa Dagh has communicated us the oath of the inhabitants of Moussa Dagh: "I was born here, I will die here. I will not go to die as a slave; I will die here the gun in my hand, but I will not become an emigrant." This historical event has also been confirmed by Movses Balabanian (born in 1891) and Hovhannes Ipredjian (born in 1896), who had also taken part in the heroic battle of Moussa Dagh.
Everybody was filled with the feeling of protest and vengeance. Men and women, children and old people left their properties and ascended the unapproachable summit of Moussa Dagh to withstand the attack and to fight against the innumerable soldiers of the enemy. During fifty-three days violent battles were fought under the command of Yessayi Yaghoobian, Petros Demlakian and Tigran Andreassian. Four serious battles took place during this period. The enemy concentrated new forces to chastise the rebellious Armenians. The provisions and armaments of the Moussa Dagh people were exhausted. Being in despair and hoping to receive aid from the sea they joined white bedsheets together, they wrote on one of them "The Christians are in danger, save us!" and on the other they drew the sign of salvation of the Red Cross and displayed them on the mountain slope overlooking the sea.
On the 5th of September, the French battleship "Guichen" passing off-shore in the Mediterranean Sea noticed them and slowed down its course. With a metallic box, containing a petition written in foreign language and hung from his neck, Movses Greguian jumped into the sea. He reached the ship swimming and, crossing himself, presented the letter to the captain. On the 14th of September, the French steamship "Jeanne d'Arc," escorted by British battleships, approached Moussa Dagh and taking on more than four thousand inhabitants of Moussa Dagh, transported them to Port-SaÃ¯d, where they were sheltered under tarpaulin tents.
The Moussa Dagh people lived in Port-SaÃ¯d for four years and they earned their living by comb-making, spoon-making, rug-making, embroidery and other national handicrafts.
The survivors still remember the way they learned the Armenian alphabet by writing the letters on the hot sands of the desert up to the time when the Siswan school, established by the Armenian General Benevolent Union, began to operate in some tents, in addition to the hospital and the orphanage.
The heroic battle of Moussa Dagh shook the world; it demonstrated to the world the immense capabilities of a handful of people who have heroic traditions, freedom-loving souls and unanimous will power. In his book "The Forty Days of Moussa Dagh," Franz Werfel has artistically depicted in vivid colors the exploit of the Moussa Dagh people.
Subsequently, the heroic self-defence of Urfa was organized in October, 1915, under the command of Mkrtitch Yotnekhpayrian and Harutyun Rastkelenian. The whole Armenian population of Urfa rose; they fought like one man for twenty-five days and nights uninterruptedly.
Nevertheless, the Turkish government sent a regular army and cruelly suppressed the resistance of the devoted heroes of Urfa. These historical events have been narrated by two of the survivors of Urfa, Khoren (born in 1893) and Nvart (born in 1903) Ablabutians.
In the days of the First World War, in 1916, two of the allied countries, England and France, had signed a secret agreement (Sikes-Picaud) that, in case of the defeat of Turkey, Cilicia, having two millions six hundred thousand hectares of arable and fertile lands, would pass under the supervision of France. The English and French authorities had agreed with the Armenian National delegation that, if the Armenian volunteers would fight against Turkey, the Armenians would enjoy ample political rights after the victory and the Armenian volunteers would constitute the garrison of the towns of the newly-formed Autonomous Armenian Cilicia.
Consequently, Armenian young men from the Turkish army, from the exile roads, from various places and even from America (natives of Moussa Dagh, Zeytoun, Ayntap, Marash, Kessab, Hadjn, Hoosenik, Chengoosh, Sebastia, Harpoot, Arabkir and other localities) were enlisted in the French Army, creating the Oriental (Armenian) Legion.
The Armenian volunteers, filled with a feeling of vengeance for their innocent martyred kinsfolk and defying death, defeated the Germano-Turkish armies and won the magnificent victory of Arara, near Palestine. The French command-in-chief praised the brave Armenian legionaries. On the 12th of October, 1918, General Allenby sent a telegram to the President of the Armenian delegation, Noubar Pasha, saying: "I am proud to have the Armenian regiment under my command. They fought courageously and had a great share in the victory."
The treaty of SÃ¨vres, signed after the war in 1920, provided that the Entente countries should establish a supervision over Cilicia and that the Turkish troops should have been already evacuated from Cilicia.
Encouraged by these events, numerous Armenian exiles, miraculously rescued from Deyr-el-Zor, Ras-ul-Ayn and other living cemeteries, gradually returned and re-established in Cilicia. With hope and faith with regard to the future, they began to restore the ravage and to cultivate the abandoned orchards. The Turks, however, succeeded in coming to an agreement with the Allied states and urged the French to evacuate their peace-maintaining forces from Cilicia.
Ignoring the Treaty of SÃ¨vres and taking advantage of the indecision and weakness of the French military administration, the Turkish forces and the local bandits directed their arms towards the Armenian population of Cilicia; starting from January 1920, they launched an attack on the Armenian localities of Cilicia.
During the violent battle which lasted for twenty-two days, the eleven thousand Armenians of the town of Marash were slaughtered and burned to ashes.
One of the eye-witnesses of these tragic events, YevguinÃ© Mayikian (born in 1898), has narrated us how the thick grease of the burnt Armenians flowed down the threshold of the Forty Martyrs' Church built on a hilltop. Subsequently, the living eight thousand residents of Marash, together with six thousand Armenians from Urfa were forcibly deported to Aleppo, Damascus, Beyrouth, Jerusalem, Baghdad and to the regions of Anatolia found under Greek domination.
On the 1st of April, 1920, the Turks besieged Ayntap. The life of about ten thousand Armenian refugees from Ayntap and eight thousand from Sebastia, who had just re-established and found peace there after the end of war and the armistice, became once more turbulent. A self-defensive resistance centre was created on the spot under the leadership of Adoor Levonian.
In the meantime, the commander-in-chief of the occupation of Cilicia, Gozan oghlu Doghan bey, besieged with his innumerable soldiers the town of Hadjn; the town had initially an Armenian population of 30-35 thousand, of which only six thousand had been rescued from the Genocide.
In the enemy's opinion, the destruction of the Armenian citadel of Cilicia, Hadjn, and the extermination of the Armenians presented no difficulty whatsoever. The inhabitants of Hadjn, however, were resolute. They formed the superior council of the self-defence of Hadjn under the leadership of Karapet Chalian and elected as the defence-commandant officer Sarkis Djebedjian, General Andranik's comrade-in-arms. Hadjn and its environs were divided into four defence regions. Trenches were dug. Everybody was in fighting trim. The 132 guns were distributed to the 1200 males aged 16-50, who were capable of taking up arms. Subsequently, 300 more guns were obtained, but these were also insufficient to fight against the Turkish army, which was armed with the inexhaustible Bolshevik ammunition.
That is why the Hadjn people, who were in great need of arms, waited impatiently for the help expected from abroad through the National Union of Adana; the help included not only arms and ammunition, but also new fighting forces. Nevertheless, no help was received and the condition of the population of Hadjn became desperate. The lack of ammunition distressed the heroic people of Hadjn and famine compelled them to eat dogs, cats and mice. This fact has been narrated by Aharon Mankrian (born in 1903), a survivor from Hadjn. Meanwhile, the enemy concentrated new forces. The French military representatives conducted an equivocal policy and, though they had promised to provide provisions and ammunition for the self-defence of Hadjn, they not only broke their promise, but informed also the Turks about the organization of the self-defensive plan of the Armenians. After prolonged and obstinate battles and a heroic resistance which lasted for eight months, the Turkish forces were able to destroy and to burn down all the stone houses of Hadjn by artillery cannonade. Hundreds of valorous combatants fell on the fortifications, thousands of Hadjn denizens were cruelly massacred; only 380 persons succeeded to accomplish a breakthrough and escaped the terrible encirclement of fire.
The town of Ayntap, which had heroically resisted intermittently for 314 days, was captured by the enemy, as well as the ancient capital of Cilicia, Sis, the heroic town of Zeytoun, the town with a historic past, Tarson, the commercial centre Adana and various other localities of Cilicia inhabited with Armenians, since the French government, breaking its obligations as an ally, handed Cilicia over to Turkey by an agreement signed on the 20th of October, 1921, in Ankara, condemning the Armenian population of Cilicia to the danger of massacre.
Although the Turkish government cruelly suppressed the heroic resistance and the self-defensive battles started in various localities, nevertheless, the devoted Armenian heroes, who struggled for their elementary human rights and for the physical survival of their nation, recorded brilliant pages in the history of the national-emancipatory struggle of the Armenian people.
After the forcible deportation of the Armenian population of Cilicia, it was the turn of the Armenians of Anatolia, whose majority had been ruthlessly massacred during the Genocide in 1915 and those who were miraculously saved continued their existence in the Armenian-inhabited localities under Greek domination and especially in Izmir. In 1922, the Turks burnt down also the Armenian and Greek quarters of Izmir, driving the Christians to the seashore.
That horrible event, which was accompanied by pitiless plunder and massacre, has been recorded in the memory of western Armenians as the "calamity of Izmir." An eye-witness of these events, ArpinÃ© Bartikian (born in 1909) from Afiongarahissar remembered with emotion that the Turks had burned the Armenian quarter of Izmir in the first place. "There was fire behind and water in front of us. Only those who gave their last gold coins and ornaments to the Turks to save their lives were rescued from this hell-like turmoil, while those who had no means, threw themselves into the sea waves and, defying death, tried to swim to the ships anchored at a distance and bearing European flags, which would carry the homeless Armenians to unknown destinations."
Thus, the Armenian Diaspora was created. Nevertheless, the dream of the lost Homeland still continues to fume in the memory of the Armenian people, it is impossible to defile the people's history.
PS. On a personal note, I do remember both my Grandmothers. Rahel, my father's mother who was fluent in Turkish but hardly spoke a word of Armenian. Marie, my mother's mother, had blue tattoos all around her face. She told me the Arab Bedouins had it done when they found her in the desert, an orphan all alone, so that the European missionaries that came around after the war trying to find the surviving orphans could not recognize her as an Armenian child and take her away. Being about ten years old during the exile she remembered her name being Hasmig, Jasmine, but she was known as Marie more of an Arabic name given to her by her savior Bedouins.
I grew up in Anjar, in Lebanon, a small village built by the French to house the survivors of the Moussa Dagh, with my young eyes I watched the hardworking farmer convert a piece of rocky land into fertile fruit bearing orchard, I watched him work from sunrise to sunset tending his herd of sheep or a few cows he owned. My ears heard plenty of stories.
So please, stop insulting us by denying the acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turkish people. Just for once stand up for the truth, the Turks can deny all they want, the proof is scattered all around the world in the memories of the survivors and historical archives of different governments.
WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE