Is This Genocide? What Four Americans Saw Happening To Armenians 100


Washington Post
April 22 2015

It appears President Obama will not use the word “genocide” on Friday
when acknowledging the massacres of perhaps more than 1 million
Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire a century ago. That’s when
the nation of Armenia, as well as the far-flung Armenian diaspora,
will mark the 100th anniversary of what they staunchly believe was
a genocide.

There’s little historical disagreement about the scale of the upheavals
that began in April 1915 — when Ottoman officials first ordered the
removal of Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul, and later the mass
deportation of ethnic Armenians mostly living in what’s now eastern
Turkey. But, as WorldViews discussed earlier, the question of how to
remember it has been the subject of decades of debate and rancor,
wrapped up in the the complex politics of the Cold War as well as
the ironclad nationalism of a succession of Turkish governments.

It’s the source of considerable international awkwardness. Obama isn’t
alone in his avoidance of the “g-word” — he’s joined by a host of
other world leaders, including United Nations Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon, as well as all his predecessors in the White House.

But there was a time when many in the international community were
more certain of what took place. This is particularly true when it
comes to the United States: Americans in the Ottoman Empire offered
some of the first outsider testimonies of what transpired in 1915.

Some U.S. officials even invoked the slaughter of the Armenians as
moral justification for the United States eventually entering World
War I against Germany and its allies.

To be sure, the unraveling of the Ottoman Empire between 1914 and
1922 saw mass violence and depravation visited on its non-Armenian
populations as well. An estimated 5 million Ottoman civilians perished
during the conflicts between this eight-year period.

The following accounts are from four Americans who witnessed what
befell the Armenians of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. They are all
taken from an excellent new book, “Great Catastrophe: Armenians
and Turks in the Shadow of Genocide,” by Thomas de Waal, an expert
on the Caucasus and Black Sea region at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace.

Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in a cable
sent to Secretary of State Robert Lansing on July 10, 1915:

Persecution of Armenians assuming unprecedented proportions. Reports
from widely scattered districts indicate systematic attempts to uproot
peaceful Armenian populations and through arbitrary arrests, terrible
tortures, wholesale expulsions and deportations from one end of the
Empire to the other accompanied by frequent instances of rape, pillage,
and murder, turning into massacre, to bring destruction and destitution
on them. These measures are not in response to popular or fanatical
demand but are purely arbitrary and directed from Constantinople in
the name of military necessity, often in districts where no military
operations are likely to take place.

Morgenthau went on, explaining the shocking reasons behind the

The Moslem and Armenian populations have been living in harmony but
because Armenian volunteers, many of the Russian subjects, have joined
Russian army in Caucasus and because some have been implicated in
armed revolutionary movements and others have been helpful to Russians
in their invasion… terrible vengeance is being taken. Most of the
sufferers are innocent and loyal to the Ottoman government.

The execution of the Ottoman directives was uneven. In some areas,
the bulk of Armenian men were able to leave their homes and towns. In
others, wrote Henry Riggs, an American pastor in eastern Anatolia,
“men very seldom left the province alive.” According to some accounts,
males over the age of 12 were systematically killed.

Riggs observed what happened to surviving women and children in the
tragic deportation convoys marched out of Anatolia. They were waylaid
by bands of Kurds and brutalized by the gendarmes, or soldiers,
dispatched to guard them. Rape and abuse were rife.

Left with absolutely no protection, at the mercy of those brutal
gendarmes, many of them criminals of the worst type, the women
and children were driven along with such rigor that many perished
from sheer exhaustion within the first few days. Of the treatment
received by the younger and more vigorous women at the hands of men
whose unbridled lust was no longer restrained by any fear of justice,
no detailed account need be attempted. The fact of so many suicides
at the [Euphrates] River is perhaps sufficient comment, though the
women who escaped from other convoys and came to us for relief told
of their own experiences of those nightly orgies in shocking detail.

Mary Gaffram, another American missionary, walked with a group of
Armenians leaving the central Anatolian city of Sivas.

As far as the eye could see over the plain was this slow-moving line
of ox carts. For hours there was not a drop of water on the road,
and the sun poured down its very hottest. As we went on we began to
see the dead from yesterday’s company, and the weak began to fall by
the way. The Kurds working in the fields made attacks continually,
and we were half-distracted. I piled as many as I could on our wagons,
and our pupils, both boys and girls, worked like heroes. One girl
took a baby from its dead mother and carried it until evening. Another
carried a dying woman until she died.

Jesse Jackson, the U.S. consul in Aleppo, sent this cable in September
1916 of what he witnessed by a town outside the Syrian city, where
the last phase of the campaign was playing out.

The impression which this immense and dismal plain of Meskene leaves
is sad and pitiable. Information obtained on the spot permits me to
state that nearly 60,000 Armenians are buried there, carried off
by hunger, by privations of all sorts, by intestinal diseases and
typhus which is the result. As far as the eye can reach mounds are
seen containing 200 to 300 corpses buried in the ground… women,
children and old people belonging to different families.

Jackson described the surviving Armenians he encountered as “living

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post.

He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong
and later in New York.