THE ARMENIAN MASSACRES AND THE TREATY OF BERLIN
Written by Diana Abgar and originally published in 1910
Since the gathering of the Plenipotentiaries of Europe at the famous Congress of Berlin in 1878, and the signing of the still more famous Treaty of Berlin, the martyr roll of the unfortunate Armenian nation stands without its parallel in history.
In the Guildhall at Berlin hangs a picture of the memorable scene witnessed in that city on July the thirteenth 1878. The painter has depicted the proud array of representatives of the powerful Governments of Europe, but in the interests of Humanity there should be attached to that painting the wording of Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin written in letters of blood (Armenian blood).
It was a curious irony of Fate, that although the taking of “the terrible stronghold of Kars,” universally admitted to be one of the greatest and most difficult military exploits ever achieved, and the crowning success of the Russian arms in Asiatic Turkey, should have been accomplished by an Armenian General; that although Armenian Generals in the Russian service had led to conquest, and Armenian soldiers fought, conquered and died, yet by these successes not only was no amelioration attained of the hard fate of their unhappy nation under Turkish rule, but that fate, hard before, was made a hundredfold and even a thousandfold harder.
The efforts of the Armenians, and the entreaties of their Patriarch Nerses had procured the insertion of Article 16 in the Treaty of San Stefano signed between Russia and Turkey in March 1878. In fact the wording of the Article had been suggested by the Patriarch himself. It provided the following stipulation for the protection of the Armenians:
“As the evacuation by the Russian troops of the territory which they now occupy in Armenia, and which is to be restored to Turkey, might give rise to conflicts and complications detrimental to the maintenance of good relations between the two countries, the Sublime Porte engages to carry into effect without further delay the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Kurds and Circassians.”
What followed has passed into history. The British Government of which Lord Beaconsfield (then Mr. D’Israeli) was Premier, and Lord Salisbury Foreign Secretary, once more pursued the old policy of baffling Russian aggrandizement in Turkey. Afraid that her own real or fancied interests would thereby become imperilled, England threw in the weight of her power, and virtually commanded the substitution of the Treaty of Berlin in lieu of the Treaty of San Stefano. Thus the substantial guarantee of a natural and immediate protector, both able and desirous of enforcing the protection which the Armenians then had in Russia, was taken away, and the security of impotent words given in its stead, namely:—
“The Sublime Porte undertakes to carry out without further delay the improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds. It will periodically make known the steps taken to this effect to the Powers, who will superintend their application.”
“It will periodically make known the steps taken to this effect to the Powers, who will superintend their application.” How this last proviso could furnish food for laughter were it not for the terrible tragedy involved in it.
The insertion of Article 61 in the Treaty of Berlin, granted, or rather seemingly granted, by the six Powers of Europe, proved in reality, as subsequent events bore out, an instrument of death and torture. It was as if the reversal of the figures had reversed the possibilities of succour and protection, and with the death of the Czar Liberator, the last chance of the Armenians died.
The Turkish Massacres of 1875 and 1876 which led up to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 are historical facts too well known to need further comment in this article. The Czar Liberator stands out in history as that noble figure—a benefactor of mankind. Through his humanitarian susceptibilities, and his sublime efforts for their deliverance, the Christians of European Turkey received immunity from Turkish slaughter; and the protection of his benevolent arm was extended over that unhappy Christian nation of Asiatic Turkey, the Armenians; at least it would have secured them immunity from the record-breaking slaughter that followed, but the Power that had stood behind Turkey since 1791 frustrated his endeavours.
A British commentator on that page of British policy has summed it up in the words—
“In no other part of the world has our national policy or conduct been determined by motives so immoral and so stupid.1”
The same commentator, in reviewing also the result of the substituted Treaty, fittingly remarks:—
“The Turk could see at a glance that, whilst it relieved him of the dangerous pressure of Russia, it substituted no other pressure which his own infinite dexterity in delays could not make abortive. As for the unfortunate Armenians, the change was simply one which must tend to expose them to the increased enmity of their tyrants, whilst it damaged and discouraged the only protection which was possible under the inexorable conditions of the physical geography of the country.”
It had been the constant endeavour of the Patriarch Nerses to point out to the Armenians that their true policy lay in aiding Russian advance in Turkey: that even if Russia were selfish in her designs, she was the only Christian Power that would stand as their protector against Turkish or Persian tyranny. His political foresight had already been verified as early as 18272, and his strenuous life-long labours were nearing the goal in 1878, but were frustrated by the fatal action that intervened.
England, by commanding the substitution of the Treaty of Berlin in place of that of San Stefano had taken upon herself the heaviest obligations any nation could incur. It is unnecessary to repeat that those obligations were never fulfilled.
If the lamented death of the Emperor Alexander II was one of the most unhappy events that could have befallen Russia; it was a hundredfold more unhappy for the Armenian nation. His successor, who adopted repressive and coercive measures for his own people in the place of his father’s liberal policy, not only applied the same measures to his Armenian subjects in his own domains, but left their countrymen under Turkish rule to their merciless fate.
Russia, twice foiled in her subjugation of Turkey, changed her policy from that of crushing into that of upholding the Ottoman Empire. When the horrors of the Armenian massacres, revealed to the people of England by their own ambassadors and consuls, their own journalists and men of letters, thrilled the hearts of men and women, when England’s “Grand Old Man” thundered his vituperations against the “Great Assassin3,” Prince Lobanoff in answer to British proposals of coercion towards Turkey, conveyed Russia’s intentions in his warning note to the Salisbury Government, and England, who in 1878 had rivetted the Turkish yoke on the necks of the Armenians, to use the words of an eminent British authority on Turkish affairs, “wrung her hands and submitted4.”
The same authority tells us that the coup de grace to the intervention of the Concert of Europe in Armenian affairs was given by Prince Bismarck, “who in 1883 intimated to the British Government, in terms of cynical frankness and force, that Germany cared nothing about the matter, and that it had better be allowed to drop.”
Thus the Concert of Europe, under whose aegis the aspiring Armenians foolishly and fondly hoped to recover National Autonomy, became the cause of dealing out to the struggling nation, not security from Turkish oppression, but instead fire, famine and slaughter, a slaughter to which were added devilish ingenuity of torture, and the loathsome horrors of Turkish prisons. If before the Treaty of Berlin the Armenians had suffered from various phases of Turkish oppression, they had at least not been pursued with the relentless fury that followed, until the soil of the fatherland was soaked, and reeked and steamed with the life-blood of its slaughtered sons and daughters; until women and children were done to their death under the most hideous and revolting circumstances, and tender youths and cultured men of letters rotted in Turkish dungeons.
England, with her uneasy conscience, continued spasmodic efforts in the shape of paper remonstrances, from time to time she rallied the other powers who were signatories to the Treaty of Berlin and by means of Ambassadorial Identical Notes and Collective Notes sought to terminate the horrors that were stirring public feeling at home; but Abdul Hamid, fully cognizant of the jealousies and rivalries of the Powers, and knowing himself secure thereby, laughed in his sleeve at all the paper remonstrances.
No action was taken by the Cabinets of Europe to leash the tiger sitting on the Ottoman throne. The lust of blood and the lust of plunder of “le Sultan Rouge,” combined with the greed of his satellites, were allowed to be gratified to the full on a helpless and hapless people, whilst Europe looked on.
The character of Abdul Hamid has been well summed up in the testimony of a writer having opportunities of intimate acquaintance with him.
“Il voit dans son peuple un vil troupeau qu’il peut dévorer sans pitié, et à qui, comme le lion de la Fable, il fait beaucoup d’honneur en daignant le croquer5.”
When to these significant words, we add the following by the same author:
“De ce qu’Abdul Hamid n’est pas bon musulman, il ne faudrait pas conclure qu’il aime les Chrétiens; il les déteste, au contraire, et emploie fréquemment le mot giaour pour désigner un infidèle ou insulter un musulman.”
We have the explanation of the Armenian massacres; especially as that unfortunate people had become by Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin, subjects of the paper remonstrances of the Powers of Europe, and thereby also objects of the tyrant’s vengeance.
That the Armenians should be constantly appealing to the Power that had pledged itself for their protection, and that the same Power should be constantly rallying the others, and making Ambassadorial demonstrations, was enough to rouse the vilest passions of a nature in which no feelings except vile passions existed.
Of all sins in this world, perhaps the sin of foolishness receives the severest punishment, and of all crimes, the crime of failure meets with the heaviest doom. For their foolishness in trusting in European protection and hoping for European intervention the unfortunate Armenians paid with rivers of their own blood, and for their crime of failure they were made to wallow in that blood. The darkest pages of their history have been written in the closing years of the nineteenth, and the early years of the twentieth century; never since the loss of their independence, nine centuries ago, had they hoped for so much, and never had they paid so dearly for their folly.
If they had carefully laid to heart the whole history of Europe’s intercourse with Asia, beginning with the conquests of the Macedonian Alexander, they would have read in the light of sober judgement, self-interest, and self-interest only written on every line and page, but they committed the folly of hoping that for their sakes the history of the world, which means in other words the history of human selfishness, was going to be reversed; and they forgot what was more important than all, that Europe had nothing to gain by their emancipation. There is only one explanation for their folly. It is a peculiarity of human nature that the troubles we have been bearing with more or less patience, become unbearable when once hopes of deliverance from them are awakened. Article 61 of the Treaty of Berlin awakened hopes that proved bitterer in the eating than Dead Sea fruit. It aroused towards the Armenians the diabolical animosity of the human fiend who held sovereignty over them.
Hunted like wild beasts, killed like rats and flies, out of the depths of its agony and its martyrdom, the nation has still contrived to rear its head and live; for it was as it is now, the industrious, energetic, self-respecting element in the Turkish Empire, with a virile life in its loins and sinews, that centuries of oppression culminating in the unspeakable horrors of a thirty years’ martyrdom has failed to exterminate.
As for the Treaty of Berlin—It has done its work.
- “Our Responsibilities For Turkey.”—Argyll (note to 2nd printing).
- In 1826 the Russian General Paskevitch defeated the Persians at Elizabetopol and in the following year 1827 he seized the monastery of Etchmiatzin (the seat of the Armenian Patriarch) and Erivan one of the great towns of Armenia and gained for himself the title of Erivanski. By these successes Russia advanced as far as the line of the Araxes and wrested from Persia the provinces of Erivan and Nakhitchvan. The Treaty of Peace was concluded between Russia and Persia at Turkmantchai on the 22nd of February 1828.—Note to 2nd printing.
- Commenting on the effect on Abdul Hamid of the indignation aroused in England over the massacres, Mr. James Bryce writes, “The indignation expressed in England exasperated him; he passed from fear to fury, and back again to fear; and went so far as to beg, and obtain, the friendly offices of the Pope, who, through the Government of Spain, asked the British Government not to press too hardly upon the Sultan with regard to the Armenians.”—Note to 2nd printing.
- “Transcaucasia and Ararat: Twenty Years of the Armenian Question.”—James Bryce. Note to 2nd printing.
- “Abdul Hamid Intime,” Georges Dorys. In the Preface by Pierre Guillard to the same book, there occurs the following passage: “Gladstone dénonça le Grand Assassin; M. Albert Vandal flétrit le Sultan Rouge; M. Anatole France fit trembler dans l’antre de Yildiz le Despote fou d’épouvante et d’autres le traitèrent de Bête Rouge et de Sultan blême. Cependant aucun de ces termes excessifs en apparence n’est encore satisfaisant et n’exprime en toute son horreur le caractère d’un être à face humaine, tel, disait récemment un haut exilé ottoman, qu’il n’en existe point de semblable, qu’il n’en a jamais existé de pareil et que selon toute probabilité, il n’en pourra dans l’avenir exister un second. Les conquérants assyriens qui se vantent dans des inscriptions lapidaires d’avoir exterminé les peuples rebelles et tendu de peaux écorchées les murailles des villes prises, Néron, Caligula, Timour, Gengiz Khan, les inquisiteurs catholiques et les tortionnaires chinois, aucun tueur d’hommes n’égala Abdul-Hamid.”—Note to 2nd printing.