THE ARMENIAN MASSACRES AND THE FUTURE OF THE ARMENIANS
Written by Diana Abgar and originally published in 1910
The above is a subject for profound meditation for the Armenian people; it has therefore naturally for me occupied much deep thought.
National Autonomy has been the dream of the Armenians; a dream which through centuries of oppression and years of slaughter, the nation has been striving and struggling to realize. The oldest of historical nations, we have held to our nationality, language and religion; we have struggled and striven, and though billows of affliction have swept over us, we have not allowed ourselves to be engulfed. “Love is stronger than Death” and truly the Armenian has loved his nationality with a steadfastness and tenacity that has conquered death.
Steady, stubborn grit, combined with a remarkable natural intelligence have been characteristics of the race, and have kept us alive in spite of national adversities, such as no other nation could have suffered and survived.
But our position is an acutely unhappy and an acutely unfortunate one. Our misfortunes began with the physical geography of our country. Surrounded by three great empires, our kingdom was strangled by the overwhelming pressure, and to-day our country is divided up between Russia, Turkey and Persia. For this reason we have been a great deal more unfortunate than the Balkan States, and now if there were any possible chance of wresting autonomy for Turkish Armenia from Turkey, Russia fearing the spread of the same spirit in her own provinces, would assuredly not only frown on such an attempt but use all the means in her power to crush it.
There is also a stern fact which a people so politically helpless and forlorn as ourselves must ever bear in mind, namely, that we live in an intensely selfish and intensely grasping world; no prating the pretty nonsense of Western Civilization, or Western Humanity, or Western Christianity can alter that stern hard fact as it stands, and as it has stood since the history of our world has been written.
Indeed, nineteenth century civilization, which has made the world of commerce acutely grasping, has also made the world of Politics unscrupulously selfish.
However much it may clothe itself in the garment of fair speech, what we call “Politics” is actually made up of that one devouring, absorbing, grasping element—Selfishness. “The friends of to-day may be enemies to-morrow” is more truly spoken in the domain of Politics than anywhere else.
Let the Armenians take a lesson not only from the Turkish massacres, but from the attitude of Europe towards those massacres? Let them look back on the past, and remember how they have been trampled under the merciless foot of Political Selfishness, and then left to welter in their gore.
Who doubts, who can gainsay, that by so much as the lifting up of a finger the Powers of Europe could have stopped those massacres? Was that finger ever lifted up, however, all through the long years of “slaughter, martyrdom, agony, despair” to save our helpless people from butcheries so enormous, so hideous, so appalling that no pen could portray the horrible realities? Had the Turkish bonds been in jeopardy, Constantinople harbour would have witnessed the battleships of the Powers of Europe discharging their cannon on the capital of the Turkish Empire, but a hundred thousand or five hundred thousand Armenians, more or less, mangled and butchered to death, or fleeing from their sacked and burning villages to die of cold and starvation in their mountain passes, could not rouse action on the part of Europe, even though the Concert of Europe had been instrumental in their destruction.
I do not write with a desire to indulge in recriminations, since vain recriminations will not bear profitable fruit; but I write with the object of impressing on my countrymen to remember, always to remember, the lessons written on the pages of a past that should never be forgotten by us.
In his book “Our Responsibilities for Turkey” the late Duke of Argyll quotes from the famous despatch of a British Ambassador to Turkey, the date being given as September 4, 1876. The despatch proceeds thus:
“To the accusation of being a blind partisan of the Turks I will only answer that my conduct here has never been guided by any sentimental affection for them, but by a firm determination to uphold the interests of Great Britain to the utmost of my power; and that those interests are deeply engaged in preventing the disruption of the Turkish Empire is a conviction which I share in common with the most eminent statesmen who have directed our foreign policy, but which appears now to be abandoned by shallow politicians or persons who have allowed their feelings of revolted humanity to make them forget the capital interests involved in the question.
“We may and must feel indignant at the needless and monstrous severity with which the Bulgarian insurrection was put down; but the necessity which exists for England to prevent changes from occurring here which would be most detrimental to ourselves is not affected by the question whether it was 10,000 or 20,000 persons who perished in the suppression.
“We have been upholding what we know to be a semi-civilized nation, liable under certain circumstances to be carried into fearful excesses; but the fact of this having just now been strikingly brought home to us all cannot be a sufficient reason for abandoning a policy which is the only one that can be followed with due regard to our interest.”
I quote this famous despatch merely to point out that “due regard to our interest” was carefully followed out in the Past by the Powers of Europe, and that “due regard to our interest” will be just as carefully followed out in the Present and in the Future.
From the Turk and Persian, the Armenian must ever remain separate, as he has through centuries, though living in the midst of them, remained separate. The gulf that divides the one nation from the other two, the wall of iron that rises between them is the position of woman. The Armenian has accepted whole-heartedly the position in which woman has been placed by the Great Founder of his faith. For seventeen hundred years unremittingly since Christianity was revived in Armenia by Gregory the Illuminator, the Christian law with regard to the position of woman has moulded the thought of the nation, it has left its impress on the nation, and it is this vital and essential difference between the law of Mahommed and the law of Christ that like a two-edged sword has cleaved apart Christian Armenian from Moslem Turk and Persian.
If “East is East, and West is West” it is on account of the social plane on which woman stands, a social plane that is never so degraded in any corner of Asia, as it is in the countries where the law of Mahommed governs.
The Armenians in Asiatic Turkey are scattered and dispersed among Turks and other antagonistic races; they are without any military force or organization to wrest autonomy from the military and governing power. That Europe should aid their endeavours, or that Turkey should make them a free gift of autonomy, are both of them absolutely out of the question. Then what remains for us?
To hold to our own nationality and to be subject—Subject to Russia, subject to Turkey, subject to Persia—What shall it profit us? What will it profit? What doth it profit us? Our strong, clever, energetic men, our beautiful, intelligent women, when neither chance nor opportunity can enable our finest and best to reach the higher rungs of the world’s ladder, and when as a subject people we must ever remain hewers of wood and drawers of water, even our Aivasowskis and our Melikoffs have been known to the world as Russians, not as Armenians. Have we a chance of bursting the fetters? Have we strength to break the chains? Can we reach the goal toward which, bleeding and torn, we have been striving, and still are striving? These are questions which we must ask ourselves; looking them soberly in the face.
But this is not enough: if we must persist in holding to our nationality, we must look into ourselves, we must search out and probe our national failings and our national weaknesses, and find out in what essential characteristics we are wanting as a nation, and so build up national character. Let us weigh ourselves in the balance, and supply what in us is found wanting.
In the period of less than a decade a Great Power has risen in the Orient. The people of a small island empire with an empty Treasury have beaten successfully and disastrously a colossal empire of whom the Powers of Europe had stood in awe, and against whom not one had ventured single-handed to engage.
On the field the ever victorious army of little Japan undermined Russia’s stronghold, and succeeded in driving back and ever driving back the ever defeated and ever retreating army of colossal Russia. At sea the ever victorious Japanese Fleet succeeded in completely annihilating the Russian Fleet. It was war such as the world had never yet seen. The secret of such astounding successes should be investigated, and here I beg leave to quote from one of a series of articles in which I gave view to my opinions during the Russo-Japanese War. “Japan may be likened to the bundle of faggots in the fable firmly tied together; one faggot of larger dimensions in the centre, the sovereign round whom the whole nation clusters, and all, ruler and people tied together by adamantine bands of patriotism.”
These remarks of mine were based on observations of actual facts. In national unity Japan stands as an object lesson to the world; she furnishes an example which the world needs to copy, and which a nation so politically forlorn as ourselves more than any other needs to copy.
From the astounding success of Japan let us turn to the position the Great Republic of the United States of America occupies in the world, and take the lesson to heart of what Union can accomplish as we contrast their present position with the position that the handful of puritan pilgrims occupied when they first landed on American soil not quite three hundred years ago.
National Unity is our greatest need; it is the banner which we must raise up over our national life. National Unity must be engraven on the tablets of our minds and throb in the pulses of our hearts. There are mountains of difficulties before us, and if ever we must reach the goal we can only do so by being bound together like the bundle of faggots in the fable, with no weakening or loosening of the bands. Then perhaps we might once more be able to get an independent footing on the historical soil of our fathers, and perhaps once more rally round our own flag. A Japanese lives for the State, not for himself; we have no State for which to live, but let us live for our communities whilst we keep the hope in our hearts that communities grow into States.
We have grit and endurance in an unparalleled degree, but these characteristics will profit us nothing if we are wanting in unity.
Let us remember that utterance of the Founder of our faith. In our loyalty and allegiance to Him our life-blood has flowed like the torrents of a cataract, but we must remember His warning utterance:
“What shall it profit a man.” What shall it profit a nation. Unity is the soul of a nation. Let us keep our soul and not lose it.