THE ARMENIAN MASSACRES AND CIVILIZED EUROPE
Written by Diana Abgar and originally published in 1910
“Hear then ye Senates! hear this truth sublime,
They who allow Oppression share the crime.”
“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.”
In the twentieth century of the Christian era, in the age of trumpeted progress, of boasted and vaunted civilization, there is a Ramah of countries, a desolated Ramah, blackened and calcined with the fires of oppression, and over her desolated wastes there flows, flows, continually flows, ever replenished and ever renewed, that red stream which crieth up from the earth to God: and out of this modern Ramah, a voice is heard of lamentation and bitter weeping, it riseth up in its boundless anguish to reach the heavens, it crieth out and will not be stopped, for it is the voice of the Rahel of nations weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are not.
Ah! thou Rahel of nations! to the cry of thy boundless anguish, to thy lamentation and bitter weeping, Christendom and Civilization, the Christendom and Civilization of Europe have replied “Are we thy children’s keepers?”
Who that has read the history of the Crusades has not turned with sickening disgust from the chapters wherein history has recorded the savage barbarities and fearful excesses of those Christian warriors, who went to Palestine ostensibly fired with the enthusiasm of a holy cause, but in reality only to glut in slaughter and gratify brutal passions. Europe has, however, designated her past as the “dark ages” into which she has thrust back, the ferocious outbursts of religion, the merciless persecutions of the church, the savage sweep of the barbarians of the north, and the unbridled tyrannies of despotic power, from all which she loudly boasts to have emancipated herself, and like the evolution according to the Darwinian theory of the anthropomorphal ape, to have progressed into the state of civilization. But beginning from the last quarter of the nineteenth and on into the first decade of the twentieth century, the horrors of the darkest ages in human history have lain at her doors, and towards these horrors Europe has kept up the role of an extenuatingly disclaiming, a mildly rebuking, sweetly frowning, smilingly denouncing, Disapprover.
Half a million Armenians annihilated by organized massacres of the most ferocious and hideous natures, and perhaps a corresponding number fated either to rot to death in Turkish prisons or made homeless and destitute to die of cold and starvation, with Europe nonchalantly looking on is surely convincing proof that the Humanity, Christianity and Civilization of Europe are whited sepulchres, hiding by the smooth outside the rottenness within; therefore ye priests of the gospel come down from your pulpits, close your churches, hold your tongues and be silent for ever, for the Christianity you preach has bowed itself out, if ever it existed, in Christian Europe. The Christ of Europe is the demon of greed and the demon of land hunger, and the god of civilization is Mammon.
In 1878 an astounding policy was carried out by Great Britain; it was the crowning act of her long continued support to Turkey, a government she knew to be hopelessly vicious and profoundly cruel and bad to the core. With this Power, England posing before the world as the home of freedom, the friend of the oppressed, and the defender of the rights and liberties of man, entered into a Convention. It was called the “Anglo-Turkish Convention,” of which Article I reads thus:
“If Batum, Ardahan, Kars, or any of them, shall be retained by Russia, and if any attempt shall be made at any future time by Russia to take possession of any further territories of his Imperial Majesty the Sultan in Asia, as fixed by the definitive Treaty of Peace, England engages to join his Imperial Majesty the Sultan in defending them by force of arms. In return his Imperial Majesty the Sultan promises to England to introduce necessary reforms, to be agreed upon later between the two Powers, into the government and for the protection of the Christian and other subjects of the Porte in these territories. And in order to enable England to make necessary provision for executing her engagement, his Imperial Majesty the Sultan further consents to assign the island of Cyprus to be occupied and administered by England.”
It is well to remark here what was blazoned to the world at the time that part of those “necessary reforms” “in these territories” include twenty-two large organized massacres of Armenians (besides smaller ones) dating from September 30th, 1895 to December 29th, 1895; and be it remembered that these were massacres of a hideousness and ferocity of nature even devils could not rival; besides also other organized massacres by the Turkish Government of the same nature (large and small) both before and after that period.
The British press, followed by a large section of the British public, raged against what they called the advance of Russia in the East, as they had already raged for half a century past. It is astonishing how one nation can swallow its own camels and strain at the other’s gnats.
However, this Anglo-Turkish Convention and the Congress at Berlin was the crowning act of England’s support and defense of a power whose rule had been characterized by misrule, massacre and oppression. Her prime minister returned from the Congress of Berlin loudly proclaiming “Peace with Honour.” Of that “Honour” Time has been the test, and Time has revealed to the world that “Peace” in its true character.
Dating from the Congress of Berlin the supreme tragedy of Armenia begins; deliberately and without compunction England revived the dying tyranny of Turkey for the Armenians, deliberately and without compunction she took away from them (a people politically the most helpless and forlorn of all civilized nations) the only protection they had of a powerful neighbour willing and able to enforce its protection, and rivetted on their necks the yoke of the cruellest oppressor that the world had yet known. The history of the rule of the house of Osman up to the thirty-fourth Padishah was knowledge enough and experience enough for the British Government and the British people, and yet in the last quarter of the civilized nineteenth century, the great and enlightened Christian power of Great Britain proceeded to carry out and complete this gigantic political crime of fastening on the necks of a struggling Christian people, the last remnants of an ancient civilization, the merciless yoke of their oppressors. From that time onward history must mark the course of the supreme tragedy of Armenia.
The bold move taken by the Patriarch Nerses of sending delegates to the Congress of Berlin cost the renowned prelate his life, his firm refusal to recall his delegates aroused the last fury of Turkey’s Padishah; the Patriarch was stealthily murdered and his genius and great personal influence lost to the cause of his people.
But a loss greater than the loss of their beloved leader befell the Armenians in the assassination of the Emperor Alexander II, whose untimely death plunged Russia back into the night of ignorance, bigotry and superstition, of the savagery and slavery, out of the darkness of which he was leading her; the best and noblest of Czars was succeeded by a son whose policy shaped itself directly contrary to that of his father’s, and Russia from being the help of the Armenians under Turkish rule turned into one of the pillars of support of their oppressor.
“Since 1884,” writes Mr. James Bryce, “it has been generally understood in Constantinople that the Russian Embassy has made no serious effort to bring about any radical change in Turkish administration, and it was indeed believed that the more England remonstrated the more did Russia point out to the Sultan how much he had erred in supposing that England was his friend.”
We have it on the authority of Professor Arminius Vambéry that the Czar Alexander III had given assurances of his friendship and support to Sultan Abdul Hamid; and there are not wanting political students who affirm that the Armenian Massacres were in part instigated by Russian politicians who saw, or professed to see, in a free Armenia an impediment to Russia’s advance in the south and a fostering of the spirit of independence in the Russian provinces of Armenia1. This on the authority of Mr. James Bryce was the reason which Prince Lobanoff assigned for his refusal to give support to British proposals of coercion towards Turkey. “On January 16, 1896,” so writes Mr. Bryce, “when the massacres had gone on for more than three months, he (Prince Lobanoff) ‘saw nothing to destroy his confidence in the bonne volonté of the Sultan, who was’ (”he felt assured“) ‘doing his best.’” And Mr. Bryce continues to add “Turkey, which in 1877 had looked to England for help against Russia, now turned to Russia for support against the menaces of England.”
We have it also on the authority of Mr. Bryce that shortly after the terrible and cold-blooded massacre of Armenians at Constantinople “the German Ambassador presented to the Sultan a picture of the German Imperial family which he had asked for some time ago2” and the friendship of Kaiser Wilhelm for Abdul Hamid “his friend and brother,” as an American writer has called him; the costly gifts presented by the ex-Sultan to the German Imperial family, the magnificent reception of the Kaiser at Constantinople, and the still more magnificent concession of Turkish territory to Germany, are too well known to the world to need any further comment.
Thus it became the fate of the unfortunate Armenians to be the bruised and mangled shuttle-cock of powerful bats.
Much has been written and much has been said by great authorities, (far more comprehensively and by pens much more forcible than my humble efforts could aspire to reach) against the selfishness and callousness, the inhumanity and cynicism of those great powers which have coldly looked on and permitted the hellish atrocities and horrors of the Armenian Massacres. The name of William Ewart Gladstone is loved and revered by Armenians all over the world; but the thunderings of that veteran statesman and the denouncing protests of those thoughtful men whose feelings of revolted humanity have made themselves heard in sounding language, have fallen on stony ground; they have been like the voices of men crying out in the wilderness. Europe has turned a deaf ear to the condemnations of justice and truth, even as she has turned a deaf ear to the voice of Rahel weeping for her slaughtered children.
The victim of Abdul Hamid’s revenge who was stealthily murdered in his bed. He was elected Patriarch in 1843 and held the highest place in the esteem and affection of his people. Mr. James Bryce gives his age at the time of his election in 1843 as seventy-three; if this is correct then he was over a hundred years old when he was foully murdered. Mr. Bryce writes of him as, “the worthy leader of his nation,” “a man of high character and great ability.”
A writer signing himself Beyzadé gives the following account of the Patriarch’s tragic death in the July number of “The Wide World:”
The attempted poisoning and subsequent death of Monseigneur Nercès Varjabétian, the Armenian Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople, was a revolting illustration of the inhuman and barbarous tactics of the Yildiz Kiosk “Camarilla.” Monseigneur Nercès Varjabétian was not only one of the most prominent prelates of the Armenian Church, but was also a fearless patriot—a distinguished linguist, an eloquent preacher, and a thorough gentleman in every sense of the word. When peace was concluded between Turkey and Russia, and preparations were being made for the Berlin Congress, it was he who, in spite of the feared fanatical uprising of the Turks, threw prudence to the winds and took a step that will long be remembered in the annals of Armenian history.
At the first meeting of the Berlin Congress the Turkish delegates were thunderstruck to learn from official sources that an Armenian delegation had arrived from Constantinople, sent by Monseigneur Nercès, the Patriarch, their object being to request the signatory Powers of the Berlin Treaty to force a guarantee from the Turkish Government to make certain important improvements in Armenia.
Abdul Hamid and his advisers were furious at this affront, and Monseigneur Nercès was summoned to the Palace. It is said that when he received the summons he simply smiled and asked one of his curates to read the Burial Service to him, as he did not expect to return alive. However, he went. No one has ever heard what passed between the Sultan and himself at the interview; suffice it to say that he immediately summoned the Armenian General Assembly and tendered his resignation. This was not accepted by the Assembly, and, amidst enthusiastic cheers, he was carried back to his apartments at the Patriarchate.
Meanwhile a peremptory order reached him, signed by the Sultan, to recall the Armenian delegation from Berlin. This Monseigneur Varjabétian point-blank refused to do, and retired to his private residence at Haskeuy, a village on the Golden Horn. The success of the delegation, however, did not come up to his expectations. The Armenians, as it happened, could not be heard, but they were so far successful as to have an article inserted in the treaty.
The Sultan and his advisers never forgave the Patriarch this, though they could not openly do anything to him on account of his enormous popularity. Time passed on, and to all appearance the incident was forgotten, but it was not so. One summer afternoon a most cordial invitation was sent by a very high dignitary of the Palace, requesting the Archbishop to dine with him informally. An invitation of this kind could not very well be refused, so the Archbishop, accompanied only by a body-servant named Vartan, repaired to the Pasha’s house. The Pasha received him at the door and escorted the visitor with much ceremony and extreme courtesy to a private apartment of the salamlik of his house (the men’s quarters), where dinner was served. The geniality displayed by his host dispelled any fears that the Archbishop might have had as to his personal safety.
After dinner, as usual, coffee was served. Now, this serving of the coffee is rather a ceremonial according to high Turkish etiquette, and it is not unusual for guests to bring their own tchooboukdar (the servant who carries his master’s pipe and pouch and also superintends the making of his coffee). The Archbishop was presented with a “tchoobouk” (pipe) filled and lighted for smoking, and a servant followed with coffee. The Archbishop accepted both with due compliments to his host, and took a sip at his coffee. Just at that moment the heavy curtains over the doorway were thrown apart, revealing the ghastly pale face of his servant Vartan, who cried, in Armenian, in a voice trembling with emotion, “Monseigneur, I did not brew the coffee!”
This was enough for the Archbishop; he pretended to be startled and spilt the coffee, but, alas! he had already drunk a small quantity of it. Meanwhile a scuffle was going on behind the portière, where his poor servant Vartan was paying the penalty of his devotion to his master. Concerning Vartan’s whereabouts or his ultimate end nothing was ever made public—the poor fellow simply vanished. Monseigneur Varjabétian, after a short interval thanked the Pasha for his generous and kind hospitality and took his departure. On the way home he was taken violently ill and a doctor was hastily summoned. The Patriarch took to his bed, and lost all his hair through the effects of the poison. Then, one morning, when a servant took his breakfast upstairs he found, to his horror, that both the bedroom door and the window were wide open and his beloved master lay dead in his bed, which was covered with blood! There are no such things as coroners and juries in Turkey to ascertain the causes of mysterious deaths of this kind, but the news that the Patriarch was dead spread like wildfire through Constantinople. The Sultan himself thought it advisable to show some concern in the matter, and aides-de-camp from the Palace were sent to the Patriarchate to learn the full details of this “sad catastrophe,” as they termed it. The official statement was that the Archbishop died of dysentery. Only a very few know how the Archbishop had died, and they wisely kept their mouths shut.
I was told the details of this story by a high official of the Armenian Patriarchate. It seems that as the poison did not act as quickly as the Patriarch’s enemies had anticipated, owing to his having been cautioned in the nick of time, they “had to resort to other means”! The funeral was the largest ever witnessed in Constantinople, with an escort of Turkish cavalry sent specially by the Sultan, and representatives of all the religious denominations and the Diplomatic Corps. I was myself present, representing a foreign Government.
- Nicholas C. Adossides [Youngest Son of Adossides Pasha] in the “Cosmopolitan” for July, 1909, (“Abdul the Dethroned”) writes as follows:
“I remember the following incident which depicts the official Russian attitude: One night, while dining at the Russian legation in Bern, Switzerland, many Russian officials being present, the conversation was directed to the ever-engrossing Eastern question. A diplomat from St. Petersburg expressed his admiration of Abdul Hamid, praising his extraordinary intelligence and diplomatic skill. ‘Besides,’ he continued, ‘he is not so black as his enemies have painted him.’
“Not being able to restrain my indignation at this, I protested, saying he was an arch assassin. ‘Not to speak of his innumerable cruelties and many villainies,’ I said, ‘can you deny, Sir, that he instigated and accomplished the annihilation of 360,000 Armenians?’
“The admirer of the Sultan smiled, but before he could answer me, the military attaché of the legation, who was sitting next to me, exclaimed:
“If you condemn the Sultan for that, you astonish me. The Armenians? Bah! They ought to be exterminated en masse, and the Sultan did an excellent piece of work when he got rid of them. I have no use for them. Besides,’ he continued, ‘can’t you see that a free Armenia would be a serious obstacle to Russian expansion and to our advance to the south and into Persia? Abdul Hamid has proved himself a very valuable ally of Russia. He is the best Ambassador at Constantinople that we’ve ever had.”—Note to 2nd printing.
- This statement is corroborated by Dr. George Washburn in his account of the Constantinople Massacre: “But the Concert of Europe did nothing. It accepted the situation. The Emperor of Germany went further. He sent a special embassy to present to the Sultan a portrait of his family as a token of his esteem.”—“Fifty Years in Constantinople,” George Washburn. (Note to 2nd printing.)