Ravished Armenia/Chapter 7
Seven days after the massacre at Divrig Gorge, those of us who survived the cruelties of our guards along the way, saw just ahead of us the minarets of Malatia, one of the great converging points for the hundreds of thousands of deported Armenians on their way to the Syrian deserts which, by this time, I knew to be the destination of those who were permitted to live. When the minarets came into view, I was much excited by the hope that perhaps my mother’s party might have reached there and halted, and that I might find her there.
When we drew close to the city we passed along the road that countless other exiles had walked before. At the side of the road, in ridicule of the Crucifixion and as a warning to such Christian girls as lived to reach Malatia, the Turks had crucified on rough wooden crosses sixteen girls. I do not know how long the bodies had been there, but vultures already had gathered.
Each girl had been nailed alive upon her cross, great cruel spikes through her feet and hands. Only their hair, blown by the wind, covered their bodies. “See,” said our guards with great satisfaction; “see what will happen to you in Malatia if you are not submissive.”
In the vicinity of Malatia, and in the city itself, there were more than twenty thousand refugees waiting to be sent on. Kurds were camped outside in little bands, each with its “Claw chief,” waiting to waylay and plunder the exiles. Arabs rode about the hills in the distance—outlaw bands, who swooped down upon the Christians in the night and stole the strongest of the women and girls for the harvesting in the fields. Turkish beys and aghas, with here and there a dignified pasha, rode out along the road to inspect each band of exiles as it approached the city, their cruel, sensual eyes trying to pierce the veils the younger girls wrapped about their faces to conceal their youth and prettiness.
From Sivas, Tokat, Egin, Erzindjan, Kerasun, Samsoun and countless smaller cities in the north, where the Armenians had had their homes for centuries, they had all been started toward Malatia. All the rivers in between were running red with blood; the valleys were great open graves in which thousands of bodies were left unburied; mountain passes were choked with the dead, and every rich Turk who kept a harem between the Black Sea and the River Tigris, had one or more, sometimes a score, of new concubines—Armenian girls who had been stolen for them along the road to this city.
I often wonder if the good people of America know what the Armenians are—their character. I sometimes fear Americans think of us as a nomad people, or as people of a lower class. We are, indeed, different. My people were among the first converts to Christ. They are a noble race, and have a literature older than that of any other peoples in the world.
Very few Armenians are peasants. Nearly all are tradesmen, merchants, great and small, financiers, bankers or educators. In my city alone there were more than a score of business men or teachers who had received their education at American colleges. Hundreds had attended great European universities. My own education was received partly at the American college at Marsovan and partly from private tutors. Many Armenians are very wealthy. Few Turks are as fortunate in this respect as the great Armenian merchants.
Of the twenty thousand Christians herded in Malatia, in camps outside the city, in the public square or in houses set apart by the Turks for that purpose, I think much more than half were the members of well-to-do families, girls who had been educated either in Europe or in great Christian colleges at home, such as that at Marsovan, Sivas or Harpout, or in schools conducted by the Swiss, the Americans, the English and the French. These girls had been taught music, literature and art.
I want to tell what happened to one group of school girls near Malatia, as it was told me by one of them.
At Kirk-Goz, a small city outside Malatia, there had been a German school, where young Armenian women from all over the district were sent to be taught by German teachers. The rule of the school was that the money received from the rich Armenian girls for their tuition was used in paying the expenses of poor girls. There were more than sixty pupils at this school when the attack on the Armenians began. As the school was under German protection, these girls considered themselves safe, and their families were happy to think they were protected. Aziz Bey, the Kaimakam, sent soldiers, however, with orders to bring all the girls into Malatia, to be deported or worse. Mme. Roth, the principal, refused to open the gates. She declared Eimen Effendi, the German consular agent in that district, would demand reparation if any attack on the school’s pupils were made.
Mme. Roth—who was a German and old—herself, went to Malatia to consult Eimen Effendi. He told her Turkey was an ally of Germany, that Turkey declared Armenians to be obnoxious, and that Germany, therefore, must support the Sultan. He said the pupils would have to be surrendered. Then the soldiers took them away. Each girl was permitted to have a donkey, which the teachers bought in the city for them. They started west, to Mezre, where, the authorities promised, the girls would be taken care of in a dervish monastery.
Mme. Roth went, herself, before Aziz Bey and pleaded for the girls. She told him she was ashamed of being a German since Eimen Effendi had allowed such a horrible thing to be perpetrated with the consent of Germany. She offered the Bey all her personal possessions, all the money she had with her at Kirk-Goz, if he would return the girl pupils and allow her to keep them with her. Mme. Roth was very wealthy. She had more than 1,000 liras, and jewels worth much more. Aziz Bey accepted the bribe and sent her, with an escort of soldiers, after the young women.
Two days later Mme. Roth and her escort approached the crossing of the river Tokma-Su, at the little village Keumer-Khan. There were tracks on the plain which showed the party they sought had passed that way but a little while before. Suddenly down the road toward them came an unclothed girl, running madly and screaming in terror. When she came near Mme. Roth and recognized her, the girl cried, “Teacher, teacher, save me! Save me!”
The girl, whose name was Martha, and whose parents were rich people of Zeitoun, threw herself on the ground at her teacher’s feet and clasped them. “Save me! Save me!” she continued to scream. Mme. Roth gave her drops of brandy from a bottle she had carried with her, and tried to quiet her. Two zaptiehs from the guard which the bey had sent with the school girls came running up. When Martha saw them she went mad again and became unconscious. The zaptiehs tried to take possession of her limp body, but Mme. Roth defied them. Her escort persuaded the zaptiehs to go away. When Mme. Roth knelt again by the girl she was dead. Marks on her body and bruises and wounds and her torn hair were evidences of the struggle she had made to save herself.
Mme. Roth hurried on. She heard more screams as she neared the river banks. She came upon two zaptiehs, sitting on the sand, prodding with a pointed stick the bare shoulders of a girl whom they had buried in the earth above her elbows. This was a favorite pastime of the zaptiehs of the Euphrates provinces. They had commanded the girl to submit to them quietly and she had fought them. To punish her and break her spirit they buried her that way and tortured her. She screamed with pain and fright, and this amused them greatly. When they wished the zaptiehs would take her out, and then bury her again. It was from such torture as this Martha had escaped.
The soldiers of Mme. Roth’s escort rescued the girl, at her command. Mme. Roth left her with three soldiers and crossed the river. She could hear screams from the other side. Once zaptiehs on the raft taking them across the river broke into a loud guffaw. The oarsmen steered the raft so as to escape two floating objects, and it was these which amused them. Mme. Roth saw the bodies of two of her girls floating down the river from where the screams came.
“Look—look there,” shouted a laughing zaptieh; “two more Christians whom their Christ forgot!” On the other side Mme. Roth found all who were left of her sixty or more pupils—only seventeen. Their lives were saved only because the zaptiehs had become weary. They were, too, the least pretty of the original party. Mme. Roth took them all back to Malatia, where the Kaimakam insisted that she house them. They were living there in constant fear of being taken away again when I was taken from the city.
It was said by those who knew, that Mme. Roth refused to receive Eimen Effendi when he called upon her after her return with her surviving pupils. It is said she sent word to him that she was no longer German, and would ask no protection except that which she could buy with gold liras as long as she could obtain them from her relatives.
In every open space in the city and in every empty building Armenian refugees were camped, hungry, footsore and dying, with little food or water. In all our company there were not ten loaves of bread when we entered the city. When we asked at the wells of Turks for water we were spat at, and if soldiers were near the Turks would call them to drive us away. Each day thousands of the refugees were taken away, and each day thousands of others arrived from the north.
Inside the city there was no attempt to care for the arriving exiles. Some of the men in our party finally led the way to a great building which had been a barracks, but in which many thousands of Christians had taken refuge. We seldom ventured out on the streets, for Turkish boys and Kurds and Arabs thronged the streets and threw stones or sticks at us, or, in the case of girls as young as I, carried them into Turkish shops or low houses, and there outraged them.
When we had passed the second day in Malatia I could rest no longer without seeking my mother—hoping that she and the Armenians of Tchemesh-Gedzak might be among the other refugees. I went into the street at night and went from place to place where exiles were herded. Nowhere could I find familiar faces—people from my own city.
When morning came I could not find my way back to the building I had left. Morning comes quickly in the midst of the plains, and soon it was light, and I was in a part of the city where there were no exiles. The streets of Malatia are very narrow, and there are few byways. My bare feet were tired from walking all night on cobblestones and pavements. I felt very tired—not as if I really were but little over fourteen. I knew I would soon be carried into one of these Turkish houses and lost, perhaps forever, if soldiers or gendarmes should catch me at large. I hid in a little areaway.
Suddenly I realized that I was hugging the walls of a house over which hung the American flag. A feeling of relief came over me. The American flag is very beautiful to the eyes of all Armenians! For many years it has been to my people the promise of peace and happiness. We had heard so much of the wonderful country it represented. Armenia always has thought of the United States as a friend ever ready to help her.
When the street was clear I left my hiding place and went to the door of the house. I rapped, but Turks entered the street just then and spied me. They were citizens, not soldiers, but they shouted and started to run at me, recognizing me perhaps from the bits of garments which I had managed to gather to cover my body, as an Armenian.
I screamed and pushed at the door. It opened, and I found myself in the arms of a woman who was hurrying to let me in.
I was too frightened to explain. The Turks were at the door. I thought I would be carried away. One of them pushed himself inside the door. Another followed, and they reached out their hands to take me. The woman, who was not Turkish, stepped in front of me. “What do you want?—Why are you here?” she asked in Turkish. “The girl — we want her. She has escaped,” they said.
The woman startled me by refusing to allow me to be taken. She told the Turks they had no authority. When the men motioned as if to take me by force she stepped in front of me and told them to remember that I was her guest. One of the men said:
“The girl is an Armenian. She has run away from the rest of her people. She has no right to be at large in the city. The Kaimakam has ordered citizens to take into custody all Christians found outside quarters set aside for them to rest in while halting on their way past the city.”
“Your Kaimakam’s orders have nothing to do with me. I shall protect the girl. You dare not harm an American!” said my new friend. The Turks, grumbling among themselves, and threatening vengeance, went out.
The young woman told me she was Miss McLaine, an American missionary. The house was the home of the American consul at Malatia, but he had taken his wife, who was ill, to Harpout. Miss McLaine kept the flag flying while they were gone. She had tried to persuade the officials to be less cruel to the refugees, but could do very little. She had been a pupil of Dr. Clarence Ussher, the noted American missionary surgeon, of New York, and Mrs. Ussher, both of whom were famous throughout Armenia for their kindness to our people during the massacres at Van. Mrs. Ussher lost her life at Van.
Late that day a squad of soldiers came from the Kaimakam to the consul’s house and demanded that I be given up. Miss McLaine again refused to surrender me. The soldiers declared they had orders to take me by force. Miss McLaine asked that they take her to the Kaimakam that she might ask his protection for me. To this the soldiers agreed, and I was left alone in the house.
When Miss McLaine returned she was crying. The soldiers returned with her. The Kaimakam had said I must rejoin the exiles, but that I might be taken to a house where a large company of women who had embraced Mohammedanism were confined, with their children. This company, the mayor said, was to be protected until they reached a place selected by the government.
So Miss McLaine could do nothing more. She kissed me, and the soldiers led me away to the house where the apostasized women with their children were quartered.
These apostasized Armenians were nearly all women from small cities between Malatia and Sivas. None of them really had given up Christianity, but they thought they were doing right, as nearly all the women were the mothers of small children who were with them. They wanted to save the lives of their little ones. They did not know what was to become of them, but the beys had promised they would be taken care of by the government.
This party of exiles was fed by the Turks—bread, water and coarse cakes. We were not allowed out of the house, but the Turks did not bother us. I soon had occasion to realize that the Kaimakam really had given me at least some protection when he allowed me to join this party.
In some of the companies waiting in Malatia the men had not been killed. One day the soldiers gathered all of these into one big party. The mayor wanted them to register, the soldiers said, so allotments of land could be made them at their destination in the south. So earnest were the soldiers the men believed them. Many went without even putting on their coats. They were marched to the building in which I had first been quartered, and from which other refugees had been taken out the night before.
Almost 3,000 men were thus assembled. Outside soldiers took up their station at the doors and windows. Other soldiers then robbed the men of their money and valuables—such as they had saved from Kurds along the road, and then began killing them. When bodies had piled so high the soldiers could not reach survivors without stumbling in blood, then they used their rifles, and killed the remainder with bullets.
That afternoon soldiers visited all the camps of refugees and took children more than five years old. I think there must have been eight or nine thousand of these. The soldiers came even to the house in which I was with the “turned” Armenians, and despite the promises of the mayor took all our boys and girls. When mothers clung to their little ones and begged for them the soldiers beat them off. “If they die now your God won’t be troubled by having to look after them till they grow up,” the soldiers said—and always with a brutal laugh.
They took the children to the edge of the city, where a band of Aghja Daghi Kurds was waiting. Here the soldiers gave the children into the keeping of the Kurds, who drove them off toward the Tokma River, just outside the city. The Kurds drove the little ones like a flock of sheep. At the river banks the boys were thrown into the river. The girls were taken to Turkish cities, to be raised as Mohammedans