She stood beside me—a slight little girl with glossy black hair. Until I spoke to her and she lifted her eyes in which were written the indelible story of her suffering, I could not believe that she was Aurora Mardiganian whom I had been expecting. She could not speak English, but in Armenian she spoke a few words of greeting.
It was our first meeting and in the spring of last year. Several weeks earlier a letter had come to me telling me about this little Armenian girl who was to be expected, asking me to help her upon her arrival. The year before an Armenian boy had come from our relief station in the Caucasus and kind friends had made it possible to send him to boarding school. I had formed a similar plan to send Aurora to the same school when she should arrive. We talked about education that afternoon, through her interpreter, but she shook her head sadly. She would like to go to school, and study music as her father had planned she should before the massacres, but now she had a message to deliver—a message from her suffering nation to the mothers and fathers of the United States. The determination in the child’s eyes made me ask her her age and she answered “Seventeen.”
Tired, and worn out nervously, as she was, Aurora insisted upon telling us of the scenes she had left behind her—massacres, families driven out across the desert, girls sold into Turkish harems, women ravished by the roadside, little children dying of starvation. She begged us to help her to help her people. “ My father said America was the friend of the oppressed. General Andranik sent me here because he trusted you to help me,” she pleaded.
And so her story was translated. Sometimes there had to be intervals of rest of several days, because her suffering had so unnerved her. She wanted to keep at it during all the heat of the summer, but by using the argument that she would learn English, we persuaded her to go to a camp off the coast of Connecticut for three weeks.
You who read the story of Aurora Mardiganian’s last three years, will find it hard to believe that in our day and generation such things are possible. Your emotions will doubtless be similar to mine when I first heard of the suffering of her people. I remember very distinctly my feelings, when, early in October of 1917, I attended a luncheon given by the Executive Committee of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, to a group of seventeen American Consuls and missionaries who had just returned from Turkey after witnessing two years of massacre and deportation. I listened to persons, the truthfulness of whose statements I could not doubt, tell how a church had been filled with Christian Armenians, women and children, saturated with oil and set on fire, of refined, educated girls, from homes as good as yours or mine, sold in the slave markets of the East, of little children starving to death, and then to the plea for help for the pitiful survivors who have been gathered into temporary relief stations.
I listened almost unable to believe and yet as I looked around the luncheon table there were familiar faces, the faces of men and women whose word I could not doubt—Dr. James L. Barton, Chairman of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, Ambassadors Morgenthau and Elkus, who spoke from personal knowledge, Cleveland H. Dodge, whose daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Huntington is in Constantinople, and whose son is in Beirut, both helping with relief work, Miss Lucille Foreman of Germantown, C. V. Vickrey, Executive Secretary of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, Dr. Samuel T. Dutton of the World Court League, George T. Scott, Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, and others.
And you who read this story as interpreted will find it even harder to believe than I did, because you will not have the personal verification of the men and women who can speak with authority that I had at that luncheon. Since then it has happened that nearly every communication from the East—Persia, Russian Caucasus and the Ottoman Empire, has passed through my hands and I know that conditions have not been exaggerated in this book. In this introduction I want to refer you to Lord Bryce’s report, to Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, to the recent speeches of Lord Cecil before the British Parliament, and the files of our own State Department, and you will learn that stories similar to this one can be told by any one of the 3,950,000 refugees, the number now estimated to be destitute in the Near East.
This is a human living document. Miss Mardiganian’s names, dates and places, do not correspond exactly with similar references to these places made by Ambassador Morgenthau, Lord Bryce and others, but we must take into consideration that she is only a girl of seventeen, that she has lived through one of the most tragic periods of history in that section of the world which has suffered most from the war, that she is not a historian, that her interpreter in giving this story to the American public has not attempted to write a history. He has simply aimed to give her message to the American people that they may understand something of the situation in the Near East during the past years, and help to establish there for the future, a sane and stable government.
Speaking of the character of the Armenians, Ambassador Morgenthau says in a recent article published in the New York Evening Sun: “From the times of Herodotus this portion of Asia has borne the name of Armenia. The Armenians of the present day are the direct descendants of the people who inhabited the country 3,000 years ago. Their origin is so ancient that it is lost in fable and mystery. There are still undeciphered cuneiform inscriptions on the rocky hills of Van, the largest Armenian city, that have led certain scholars—though not many, I must admit—to identify the Armenian race with the Hittites of the Bible. What is definitely known about the Armenians, however, is that for ages they have constituted the most civilized and most industrious race in the Eastern section of the Ottoman Empire. From their mountains they have spread over the Sultan’s dominions, and form a considerable element in the population of all the large cities. Everywhere they are known for their industry, their intelligence and their decent and orderly lives. They are so superior to the Turks intellectually and morally that much of the business and industry has passed into their hands. With the Greeks, the Armenians constituted the economic strength of the Empire. These people became Christians in the fourth century and established the Armenian Church as their state religion. This is said to be the oldest Christian Church in existence.
“In face of persecutions which have had no parallel elsewhere, these people have clung to their early Christian faith with the utmost tenacity. For 1,500 years they have lived there in Armenia, a little island of Christians, surrounded by backward peoples of hostile religion and hostile race. Their long existence has been one unending martyrdom. The territory which they inhabit forms the connecting link between Europe and Asia, and all the Asiatic invasions—Saracens, Tartars, Mongols, Kurds and Turks—have passed over their peaceful country.”
Aurora Mardiganian has come to America to tell the story of her suffering peoples and to do her part in making it possible for her country to be rebuilt. She is only a little girl, but in giving her story to the American people through the daily newspapers, in this book, and the motion picture which is being prepared for that purpose by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, she is, I feel, playing one of the greatest parts in helping to reestablish again “peace on earth, good will to men” in ancient Bible Lands, the home in her generation of her people. Her mother, her father, her brothers and sisters are gone, but according to the most careful estimates, 3,950,000 destitute peoples, mostly women and children who had been driven many of them as far as one thousand miles from home, turn their pitiful faces toward America for help in the reconstructive period in which we are now living.
Dr. James L. Barton, who is leaving this month with a commission of two hundred men and women for the purpose of helping to rehabilitate these lands from which Aurora came, is a part of the answer to the call for help from these destitute people. The American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief Campaign for $30,000,000, in which it is hoped all of the people of America will participate, is another part of the answer.
You who read this book can play a part also in helping Aurora to deliver her message, by passing it on to some one else when you have finished with it.
December 2, 1918
One Madison Ave.,
American Committee for
Armenian and Syrian Relief.