Leslie Davis Reports
Posted 15 April 2006 - 12:49 PM
Honorable Henry Morgenthau American Consulate
American Ambassador Mamouret-ul-Aziz (Harput), Turkey
Constantinople June 30, 1915
I have the honor to report to the Embassy about one of the most severest measures ever taken by any government and one of the greatest tragedies in all history. If the Embassy had not already learned about it from other sources, my telegrams of June 27th and 28th and my brief dispatch of June 29th will have brought the matter to the attention of the Embassy.
The attention of the Embassy has been called, in previous dispatches from this Consulate, to the very critical situation here. My dispatches of April 19th, May 5th and June 2nd (File No. 840.1) referred to the general conditions and the fears of the people that a massacre is being planned. I have reported in frequent dispatches the hostile attitude of the local authorities during the last few months toward the American missionaries and the complete interruption of all work in the American schools (File No. 360). In my dispatch of June 12th (File No. 300) I spoke of the actual danger in which the American missionaries in this part of Turkey are now placed and in my cipher dispatch of June 24th (File No. 300/840.1/703) I gave some further details of what has been happening here.
As stated in some of the above mentioned dispatches, a revolutionary movement on the part of some Armenians was discovered and severe measures were taken to check it. These were undertaken in a wholesale matter, little distinction being made between people who were entirely innocent and those who were suspected of being participants in the movement. Practically every male Armenian of any consequence at all here has been arrested and put into prison. A great many of them were subjected to the most cruel tortures under which some of them died. Several hundred of the leading Armenians were sent away at night and it seems to be clearly established that most, if not all, of them were killed. Last week there were well founded rumors of a threatened massacre. I think there is very little doubt that one is planned.
Another method was found, to destroy the Armenian race. This is no less than the deportation of the entire Armenian population, not only from this Vilayet, but, I understand, from all six Vilayets comprising Armenia. There are said to be about sixty thousand Armenians in this Vilayet and about a million in the six Vilayets. All of these are to be sent into exile; an undertaking greater, probably, than anything of the kind in all history. For several days last week there were rumors of this but it seemed incredible.
On Saturday, June 28th, it was publicly announced that all Armenians and Syrians [Assyrians of the Armenian Apostolic faith] were to leave after five days. The towns of Mamouret-ul-Aziz and the city of Harput were divided into districts and notice was given at each house of the day when the occupants must leave. Two days are given for Mamouret-ul-Aziz, July 1st and third. Three days are given for Harput, July 4th, 5th and 6th. In these two towns, supposed to contain a population of about 40,000, there are no less than 15,000 or 18,000 Armenians, or at least three thousand families. There are as many more in the neighboring villages and these are to leave a few days later.
The full meaning of such an order can scarcely be imagined by those who are not familiar with the peculiar conditions of this isolated region. A massacre, however horrible the word may sound, would be humane in comparison with it. In a massacre many escape but a wholesale deportation of this kind in this country means a lingering and perhaps even more dreadful death for nearly every one. I do not believe it possible for one in a hundred to survive, perhaps not one in a thousand.
The alleged destination of those sent from here is Urfa, but I know very well this does not mean the city of Urfa. It may mean the Mesopotamia plain to the southwest of that city, a region almost uninhabitable for man or beast. Whatever the destination may be, the journey from here in that direction at this season of the year is very difficult for one who has made careful preparations and travels by wagon. It is for the most part an extremely hot plain in which there s very little water or vegetation. There are places where there is no water at all during an entire day's journey by wagon. A crowd of women and children on foot will, of course, require several days to traverse the same distance. They cannot go from from here to Urfa in less than fifteen or twenty days. There are only two towns and two or three small villages on this route. It would be impossible to find in these villages food for more than twenty or thirty people and there will be days when neither food nor water can be obtained. People on foot cannot carry enough food or water on their backs to last them between towns. Under the most favorable conditions the journey is a very fatiguing one (I am speaking from experience, as I have traversed that route twice last summer on my attempted trip to America and my return to Harput). For people traveling as these Armenians who are going into exile will be obliged to travel it is certain death for by far the greater part of them.
It must be borne in mind that wagons and horses are practically unavailable. There are probably not more than twenty-five wagons that can be found for the five or six thousand families who are leaving from this immediate locality. There are several hundred ox-carts and quite a good many small donkeys, while some people are planning to take a cow on which to carry a little food and a blanket or two. This represents every available means of transportation in this region at the present time. There are not nearly enough animals of any kind to enable each family to have one and it is obvious that nearly every one will have to travel on foot. A few of the more fortunate families will have an animal or two on which the women and children can take turns riding, but there will be many cases where a mother with a babe in arms and several small children, and no husband, will have no animal at all.
The fate of these people can readily be imagined. The method is perhaps a little more cultured than a massacre but it it will be far more effective and thorough. It is quite probable that many of them will be robbed and murdered en route as the roads are now filled with bands of pillaging Kurds. I asked the Vali the other day what measures were being taken for the protection of these people. He replied that there would be plenty of gendarmes with them as to avoid a repetition of the fate which had befallen the prisoners who had been sent away from here before, and added that they had met some Kurds who had treated them rather unpleasantly. There is little doubt that these Kurds had been engaged to dispose of them. Many think, and it is by no means improbable, that the same fate is being prepared for those who are now leaving. It is quite possible that the men may be killed, the more attractive women carried off as slaves, and the other women and children left to perish in the desert. In any case, it is quite certain that almost all will die in one way or another before they ever reach their destination.
One thing that increases the doubt about their safe arrival anywhere is that quite a good many people who have been deported from Erzurum and Erzincan have been expected here, but with the exception of one small party from the latter place, none have arrived as yet, while there have been many rumors that the parties have been attacked and killed by Kurds. Money has been sent here from different ones but no one of them has ever appeared to claim it.
Another bad omen is that the Vali has refused permission for any Americans to accompany the parties leaving here. Some of the missionaries decided that they would like to go with them in order to be of assistance to those who might need help. On Sunday, the 27th, I called on the Vali about this and other matters. This request he refused absolutely saying it could not be granted but that after people reached their destination the Americans might then join them if they wished. As probably very few, if any, of them will ever reach their destination this was a safe offer. If it were intended to give these people a safe-conduct to any place there would probably be no objection to the Americans accompanying them. On the other hand, as the roads are decidedly unsafe now, it may be the Vali did not want to take the responsibility of allowing the Americans to risk their lives on the way. Or, perhaps, the Vali's suggestion that the Americans might join these people later was an intimation that the missionaries also may be invited to leave in the near future.
In my telegrams of June 27th and 28th and in a telegram from Mr. Riggs to Mr. Peet on the 28th we spoke of the need for relief at the destination and I suggested asking aid from America. To what extent it may be possible to aid these people and how it can be done is a problem. There is greater danger that they may nearly all be killed or allowed to perish en route. If they arrive anywhere it is still doubtful if they will be within communication. My opinion is that the few who survive the journey will be taken to some remote part of the Mesopotamian plain many days' journey from Urfa or any other town. Should they be within reach of Urfa relief might be arranged through our Consulate at Aleppo. In any case, there is going to be terrible suffering and great need to help among those who survive the journey. Those who were formerly rich and the poor will alike be destitute. If any possible measures can be taken for their relief I feel that now is the time to begin.
It is impossible for me to give any adequate idea of the panic in this locality that has resulted from the announcement of this order of expulsion. The people have been given four to six days to dispose of everything they have and leave. For the merchants to wind up their affairs in that short time is difficult. It is also difficult for householders to dispose of their household and personal effects. The result has been a panic such has never been known here or in a few other places. Every one who is obliged to leave is trying to get together a little money to take on the journey. The Turks are, of course, taking advantage of the situation to get things at practically nothing. Robbery and looting were never undertaken in a more wholesale manner. Turkish men and Turkish women are entering the houses of all the Armenians and taking things at almost any price. As nearly half the population are leaving they have to take what they can get. This is rarely more than five or ten per cent, of the value. All the furniture in a house, costing originally one or two hundred pounds will be sold for ten or fifteen pounds. Rugs that cost five or ten pounds will be sold for fifty or seventy-five piasters. The people are glad to get anything at all for their merchandise or effects. The streets are full of camels carrying off the loot and of rich Turks and Turkish women dressed in their finest gowns, who are making a holiday of the occasion. The scene reminds one of a lot of hungry vultures hovering over the remains of those who have fallen by the way.
The difficulty for people to get ready to leave at such short notice was so great that on Tuesday six of us, comprising practically the entire male population of the town, called on the Vali unofficially to inquire if it would be possible to have a greater length of time given the people before leaving. He received us very courteously but said that was impossible. We did succeed, however, in having a clear understanding that we could help the people in certain ways. The Vali said that there as no objection to our buying things from them or having them leave their money in out care. The Kaimakam has interfered in carrying out this purpose, but on the whole we have been able to do quite a good deal. The Missionaries have also tried to furnish the people with medicine and other useful articles for their journey and some of the poorer and needier ones have been given some cash.
During the last three days crowds of people have visited the Consulate and the American Mission for help of some kind. Many have wanted financial assistance, while others have wanted to leave things in our care. They have brought money, documents, jewelry, furniture, and many other things. I have taken documents and some money, while the missionaries have taken much more than I have. Some have left money to be paid in any case to relatives in America, but most have left it on condition that if nothing is heard from them in four or six months it is then to be sent to their relatives. I have never seen a more pathetic or tragic scene. All feel that they are going to certain death and they have good reason to feel that way. Their confidence in the American missionaries and in the Consulate is touching. Some of them don't even want to count the money they are leaving. They hand over the savings of a lifetime with the simple request that if they are not heard from after a few months to send their money if possible to their relatives.
All the real estate belonging to the Armenians will be confiscated by the Government. Many people will be unable to dispose of their personal property and will probably walk out leaving their houses and stores with all their contents. Those who have made fortunes will lose everything. Some will, of course, take a moderate mount of money with them, but all fear being robbed and very few will dare take much money with them. For those who are feeble and have no money at all, it is a question what will become of them. The Government has offered to furnish donkeys for them, but charges an enormous price per day for every donkey. A man who starts out with only one or two liras will find after a few days that all his money is gone and will be absolutely stranded.
The effect industrially and commercially of the expulsion of the Armenians from this region is going to throw it back in the middle ages. It is officially stated that ninety per cent of the trade and of the business carried on through the banks is that of Armenians. Business of all kind will now be destroyed beyond the possibility of its being restored. In some trades there will be no mechanics or workmen at all. It is difficult to understand how those Turks who have had any taste of civilization at all will be able to live unless exceptions are made and there does not seem to be any indication of that. There will be no banks, no Christian schools, no Christian churches. With one stroke the country is set back two three [sic] hundred years. The same will be true of Diyarbakir and of all other parts of this consular district.
There is no doubt in my mind that all American Missionaries will be obliged to leave. It will not surprise me at all if they are ordered to go but whether they are expelled or not there will be nothing for them to do here. The labors of the missionaries at Harput, which have continued during more than sixty years, have to come to an end and I see no way in which they will be able to continue their work here.
With the destruction of all business and the departure of the of Missionaries, there will be no object in maintaining a consular either here or at Diyarbakir or in any other part of this region. There is greater danger that I may lose at this time two indispensable employees, both of whom have been with the Consulate for mote than ten years, but they are both Armenian, I have asked the Vali to allow them to remain, but the only promise he would give me was that they would not be obliged to go with the first lot. He said they could remain here for a few days and in the meantime he would ask for instructions from Constantinople about them. In my telegram of June 28th, I asked the Embassy to request exemption for them, but I don't believe my telegram ever reached the Embassy.
In my telegram of June 27th, I asked the Embassy to wire me also if it would be possible to secure exemption for the naturalized American citizens who are here. I spoke to the Vali about this at once but he has been very evasive. I hope to receive some reply from the Embassy in time, if it is going to be possible to save any of these people and their children. There are women whose husbands are naturalized American citizens and are now in America, while they have returned here for a short time to visit relatives. There are several of those and nearly all of them have children with them who were born in America. I shall certainly do everything possible to save these.
Tomorrow the exodus of one-half of the population of this region commences. Were there people not so entirely subdued I should expect to see some stirring scenes. Ad it is, I can hardly think it possible that the authorities will succeed in sending everyone into exile, but a yet there does not seem to be any sign of their relenting or of their granting many exemptions.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Leslie A. Davis,
U.S. National Archives. D.S. Record Group 59, Dec. File No. 867.4016/269.
Posted 15 April 2006 - 12:49 PM
American Ambassador Mamouret-ul-Aziz (Harput), Turkey
Constantinople July 11, 1915
I have the honor to supplement my report of June 30th (File No. 840.1) in regard to the expulsion of the Armenians from this region, as follows:
On July 1st a great many people left and on July 3rd several thousand more started from here. Others left on subsequent days. There is no way of obtaining figures but many thousands have already left. The departure of those living at Harput was postponed, however, and many women and children were allowed to remain temporarily. People began to hope that the worst was over and that those who remained might be left alone. Now it has just been announced by public crier that on Tuesday, July 13th, every Armenian without exception, must go.
If it were simply a matter of being obliged to leave here and go somewhere else it would not be so bad, but everyone knows it is a case of going to one's death. If there was any doubt about it, it has been removed by the arrival of a number of parties, aggregating several thousand people, from Erzurum and Erzincan. The first ones arrived a day or two after my last report was written. I have visited their encampment a number of times and talked with some of the people. A more pitiable sight cannot be imagined. They were almost without exception ragged, filthy, hungry and sick. This is not surprising in view of the fact that they have been on the road for nearly two months with no change of clothing, no chance to wash, no shelter and little to eat. I watched them one time when their food was brought. Wild animals could not be worse. They rushed upon the guards who carried the food and the guards beat them back with clubs hitting hard enough to kill them sometimes. To watch them one could hardly believe that these people were human beings.
As one walks through the camp mothers offer their children and beg one to take them. In fact, Turks have been taking their choice of these children and girls for slaves, or worse. In fact, they have even had their doctors there to examine the more likely girls and thus secure the best ones.
There are very few men among them, as most have been killed on the road. All tell the same story of having been attacked and robbed by the Kurds. Most of them were attacked over and over again and a great many of them, especially the men were killed. Women and children were also killed. Many died, of course, from sickness and exhaustion on the way and there have been deaths each day that they have been there. Several different parties have arrived and after remaining a day or two have been pushed with no apparent destination. Those who have reached here are only a small portion, however, of those who started. By continuing to drive these people people on in this way it will be possible to dispose of all of them in a comparatively short time. Among those with whom I have talked were three sisters. They had been educated at Constantinople and spoke excellent English. They said their family was the richest in Erzurum and numbered twenty-five when they left but there were now only fourteen survivors. The other eleven, including the husband of one of them, and their old grandmother had been butchered before their eyes by the Kurds. The oldest male survivor of the family was eight years of age. When they left Erzurum they had money, horses and personal effects but they had been robbed of everything, including even their clothing. They said some of them had been left absolutely naked and other with only a single garment. When they reached a village their gendarmes obtained clothes for them from some of the native women. Another girl with whom I talked is the daughter of the Protestant pastor of Erzurum. She said every member of her family with her had been killed and she was left entirely alone. These and some others are a few survivors of the better class of people who have been exiled. They are being detained in an abandoned schoolhouse just outside of town and on one is allowed to enter it. They say they practically are in prison, although they were allowed to visit a spring just outside the building. I was there I happened to see them. All others are camped in a large open field with no protection at all from the sun.
The condition of these people indicated clearly the fate of those who have left and are about to leave from here. I believe nothing has been heard from any of them as yet and probably very little will be heard. The system that is being followed seems to be to have bands of Kurds awaiting them on the roads to kill the men especially and incidentally some of the others. The entire movement seems to be the thoroughly organized and effective massacre this country has ever seen.
Not many men have been spared, however, to accompany those who are being sent into exile, for a more prompt and sure method has been used to dispose of them. Several thousand Armenian men been arrested during the past few weeks. These have been put into prison and each time that several hundred had been gathered up in that way they were sent away during the night. The first lot was sent during the night of June 23rd. Among them were some of the professors at the American college and other prominent Armenians, including the Prelate of the Armenian Gregorian Church of Harput. There have been frequent rumors that all of these were killed and there is little doubt that they were. All Armenian soldiers [In the Turkish army] have likewise been sent away in the same manor. They have been arrested and confined in a building at one end of the town.
No distinction has been made between those who had paid their military exemption tax and those who had not. There money was accepted and then were arrested and sent off with the others. It was said that they were to go somewhere to work on the roads but no one has heard from them and that is undoubtedly false.
The fate of all the others has been pretty well established by reliable reports of a similar occurrence on Wednesday, Jult 7th. On Monday many men were arrested both at Harput and Mezreh and put in prison. At daybreak Tuesday morning they were taken out and made to march toward an almost uninhabited mountain. There were about eight hundred in all and they were tied together in groups of fourteen each. That afternoon they arrived in a small Kurdish village where they were kept over night in the mosque and other buildings. During this time they were without food or water. On Wednesday morning they were taken to a valley a few hours distant where they were all made to sit down. Then the gendarmes began shooting them until they had killed nearly all of them. Some who had not been killed by bullets were then disposed of with knives and bayonets. A few succeeded in breaking the rope with which they were tied to their companions and running away, but most of these were pursued and killed. A few succeeded in getting away, probably not more than two or three. Among those who were killed was the Treasurer of the American College. Many other estimable men were among the number. No charge of any kind had ever been made against any of these men. They were simply arrested and killed as part of the general plan to dispose of the Armenian race.
Last night several hundred more men, including both men arrested by the civil authorities and those enrolled as soldiers, were taken in a different direction and murdered in a similar manner. It is said this happened at a place not two hours' distance from here. I shall ride out that way some day when things become a little quieter and try to verify it for myself.
The same thing has been done systematically in the villages.
A few weeks ago about three hundred men were gathered together at Ichme and Haboosi, two villages four and five hours' distant from here, and then taken up to the mountains and massacred. This seems to be fully established. Many women from those villages have been here since and told about it. There have been rumors of similar occurrences in other places.
There seems to be a definite plan to dispose of all the Armenians men, but after the departure of the families during the first few days of the enforcement of the order it was announced that women and children with no men in the family might remain here for the present and many hoped that the worst was over. The American missionaries began considering plans to aid the women and children who would be left here with no means of support. It was thought that perhaps an orphanage could be opened to care for some of the children especially those who had been born in America and then brought here by their parents and also those who belonged to parents who had been connected with the American Mission and schools. There would be plenty of opportunity, although there might not be sufficient means, to care for children who reached here with the exiles from other Vilayets and whose parents had died along the way. I went to the Vali about this matter yesterday and was met with a flat refusal. He said we could aid these people if we wished to do so, but the Government was establishing orphanages for the children and we could not undertake any work of that nature. An hour after I left the Vali the announcement was made that all the Armenians remaining here, including women and children must leave on July 13th.
The evident plan of the Government is to give no opportunity for any educational or religious work to be done here by foreign missionaries. Some Armenian women will be taken as Moslem wives and some children will be brought up as Moslem, but none of them will be allowed to come under foreign influences. The country is to be purely Moslem and nothing else. Some of the missionaries think they would like to remain here and try to work among Moslems. I not only think it would be very dangerous for them to undertake it but do not believe they will be allowed to do anything among [sic] that line. I shall not be surprised, as I have said before, if all the American missionaries are ordered to leave here in the near future. If they are not, they will be so effectually prevented from doing any kind of work that will be entirely useless for them to remain here. Furthermore, they will be annoyed in many ways by the local officials. I do not think for a moment that they will be allowed to open any of the schools again and it's quite probable that the hospital may be ordered closed. It is very probable also that both the school and the hospital buildings may be seized by the Government. It seems certain that there will not be any work for them to do here and that they will not be permitted to do any work.
Under the circumstances, I think the only wise and safe thing for them to do is to consider the matter of leaving here, temporarily as least, as soon as it may be possible. I realize that it is a serious matter for them to abandon their work, but the present situation is serious too and I fully believe there is nothing else for them to do. I would probably not be best for all of them to leave together, but I am going to advise that some of them leave as soon as it may be safe to go. In the meantime I earnestly recommend that the Embassy bring to the attention of Mr. Peet and the board the possible necessity of all of them leaving here.
I do no think that any of them should go now. In fact, some of them have been quite firmly of the opinion that some one should go at once for the purpose of trying to raise a relief fund for these unfortunate people. To go now would be almost certain death, with bands of Kurds awaiting travelers on every road. I asked the Vali, however, if it would be all right for one or two of the Americans to leave here now to go to Constantinople and then to America and he said very plainly that it would not be safe. He said that no matter how much a guard he gave them it would be dangerous for them to travel at the present moment and advised waiting a few weeks. This confirms the general fear as to the fate of those who are sent away from here. It also indicated that perhaps the authorities do not wish any real harm to befall the Americans. On the other hand, the Vali intimated that possibly the Americans might not be permitted to leave here. Some of them think that we know too much about what is happening in the interior of Turkey and the authorities do not intend to let any Americans leave here alive to tell about it. I do no think that, but I do think the life of every American here is in danger and that the danger is increasing. If all of the missionaries can get away safely I shall feel greatly relieved. It is not only that he present situation is very critical, but they are doing things that are more or less imprudent. The entire colony may suffer for the imprudence of one person. It is quite natural that they should sympathize with the people among whom they have been working and want to aid and protect them, but there is greater dander of carrying their zeal too far and getting into trouble themselves.
With reference to the need of funds for the relief of these exiles, which I mentioned in my telegrams of June 27th and 28th and my dispatch of June 30th I am inclined to believe that there will be no occasion for raising funds. It looks as though there were not going to be any people who can be helped. All who are sent away will probably be killed or die on the road within the next few months and the women and children who are left will probably have to become Moslems.
My attention has just been called to the fact that the post office at Mamouret-ul-Aziz has refused to pay out money to the Americans that has been sent them from Erzurum and Erzincan for the exiles who have come here. It is probable that the Government will confiscate this money. I do not know whether the Embassy would care to take any measures about this or not. The money is addressed to the Americans, but it is intended for the Armenian exiles.
Embassy's telegrams Nos. 19 and 20 have been received. I have seen the Vali about the naturalized American citizens and their children and about the consular staff. He said he had received no instructions about them, as I telegraphed this morning. I have now just received word that the consular staff and two or three women whose husbands are in America may stay here for the present. There seems nothing very definite about any of it. I shall be very glad to have these women leave as soon as it is reasonably safe for them to go. I hope it can be arranged for the employees of the Consulate, however, to remain here permanently, or at least as long as there may be a Consulate. It would be impossible to find any one to take their place.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Leslie A. Davis,
U.S. National Archives. D.S. Record Group 59, Dec. File No. 867.4016/122
Posted 15 April 2006 - 12:50 PM
American Ambassador Mamouret-ul-Aziz (Harput), Turkey
Constantinople July 24, 1915
I have the honor to further supplement my reports of June 30th and July 11th (File No. 840.1) in regard to the expulsion of the Armenians from this region, or to speak more clearly, the wholesale massacre of these Armenians, as follows:
Any doubt that may have been expressed in previous reports as to the Government's intention in sending away the Armenians have been removed and any hope that may have been expressed as to the possibility of some of them surviving has been destroyed. It has been no secret that the plan was to destroy the Armenian race as a race, but the methods have been more cold-blooded and barbarous, if not more effective, than I had first supposed. It was apparent that very few would ever survive the journey from here to Urfa or to any other place at this season of the year. As a matter of fact, it has been quite unnecessary to consider the difficulties of such a journey. It seems to be fully established now that practically all who have been sent away from here have been deliberately shot or otherwise killed within one or two days after their departure. This work has not all been done by bands of Kurds but has for the most part been that of gendarmes who accompanied the people from here or the companies of armed "cetes" (convicts) who have been released from prison for the purpose of murdering the Armenian exiles.
It has been repeatedly reported, and I think there is no doubt about the truth of these reports, that not a single man who has been sent away has been spared. Many of the women and children have been deliberately killed at the same time. A few of the more attractive women have been carried off to adorn the harems of some of the Kurdish chieftains and of some of the gendarmes. Some of the older women and children have been allowed to wander along, accompanied by gendarmes, with the certainty that all of them will soon perish from hunger, sickness and exhaustion.
I do not believe there has ever been a massacre in the history of the world so general and thorough as that which is now being perpetrated in this region or that a more fiendish, diabolical scheme has ever been conceived by the mind of man. What the order is officially and nominally to exile the Armenians from these Vilayets may mislead the world for a while, but the measure is nothing but a massacre of the most atrocious nature. It would be that even if all the people had been allowed to perish on the road. As the greater part of them, however, have been actually murdered as as there is no doubt that this was done by the order of the Government, there can be no pretense that the measure is anything else but a general massacre.
Fully 12,000 or 15,000 Armenians have now been sent away from the town of Mamouret-ul-Aziz and the city of Harput. Possibly 1,000 or 1,500 remain with permission or through bribery or in hiding. Many thousands have also gone from the neighboring villages. In all, probably a third of the population of this region is gone. The most remarkable feature of the situation is the helplessness of the Armenians and the total lack of resistance on their part. With two or three insignificant exceptions, there has not been a blow struck by any of them. I have been told that two or three gendarmes have been killed in the villages, but probably not a half a dozen in all. It did not seem possible that such an order could be carried out without more or less violence. One would think that some would have chosen death here, knowing that it awaited them a few hours after their departure, and many talked that way, but when the time has come all have started without making any resistance. This has been due, partially, of course, to the lack of sprit in the Armenian race, but it is due very largely also to the clever way in which the scheme has been carried out.
Everything was apparently planned months ago. First a few who were said to have been involved in a revolutionary plot were arrested. Some bombs were found and further arrests were made. Those who were arrested were subjected to terrible tortures and were made to confess to much that was probably not true and to accuse many who were entirely innocent. Orders were given that all arms of every kind must be surrendered to the authorities. People were tortured until they confessed that they had a gun or revolver or something when they actually had none at all. Then they would pay some Turk a fabulous price for some kind of a weapon which they might surrender to the police. Liberal promises were made that if everyone would surrender their weapons there would be no further trouble. The town and villages were surrounded by gendarmes and nearly every man caught. They were then systematically beaten and tortured, the greater of them without any accusation whatever having been against them. The result was that quite a number of weapons and some bombs were collected by the police. How many of the bombs may have been planted by the police themselves and how many weapons were obtained by innocent people for the purpose of having something to surrender to the police we shall probably never know. It is certain, however, that many of the people who surrendered some kind of a weapon were never engaged in any revolutionary plot and that there was not even so much evidence against many who were tortured as the production of weapons. At the same time this search was being made practically all the leading men among the Armenians were arrested. The authorities insisted most earnestly that all who were thus arrested were involved in the plot against the Government and that none were unjustly arrested. As all proceedings were in private it is impossible, of course, for others to know the truth of such statements, or at least to disprove them, but in the light of subsequent developments it would take a great amount of imagination to believe them. Many hundreds of the prominent men were thus cast into prison. They were then sent away and there seems to be no doubt that they were all murdered a few hours' distance from here. Several thousand Armenian soldiers [in the Turkish army] were also arrested and sent away obstensibly to work on the roads somewhere. As far as I know, nothing has ever been heard from any of them as it is known that some of them were shot. There is no doubt that all the others were shot.
Then, when practically all the Armenian men had been gotten out of the way and every weapon surrendered or found by the police, it was announced that all Armenians must be deported. Effective resistance to such an order was impossible. The whole scheme was planned so cleverly that the police and gendarmes are able to carry it out with no risk at all to themselves. A few thousand men have thus been able to dispose of 15,000 or 20,000 Armenians from this immediate locality. It appears that the same system has been followed in other parts of this Vilayet and in other Vilayets. It is impossible to say how many Armenians have been killed but it is estimated that the number as not far from a million.
An incident that has proved the fate of those who have left is the death of the bishop or Archbishop, I believe, Mgr., Israelian, of the local Armenian Catholic Church. His departure was postponed for one or two weeks on the grounds that the roads were not safe. Finally, about ten days ago he was given a safe-conduct by the Vali, who had always pretended to be very friendly to him. He left with about forty others, all of whom had been given safe-conduct. There had never been any suspicion of any of them and it was thought the Government intended to give them a safe journey. They were given a special guard of gendarmes and all precautions were apparently taken for their safety. Wagons were furnished them. They left here towards evening on July 14th and arrived the next day at Kazin Khan, about eight or nine hours' distance from here. There they met a large number of gendarmes. They were told that they could not travel that road and would have to return and go in the opposite direction. Their wagons were turned around and they came back for about half an hour. Then the gendarmes tied their hands together and led them a short distance from the road. Some of them had their prayerbooks and knelt in prayer. These were kicked out of their hands amid curses of the gendarmes and all but three of the party were shot and killed. Among them was Mlle. Marguerite Gamat, a French citizen whom I mentioned in my telegram of December 10th and dispatch of December 31st to the Embassy. The three who were saved were attractive women and they were all taken to become Moslem wives. One succeeded in getting free. It was from her that I obtained the above information. It was likewise one of the survivors who gave me from his own lips the details of the shooting of the eight hundred mentioned on page 5 of my report of July 11th. The exact number is now said to have been 979. Both of these incidents are so thoroughly established that I do not think there is a particle of doubt in them. There have been several survivors of the 979 who have told about that. Evidence of both has also been furnished by the gendarmes themselves.
Another incident that was reported to me the other day was that some of the people who were sent from here were actually burned alive in a cave between here and Diarbakir. This was told me by a gendarme who was with them and who expressed himself as being very strongly opposed to the barbarous treatment the Armenians were receiving.
The shooting and killing of people a few hours after their departure from here is barbarous and shows that the real intention of the Government is not to exile them but to kill them. Yet, on the whole, I am inclined to believe that the sooner they are disposed of the merciful it is. A lingering but certain death after weeks or months of wandering is worse. After the departure of the parties that arrived here from Erzurum and Erzincan a few hundred of those who were too sick or feeble to continue with the others were left here to die. Their camp is a scene from the Inferno. Greater misery could not be imagined. It was bad enough before when there were several thousand all in a most wretched condition. Now, when only the worst of them are left behind, the scene beggars all description. The dead and dying are everywhere. Two or three small children may be seen weeping over the dead body of their mother, tugging at her as she lies on the ground with matted hair and staring eyes; other small children almost or quite naked and covered with filth lying curled up on the ground dead or in convulsions; other women and children so emaciated that he profile of the face has the exact appearance of a skull; one small boy wearing part of a shirt and a ragged stocking on one foot was actually only a skeleton; other small children with bloated bellies lying in the sun; very rarely a man, but mostly women and children, all in the last stages of their misery waiting for death to come to their relief. I presume a little food is brought to these people, but most of them are too far gone to need food. Each day there are many deaths and these will continue until all are gone. Dead bodies are to be seen there at any time. These are often left lying in the sun too long, with the result that the air is made fetid with the stench from them and from human filth that is all around. They are finally disposed of by the gendarmes digging one huge hole right in the midst of the encampment and throwing them all in together.
One sees dead bodies now in all directions and on every road, not only a distance but even on the outskirts of the town itself. People coming from neighboring villages report as many as ten or twelve bodies lying by the roadside in an hour's journey. One man who has succeeded in getting here alive from Sivas says he saw not less than five hundred bodies on that road. The whole country as one vast charnel house, or, more correctly speaking, slaughterhouse.
The fate of those who have been killed or died is sad, but perhaps that of those who have been spared is even worse. Some of the women have been brought back here. Among these is a pretty girl of thirteen years whose father was one of the most prominent men and had one of the best homes in this region. He has been killed. She was separated from her mother and small brothers and does not know what has become of them. Now at her age she is to marry one of the most brutal petty officers around here and they are to live in her father's house!
I have written strongly about the situation and proceedings here because it is impossible to write about them at all and not do so. It is not that I am in any way a champion of the Armenian race. It is not a race one can admire or among whom I should choose to live. But, whatever the faults of the Armenian people may be and however conclusive may be of the proof that some of them have been involved in a revolutionary plot, the punishment inflicted upon these people is so severe, the tragedy is so terrible, that one cannot contemplate it and certainly cannot live in the midst of it without being stirred to the depths of one's nature. When one sees men and women seventy or even eighty years old, lame, blind and sick, innocent women and children and helpless babies sent away to be killed or die and actually sees them dead or dying all around, it is impossible to conceive of any justification that can be urged for a measure so severe.
Yet the local authorities are now apparently trying to find some way of justifying what they have done. The Chief of Police called on me on July 16th and requested me to write to the Embassy about the shooting of two or three gendarmes in a neighboring village by some Armenians. I had heard that something of that kind had happened but do not know the details of it and have no personal knowledge of the matter. I said I should be quite willing to call the attention of the Embassy to the matter if he wished and suggested that he write me a letter which I would transmit to the Embassy. He agreed to do so.
On July 23rd, after having made my official calls, three of us met together and considered the possibility of taking some step in the name of humanity to have these horrors stopped. We were Mr. Ehmann (a German missionary), Mr. Picciotto (an Austrian, the "Sous-Director" of the local branch of the Ottoman Bank) and myself. We decided to call on the Vali informally and ask him unofficially if the few Armenians who were left here could not be spared. He received us most cordially. We explained our errand and asked him if he would not be willing to send a telegram to Constantinople asking for orders permitting those Armenians who had been left here to that time to remain, suggesting that we should also like to send a mutual telegram to the American, German and Austrian Embassies asking them to take any measures that might be possible to have such orders issued. The Vali has all along expressed his regret at the necessity to taking such measures as he has recently been obliged to do and has pretended to be very much touched by the suffering of the people. He apparently consented at once to our plan and said he should be glad if such orders could be obtained. Then he imposed a condition, viz., that each of us write a letter to the Vilayet asking to have those remaining here spared, so that he could use these letters as the basis for making a demand on the central authorities. He added that he should like to have as many details in the letter as possible, so that it would appear that all those who were guilty of anything had been sent away and all those who remained were innocent. It was quite evident that His Excellency wanted to have it appear by implication that all who had been sent away were guilty. He said he would have the Chief of Police call on me that evening to explain the matter more fully.
We all met at the Consulate and the Chief of Police called as arranged. He was not all interested in having a letter from Mr. Ehmann or Mr. Picciotto but insisted strongly that I write a letter to the Vilayet, calling attention to the shooting of some gendarmes by Armenians and to the fact that those Armenians who were guilty of having been engaged in a revolutionary plot had been punished, together with their families and people connected with them, while those who now remained were only innocent women and children. I was to encorporate a similar clause in my telegram, to the effect that the guilty Armenians having been punished and only the innocent ones remaining, it was desired to have the latter spared. I replied that I was absolutely unable to make any statement in regards to who were guilty and who were innocent, that perhaps innocent ones had been punished and the guilty ones remained unpunished, that I had no means of knowing which were, and that it was impossible for me to make a statement of fact in a letter addressed to the Vilayet either in regard to the shooting of any gendarmes or in regard to the guilt or innocence of any particular people. I said further that it was quite irregular for me to address the Vilayet at all in such a matter or to send any telegram about it, that any such action on my part was purely unofficial and on the ground of humanity, and that in any case the most I could do was to make a simple request. He argued and argued and argued that I make some kind of a statement, even though it might be very little. I don't know that I ever saw a more persistent man in my life. He remained until half past one in the morning trying to make me give the Vilayet a statement of some kind. He said that orders had already been issued for more severe measures to be taken ever on the morrow, but he might delay their enforcement a little if I would make a statement for him. I told him I would be glad to say anything I could, but I couldn't make any statement about matters foreign to my duties in a letter addressed to the Vilayet and couldn't make statements of any kind unless I knew the facts. We finally left the matter until morning to think it over, as he wasn't willing to abandon his idea.
The next morning I sent word to the Chief of Police that as our request was intended to be made on the occasion of the anniversary of the Constitution and as that day had now passed it might be well to drop the matter. He would not take that for an answer, however, so in the afternoon I called to see him. I told him I couldn't very well write a letter to the Vilayet such as he wished, but, as I had promised before, I should be very glad to call the attention of the Embassy to any matters he might wish to write about. He decided he would rather tell me than write me (I had been rather surprised that he ever agreed to write his request), so I shall probably have a call from him soon with such requests as he is able to think of in this connection. I see no harm in writing the Embassy in that way, it being understood that I am simply communicating such matters as I have been requested to communicate and that I am not responsible for the truth of anything that I do not know about personally. The Chief of Police will undoubtedly insist that I report as facts within my personal knowledge such matters as he may tell me about. That, of course, I cannot do, although I fear he will be very persistent in urging something of that kind.
I am inclined to doubt the wisdom of having gone to the Vali at all in regard to the situation. It was not within the line of my duties and for a consul might be construed as an improper interference in local affairs. The situation is so extraordinary and terrible, however, and I have had so much pressure brought to bear upon me from the beginning by both Americans and Armenians to try to do something to help the people that it has been difficult to sit without making some effort in a friendly way on their behalf. Yet, as the Embassy has made no reply to my telegrams Nos. 15 and 16, of June 27th and 28th respectively, in which I suggested that the Embassy do something, if possible, to have the enforcement of the order of deportation adjourned and spoke of the probable need of funds for the relief of those who were to be deported, I assume that the Embassy did not approve of my suggestions. I do not know that the original telegrams ever reached the Embassy but my confirmation copies mailed on June 29th must have arrived. My own conviction is that interference of any kind either here or elsewhere is both hopeless and unwise under present conditions, but it is a very trying position to be unable to do anything to relieve so much suffering.
In this connection, I shall be very glad to have any instructions or suggestions the Embassy may care to give in regard to proper policy to pursue and I shall appreciate having the Embassy criticize me freely for making any errors I may have made in the past. It is often exceedingly difficult to know what one ought to do and I feel the need of advice.
Referring to Embassy's telegram No. 21, of July 12th, in regard to naturalized American citizens and the consular staff, I think there is no doubt that instructions have been received by the local authorities. They may have come after I saw the Vali on July 10th. Beginning with the following day there seemed to be a decided change of attitude toward these citizens and they were given permission to stay. In view of the fact that very few had papers in good order and that some who had such papers had forfeited all claim to protection as Americans by having alleged on their return to Turkey that they were Ottoman subjects and concealed the fact of their American citizenship, it would probably be found on investigation that most if not all of these had no strict rights. As I understand also that the Turkish Government does not recognize expatriation, it would probably be quite difficult, especially under present conditions, to insist too strongly upon such rights. As it is, I have been able to save a few people and have been glad to be able to do even that little good. Even that has been far from easy, for notwithstanding the papers that had been given them by the authorities permitting then to remain some of them have been driven out of their homes by the gendarmes and their houses sealed up. The gendarmes refused to pay attention to their papers. Several of these families have come to the Consulate and I am keeping them here temporarily. As soon as it is possible I shall try to find some homes near the Consulate where they can live until it is possible to leave here in safety.
At the present time it is not possible to travel, for it would mean almost certain death in spite of any assurances the Government might give. The killing of the Catholic bishop shows that a safe-conduct is of no value at this time. Even if the Government wanted to give any one a safe journey I don't think it could do so. The roads are filled with bands of Kurds and "cetes" who have been turned loose on travelers and it is a matter of little importance to whom they rod and kill. I understand that many Turks have been killed while traveling. It seems as though there is a greater danger of these people getting beyond all control and overrunning the country. It is far from safe even in town and any trips outside of the town are attended with considerable risk.
With reference to Embassy's inquiry in telegram No. 21, of July 12th, as to why I telegraph in French, I have to say that about a month or so ago the director of the telegraph office sent me word the he had again received orders the telegrams in English could not be accepted. I subsequently called his attention to the fact that the Embassy telegraphed me in English and then I called his attention to the Embassy's inquiry about the matter in the above mentioned telegram. He said he would accept telegrams in English, but as none of them understood English at the telegraph office there might be some delay in sending them sometimes in case they had to look outside for someone to censor them. However, I shall try to send them in English and can probably explain their meaning sufficiently so that there will be no delay in their leaving.
As the danger of being cut off from communication with the Embassy seems to be past for the present, I shall not continue sending telegrams, as I suggested in my dispatch of June 12th (File No. 300), unless there is occasion to do so. I have no doubt that the occasions when they will be necessary will be frequent enough.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Leslie A. Davis,
U.S. National Archives. D.S. Record Group 59, Dec. File No. 86.4016/269
Posted 15 April 2006 - 12:51 PM
American Ambassador Mamouret-ul-Aziz (Harput), Turkey
Constantinople September 7, 1915
I have the honor to continue my reports of June 30th and July 11th, July 24th and August 23rd (File No. 840.1) in regard to the expulsion and massacre of the Armenians, as follows:
The short report of August 23rd was written at the request of the Chief of Police and is based on data which he furnished me. The circumstances which led to my writing it were explained quite fully in my reports of July 24th, on pages 9 to 13. The Chief of Police sent me a memorandum of the incidents mentioned therein and then I wrote the report. I showed it to the Vali before sending it and he expressed himself as being much pleased that I was sending a report of these matters. Some of them I know about personally and I have no doubt that all of the statements are entirely correct, as I have been assured by the Chief of Police. I can see no harm whatever in reporting these matters to the Embassy and it seems to me that the Vali and the Chief of Police attach too great importance to my doing so. I certainly have no desire to pose as a champion of the Armenian race or to defend any Armenian revolutionists. Hence, in reporting about general conditions I desire to do so with impartiality and gladly mention any incidents that may tend to justify the Government in the measures it has been taking. At the same time, most of the incidents mentioned in my report of August 23rd seem so trivial and insignificant in comparison with the enormous tragedy that it is being enacted in this region that it is difficult to see how they can be considered to be any justification for it.
With the exception of this short report submitted on August 23rd, I have not written to Embassy about the Armenian question since my report of July 24th. One reason why I have not written during this time was the apparent uncertainty of my letters reaching the Embassy, as I indicated in my dispatch of yesterday regarding my dispatch of June 30th. Whether these fears were well founded or not, there is a decided mystery about that matter.
Another reason is that during the last six or seven weeks it has been comparatively quiet here. After the expulsion of the greater part of the Armenian population during the first two or three weeks of July, subsequent deportations have naturally been on a smaller scale and have occurred at longer intervals. As stated in my report of July 24th, fully 12,000 or 15,000 Armenians have been sent away from the two cities of Harput and Mamouret-ul-Aziz at that time and many thousand more had been sent away from the neighboring villages. Only a small number remained, nearly all of whom were women and children. It was thought, in view of statements made by the Vali, that perhaps these few remaining women and children would be spared. Practically all the men had been sent away and there is little doubt that they were killed, almost without exception.
The deportation had not ended, however, and it is by no means certain that it has ended yet. During the last week of July and the first part of August large numbers of women and children were rounded up both here and in the villages. They were sent away under guard and there have been persistent reports that they were killed as the men had been. This is not at all improbable and I am inclined to believe that at least part of them were deliberately murdered. Recently a large number of Armenian children who had been kept in a Turkish orphanage have been sent away -- for what reason except to be killed or to die on the road it is difficult to see. Thus the work of exiling and killing the Armenians has been continuing all summer and it is impossible to foresee the end.
I should estimate that at least three-fourths of the Armenians in this region have now gone. A great many of those who remain have been and still are in hiding. A few are now getting the benefit of the order exempting Catholics and Protestants from deportation, but most of these were sent away before the order was received, or, at least, before it was announced. Those who were fortunate enough to keep in hiding until the order came are now coming out in the open. Only a few days before that, however, a large number of Protestants were sent away and are said to be in the vicinity of Malatia. I have given the Vali a list of eighty-four names and requested that, if possible, they be brought back here, but I have no idea whether he will do anything about it or not. In addition to Protestants and Catholics there are a few indispensable artisans and workmen, such as bakers and shoemakers, who have been left here. The workers and inmates of the American schools and hospital have also left, although the authorities have continued to deny that any orders have been received from Constantinople about them. As long as they leave these people alone it does not seem best to press the inquiry too far, although they would all be more comfortable to have positive assurance from the local authorities that they are to remain. It seems probable that orders have been received in spite of these denials, just as they were finally received in regard to the naturalized American citizens, although the authorities never expressly admitted it.
By far the greater part of the Armenians who remain, however, are here because they have been successful in keeping in hiding. It is impossible to tell yet how many there may be but there are a great many in this class. Some are hiding in Harput and Mamouret-ul-Aziz, others in the villages and recently a number of men who have been concealed in various places have been going to the Dersim and taking refuge among the Kurds. There number is naturally limited, but I understand that there has been quite a movement of this kind with fixed prices for protection. Many people, mostly women, have been kept in Turkish houses, especially in the villages that are partly Turkish and partly Armenian. The purely Armenian villages have been pretty thoroughly cleaned out, but hundreds of women have found shelter with their Turkish neighbors in the villages containing both races.
Bribery has, of course, been carried on to a very great extent among officials both high and low. Among the chief offenders in this respect has been the Kaimakam of Harput who is said to have taken many thousands of pounds for protecting people. As an instance of how he protected them, one women I know paid him fifty liras for permitting her and her children to remain. After taking the money he told her she had better not try to stay in Harput while they were sending people away but had better come down to Mamouret-ul-Aziz and hide for a while. She came to the American hospital and remained for a few days. Then the hospital was searched by the police and she came down to the Consulate with all her six children. I had previously asked the Chief of Police as a favor that she and her children be allowed to remain and he had given his consent. So I kept her at the Consulate for awhile until it was possible to make other arrangements. She has not been able to return to Harput and received very little value for her fifty liras paid to the Kaimakam. My efforts an her behalf were worth much more than all he did for money. The Kaimakam carried on the business of taking bribes so systematically and openly that it became known to everybody. Two or three weeks ago he was removed and was subsequently arrested and imprisoned where he has remained ever since. I understand that his house has also been kept under guard since his arrest. I do not know the circumstances that led to his arrest, whether he had not divided his profits with other officials, or what other reason there may have been, but it is a good thing he is out of office. In addition to the bribery of officials the Turks who have kept Armenians in their houses have invariably demanded exorbitant sums for doing so. In very many instances they have kept them for awhile and after getting all their money have turned them out to seek some other shelter. As that has usually been impossible in such cases many of these people have finally been exiled after all.
Referring to the arrival at the Consulate of the women mentioned on the preceding page, who came here from the American Hospital and for whom I had asked permission that she could be exempted from deportation, the way in which she and some others came here one night was most imprudent. The police had learned that there were many Armenians at the American Hospital who were not sick and they paid a visit one afternoon. The result was not serious, in view of the large number of people who had taken refuge there. Only about a dozen men were taken away, while all the women and children were left alone. Among those at the Hospital were this women and her children and one of the professors of the American College. I had received permission for both of these people and their families to remain and had told Dr. Atkinson if there should be any trouble at the Hospital to tell the police that these people were under the protection of the Consul. The police were told this and passed them by. That evening just after dark my proteges were piloted down to the Consulate together with several others. There were about twenty people came piling in on me, with blankets and bundles and all their worldly goods. On there way down here they had been stopped by a policeman who asked them where they were going, and they had all said they were coming to the American Consulate. They has also been obliged to pass an assembly of Moslems who were holding a meeting in the open air. I sent away at once those who had no permission to remain here, but the coming of so many people in a body naturally attracted a great deal of attention, with the result that it was quickly reported all over town that there were a "thousand" Armenians hiding in the American Consulate. This happened at one of the most tense and critical moments this summer, when it was important to be above suspicion. Fortunately, the incident didn't amount to anything but it was a most thoughtless and imprudent act on the part of the Americans at the Hospital to send people down here in that way.
I have, as a matter of fact, been keeping about thirty or forty people at the Consulate, but they are all people who had special permission to remain and whom I could explain, if necessary, like the wives and children of naturalized American citizens and the families of the employees of the Consulate. The arresting and deportation was carried on so vigorously that even those who were supposed to be exempted from deportation were seized and sent off so quickly that no one was safe. Hence, it seemed more prudent for some of those whom I was trying to protect remain at the Consulate. As the garden of the Consulate is very large it has not been so very difficult to keep people here in summer. I have recently found two or three houses in the neighborhood in which I have placed some of them.
It has become difficult, of course, to prevent outsiders from crowding in the American Hospital and it has not been easy to drive them away knowing that they would probably be killed. Considering the number of people who came there on one pretense or another, Dr. Atkinson has had very little trouble on that account. The American missionaries at Harput have had no outsiders but have had about fifty teachers and orphans in their Girl's School and about a dozen servants. As stated above, the authorities have denied continuously that any order has been received to exempt them from deportation, but it seems probable they did receive orders of some kind, as no effort has been made to send away any of these persons.
On the whole, the Americans here have had comparatively little trouble during the past two months and have been able to do some good. I have been informed, however, that there was a plot, in which a prominent official was involved, to attack the Americans at Harput one night with a view to robbing them of the money that had been deposited with them by the Armenians who were being sent away. It was known that they had received considerable sums of money and it is not impossible that there were those who coveted it. Neither is it possible to there are may have been such a plot, but I do not know it as a fact. My informer said the official who was involved in it finally decided it would not be wise to undertake it and persuaded the others to abandon the idea.
Whether it is true that there was such a plot or not, the death of Mr., Knapp at Diarbekir (which I reported to the Embassy by telegraph on August 19th and in a dispatch dated August 31st) occurred under very suspicious circumstances. Furthermore, there is little doubt that the life of Dr. Smith was in actual danger at Diarbakir and even his deportation from there is not reassuring. There is enough to convince most people that the lives of the Americans are not safe here and if they are obliged to remain it is highly probable there will be other lives lost.
I have just been handed Mr. Peet's circular letter of August 19th to the stations of the American Board in Turkey. It is quite evident that his view of the situation are different from mine. I have no desire to insist unduly upon ny own views or to oppose his plans, but after all that has happened here during the last six months I am unable to see how he can hope to see the American schools open here this fall or how can he say that the return of the instructors who have been sent away can probably be secured or how can he feel that ample protection is assured to all Americans. Mr. Riggs has reported conditions to him most carefully in frequent letters and I have written many lengthy despatches to the Embassy about the situation, but in view of the slight attention that has been paid to our communications, as far as we can see here, and the result as indicated in the above mentioned letter from Mr. Peet, it would seem that little importance has been attached to them.
The situation in regard to the American schools as well summarized in Mr. Riggs' letter of July 19th to Mr. Peet, copy of which was sent to the Embassy. He calls attention to the fact that two-thirds of the girl pupils and six-sevenths of the boys have been taken away to death, exile or Moslem homes; that four of the seven professors have been murdered on the road in general massacres; that two of the others are hiding and that only one (the professor of music) is available; that seven of the twelve male instructors are thought to have been killed on the road, that two were then sick in the hospital, that one is in hiding, and that only two are available; that one had been taken to a Turkish harem, that three had not been heard from, that four had started out as exiles, and that ten only were available; that seven of the eight buildings belonging to the American schools were in the hands of the Government, and that only one was left. Part of this remaining building has since been occupied for a hospital. Thus, three-fourths of the pupils, one-half of the instructors, including all the principal professors, and all except part of one building are now gone. Aside from all other considerations, it is difficult to see how educational work can be carried on under these circumstances and how it can be considered advisable to attempt to open the schools at the present time. The only work that it seems possible to consider at all is orphanage work and the American missionaries have been forbidden to engage in that. The policy that is being pursued openly here in regard to women and children is to compel them to become Moslems. Whatever assurances may be given in Constantinople about the work of American institutions in general, it seems clear that Christian educational work will either not be permitted at all in this region or it will be so hampered that it will be useless to attempt to carry it on, unless there should be a radical change in the political situation.
With reference to the directions in Mr. Peet's letter that a request should be made for the return of those instructors in the American schools who have been sent away, I shall, of course, take no steps about that unless instructed to do so by the Embassy. In searching the records of this office for instructions upon such points, I find that this Consulate was instructed by the Legation at Constantinople on 1903, in the case of one of the professors of the American College who was then under arrest and who has now been arrested and murdered, to confine its efforts to the use of good offices and not to interfere officially. As I have received no instructions to the contrary and as the professors and instructors in the American schools were arrested and tortured and sent away and killed before word was received that they should remain in their places, all that I was able to do was to inform the Embassy about the matter, which I did promptly. To ask for their return would be useless, unless it it desired to require the local authorities to explain what has become of them. I don't think they can show that any of these people were guilty of any crime. They were among the first to be sent away because of their position.
With reference to the assurance that ample protection will be given to all Americans in Turkey, the facts do not seem to bare it out, The deportation of Dr. Smith and the probable danger to his life, the suspicious circumstances in connection with the death of Mr. Knapp, the rumors of plots against Americans at Harput, the fact that Mrs. Barnum's was undoubtedly hastened by the present situation, and, quite possibly, the deaths of others about which I have not yet been able to obtain the details, -- all seem to show that life and health are not secure in the interior of Turkey at the present time. In view of the limited amount of work that can be done by the missionaries now and probably for a long time to come, and the possible dangers and contingencies that may arise at any time, it seems to me more prudent for those who can leave to do so.
Speaking in general of assurances, which are given so freely at Constantinople, and having in mind our experiences here during the past six months, the following passage in a despatch written by one of my predecessors seems of sufficient interest to quote:
"I promptly presented the matter to H.E., the Vali, who assured me that absolutely no orders in this connection had reached him. He telegraphed at once to Constantinople, requesting the transmission of the authorization announced to Your Excellency."
"In the course if our interview, he stated that it was a most deplorable and unfortunate habit of the Ministries at Constantinople to assure the Foreign Embassion that certain orders had been despatched to provincial authorities, although neither had the instructions been sent, nor were pains taken to forward them promptly after making such statements."
"He had frequently suffered from this exasperating habit, and he advised insisting in all cases upon the date and number of the despatch forwarded with the authorization, as well as the statement whether it was sent in a telegram or letter."
It might be well if the dates and numbers of such despatches could be obtained now and furnished me by the Embassy in each case.
The general conditions in this region are frightful. Aside from the lack of security, it seems as though a pestilence was inevitable. The large number of dead bodies that are lying everywhere, even in the outskirts of town, the filth from the bands of exiles that have passed through here at different times, and the almost total lack of sanitary measures, are all conducive to that. Men in the employ of the Government now go along the principal roads and bury the dead bodies they find, but the graves they dig are so shallow that the bodies are often partly exposed.
In my previous despatches I have mentioned the camp just outside of the town where the exiles from Erzurum and Erzincan stopped for a while. A more suitable place was found for those who arrived later. It is a large cemetery almost in the town itself and enclosed by a high wall. Here bands of exiles who have been passing through have been kept at several different times, while after they left the sick and feeble were left to die and be buried. The scene described on pages 7 and 8 of my despatch of July 24th has been duplicated over and over again in this cemetery. The more recent arrivals of exiles have been kept in an Armenian village about five miles distant, from which everyone had been sent away.
One noticeable feature of the movement has been that lately men have arrived with the parties of exiles, whereas all the men who had started with the first parties had been killed after they had reached this Vilayet. This may well be called the "Slaughterhouse Vilayet" of Turkey, for it appears that exiles from all directions have come this far safely only to be massacred in some part of this Vilayet. I have, of course, not seen the actual killing myself, but there can be no doubt about those who have been killed in this Vilayet before arriving here and there is practically no doubt about the killing of the men and of many of the women and children who have left here. It has been corroborated too many times by survivors who have escaped and returned and by the gendarmes themselves who have done the work. Among the later parties arriving here are people from Zara, in the Sivas Vilayet, and from Trebizond, Ourdu, Kherassoun, and another very large part numbering several thousands from Erzurum. All with whom I have talked speak of having received much better treatment in the other Vilayets than here. I have been informed that on leaving here the men were in each case separated from the women and children, the significance of which is apparent.
Naturally, with this this wholesale massacre being perpetrated almost in front of our eyes, the country is not considered very safe. I have been warned repeatedly by friendly officials and policemen not to take long walks or rides and to always have someone with me. They all speak of Kurds who are on the roads and are very savage. There are plenty of Kurds, it is true, who are out for plunder. One interesting member of this race visited the Consulate awhile ago with what he thought was a $100.00 bill and asked me what I could give him for it. It proved to be only an advertisement resembling in appearance an American bill. When I asked him where he had obtained it he said at first that some one had given it to him for $100.00 in America and he thought it was good money, but on being questioned a little further he said he had found it in the pocket of a Giavour whom he had killed. Such are the people one is likely to meet here these days.
I have not given up my horseback rides entirely, however, although I have usually taken someone with me. The other day rode out to two Armenian villages from which almost every inhabitant had been sent away. A short distance out of town two men were digging a few hundred feet off the road. I rode over to see what there might be there. They were digging a grave for a women who lay stretched out on the ground dead. Near her were two other women dying. Besides these there were three women and one child. They said they wanted to be left there to die instead of being driven on any further. We had some bread with us which we had brought along for any starving person we might meet and we gave them some of it. Such scenes are to be met most anywhere probably in the interior of Turkey at the present time. Here a dead women, there a dead baby, occasionally a dead animal. Aside from the dead and the dying and from the gendarmes and Kurds one meets no one on the roads. The country is isolation complete.
The two villages that I visited are almost entirely deserted. Each had two or three thousand population. One was the home of my stable-boy. There were just two families that had been left there. He is at the Consulate with his family, having been spared because he is one of my servants. His home in the village is occupied by gendarmes. As there are no Turkish inhabitants of this village, these gendarmes and the two Armenian families above mentioned are the only people there now. Probably there are some who have hidden in other villages and may return if conditions become quiet, but there cannot be many such. The village is almost dead and deserted as Pompeii. The other one to which we went is not much better. There are perhaps half a dozen families there. We found also three feeble, blind old men whose families had all gone and they had been left behind. One was eighty-five years old. He had thirty children and grandchildren, two of whom are in America and every one of the other twenty-eight had been sent to exile and death. All of these old men and their families are Protestants and are well known to the American missionaries. The missionaries have now brought the men from the village and are taking care of them. This village like the other was nothing but ruin and desolation.
There are villages, however, where there are a great many Armenian women left, principally those in which there were both Turkish and Armenian inhabitants. Many women have been kept in Turkish homes in these villages and have thus escaped deportation. During the last few days a large number of women have come to this Consulate for me to write to relatives in America to send them money and almost every one of them has asked for sufficient money to enable them to come to America when it may be possible to travel. I am trying to help them by writing their relatives as requested but they are coming so fast now that it is quite a task. Very many are going to the missionaries for the same purpose. All this indicates the destitute condition in which these people now find themselves and how they all feel that it will be impossible for them to continue to live here.
Word has recently been received from a few individuals who have reached Aleppo. It is to be noted that they are all women. Apparently no men arrived there.
It is going to be a serious problem for the few women and children who remain here to obtain food and clothing this winter. That is something that the missionaries will probably consider and they will doubtless be able to render much aid to these people.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Leslie A. Davis,
U.S. National Archives. D.S. Record Group 59, Dec. File No. 867.4016/210b
Posted 15 April 2006 - 12:51 PM
American Ambassador Mamouret-ul-Aziz (Harput), Turkey
Constantinople December 30, 1915
I have the honor to continue my reports of June 30th and July 11th, July 24th and August 23rd and September 7th (File No. 840.1) about the deportation and massacre of the Armenians, as follows:
The last four months have been full of uncertainty and anxiety for every one. There has been no security for any of the few Armenians who were left here after the deportations of July and August, whether they had been allowed to remain because of their being Protestant, Catholics American citizens, or for other reasons, and no assurance worth listening to that the Armenian question has ended. The town crier has announced once or twice by order of the Vali that no more Armenians would be sent away and that all could come out without fear, but the falsity of such announcements was shown a few weeks later by the wholesale arrest and deportation of those who had ventured out in reliance upon them. The ruse worked so well that it will probably be repeated and, no matter how many times this may occur, I have no doubt that others will be caught in the same way as long as any remain. There seems to be as much reason to apprehend a further arrest and deportation now of the few Armenians who remain here as there has been at any time during the last six months. No one knows what the next move may be or when it may be made. No one knows whether the few who have escaped thus far will be spared in the end or whether those who are perpetrating this crime, the most awful, probably, that has ever been committed against any race of people, will continue until the last Armenian in the country has been killed.
The predictions made and fears expressed in my early reports upon this subject have been for the most part all too fully realized. As two of them (nos. 62 of June 30th and 71 of July 24th) were apparently lost in the mails or intercepted by the authorities, I am sending copies of these reports in accompanying despatch No. 172 of yesterday. It will be noticed that they are not reports that were intended to be read by Turkish officials, but I presume that is what has happened to them. The receipt of my reports of July 11th and August 23rd and September 7th has been acknowledged.
In the latter I spoke of the fact on page 4 that a large number of Protestants had been sent away a few days before the order had been received exempting Protestants from deportation. They were said to be near Malatia when the order came and I worked very hard to have then brought back here without success. A few did succeed in coming back without having been given permission by the authorities. The way in which they did it was by paying Kurds large sums of money, often fifty or a hundred Turkish liras, to bring them here at night. These were mostly women, of course, as nearly all the men had been sent away early in the summer. The police hunted down and caught many of those who has returned in this way. They were again sent away and their fate can readily be imagined.
One of the most remarkable incidents in the terrible tragedy that is being enacted has been the sale by the Government at public auction of great quantities of second-hand clothing that had been taken from the backs of the deported Armenians who were killed. Many bundles of such clothing were brought in town and the sale continued in the market-place for many days. I am told that the same thing took place in other towns of this Vilayet. I saw it going on here myself. One can hardly imagine anything so sorbid or gruesome. Another act of barbarism still more frightful, which has been related to me by survivors of the massacres, is that the gendarmes sold them in groups of fifty or a hundred to the Kurds who were to kill them and could have whatever they could find on them. As most of the persons deported were thoroughly searched and robbed by the gendarmes the Kurds seldom obtained more than a few old cloths from the persons whom they killed. Thus the so-called "deportation" of the Armenians has been carried out!
Another matter that should be mentioned in speaking of the present situation is the partial destruction of the Christian churches in the surrounding villages. All the churches in this region are, of course, in the possession of the Turks.
On Sunday, September 26th, the Vali had an announcement made that no more Armenians would be deported. For several weeks afterwards everything appeared to be quiet and many Armenians who had been in hiding up to that time ventured to come out. Some became Moslems thinking they would be in no further danger. Suddenly in the middle of the afternoon on Thursday, November 4th, the day being a fair one when many people were in the streets and market-place, the police began to arrest all the Armenians and Syrians they could find. Many were caught in the streets; houses known to contain Armenians were visited and the occupants dragged out of them including the family of one of my cavasses; the American hospital was surrounded while some of the police entered it and arrested a number found there; a policeman was stationed in front of this Consulate to prevent any one from entering it to seek refuge here; among those arrested and taken to the prison were some of the American citizens whom I had been protecting and a number of other persons for whom I had obtained permission that they could remain. In two or three hours the police gathered together at the prison fully five hundred people from this town. I spent that afternoon and evening and all the next day in going around looking up the different ones whom I had been trying to protect, to see which ones were all right and which ones had been arrested and in visiting the Commander, who was then acting Vali, and the Chief of Police to obtain the liberation of those who had been arrested. The scene that evening, when I visited the Chief of Police a second time with the list of persons arrested whom I wanted released, was one never to be forgotten. Opposite his office was this crowd of prisoners, every one of whom was in danger of death and expecting it but hoping that some one would save them. They were called out of the crowd one by one and brought into the office where I sat with the Chief of Police and the Commander of the Gendarmes. All but one for whom I asked were released. The one exception was a young man who had been a teacher in the Turkish school and was a friend of my clerk. During that summer I has obtained permission for him to remain and had kept him at the Consulate for a few months. He had decided to, however, to accept Mohammedanism and left the Consulate a few weeks prior to that time, against the advice of most of us. Then he tried to get back his position in the school and to collect the arrears of his salary. He and two other young men who had also accepted Mohammedanism and tried to collect some money from the Government were taken out of the prison a day or two later and killed a short distance out of town. I have been told on good authority that the principal reason why these young men were not released was because they had tried to collect money from the Government. Human life is cheap here and public officials have an effective method of saving the moneys of the State.
All the Syrians and a large number of the Armenians from this town who were arrested in November 4th were finally released in one way or another. The following day a wholesale arrest of Armenians occurred at Harput but most of them were released. The villages did not fare so well. From many of them the entire Armenian population had already been sent away and killed, as I have previously reported (see my despatch of September 7th, page 17, File No. 840.1 and my despatch of October 9th, page 2, File No. 310). In others, however, quite a number of women and children had been left. Many hundred of these were arrested and brought here on Friday and Saturday, November 5th and 6th. I saw one group of several hundred as they were being driven in here like cattle by a few gendarmes. They had come from a village some distance away and were already exhausted: mothers were carrying their children; one women was carrying another women on her back; the lame; the blind, were staggering along dazed and stupefied and if they dropped behind were prodded by the gendarmes and made to go on. I saw them taken in front of the office of the Chief of Police where orders were given about them and they were sent away. Probably one or two thousand persons were away at this time and I have learned their fate from a few survivors who had succeeded in getting back here alive. It appears that soon after leaving the town they were separated into small groups and taken in different directions; that those in several of the groups, and undoubtedly those in other also, were led into secluded valleys and then bayoneted by the gendarmes; then after they were killed brush was heaped on their bodies and the gendarmes attempted to burn then. A few are said to have gotten as far as Diarbakir but no word has been received from any of them since that, as far as I have been able to learn, and there is little doubt that practically all were killed. It is to be noted that a few, if any, of the village people who were deported either at this time or before ever arrived safely at their alleged destination. The few who are known to have arrived anywhere are mostly people from the towns who had some means and were probably able to purchase their lives from the gendarmes who accompanied them but apparently all those from the villages were massacred. In the case of many of the large villages no word has been received from a single person who was deported from there.
The term "Slaughterhouse Vilayet" which I applied to this Vilayet in my last report upon this subject (that of September 7th) has been fully justified by what I have learned and actually seen since that time. It appears that all those in the parties mentioned on page 15 of that report, men, women and children, were massacred about five hours distance from here. In fact, it is almost certain, that with the exception of a very small number of those who were deported during the first few days of July, all who have left here have been massacred before reaching the borders of the Vilayet. It is somewhat difficult to understand the plan by which people were brought all the way here from Trebozond, Urdu, Kherasou, Zara, Erzurum and Erzincan, only to be butchered in this Vilayet. During the second week of September several hundred Armenians who had taken grain to Mush for the Government returned here with their ox-carts. Nearly all of them were put in prison and a few days later were sent out and killed. During the last two months quite a number of Armenian soldiers [from the Turkish army] have been brought back in groups of two or three hundred from Erzurum. They have arrived in a most pitiable state due to their exposure on the way at this season of the year and the privations they had suffered.
After all they had endured and after having been brought this far it appears that nearly all of them were killed a few hours after leaving here. A few have escaped and have related how the gendarmes tied them together a short distance out of town. The significance of that was apparent and some resisted. Their dead bodies may be seen along-side of the road. The rest of them are said to have been taken a little farther and killed in the mountains. One of the sad sights of this town now is to see companies of these soldiers being brought here every little while when we know that they are to be butchered like animals. We are all wondering why this Vilayet is chosen as the slaughterhouse.
A striking feature of the present situation in this vicinity is the large number of immigrants who have arrived from the direction of Van, Mush, and Bitlis. Many of the Armenian villages that were entirely depopulated during the summer are now filled with these Moslem immigrants. It is thought by some that one reason for destroying the Armenians was to make room for them. At any rate, there seems to be enough of them to fill the vacant places. As they appear to be a very poor class of people, it remains to be seem what the effect will be industrially on this change in the population of this region.
Of nearly a hundred thousand Armenians who were in this Vilayet a year ago, there are probably not more than four thousand left. It has been reported recently that not more than five per cent of the Armenians were to be left. It is doubtful if that many remain now. There are probably more in proportion in the two towns of Mamouret-ul-Aziz and Harput than elsewhere because many have come from the villages in which no Armenians now remain or can live and have sought shelter here. It is estimated that between one-third and one-half of the entire existing Armenian population of this Vilayet is now in these two towns and in two or three of the neighboring villages, but the persons above mentioned who have recently come here form a considerable portion of this number. The children in the German orphanage, some four to five hundred in number, form another large element in the remaining population. There are said to be a great many Armenians hiding among the Kurds in the Dersim but it is impossible to estimate the number with any accuracy. There may be five hundred or there may be a thousand in all.
In other parts of the Vilayet there are very few and in many of the towns and villages none at all except a few women who have accepted Mohammedanism and are living with Turks.
In my brief despatch No. 170 of yesterday I spoke of the pressure that is being brought on nearly all the Armenian women here, including wives of naturalized Ottomans, to embrace the Moslem faith. As directed in Embassy's instruction of November 30th I endeavor to dissuade them from taking this step. A very large number of women have come to me about this matter during the last few weeks. They say that they are threatened with deportation, which means almost certain death, if they refuse. It is by no means improbable that this will actually be the result of such a refusal in many cases. I shall do everything possible, of course, to save from either fate all women who are in any way entitled to American protection.
One of the disappointments in the present terrible situation and one of the saddest commentaries on American missionary work is their lack of religious and moral principles and the general baseness of the race. During all that has happened during the past year I have not heard of a single act of heroism or of self-sacrifice and the noble acts, if any, have been very few. On the contrary mothers have given their daughters to the lowest and vilest Turks to save their own lives; to change their religion is a matter of little importance to most of the people; lying and trickery and an inordinate love of money are besetting sins of almost all, even while they stand in the shadow of death. On one occasion, when the students of the American theological seminary were arrested, nearly every one of them lied about one thing or another to save himself. Absolute truthfulness is almost unknown among the members of this race. Money is sought at any price, even at the risk of their lives, as in the case of the young man [in] this despatch whom I had saved from death and tried to save for several months by keeping him in the Consulate. Every trick and device are resorted to by those who are not in need as well as by those who are to obtain and often by depriving others of it who are in much greater need. From every point of view the race is one that cannot be admired, although it is one to be pitied.
The present is the time to consider its needs and not its merits. The thousand or two Armenians in this immediate vicinity are for the most part entirely destitute and dependent upon charity. Many are awaiting remittances from America while many others have no relatives there or elsewhere to help them. Practically all who remain here are women and children and a few of them have the means with which to buy bread or any way of earning it. Relief work is being carried out on by both the German and the American missionaries but it is not enough to meet the needs at the present time. I shall be very glad to assist in such work as far as I can, as I have been doing with the funds already sent by the Embassy for that purpose and shall do with such additional funds as the Embassy may be able to send.
The important thing is to keep people alive for the present and then to assist them to leave the country as soon as it may be possible. There is no way of knowing however, what further measures may be taken against the few survivors who remain here and the difficulty under present conditions of saving any in case of emergency from the cut-throats of the region is perhaps greater than can be easily realized by those are living in more civilized places. The only effective way I have found, as I have previously explained, as been to keep people in the Consulate itself and naturally the number who can be saved is limited.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Leslie A. Davis,
I intend to supplement these reports on the deportation and massacre of the Armenians with an account of two trips which now made to a lake about 5 hours distant from here where I saw the dead bodies of fully 10 thousand persons, many of whom had been recently killed, and to illustrate it with photographs which I took of them alive in camps. It would not be prudent to send such a report now.
U.S. National Archives. D.S. Record Group 59, Dec. File No. 867.4016/269
Posted 10 February 2017 - 11:10 AM
Posted on February. 3. 2017
Brief though it was, Henry Morgenthau’s career as U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire marked one of the most astonishing chapters in American overseas diplomacy. In January 1916, he left Constantinople having served for little more than two years and headed home to New York, determined to help Woodrow Wilson win a second term. “I could imagine no greater calamity,” he later recollected, “for the U.S. and the world than that the American nation should fail to heartily endorse this great statesman.”
Morgenthau was convinced that Wilson was the best candidate to reshape an international order that had descended into savagery. In the preceding nine months, he had seen it with his own eyes, as the Ottoman government carried out an unspeakable offense against its people, slaughtering more than a million ethnic Armenians. Protected by American neutrality during the first three years of World War I, Morgenthau was the fulcrum of a network of American diplomats, missionaries, and businesspeople who gained an eyewitness perspective of the massacres. Their testimony constitutes a compelling body of evidence about what happened to the Armenians: an outrage for which the term genocide was invented.
News of the massacres reached Washington through Morgenthau, but it was U.S. consulate officials in more remote regions who saw up close what’s known in Armenian as Medz Yeghern, “the Great Crime.” Leslie Davis was U.S. consul in the province of Harput, an area of Turkey in which Armenians accounted for about a third of the population. Seated amid the Anatolian highlands, Harput was roughly seven hundred miles from the capital, necessitating a twenty-one-day journey: eighteen on horseback to a railway station, then three on a train. Davis himself described the Harput consulate as “one of the most remote and inaccessible in the world”; the urban splendor of Constantinople seemed as distant as the moon.
Until 1910, Davis had worked in a presumably well-paid but sedate job as a lawyer in the Manhattan financial district. On entering his thirties, and fearing that life was passing him by, he applied to join the State Department, likely with romantic dreams of intrigue and exotic adventure in faraway lands. His first posting was to Batumi, in what is now Georgia, where his taste for outdoors pursuits earned him a reputation as a very American type of eccentric: a Teddy Roosevelt of the Black Sea who took every opportunity to make life more rugged and uncomfortable than it needed to be.
In April 1914, just two months before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, he was transferred to Harput. Surveying his new jurisdiction, Davis was full of optimism: “the country was peaceful and the people were hopeful of progress.” Railroads were under construction; the ethnic and religious populations existed in apparent harmony. He reported “nothing but good feeling between Mohammadean and Christian,” after attending a ceremony at a college run by American missionaries, “and the Turks and Armenians appeared to be on friendly terms … Who could have then foreseen,” he wondered, “amid those peaceful surroundings … what is probably the most terrible tragedy that has ever befallen any people in the history of the world?”
Though they had forged a secret alliance with Germany as early as August, the Ottomans only formally allied themselves to the Central Powers in November 1914. As Constantinople’s military commanders saw it, this was a golden opportunity for the empire to revivify itself, rediscover the lost genius of Turkish civilization, and reclaim the territory it had lost in recent decades. But the Ottoman Army was under-resourced and ill-prepared, and it soon suffered some crushing defeats. The regime, led by a triumvirate of Turkish nationalists known as the Three Pashas, was quick to characterize the reverses as the treacherous handiwork of enemies within, especially the Armenians. In the early months of 1915, a toxic atmosphere developed; isolating and persecuting these foes was framed as a military necessity and a patriotic duty. On April 24, Talaat Pasha, the minister of the interior, ordered the arrest and deportation of hundreds of leading Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. It was the start of what Davis would later call “the reign of terror” that swamped the whole of Turkey.
A thriving Armenian community had existed in Harput since the Middle Ages. Often well-educated and civic-minded, Armenians were prominent among the region’s merchants, teachers, doctors, and lawyers—exactly the types of community leaders who were singled out in the first wave of persecution. From numerous sources, Davis became aware of the arrests and torture sessions happening just a stone’s throw from his office. Some men were whipped and bastinadoed, their fingernails ripped out. On the night of June 23, the authorities put hundreds of them into oxcarts and drove them away. Three days later, the town crier announced that, starting on July 1, all Armenians—including women, children, and the elderly—were to be “deported” to the settlement of Urfa, near what’s now the Syrian border.
It was Davis’s suspicion that deportation was a euphemism for something much darker. Yet even if the government aimed, as it claimed, to relocate and segregate the Armenian people, this proclamation was a virtual death sentence for thousands: without proper transport or adequate rations, few stood much chance of surviving a trek of 140 miles across the desert under the blazing sun. Davis wrote despairingly of the situation to Morgenthau: “A massacre, however horrible the word may sound, would be humane in comparison … I do not believe it possible for one in a hundred to survive, perhaps not one in a thousand.”
The next few days were chaos. Each morning, lines of Armenians arrived at Davis’s office, desperate for help. Since the declaration of war, the U.S. was by far the most powerful neutral nation with a diplomatic presence in the Ottoman Empire. To the Armenians of Harput, Davis was their best—perhaps their only—hope of survival. Some who turned up at the consulate advanced claims to American citizenship. Among them were the wives of men who had left to find work in the U.S., and some had children who had been born in America. Most, though, had only the flimsiest connections to the United States. Regardless, Davis devoted himself to assisting as many as he could; he prioritized anyone “who had documents of any kind” that could form the basis of a citizenship claim, and managed to secure many of them temporary exemptions from the deportations, despite the Ottoman government officially refusing to acknowledge the validity of dual citizenship.
As the day of the first deportation approached, Armenians scrabbled to put their financial affairs in order, selling off their worldly possessions at knockdown prices to Turkish neighbors. The deportees were permitted to take hardly anything with them; the government would seize whatever they left behind. “The scene reminded me of vultures swooping down on their prey,” shivered Davis, who agreed to secretly store money and precious items in his safe at the consulate, in the hope that one day their owners would be allowed to reclaim them. He estimated that once the deportations began he was guarding as much as two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of gold. The police knew what was going on, but Davis played dumb and ignored their demands to hand it over. The local governor, who might have admired his counterpart’s chutzpah, let the matter drop. It was a small act of defiance, maybe, but greater ones were to follow.
The deportations began in July, and Davis watched aghast as thousands of Armenians, most “carrying their baggage on their backs and their children in their arms,” were escorted from their homes, “spiritless and in despair.” It was a scene that was being played out across the empire. In Aleppo, the U.S. consul Jesse B. Jackson reported to Morgenthau that he had seen Armenians being marched by armed guards through the city, and he had learned of thousands being “scattered over the desert to starve or die of disease in the burning heat.” In the province of Sivas, an American missionary named Mary Louise Graffam managed to accompany a deportation party and spoke of robberies, beatings, and executions. Davis’s request that some American missionaries be allowed to join those leaving Harput was denied. They would be defenseless against the elements and the darkest recesses of human nature.
As the exodus took place that summer, Davis tried to keep as many as he could out of harm’s way. Audaciously, he allowed dozens to hide right under the nose of the Ottoman government, in the American consulate. The spacious three-story building—“one of the best in the interior of Asia Minor,” according to Davis—was well-suited to the task, its huge, beautiful garden studded with forty mulberry trees, all surrounded by a high wall. In the dry, warm summer months, it was here that men, women, and children slept in idyllic refuge from the infamy on the streets. The practicalities of hiding and sustaining all these people were a constant headache. For a short time, Davis employed a young Turkish boy to buy food from the market each morning—enough to feed a few dozen extra mouths—but the kid was unhelpfully curious about the consul’s rocketing consumption of bread. Davis soon decided it was safer to take care of these tasks himself, and keep the secret truly secret.
In total, Davis sheltered eighty people in the consulate and its grounds in 1915 and 1916, with at least twenty there at any one time. Every day he did so, he risked his own life: it was made unambiguously clear that a death sentence awaited anyone found guilty of interfering with the deportations. Occasionally, the threat of being rumbled became uncomfortably high. One evening, he hosted the chief of police until two in the morning, with three dozen or so Armenians hidden silently out of view. Davis was attempting to persuade the authorities to end the deportations, and , initially, his overtures were surprisingly well-received: the governor of the region assured him that “he felt very sorry himself for these poor people and would be glad to do anything he could.” When the police chief arrived that evening, however, strings were visibly attached. The deportations could be stopped immediately, Davis was told, but only if he signed a letter stating that “all the Armenians who had been deported or otherwise punished were guilty of some offense.” There was no chance that Davis would give the regime an opportunity to justify their actions, and refused to sign any such statement.
By December, Davis estimated that more than 90 percent of the local Armenian population had been deported. Those who had been spared looked to him for protection, and for the rest of his time in Harput he worked incessantly on their behalf. Of those hidden in the consulate, Davis arranged for as many as possible to be housed with families on the outside. Those he couldn’t safely relocate in Turkey he helped to escape to Russia, via boats that sailed discreetly along the Euphrates.
But for every life he saved, there were dozens who had been marched away, and whose fate he resolved to uncover. On several occasions in the months following the deportations, Davis and a companion discreetly surveyed the surrounding countryside. They came upon Armenian villages that were now husks. “We rode through empty streets filled with rubbish,” he said of one, “and all except about half a dozen of the inhabitants were gone.” Traveling farther afield, Davis encountered abundant evidence of what had happened to them: thousands of corpses, nearly all naked and many horribly burned. These people had clearly been killed in the most dehumanizing ways imaginable. A few were propped up against trees, having perished from hunger and exhaustion. The majority had been violently killed and left in piles like so much firewood. On one trip to Lake Goeljiuk, Davis estimated that in the space of twenty-four hours, he had seen the remains of ten thousand Armenians. On first taking in these scenes, he realized that even his worst fears about the events of the summer had been exceeded. “I understood better than ever what the ‘deportation’ of the Armenians meant.” Harput had become “the slaughterhouse.”
Davis sent what reports he could to Morgenthau, though many of his communications were intercepted. Frustrated by the limits of his power in Constantinople, Morgenthau filtered the testimonies of diplomats and missionaries not only to the State Department in Washington but also to the press in New York. They caused a sensation. A hundred and forty-three articles appeared in the New York Times alone in 1915, and newspapers across the country followed its lead. In that pocket between the outbreak of war in Europe and America’s entry into the conflict, the plight of the Armenians became a nationwide campaign, consuming not just statesmen and journalists, but factory workers and farmers, people from every walk of life. So passionate was the campaign that the president declared October 21 and 22 an official moment of solidarity with the Armenian people.
Morgenthau headed back to the U.S. in January 1916; Davis stayed on until diplomatic relations were severed with the Ottoman government in the spring of 1917. On his return, he traveled the country to meet with 189 Armenian Americans who’d asked the consulate for information about the fate of loved ones.
His unfussy but unbending devotion to the cause is deeply touching, and it permeates the detailed account he left of the horrific events of 1915. Unlike Morgenthau’s published memoirs of his time in Turkey, which tend on occasion toward lurid melodrama, Davis’s report, written at the end of 1917, is the measured and restrained work of an unassuming public servant, delivered in clean, uncomplicated prose. The report, 130 pages typed on fragile onionskin, lay unread for decades in State Department archives; it was exhumed only when the researcher Susan Blair came upon it almost by accident in the 1980s. Its languishment reflected our collective ignorance of the Armenian Genocide, which, in America and Western Europe at least, ceased to be a topic of household knowledge once the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao came to light.
Today, historians of the Armenian Genocide frequently cite Davis’s report, though none seems to have fully excavated its author, who remains an elusive figure—a man who summoned substance enough to leave his mark and then dissolved. After the war, he sought out new adventures in the foreign service, first in Russia, then in Finland, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Scotland. He died in Massachusetts in 1960. At that point, his courage and commitment during World War I had been all but forgotten in the United States. In Armenia, an independent nation since 1991, the Americans whose efforts saved thousands of innocent lives are revered to this day. From what we know of him, Davis wouldn’t have sought recognition or thanks. “The important thing,” he told Morgenthau in the bleak, final days of 1915, was simply “to keep people alive for the present.” In the context of the times, that was an act of true heroism.
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