On 14 April, at the often repeated request of the Imperial Ottoman Government, I began my journey on the steamship “Gül-Nihal”. At the same time, a representative of the Austrian-Hungarian press, Dr. Steiner, also took part in this journey. According to my information, for the Viennese “Reichspost”, the “Pester Lloyd”, the Berlin “Lokalanzeiger”, the Amsterdam “Algemeen Handelsblad” and a Spanish newspaper. We were accompanied by the Turkish historian, Professor Refik Bey, who represented the “Tanin”, as well as Captain Fahri Bey from the photographic department of the War School and Vice-Consul Anders, who planned to journey to his former post in Erzurum.
The attempts of the Sublime Porte to win over one or two journalists from neutral countries for the projected “Armenian expedition” was of no avail. Both the Dutch Minister in Constantinople as well as his Swedish colleague disapproved of the Porte’s request. According to the personal assurances I received from both diplomats, they did not want representatives of public opinion in their countries to travel at their intervention to the East Anatolian provinces at the present time. Their worries increased that, possibly due to pressure from the Ottoman Government, their fellow countrymen might be prevented from giving a truthful account of the conditions, or that they would only be shown a restricted number of areas and events that were incomplete and gave a one-sided picture of the situation there.
I also held similar reservations. Lieutenant Colonel Sefi Bey, head of the II. Department at Turkish Headquarters (Communications), was entrusted with the planning of our route. He was also the one who took care of individual arrangements. I believed it necessary to tell him that I considered the fact that I had been selected to be proof of the Turkish government’s trust. Despite the fact that I had been advised often and strongly not to undertake the journey because of the arduousness involved, I did not wish to evade this task. I considered it my duty to take part, in order to use my limited powers to help allay the terrible accusations raised against Turkey by the entire civilised world on the occasion of the Armenian murders. But this could only happen if no one influenced me in any way, ensuring objective reporting on my part. Sefi Bey assured me of this. He reinforced his assurance by shaking my hand several times.
There was a slight change in the programme right at the beginning of the journey. The “Gül-Nihal” was to call directly at Trebizond. Vice-Generalissimo Enver Pasha was on board with everyone from the General Headquarters. During the night of 15/16 April, he received a radio message concerning the fall of Batum. Enver Pasha decided, therefore, to land in Trebizond only briefly in order to take Vehib Pasha, the Supreme Commander of the Caucasian Army, on board, who was staying in Trebizond, and carry on directly to Batum. We accepted his invitation to accompany him. After staying in this lovely port for three days, we steamed back to Trebizond.
From the 20th to the 23rd, we stayed in the capital of the Vilayet of the same name as guests of Vehib Pasha. Our freedom to move about was not restricted. We could inform ourselves here and there. Apparently, there were no Germans present, but there were some trustworthy Balts who remained behind after the retreat of the Russians. Among them were the Baltic Dr. Pieper, a captain in the medical corps, Berting, a pharmacist, and Grosset, a historian. Furthermore, the Greek Archbishop, Monsignor Chrysantos, a highly-educated and extremely tactful personality. Chrysantos studied at German universities for several years. He is completely familiar with our language. His honest sympathy for Germany was confirmed to me by various sources. He is not considered to be a friend of the Armenians. The Turks claim he is a friend of theirs. At any rate, he knew how to win their trust and, in this way, managed to save the large and flourishing diocese of Trebizond, which is based on an old, historical past, from being completely destroyed. I heard his name mentioned with honest respect in all of the camps, by all nationalities and religions. Ethnographically, Trebizond and the area surrounding it, which stretches far into the plateaus of the Pontic border mountains, has a pronounced Greek character. At the beginning of the campaign, the number of Armenians in the capital of the Vilayet was estimated as being no more than four thousand. Despite repeated bombardments by the Russians, the town itself suffered little. The rambling, solidly built bazaar quarters are almost completely intact. Although barely four weeks had passed since the Turks reoccupied the town, things were very busy in the bazaar. Several thousand Ottoman Greeks had returned. A busy trade in soap, tea, sugar, petroleum, etc., was going on in the shops, mainly articles that the Russians had left behind. There were no more Armenians. The Armenian quarter was the only one that was almost completely devastated. Shortly before Turkey entered the World War, a small fraction of Armenians were able to save themselves in the area around Batum. Another, larger fraction was dragged off into the interior to meet their deaths, mainly due to deprivations; when the news arrived of the Armenian treason in the Van area, the rest was massacred in Trebizond.
Only one female Armenian left in Trebizond, the daughter of a doctor, escaped the horrible death that her entire family suffered by marrying a Swiss citizen named Fleury, the owner of a hotel in Trebizond, at the last moment.
Immediately after the occupation, the Russians named an Armenian, Count Bebudoff, as Commander of the town. Bebudoff took revenge on the Turks and a large number of the latter was executed without reason.
Chrysantos, the Greek Archbishop, appealed to Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolayevitch several times, urgently protesting against Bebudoff’s fierce action. As a result, Bebudoff was finally recalled. General Schwartz was named Commander of the town. The persecutions stopped in Trebizond. The Moslem population was even given extended protection under the new regime. The Moslems themselves touchingly emphasised this general’s humane behaviour, that offered them the safety of their lives and their property. It was only after the Russian revolution that a terrible time broke out for the Moslems. Trebizond became the garrison for two Armenian regiments, made up mainly of gangs. Once again, arbitrary executions of Moslems became a daily event. The brave Archbishop knew how to intervene skilfully here as well. After a while, the blood lust of the Armenian regiments was stilled.
I had several discussions with the Greek Archbishop. Hesitantly at first, but then with open frankness he assured me that the Turkish actions in Trebizond were without cause. The Armenian population there did not involve itself in political machinations. It was quite peace-loving, occupied itself with trade and was often more Turkish-minded than the Turks themselves.
The distance between Trebizond and Erzindjan is 300 km. [This is followed by a description of the route and technical information.]
We passed through six larger towns that were inhabited solely by Greeks; these have been razed completely, even the Greek churches. They were razed by the Turks for strategic reasons before the Russian occupation took place. The population was given time to leave the towns. The numerous Greek monasteries, situated in higher places and not along the line of Russian advance, were spared. Higher up you could see troops of workers here and there with their draught cattle, plowing the tobacco and grain fields. [technical details follow]
Djivislik, a larger town as the government once again set up a Kaymakan there three days before our arrival, has also been destroyed. We lived in a reasonably kept house that had been taken over as a ‘konak’ [a public building in Turkey] by the government. Apart from the Kaymakan, a telegraph official and ten gendarmes lived there. Presently the only inhabitants in Djivislik.
The next day we continued our journey to Hamsikeni, 30 km away. The saddest signs of destruction were seen everywhere. Burned-down and deserted Greek villages in the valley. Higher up, some of the villages have been spared, provided they cannot be reached directly from the road. Hamsikeni itself offers the same hopeless sight. We spent the night there and left for Ardassa the next morning. The journey passes through the extremely picturesque landscape of the Sigana Pass. Magnificent areas where even today there are still dense forests of pines, spruces and alders. Halfway along the road from Hamsikeni to Ardassa, the Russians built two powerful sawmills. They have been shut down. They seem to have been run electrically, just by the hydropower [of the] Harschid River.
Ardassa is a little town that has now been destroyed. Only two houses were partly intact. [unimportant details follow] There was also nothing but destruction along the way to Gumushkhana. Not a person was in sight during the entire journey. There is no Greek population beyond Ardessa. The villages there were already heavily populated by Armenians, mixed with Turks. For the first time, we become aware of the fact that Armenians have more skills than just in the field of trade and finance. The Armenian on the plateaus of Erzindjan and Erzurum, all the way down to Mush, Harput and the Van Lake area, is mainly a strong and healthy countryman. A farmer in the complete sense of the word. This long-established Armenian farming community has mainly contributed towards developing the rich natural resources of the East Anatolian provinces in the Turkish Empire. The wonderful fruit plantations that often run on for kilometres on the way to Gumushkhana, which were now showing the most beautiful blossoms, and the rich, adjoining fields, that were obviously intensively cultivated but now lay fallow, bear witness to the relatively high cultural state that must have reigned here before new conditions made way for the most crippling circumstances.
The Armenian farmers were peaceful, willing to work and represented an important source of tax for the Treasury. They generally used weapons only for defence, when the rapacious and lazy Kurdish riff-raff came down from the mountains to rob them of the fruits of their hard labour.
There are no traces left of Armenians in Gumushkhana. The Armenian quarter, which gives proof of the wealth of the former owners, is in a reasonably good state. Some of the Armenians have been exiled to the western end of Asian Turkey, but most of them were killed in Gümüchhane itself. We stayed for a few hours in what was once a very bustling town. Sitting together with Kurdish notabilities in a coffee house, the most dreadful details of the Armenian massacres were told with rare frankness. The fact was mentioned again and again that there was not a single Armenian left in the area in question, something which we noticed more than once while continuing our journey.
We stopped in Pir-Achmed, a hamlet consisting of just a few houses. The Russian Supreme Command had been situated there for quite some time. The road forks behind Pir Achmed: one fork leads to Erzurum, the other to Erzindjan.
Early the next morning we moved on again. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, after having passed several deserted villages that had been burned down, we reached the little town of Kösse. There are also traces of great destruction here. It was inhabited by Kurds. Only a few beggars were out. The Commander of this base assigned us the finest house as a place to spend the night, although there was not a single window left in it. The Russians had set up a large supply camp in Kösse, completely surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence, as well as an airport. A small Turkish convoy is guarding the supplies that have been stacked up in tents and left behind.
Our journey continued the next day and took us as far as Sinbadur, a small Kurdish village about 3 kilometres off the road that has been spared by the events. It is made up of some 50 stone huts. It is inhabited by Kizil Bushis, a variety of the Shiite religion with a leaning towards Yezidism. We spent the night in a roomy reception hall in the house of the village elder. Soon all of the male population in the village had gathered together, both inside and outside the hall. They brought large quantities of eggs, milk, honey and did not cease to reiterate their sympathy for Germany. The people were very warm-hearted and invited us to stop at their village on our way back. They declined any money and were only prepared to accept a few tins of sardines.
[description of difficulties while travelling follows] Generally, the Sipik-Kor Pass cannot be crossed from the beginning of December until the middle of May. Boards are put up to keep out the rest of the world during that time. While descending, we came across several smaller villages that had been burned down.
At 3 o’clock on the morning of 30 April, we finally reached Erzindjan, the capital of the independent Mutessarifat of the same name. Nothing had been prepared for our stay, despite all kinds of telegrams that were supposedly sent and orders supposedly given. With chattering teeth – it was two degrees below zero – we waited at the telegraph station until 6 a.m. Only then were the two Turkish captains who accompanied us successful in obtaining quarters for us in the ‘Beledije’ (the mayor’s office).
At first, after the depressing experiences of the past week, Erzindjan appeared to be a friendly change of atmosphere. The layout of the town is lovely, not typically Turkish at all. The main square, with its various government buildings built in the Turkish monumental style, would grace any city. All of the houses are surrounded by lovely gardens. Modern Erzindjan is considered as having been founded by Mushir Zekki Pasha. For almost 20 years, until 1908, he played the role of a viceroy there. The army corps in Diyabekir, Harput and Erzurum were under his command. At the same time, the Sultan had made him the head of the 66 Hamidie regiments, which were founded in 1897. He had a great deal of initiative. He not only built magnificent barracks that leapt to the eye, but also two cloth factories, a leather factory, as well as others. Zekki Pasha had public parks laid out in different places in the delightful area surrounding the town, which is crowned by snow-capped mountains. Various figures are given for the population. It is approximately correct that, before the war, there were about 20,000 Moslems in Ersindjian, including 2,000 Kurds from the Dersim area and 10,000 Armenians. According to information from government authorities there, the town is now inhabited by 3,000 Moslems. Those who had fled, in part, to the Kurdish area are now slowly returning. During our three-day stay we paid a visit to the Mutsharif (chairman of the regional council). An intelligent Arab, who had also just arrived and, until then, been working in administrative offices in Syria. He was unable to give us his own opinion of the events of the past three years. He merely gave us a list of the crimes that had been committed by Armenians. For the sake of politeness I accepted the list, but I refuse to make use of it. It is so obviously biased that it cannot lure anyone. We received almost the exact same list from the military commander. I asked how many Armenians were still in Erzindjan or had returned, and both gentlemen answered: none. We convinced ourselves of the dreadful truth of this information by looking for ourselves.
The Moslem town suffered relatively little damage to its buildings during the events. The Armenian town, which is a little way away, has been completely destroyed and is deserted. It gives the impression of being a huge cemetery. Only parts of the outer walls of the houses are still standing. Their height and the circumference of the houses allows us to determine the prosperity of the Armenians there. One afternoon, gendarmes accompanied us to the Armenian quarter. We looked at the inside of a number of houses, all of which were nothing but mounds of rubble. Here and there, the gendarmes removed the top layer of rubble. We saw human body parts, heads, hands, feet, everywhere. They wanted to show us more of this human tragedy, but I ordered the group to turn back. The buildings of two of the three Armenian churches in the quarter are still standing, but inside the buildings everything has been completely wrecked, including the floors. Wild dogs run loose there. The third church, which houses the bishop’s buildings, is a mound of rubble. As we found out without question on the spot, strong Armenian gangs under the leadership of Mrat Pasha took hold of the town and the plateau after the Russians retreated from Erzindjan at the end of January 1918. The Armenians carried out a reign of terror. The Moslem population was taken in groups of 25 - 30 men, women and children to the Armenian quarter, where they disappeared. One afternoon we took a trip to the parks that had been laid out along the bridge over the Euphrates River. The gendarmes told us how, in 1915, they drove the Armenian population, headed by the Bishop of Erzindjan, to the Euphrates and drowned it. Kurds kept watch along both banks, shooting anyone who dared to save themselves. We were shown the places where the victims of this atrocious inhumanity were driven, almost naked in the wintry cold, by their tormentors into the floods. We also visited the huge barracks in the surrounding area, in which 1,500 Armenians were literally slaughtered, all at the same time. One of the gendarmes set the number of people he himself had killed at 50, another at 27. These people boasted of this as if it were a glorious deed, without our asking about it. We were careful not to investigate in any one direction in order to avoid any hint of bias.
At any rate, one thing appears to be irrefutable: the Armenian town of Erzindjan was already a victim of destruction in 1915. As I was also able to find out without a doubt, the Turkish Moslem population neither in the Mutessarifat of Erzindjan nor in the Vilayet of Erzurum took part in the Armenian massacres. Where this was the case, it was only a matter of an insignificant number of exceptions. In Constantinople, organised gangs under the leadership of the Cirkassian, Hassan, gendarmes, but above all Kurdish troops must be regarded as the actual instigators of the massacres. Both here and often during the rest of my journey the true regret of the simple Turkish folk for the annihilation of the Armenians was expressed to me. In the towns, they often carried out indispensable trades for which no substitute has as yet been found.
The Turkish government authorities, however, could give a certain “bona fide” reply to inquiries sent to them from Istanbul in 1915, whether it was true that large Armenian massacres had taken place in Erzindjan, “There is absolute peace in Erzindjan; no massacres have occurred here.” After all, the bloody deeds were carried out 3 – 4 kilometres from Erzindjan.
We spent several very pleasant hours in the company of an Austrian-Hungarian mountain artillery and shooting school convoy that had been set up 14 days ago under the command of Captain Hupka in an Armenian village several kilometres from Erzindjan. The village had been burned down and was deserted. The good men, who came from Styria and Tyrol, had displayed great skill in repairing a kiosk found there that had formerly belonged to Mushir Zekki Pasha, the former military Supreme Commander, making it fit for habitation. Both Captain Hupka, the leader of the convoy, as well as his three officers who came from the opposite direction from the south via Harput to Erzindjan, told us that the Armenian population had been radically annihilated everywhere there as well.
On the morning of 3 May, we left Erzindjan. Three Armenian towns situated on the plain offered the same view as the previous ones. We covered almost 70 kilometres that day, because our horses were well rested. Sassa, which we passed through, was a scene of devastation, as was Bidje, where we spent the night.
On the 4th we continued our journey to Mamachattun (Terdshan). A larger town with a mixed Turkish and Armenian population. Once again, a scene of devastation, only a few houses were still in a fair state. We stayed at the Kaymakan’s. He had only arrived from Constantinople a week earlier. He knew nothing of this area, nor could he tell us anything of what had happened in the past.
Only several Moslem families that had returned were to be seen. The historical monuments of the town from the Seldjuk regime were also partly affected by the events. Before reaching the town, there are two large Russian cemeteries with several hundred soldiers’ graves. These are still in good condition. The insides of the small, wooden, Russian churches with their double crosses that were built have already been emptied.
Towards noon on the 5th we left for Karabijik. This area is barren and the ground is rocky. The smaller towns we passed through were deserted and destroyed. [details of a train built by the Russians follow]
On the morning of the 7th we left Karabijik and arrived in Ilidja at about 10 a.m., a town situated at the entrance to the Erzurum plateau. We stayed there until about 2 p.m. Ilidja, a village with a population of 4,000, served the wealthy inhabitants of Erzurum as their summer village. Two carbonated baths with huge basins have been preserved. Otherwise, Ilidja has practically been destroyed and its population, consisting mainly of Armenians, no longer exists. Only a few coachmen and military troops passing through had stopped to rest there in order to enjoy a refreshing bath, as we did. A Mudir with five gendarmes, who had arrived the previous day, made up the entire living inventory of what had once been a flourishing bath.
The plateau of Erzurum that lies ahead of us measures a length of about 24 kilometres, while its width varies between 12 and 15 kilometres. You can see eight towns. All of them were inhabited by Armenian farmers. We pass through three of them on our journey to Erzurum. They are completely deserted; only the outer walls of the houses remain standing. The other villages on what is otherwise a fertile and blessed plateau will no doubt be in a similar state. There was not a whiff of smoke to be seen anywhere.
At 6 p.m. we reached Erzurum. The Military Commander and Deputy Vali there, Lieutenant Colonel Redjeb Bey, an Albanian, had ensured that we would be given good quarters. We stayed in Erzurum for four days. The authorities there were extremely accommodating.
Before the war broke out, Erzurum had a population of about 48,000, of which 12,000 were Armenians. Some parts of the town had suffered from the bombardment by the Russians. I found the Armenian business quarter, situated in the main part of the bazaar, to be completely destroyed. The outer walls of the Armenian churches were preserved. The insides had been emptied and turned into supply camps and other depots. At the time we were there, 1,500 Moslem families- close to 9,000 people - were able to return to Erzurum.
There was not a single Armenian left in Erzurum. Only one inhabitant of Christian faith was left, Georgios, a Greek who was assigned to serve us, but relieved of this duty only 24 hours later, no doubt out of fear that he might tell us more than the authorities would have liked.
The authorities attempted to force upon us a list of the atrocities committed by the Armenians. However, the Armenian massacres already began in 1915. The proximity of the Russian border aided the escape of a number of Armenians. Others were dragged off into the interior, and about 6,000 were killed. Today, three years later, the buildings housing Armenian businesses, structures made of solid stone, are still full of a penetrating, musty smell. The Armenians who sought refuge in the large Armenian cathedral were all slain.
The Armenians occupied Erzurum after the retreat of the Russians from the end of January until 9 March 1916. Under the leadership of French officers, commanded by Colonel Morel, they now began to carry out atrocious acts. 750 Moslems, women, men, children, were locked in a han, 500 in one on the opposite side. Then, petrol was poured over both houses and they were set on fire. Until now, these houses had not been opened. In our “honour”, this was to be done in the presence of Redjeb Bey. I will never overcome the terrible impression I had as one charred corpse after the other appeared under the rubble that was shovelled away. Locations full of horror and dismay, as if the vulcanised ground had to call up eruptions of unspeakable passion and revenge-filled hatred among humans. When the Turks unexpectedly marched into Erzurum on 9 March, those Armenians that had not been withdrawn, who attempted to defend themselves in a fortress-like han, were bombarded and later killed during the surrender.
A great number of details could still be given, but that would be going too far in this report. They may perhaps complete the general picture that is based on the above facts, but they cannot alter it.
On the 11th we left Erzurum. [description of journey and details of the train follow]
Our only longer, almost 24-hour, unfriendly stay was in Chorassan. The town is completely burned down. Many Armenians were able to reach the Russian border and pass on into the Caucasian area. Human culture has suffered a catastrophe in these countries, and my pen refuses to describe it. During the course of more than three weeks we covered almost 600 kilometres, a corridor of death such as has not been recorded anywhere else in history. If only because this path, that can be given no epithet, continues to the south towards Bitlis and Van, and to the east towards Baiburt, with the same barbaric devastation and bestial massacres.
The last thing I want to do is formulate a charge or a defence. That is not my task. A historical record in the near or distant future will have to take on this task. An individual is not capable of doing this, no matter how great the insight is he believes to have won and despite any circumstances he believes to have taken account of. But it is my duty to give a bare description of what I have seen, without any exaggeration whatsoever, on the contrary.