5 enclosures. 3 carrier bags with 11 volumes of files.
With reference to the instructions given to me on the 30th prev.1 , I enclose Decree No. 590 dated 4 August 1915 together with the corresponding draft of a letter. To complete the picture, I enclose volumes 17 – 27 of the local Armenian files.
[The author of this report is Legation Secretary Hoesch. It was edited by Ambassadorial Counsellor Neurath and written for the Ambassador in office. A detailed version can be found in the enclosure to Document 1916-09-18-DE-001]
Re: Publication of a White Book on the Armenian Affairs.
I, too, consider it a very good thing, yes, even necessary, to publish our stand in the matter concerning the deportations of the Armenians. We have been suspected of joint responsibility for that oppressiveness by not only our public enemies and not only the hostile elements in neutral countries; charges have also been raised against us by the most various circles in Germany that, if nothing else, reproach us for being too lax in our attempts to ease the rigorous measures of Turkish government organs. Public justification is therefore necessary. This must be carried out by us, after our attempts showed that it is not to be expected from the Turks.
The report by the Imperial Embassy and our consular authorities included extensive material for Your Excellency that could be used for this purpose. It makes the indisputable fact clear that a widespread Armenian movement against the government existed in Turkey, and that it became necessary for the government to suppress this movement during the confusion caused by the war. The movement also secretly took hold of those circles that had formerly shown a pro-Turk attitude. These elements were also incited for decades; the younger generation was raised in the conviction that the lot of the Armenians could only be improved by violent action against the Turkish government. The teachers concealed the fact, however, that formerly the Armenians lively peacefully and in a satisfied manner in the tolerant state of Turkey and never had cause for a rebellious movement.
It is, however, without doubt clear that the stimulation for the traitorous actions of the Armenians, originally as well as lately, was not given by this hard-working tribe, but brought in from outside. The activities of the Armenian “committees” in London, Manchester and other British cities, in Paris, Marseilles, etc., that became more intensive about three decades ago, are only too well known. Their work received all kinds of stimulation and support, especially from those nations that always acted as if they were friends of Turkey. These “friends”, who concluded the Contract of Hunkiar-Iskelessi and others with the Sublime Porte, who signed the well-known Cyprus Contract with it, who gathered a fleet in Mytilene to enforce the less honest demands of a Levantine against the Turkish government, and who so often made up or exaggerated “Turkish atrocities” so that the riots caused by goaded parts of the Christian population that took place and provoked Turkish revenge would be forgotten; 20 years previously, these same friends had brought about the well-known Armenian assassinations, which were followed by huge massacres. There can be no doubt that the machinations have come from the side that is known today under the collective name of “Entente” and that these have led to the subversive activities of the Armenians, especially during the World War. If warlike means could not be used to deal with the Turks, inner revolts were to be used to shatter the government’s power. It is known how Russian money rolled into the Armenian provinces along the border; how the Russians advancing against the Turkish armies are not only joined by numerous Armenians, but that excellent Armenian personalities (deputies) are standing at the head of Russian troops to lead them against their native Turkish country. Turkey saw itself confronted by powerful enemies in all the corners of the Empire, who used financial support to keep up a lively espionage and who found many willing accomplices in a country in which espionage has always been very widespread. No further reason is required why, under these circumstances, suspicious elements had to be removed from the coastal strips and the border provinces, why the war laws had to be carried out so rigorously against numerous Christian citizens convicted of treason.
It is certainly extremely regrettable that an entire people had to suffer in such measure under the subversive activities induced by foreign influences and carried out by a limited number of nationalists who had been “won over”. The moral responsibility for this must be borne by those who initiated the “suggestions”. Under the present, difficult conditions, which other European nation would not also have taken the strictest measures against traitors in its own country?
Unfortunately, it must be admitted that, despite the justification of the strict special measures that the Turkish government saw itself forced to take, their implementation led to the regretful acts of violence. It cannot be assumed that the orders for this were sent out by the central government, even if any means were acceptable to individual members, who had set the annihilation of the hated Armenians as their objective. Many provincial governments and their subordinate organs must be reproached even more harshly for expanding in many cases the necessary hard measures against the guilty to include the innocent, thereby displaying a despotism and brutality that must be severely condemned by the entire world.
Right at the very beginning of such procedures, therefore, and as soon as the regrettable facts became known from the reports by the consulates, the Imperial Embassy initiated earnest petitions at the Sublime Porte without waiting for instructions from the Imperial Government, issuing serious and repeated warnings both orally and in writing concerning measures that had gone too far, and in particular demanding that the persecution of the innocent should stop.
The Imperial Embassy has thereby taken the point of view that it does not contradict the recognized diplomatic principle, making it inadmissible to become involved in the inner affairs of a foreign country, if it gives the Turkish government friendly pieces of advice, particularly considering the special moral obligation placed upon it by the existing arms alliance. In fact, our true friendship for Turkey could not have been proven more effectively than by emphatically and openly expressing our opinion, with no care for the fact that this embarrassed leading circles. As instructed, the consular representatives of the Reich also attempted to end these violent measures through their influence on the provincial governments by warning them urgently of the political, moral and cultural consequences. In addition, the Embassy and the consulates did their best towards easing the existing misery and, wherever possible, to intervene financially and have bread distributed, etc. Various consular reports that provide an in-depth description of the misery caused by the overenthusiasm or the ill-disposition of subordinate organs of the municipal governments give more exact information on the steps that were undertaken in this regard. If, considering the extent of the misery, the measures of our consular representatives were not sufficient to provide far-reaching assistance, the petitions sent by them to the central government, which were supported by the other foreign diplomatic representatives, did manage to end the persecution of innocent people. I have no reports of new excesses. But this does not eliminate the misery that has been caused.
If German circles have reproached the Imperial diplomatic missions concerning our continued activities to issue warnings and give assistance, this can only be due to insufficient information. It is no further cause for wonder that our enemies accuse us of supporting and even active engagement in the atrocities that have taken place, as happened recently in the British House of Parliament. It should be beneath our dignity and also useless, considering that the supposed eye-witnesses cannot be found, to refute such assertions. In contrast, our consular reports speak quite plainly. Our indigenous circles should be informed of them together with the steps undertaken by the Embassy in order to convince them that, from the very beginning, the Imperial diplomatic missions in Turkey did not neglect their duty. If our attempts were not at first crowned by success, this is due to the circumstances arising from the war as well as the animosity against the Armenians that has existed for a long time and been aroused by foreign agitation, finding its way deep into the Moslem people.
The fact is, however, extremely regrettable that even the highest state officials and officers in the province were among those who did the least to counter the widely spread opinion that it was we who advised that the Armenians be persecuted, yes, and obviously even spread this opinion themselves. It is no wonder that the upright Turk believed this version passed on by his authorities; but it must be regretted even more that the central government did not oppose this immediately on its own initiative, thus giving the impression of being jointly responsible for spreading such a fairy tale. I will once again strongly oppose this.
If, in my report above, I have touched on this matter once again and repeated that which has already been reported, it was for the sake of giving a brief summary that might serve as an introduction to a publication. I have just received the enclosed report from the management of the Anatolian Railway Company, written by a German who is presently in their service and has lived in Turkey for many years. Generally, this report contains a not incorrect judgement on the Armenian question, and I leave it to your discretion to use parts of this (without revealing the source).
[From the Chairman of the Baghdad Railway in Constantinople, Franz Johannes Günther, to the Counsellor at the Embassy in Constantinople, Neurath, 10 August 1915]
I enclose a report that I have received which you may use as you see fit.
I remain, Respectfully yours,
… However, I use the opportunity at hand to send you confidential news via an intermediary agent. This courier is also able to give you confidential information that must be withheld from the public.
This concerns the extensive persecution of the Armenians in the eastern parts of the Ottoman Empire. Before I go on to give details, I would like to explain that I am no friend of what, to me, is a very dislikeable people. I know for certain that, seduced by the Russians, the Armenians were prepared to rise against Turkey; I have gained knowledge of the fact that large numbers of bombs, military weapons and bullets were found in many Armenian houses; I know that Armenians in Samsun and Dört Yol gave signals to enemy ships, making them guilty of treason; I have heard that they murdered Turks in Van and Bitlis; in short, I know that strict and exceptional measures were needed to ensure the country’s safety.
Certainly no one would have been upset if the guilty had been publicly executed in groups, but unfortunately this only happened in individual cases, and unfortunately there are definite signs that the Armenians in the east, despite all of the denials in German newspapers, are systematically being completely slaughtered; in short, that we are confronted with the annihilation of a people comparable only to the Roman Bar Kokhba Wars against the Jewish people.
It is clear to me why the German government agreed to the removal of the dangerous, pro-Russian people from the border and coastal towns, but it is quite impossible that it can agree with the slaughtering of the Armenians, as the Turkish people here have been taught – and how often, unfortunately, have I been assured of this by the people and the military. Yes, I was even asked to recognise how well the “work” was being done.
I have travelled throughout the eastern part of the Vilayet of Angora, the Mutessariflik Kaysarie, the country north of Kisyl Irmak, as well as a large part of the Vilayet of Sivas. In the latter, I found some of the villages completely empty, some of them robbed of their male inhabitants. I watched with my own eyes as pretty women were dragged off by Turks, saw Turks come out of the bushes with Armenian women and heard the screaming and wailing of women and girls coming from locked houses. I watched as the pitiful household goods of these people were carried off on pack animals and carts. My presence did not bother the looters; on the contrary, they happily assured me that Germany had ordered this and I should take a good number of chickens with me, which I could use on my journey.
North of Shar Kishla, on the right embankment of the Kisyl Irmak, I met a soldier I have known for years, as well as others. I was told that they had shot about 2,000 Armenians in a small ravine, not far from the nearby hot baths, only a few days ago.
When I arrived in Shar Kishla in the evening, I saw about 300 ox carts, loaded with Armenian women and children carrying nothing but ragged blankets with them and often not even that, no household goods, no provisions: it was sad to see these starving and miserable people; in total, there must have been about 12 – 15000 people. Supposedly, they were to be sent to the barren country of Uzunjaila, a dreary place situated between the Euphrates River and the volcanic area east of Argaus. It is impossible to feed a larger number of people here; I know the area from former journeys. In the end, the soldiers admitted openly that these people were to be led to the “ditches”, and the fate of these miserable people is, after all, death; listening to them talk, there was no doubt about it.
In the town of Sivas there were no more Armenians to be seen; women and children, old people had been deported to the Uzunjaila area. The old Koran schools of the Seljuks had been turned into prisons that were stuffed full of Armenians; the officer accompanying me said, “We will kill them all.” The Armenians shops in Sivas have all been closed and sealed off. The town has 60 – 80000 inhabitants and probably 30000 Armenians, who hold the important trade in this town in their hands; it has been destroyed for a long time to come.
When I returned to Kaisaria, I met long columns of more well-off Armenians who were being led from Samsun on long detours via Sille to Sivas; among them were Catholic priests and nuns of Armenians nationality. I wonder about that; if one wants to clear up areas along the Russian border of dangerous elements, one does not lead them back to the east!3
Again, long columns of Armenian women and children had arrived in Shar Kishla who were to be deported to the Uzunjaila area. I met Count Schulenburg’s expedition there, whom I informed of my observations. I had also found out that in the area around Ersindjan women and children had been slaughtered by soldiers in the most terrible way, that Red Cross nurses who expressed their indignation were expelled from the country by the Mutessarif of Ersindjan, roughly treated and escorted by Zaptiehs, without any effective objections being made by the head of the German Medical Ward.4
I have been in this country for 20 years, and this is the third Armenian persecution that I have observed. I may say that this last one is the most thorough, because it is almost a certainty that the entire population of the Vilayets of Erzurum, Sivas and the bordering provinces has been killed or will be killed.
When I returned to Kaisaria after having been away for almost a month, the male population was just being led away and, strangely enough, back to the east to the great grave of the Armenian people. Kaisaria is an extremely important place for trade; it rests completely in the hands of the Armenians. I found all of the Armenian shops closed, the bazaar desolate, industry, weaving and carpet factories suppressed. All of this can have only the most bitter consequences.
“Is there proof of what you have told me?” Count von der Schulenburg asked me. The gravest circumstantial evidence surely; I know the country and the people well, better than Dr. E. Jäckh and his companions, designated by the German press as “competent authorities” on Turkey, who wrote a treatise on the Adana massacres that contradicted the truth, who claimed that a regiment of Anatolian Rediefs was better than the First Guards Regiment on foot. This Redief which he held in higher esteem than our Guards is now carrying out heroic deeds and killing women and children!
Our German press is denying the massacres in good faith, but it is being deceived.
We Germans are waging our war in a decent manner; we are being slandered by our enemies, cursed; but we can despise them, because we have only shed the blood of the guilty. If someone is a traitor, he should die; thousands of the Armenians are guilty. They should be publicly executed. But murdering women and children, annihilating an entire people that, even if offensive, is still a necessity for the commercially untalented Turks: apart from the inhumanity of it, this is just too stupid, for it leads to the bankruptcy of the nation and makes the country unable to survive.
As our enemies are everywhere, we must avoid giving them a reason for a justified attack, and demand of our allies that they carry out this war in a humane manner, albeit with all necessary strictness, in both our honour and theirs. Our brave army, which does not differentiate among religions, prays the Dutch prayer of thanks, but we cannot appear before a just God if we do not practise justice ourselves. It is wrong on the part of Germany to believe that the lives of thousands of Armenians do not matter, a statement made by German officers; the existence of hundreds of thousands, perhaps even several million people is at stake. All those who are guilty shall be publicly condemned without mercy, but there must be no murders, for we will have to pay for this.
I would not dream of publicising what I have seen and heard as it would do harm to my country; but you will easily find a way of informing the Embassy, which will have heard of many things, of my observations. The punishment of the Armenians must be carried out legally and handled in such a manner that we can justify it before God and before our friends, even our enemies, and also before the German people themselves.
I believe it would be a very good thing if the Imperial Embassy were to send a special mission to the East to gain reliable knowledge of the sad occurrences there and to make urgent petitions; but upright people should carry this out, who can and wish to see everything. The heads of our hospitals in the East, in the immediate vicinity of which dreadful things are happening, are unfortunately being led by the nose and lied to by the Turkish authorities.
If you should wish to learn more, the courier of this confidential report would most likely be inclined to give you confidential information.
2This Decree No. 590 has also been printed in Document 1915-08-04-DE-001.
3Note by Mordtmann: Informed Monsignor Naslian on 11 August, who referred to J No. [Journal Number ....] and inquired into the fate of these priests and nuns.
4 Note by Mordtmann: Dr. Colley, Miss Elvers and Miss Thora Wedel-Jahrlsberg; cf. p. 5, second-last paragraph.