It was a self-inflicted disaster by a shortsighted leadership blinded by imperialist ambitions. Had the Ottomans heeded the Entente's repeated pleas for neutrality, their empire would most likely have weathered the storm. But they did not, and this blunder led to the destruction of the Ottoman Empire by the British army and the creation of the new Middle Eastern state system on its ruins. Yet even this momentous development was not inevitable, and its main impetus came not from the great powers but from a local imperial aspirant: Hussein ibn Ali of the Hashemite family, the sharif of Mecca and custodian of Islam's two holiest shrines. As late as June 1915, nearly a year after the outbreak of World War I, an interdepartmental British committee regarded the preservation of a decentralized and largely intact Ottoman Empire as the most desirable option. ("Report of the Committee on Asiatic Turkey;' June 30, 1915, CAB 27/1, pp. 4, 29.)
By October 1915 however, the British high commissioner in Egypt, Sir Arthur Henry McMahon, had been sufficiently impressed by Hussein's promises to raise the Arabic-speaking Ottoman subjects in revolt against the sultan to accept his vision of a successor empire and to agree to his main territorial demands, albeit in a tentative and highly equivocal fashion. Hussein's achievement was nothing short of extraordinary. Notwithstanding his pretense to represent "the whole of the Arab Nation without any exception” the sharif represented little more than himself. (Correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon, His Majesty's High Commissioner at Cairo, and the Sherif of Mecca July 1915-March 1916, presented by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Parliament by Command of His Majesty," Cmd. 5957, London, 1939, p. 3)
The minimal backing he received from a few neighboring tribes had far less to do with a yearning for independence than with the glitter of British gold and the promise of booty. Hussein could not even count on the support of his own local constituency. As late as December 1916, six months after the sharif and his two prominent sons, Abdallah and Faisal, launched what came to be known euphemistically as "The Great Arab Revolt;' the residents of Mecca were "almost pro- Turks.” ("Intelligence Report;' Dec. 28,1916, Fa 686/6, p. 176; Arab Bulletin, June 23,1916, p. 47 and Feb. 6, 1917, pp. 57-58, Fa 882/25; McMahon to Grey, act. 20, 1915, Fa 371/2486/154423.)
Not unlike modern Islamists, the Palestinian-American academic Edward Said was impressed by Ottoman colonialism, and he advocated the destruction of the State of Israel and the relegation of its Jewish population to a minority group on the lines of the Ottoman colonial model.
It is doubtful whether the former Ottoman subjects would share this view. This imperial notion, by its very definition, posits the domination of one ethnic, religious, or national group over another, and the Ottoman Empire was no exception. It might have tolerated the existence of vast non-Muslim subject populations in its midst, as did earlier Muslim (and non-Muslim) empires, but only provided that these acquiesced in their legal and institutional inferiority in the Islamic order of things. Whenever these groups dared to question this status, let alone attempt to break free from the Ottoman colonial yoke, they were brutally suppressed. The simmering tension between the Ottomans and their more nationally aware subjects first boiled over in Greece, when in January 1822 a newly convened National Assembly adopted a constitution, elected the first president of the Hellenic Republic, and issued a Declaration of Greek Independence: "The Greek nation calls Heaven and Earth to witness that in spite of the dreadful yoke of the Ottomans, which threatened it with destruction, it still exists.” See Russia's Foreign Secretary Nesselrode's instructions to the ambassador in Constantinople, Feb. 23/March 7, 1821, in Ministerstvo inostrannykh del SSSR, Vneshniaia politika Rossii XIX i nachala XX veka: dokumenty rossiiskogo ministerstva inostrannykh del, Moscow, 1980, Ser. 2, Vol. 7, pp. 36-38; Russian Circular No. 8, March 18/30, 1821, in Barbara Jelavich, Russia and Greece during the Regency of King Othon 1832-1835: Russian Documents on the First Years of Greek Independence (Tessalonika: Institute of Balkan Studies, 1962), Appendix 1, pp. 123-24. For the Greek national awakening see, for example, Richard Clogg, The Movement for Greek Independence, 1770-1821, 1976; Douglas Dakin, The Greek Struggle for Independence, 1821-1833, 1973.
To Sultan Mahmud II (1808-39), the declaration was an unabashedly treacherous act. The Greeks were the most privileged and prosperous of his Christian subjects, enjoying a high degree of autonomy and achieving pride of place in the empire's administrative and commercial life, and the sultan saw no conceivable reason for them to bite the hand that fed them. As far as he was concerned, the Greeks were a subject people, had always been and would always be. The notion of an independent Greek nation-state on a par with its imperial master was not only an unspeakable affront to Ottoman-Muslim dignity but also a subversive ideal that could undermine the very foundations of the Ottoman colonial order: Whereas it has become a sacred duty upon all and every member professing the Mahomettan Faith, from first to last to form themselves in one body [i.e., the universal umma] the encouragement of such idle reports [that is, nationalist sedition] would, God forbid, be a means of operating with those very purposes which are peculiar to the infidel race, and be the cause of rendering dissension permanent among the Mussulmans: which is unworthy of man professing the true Faith We are true believers, and all in strict union together. (PRO, Proclamation addressed to the Janissary Aghas on May 8,1821, FO 78/98.)
Before long, the Ottoman-Greek confrontation deteriorated into an endless exercise in violence. Almost immediately the Greek rebels embarked on wanton massacres of their hated Muslim masters, with the Ottomans responding with ferocious attacks on Greek quarters in the towns of Anatolia. In Istanbul itself, the sultan shocked all of Christendom, especially Orthodox Russia, by having the venerable patriarch, Gregorius V, publicly hanged at dawn on Easter Day. (Stratford to Castlereagh, May 1, 1821, encl. in FO 78/98; Stratford to Londonderry, June 12, 1821, FO 78/99/46; Russian despatch, June 22/July 4, 1821, in Jelavich, Russia and Greece, Appendix. II, pp. 124-28.)
It mattered not that Gregorius had preached restraint to his congregation; as far as the sultan was concerned, the patriarch, as the head of the Orthodox millet, was the guarantor of the community's loyalty. Having failed to deliver this, he had to pay the ultimate price. As his forces failed to subdue the uprising, Mahmud II was gradually pushed to approach the Egyptian governor Muhammad Ali, promising him the island of Crete in return for his services. The ambitious viceroy agreed and sent his son Ibrahim Pasha to crush the Greek revolt. This Ibrahim did with great enthusiasm, sending a bag of rebels' ears to Istanbul to prove his efficiency. He was then ordered to move against the Greek mainland, after Muhammad Ali had extracted further concessions from the sultan. By early June 1827 the Greek garrison in Athens had been forced to surrender. This alarmed the European powers, which feared the all-out destruction of the Greeks, and on February 3,1830, after three more years of bloodshed and mayhem, an international conference in London ceremoniously declared that "Greece shall form an independent State.” For the text of the London Protocol see Thomas Erskine Holland, ed., The European Concert in the Eastern Question: A Collection of Treaties and Other Public Acts, Oxford, 1885, Text 1.)
Greece's new government was to be a monarchy, and its territorial integrity would be guaranteed by Britain, Russia, and France. On May 7, 1832, the three powers, together with Bavaria, signed a convention that named Prince Otto of Bavaria the king of Greece, and provided for a much-needed loan for the new monarch, who arrived in Athens in February 1833. This was a truly revolutionary development for the Ottoman Empire, signaling the first loss of territory to the rising force of nationalism and the onset of a steady process of decolonization that was to squeeze it out of its European provinces by the end of the nineteenth century. The next chapter in this saga unfolded in the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in the summer of 1848, when a revolutionary government adopted a constitution that abolished feudal rights and social distinctions and declared an independent Romania, comprising the two principalities. And while the Ottomans managed to arrest this development temporarily with the support of the European powers, which were equally anxious to stem the mounting tide of nationalism before it wrecked their own empires, by the mid-1870s the Danubian crisis had been fully rekindled, this time developing into a string of revolts across the Balkans.
The Balkan powder keg was sparked in July 1875 by a peasant uprising in the province of Herzegovina, at the southwestern extreme of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, which spread rapidly to engulf the neighboring province of Bosnia. "Dead bodies were lying in various corners unburied; and we noticed the head of a boy in one of the streets blackening in the sun;' the British consul in Sarajevo reported of a typical "battlefield" scene: ''A little Turkish girl was brought to us, wounded in the throat, and we were told that an insurgent was on the point of cutting off her head when she was snatched from him as far as could be ascertained some fifty or sixty persons perished on both sides during the attack [on the previous day]."( Holmes to Elliot, Sept. 28, 1875, encl. in No. 32, in Great Britain, Foreign Office, "Turkey, No. 2 , 1876, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Correspondence Respecting Affairs in the Bosnia and Herzegovina"; hereafter "Turkey, No. 2 .1876.)
Ottoman efforts to suppress the insurrection triggered a cycle of violence, and before long the turmoil in Bosnia-Herzegovina was reverberating throughout the region. In Serbia and Montenegro nationalist passions were flying high. In the port town of Salonika, foreign consuls were murdered. A revolt in Bulgaria in September 1875 invoked the Bosnian insurrection as "the spark which will set the whole Balkan Peninsula in flames and will lay the Turkish monarchy in ruins." For Ottoman attempts to crush the uprising see Safvet Pasha to Musurus Pasha, Aug. 9, 1875, doe. 10; Safvet Pasha to Musurus Pasha, Aug. 22, 1875, doe. 15; proclamation by Server Pasha in Holmes to Derby, encl. 2 in No. 28; promulgation of reforms by Sultan Abdul Hamid on Oct. 3, 1875, encl. in No. 29; Holmes to Elliot, Sept. 28, 1875, encl. in No. 32; Reshid Pasha to Musurus Pasha, No. 54; Reglement respecting the functions of the executive council, No. 61, all in Turkey, No. 2 (1876).
This prognosis proved somewhat premature, as the revolt was brutally suppressed, but a year later the Bulgarians rose again in the Balkan Mountains, supported by Serbia and emigre revolutionaries. The Ottoman authorities responded heavy-handedly, and the uprising deteriorated into a bloodbath. Massacres of Bulgarians and the destruction of villages by Turkish irregulars and equally gruesome atrocities by the rebels became commonplace. By June 1876 the Ottomans had suppressed the uprising, only to be confronted with Serb and Montenegrin declarations of war.
Unlike Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serb and Montenegrin move was no spontaneous and poorly organized insurrection but a carefully planned revolt by the two most powerful South Slav nations, determined to substitute their own regional empire for the existing colonial subjugation. Yet the Ottomans had no intention of simply packing their bags and leaving. The graver the threat to their empire, the harsher their response became. Although Montenegro scored some initial successes, Serbia was soon brought to its knees. Rumors of a Serbo-Russian alliance, setting off loud alarm bells in Istanbul, turned out to be baseless. Not only had Russia not been consulted on the war, it would also not support the insurgents and made it eminently clear that if Serbia committed aggression against the Ottoman Empire, Russia would abandon it to its fate. At a meeting on July 8, a week after the Serbian declaration of war, the Russian and Habsburg foreign ministers decided not to intervene in the new conflict and agreed that none of the belligerents would be allowed to reverse the status quo ante bellum in the event of victory. This meant that the SerboMontenegrin dream of a South Slav empire could not be achieved, and in September 1876 the Ottomans routed the Serbs and advanced on Belgrade.
Had the Ottomans stopped at this point and accepted a European pacification plan for the region, they would have retained their Balkan provinces. Yet intoxication with their Serbian exploits, exacerbated by the deeply troubled personality of the new sultan, the thirty-five-year-old Abdul Hamid II, who, on August 31, 1876, replaced his half-brother, Murad V, on the throne, precluded such an eventuality. Notwithstanding his pledges of reform, which had helped him to gain power in the first place, Abdul Hamid was imbued with pan-Islamic ideals: religious conservatism, not Western - type reform, was for him the key to restoring imperial glory. Suspicious to the point of paranoia, the new sultan lived in constant fear of domestic conspiracies· and foreign machinations. He surrounded himself with an elaborate system of spies and double agents, going so far as to have all the water pipes in his palace disinterred under his own watchful eyes and replaced with new ones, running closer to the surface, to ensure that any attempt to use them for bad purposes would be instantly detected.
Aggravated by these psychological pressures, Abdul Hamid's near-messianic commitment to the preservation of Ottoman Islamic order was to have a profound impact on the domestic and foreign affairs of the empire for more than three decades. In the turbulent months of 1876 and 1877, it undermined the international efforts toward a peaceful resolution of the Balkan conflict and landed the Ottoman Empire in a disastrous war with Russia, brought to an end by the March 1878 peace treaty of San Stefano, which effectively squeezed the Ottoman Empire out of the Balkans.
Although these setbacks were somewhat reversed by a great-power congress that convened in June 1878 in the German capital of Berlin, half a millennium of Ottoman imperialism in Europe was to all intents and purposes at an end as the Muslim empire was forced to give up most of its European colonies aside from a tenuous foothold on the continent. The independence of Romania, Montenegro, and Serbia, proclaimed in San Stefano, was reaffirmed, while eastern Rumelia south of the Balkan Mountains, where the Ottomans had established their initial colonial presence, was placed under a Christian governor and made semi-autonomous. Greece received Thessaly and part of Epirus, Bosnia and Herzegovina passed to Austro- Hungarian control, and Russia received southern Bessarabia and the Asiatic territories of Kars, Ardahan, and the port of Batum on the Black Sea. Only in Macedonia and a smallish Bulgaria, completely severed from the Aegean, did the Ottomans manage to maintain a semblance of their former imperial rule. The sixty-year orgy of bloodletting and mayhem attending the Ottoman Empire's rearguard action to keep its reluctant European subjects under its domination pales in comparison with the treatment meted out to the foremost nationalist awakening in Turkey-in-Asia: that of Armenia. This discussion of the Armenian genocide draws on Efraim Karsh and Inari Karsh, Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East 1789-1923, Harvard University Press, 1999, Chapter 10.
By the second half of the nineteenth century the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire totaled some two million, three-quarters of whom resided in so-called Turkish Armenia, namely, the velayets of Erzerum, Van, Bitlis, Sivas, Kharput, and Diarbekir in eastern Anatolia. The rest, about half a million Armenians, were equally distributed in the Istanbul-eastern Thrace region and in Cilicia, in southwestern Anatolia. (For population figures see, for example, Mallet to Grey, Oct. 7, 1914, FO 371/2137/56940; "Turkey: Annual Report, 1913. By the Embassy;' FO 371/2137/79138, p.25.)
As a result of Russian agitation, European and American missionary work, and, not least, the nationalist revival in the Balkans, a surge of national consciousness began to take place within the three Armenian religious communities-Gregorian, Catholic, and Protestant. In the 1870s Armenian secret societies sprang up at home and abroad, developing gradually into militant nationalist groups. Uprisings against Ottoman rule erupted time and again; terrorism became a common phenomenon, both against Turks and against non-compliant fellow Armenians. Nationalists pleaded with the European chancelleries to enforce Ottoman compliance with the 1878 Berlin Treaty, which had obliged the empire to undertake "improvements and reforms demanded by local requirements in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds." But the great powers were reluctant to weaken the Ottoman Empire in any way, and Abdul Hamid made the best of this reluctance. In a brutal campaign of repression in 1895-96, in which nearly 200,000 people perished and thousands more fled to Europe and America, Armenian resistance was crushed and the dwindling population cowered into submission.
But not for long. Armenian nationalism continued to breathe beneath the embers, and by the early 191 Os, despite years of cultural repression, including a ban on the public use of the Armenian language and a new round of horrendous massacres (in the spring of 1909), it had been fully rekindled. In April 1913, for example, Armenian nationalists asked Britain to occupy Cilicia, from Antalya to Alexandretta, and to internationalize Istanbul and the straits as a means of "repairing the iniquity of the Congress of Berlin;' which had stipulated Ottoman reforms "in the provinces inhabited by the Armenians:' At about the same time, a committee of the Armenian National Assembly, the governing body of the Apostolic Ottoman Christians, submitted to the Russian embassy in Istanbul an elaborate reform plan for Ottoman Armenia. (Fontana to Lowther, March 25,1913, FO 371/1773/16941; Lowther to Grey, April 5,10,1913, FO 371/1773/16736; Admiralty to FO, April 15, 1913, FO 371/1775/17825.)
Bowing to international pressure, in February 1914 the Ottoman authorities accepted a Russo-German proposal for the creation of two large Armenian provinces, to be administered by European inspector-generals appointed by the great powers. This was a far cry from the Armenians' aspirations for a unified independent state, yet it was the most significant concession they had managed to extract from their suzerain, and most of them were anxious to preserve this gain, come what may. Hence, when the Ottoman Empire entered World War I the Armenians immediately strove to demonstrate their loyalty: prayers for an Ottoman victory were said in churches throughout the empire, and the Armenian patriarch of Istanbul, as well as several nationalist groups, announced their loyalty to the Ottoman Empire and implored the Armenian masses to perform their obligations to the best of their ability. Not all Armenians complied with this wish. Scores of Ottoman Armenians, including several prominent figures, crossed the border to assist the Russian campaign. Others offered to help the Entente by different means. In February 1915, for example, Armenian revolutionaries in the Cilician city of Zeitun pledged to assist a Russian advance on the area, provided they were given the necessary weapons; to the British they promised help in the event of a naval landing in Alexandretta.( Ironside to Foreign Office, March 3, 1915, and War Office to the Foreign Office, March 4,1915, FO 371/2484/25073 and 25167; Foreign Office to Ironside, March 9, 1915, FO 371/2484/28172 and 22083.)
Although these activities were an exception to the otherwise loyal conduct of the Armenian community, they confirmed the Ottoman stereotype of the Armenians as a troublesome and treacherous people. This view was further reinforced by a number of crushing defeats in the Caucasus, in which (nonOttoman) Armenians were implicated in the Russian war effort. Above all, as the largest nationally aware minority in Asiatic Turkey, the Armenians constituted the gravest internal threat to Ottoman imperialism in that domain; and with Turkey-in-Europe a fading memory and Turkey-in-Africa under AngloFrench-Italian domination, the disintegration of Turkey-in-Asia would spell the end of the Ottoman Empire, something that its rulers would never accept. Before long the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to the kind of retribution that had been inflicted on rebellious Middle Eastern populations since Assyrian and Babylonian times: deportation and exile. First the Armenians had to be rendered defenseless; then they were to be uprooted from their homes and relocated to concentration camps in the most inhospitable corners of Ottoman Asia. The Armenians' towns and villages would then be populated by Muslim refugees, their property seized by the authorities or plundered by their Muslim neighbors.
Whether or not there was a premeditated genocidal master plan, something that contemporary Ottoman leaders and latter-day Turkish politicians and academics would persistently deny, is immaterial. It must have occurred to the Ottoman leadership that the destruction of such a pervasive nationalist movement would inevitably entail suffering on an enormous scale, and that the forceful relocation of almost an entire people to a remote, alien, and hostile environment amid a general war was tantamount to a collective death sentence. In the end, whatever their initial intention, the Ottoman actions constituted nothing short of genocide. The polemical literature on this issue is immense. Leavin out the German, French, and Russian literature on the subject see, for example, Talaat Pasha, "Posthumous Memoirs of Talaat Pasha;' New York Times Current History, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Nov. 1921); Verite sur le mouvement revolutionnaire armenian et les mesures gouvernementales (Constantinople, n.p., 1916); Aspirations et agissements revolutionnaires des comites armeniens avant et apres la proclamation de la constitution ottomane (Constantinople, n.p., 1917); Ahmed Rustem Bey, The World War and the TurcoArmenian Question (Berne: Staempfli & Co., 1915); Kamuran Gtirtin, The Armenian File: The Myth of Innocence Exposed (London: K. Rustem & Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985). Some Western scholars have accepted the Turkish apologia at face value. See, for example, Stanford J. Shaw and Ezel Kural Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey: Vol. II: Reform, Revolution, and Republic: The Rise of Modern Turkey, 1808-1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 315; Bernard Lewis, interview with Le Monde, Nov. 16, 1993. Interestingly enough, in the first and second editions of his book The Emergence of Modern Turkey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961 and 1968), Lewis described these tragic events as "the terrible holocaust of 1915, when a million and half Armenians perished;' p. 356. For the opposite see, for example, Haigazn Kazarian, "The Turkish Genocide;' Armenian Review, Vol. 30 (spring 1977); Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.), The Armenian Genocide in Perspective (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1987); Hovannisian (ed.), The Armenian Genocide: History, Politics, Ethics (London: Macmillan, 1992); The Permanent Peoples' Tribunal, A Crime of Silence: The Armenian Genocide (London: Zed Books, 1985); Navasard Derymenjian, "An Important Turkish Document on the 'Exterminate Armenians' Plan;' Armenian Review, Vol. 14 (1961), pp. 53-55; William Yale, The Near East: A Modern History (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1958), pp. 230-31.
The first step in this direction was taken in early 1915, when the Armenian soldiers in the Ottoman army were relegated to "labor battalions" and stripped of their weapons. Most of these fighters-turned-Iaborers would never get the opportunity to toil for their suzerain: they would be marched out in droves to secluded places and shot in cold blood, often after being forced to dig their own graves. Those fortunate enough to escape summary execution were employed as laborers in the most inhumane conditions. At the same time, the authorities initiated a ruthless campaign to disarm the entire Armenian population of all personal weapons. This sent a tremor throughout Armenia: the 1895-96 massacres had been preceded by similar measures, and most Armenians had no illusions regarding the consequences of surrendering their arms while their Muslim neighbors were permitted to retain theirs. Nonetheless, the community's religious and political leaders persuaded their reluctant flock to do precisely that in order to avoid harsh retaliation by the government. But even this was not a simple task. The Ottoman authorities demanded that the Armenians produce a certain number of weapons, regardless of the actual number of arms-bearers, thus putting many Armenians in an impossible position: those who could not produce arms were brutally tortured; those who produced them for surrender, by purchase from their Muslim neighbors or by other means, were imprisoned for treachery and similarly tortured; those found to have hidden their arms were given even harsher treatment.
With the Armenian nation rendered defenseless, the genocidal spree entered its main stage: mass deportations and massacres. Having ethnically cleansed Cilicia by the autumn of 1915, the authorities next turned their sights to the foremost Armenian settlement area: the velayets of eastern Anatolia. First to be cleansed was the zone bordering Van, extending from the Black Sea to the Iranian frontier and immediately threatened by Russian advance; only there did outright massacres often substitute for otherwise slow deaths along the deportation routes or in the concentration camps of the Syrian desert.
The main executioner was Djevdet Pasha, the brother-in-law of the minister of war, Enver Pasha, who, in February 1915, was made governor of Van. A sadist known throughout Armenia as the "horseshoer of Bashkale" for his favorite pastime of nailing horseshoes to the feet of his victims, Djevdet inaugurated his term in office by slaughtering some eight hundred people-mostly old men, women, and children. By April the death toll had risen to ten thousand, and in the following months the population of the Van zone would be systematically exterminated. In the western and northwestern districts of Ottoman Armenia, depopulated between July and September, the Turks attempted to preserve an appearance of a deportation policy, though most deportees were summarily executed after hitting the road. In the coastal towns of Trebizond, for example, the authorities sent Armenians out to sea, ostensibly to be deported, only to throw them overboard shortly afterward. Of the deportees from Erzerum, Erzindjan, and Baibourt, only a handful survived the initial stages of the journey.
The Armenian population in western Anatolia and in the metropolitan districts of Istanbul was somewhat more fortunate, as many people were transported in (grossly overcrowded) trains for much of the deportation route, rather than having to straggle along by foot. In Istanbul, deportations commenced in late April, when hundreds of prominent Armenians were picked up by the police and sent away, most of them never to be seen again; some five thousand "ordinary" Armenians soon shared their fate. Though the majority of the city's 150,000-strong community escaped deportation, Armenians were squeezed out of all public posts, with numerous families reduced to appalling poverty. Deportations in Ankara began toward the end of July; in Broussa, in the first weeks of September; and in Adrianople, in midOctober. By early 1916 scores of deportees, thrown into a string of concentration camps in the Syrian desert and along the Euphrates, were dying every day of malnutrition and diseases; many others were systematically taken out of the camps and shot. (Viscount Bryce, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Laid Before the Houses of Parliament as an Official Paper and Now Published by Permission,London, 1916, pp. 645-49.)
The Ottoman authorities tried to put a gloss of legality and innocence on their actions. The general deportation decree of May 30, 1915, for example, instructed the security forces to protect the deportees against nomadic attacks, to provide them with sufficient food and supplies for their journey, and to compensate them with new property, land, and goods necessary for their resettlement. But this decree was a sham. For one thing, massacres and deportations had already begun prior to its proclamation. For another, the Armenians were never informed of its existence, hence could not even hypothetically have insisted on its observance. Most important, as is overwhelmingly borne out by the evidence, given both by numerous first-hand witnesses to the Ottoman atrocities and by survivors, the rights granted by the deportation decree were never honored. Take the provisions for adequate supplies for the journey and compensation for the loss of property, for example. After the extermination of the male population of a particular town or village, an act normally preceding deportations, the Turks often extended a "grace period" to the rest of the populace, namely, women, children, and the old and the sick, so they could settle their affairs and prepare for their journey. But the term normally given was a bare week, and never more than a fortnight, which was utterly insufficient for all that had to be done. Moreover, the government often carried away its victims before the stated deadline, snatching them without warning from streets, places of employment, or even their beds. Last but not least, the local authorities prevented the deportees from selling their property or their stock under the official fiction that their expulsion was to be only temporary. Even in the rare cases in which Armenians managed to dispose of their property, their Muslim neighbors took advantage of their plight to buy their possessions at a fraction of their real value. (Ibid., pp. 641-42, plus Johannes Lepsius, Der Todesgang des armenischen Volkes, 1930, pp. 301-04.)
Nor did the deportees receive even a semblance of the protection promised by the deportation decree. On the contrary, from the moment they started on their march, indeed even before they had done so, they became public outcasts, never safe from the most atrocious outrages, constantly mobbed and plundered by the Muslim population as they straggled along. Their guards connived at this brutality. There were, of course, exceptions in which Muslims, including Turks, tendered help to the long-suffering Armenians; but these were very rare, isolated instances.
Whenever the deportees arrived at a village or town, they were exhibited like slaves in a public place, often before the government building itself. Female slave markets were established in the Muslim agglomerations through which the Armenians were driven, and thousands of young Armenian women and girls were sold in this way. Even the clerics were quick to avail themselves of the bargains of the white slave market.
Suffering on the deportation routes was intense. Travelers on the Levantine railway saw dogs feeding on the bodies of hundreds of men, women, and children on both sides of the track, with women searching the clothing of the corpses for hidden treasure. In some of the transfer stations, notably Aleppo, the hub where all convoys converged, thousands of Armenians would be left for weeks outdoors, starving, waiting to be taken away. Epidemics spread rapidly, chiefly spot typhus. In almost all cases the dead were not buried for days, the reason being, as an Ottoman officer cheerfully explained to an inquisitive foreigner, that it was hoped the epidemics might get rid of the Armenians once and for all.
Independent estimates of the precise extent of the Armenian genocide differ somewhat, but all paint a stark picture of national annihilation of unprecedented proportions. In his official report to the British parliament in July 1916, Viscount Bryce calculated the total number of uprooted Armenians during the preceding year as 1,200,000 (half slain, half deported), or about two thirds of the entire community. Johannes Lepsius, the chief of the Protestant Mission in the Ottoman Empire who had personally witnessed the atrocities and had studied them thoroughly, put the total higher, at 1,396,000, as did the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, which computed the number of deaths at about 600,000 and of deportees at 786,000. And Aaron Aaronsohn, a world-renowned Zionist agronomist who set up the most effective pro-Entente intelligence network in the Middle East during World War I, estimated the number of deaths at between 850,000 and 950,000. Bryce, The Treatment of Armenians, pp. 649-51; "Annex F: Statistical Estimate Included in the Fifth Bulletin of the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief, Dated New York, 24th May 1916;' ibid., pp. YY2; Johannes Lepsius, Deutschland und Armenian, 1914-1918 (Potsdam: Tempelverlag, 1919), pp. lxv, 256; Lepsius, Der Todesgang, pp. 301-04; Aaron Aaronsohn, "Pro Armenia;' Nov. 16, 1916, p. 13, Aaronsohn Archives (Zichron Yaacov, Israel), File 2C/13; Aaronsohn, "On the Armenian Massacres: Memorandum Presented to the War Office, London, November 1916;' Aaronsohn Archives, File 2C/14.