Armenian News Network / Groong


Armenian News Network / Groong
January 18, 2010


There are those in the literary community who say, `If you want to know the facts read a newspaper, but if you want to know the truth read a novel.' That's why I decided to write the story of my mother and her family as a novel so they could represent every Armenian family deported in 1915. Trying to capture the lay of the land from where my mother was deported at age 14, I made several trips to Turkey and traveled the genocide route from Hadjin to the Syrian deserts of Der Zor. It took more than twelve years to research, write and get "A Gift In The Sunlight: An Armenian Story" published.

There are writers who say that the best part of writing is the research and I, too, found that to be true. I couldn't get enough as I read book after book written by those who were in the Ottoman Empire during the early 1900's. I scoured the book stacks at UCLA chronicling Turkey in World War I. I also went to used bookstores searching through memoir and history sections. If the word CONSTANTINOPLE appeared in the table of contents, I bought the book. In my hands I held and read fascinating tales written by journalists, diplomats and missionaries garnering their nuggets and wondering how much of their voices have been lost to history.

For example, George Abel Schreiner, a war correspondent from South Africa gained fame covering the Boer War, and he found his way to Constantinople to write about the Great War. His book "From Berlin To Baghdad" is rich with insights into the political warfare of the time. Rereading my notes from his book, I felt these descriptions would be of value to interested Armenians. These scenes give a meager taste of the world I entered during my hungry search to understand what happened to the Armenian population in 1915.

Schreiner's impression of Talaat Pasha:

Talaat Bey is a European Turk of Albanian origin. He is a large man. Upon broad shoulders and a thick neck sits a head of bold and strong lines. In his youth Talaat was a poor boy. At the time of the Turkish revolution in 1908 he was a telegraph operator at Salonika.

`Let them beware!' was uttered through his set teeth. I left Talaat with the impression that I would just as soon face an Andalusian arena bull unarmed as to run counter to the man in charge of Turkey's interior. There was something so determined, almost savage, in the man's face that my picture of military Turkey underwent a decided change as I left. I felt that this man, should the occasion arise, could be hard as steel despite his genial exterior. To gain his end he would not shrink from any measure, and since his ends were wrapped up in the welfare of the state, those measures were likely to be far-reaching. He was once poor and now he held in his hands the destiny of a state with 22 million inhabitants. He was not only Minister of the Interior, but actually the ruler of the land. The Sultan and the Grand Vizier were said to be his tools, and Enver Pasha was at best his collaborator.

His interview with ENVER PASHA:

Enver Pasha--the Ottoman Minister of War and Vice-Generalissimo of the Ottoman army. His handsome young face, he is 36, was tense with fervor. His brown eyes snapped. His well-shaped lips were firm. His torso was erect; his fist had come down on the top of his desk.

I surveyed this enthusiast and wondered how his responsible office and his great youth could be reconciled. I knew how he had come to that office. But the mere facts gave no index to the man's character, to the great strength of will he had shown, a will that would send any man to swing from a tripod in the morning if he dare question it.

`I live very temperately: that may be what saves me. I do not lose time in worrying nor am I long in making a decision. I have found that the first judgment one arrives at is the best. To consider a thing too long means procrastination. You become tired of the subject in the end; you neglect it, and it is never done. I have not the slightest use for the incompetent, the unfit, the weak, the hesitating, the evaders, the shirkers, the pleasure seekers. I am obliged to thrust them out of my way. We must show those who hate us that we do not fear them. We must show those who think little of us that we do not care a rap for their opinions. We must show the leaders in the West that we are their equals - in war as in peace.'

Schreiner's overview of the Empire:

The Ottoman Empire is in many respects an anachronism, a concrete form of inconsistency-an absurd institution. A minority governs. Minorities govern badly always. The people differ in everything that makes up mental endowment. The 22 million speak four languages and each language has several dialects, with the result that French is the medium of inter-racial intercourse. There can be no easy meeting of the mind.

I continue my study of Turkey, more especially of Constantinople. The more I look into this thing, the more I become convinced that all Turkey is a misalliance. Turk, Greek, Armenian and Arab live on the footing of cat and dog. The strife going on between them permits none to give his better qualities a chance.

Competent men would have to take charge of public affairs, not the competent agents of foreign governments and coupon-clippers, but competent Ottoman officials- men who would look upon their office not as the birthright of a conqueror race, but as a trust given them by a public needing and deserving their best efforts - all that was in them.

The Armenian massacre in Adana in 1909:

The Adana massacre is one of the things that must cause us to consider whether or not the Turk has a right to rule others. I suppose that question is easily answered. A government that tolerates mob violence, or which even encourages it, is so low and contemptible a thing that nothing whatever can be said in its favor.

The Ottoman authorities at the time excused themselves, and strange to say, had this excuse accepted by the polite governments of the entire world. The statement sufficed that the hoards of Kurd and Turkish soldiers who perpetrated this most vicious crime of our age had become unmanageable. That means that soldiers in this instance became a mob and acted like one, quite the last thing that should be condoned in a government.

Instead of hanging the entire garrison of Adana, one half for taking part in the massacre and the other half for not coming to the assistance of the Armenians, the troops were transferred and a few of the leaders of the riot were shot. But this leniency toward these vile brutes may have been due to the disinclination of the government to let the Armenians have justice.

A prequel to the genocide:

The first Armenian troubles started in the Ottoman armies in the Caucasus. Many of the Armenian soldiers had gone over to the Russians. The result of this was the disarming of all Armenian troops and their employment in the rear at road building and the like. The Armenian civil population was still quiet and with the Armenian troops in the Ottoman army disarmed the belief prevailed that the trouble was ended.

Schreiner left Constantinople on April 26, 1915 to cover the war from the interior and this is what he witnessed along the way:

These wretches were Armenians from Tertiul and Zeitoun. The Armenians had massacred a Turkish garrison and had been banished to the Anatolian high plateau to atone for the crime. The Armenians of Zeitoun had been told that the French had taken Constantinople and that the Turkish government was a thing of the past. They decided to do away with the Turkish garrison of Zeitoun. The barracks of the Ottoman battalion stationed in the town was attacked and in the fighting many Turks had been killed.

Daylight crept over the high peaks and ridges. It continued to rain. The exiles went on lamenting and calling for bread. Children whined piteously. Old men groaned. Whatever fortitude there was was shown by the older women. Stoically they sat about on the wet ground, their lean, brown hands folded over their shins. Old men were in rags, women in red calico pantaloons, red waists, red shawls, and some of them in red veils. Children of all ages, dressed like their elders, the halting, the blind, the sick make up this miserable column. Stoically they trudged on. Some of the men glanced at me. The older women beg for bread, the younger ones pulled either their veils or their shawls over their faces. The spectacle was pitiful. Few of the exiles had shoes. All were soaked to the skin, the clothing hanging to the weary bodies limp and wet. All faces showed suffering, hunger, exposure to the cold and wet, together with mental anguish about their kin and the future.

An old woman led a blind man by the hand. The woman was bent with age and sorrow. The man walked beside her erect. A great white beard was flowing over his broad and naked chest. His face had something noble in it, maybe nothing more than the resignation to do without sight forever.

Five miles I had gone and still there was no break in the column. Since the exiled walked in groups and preserved no uniform marching order, I could not estimate their number. All I can say is that the exiles numbered no less than 4,000. Then came the stragglers. The picture gets yet more harassing. It was composed of men and women trying to help some sick relative or friend along. Some of them sat by the wayside, tired and disconsolate, while the object of their care lay in the wet grass, resting or asleep. Two men were digging a grave. I passed a woman who was groaning under the weight of a large boy she carried on her back. To judge by the size of the child's head, I should say that he was a cretin and not in control of his withered limbs.

Later that same day:

He had ten Turkish infantrymen to control the party of nearly 500 Armenians. I wondered how he managed to hold them in check. `Oh, easily, the first one who makes a false move dies. You know the Turkish proverb, `God made the hare, the snake and the Armenian?'

Interview with Halideh Edib Hannym: A leading woman orator of the time

`I am not a materialist. We Ottomans have departed from idealism and the effects of this change have not been such as to cause me to fee happy about it. We still hold the position of conquerors without having the qualities of the conqueror. We still hold but we do not hold to improve. We still rule, but we do not govern. We still assert our dominion, but we make too many compromises. We would give all Ottoman subjects, regardless of race or creed, their full share in running of this country, but we lack the courage to really do so. We would have our fellow citizens love us, but we show neither respect for them and no confidence in them.

We are in short, a people with no ideals, or with ideals that have fallen upon evil days. Our ideals have been tainted with materialism's worst phases.

For those of you who may want to read Schreiner's book your local library's inter-loan library system may be able to locate the book. The publisher was Harper & Bros. 1918.

Professor Kay Mouradian is a health and physical education specialist
retired from the Los Angeles Community Colleges. Her publications
include Reflective Meditation: a Mind Calming Technique, A Guide for
Those Teaching Yoga in the Community Colleges, and she has also
contributed publications in several magazines and newspapers. Her
first novel, "A Gift In The Sunlight: An Armenian Story", now in its
second edition, was inspired by her mother's remarkable survival of
the Armenian Genocide.
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