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Monday, July 08, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade) , Part Six

       "Some of the most striking evidence of the use of the railway for deporting the Armenians comes from the German eyewitness accounts of the Baghdad Railway Company.  Germany's most important foreign project, the company was at the center of the kaiser's imperial designs in the Near East.  It is ironic that the Turks used the railway in ways that the Nazis would later, and that Germans in Turkey in 1915 were on site to testify.  Franz Guenther, a delegate of the Deutsche Bank who headed the project's office in Constantinople and worked closely with the German embassy, reported that the Ottoman government was acting with 'bestial cruelty' and noted that it was hard to justify the company's passivity in the face of what they were witnessing.  When Guenther sent a photograph of a deportation train to Deutsche Bank director Gwinner, Guenther also noted the irony that the railway was billed as 'an upholder of civilization in Turkey.' 
       The railway deportations were directed by the Ottoman government, and Talaat received reports on the numbers of deportees and their locations.  On October 9 and 10, 1915, some 11,000 Armenians who had been transported from other places to Konia were sent south.  Between October 13 and 16, 9,600 more followed.  During the following five days 9,850 more Armenians were sent from Konia.  When Ottoman military needs interrupted the rail deportations, the people were marched along the railway tracks.  Still, in the month of October 1915 alone, more than 30,000 Armenians were packed into livestock cars to be sent to their deaths in the Der Zor Desert.
       As deportation by rail developed, detention camps sprang up alongside the tracks and stations.  From Konia south to the desert, the whole stretch appeared as one long, concatenated detention camp.  There was a long concentration camp by the railway station at Konia;  by the end of October there were about 40,000 at Katma, a town on the deportation route north of Aleppo;  the camp near Osmaniye, less than a hundred miles east of Adana, may have held as many as 70,000.  In the camps the Armenians were attacked by the killing squads;  women were abducted and raped;  and thousands died of disease and starvation.
         Because of the proximity of the railway to the death camps and ultimately to the desert, the German railway engineers and employees were able to report the atrocities.  At Ras-ul-Ain, a horrific refugee camp southeast of Urfa on the railway line to Mosul, two engineers reported seeing in one day three to four hundred women arriving completely naked.  Hasenfratz--an employee who worked for the railway at Aleppo--reported that massacres took place beside the railway track between Tell Abiad and Ras-ul-Ain.  'The bodies,' he wrote, 'without exception, were entirely naked and the wounds that had been inflicted showed that the victims had been killed, after having been subjected to unspeakable brutalities.'
        As the railway and its immediate environs became a zone in which mass murder and rape were perpetually happening, the railway officials were constant witnesses to the atrocities.  An engineer named Speiker reported from Ras-ul-Ain that he continually saw the arrival of remnants of the death marches;  only women and children were left because all the men and boys over twelve had been killed.  In his detailed reports on the systematic mass slaughter of women and children, he noted that a Turkish inspector informed him that nine out of ten Armenians had been killed on the marches.  The engineer also described how Muslim railway officials and Ottoman officers raped women and sold children and women into the slave trade.  One Sergeant Nuri, the overseer of the camp at Ras-ul-Ain, actually bragged about raping children.  Some of the Muslim employees of the railway left their jobs in order to take part in the killing.
          With nearly nine hundred skilled Armenian workers and many more Armenian laborers on the construction sites in the Taurus and Amanus Mountains and in northern Syria, the Armenian presence in the railway company was significant.  Because the war made the railway even more crucial for the transportation of supplies, the Armenian employees were kept on their jobs.  What ensued was a poignant drama in which various Germans in respectable positions tried to intervene with their own government and the Ottoman government to save the Armenians working for the railway.  Guenther, the railway project director from the Deutsche Bank, who worked hard to protect the Armenian staff, 'estimated that already 25 percent of the 2 million Armenians in the empire had been killed,' and he was certain that the government's policy would mean the extermination of the entire Armenian population.  Winkler, the head railway construction engineer in Adana, who likewise tried to protect his workers, was stymied by the vali, who told him that nothing could be done, as the deportation orders had come directly from Talaat and Enver.  In the end the Armenian laborers were deported, and finally so were the Armenian staff employees of the railway.  In order to cover up the massacres, the Ottoman government demanded that the railway cease its bookkeeping in German and use only Turkish.  The Armenian staff was to be replaced by Muslims only."  The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian pgs. 191-193

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