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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Twelve

       "Armenian homes, whether modest or affluent, were often furnished with art, artifacts, carpets, and European furniture;  and it was known by their Turkish and Kurdish neighbors that Armenians had their savings and often gold and valuable jewelry stored in their houses.  Armenians churches--and there were some 2,530 of them across Turkey--were not only places of worship but civic places where Armenian culture was collected and presented as part of the artistic and historic life of the community.  Like small museums, Armenian churches housed rare scriptures and books as well as paintings, frescoes, gold-and-jewel studded chandeliers, and other precious objects.  Of the desecration of Armenian churches, Morgenthau later wrote:
                    I do not believe that the darkest ages ever presented scenes more
                    horrible than those which now took place all over Turkey.  Nothing
                    was sacred to the Turkish gendarmes;  under the plea of searching
                    for hidden arms, they ransacked churches, treated the altars and sacred
                     utensils with the utmost indignity, and even held mock ceremonies in
                      imitation of the Christian sacraments.  They would beat the priests into
                      insensibility, under the pretense that they were the centres of sedition.
                      When they could discover no weapons in the churches, they would some
                       -times arm the bishops and priests with guns, pistols, and swords, then
                       try them before courts-martial for possessing weapons against the law,
                       and march them in this condition through the streets, merely to arouse
                       the fanatical wrath of the mobs.
       In 1915 the material wealth of Armenian culture was an open house for plunder.  As the local Turkish and Kurdish community began pillaging Armenian homes, Davis looked on in horror:
                     The scenes of that week were heartrending.  The people were
                     preparing to leave their homes and to abandon their houses, their
                      lands, their property of all kinds.  They were trying to dispose of their
                      furniture and household effects, their provisions and even much of their
                      clothing, as they would be able to carry but little with them.  They were
                       selling their possessions for whatever they could get.  The streets were
                       full of Turkish women, as well as men, who were seeking bargains on
                        this occasion, buying organs, sewing machines, furniture, rugs, and
                        other articles of value for almost nothing.  I know one woman who sold
                        a two hundred dollar organ to a Turkish neighbor for about five
                       dollars.  Sewing machines which had cost twenty-five dollars were sold
                        for fifty cents.  Valuable rugs were sold for less than a dollar.  Many
                        articles were given away, as their ownere were unable to sell them
                        and were obliged to leave them behind.  The scene reminded me of
                        vultures swooping down on their prey.  It was a veritable Turkish       
                         holiday and all the Turks went out in their gala attire to feast and to
                         make merry over the misfortunes of others.
       Henry Riggs was also astonished by what he saw.  In the public square, there were 'mountains of bedding, furniture and utensils. . . . sold at auction. . . .[for] one fifth of their value, and often far less.'  For many of the Muslims, it was 'the opportunity of a life time to get-rich-quick.'  Some Turks and Kurds attacked the homes of defenseless women, raping them and taking their possessions.  Some Turks, Riggs reported, especially those of 'the better class looked with genuine horror at the treatment accorded to the Armenians, and when it came to enriching themselves as a result of the sufferings of the poor victims, they would not do it.'  Such booty they believed was haram (forbidden), and would put a curse on them and their legacies.
       It became clear to Davis that the Temporary Law of Deportation and Confiscation and its new Emval-i Mertruke (abandoned goods) commission was a charade.  The commission was ostensibly set up to guard the property of the deported Armenians and, after supposedly paying out of it any debts of the owners, was to send the money to them in their new homes.  Most of the Armenians were killed, as was undoubtedly intended by the government, and as Davis put it, 'none who survived ever received any money from the Committee.'  As he tried to help Armenians claim their money, he realized that it was, as Consul Jackson later put it, 'a gigantic plundering scheme.'  After the commission had 'gotten possession of hundreds of thousands of dollars,'  Davis noted, 'it conveniently lost its books and explained that, as all the money received had been used up for expenses and there were no funds on hand, there was no necessity anyway of rendering any account!'  Deutsche Bank Director, Arthur von Gwinner, and the Ottoman parliamentary senator Ahmed Riza all reached similar conclusions.
        Armenian businessmen were forced to abandon their businesses, their shops, their merchandise, their lifetime accumulations.  Kerop Bedoukian watched in horror as the gendarmes took over his father's grocery store, and then 'systematically,'  he writes, 'the contents of the stores' everywhere were all being confiscated and 'loaded onto ox-drawn carts' and supposedly 'taken to government storage depots.'  Farther west in Ovajik, near Ismit, not far from Constantinople, Serpouhi Tavoukdijian also watched as the Turkish gendarmes took 'bolts of rich silks and cloth' from her father's store and then pillaged her brother Lazarus's toy store.  Antranig Vartanian, a fifteen-year-old boy whose family were livestock farmers on the Moush plain, described being forced by the Turkish gendarmes to go into a barn, where hundreds of Armenians had been burned alive, and take from the corpses jewelry and valuables.  'I saw the corpse of a woman propped up by some barn beams,' he recalled vividly.  'She had been strangled to death outside of the barn, and the remains of a beautiful embroidered apron were still on her body.  I saw gold bracelets and necklaces and other jewels on her body and I took them back to the gendarmes.'  The gendarmes were so delighted with the jewels that they spared Vartanian's life.
        Those who took their money with them were robbed of it immediately;  others left it in the bank, and others deposited money and valuables with German or American missionaries.  Realizing that the consulate was the safest place to leave money and valuables, still others deposited it with Leslie Davis, and his quarters soon became what he called 'a safe deposit vault' for the Armenians.  It was 'pathetic,' Davis recalled, 'to see the people bringing their money, their jewels, their valuable documents, and articles of all kinds to the Consulate and to the missionaries, asking us to keep them.'  With more than two hundred thousand dollars in gold hidden at the consulate, Davis worried about being raided by the Turkish authorities, and found it more than ironic that when the vali came over for evening tea and card games, the safe with the Armenian gold stood there in the same room.  By the fall of 1915 Davis was receiving orders from the vali demanding that he turn over to the government all the money and property the Armenians had been leaving in his care.  When he refused to comply, he found himself drawn deeper into the crisis.
       Davis was also horrified by the economic significance of killing off the Armenians;  as he put it:  'It was literally a case of killing the goose that laid the golden egg, for there would be no one left to till the soil and the authorities might have forseen the famine which actually did visit the land the following year.'  Davis noted that 'Nearly all the merchants, bankers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, teachers, carpenters, brick-layers, tile-makers, tinsmiths, bakers, tailors, shoe-makers, and other artisans so essential to the life of the people were Armenians. . . .By one stroke,'  Davis wrote, 'the country was to be set back a century.'  The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian pgs. 233-236

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