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Saturday, December 07, 2013

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade) Part Thirteen

     "{Leslie} Davis learned that because the Muslims considered 'the clothes taken from a dead body to be defiled,' all the Armenians were forced to strip before being killed, and Davis describes 'gaping bayonet wounds on most of the bodies.'  Because bullets were so precious, it was 'cheaper to kill with bayonets and knives.'  Davis was also shocked to find that, as he put it, 'nearly all of the women lay flat on their backs and showed signs of barbarous mutilation by bayonets of the gendarmes, these wounds having been inflicted in many cases probably after the women were dead.'  The bodies, they learned, were of Armenians who had been marched there from distant places.  In other parts of Turkey, the same methods of massacre by butchery were occuring because the Turks didn't want to waste ammunition.  In Ankara and its surroundings, only a couple of hundred miles east of Constantanople, the killing was done with 'axes, cleavers, shovels, and pitchforks,' Krikoris Balakian wrote.  It was like a slaughter-house;  Armenians were hacked to pieces, and the killing squads mixed with townspeople 'dashed infants on the rocks' before the eyes of their mothers.  The carnage around Ankara was so horrible that Talaat Pasha ordered more than forty thousand corpses to be quickly buried in mass graves, but the stench of death and the mounds of bodies overwhelmed the landscape.
       South of Harput, Davis and his companion left the lake, travelling through the village of Keghvenk, and again the stench of rotting corpses overwhelmed them.  'We could smell the dead bodies,' Davis wrote, but 'as it was getting late and we had already seen so many, we did not feel like going even that distance out of our way to see any more.'  But as they rode from Keghvenk back to Mezre, they saw thousands of corpses half buried, and later Davis learned that many of them were the men who had been imprisoned before the deportation.  Within ten miles of Mezre they saw the remains of Armenian camps where thousands had been held before they were massacred.  Arriving home at about nine o'clock in the evening, Davis wrote:  'I felt that I understood better than ever what the "deportation" of the Armenians really meant.  I felt also that I had not been wrong in speaking of Mamouret ul-Aziz. . . as the "Slaughter-house Vilayet" of Turkey.'
       A few weeks later Davis made another trip to Lake Goeeljuek.  This time he and Dr. Atkinson went by themselves.  Leaving at about three o'clock in the morning one day in late October, Davis was eager to see the other side of the lake and get a fuller picture of the area.  On the east side of the lake, they found many bodies of Armenians who had recently been killed, most likely the inhabitants of the village of Goeeljuek, which they found 'absolutely deserted, except for a few hungry cats which were prowling around among the ruins of the houses.'
       Again the scenes of death were everywhere.  In one of the most remote places along the lake, Davis and Atkinson saw hundreds of bodies piled on top of one another on the beach.  They lay 'within a space not more than two or three hundred feet in length and hardly a quarter that distance in width.'  It was at the outlet of a steep small ravine leading to the lake, and as they rode down the hill they were shocked at how people could be brought to such a place.  Then they saw that almost all of them were women and children who had been recently killed.  'We noticed bayonet wounds on many of them. . . . .One woman,' Davis observed, 'on the edge of the pile lay flat on her breast with the head of her little baby protruding from under her body.  All of the bodies were naked,' he went on, 'and many of them showed signs of the brutal mutilation which the gendarmes inflicted upon so many of the women and girls whom they killed.'
       In late July 1915, {Jesse} Jackson reported that as the temperature ran somewhere between 105 and 115 degrees, 'a group of more than 1,000 women and children from Harput was being conducted southward near Veren then turned over to a band of Kurdish chetes who abducted 'the best looking women, girls and children, killing those who put up the most resistance,'  and beat and stripped the rest of the women, Jackson went on, 'thereby forcing them to continue the rest of the journey in a nude condition.'  About three hundred of these women arrived in Aleppo days later 'entirely naked, their hair flowing in the air like wild beasts,' having traveled 'afoot in the burning sun.'  Some of these women came to the consulate, and Jackson recorded that their bodies were 'burned to the color of a green olive, the skin peeling off in great blotches, and many of them carrying gashes on the head and wounds on the body as a result of the terrible beatings.'
       These scenes kept passing before Jackson's eyes, and only weeks later he described what he called 'one of the most terrible sights ever seen in Aleppo,' the arrival of 'some 5,000 terribly emaciated, dirty, ragged and sick women and children, 3,000 on one day and 2,000 the following day.'  They were the only survivors, Jackson reported, of what he termed 'the thrifty and well to do Armenian population of the province of Sivas,'  where the Armenian population had been 'over 300,000 souls.'  They told Jackson that they had travelled about a thousand miles on foot since before Easter, and thousands of the women had been carried off into harems, or raped, robbed, and left naked.
       What Jackson saw was the remnant of women who survived the kind of sexual violence that Aurora Mardignian described in her survival narrative, Ravished Armenia.    Mardignian, from a wealthy banking family in Chemeshgezek, a town north of Harput, was one of thousands of young Armenian girls raped and thrown into harems.  Her descriptions of sexual violence confirm and go even beyond what Jackson saw and heard.  Having been in a house full of Armenian girls who were raped and then killed by Turkish soldiers, she escaped and before long found herself with about four hundred young men and women who agreed to convert to Islam to save their lives.  After they had converted, the gendarmes robbed them all, stripped the women and raped them in front of their husbands, who were tied up and forced to watch before they were killed.  Then, the surviving women were marched to Malatian, south of Mezre near the Euphrates.  Approaching the city of Malatia, they found the wells stuffed with the corpses of dead women, and as they entered the city, they saw sixteen girls crucified on wooden crosses, vultures eating their corpses.  'Each girl had been nailed alive upon her cross, spikes through her feet and hands,'  Mardiganian wrote, 'only their hair blown by the wind, covered their bodies.'
       In Aleppo too, the city was becoming overwhelmed by corpses and famine-ravaged refugees.  By the fall a typhus epidemic had broken out in the city and the surrounding towns and villages, and the entire place resembled something from the Black Plague.  'The number that succumbed in the city was so great,' Jackson wrote, 'that the sanitary authorities could not cope with the situation, and the military authorities provided huge ox-carts into which the dead bodies were thrown, 10 to 12 in each cart, and the procession of 7 or 8 carts would proceed to the nearby cemetery with their gruesome loads of ghastly uncovered corpses, usually nude, with the heads, legs and arms dangling from the sides and ends of the open carts.'  At the cemetery,  the gendarmes dumped the bodies into trenches that had been dug for the purpose.  For months the procession of death carts passed in front of the consulate.  Several of Jackson's closest friends and members of the consular staff died in the epidemic, and, as he wrote, his own survival seemed 'almost a miracle.'
       Because of his strategic location on the line of the deportation marches, Jackson quickly became a receiving station for reports on the atrocities in the region, and he informed Morgenthau that reigns of terror had begun in Diyarbekir and Urfa, and that the gendarmerie was now 'searching the houses of the Armenians for weapons, and not finding any.'  In Urfa (the site of massacre and the burning of the cathedral in 1895-96), the gendarmes told the bishop of the city that unless weapons were produced, 'the entire Armenian population' of Urfa would suffer the fate of Zeitun, where everybody had been massacred or deported in early April.  What Jackson emphasized to Morgenthau was that 'the people here [Urfa] have always been loyal to the Government and have never resisted;  not even when they were butchered like sheep.  Why the local Government persists in persecuting a population that has always had a good record for loyalty is very strange.'
       In the terrible heat of August, writing again to Morgenthau (who was at his summer quarters on the Bosporus) , Jackson enclosed a letter he had just received form the Reverend F.H. Leslie.  In the chaos of the deportations and massacres in the Urfa region, Reverend Leslie had just been made the American consular agent for the entire district of Urfa.

               My dear Consul Jackson:
                 . . . For six weeks we have witnessed the most terrible cruelties inflicted
                 upon the thousands of Christian exiles who have been daily passing through
                 our city from the northern cities.  All tell the same story and bear the
                  same scars:  their men were all killed on the first days march from their
                   cities, after which the women and girls were constantly robbed of
                  their money, bedding, clothing, and beated, criminally abused and abduct-
                   ed. . . . Their guards forced them to pay even for drinking from the
                  springs along the way and were their worst abusers but also allowed the
                   baser element in every village through which they passed to abduct the
                    girls and women and abuse them.  We not only were told these things
                    but the same things occured right here in our own city before our very
                    eyes and openly on the streets.  The poor weak women and children died
                     by thousands along the roads and in the khan where they were confined
                     here.  There must be not less than five hundred abducted now in the
                     homes of the Moslems of this city and as many more have been sexually
                     abused and turned out on the streets again.
       Desperate and fearing total annihilation for the Armenians, Reverend Leslie begged Jackson to send him his own vice-consul, Samuel Edelman, to help.  'I cannot handle this work nor remain here much longer,' Leslie pleaded.  Not long after, the American pastor was imprisoned for aiding the Armenians.  Already mentally broken from what he had witnessed, he was now tortured in prison, and he committed suicide there.  Later Jackson was able to get Leslie's wife and child out of the country."  The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian pgs. 245-46 and 253-55. 

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