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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kasab Taburu (Butcher Brigade), Part Fourteen

       "As Jackson struggled to rescue Armenians and as he watched their property and wealth being confiscated, Morgenthau was dealing with Talaat Pasha back in Constantinople.  He continued to try to reason with the minister of the interior, telling him that after the war he would have to meet with 'public opinion everywhere, especially in the United States.  Our people,' he said, 'will never forget these massacres. . . You are defying all ideas of justice.'  Not only was Talaat unreachable, but at one point, he changed the subject and made an astonishing request.  Knowing that many Armenians with American ties had life insurance policies with the New York Life Insurance Company and the Equitable Life of New York, Talaat said to the ambassador:  'I wish that you would get the American life insurance companies to send us a complete list of their Armenian policy holders.  They are practically all dead now and have left no heirs to collect the money.  It of course all escheats to the State.  The government is the beneficiary now.  Will you do so?'  Outraged by this, Morgenthau lost his temper, told Talaat he would never get such a list from him, and stormed away.

       But even Bernau had not seen what Aurora Mardignian experienced north of Aleppo in Diyarbekir, where the killing squads played 'the game of swords' with Armenian girls.  Having planted their swords in the ground, blade up, in a row, at several-yard intervals, the men on horseback each grabbed a girl.  At the signal, given by a shout, they rode their horses at a controlled gallop, throwing the girl with the intent of killing her by impaling her on a sword.  'If the killer missed,' Mardignian writes, 'and the girl was only injured, she would be scooped up again until she was impaled on the protruding blade.  It was a game, a contest,'  the traumatized survivor wrote in her memoir, and after the girls were dead, the Turks forced the Jews of the city to gather up the bodies in oxcarts and throw them in the Tigris River.

       As he watched from his office day by day, {Consul Oscar} Heizer was shocked at what Jesse Jackson had referred to as the Ottoman government's 'gigantic plundering scheme.'  Again, to Morgenthau, he described how the Armenian houses in Trebizond were 'being emptied of furniture by the police one after the other.  The furniture, bedding and everything of value is being stored in large buildings about the city,' he reported.  Since there was no attempt at labeling or properly storing any of these objects, Heizer reported, the idea that the government had any plan to return anything to the Armenians was 'simply ridiculous.'  Like Henry Riggs, who described Turkish women plundering Armenian goods in Harput, Heizer also watched a 'crowd of Turkish women and children follow the police about like a lot of vultures and seize anything they can lay their hands on.'  As soon as the more valuable things were taken out of a house by the police, the women and children would rush in and take the rest, leaving every house stripped clean.  'I see this performance every day with my own eyes,' Heizer wrote the ambassador;  'I suppose it will take several weeks to empty all the houses and then the Armenian shops and stores will be cleared out.'  And the government's commission, which was supposed to be overseeing all this, had no intention of returning any of the goods to the Armenians.
       Leon Surmelian watched his family life and his comfortable home with its Parisian furnishings and carpets and piano disappear overnight.  The young boy also watched in despair as the Turks confiscated his father's pharmacy:  'We almost wept when we saw the shutters of our pharmacy drawn in broad daylight. . . . Poor father, they had taken his pharmacy away from him,'  and everywhere, 'the city was dead, the stores closed, the streets deserted.'  When Surmelian escaped from captivity a year or so later, he sneaked back to his family's house, only to discover that it had been picked clean of every item.  As he walked the empty rooms he was haunted by the absence of what had once been his childhood home.  'Even the linoleum had been stripped off the floor,' he exclaimed.  He soon dicovered that every Armenian house in the region had been plundered and walls and floors torn up in the search for hidden treasures."  The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian  pgs260-61, 262, 267.

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