A British Report (1895): “The Armenians Unmasked”
By Prof. Dr. Türkkaya Ataöv *
The Institute of the Turkish Revolution, attached to the Languages and History-Geography Faculty of Ankara University, houses a document that sheds light on some crucial aspects of the “Armenian question”. The manuscript is a British report, classified as TITE-1 F/532, in the archives of the said Institute. Its author is Captain Charles Boswell Norman, who evaluations. The title of his account is “The Armenians Unmasked”. I am inclined to believe that this broad description by the author does not stem from a desire to condemn a whole people, but a protest against a prejudice or a repudiation of a stereotype image. But it is at least a denunciation of Armenian terrorism.
Captain C.B. Norman was an officer in the Royal Artillery who was sent to Turkey to observe the Ottoman-Russian War of 1877-1878. He finished a book, published by Cassell, entitled Armenia and Its Campaign of 1877 and printed in London. He, later, went to Indo-China to observe the French at war and also wrote on that. In his “Introduction” to the report, Captain Norman states that “the time has at last arrived when a true account of the Turco-Armenian conflict may be published”. He underlines that hitherto the British have had “only the Armenian version of the disturbances embellished with the hysterical utterances of their English confrères”. He says that “the Osmanli (Ottoman) has yet to be heard”. He adds that the English have “heard stories ad nauseam of massacres, of pillages, of the ravishing of women, but none of these stories have been corroborated by a single European eye-witness”. He maintains that “nor has England yet learnt that the disturbances in Asia Minor are the direct outcome of a wide spread anarchist movement of which she has been the unconscious supporter”.
He says that in the following pages he has cited “facts” which may “shift the blame… on the shoulders of the real originators of the rebellion in Anatolia”. Noting that so much has been written “for the avowed purpose of proving the Armenian to be a model of all meekness and the Turk a monster of cruelty”, Captain Norman deems it necessary “in the interests of peace, of truth and of justice to point out the aims and objects of the Armenian Revolutionists”.
Referring the reader to an article by Mr. Lannin in the Fortnightly Review (1889) advocating the formation of an autonomous Armenian province in Asia Minor with its capital at Zeitoun, the scene of disturbances in 1895, Captain Norman records that the Hintchak (Hunchak) Committee was “directly responsible for all the bloodshed in Anatolia for the past five years”. He says that the original propaganda of the Hintchakists seemed “innocent enough” to the English. The Armenian revolutionaries advocated a free press, freedom of speech, free education and the abolition of taxes. But the original scheme had “merely intended to give the Committee a foothold in Anatolia” whence they could disseminate other ideas as well. For instance, at a meeting held in Marseilles in 1892, a further set of resolutions were adopted, including the arming of the Armenians of Turkey. Captain Norman writes: “Agents from Europe in the guise of Europeans traversed the country from end to end, preaching sadition, enrolling members and collecting money”.
Asia Minor was subdivided into provinces, each ruled by a board, whose members were nominated by the
Hintchak Supreme Council. Espionage was rife. A scale of punishment for breaches of discipline was drawn up and rigorously enforced. Article 8 of the Hintchak Code ran thus: “The Committee will nominate an Executioner-in-Chief who will have under his orders a body of men chosen for their loyalty. Their duty will be to assassinate those sentenced to death for treachery or because their death is deemed necessary for the furtherance of the cause”. Another article lays down the measures to be taken for the protection of weapons given to various committees for use when a rising may be decided on. Another relates to subscribing to the funds of revolutionary societies. Other regulations lay down the means of communications between the local and central committees, the disguise to be used by travelling agents and the methods by which arms, money and revolutionary literature were to be smuggled into the country. The author says that the Armenian bishops, priests and laymen readily joined the Hintchaks and that the Armenian Patriarch himself was a supporter of the same. He declares that members met in the churches to avoid suspicion. After the Armenian riots in Istanbul, the rioters took refuge in the various churches. He states that the Permanent Committee of the Hintchaks has been sitting “in the church within one-hundred yards of the British Embassy gates and from this building the whole operations in Zeitoun have been directed”. It is from this church that messengers bearing letters demanding money under threats of death were sent forth. The author has conversed with Armenians who had knowledge of these letters, he has seen the money handed in and he met people arrested with the incriminating documents in their possession. The ostensible object was to raise money for the insurgents in Zeitoun. He records that those Armenians who refused to subscribe have been murdered “under the order of the Hintchaks”. Describing them as “unfortunate victims of the Hintchak Revolutionists”, the author states that the money distributed by the agents of the Anglo-Armenian Association paves “the way for fresh horrors in the Spring”.
The Hintchak Committee was far from being satisfied with the scheme of reforms made by the Ottoman Government, and “the publication of these schemes has been the signal for a general rising of the Armenians”. Captain Norman underlines: “To pretend that these regrettable occurrences that deluged Anatolia with blood were unprovoked assaults by Mohammedans on Christians is untrue”. He continues: “There is ample evidence at the disposal of the Sultan to prove without fear of contradiction that in each and every case the disturbances were commenced by the Armenians.”
Noting that the Armenians own several newspapers in Europe and in the United States (in addition to several news sheets secretly published in Istanbul), the author presents extracts from the Hintchak (or Bell) published in London, the Troshak (Droshak or Standard) of Vienna or the Haik (Armenian) of New York. He quotes several news-items, articles and manifestos, giving sources and dates. For instance, he cites cases of murder of Armenians by Hintchaks. Hadj Dikran, in the employ of the Ministry of Police, was slain on June 3, 1895 by the hands of a Hintchak terrorist. Totinchief was killed in a similar manner. Other news-items reveal that the revolting Armenians “have captured many Turkish villages” near Zeitoun. A “Manifesto”, dated November 19, 1895 and addressed to the Armenians of the Adana region, issued the following call: “Arm yourselves now for the battle.. Victory or death is our watchword… Let us draw our swords and fall on the foe…”
Referring to another “Manifesto” on behalf of the Zeitoun Armenians, again published in the Hintchak, Captain Norman says that “it full proves that the disturbances there were originated by the Armenians”. It says: “The hour has come… Today we shall carry fire and the sword into his (the enemy’s) land… The flag of the Hintchak…. has beenour beacon and our guide…” Captain Norman declares: “These are scarcely the Proclamations of a people striving peacefully to obtain an amelioration of their condition, but rather of a people stirred up to revolt by unscrupulous agitation who from the safe shelter of a suburban villa fulminate decrees which consign thousands of their ignorant co-religionists to misery and death”. He adds: “Liberty or Death is the war cry of the Hintchak Committee. Liberty for the Committee in London, Death for the Peasantry in Anatolia”. Foreign emissaries having openly fostered rebellion in Zeitoun, he asks how the foreigners can now ask for “reforms” in provinces where the Armenians are in arms. He says that the Armenian people of Sassoun were “graded into rebellion” in the Autumn of 1894 by the inflammatory articles in the revolutionary newspapers published in London, Vienna and New York.
Stating that these newspapers are “supported by forced contributions”, Captain Norman cites several threatening letters which say: “You are ordered to give… to the person who presents this to you… and if you refuse to pay this or if you give notice to the police, your life will be forfeited.” The author says that hundreds of such letters have been issued within a short period of time and that Armenians like Dikran Karagueusian or Simon Efendi have been stabbed by Hintchakists for having refused to bow. He also states that the latter’s brother is under the protection of the Ottoman police for fear that he may also be killed. In respect to the attitude and reporting of two English correspondents, I prefer to quote Captain Norman verbatim:
“The present Armenian agitation in England may be said to date from the publication of the news of the so-called Sassoun atrocities. This news was first derived from Armenian sources but it was deemed of sufficient importance for the Daily Telegraph, with its usual promptitude, to dispatch a Special Correspondent to report on the facts. The gentleman chosen was a certain D.Dillon who rightfully or wrongfully generally supposed to be one and the same person as the Mr. Lannin whose articles in the Fortnightly Review I have previously alluded to. D.Dillon was speedily followed by Mr. Frank Scudamore who at first represented a syndicate of newspapers after wards became more or less identified with the Daily News.
“Mr.Scudamore is a journalist of considerable experience. The letters written by these two gentlemen more than confirmed the horrors originally published by Armenians, but here we are met by the fact that neither D.Dillon, nor Mr. Scudamore were out to visit Sassoun and their letters were but a réachauffée of twice-told tales. The former gentlemen travelling via Batoum and Kars reached Erzeroum in the winter. Mr. Scudamore arrived at the same point from Trebizonde. There was a general idea in England to which I am sure neither of these gentlemen lent their sanction that their reports were the result of investigations made on the spot in the Valley of Sassoun itself. But it is an undeniable fact, as I was informedly by Sir Philip Currie himself, as well as by the Turkish Foreign Office that neither D. Dillon nor Mr. Scudamore had ever been nearer Sassoun than Erzeroum and that at the time the good people in England were of opinion that these two correspondents were braving in their snow shoes the hospitality of our Consul at Erzeroum. It is doubtful if they ever met a genuine Sassoun refugee. It is certain that they were hopelessly duped by Armenian romancers.”
“Whether the Foreign Office will ever publish the Report of Mr.Shirley, the British Delegate, who accompanied the Ottoman Commission of Inquiry into the occurrences of Sassoun, is very doubtful. If it is published it will be found that the total killed, instead of being 10,000 as we were gravely assured, was under 500 and that the touching story of the Armenian matrons throwing their children over the cliff on the Antokh Dagh and their jumping over themselves to avoid dishonour, is an absolute myth. This I can assert on the authority of one of the Ambassadors of the Three Powers represented on the Sassoun Commission.” Noting that a storm of obloquy was hurled at M.Zeki Pasha, the Commander of the Fourth Army, “who it was said personally superintended the operations” in Sassoun, the author declares that he had “nothing to do with the affair” beyond giving general instructions for the mobilization of the brigade. He also points out that the assertion concerning the Hamidieh Cavalry being employed in Sassoun “is equally false and the number of troops employed was greatly exaggerated”. He adds: “Three weak battalions and one mountain battery are all that were sent into the valley… and the total Armenian losses did not exceed 200 men in the fighting with the regular troops.”
Captain Norman then gives the particulars of the Sassoun Valley residents, according to Vital Cuinet’s La Turquie d’Asie. The latter states that the Kaza (district) of Sassoun consists of 118 villages with a total population of 20,101 divided into Moslems (10,370), Armenians (8,389), Copts (372) and Yezidis (970). The author inquires: “Now, out of the Armenian population of 8,389 we were told that from 10,000 to 20,000 had been killed but it was generally assumed that 15,000 was a safe estimate”. He adds: “Led away by these exaggerated reports the Anglo-Armenian Association held a series of packed meetings and vehemently called on the Government of the day to carry out reform” in accordance with Clause 61 of the Treaty of Berlin. The result of “this agitation” was the joint note of the Ambassadors of France, Russia and England on May 11, 1895. The memorandum demanded reforms in the six eastern provinces.
The author, then, gives the population figures for the provinces of Erzurum, Bitlis, Van, Diyarbakir, Mamuret-ul-Aziz and Sivas, breaking them down for Moslems, Gregorian Armenian, Catholic Armenians, Protestant Armenians, Greeks, other Christians and other races. Consequently, he determines that the Armenians who demand reforms constitute only “one sixth of the population”. He also establishes that in none of these eastern provinces (that the Armenians prefer to call “Armenia”), they were in majority. In fact, far from it! There are some Armenian sources which concede that the Armenians formed a small minority even in the eastern provinces of Turkey. Even in Van, records Captain Norman, the Moslems were 241,000 and the Gregorian Armenians 79,000 (Catholic and Protestant Armenians being 708 and 290 respectively). In Erzurum, the Moslems were 500,782 and the Gregorian Armenians 120,273; in Mamuret-ul-Aziz 509,946 and 61,983 or in Sivas 839,514 and 132,307 respectively.
The author says that the Note of May 11, 1895 “was vicious in principle and crude in inception”. It demanded reforms in six provinces of Asiatic Turkey. It claimed certain privileges for the Armenians, including “equal administrative rights with the Mohammedans who numbered four-sixth of the population”. Small wonder, then, that the British scheme of reforms met with but scant support from France and Russia and was actually opposed by Germany, Austria and Italy. Noting that the Ottoman Government knew that the Hintchak Committee had fomented the rising in Sassoun and was planning outbreaks in other parts of the Empire, Captain Norman states that it “very naturally declined to accept clauses which called on the Government of the Sultan to grant suitable indemnities and reparations to rebels”. The joint note also demanded an amnesty for Armenian prisoners and exiles. Captain Norman makes the following point: “Exiles like Thoumaian and Mourad who spent their days in preaching rebellion and calling on Europe to depose their lawful sovereign-Amnesty for the Editors of the Hintchak and Troshak who encourages assassination and boast of murder!”
The note further insisted that the Governors should be assisted by a Christian Deputy and that one-third of the civil police officials be Christian “thus giving a preponderating influence to the Christian element”. Captain Norman: “It aimed indeed at the gradual usurpation of all power by non-Mohammedan functionaries and willingly or unwillingly supported the Armenian Revolutionary Party in its insurrection against the Porte”. The note “aimed at the sovereignty of the Caliph… encouraged rebellion…. (and raised) the passions of the Musulman population”. The author notes that “serious troubles were brewing in Asia Minor, that a Revolutionary Society fostered by foreign gold had its emissaries in every house in every village in Anatolia…” The events in Sassoun were the direct results of such activities and “until the Revolutionary Spirit was subdued, reforms were impossible”. The Russian and the French Ambassadors were inclined to let matters rest, but Sir Philip Currie “stuck to his guns”. The Sultan was equally firm. The foreign ambassadors assured Captain Norman personally of the dangers of British policy.
In the meantime, the Armenian revolutionaries in Europe and the United States pressed for a settlement of their choice, and the Anglo-Armenian Association held several meetings, “denouncing the Ottoman Government in no measured terms” and calling on Lord Salisbury “to force their own reading” of Clause 61 of the Berlin Treaty. Captain Norman continues as follows:
“Towards the middle of September 1895, it became known that the Armenian Revolutionary Committee intended to force the hands of the British Government by organizing an armed rising in Constantinople. His Excellency Nazim Pasha, the very able Minister of Police, appealed personally to the Patriarch Ismirlian to use his best endeavours to stop such a calamity. The Patriarch was either unable or unwilling to do so. The ring leaders at any rate met at the Koum Kapou (Kumkapi) Cathedral under the very shadow of the Patriarch’s own house and there distributed arms and money to those who were to take part in the armed demonstration against the Porte. Many delegates were present from England, France and America and the sinews of war were provided by forced contributions levied under threats of murder from the wealthy inhabitants of Constantinople.
“On Sunday the 29 Sep(tember) impassionned sermons were preached in the various Armenian churches and on the morrow the storm burst. An armed crowd issuing from the Cathedral marched towards the Porte with the intention of presenting a petition to the Grand Vizier; it was met by a Major of Police who offered to take a small deputation to the Porte. The officer was shot down and hacked to pieces as also were the two men with him at the time, but reinforcements, quickly moving up, the mob was dispersed with considerable loss”.
Captain Norman apparently witnessed the riot and asserts that “the city was absolutely quiet at 2 p.m., their riot having occurred about noon.” He categorically states the following: “The riot was undoubtedly provoked by the Revolutionary party, and so far as I could see the behaviour of the Police Soldiery and populace was most peaceful and orderly. I visited Stamboul daily and nightly during that week. I saw no case, neither did I hear of a case of assault or insult on any Christian man, woman or child other than a Gregorian Armenian”. He says that he has known English ladies shopping in the bazaar on that very afternoon and who were unaware that anything unusual occurred. He met a French officer whose evidence corroborated his “in every particular”. In the meantime, reports were being received from the provinces that the Armenian hostilities were in progress. Proclamations were being issued calling on the Armenians to rise as the European Powers were about to compel the Sultan to form an independent Armenian Kingdom. In less than a week after the Kumkapy riots, a similar outbreak took place in Trabzon. The capital itself was “perfectly quiet”, but the foreign ambassadors depended on their Christian interpreters for information. They were told that “the situation in the capital was dangerous”.
Having fallen into panic, their steam yachts pounded their way down the Bosphorus and anchored off the Sublime Porte firing identical notes to the Grand Vizier threatening Turkey “if order was not immediately restored”.
Sir Philip Currie led in pressing for the acceptance of the joint note, and the Sultan reluctantly consented to accept it in a modified form. Consequently, a feud sprung up between the Moslems and Gregorian Armenians. At Diyarbakir, Bitlis, Arapkir and in many other places, “the Armenians commenced the disturbances by firing the Musulman quarter of the town whilst the men were absent at the usual Friday service in the mosques”. In Diyarbakir, “126 Mohamedans were killed in endeavouring to escape from the mosque, at Bitlis 84 perished in the same way”. At Erzurum, the Armenian bishop “refused to read the burial serice over an Armenian murdered by order of the Hintchak Committee”.
Saying that the figures given by various correspondents in Istanbul were “willfully exaggerated”, Captain Norman cites two instances in support of his statement. It was telegraphed that 3,000 Armenians had bee killed at Karahisar and 2,000 at Berecik. Cuinet gives the following population figures for the former: 7,300 Moslems 1,700 Gregorian Armenians, 1,050 Catholic and Protestant Armenians and 1,650 Greeks. Noting that only Gregorians have been molested, the author asks how 3,000 may be killed out of a total of 1,700. At Berecik, where 2,000 Armenians were suposed to have been murdered, Captain Norman says that “only five lives were lost”. In that town, Cuined quotes 8,702 Moslems, 978 Gregorian Armenians, 437 Catholics and 45 Jews. At Amasya, the riots were described by the Armenian teacher Thoumanian, who stated that 800 perished. “A German resident and an Armenian merchant, both present during the disturbances, fixed the number at 53”. As regards the number of the destitute, the author asserts that one-tenth of the Armenian Patriarch’s estimate was true.
He then proposes to deal with a few “of the most glaring misstatements that have appeared in the press with reference to the Armenian question”. He relates that in December the Anglo-Armenian Association made considerable capital out of the treatment accorded to one Aslanian, and his affidavit recounting his sufferings, published in several papers, attracted considerable attention. Aslanian apparently asserted that “he was travelling from New York to Kharput in Anatolia to visit his family”, that on landing in Istanbul he was arrested and “tortured on eleven different occasion in the Central Prison”, that “he saw about 300 men killed in that establishment” and that finally he was put on a ship and packed off to Marseilles. The author asks what the facts were in relation to that episode. For one, Aslanian was a well-known member of the Hintchak Society in New York. He was sent to Istanbul to assist in the rising there and then to proceed to Asia Minor for the same purpose. His departures from New York and from Marseilles were reported to the Minister of the Police. He travelled “under a false name”. He arrived in a Greek trading vessel, which instead of entering the port anchored off the shore. The police had been informed when the craft passed through the Dardanelles. Aslanian and his companion were arrested before they could leave the ship. Aslanian was confined in one of the large wards, given food “with meat thrice weekly”, and “he was never subjected to torture”. Captain Norman says that he has visited the Central Prison “not once, but twenty times”, thrice during the period of Aslanian’s incarceration. He has visited it since “to test the accuracy of his statement”. He saw the wounded in the hospitals and others in the large wards. He says: “No appeal was made to me by any prisoner although they were particularly told they might make their complaints to me. I have seen and conversed with many Armenians who were released after two or three days confinement, but though they say that they were severely handled whilst being conveyed to the jail, all affirmed that on reaching it they were well and fairly treated”. Evaluating an Aslanian statement to the effect that he saw “several officers in uniform calling out… “Mehmed’i seven vursun” (Those who love Mehmet, strike! Or Strike in Mehmed’s name!), Captain Norman says that no Turk would use such a phrase, but Allah’I seven vursun or Peygamberi seven vursun (Strike in the name of God or the Prophet).
Captain Norman relates that in the opinion of the Russian Ambassador in Istanbul “the Armenians have brought on these troubles by their own rebellious actions”. He writes: “Our (British) Eastern Policy has failed, failed miserably. We have alienated the Turks, we have falsified the hopes of the Armenians and we have deluged the country with blood”. He does not hesitate to say that the British policy in the Ottoman capital has been “wrong-radically wrong”. He adds: “Our Ambassador never seeks an audience (with the Sultan) unless for the purpose of launching some complaint or uttering some threat. Advice is rendered accompanied by menaces, and no effort is made to promote a friendly intercourse. The Sultan is accused in our Press of openly instigating massacres and of deliberately ordering the murder of untried persons by arousing accusations incapable of proof and as cruel as they are absurd.”
He categorically states: “It has been proved beyond the possibility of a doubt that the Armenians provoked the disturbances in Stamboul on the 30th September last and I seen no reason to believe that they were not the aggressors on every other occasion”. Feeling that the Sultan’s efforts to ameliorate the conditions of his Armenian subjects and to inquire into the origin and progress of the disturbances in Asia Minor have never been properly evaluated, he endeavours to recapitulate them. He says that on learning of the events in Sassoun, the Sultan dispatched Abdullah Pasha, one of his Aide-de-Camps, to report on all the circumstances. In the early Spring of 1895, he nominated a Commission to proceed to Sassoun and conduct an exhausting inquiry. He permitted the foreign delegates to accompany the Commission. He then appointed a Superior Commission in the capital under the presidency of Turhan Pasha, the late Governor of Crete, to draw up a scheme of reforms. In August 1895, Sakir Pasha, formerly the Ambassador to St. Petersburg, was appointed High Commissioner and proceeded with instructions to visit every part of the country. In October, the Sultan published a scheme of reforms based on the joint note of May 11. In November a Sub-Commission was appointed “consisting of some of the best men in the Empire” to travel through the disturbed provinces. The Sultan appointed Christian Deputy Governors and judicial-financial inspectors in each province. He issued orders to all civil and military local authorities not to discriminate between Moslems and Christians, “should disturbances arise”. He accepted Sir Philip Currie’s suggestion that the Consuls of the Six Powers proceed to Zeitoun and endeavour to negotiate with the rebels. And he appointed a Commission to collect funds and distribute relief to the victims of the rebellion in Anatolia.
Enumerating all these measures, Captain Norman asks what else the Sultan “could have done to prove that he was sincerely desirous of putting and end to the grievances of his Christian subjects”. In an effort to meet the challenge that these steps might be “bogus measures” with no real effort, the author says that such assertions are “without proof”. Captain Gordon is aware that the views he holds are shared only by a minority in his country and “the balance of opinion is in favour of the Armenians”. “This is due to the fact”, he says, “that the true story of Armenian intrigues and Armenian plottings have never been laid before the people of England”. He adds that “he makes no rash statements founded on bazaar gossip”, but that he quotes “authorities for every accusation”. He suggests that England “march hand in hand with Turkey in ridding the peaceful peasantry of Anatolia from the intolerable burden of these (Armenian) secret societies”.
*Dr. Ataöv is Professor emeritus of International Relations and a former Director of the Department of International Relations at the University of Ankara (Turkey). He is member of the Executive Council of the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Geneva).