The unrest in Zeitun raised the question whether they were instigated from abroad. During my official trip from 28 March to 10 April to Marash I could not confirm this. The chief judge of the court-martial told me though that there was foreign influence, but he did not provide any evidence. These unrests are rather fully explained by their seeds which exist locally and which stem from the deep suffering gripping Turkey.
Led by a certain Nazareth Tschaush, a sinister brigandage of Armenians developed near Zeitun. In October of last year, Mutesarrif Haidar Pasha of Marash staged an attack against it. He promised the inhabitants of Zeitun, on his word of honour, not to harm those who would hand over the brigands, and he achieved their surrender. But instead of starting a trial to execute the culprits, he had Nazareth Tschaush clubbed to death in prison (see report No. 2480 from 16 October of last year); 30 co-prisoners were sent to Osmania where they are still waiting in prison without a trial, while he let others go free in order not to have to punish Islamic robbers. Instead, he had those people arrested who had supplied information on the robbers and who had been promised immunity from prosecution.
At the beginning of the war General Fakhri Pasha removed the company of soldiers stationed at Zeitun against the advice from the Vali of Aleppo, Djelal Bey, and replaced them with Islamic gendarmes from Marash, who were partly personal enemies of the inhabitants of Zeitun. The latter were handed over to them; Zeitun is an exclusively Christian town. Several times men were mistreated and women molested while both the captain of the gendarmerie and the Kaymakam tolerated and even favoured such abuses. The suppressed population of Zeitun appealed to the Mutesarrif of Marash to recall those two officials. At the advice of the Vali, Haidar Pasha was replaced in November by the Mutasarrif Mumtaz Bey, who was non-partisan and fair in his dealings to size up the real situation. He asked for proof of guilt of the two officials. But the inhabitants did not dare to give proof against officials. Each and every witness would sooner or later suffer unrelenting consequences. So the gendarmes continued to create havoc and caused further embitterment.
There is another reason fuelling the unrest. A group of Armenian soldiers, stationed in Marash, poorly supplied with food, and tormented and mistreated since they were from Zeitun, deserted. At the beginning of March, the government took away uniforms and weapons from the Christian soldiers for reasons having nothing to do with the local area. Since this was perceived by the uninformed troops as a prelude to more and stronger actions against Christians, more Christian soldiers deserted and joined forces with the robbers living around Zeitun. When gendarmes were sent out to catch them, they resisted and shot six of the gendarmes to death around 9 March. A Muslim muleteer on his way to Zeitun was also killed.
The inhabitants of Zeitun, fearing that the robbers would possibly carry out assaults on the town, asked for protection and received it. When the different quarters were patrolled by gendarmes, shots were fired from a house at a patrol in the Yeni Dunya quarter in which Nazareth Tschaush used to live. Instead of surrounding this house and catching the culprits, the captain of the gendarmes, who had harassed the inhabitants, chose not to go back into the city, but remained in the barracks on the upper side of the town. As a result, the insurrectionary movement expanded. The brigands and deserters entrenched themselves in the former cloister (Tekke) on the outskirts of town, which is a place of pilgrimage. Attempts to have them turned over by the inhabitants failed, since nobody believes in the promises of the government anymore. Now they had to pay for the fact that Haida Pasha had broken his word in October and had punished those who turned over the deserters and robbers. Naturally, Mutesarrif Mumtaz Bey accepted the offer of the Missionary Blank from the German relief work in Marash to go to Zeitun and try to achieve a peaceful surrender. Blank left for Zeitun on 23 March, but failed in his efforts since no one was allowed close to the cloister anymore; instead, the dispatched local emissary was threatened with a weapon as soon as he mentioned surrender. They declared they would have to die anyway. They would rather do that with weapons in their hands than surrender to the government. Thereafter, the local commander surrounded the cloister using an insufficient number of troops. Had he proceeded in a proper military manner, he would have captured all of the robbers. He only had to wait for the arrival of the artillery, or to starve the robbers into submission. But he launched an attack. The major of the gendarmes of Marash rode towards the cloister and was shot with a few other soldiers. The robbers numbering approximately 150 broke through, losing a few dead and injured who fell into the hands of the attacking troops, reached the town and went to the mountains. It is worth mentioning that apparently they cut off the heads of 2 of their own to make it impossible for the Turks to identify them. Afterwards the cloister was destroyed by artillery fire. It will be nearly impossible to capture the robbers in the mountains. In the meantime, Mumtaz Bey rushed to Zeitun where he discharged first the captain of the gendarmes, because he did not take proper measures after the patrol was shot at, and then the Kaymakam, because he refused to come down from the barracks to do his duty in the town even after the Mutesarrif arrived.
The actions in Zeitun are steadily acquiring greater importance inasmuch as they have an impact upon nearby Marash as the next biggest town. There are 50 to 60 000 inhabitants; about 36000 of them are Muslims and about 24000 Christians. They subsist partly on trade and industry but mainly on agriculture, cultivation of vines (turning grapes to raisins and the preparation of grape honey), rice, cotton, silk and others. Even though the soil is fertile and there is enough water for the corn, the population is still poor and right now close to extremely hard times, partly due to the political unrest and partly due to the very poor transport conditions. For over 18 years, they have been working on the only street connecting Marash with the rest of the world by way of Aintab, and have hardly finished half of it. When the Aksu was in flood it used to cut off traffic, but since the wife of a Mutesarrif almost drowned in it, it now has a bridge crossing it. People who hoped to keep their influence while transport traffic remained cut off and who wanted to work against the progressive Mutesarrif burned this wooden bridge, which was rebuilt after one year. The inhabitants are peaceful and do not consider resisting the government. The mobilisation and the widespread confiscations were hard on them; as a result, there is hardly any transportation available. The car I arrived in from Aleppo was the only one in the whole town. By the end of March there were altogether 2000 horses and mules requisitioned. On 5 April, 500 donkeys were requested. Christian muleteers were forced to work for 4 weeks for military purposes without pay or requisition papers, while the Muslim muleteers were let go after a few days. Even though they were released with papers to show that they did their duty, they were nevertheless often picked up elsewhere. The situation was already strained when the events in Zeitun took place. Now the Armenian population also lost their weapons, mainly through preferred nightly house raids; soldiers beat Christians, women were molested under the pretext that they were going to be searched for weapons, children were stoned. The rumour was spread that Christian soldiers poisoned the bread of their Muslim comrades; Muslim women openly threatened with massacres, a Muslim offered his house to his Christians friend as shelter. Influential Muslims decided to send a telegram to the central government saying that the Armenians had occupied a mosque. This stupid charge shows the inferior level of education of the local Muslims. The telegram was first shown to the Mutesarrif in Zeitun who prevented it from being sent and who lodged a complaint with the court-martial, which, however, did not take action against the instigators. The court-martial’s chief judge, Colonel Shükri Bey, denied to me that a telegram was planned, but admitted that there was a request from the Muslims to have the Mutesarrif deposed. The court-martial, therefore, arrested the author of this request, Hamdi Bey, for meddling in official matters.
While the Armenians had to surrender their weapons, the Muslims had the opportunity to buy powder and small shot. The inhabitants of the village of Tekerek sent a message to nearby Marash indicating that they would have to convert to Islam or lose their lives. The German mission in Marash doubted that the government would be able to control the inhabitants of Marash if conditions became worse and especially if more fighting took place and more Muslim blood was shed in Zeitun; it was also doubtful whether the government would be able to keep the people of Marash in check; it was also doubtful which of the local officials would get the upper hand: the sensible ones presented by the Mutesarrif or the stronger ones, who included a few of the notables, particularly the head of the criminal court, Muhammed-I-Djemal, the pharmacist, Lufti Effendi, the Muslim deputy, Kadir Bey, and one of the leading officers.
Since all mail including that sent by messengers was strictly censored and the letter sent to me from the mission 4-5 weeks ago by courier never arrived, the relief association decided to send one of the Sisters from Marash to Aleppo to ask me to come for a visit. I respectfully enclose excerpts from the letter of the school principal, Helene Stockmann Enclosure 1, which is especially important since it describes the inhuman methods of corporal punishment. The American mission also asked their consul in Aleppo for a visit. I also beg to inform you of the enclosed letter of Dr. Shepard Enclosure 2 from Aintab. Generally speaking, the inhabitants and the mission expected a lot from the visit of a consul. In the cast-off regions of the interior, which includes Marash, such a visit is very impressive not only for the inhabitants, but also for the local officials. Even the announcement of his coming, which I made in a telegram to the Mutesarrif on 27 March, had a calming and positive influence. Clearly, it also calmed the inhabitants and made an impression on the military. Since my arrival, no more people were beaten in the streets. I beg to inform you of a letter from the American mission Enclusure 3 of the 31st of last month on the effect of my visit. All of the Armenian population of Marash was very thankful for the visit and felt it eased the situation. One can say it also enhanced the prestige of the Germans in those areas tremendously. The enclosed letter from Djemal Pasha Enclosure 4 was only published on 31 of March; in it, the inhabitants were asked to remain calm. By the way, he could not prevent an incident on 3 April, when a patrol forcefully entered the house of a single Armenian living in the Muslim quarter by smashing the door with a butt strike and forced him to convert to Islam.
In the meantime, the incidents in Zeitun continue and there seems to be no end in sight. Major Churchid Bey has been appointed commander of the troops and he is supposed to be energetic and to have experience in the pursuit of robbers. The government is asking all deserters to surrender. By the end of March, 450 surrendered from Marash and 125 from Zeitun; part of them are being used in a penal company and part are waiting for their verdict at the court-martial. By the way, the proceedings at the court-martial are mostly against all rich and respected Armenians, most of whom apparently never had anything to do with the incidents in Zeitun and who would prefer to have all robbers removed so that Marash can become a safe area again. The son of Hosep Effendi Kirlakian, an Armenian deputy, was arrested and first accused of smuggling arms, and when that charge did not stick, he was accused of bribing a man to fire a gun in the streets in order to start unrest. Finally, they had to set him free. House searches were conducted at the following places: the Armenian Protestant pastor, the Catholic Armenian priest, the Armenian director of the German Boys’ School, and the Armenian doctor from the German hospital. Apparently, this was done because they were on a list obtained from Zeitun identifying the members of the Armenian charitable society (in Turkish: ermeni djemiyet kheriye umumiyesi [Ermeni Cemiyeti Keriye Umumiyesi]; in Armenian: parekordzagan [parekorzagan]). This society, with its seat in Egypt, does exist and is recognised by the government; first by Abdulhamid and, in 1910, by the constitutional government. The society aims at supporting Armenian schools and the establishment of model agricultural institutions. No one had to go to Zeitun to get a list to find the members; they could have asked the chairman to come from Marash. It would be understandable if they feared that the society, having its seat in Egypt, would be misused for foreign political purposes during the war. One could not object to an impartial inquiry being conducted on this basis. But I doubt very much that there could be an impartial inquiry conducted by this court-martial. Its performance creates the impression that due to the lack of a purposeful activity it is indulging in fictitious behaviour and, as it cannot reach the true culprits, it seems to cast suspicion on the entire Armenian population and pick on certain people to enrich itself.
I would like to point out one incident: the ruthless house search of the director of the boys’ school, who lives in the building itself, and which was not announced to me or the leader of the mission. I protested to the head of the court-martial, pointing out that the Germans are an allied nation and should be treated accordingly, and asked if he really believed that Germans would tolerate hostile activities from their houses. He insisted he did not know that the director lived in the school and apologised. One bag with confiscated papers and letters, which I had sealed during the house search, to which I had hurried, and which I did not allow to be handed out to the police, had to be given to him upon his request and was opened while a consul member was present. After this he refrained from arresting the director; the confiscated papers of the hospital doctor were also opened in the presence of a consular member.
It would have made more sense for the court-martial to proceed against the Dashnaktsutiun, which do not shy away from arms smuggle, and the Hintschak. But this was not the case. It should be mentioned that the charitable society always refused to deal in arms and was never involved in politics, and never accepted members of the Dashnaktsutiun.
This state of affairs has a bad impact on the economy at the moment. A state of siege has been declared. From dawn onwards, nobody is allowed out in the streets. For a few days the inhabitants were not allowed to leave Marash. This order has been lifted, but for fear of the soldiers the Christian inhabitants do not dare to leave the town to go to their vineyards to tend to them, which is absolutely necessary in the next few years, if they still want to have them bear any fruit this year. This would deny the population a vital source of food.
The danger of other massacres has temporarily passed, even though the Muslim instigators are still busy at work. On 31 March, they sent a telegram asking the central government to move the inhabitants of Zeitun (around 10000 souls) elsewhere and to level the town to the ground. It is certain that, in the long run, this would lead to more unrest. The instigators put pressure upon the rich Armenians in Marash to sign this telegram. But they refused by asking to have it shown to the Mutesarrif first. The Mutesarrif objected to it, as did the Mufti of Marash. On 3 March, house searches took place at the said Armenians’ residences.
Since 5 April, there seems to have been a split in the Muslim circles. Some advise peace, such as the notable Kadir Pasha (not to be confused with the deputy, Kadir Bey) and Shükri Bey, former deputy (not to be confused with the head of the court-martial). All others want to continue inciting.
Since there was no immediate danger for the Germans in Marash, and because I could not wait for further developments to evolve, I left Marash after 9 days. I succeeded in dealing with the officials on a friendly basis. The Mutesarrif is still in Zeitun. I did not meddle in internal Turkish affairs. Only once did I protest unofficially, without the counter-argument that I had no right to meddle, when I intervened after hot coals were put down the dress of a mother visiting her son in jail to bring him food – all prisoners had to be fed by their relatives.
From the very beginning I never intended to go to Zeitun since there were no German interests to protect; but the military surmised that I wished to go and did everything possible to prevent me from doing so. According to the Missionary Blank, all robbers and deserters who had fled to the mountains would still surrender, if only they were reassured by an official, who came to them, that the conditions of the surrender would be adhered to. However, the officials do not want any foreigner to succeed where they have failed, besides not wanting to have foreigners interfering in internal Turkish affairs.
Until now, it has not been possible to liquidate the robbers. At the beginning of April, the small conical mountain, Ala Kaia, halfway between Marash and Zeitun, was their refuge, a very inhospitable and rough country. Here they were supposed to be attacked. It was rumoured in Marash that the inhabitants of a small village left their homes and joined up with the robbers in fear of the oncoming troops. If this news should be true, it would be a sign that the movement could still expand in this direction.
On the evening of 8 April, Fakhri Pasha arrived in Aintab and moved on to Marash and Zeitun on the 10th of the month. Count Wolfskeel, who is accompanying him, will know whether his inspections will produce good or bad results.
After my return, Djelal Bey, the Vali of Aleppo, let me know that on the Turkish side of the border to Russia some of the Armenian villages occupied by Russians showed sympathy towards Russia; that some inhabitants of Armenian villages on the Turkish side were killed by Muslims; and that apparently in the Turkish government a current is gaining the upper hand which is inclined to consider all Armenians as suspicious or even hostile. He thinks of this development as a misfortune for his fatherland and begged me to persuade His Excellency the Imperial Ambassador to counteract this trend.
This same report will be sent to the Imperial Ambassador.
Marash, 21 March 1915
… we agree with the government that insubordination needs to be punished and I know that our German government would severely punish such things, but here punishment is not dispensed with objectively. Innocent people suffer and atrocities are committed which make you shudder deep inside. It is true that the inhabitants of Zeitun have a difficult character and at any time there were elements among them who opposed everything violently; but they were led astray more and more through their unwise treatment by the government. When the actions began to take place a few months ago, Haidar Pasha went there and, with the help of the inhabitants, succeeded in capturing the worst of the people, the robbers. But under what conditions! The cruelties were indescribable; even women were beaten. Now the robbers were captured, but instead of openly hanging the main ring leader as a means of deterrence, because he was a very bad man who had many people on his conscience, he was secretly tortured in jail. Now he is a martyr in the eyes of the people. And the other captured robbers? Well, they all escaped from prison and now the inhabitants are supposed to hand them over. But they have already done this once; why did the government not guard them better? …
… the more you go into the interior of the country, the worse it gets, and I think the government in Constantinople does not have any idea what it is like in the interior. For instance, there was a murder a couple of days’ trip from here. A man was put into jail under suspicion of being the murderer. A witness was questioned and since he didn’t know anything, he was also thrown into jail and beaten till he agreed to say “yes” to everything out of pure fear. Now the first one could be executed and the other one went insane in the knowledge that he caused the death of an innocent victim. Do you know what it means to be beaten? A few months ago we had people in here whose toes had to be amputated; Haida Pasha beat them that badly during the investigations. They receive caning on the bare soles of their feet, sometimes more than a hundred strokes.
Dear Mr. Jackson,
I was in Marash for 48 hours from noon of Tuesday till noon of Thursday 18 March last week.
There had no doubt been a plan to stir up a massacre at Marash over the Zeitun disturbances. It had gone so far as to send out messengers to call in the Kurds from the mountains; but the Government had frowned upon it and it seemed to me to be definitely defeated, especially as I understood that the attitude of the leaders and a large majority of the people in Zeitun was correct. Now Miss Roner comes with the statement, that hostilities are imminent as between that place and the Govt. In which case it will be somewhat difficult to control the Muslim mob at Marash. I sincerely wish that a representative from the German or American Consulate or better still from each might be sent to Marash (not to meddle in the least with the Zeitun matters, but to look after the large German and American interests in Marash).
Miss Roner will be able to tell about the state of feeling among the Germans and Americans of that place.
Everything is very quiet here in Aintab.
Let me congratulate your Consul through you on the success thus far since coming to Marash. There is a distinct improvement in the general condition which we are very ready to attribute to his influence. We hope he will be able to remain here long enough to secure that any pledges given to him will be faithfully carried out. Kindly express our gratitude to him.
With kind regards
Contenu de l’avis
1. Il est arrivé à Zeitun une révolte à la suite de laquelle il a fallu une action militaire qui se poursuit jusqu’à maintenant.
2. Il est de devoir du gouvernement ottomane de défendre la prospérité, la vie et l’honneur de la population docile soit arménienne soit muselmane. Parconséquent celle-ci doit être sûre qu’elle ne sera pas l’objet d’une attaque et qu’elle pourra s’occuper tranquillement du travail.
3. Celui qui des muselmans pour n’importe quelle raison, attaque un arménien sera regardé comme un émeutier et sera remis sur-le-champ à la cour martiale. Personne donc ne doit se mêler ni directement ni indirectement des affaires du gouvernement même pour la moindre petite chose.
4. Je recommande à la population docile et innocente de se conformer très vite aux instructions de l’autorité militaire, pour qu’aucun de ses membres ne soit pas victimes d’un soupçon ou d’une punition imméritée par suite de la poursuite acharnée des brigands.