1915-07-09-DE-002
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Link: http://www.armenocide.net/armenocide/armgende.nsf/$$AllDocs/1915-07-09-DE-002
Source: DE/PA-AA/R14086
Publication: DuA Dok. 109 (gk.)
Central register: 1915-A-22559
Edition: Genocide 1915/16
Date of entry in central register: 07/29/1915 a.m.
Embassy/consular serial number: Nr. 35/J. Nr. Geh 316
Translated by: Linda Struck (Translation sponsored by Zoryan Institute)
Last updated: 04/22/2012


From the Consul in Trebizond (Bergfeld) to the Reichskanzler (Bethmann Hollweg)

Report



No. 35 / J. No. secret 316
Trebizond, 9 July 1915

After Turkey joined the war, the local Armenians began to fear the worst for their personal safety. Although there were no signs of imminent excesses, I still mentioned to the local Vali in a friendly way the question of protection for the Christians in Trebizond and surrounding areas. He gave me the most definite assurances that nothing would be undertaken against them as long as they behaved peaceably themselves and he showed me a telegram from the Minister of the Interior in which Talaat Bey recommended the Armenians to be given special protection by the authorities. Indeed, the Christians here enjoyed the very greatest safety at first and the house searches which were necessary in the homes of some Armenians were carried out with the utmost consideration, as I have been assured by the Armenians themselves. This deserves even more recognition as Russian Armenians on the coast are fighting in bands, not only against the Turks, but have also stirred up severe excesses against the Russian Muslims. Thousands of Muslims, fleeing from them, have arrived here in the meantime and been transported on into the interior of the country. Their tales of suffering are enough to turn even non-Muslims against the Russian Armenians.

The Christians have badly rewarded the unprejudiced treatment shown towards them by the Turks. They made no secret of their aversion to Turkey and their sympathies for the Entente, in particular for Russia. They are to blame for the most ridiculous rumours that are going around here, such as the fall of the Dardanelles, of Constantinople, of Erzurum, the Russian landing near Midia or even the escape of the Sultan to Broussa. Then came the exposure of the plot against the Young Turkish system and its leaders, the revolt of the Armenians in the province Van and the disturbances they caused in other places in Turkey. This probably incited the Sublime Porte to take exceptional measures against the Armenians.

On 24 June, the local leaders of the Armenian committee were arrested and exiled to the interior of the country via Samsun. The same day I heard that the deportation of all Armenians was being considered and that there was a trend towards using this occasion to instigate excesses against the local Armenians. I have pointed this out to the Vali and received the briefest explanations from him that any possible expulsion of the Armenians, even under armed resistance, would simply be carried out by the civil and military authorities, excluding any irresponsible private persons. On 26 June, the Armenians were then told to prepare themselves for deportation into the interior of the country with only 5 days’ notice. Only the sick were allowed to remain behind and accommodation was planned for them in hospitals. The sale of any of their possessions was prohibited. Their shops and storerooms were to be sealed, all objects from their homes brought to certain places and placed under the supervision of the government. Money was to be brought to the post office for gradual forwarding at later intervals.

About 30,000 people in the province of Trebizond were affected by the deportation. A mass transport of this kind on routes where there is a lack of food and accommodation and which is said to be completely infested with typhus fever along the first 300 kilometres, must have claimed numerous victims among the Armenians, in particular among the women and children. This must have provoked justified criticism of such extreme measures both abroad and perhaps also in Germany. I have therefore informed the Imperial Embassy in Constantinople of the situation and have at the same time approached the local Vali in an effort to mitigate the expulsion order. He showed willingness to listen to the representations, which I conveyed in a friendly manner, and made considerable concessions. So for the time being, the following were exempted from deportation: all children under 10 years of age, widows and orphans, as well as female persons who are currently without male protection, which also included the families of those in the armed forces, the sick and expectant mothers as well as the Catholic Armenians. The sick and the pregnant women were also allowed to stay in their homes and to keep a female member of the family with them to look after them. Children were accommodated with friends. Finally, the deportees were also allowed to sell valuable and household items after acquiring permission from the Director of Police. During the first two days the transportations were carried out in accordance with these principles, whereby leniency was largely practised in respect of the age of children and of women’s illnesses. Unfortunately, on the third day, apparently upon instructions from Constantinople [“apparently upon instructions from Constantinople” deleted by Rosenberg for distribution purposes.], all the exceptions made so far, except for the permission for children to remain, were revoked.

The deportation from the town of Trebizond and the immediate vicinity has been completed. Some cases of suicide and a case of arson were registered. Other occurrences have not been recorded.

The Vali gave me reassuring affirmations for the safety of the deportees during their transportation. I also have faith in his energy and his good will to make sure that within his sphere of influence nothing would happen to the Armenians. In the meantime, there are signs that elsewhere there are plans to destroy the Armenians totally. [“totally destroy the Armenians“ was replaced by: “proceed less leniently.”] In fact, between Erzindjan and Diyarbekir Armenians have been massacred on the mountain road, allegedly by Kurds, and larger bands of ambushers under French-speaking leaders have been seen near Erzurum and Baibourt. [The following passage was deleted up to the end of the paragraph (from “After all it...." as far as "..their calculations.”]. After all it is remarkable that in that area, which up to now was considered safe, such large bands can be formed. Without being able to produce any evidence for my opinion, I cannot help thinking that the Young Turkish Committee can be regarded as the driving force behind the measures being taken against the Armenians. The Central Committee seems to want to finally put an end to the Armenian question in this way, because only in exceptional cases will those Armenians who actually reach their destination return later to their former homes. Most of them will not have the necessary means. This will mean that in future there will no longer be any provinces with a strong Armenian percentage of the population. The local committees of the Young Turks hope to gain extensive private profit from taking over the possessions of the deported Armenians and in view of the dependency of most administrative authorities from the Committee they will most certainly not have been wrong in their calculations.

In respect of the Turkish population, on the whole it must be said that very many Turks are not in agreement with the expulsion of women and children. On the other hand, it has become apparent that the Armenians have shown very little pleasant character in this matter. The first who asked for intervention in favour of their being allowed to stay were the priests; it never occurred to them that especially in times of need their place was by the side of their congregations; when it was clear that no exceptions could be arranged for the priests, the representative of the local Bishop, a deacon with a white beard, asked the Vali for permission to convert to Islam, whereby the latter replied that there was no reason why he should not do so, he only needed to recite the Muslim creed and after that to agree to be circumcised. However, it was also explained to him that the expulsion was not being carried out against the Christians but against the Armenians, so that an Armenian who had converted to Islam would then also be due for expulsion as a Muslim Armenian. The male Armenians, after the declaration of the expulsion order, did not leave their homes at all, but always sent their wives; many government and bank employees managed to arrange for their expulsion to be postponed and let their families go on alone.

Heart-rendering scenes took place in front of the Imperial Consulate and the private apartment in the country, into which I moved since the serious bombardment of the town by the Russian fleet. Numerous women were begging for salvation for themselves or at least for their children. I have had to refrain from taking any [“any whatsoever” deleted.] steps whatsoever in the interest of individual persons and concentrate my efforts on achieving relief for the people as a whole. Only in one case was I forced to make an exception. In the night from 6th to 7th inst., the Armenian chairman of the local council, who lived next to the Consulate, climbed over the wall surrounding the Consulate grounds with his family, seeking refuge there. To avoid going into the issue of asylum rights, I persuaded the Vali to let him stay. The Vali allowed this on the condition that in his capacity as chairman of the district council, he would help the authorities with their measures for sealing the Armenian homes, house searches, etc. The Armenian agreed to do so.

My colleagues here have informed their embassies in Constantinople of the expulsion orders by telegraph. The representatives of Italy and the United States, who are not allowed ciphered communication with their embassies, have had to limit themselves to a short message about the fact. The Consul of Austria-Hungary has drawn the attention of his immediate authorities to the great dangers for women and children which are presented by the mass deportation. My Austrian colleague has placed his intervention with the local Vali for some children, the American Consul for the Persian Armenians under his protection, both in vain. The Italian colleague has had a nervous breakdown for fear of uprisings against the Christians. [“against the Christians” deleted.] With my Austrian colleague I have discussed the steps to be taken with the Vali. He has refrained from any intervention on his part. I declared my agreement with this, because for one thing, I know that the Vali does not like him; then this official [“on the one hand I know that he is not well liked by the Vali, this official has...” replaced by "as the Vali has extreme confidence in me.”] has extreme confidence in me which also enables me to discuss openly with him delicate governmental topics such as the expulsion of the Armenians, without endangering the good understanding which we two authorities have at present. [Deleted up to the end of the paragraph (from “Moreover .." until .. "my American colleague and myself.")]. Moreover, the Austrian Consul is also of a somewhat timid nature. On the second day of the expulsion he went to the American missionary where many Armenian children are accommodated, then he did not leave his shelter in the country for five days. This meant that the full burden of pacifying the Armenians fell upon my American colleague and myself.

During the critical days, the police station in the immediate vicinity of the Imperial Consulate was given military protection and my private apartment was observed inconspicuously by the military. For reasons of prestige I have refused any protection for my person, also for my rides into the town and back. [From here to the end of the document deleted for distribution purposes.]

I do not consider it to be impossible that as a result of the expulsion of the Armenians from Trebizond attacks will be aimed against the Imperial Consulate by the foreign press and perhaps also by German newspapers. I consider it necessary to report in detail on the deportation and the steps taken by the Imperial authorities on this occasion.

I have passed a copy of this report to the Imperial Consulate in Constantinople.


Bergfeld



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