I have the honour of presenting for your personal perusal a report written by Mr. E. Neuner on his journey to Turkey, which I have checked.
Report on a Journey to Turkey.
Generally, the number of Armenians who died during the evacuations by Turkey is estimated at 2 million, but this figure appears to be quite low. In reality, there will probably be hardly anything left of these poor people by the end of the war. I once asked a higher Turkish public official, who was raised in Germany, whether the investigation of the Armenian question by the Entente powers at the end of the war would not be very unpleasant for Turkey. He replied that by that time there would certainly no longer be an Armenian question, because there would be no more Armenians. This point of view can be heard everywhere and it is really characteristic of the Turkish government's system. However, because practically all of the material that exists with regard to these persecutions has already been passed on by the Jesuits into the hands of France as well as of the Holy See, investigating this question after the war could cause serious difficulties. The worst is that, in general, the Turks believe that these Armenian massacres were carried out in complete agreement with the German government. It would be extremely urgent that some sort of explanation be given by the Germans in which it is expressly emphasised that not the slightest influence has ever been exerted on Turkey's domestic policy or, should this have been done, then only to prevent these disgraceful deeds. The roads in Asia Minor, particularly those leading to the Caucasians and in the Taurus Mountains, are practically littered with the skeletons of Armenians who died of starvation and exhaustion on the road. The worst is that the Turkish police, who had to accompany these Armenian marches from town to town on horseback, sold the young Armenian girls and boys to public houses everywhere for 4-6 German marks. In Mosul, where the Vali became famous for his cruelty, 300 Armenian women were to be distributed among the Turkish harems, and when they absolutely refused they were all thrown into a large well and left there to die.
In the large towns that I visited, the houses that were built the best were formerly all the property of the Armenians. Today, all sorts of other people live in these houses. For example, in the beginning, during evacuation, the person concerned was informed that the house was required for military purposes and that he would have to move out. Although he received not one cent in remuneration, he had to continue paying the relatively high Turkish property and house taxes. If he was unable to pay these taxes, which posed no difficulty as long as he had the income from his house, the house was immediately auctioned off at a ridiculously low price to some interested Turkish person. In this way, all the houses became Turkish property and the Armenians were left empty-handed. Usually, though, particularly later on, a much simpler method was used: the Armenians were simply made to wander so long through Asia Minor until they starved and died, making it much easier for the state to come into the inheritance.
The following is a typical case: the manager of the Ottoman Bank in Eski Sherhr, a man of Armenian origin, but an Austrian protégé, had been given the fortune of an Armenian relative in a strongbox for safekeeping, when this relative was forced by the Turkish government to leave town. The strongbox contained securities as well as jewellery. At that time, the Turkish authorities issued a decree forbidding everyone from accepting any valuables whatsoever from Armenians for safekeeping. This bank manager wished to avoid trouble and decided to hand over the strongbox to the Turkish authorities. Before doing so, he asked some German friends to assist him in making a detailed list of the contents of the strongbox, which he had everyone sign, giving each of them a copy for safekeeping. He then took the strongbox together with a copy of the list of contents to the Mutessariff; this position corresponds approximately to that of the chairman of a German regional council. Two days later he received an order to go to the Mutessariff, who reproached him fiercely for daring to make such a fool of the Turkish authority. He [the Mutessariff] had opened the strongbox and found only old rubbish and two broken revolvers. The two revolvers had obviously only been put in to cause the man difficulties because of the ban against carrying weapons. The bank director then replied that that was not possible; the strongbox must have been raided and filled with these things, because he had made an exact list of contents in front of witnesses before handing it in. The Mutessariff yelled at him, asking how he could dare accuse a Turkish authority of lying, and threw him out. A few days later he was arrested and forced to walk the distance of 420 kilometres to Haidar-Pasha. After he had spent some months there he had to appear in court, where he was sentenced to 6 months in jail, because he had not given the strongbox to the Committee for the Administration of Armenian Wealth, but to the Mutessariff. Despite his being an Austrian protégé, and despite the fact that the entire matter was more than ridiculous, he had to stay in jail for these 6 months, and naturally he also lost his job at the bank. It is possible to cite many more examples of this nature, but it is not really possible to imagine the things that happen down there. It is dreadful.
As MP Pfeiffer's views could spread to his party members and such an unfortunate judgement on our Turkish ally could cause us trouble among the circles in the Reichstag in further carrying out our Turkish policy, I would prefer to receive a note from You on the report, which I could pass on in confidence to MP Pfeiffer himself or MP Erzberger.
[From Bernstorff to Reichskanzler Hertling (No. 102), 6 June 1918]
[In his detailed reply, Bernstorff criticises Neuner's remarks, as he has not given an objective view of Turkey and the conditions there. He writes the following concerning the Armenians:]
So much has been said and written with regard to the "Armenian atrocities" that it appears to be pointless to make remarks on this question within the framework of a report that has been written in such a general way. It is, therefore, superfluous to comment on the remarks made in the report. It cannot be denied that the manner in which the Turks have attempted to handle and wind up the Armenian question was by no means irreproachable, and it gave Turkey's enemies extremely extensive material for agitation. Indeed, things happened during the deportations of the Armenians that were inexcusable and, from a one-sided and malicious point of view, could lead to doubt concerning the cultural capabilities of the Turks. It must not, however, be overlooked that such movements do not occur without reasons, and it would be unfair to the Turks to present the Armenians as innocent victims of a senseless, religious hate that has no base whatsoever. The author of the report gives correct information on the emergence of the so-called Armenian question: how such a question did not previously exist and how anti-Turk powers such as England and Russia only created it by launching intensive propaganda among the Armenians. These powers gradually managed to create a centre of unrest in the Caucasus. At the beginning of Turkish operations against Russia, the long stirred up hatred of the Armenians broke out, partly in the form of open rebellion, partly by spying for Russia and partly by obstructing and harassing the Turkish military bases. In addition, atrocities were also committed against the Moslem population. It is possible to explain why the Turkish government took drastic action against this terrible state of affairs. It had to view the Armenians as a people whose existence was suited for endangering the continuance of the Ottoman Empire. The fact that this approach was not limited to those Armenians living in the Caucasus can be explained by the economic power of the Armenians, who were previously the mainstay of economic life in Turkey. This power was a heavy burden for the Turkish population, and the Turks finally considered it the right time to free themselves of what they believed to be an unbearable economic pressure.