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6-10-2015, 13:35

Final Measures to Eradicate the Armenians

In an 18 September 1915 cable addressed to the interior minister, Sabit Bey drew up the first balance sheet of the operations conducted in his region. He estimated the number of deported Armenians at 51,000; 4,000, he thought, were still hiding in the villages.175 From mid-August to mid-November, the authorities focused their efforts on the Armenians who had in one way or another escaped the deportations. To find these fugitives and flush them out of their hiding places, however, Vali Sabit needed to restore a climate of relative confidence. Thus, less than a month after the departure of the last convoys of deportees, on 18 August, the town crier announced that the Protestants - virtually all of whom had already been deported - were now free to remain in their homes.176 Davis notes that on two occasions, notably on 26 September, the authorities had announcements made to the effect that there would be no further deportations.177 And indeed, no noteworthy initiatives were taken for two weeks, although the police did stage a raid on the American hospital in order to verify that no “non-authorized Armenians” were to be found there.178 A number of villages on the plain, such as Habusi, were now inhabited by Qerkez, Turks, and Kurds from the eastern provinces, but other villages, such as Hoghe, near Harput, were still occupied by Armenians.179

On 4, 5, and 6 November, however, the deportees from Trebizond, Erzerum, and Ordu who had found refuge in Harput’s Upper Quarter - Armenians and Syriacs from the city and people who had returned to the villages of the plain - were rounded up in a raid and assembled in the police station.180 On 4 November, the American hospital was also surrounded by troops and the United States consulate was put under surveillance. With the exception of a few doctors, the Armenians working there were women taking care of Turkish soldiers, such as the schoolteacher Anna, a widowed mother of three who had also adopted the six children of her deceased sisters. At half past one in the morning, the police burst into the hospital and demanded that all the men and boys present be turned over to them. A mother gave her eldest daughter to a gendarme so that he would help her and her other children remain in the city.181 On 8 November, the 435 people who had been rounded up over the past few days were finally deported.182 Davis, for his part, estimates that 1,000 to 2,000 Armenians were led off and killed in “isolated valleys” by “gendarmes” early in November.183

These events occurred on the orders of General Suleyman Faik, the commander of the Eleventh Army Corps and acting vali184 in the absence of Sabit, who had left for Erzerum on 19 October.185 Together with the vali of Erzerum, Tahsin, the vali of Sivas, Muammer, and the vali of Trebizond, Cemal Azmi, Sabit was taking part in a meeting organized by Kamil Pasha. According to an Armenian survivor, Mihran Zakarian, the discussions at this meeting turned, notably, on the measures to be taken to ensure that confiscated assets become state property.186 The inadequacy of our sources about this meeting does not allow us to substantiate Zakarian’s claim, but given the fact that it was held after the first phase of the eradication of the Armenians had come to an end, it is likely that its purpose was to ascertain the results of the operations and perhaps decide what needed to be done to finish the job. Thus, the October meeting would have been a kind of follow-up to the one organized in Erzincan in late July.187 At any rate, such is the impression created by two telegrams brought to light by the Istanbul commission of inquiry in 1919. The first, dated 3 November, apparently refers to the conscripts, considered “deserters,” who had managed to elude the fate reserved for worker-soldiers:

We understand that, where you are, scattered here and there, Armenian males are living with Armenian females without guardians who have arrived from various places.

This situation is likely to lead to disorder: in one or two days, individuals of this kind

Must be rounded up and sent off, under escort, by way of the road to Dyarbekir.188

This first telegram can, however, also be interpreted as an order to deport Harput/Mezreh’s remaining Armenians. That, in any event, is how General Faik interpreted it, who answered Sabit the same day with:

A search group has been created and assigned the task of flushing out Armenians in hiding, whether they are from the city or elsewhere; one convoy was recently

Dispatched. In future, in accordance with Your Excellency’s orders, we shall accelerate

Operations and bring this situation to an end.189

Other documents that bear on the sancak of Malatia are much more explicit. These clearly indicate that, “in conformity with the most recent orders received, not a single local [Armenian] has been left behind. Similarly, not a single person who has come from elsewhere has been allowed to remain.”190

In light of the above, we are inclined to think that the participants in the Erzerum meeting decided, among other things, to liquidate the last Armenians in the eastern provinces. After the early November deportations of the 1,000 Armenians who had been left in Mezreh and Harput, there remained only 150 girls in the custody of American missionaries,191 300 to 500 children in Mezreh’s German orphanage,192 and a few orphans, who roamed the streets and occasionally came to the mission in search of a bit of bread - the sole survivors of the group that had been taken from Mezreh’s Turkish orphanage on 22 October and thrown into the river at Izoli.193

With the departure of a number of American missionaries on 15 November, the authorities stepped up their harassment, demanding that the Americans hand over the girls in their institution.194 As for the wards of the German orphanage, its Danish director, Genny Jansen, informs us that, in January 1916, the authorities officially requested that Reverend Ehmann hand the children over to them, so that they could “be sent to the places where their parents are.” After obtaining “solemn assurances that these children would be delivered to their destination safe and sound,” the orphanage’s German staff entrusted the 300 boys to the “special agents” come to take them away.195 Two days later, two of the orphans arrived at the German orphanage “covered with sweat from running so long” and informed their former protectors that “their comrades [were] being burned alive” at two hours’ distance from Mezreh. Jansen confesses that she did not believe a word of this “very incredible story” at first, but that, when she went the next day with the German nuns to the place that the orphans had described, she saw a “still smoldering black heap” and the “poor children’s charred skeletons.”196 Inexorably, the authorities were eliminating the last traces of an Armenian presence in the region.