CHAPTER VIII

STORY OF WALTER M. GEDDES

 

“I LEFT here on the sixteenth of September, 1915, for Aleppo. I first saw the Armenians at Afion Karahissar where there was a big encampment— probably of ten thousand people—who had come down from the Black Sea. They were encamped in tents made of material of all descriptions, and their condition was deplorable.”

“The next place I saw them was at Konia, also a large encampment. There I saw the first brutality; I saw a woman and her baby separated from her husband; he was put on our train while she was forcibly held behind and kept from getting on the train.”

“The next place where there was a large encampment was at Osmanieh, where there was said to be about fifty thousand; their condition was terrible. They were camped on both sides of the railway track, extending fully half a mile on each side. Here they had two wells from whence they could get water, one of which was very far from the encampment, the other at the railway station platform. At daybreak, the Armenians came in crowds, women and children and old men, to get to the well to get water. They fought among themselves for a place at the well, and the gendarmes, to keep them in order, whipped several people. I saw women and children repeatedly struck with whips and sticks in the hands of the gendarmes. Later I had occasion to pass through the camp on the way to the town of Osmanieh and had an opportunity to see the condition of the people. They were living in tents like those above described and their condition was miserable. The site of the encampment had been used several times by different caravans of Armenians and no attempt at sanitation had been made by either the Turks or the Armenians themselves, with the result that the ground was in a deplorable condition, and the stench in the early morning was beyond description. At Osmanieh, they were selling their possessions in order to obtain money to buy food. One old man begged me to buy his silver snuff-box for a piaster in order that he might be able to buy some bread.”

“From Osmanieh, I traveled by carriage to Rajo and passed thousands of Armenians en route to Aleppo. They were going in ox-carts, on horseback, donkeys and on foot, the most of them children, women and old men. I spoke to several of these people, some of whom had been educated in the American Mission Schools. They told me that they had traveled for two months. They were without money and food and several expressed their wish that they could die rather than go on and endure the sufferings that they were undergoing. The people on the road were carrying with them practically all their household possessions and those who had no carts or animals were carrying them on their backs. It was not unusual to see a woman with a big pack wrapped up in a mattress and a little child a few months old on the top of the pack. They were mostly bareheaded, and their faces were swollen from the sun and exposure. Many had no shoes on, and some had their feet wrapped in old pieces of rags, which they had torn from their clothing.” 

“At Intily there was an encampment of about ten thousand and at Kadma a large encampment of one hundred and fifty thousand. At this place, adjacent to their encampment, were Turkish troops who exacted “backshish” from them before they would let them go on the road to Aleppo. Many who bad no money had had to stay in this camp since their arrival there about two months before. I spoke with several Armenians here and they told me the same story of brutal treatment and robbery at the hands of the gendarmes in charge, as I had beard all along the road. They had to go at least half a mile for water from this encampment, and the condition of the camp was filthy.”

“From Kadma on to Aleppo I witnessed the worst sights of the whole trip. Here the people began to play out in the intense heat and no water, and I passed several who were prostrate, actually dying of thirst. One woman whom I assisted was in a deplorable condition and unconscious from thirst and exhaustion, and farther on I saw two young girls who had become so exhausted that they had fallen on the road and lay with their already swollen faces exposed to the sun.”

“The road for a great distance was being repaired and covered with cracked stones; on one side of the road was a footpath, but many of the Armenians were so dazed from fatigue and exposure that they did not see this footpath and were walking— many barefooted—on the cracked stones, their feet, as a result, bleeding.”

“The destination of all these Armenians is Aleppo. Here they are kept crowded in all available vacant houses, khans, Armenian churches, courtyards and open lots. Their condition in Aleppo is beyond description. I personally visited several of the places where they were kept and found them starving and dying by the hundreds every day.”

“In one vacant house, which I visited, I saw women and children and men all in the same room lying on the floor so close together that it was impossible to walk between them. Here they had been for months, those who had survived, and the condition of the floor was filthy.”

“The British Consulate was filled with these exiles, and from this place the dead were removed almost every hour. Coffin-makers throughout the city were working late into the night, making rough boxes for the dead whose relatives or friends could afford to give them decent burial.”

“Most of the dead were simply thrown into two-wheeled carts, which made daily rounds to all the places where the Armenians were concentrated. These carts were open at first but afterward covers were made for them.”

“An Armenian physician whom I know and who is treating hundreds of these suffering Armenians who have become ill through exposure on the trip, hunger and thirst, told me that there are hundreds dying daily in Aleppo from starvation and the result of the brutal treatment and exposure that they have undergone on the journey from their native places.”

   “Many of these suffering Armenians refused alms, saying that the little money so obtained will only prolong their sufferings and they prefer to die. From Aleppo, those who are able to pay are sent by train to Damascus, those who have no money are sent over the road to the interior toward Deir-El-Zor.”

   “In Damascus I found conditions practically the same as in Aleppo; and here hundreds are dying every day. From Damascus, they are sent still farther south into the Hauran, where their fate is unknown. Several Turks, whom I interviewed, told me that the motive of this exile was to exterminate the race, and in no instance did I see, any Moslem giving alms to Armenians, it being considered a criminal offence for any one to aid them.”

“I remained in Damascus and Aleppo about a month, leaving for Smyrna on the twenty-sixth of October. All along the road I met thousands of these unfortunate exiles still coming into Aleppo. The sights I witnessed on this trip were more pitiful than those I had seen on my trip to Aleppo. There seems to be no end to the caravan which moves over the mountain ridge from Bozanti south; throughout the day from sunrise to sunset, the road as far as one can see is crowded with these exiles. Just outside of Tarsus I saw a dead woman lying by the roadside and farther on passed two more dead women, one of whom was being carried by two gendarmes away from the roadside to be buried. Her legs and arms were so emaciated that the bones were nearly through her flesh and her face was swollen and purple from exposure. Farther along, I saw two gendarmes carrying a dead child between them away from the road where they had dug a grave. Many of these soldiers and gendarmes who follow the caravan have spades and as soon as an Armenian dies they take the corpse away from the roadside and bury it. The mornings were cold and many were dying from exposure. There are very few young men in these caravans, the majority are women and children, accompanied by a few old men over fifty years of age.”

“At Bairainoglou, I talked with a woman who was demented from the sufferings she had undergone. She told me that her husband and father had both been killed before her eyes and that she had been forced for three days to walk without rest. She had with her two little children and all had been without bread for a day. I gave her some money, which she told me would be taken, in all probability, from her before the day was over. Turks and Kurds meet these caravans as they pass through the country and sell them food at exorbitant prices. I saw a small boy about seven years old riding on a donkey with his baby brother in his arms. They were all that was left of his family.”

“Many of these people go without bread for days, and they become emaciated beyond description. I saw several fall from starvation, and only at certain places along this road is there water. Many die of thirst. Some of the Armenians, who can afford it, hire carriages. These are paid for in advance and the prices charged are exorbitant.”

“At many places like Bozanti, for example, where there is an encampment of Turkish soldiers, there is not enough bread for these Armenians and only two hours from Bozanti I met a woman who was crying for bread. She told me that she had been in Bozanti for two days and was unable to obtain anything to eat, except what travelers like myself had given her. Many of the beasts of burden belonging to the Armenians die of starvation. It is not an unusual sight to see an Armenian removing a pack from the dead animal and putting it on his own shoulders. Many Armenians told me that although they were allowed to rest at night, they get no sleep because of the pangs of hunger and cold.”

“These people walk throughout the whole day at a shuffling gait and for hours do not speak to one another. At one place where I stopped along the road for lunch I was surrounded by a crowd of little children, all crying for bread. Many of these little tots are obliged to walk barefooted along the road and many of them carry little packs on their backs. They are all emaciated, their clothes are in rags and their hair in a filthy condition. The filth has given rise to millions of flies and I saw several babies’ faces and eyes covered with these insects, the mothers being too exhausted to brush them away.”

“Diseases broke out in several places along the road, and in Aleppo several cases of typhus fever among the Armenians were reported when I left. Many families have been separated, the men being sent in one direction and the women and children in another. I saw one woman, who was with child, lying in the middle of the road crying, and over her stood a gendarme threatening her if she did not get up and walk. Many children are born along the way and most of these die as their mothers have no nourishment for them.”

“None of these people have any idea where they are going or why they are being exiled. They go day after day along the road with the hope that they may somewhere reach a place where they may be allowed to rest. I saw several old men carrying on their backs the tools of their trade, probably with the hope that they may some day settle down somewhere. The road over the Taurus Mountains in places is most difficult and often times crude conveyances drawn by buffalos, oxen and milk-cows are unable to make the grade and are abandoned and overturned by the gendarmes into the ravine below. The animals are turned loose. I saw several carts, piled high with baggage on the top of which were many Armenians, break down and throw their occupants in the road. One of the drivers, who was a Turk, and who had collected an advance from the people whom he was driving, considered it a huge joke when one woman broke her leg from such a fall.”

“There seems to be no cessation of the stream of these Armenians pouring down from the North, Angora and the region around the Black Sea. Their condition grows worse every day. The sights that I saw on my return trip were worse than those on my trip going, and now that the cold weather and winter rains are setting in, deaths are more numerous. Roads in some places are almost impassable”

 

 

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