Turkish Genocides: Lecture by Georg Brandes in Berlin Feb. 2nd 1903
This lecture was held after the two “lesser” genocides on the Armenians in 1876 and 1894-96 etc. up to 1900. The number killed in these years has been counted anywhere from 300.000 to a million, according to which author one refers to. Brandes had not experienced the genocides himself and had not travelled there, in contrast to for instance Karen Jeppe. His sources were mainly Aage Meyer Benedictsen as well as German and English articles.
“Even the rulers are today forced to take into consideration a strong and uniformly spoken opinion, and it is therefore important to shout, until such public opinion awakens in all countries. Bodies of dead children in the street, killed by adherents of “The Religion of Peace”. Not least in the German lands. They all know that the Turkish Armenia during the last decade has been a scene of such horrors that the established history of the world hardly reports anything similar even from the worst of times. Nobody had, before we experienced it, thought it possible that an entire population could be held subject to such extortions, torture and mass killings. The blood of hundreds of thousands is screaming to the heavens …
I know that Turkey is a power connected to Germany with bonds of friendship. … Raising the cause for the Armenians in the public opinion of Germany might now have decisive effect. If the Armenians had nothing going for them but their disasters, it would be impossible to reject their participation. They have suffered what can hardly be spoken, much less described, as the listeners would hold their hands over their ears. Merely stating that 300.000 lives have been lost makes merely a superficial impression, and does not trigger much imaginative power.
What use is for instance the message that in 1894 a three week long massacre took place in the villages around Musj, that men, women and children indifferently were cut down, that everywhere violence was committed against the women before they died, that you would give 200 or 300 women at a time to the soldiers for rape, before they were killed with bayonets or sabres!
What use is it to relate what a German traveller reports from the place: In Kendranz the kurds had given each other word to rape any woman aged 5 or above! Or to tell: In another place up to 60 young women and girls were locked into a small church, delivered to the soldiers for raping, and finally killed by them. Blood eventually streamed out through the church doors. To make an unforgettable impression, one needs to go into detail. That hundreds of thousands have been killed makes less of an impression that how they were killed individually. A woman fell to her knees and begged the soldiers to spare her life – in reality two lives. “Is it a boy or a girl?”, the soldiers shouted. And they bet seven medsjidie on a boy. “Now, let’s have a look!”, and cut open her stomach. The person relating this can relate all circumstances and the names of the witnesses. In another location the Kurds took as to if they were able to cut the heads of four children in one stroke, and settled the bet before the eyes of the mothers.
In Trebisund on the first day of the bloodbath an Armenian exited a bakery, where he had bought bread for his ill wife and his children. He was surprised by a raving band of Muslims. He begged for mercy. The pretended to accept not to harm him. He believes them and thanks them sincerely. But they were merely making jest. They tie his feet together. They chop off one hand and slaps his face with the bloody hand. They then chop off the other hand. Then they suggest him to make the sign of the cross, while others suggest him to shout louder, in order that his God may hear him. One cuts off his ears, first stuffs them into his mouth, then throw them in his face. Another shouts: “The mouth of the Effendi must be punished for rejecting such a delicious snack!” And they cut out his tongue. “Now he can no longer blaspheme.” One pops out one of his eyes. The terribly contracted face, the spasms of the poor body encourage these fanatics: they pop out the other eye and cuts off his feet, before they give him the final cut by a dagger stab in the throat.
(Many ladies are crying; others stand up, quite a few leave the hall.)
Later, in a report from the English consulate in Erserúm a scene is described from the village Semál, taking place before the bloodbath: The Armenian Azó had rejected turning in some of the best men in the place. The Muslim judge Talib Effendi and two Turkish captains let him be tortured a whole night. First he received bastonade (extended beating under the feet with sticks). Then they tied him naked with arms spread out to two ledges, and the whipping started. The unfortunate could not move a limb; the contractions in his face revealed his sufferings. The more he screamed, the more they beat him. He begged his executors to kill him. He tried to break his skull against the ledges. It was prevented.
When he still rejected to witness against his own, not wished to taint himself with innocent blood, Talib first let his beard tear out with tongs, then let his body be treated with glowing iron, burned him on his hands, in the face, the feet and on even more sensitive parts of the body. With a glowing tong his tongue was burned. Three times he fainted, but remained defiant. In the neighbouring room his wife and children, stiffened from fear, were forced to hear his suffering.
And then the imprisonment in Bitlis, for one, where the inmates, hobbled together by the hundreds, at times unable to either lie down or sit up in the horrible dirt, were also starved and subjected to torture. I know it and have felt it. You – my audience – have heard me with displeasure. You have pressed yourself to not shout at me: “Enough! Enough!”
I have noted that many ladies have left the hall. It has been gruesome to listen to this. I ask you to multiply the sufferings I have related to you by several hundred thousand and to consider what the ladies from Berlin could not stand hearing, the Armenians have suffered a hundred thousand times over.
This has taken place in our time, in the previous decade, four to five days of travel away from here – and we have let it happen, and have done nothing to prevent it. For a long time Europe was warned. The preparations for the murders in Sassún were so public that the English consulate in Erserúm in a long report requested protection for the Armenian people. England rejected to “interfere in the internal affairs of a friendly power.”. This is the eternal formula.
And this is the unheard: That though Europe is no longer ignorant, these atrocities continue. Even now Armenians are robbed of their freedom, property and cut down in scores. I could bring examples by the hundreds.
One example: On the 3rd of July 1900 five hundred Kurds surrounded the village Spaghánk. With bullets, sabres and bayonets they went to work. Women and children ran out to beg the soldiers for mercy. The smallest children were, still alive and screaming, lifted in the air on the bayonets; the women were undressed, abused and murdered. The village priest, an elderly of 80,had both sides of his mouth cut open and his jaws yanked out. The stomach of a pregnant woman Timene, married to the priests assistant, was cut open; the child cut into pieces and the woman killed, stabbed 50 times.
In 1878 the patriarch of the Armenian church, Nerses, send men with letters of empowerment to the congress in Berlin. And he had luck to make the congress develop article 61, which appears to ensure the future of the Armenians. This article, promises still unfulfilled, remains the hope any friend of the Armenian cause must cling to.
Europe appeared to have taken the suppressed under its protection. Unfortunately the participation was not meant in earnest. And the circumstance that the Armenians had dared to direct their petition to Europe further angered the bitterness against them in the Turkish government.
The Armenian institute in Constantinople (Istanbul) was closed, teaching Armenian history, assembling, holding parties, lectures etc. banned. The press was subjected to severe censorship. Imprisonment and persecutions increased in frequency. The Kurds were organized against the Armenians as cavalry regiments under the name Hamidiéh. The sultan provided these irregular troops his own name and he released them on their unfortunate neighbours to plunder them and beat them down. When the Armenians took up resistance, the government had an excuse to use mass torture and mass killings in order to eradicate the infidel, i.e. Christian, population.
At the congress in Berlin the Ottoman government had in article 61 obligated itself to enact the necessary reforms, guarantee the security of the Armenians, and to be held accountable therefore from time to time. The signatories were granted the right of surveillance of the implementation of these measures. In 15 years thereafter Turkey pacified the western powers by empty rhetoric.
And if Turkey then motivated itself to respond to the insisting notes from the English, Russian and French representatives by enacting a massive bloodbath, they were only encouraged to do so – admitted even by the eager and well informed patriot traveller Paul Rohrbach – because the excellent relationship with Germany made it possible for the Turkish government. Due to the lack of unity they were able to slip through and silence the Armenians by means of bayonets and lances, sharp sabres and glowing iron, rape and arson.
No one can deny that individual German women as well as men proved themselves helpful. German generosity has taken care of the orphans and helped raise them. Everyone also knows the speech of Eduard Bernstein, and it is known to all that a man like Lepsius, who tellingly lost his priest employment for this, has thrown in everything in order to relate to his fellow Germans the truth regarding the Armenians.
None the less, without the close relationship between the German empire and the Turkish government, the greatest political crime of the previous century would not have been possible. Therefore it is vital, not least in Germany, to create an opinion in support of the Armenian people.
In the most famous ancient Icelandic saga a woman throws the blood-soaked cape of his killed husband over a relative, who showed little inclination to take her part, in order to move him to take revenge of the dead. In this case nobody considers revenge. But if it were possible to throw the cape, stiff with the blood of the Armenian victims, on the shoulders of the German people, in order to move the German government to demand security and freedom for the survivors of the ancient and honourable Armenian tribe, this would be most useful.
(Collected works of Brandes, volume XVII)