The ARCHBISHOP of CANTERBURY called attention to the sufferings of the Christian refugees, Armenian, Nestorian, and Chaldean, who were still prevented from returning to their homes by the Turkish troops who were occupying the districts from which they were driven and to the repeated declarations made by the Government that all Turkish rule should cease in Armenia and other districts referred to ; and asked whether the Government could give any information as to the steps taken or proposed in relation thereto. Referring to the Blue-book on the subject, he said that it revealed appalling stories of wholesale massacre and of wholesale expulsion of great populations from their homes. Apparently at the very outbreak of the war a deliberate plan was adopted by the Turkish Government that people who were loyal to the Christian faith and had held their own in the face of oppression should be massacred or deported, which simply meant massacre in a different way. The last thing he wished to do was to go in detail into all the horrors that these people had been submitted to. The Principal of the American College had collected details as to the deportations, and from these it appeared that out of one lot of persons of 695 who set out from a certain village for Aleppo, 321 reached Aleppo, 206 men and 57 women were killed, 70 girls and young women and 19 boys were sold, and some 23 were missing. Then there were also a number of massacres of women and children under the most horrible circumstances of savagery. What was the result? There was no dispute as to what happened in 1915. The Armenian inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire were everywhere uprooted from their homes and deported to the most remote and unhealthy districts that the Government could select for them. Some where murdered at the outset, some perished on the way, and some died after reaching their destination. The death-toll amounted to upwards of 600,000 ; perhaps 600,000 more were still alive in their places of exile ; and the remaining 600,000 or so had either been converted forcibly to Islam, gone into hiding in the mountains, or escaped beyond the Ottoman frontier. The Ottoman Government could not deny these facts, and they could not justify them. He believed that these stories were an outrage on civilization without parallel in the history of the world. Even under barbarian rule the wildest barbarians had never exceeded the horrors of the kind we had here. And these horrors could be traced to the deliberate plan and scheme of a Government with which Europe was supposed to be on friendly terms. Was it conceivable that we were now going to allow these facts to be forgotten or that we were going to allow conditions to arise again in which their repitition would be possible?
The Turkish Government in their reply did not deny the awful charges, but made excuses. They said these were rebellious people and not loyal to Turkish rule, and it was necessary to exercise discipline. They said it was the Ottoman Government’s duty to uphold public law and order. We had a right to expect that we were going to receive practical aid from those who shared our responsibilities in the war and who ought to share them now. The story of these hardships had been obliterated from many people’s minds by the incidents of the war, but whatever flag flew in these regions, actual control must never again be in Turkish hands.
EARL CURZON’S REPLY.
EARL CURZON (Secretary for Foreign Affairs) in reply said that what the House would be concerned with was what the Government were doing and what was the prospect which lay before the people of whose sufferings they had heard so much. In the vicinity of Baghdad a camp has been established in which about 53,000 refugees had been collected. They had been there from September or October, 1918, and consisted partly of Assyrian-Christians from Persia and partly from the regions of Kurdestan, and partly of Armenians. They had been maintained by us at a cost of £2,500,000 a year. They had been engaged in various forms of work, but the important thing was to get them back. The difficulty was manifest. Those of Persian origin could not go back to a country access to which was at present closed, and where no sort of security existed. We had no right under the terms of the Armistice to repatriate these people to places outside the Armistice area, and we had not the force, even if we had the right, to conduct them back into the regions whence they came. The people themselves were naturally loath to move unless they did so under conditions of security, and he was afraid nothing substantial could be done until the winter was passed and the spring had come. Meanwhile the administration of the camp had been taken over by the civilian from the military authority ; and it was hoped that the expense would thereby be reduced somewhat. The policy of his Majesty’s government was to get the Persian Assyrians back to their own country as soon as conditions admitted of it ; and in regard to the Assyrians who lived before and were willing to live again in areas which belonged to the old Turkish Empire, it was desired to place them in territories which, if not actually under our wing, were within easy reach of our protection.
As to the Armenians, about 12,000 refugees were at Aleppo, and arrangements had recently been made between the British and French Governments by which parts of Syria and Cilicia had been vacated by the British troops and handed over to the French. In Cilicia there was an Armenian community which had been under the military charge of the French. In the north there were areas in which large numbers of Armenian exiles were congregated. There the relief work, he was glad to say, was taken up by the Americans. This was the old province of Russian Armenia, and under the new condition of affairs it had claimed for itself national existence and called itself the Armenian Republic. He was afraid there had been great suffering and heavy mortality, and that in many cases the people had reached the absolute limit of their existence. Here the principal relief work had been done by the American Mission. It was a splendid thing to find our efforts being backed up not only by the large hearts but by the deep purse of the American nation. (hear, hear.)
A few months ago it was said that there was very grave danger of a massacre of those unhappy people and a repetition of some of the worst horrors of the past. So far as he could make out that was not at all likely to be true, partly because the Armenians in some quarters were armed and able to take care of themselves ; and partly because he suspected the old massacres were ordered from Constantinople for political reasons, and now, so far as he could gather, there was no means at Constantinople of setting in motion that particular weapon of cruelty. With regard to the various declarations made at different times on behalf of his Majesty’s Government, as to this part of the world, he could assure the most reverend prelate that they were still adhered to. They were shared in by all the Allies ; and he could say-that not many months-he would go further and say, not many weeks-would now lapse before the Allied Powers in Conference were able seriously to come to a solution of the Turkish problem, too long delayed already, and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. (Hear, hear.) He was not certain that the larger aspirations which were once entertained of an Armenia stretching from sea to sea would be capable of realization. The problem was not merely one of means and money, it was also one of men. Many others had hoped-he himself cherished the hope for long-that America would be willing to take up this great responsibility. President Wilson was, he believed, earnestly disposed to do so at one moment, and for all he knew he might be so still ; and had America taken it up she would, with her large ideas and great resources have been able to do it on a much larger and more satisfactory scale than anybody else. He was afraid that the omens in the United States were very unfavourable to any such solution being found, and he thought the best that we could do for the time being, without surrendering the hopes of better things, was to try and solidify, consolidate, and build up the fortunes of an Armenian State in that part of the world to which he had referred.
VISCOUNT BRYCE hoped the Government and the House would appreciate the great urgency of the question and insisted that all possible steps should be taken to free the persecuted territories from the tyranny of the armed bands that were preventing the refugees from returning to their homes and cultivating the land.