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1915: Rev. Father Dakras
Eyewitness Account of Burning Massacres

by The Canadian Annual Review of Public Affairs, 1915. 100 MB PDF file.

Posted: Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 09:11 AM UT

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1915: Rev. Father Dakras' Eyewitness Account of Burning Massacres

[Page 48]

A Holy War, already, had been proclaimed and the Sultan's Fetwa or proclamation of Oct. 29th, 1914, called 300,000,000 Mohammedans to arms; Britain's answer was the annexation of Cyprus, the dethronement of the Khedive of Egypt, the appointment of Hussein I. as Sultan, the sending of the Moslem Indian troops to guard the Suez Canal. To the war Turkey contributed from 500,000 to 1,000,000 men variously trained and equipped and scattered from Adrainople to Palestine, from the Dardanelles to the Caucasus. Enver Pasha stated on Sept. 16 that his country had 2,000,000 men under arms as compared with 700,000, on paper, a year before. The latter Teuton command of the Orient Railway from Belgrade to Constantinople released arms which greatly strengthened these armies, whatever their exact number, and paved the way for many rumours in December of a coming invasion of Egypt. The losses of the Turks in Gallipoli must have run from 100,000 to 200,000 men; the Allied losses after the withdrawal on Dec. 19 were stated at 25,279 killed, 75,191 wounded and 12,451 missing.

Meanwhile this re-organized German Ally had been committing characteristic atrocities in Armenia throughout the first half of 1915. It was an effort at the murder of a nation, an apparently methodical and organized massacre of a people, and was carried out with frightful cruelty and callous barbarism. In Armenia 500,000 villagers were driven from their homes, wounded, outraged, tortured, sold into slavery; 500,000 others were killed with every species of suffering and torture. According to Arnold J. Toynbee, in a book introduced by Lord Bryce as reliable, the following was stated by the local Italian Consul to have occurred at Trebizond:

Orders came from Constantinople that all the Armenian Christians were to be killed. Many of the Moslems tried to save their Christian neighbours and offered them shelter in their houses, but the Turkish authorities were implacable. Obeying the orders which they had received, they hunted out and drove a great crowd of Christians down the streets, past the fortress toward the edge of the sea. There they were all put on board sailing boats, carried out some distance on the Black Sea, thrown overboard and drowned.

Mr. Toynbee's evidence was that of Consuls and Missionaries; the details were sickening and almost unprintable.

Lord Bryce, himself, went into this and other evidence and declared that in the town of Mush German officers directed an attack upon a church to which the Armenians had fled, and permitted succeeding scenes of awful atrocity. One of the least horrible details may be quoted:

The head men were subjected to revolting tortures, their finger nails and their toe nails were forcibly extracted; teeth were knocked out, and, in some cases, noses were whittled down, the victims then being done to death under shocking lingering agony.

Men, women and children were burned alive by hundreds. Speaking in London on Oct. 15th Lord Bryce said:

I am sorry to say that such information as has reached me from many quarters goes to show that the figure of 800,000 which Lord Cromer thought incredible as a possible total for those who have been destroyed since May last is, unfortunately, quite a possible number. That is because the proceedings taken have been so absolutely premeditated and systematic. The massacres are the result of a policy which, as far as can be ascertained, has been entertained for some considerable time by the gang who are now in possession of the Government of the Turkish Empire.

The Rev. Father Dakras of the Roman Catholic Church at Urumiah (Urmia), Persia, in a letter written from Athens, on Nov. 7th after his escape from the Turks with personal proofs in wounds and suffering, described certain scenes which he had witnessed:

Godless invaders gathered around units of panic-stricken Christians, who were unarmed and helpless, men, women and children, and drove them into wells. These wells, filled with humanity, were guarded while other Kurds dashed to the already deserted houses, produced kerosene oil and poured it into the wells. On Jan. 4th no less than 15 such wells had been filled at Jandarli, near Urumiah, and, simultaneously, they were set on fire. Merciful Father! I can still hear the shrieks of the victims. But their tormentors watched the work with serene satisfaction.

In a letter to Prof. A. H. Abbott of the University of Toronto, written from Urumiah (Urmia), Rev. E. 0. Eshoo, a graduate of Knox College, wrote (July 27, 1915) amongst other things that, in his district,

12,000 people became victims of this awful cruelty. In Urumiah alone 1,200 were massacred; 1,200 died while fleeing to Russia; 600 girls and young women were carried away by the Kurds into captivity; 1,000 died from sickness after reaching Russia, and 8,000 died from sickness, starvation and fear in Urumiah.

Details of his own relatives killed and tortured were terrible.

Let the summary of the American Committee for Armenian Relief — headed by Bishop D. H. Greer, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Oscar C. Strauss — conclude this reference to a Turkish feature of the War. The statement was issued on Dec. 14: 

According to all the best evidence which the American Committee has received, it is probably well within the truth to say that of the two million Armenians in Turkey a year ago, at least one million have been killed or forced into Islam, or compelled to flee the country, or have died upon the way to exile, or are now upon the roads to the deserts of Northern Arabia, or are already there. The number of victims is constantly increasing.

In London, on Oct. 15, Lord Bryce pointed out that Germany was the only Power which could stop this massacre; as a matter of fact it was practically over by that time. It was stated in the New York press that, during this period, the atrocities were not even mentioned in German papers. As to this point the Rt. Hon. C. F. G. Masterman, in The Nation, toward the close of the year said:

What can be said of German complicity? This:

  1. That from May to October, 1915, when the vast tragedy was being accomplished there were German consuls, all powerful, at every town, who could have telegraphed the facts to their Ambassador at Constantinople and, in an hour, from there to Berlin;
  2. that all demands made by the American consuls to the German consuls to appeal for stoppage or amelioration of these horrors were refused;
  3. that the record of the Belgian atrocities had been published a few months before, and that these atrocities differed in degree only, but not in kind, from the German;
  4. that the Turks in Anatolia being incredibly stupid and unteachable, the whole apparatus of trade, commerce and culture had fallen into the hands of the Armenians, and the elimination of a million of them would leave a gap specially suitable to the kind of German immigration which most feels the pressure of population at home, and most desired opportunity for expansion abroad.
    More than this at present we cannot say.

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