Testimonies of American officers who visited the region in the summer of 1919 reveal the atrocities committed by the Dashnak in Eastern Turkey.

15.01.24 15:25


In 1919, Turkey and the countries of the South Caucasus underwent significant changes. The Entente countries, including Great Britain, France, and the USA, were dividing the territories and possessions of the defeated nations after the First World War. The Ottoman Empire was among the defeated nations, and each victorious country aimed to acquire more territories from Turkey. The United States, represented by President Woodrow Wilson, also aimed to establish a foothold in Eurasia by taking territory from Turkey. They planned to give more land in eastern Turkey to the First Republic of Armenia, a state that quickly aligned with the victors and hoped for American support. Although the Republic of Armenia emerged on the world political map and on the original Azerbaijani lands of the former Iravan Khanate, it owed its existence to Turkey and Germany.


At that time, the concept of 'genocide' was not yet known in the world. However, the Hay nationalists - Dashnaks presented themselves to the world community as people who were 'exceptionally long-suffering' and 'victims of massacres'. The Khayyas should not be viewed as victims according to their plans, and sympathy towards them should not have influenced the Americans to support them.


The United States, which was expanding its influence and supporting a state that had suffered greatly, gained territory at the expense of those who had oppressed and persecuted. This political situation was advantageous. When American officers Emory Niles and Arthur Sutherland inspected the territories of the eastern vilayets of the Ottoman Empire, which Hayes nationalists claimed to be 'ancestral Hayes lands' where 'Hayes massacres' allegedly took place, their report was expected to confirm the 'atrocities' of the Turks against the 'unfortunate' Hayes.


However, the opposite was found to be true. In the summer of 1919, two American officers, Emory Niles and Arthur Sutherland, visited Eastern Anatolia to assess the need for humanitarian aid. Their report documented the Hayes crimes committed against the Turkic-Muslim population in the region between Bitlis and Trapezund (Trabzon).


The authors initially doubted the stories they were told, but were eventually convinced of the truth of the following facts: firstly, the Hayyas killed Muslims en masse and with sophisticated cruelty, and secondly, the Hayyas were responsible for much of the destruction in towns and villages. The testimony was unanimous, and the witnesses' evident hatred for the Hayyas, as well as the widespread physical evidence, supported these claims.


The report by Emory Niles and Arthur Sutherland is highly detailed. It begins with a description of the territory they inspected: 'The country through which we travelled is broadly divided into four regions: firstly from Mardin to Bitlis, secondly from Bitlis through Van to Bayazid, thirdly, the border region from Bayazid through Erzerum and fourthly, the Black Sea region around Trebizond.'


The region from Mardin to Bitlis consists of the Upper Mesopotamian plain and the mountainous region bordering it to the north. This area was unaffected by the war since there was no fighting south of it. Bitlis is entirely inhabited by Kurdish tribes who engage in herding and cultivating the land in primitive ways. The entire population appears peaceful and contented.


The second region, from Bitlis through Van to Bayazid, can be described as the Lake Van basin. The region is characterised by high mountains and poor roads. It was the site of intense fighting between the Russians and the Hayyas on one side, and the Turks on the other. Looting and massacres were committed, resulting in the complete devastation of the area. Bitlis and Van, the major towns in the region, were more than 90% destroyed, and most of the villages suffered a similar fate. The landscape is now dominated by bare mountains and ruins. The area's population is mainly composed of Muslim returnees who have settled in the intact Hai villages and are currently engaged in agriculture. Additionally, there is a significant number of Muslim refugees. Finally, there are several hundred Hayes, who are remnants of those who resisted the Turks, residing on one of the islands of Lake Van.


Throughout the region we are told that the damage and destruction was caused by the Hayyas, who stayed on to occupy the country after the Russians left and, as the Turkish army advanced, destroyed everything that belonged to the Muslims.


The Hayyas are also accused of committing murders, rapes, arson and all kinds of terrible atrocities against the Muslim population. At first we did not believe these stories, but eventually, we learned to. Because the testimonies were unanimous and backed up by physical evidence. For example, in the towns of Bitlis and Van, only the Hay neighborhoods were generally left intact, as evidenced by the inscriptions on the houses, while the Muslim neighborhoods were destroyed.


The villages that were allegedly Hay are still standing, while the Muslim villages have been destroyed. There were oral testimonies from the villagers about the atrocities. This led to an intense hatred of the Khayyas everywhere. In every town and village where we stopped, the first wish of the inhabitants was not to tell us about their needs, but about the horrors committed by the Khayyas, about the crimes committed against them and their families", the details of which were almost identical to those committed by the Turks on the Khayyas front. We consider it undeniable that the Hayyas were guilty of crimes of the same nature against the Turks as those of which the Turks were guilty before Armenia.


 The third region, from Bayazid to Erzerum, is undisputed. There was a lot of fighting in this region, and villages and towns were almost destroyed. Moreover, the current inhabitants have not been able to cultivate the land, so there is not enough food for the coming winter... There are very few cattle, so dairy products cannot be produced. There are already reports of famine, although these are probably exaggerated. But the inhabitants of this region will certainly suffer and die in large numbers next winter unless outside food aid is provided. This district includes the town of Erzerum, which has no institutional work. There is also an institutional need in Bayazid, although neither of these places is in as dire a state as Van or Bitlis...


In this region, the racial situation is tense due to the proximity to the Armenian border. Refugees from the border have reported massacres, cruelty, and atrocities committed by the Hayyis.


Although several hundred Hayes are living in the vilayet, it is unlikely that they could live in rural areas of Erzerum vilayet due to the extreme hatred harboured by the Muslim population towards them. Refugees from Armenia in all parts of the region and a British officer in Erzerum confirm the past acts of the Hayes, which support their ongoing hatred. This hatred appears destined to smoulder in the neighbourhood of Van. Refugees from Armenia in all parts of the region and a British officer in Erzerum confirm the past acts of the Hayes, which support their ongoing hatred.


Although we did not witness it personally, we were informed that the Erzincan district was in great need. The same conditions probably exist in that area as in the vicinity of Erzerum. The terrain is comparable, the conflict occurred simultaneously, and the reasons for necessity are identical. We surveyed the area up to Namukatun and found the situation to be identical to that east of Erzerum. The region to the northwest, as far as Bayburt, appears to be in a similar state of disrepair. During our time in Erzerum, we witnessed protests against the resettlement of the Hayes in the region and any annexation of Turkish territory to Armenia. These protests serve as a significant indicator of the general sentiment towards the issue.


The American officers' description of the Dashnak terror-stricken town of Bitlis is characteristic:


"Those who fled Bitlis are slowly returning. The town's population is 50 percent Turkish and 50 percent Kurdish... About nine-tenths of the town has been destroyed... Mosques, shops, public buildings and bridges have been destroyed. The Hai neighborhoods were the least affected and almost the entire population now lives in Hai buildings. There are enough building materials in the ruins to meet the needs of the current population. Wood is scarce, but the hewn stone is plentiful, and mud is used to make mortar. There is plenty of timber in the mountains. American buildings are not destroyed. The walls, roofs and floors are still intact, but the windows and furniture are gone, and the whole complex is in a state of filth and decay. The Turks are rebuilding about 100 Hay houses with the approval of the government.


Security. There are no troops in the town, except for a recruiting station with 10 or 12 soldiers. The Hayyas may be able to return, but they will be in a precarious position. Aid is being provided. There are no hospitals, schools or orphanages operating here at the moment. We have not been told of any orphans who need help. Vali has no plans to help those affected next winter. Everything seems to be at a standstill until the fate of the country is decided...".


The Turkish authorities aimed to ensure the safety of the returning Hayes, but were severely understaffed. There is only one battalion of regular troops in the city of Van, and the number of gendarmes stationed in the villages where the Hayes live for protection is now only one-eighth of the normal amount, with only 350 present in the entire wilayat. Despite this, Wali guarantees that the Hayes in the wilayat will not be persecuted. He now has approximately 700 of them, and he asserts that they are safe...


The Turkish authorities were highly interested in the repatriation of the Hayyan population and even provided them with security. This information is crucial as it suggests that if Armenia had not initiated aggression against Turkey in 1920, the Hayyis could have partially returned to Van, Bitlis, and Erzerum, and the Turkish authorities would have attempted to reconcile the Muslim population with the actions of the Dashnaks.


There was a possibility of peaceful coexistence between the peoples. However, the outbreak of war and the dissemination of information about the deaths of Muslim sons on the Hayes front and the atrocities committed by the Dashnaks against the peaceful Muslim population made it impossible to guarantee a comfortable return and settlement of the Hayes. Turkey, which was also fighting on the western front against the Greek invaders, did not have the resources to send gendarmes and troops to every village to protect those who had recently killed the peaceful Muslim population.


After talking to the Muslim population and understanding their hatred of the Khayyas, Emory Niles and Arthur Sutherland themselves became sceptical about the possibility of restoring the pre-war percentage of the Khayan population.


The residents of Van city appear to be relatively safe, but those living in the surrounding villages may be facing significant challenges. This is due to the widespread negative sentiment towards the Hayes, who are accused of committing various atrocities. Additionally, the arrival of the Mohajirs from the Caucasus has made it seemingly impossible for the Hayes to regain their previous status.


According to a report by Emory Niles and Arthur Sutherland, in the border town of Bayazid (Bayazet), Muslims' memories of Dashnak atrocities were the most despised.


The town has one division of troops, consisting of nine officers and two hundred soldiers. There is no unusual disorder or robbery.  Bayazid is where Muslim refugees from the Caucasus have settled. There was a strong resentment towards the atrocities committed by the Hayyas against the Muslims who remained in the Caucasus. Testimonies from that time reveal the current and past actions of the Hayyas in the region, including their occupation of Bayazid. The locals hold a deep bitterness and desire for revenge against the Hayyas, making it impossible for them to live in the country. Additionally, Muslims are unable to enter Armenia. We attempted to convince an individual to deliver a letter to Erivan, but we were unable to find anyone willing to undertake the task.


The region from Bayazid along the border to Erzerum covers an area approximately 300 kilometres long, consisting of plains surrounded by high mountains through which rivers flow. In the east, the primary river is the Arax, flowing eastwards into the Caspian Sea, while in the west the primary river is the Euphrates, which flows westwards towards Erzincan. In 1916, the Russians occupied the area and made improvements to communication, roads, and railways.  The region has a history of conflict and occupation. However, after their departure, the Hayyis destroyed many of these improvements along with most of the Muslim villages and inhabitants, leaving the country in a state of desolation.


After analysing the data presented in the report by American officers, the question arises: who was the true target of the genocide? Was it the Hayes or the peaceful Muslim population of Eastern Turkey by the Hayes? It is important to note that Emory Niles and Arthur Sutherland were initially biased against Turkey and the Turks. In their report, they do not refute the myths of Western propaganda about the alleged 'atrocities of the Turks against the Hayes'. However, they do not cite any evidence to support their claims, unlike the numerous instances of destruction of Muslim villages and neighbourhoods in cities by Dashnaks, which they themselves witnessed. Additionally, there are widespread memories of local residents about the horrors of the Hay terror, which they mention. This lack of objectivity undermines the credibility of their argument.


Alexandre Zakariadze

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