HL Deb 28 July 1915 vol 19 cc774-8

VISCOUNT BRYCE had the following Question on the Paper—

To ask the Lord President of the Council whether His Majesty's Government have any information regarding the massacres of the Christian inhabitants which are reported to have been committed by the Turks in the districts of Zeitun, Mush, Diarbekir, Bitlis, and elsewhere in the region inhabited by the Armenians; and regarding a reported wholesale deportation of the inhabitants of some districts into Central Asia Minor and the desert parts of Mesopotamia; and whether, if these reports are well-founded, there is in the opinion of the Government any step that can be taken to save what remains of the Christian population of Armenia.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I cannot say how far it is likely that His Majesty's Government will have any considerable amount of definite and accurate information upon which they can rely regarding what is supposed to have been done in Eastern Asia Minor, Armenia, and elsewhere; but from what information has reached me I have little doubt that terrible massacres have been committed. This information comes partly from Tiflis, partly from Petrograd, and partly from Constantinople to Switzerland and Paris. The stories are that all through Armenia in the Taurus Mountains and north-eastwards towards the Russian and Persian frontiers, and particularly in the districts of Zeitun, Mush, Diarbekir, and Bitlis, there have been extensive massacres in which large numbers of Christians have perished. I hope my information may be exaggerated, as reports in the East often are, and if there is any information in the possession of His Majesty's Government which can mitigate the account of the horrors we shall be only too glad to have it.

According to my information there was, at Mush in particular, a very extensive massacre; at another place all the male population that could be seized were brought out and shot, and women and children to the number of 9,000 were taken to the banks of the Tigris and, thrown into the river and drowned Similar horrors are reported from other places, particularly at Zeitun, where the inhabitants are a warlike race. These people occupied a valley which was difficult of access; thee were summoned by the Turks to serve in the Army, and when they threatened to resist, the Turks prepared an expedition to attack Zeitun and proceeded to enter the passes. The passes were well guarded and the people were able to defend themselves tolerably well. But a message was sent up front the Turkish Governor of some of the towns lower down in the plain warning the people of Zeitun that if they offered further resistance the Armenian population of those towns would be wiped out. Under this threat the Zeitunlis consented to admit the Turks into the upper part of the valley where the town lies. When the Turks got there they immediately seized the inhabitants, carrying off the women and children and such of the men who did not succeed in escaping to the mountains. And so far from keeping their promise the Turks did not spare the inhabitants of the villages below. From the accounts that have reached me I understand that in some cases the whole population has been practically deported, sent off some of them into Central Asia Minor, particularly to the neighbourhood of Angora, where they were placed in a marshy and unhealthy spot. Some of them were sent to the Desert of Zor in Mesopotamia, where they experience great difficulty in supplying themselves with food, and where they are exposed to neighbouring nomadic Arab tribes.

As far as I know, these are the facts of the case. It would appear that the whole purpose of Sultan Abdul Hamid to do what he could to exterminate the Christian population is now being carried out with frightful effectiveness, and in some places I understand that Moslems from other parts of the country are being brought in to fill the void which has been left by the extermination of the Christians. Of course, the Kurds have played a leading part; and those of your Lordships who remember the terrible events of 1895 and 1896 will recall what the Kurds were then guilty of, and it is needless to say that their present participation has been accompanied by numerous outrages upon women. I do not know whether it is possible under existing circumstances that much, if anything, can be done. Still I think it is right that your Lordships should know these facts, and if His Majesty's Government can give us any information we shall be glad to have it.

Some three months ago; when the Turkish authorities in European Turkey were threatening to put to death the Armenians in large numbers—they have in point of fact executed a good number of persons upon charges of "conspiracy"—a warning was given by our Foreign Office, possibly by the Allied Powers generally, that those responsible for such crimes would be held guilty at the end of the war and that there would be an endeavour to see that condign punishment should be inflicted upon them. I do not know whether there is any way of bringing to the knowledge of the Turkish Government—perhaps it could be done through the American Embassy—that their conduct now could not fail to be remembered and would affect whatever action the Allied Powers might take at the conclusion of the war. Whether any good would be done by a step of that kind I must leave it to His Majesty's Government to determine. But in any case I hope they will bear the matter in mind, and will draw further the conclusion that the faults of the Turkish Government are incurable, and that we cannot hope that anything less than the most drastic measures will be sufficient, when the time comes for us to consider remedial measures, to secure the safety of the unfortunate Christian inhabitants in that country.


My Lords, I fully sympathise, and I am certain that His Majesty's Government will, with the spirit which has inspired the noble Viscount in putting his Question. As we all know, the lot of the Armenians in the past has been terrible, and we also know the persistent interest which the noble Viscount has taken in their lot for a long while. I am afraid that their hardships have not been mitigated by the rising German influence in Turkey; I should think rather the contrary. The difficulty is to know what to do, and I confess I have no more practical suggestions to make than those which the noble Viscount has made. The only thing to do would be, through the American Ambassador, to call the renewed notice of the Ottoman Government to the matter. At any rate, it would have the effect of again drawing the attention of that Government to the position of these unfortunate people, and perhaps alleviate their lot a little. More than that I am afraid we cannot do.


Lords, I think the House and the country should be grateful to the noble Viscount for bringing this question to public notice—public notice, it may be, abroad as well as at home. It falls to me, in circumstances with which I need not trouble your Lordships, to be in frequent communication with those who have had to do with Christians in a somewhat different region though not far remote from that to which the noble Viscount referred—Christians on the Turkish and Persian borders where the Kurds abound, in Urumiah. I have had letters during the last few months giving appalling accounts of the wrongs and massacres that have been perpetrated by the Turks during their temporary occupation of territory now occupied by the Russians. Among the most pitiable parts of the communications was the wail put up by those who wrote that nobody in Europe seemed to know or care anything about the matter. I cannot help feeling that such words as have been spoken by the noble Viscount and the noble Earl to-night will show those whom they may ultimately reach, and their friends elsewhere, that it is not at all events without a desire to show such sympathy as may be practicable that we hear accounts of the horrors that have taken place. At this moment the Russians occupy Urumiah, and the plain country at the bottom of the mountains is also in the hands of the Russians; and it is not unimportant that it should be known by our Ally that we have feelings of intense horror at what has happened in these districts during their Occupation by the Turks. Ineffective as anything that may be said here to-night may be, it should not be entirely useless, for it will show that we are endeavouring to extend as much influence as we can to bring about an amelioration of the lot of those people, the horror of which it is almost impossible to exaggerate. If the noble Viscount has been correctly informed as to the condition of things, then it is approaching the extermination of the Christian population in this region, a region which we hope is to be in future dominated under Christian auspices. It is well that it should be known that our eyes are not entirely blind to the horrors which require alleviation and to the wrongs we desire to see punished.


My Lords, I am grieved to say that the information in the possession of the Foreign Office on the subject which my noble friend has raised, although it is not much more ample than that of which he is possesied, is in conformity with what he has told us. I fear that there can be no doubt that the general facts are as my noble friend has described them. The noble Viscount and the most rev. Primate have reminded the House that some two months ago, in concert with the Governments of France and Russia., representations were made in regard to the massacres which had been perpetrated up to that date, May 24, to the effect that members of the Ottoman Government and all their agents who could be shown to be actually implicated would be held personally responsible for the crimes that had taken place. Since then the crimes have increased in number, and, if possible, ill atrocity. Wholesale massacre and wholesale deportation have been carried out under the guise of enforced evacuation of particular villages, and there have been a series of other outrages such as my noble friend has described. In addition there have been the particular cases, to which the most rev. Primate alluded, of similar crimes committed against the Nestorian Christians on the Persian border. It is also we believe true, as the noble Earl opposite indicated, that these crimes have been countenanced, if not in some cases actually encouraged, by the German officials in Turkey, whose presence there and the influence which they have exercised has been an absolute and unmitigated curse both to the Christian and Moslem populations of Turkey. These officials have shown a most cynical disregard of the welfare of the country and of all the people who inhabit it. It is true, as has been stated by all the speakers, that for reasons quite obvious to anybody who follows the progress of the war there are no immediate steps which we can take for the actual repression of these atrocities. All that we can do at the moment is to repeat, and repeat with emphasis, the expression of our determination, rendered more emphatic as the weeks go on and bring fresh evidence of these crimes, that those who can be held to be responsible for them, whether by their direct commission or by their inspiration—and all the more I am tempted to say the higher and the more responsible the positions they 1101d—should receive punishment accordingly.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Seven o'clock, till Tomorrow, Three o'clock.