Today marks the centenary of the Armenian genocide. It ceased to be a remote historical event for me the day I discovered, in the National Archives, that my father’s job at the end of the First World War was feeding survivors.
I was looking for evidence of his part in the rapid advance from Gaza to Aleppo in the last weeks of the war. The war diary of his unit, a horse train supporting the cavalry, is fairly colourless but after the capture of Aleppo it records day-after-day “feeding refugees”. It was chilling to realise what this meant.
Although the fall of Aleppo was described as a British victory there were few British soldiers there: mostly Arab and Indian units with a few Australians. Pierre Grant-Adamson, my father, who had gone to South Africa in the Boer War, was given a commission by the army there in 1917 to facilitate his return to the UK. He was quickly commissioned in the British forces and sent to Egypt.
I recall him expressing hatred of the Turks and the atrocities they committed but no reference to the Armenian massacres. I was a child and too young to ask the questions I now wish I had. I assumed they were atrocities of war.
Now, I wonder if it was his experiences in Aleppo that led him help and support Jewish refugees in the late 1930s.
It must have been traumatic to be brought face to face with the suffering of the tens of thousands of Armenians in Aleppo. After the initial killings in 1915 and 16 women, children and surviving men were drive out of their homes into the desert. The Syrian city and the camps beyond it were the place where many arrived.
This extract is from a speech Randell Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1919:
All the young men… had in every single case been taken away, and the old men, the women, and the children were the people who survived to be the victims of the deportation—
From the village of E 212 individuals set out, of whom 128 (60 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive; 56 men and 11 women were killed on the road, 3 girls and 9 boys were sold or kidnapped, and 5 people were missing. From the same place another party of 696 people were deported; 321 (46 per cent.) reached Aleppo: 206 men and 57 women were killed en route; 70 girls and young women and 19 boys were sold; 23 were missing. From the village of D a party of 128 were deported, of whom 32 (25 per cent.) reached Aleppo alive: 24 men and 12 women were killed en route; 29 girls and young women and 13 boys were sold; and 18 were missing. I have purposely taken not one of the many accounts which give the facts in their detail, but a summary of that which the observer found to be the outcome. If we remember the phrase that “seventy girls and young women, and nineteen boys were sold,” and we look over the page to see what that means we find how, as they passed each town, the girls or young women were in most cases paraded in front of the house of any Turkish buyer who chose to come and take them for purposes described in detail, so unutterably horrible—girls being constantly done to death by those who took them in this way—as make the records appalling to read.
The quoted material in his speech was from a report prepared for the UK parliament.
The terror for the Armenians did not end with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. In 1922 the British consul in Aleppo wrote to London about an area close to the Syrian border:
… on November 8 the Turks gave notice to the Armenians of Aintab & Marash and of the district, stretching Eastward to Birejik, that they must all leave the country in a month. This is done in pursuance of the policy that no Christians are to be allowed to stay in Turkey.
Aintab which formerly held 40000 Armenians now contains only 3000.
That the UK continues to appease the Turkish government by refusing to describe the massacres as genocide is a shame on our country. Others have classified the events as genocide and the Pope recently followed his predecessor in using the term.