Alexander Amfiteatrov’s “The Armenian Question”

Alexander Amfiteatrov’s “The Armenian Question”In February 1896, I arrived in Constantinople from Sofia where we had been celebrating the turning of the Bulgarian heir to Orthodoxy. Constantinople was still full of traces of the recent “revolution” – this is how the Armenian massacre committed by the Muslim scum Istanbul was for some reason called – which was organized by the police of Sultan Abdul-Hamid with the participation of regular troops.

I stayed in a small “Hotel de France” which had been long familiar to me. It was owned by a Hungarian who was a Turkophile due to his national origin. I do not know where Herr Frankl is now because in 1901, I did not find him or his hotel in Constantinople. But I hope that he switched to a political career because he had a deeper understanding and finer sensitivity in foreseeing Eastern events than almost any of the diplomats at the local embassies.

I repeat: he was a Turkophile. Like most Europeans, he lived preferentially and traded in Pera (a quarter in Istanbul) under the protection of embassies. This made that despotic regime which engulfed not only the country where they live but even quarters of Constantinople invisible to them.

In Istanbul quarters, the Muslim police were all day protecting the Frankish bourgeoisie and industrial craftsmen from international Christian hooliganism which had settled along the coastal lines of Turkey from all over the world. These hooligans, having merged into the strange race of the Levantines, feel like home in the European quarters of large cities.

In Istanbul, a European, if he is not an Englishman, should not go beyond the borders of the Old Bazaar and Hagia Sophia. And on the Asian coast, in Scutari, stones often fly even into Englishmen.

A Turkophile, Herr Frankl was grateful to the depths of his commercial heart to the Ottoman government for the capital acquired under its auspices and with all his heart despised all Bulgarians, Armenians, Macedonians, and Young Turks who dared to raise the voice of freedom and even resort to weapons against the good power of His Majesty the Padishah Abdul-Hamid.

But even he, telling me about the horrors of the extermination of the defenseless people by properly armed and organized rascals, could not refrain from tears. He was speaking, pale, tremulous, and with his shaking arms raised towards the heavens.

“These are beasts, Signor Alessandro,” he exclaimed. We always spoke Italian with him, “These are wild beasts! They must be kept in cells on a chain… Oh how Russia will repent – and, believe me, very soon – for allowing them to loosen their chains and peek out of the cells.”

On the Russian ships at the pier, the officers played silent diplomacy. However, they threw gloomy phrases of discontent and bewilderment, wondering why the international squadrons had been late for the terrible days when they could have come on time.

Why did the “Donets” stand silently in front of Top-Khane when the slightest demonstration in the center of the dilapidated city could have prevented thousands of deaths? This city could have been easily turned into ashes, and the Turks were perfectly aware of this.

It was difficult to hold the sailors aboard because they saw and heard what was happening on the shore and were eager to intervene. Sailors from commercial ships who were not bound by official discipline told the events, of course, with more frankness.

The worst episode of the massacre was the night devastation of the Armenian quarter when the Constantinople police targeted the camp of the so-to-speak future army of the Armenian revolutionary movement.

Here worked no longer “the bastard people” but the troops of the local garrison. The sleepy people who did not expect anything evil were taken aback and slaughtered like sheep without a shot. Only the butt of the rifle, the bayonet, the sword, and the cudgel with a cast-iron knob were set in action. These tools were silent but terrible in determined and experienced hands.

Surrendering to the will of the winners or asking for mercy helped as little as resisting with bare hands. The corpses were loaded into old boats, rolled up with stones, tied with ropes, and then taken out to the Golden Horn where, far from the coast, a hole in the bow or under the stern sank the boat to the bottom.

Then, when the police got tired of splashing blood and human brains, they began to drown people. At least ten people from various European ships at the port of Constantinople told me – word for word and with the same horror – how they watched powerlessly from their decks, deprived of any opportunity to intervene.

From these tragic caïques, people with tied arms and legs and with their mouths shut were thrown out like dolls. A number of policemen were there to make sure that no one came up, and the victims who did not immediately go to the bottom like a stone and floundered on the surface were finished off with oars.

The neutrality of the powers, including our own country, was maintained with such severity that some Armenians who had somehow escaped drowning were not accepted by European boats. Caught up by their persecutors, they died before the eyes of those who they pleaded for protection with. Only the French didn’t stand it and sheltered some people.

Read also: Russia Gave Up on the Armenian Question – A. Amfiteatrov

An excerpt from the book “The Armenian question” by Alexander Amfiteatrov

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