A third digital exhibit on the Armenian Genocide consisting of 128 images on 24 panels entitled “The First Deportation: The German Railroad, the American Hospital, and the Armenian Genocide” was released today by the Armenian National Institute (ANI), Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA) and Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly). Available on the ANI, AGMA, and Assembly websites, the exhibit focuses on two localities, Zeytun, an Armenian city in the Taurus Mountains, and Konya, a Turkish city in the central Anatolian plain, both linked by the Armenian Genocide.
The remote and self-sustaining city of Zeytun was the first Armenian community in Ottoman Turkey deported en masse in April 1915. To deprive the Zeytun Armenians of any capacity to defy the deportation edicts, the Young Turk government divided its population sending one part east toward the Syrian Desert and another part west to the barren flats of the Konya Plain.
By this fate, the Zeytun deportees were routed down from their mountain homes through the nearby city of Marash and the Cilician Plain and back up through the high passes of the Cilician Gates of the Taurus Range, the only accessible road from Cilicia to Anatolia. This route also placed them along the Berlin-Bagdad rail line then under construction through those very same passes.
By intersecting that rail line, Zeytun Armenians soon found themselves among the rest of the Armenian population of western Anatolia being deported east by train to the main terminus at Konya and substations beyond, where they were offloaded from cattle cars to walk down the mountain passes, while work crews led by German and Swiss engineers were cutting open new roads and tunnels to complete the construction of the rail system.
There also happened to be an American hospital in Konya manned by three outstanding figures who soon found themselves in the midst of hundreds of thousands of Armenian deportees and as such became witnesses to the unfolding of the Armenian Genocide. The station at Konya was supposed to serve only as a transit camp, but with all of the Armenians of western and central Anatolia routed through the city, the open spaces beyond the station transformed into a vast concentration camp. Because Konya was never intended to exist as a destination camp and was evacuated within a short time, it has been forgotten as a major site in the trail of deportation and the central object of what transpired there overlooked. It was evident to all observers in the city how rapidly the Ottoman Turkish government reduced an industrious and prosperous people to misery. In Konya it was already visible that all it took was a matter of days, not even weeks.
The testimony provided by Dr. Wilfred Post and Dr. William Dodd, and the efforts of Miss Emma Cushman, all three American medical missionaries, provide compelling information about the rapidly deteriorating conditions along the rail line and the start of the process of extinguishing Armenian life across the region. Their information is paralleled by the protests of German civilians in the same area who sharply criticized the Ottoman authorities and raised questions with their own government about the morality of German wartime policies.
More compelling still were the photographs taken by Dr. Wilfred Post and the German railroad engineers that documented the wartime reality on this particular swath of Ottoman territory. While as wartime allies of the Turks, Germans enjoyed a certain amount of liberty in their actions, Dr. Post took a serious risk in defying the ban on photographing the Armenians.
Retrieved from the United States National Archives, the entire set of photographs taken by Dr. Wilfred Post are being issued for the first time in this exhibit. They constitute the central evidence around which the entire exhibit is constructed.
Dr. Post captioned the photographs, and succeeded in delivering them to the American Embassy in Constantinople, the Ottoman capital, from where they were sent by diplomatic pouch to Washington, DC. They might have been the very first images of the Armenian Genocide to arrive into the hands of U.S. officials. In this regard, the historic value of Dr. Post’s photographs are matched only by those taken by U.S. consul Leslie Davis who documented the Armenian Genocide in the region of Harput/Kharpert.
Because of the numbers of Armenians being deported and the pace at which the western Anatolian cities were emptied of their Armenian inhabitants, the Konya train station became a choke point in the deportation process. Vast concentration camps of homeless Armenian families soon formed along the tracks. The brutality of the process, the complete lack of sanitation, and the absence of sources of food very rapidly created an explosive situation threatening the spread of epidemics. Thousands of Armenians never made it beyond the stations of the Konya line and conditions in the refugee camps were so foul and violent that a train conductor is quoted by Dr. Dodd describing the Bozanti station as “hell on earth.”
Consisting of 121 images, 7 maps, and containing a rich variety of eyewitness testimony, the exhibit reconstructs Armenian life in Zeytun, reproduces the two rare photographs showing the arrest of the Zeytun men, outlines the deportation route to the degree that contemporary photographs allow, depicts the city of Konya, showing the contrast between the rugged mountains in which Zeytun Armenians were accustomed to living and the flat, arid, and sparsely populated plain of Konya.
The exhibit includes previously unpublished photographs of Zeytun, reproduces newly released images from German sources, and, in addition to the United States National Archives material, presents images from the Australian War Memorial; University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, Gertrude Bell Archives; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Kelsey Museum; Mennonite Church USA Archives; the Armenian Missionary Association of America and the Haigazian University Archives of Beirut, Lebanon; Library of Congress; Republic of Armenia National Archives; as well as online resources and private individuals.
ANI especially recognizes the historian Aram Arkun whose close study of documentary sources addressed the complex situation surrounding the denouement in Zeytun and who served as project consultant for the exhibit. ANI also thanks Gunter Hartnagel, a professional photographer, who provided valuable guidance on German historical images, and whose researches in historical geography helped understand the terrain that was covered by the Zeytun deportees and appreciate the hardships endured by those who trudged through the mountains of Cilicia at the point of a bayonet.
The location of Konya on the train line also helped to document the post-war situation in the city. Accompanying a U.S. aid mission and relief workers, the American photographer George Robert Swain recorded the efforts of Miss Cushman to create a safe haven for surviving Armenian orphans. In so doing Swain added another layer of documentation about the fate of the Armenian population and helped create, in sum with Dr. Post’s pictures, one of the more comprehensive photographic records of a single location so directly impacted by the Armenian Genocide.
The final demise of the Armenians of Konya was sealed with the fate of Dr. Armenag Haigazian who, as a highly-regarded educator, embodied the Armenian Protestant community’s hope of recovery. He had survived the war years and the violence of the Young Turk regime, but his restoration of the Apostolic Institute made him the target of the Turkish Nationalist movement, which saw to the shuttering of the school and the second exile and persecution of Dr. Haigazian. World War I may have ended and the Young Turk government overthrown, but the Armenian Genocide in Turkey continued, making the death of Dr. Haigazian a most poignant tragedy, especially as he famously held a doctorate from Yale University.
This third digital exhibit continues and builds upon the themes developed in the exhibits released earlier, including the role and fate of Armenian clergy, churches and schools, the role of American missionaries and relief workers, and the role of Germans in Ottoman Turkey, while distinguishing between the attitudes of civilian, military, and diplomatic representatives.
The exhibit highlights the unsolvable dilemma faced by the Armenian Catholicos of Cilicia Sahag II Khabayan, who, unaware of the broader scheme about to be implemented by the Young Turk regime, advised the Zeytun population to cooperate with the authorities in the hope of avoiding a repetition of the Cilician massacres that spread terror across the region a mere six years earlier. The acts and observations of other clergymen, including Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Zaven Der Yeghiayan, his successor Archbishop Mesrob Naroyan, Archbishop Stepannos Hovagimian of Ismit, Grigoris Balakian, and Reverend William Peet, are also explained as part of the testimony on this specific aspect of the Armenian Genocide.
The exhibit also highlights the role of an exceptional Ottoman official, who, as governor of Aleppo and of Konya, opposed the measures of the Young Turk radicals. Jelal Bey was the highest ranking administrator in the Ottoman Empire who disapproved of the policies of the triumvirate ruling from Constantinople. A number of lower ranking officials who disagreed with the regime were killed by Young Turk party henchmen. Opposing the Young Turk regime required courage, and Jelal placed his life in jeopardy. He may have been spared only because of his stature and lifelong service to the state.
The exhibit also reveals the involvement of a German diplomat, who as an embassy councilor in Constantinople played a role in maintaining German-Turkish relations, and as such became among the recipients of the flow of information being reported about the implementation of the Armenian Genocide. A lesser official at the time, Konstantin von Neurath rose through the ranks eventually to serve as Minister of Foreign Affairs in Nazi Germany and as governor of occupied Czechoslovakia, where Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the Holocaust, served as his deputy.
The exhibit concludes with testimony from Dr. Charles Mahjoubian, a native of Konya who resettled in Philadelphia and entered the profession of dentistry. As a survivor, he committed himself to testifying to the events he witnessed in his hometown. He pointed with pride to his birthplace as one of the earliest centers of Christianity, dating to St. Paul preaching in Iconium (ancient name of Konya), and as a center of Turkish Islam where religious piety restrained the hand of the local population, in sharp relief to the political fanaticism of the Young Turk regime and the brutality of its associates. According to Mahjoubian, by a strict reading of the banishment legislation, Jelal Bey succeeded for a brief while in delaying the deportation of Catholic and Protestant Armenians.
“The First Deportation: the German Railway, the American Hospital, and the Armenian Genocide” strengthens and clarifies the photographic documentation of the Armenian Genocide in a manner consistent and supportive of third party records, eyewitness accounts and survivor testimony. It expands the scope of the evidence and attests to the horrors that unfolded in 1915.
“It did not escape contemporaries that there were immediate lessons to be drawn from the example of Zeytun,” observed Van Z. Krikorian, ANI chairman. “Other communities grasped the methods by which the Young Turk regime pressurized local politics and aggravated relations among religious and ethnic groups in order to create conditions to justify the wholesale depopulation of Armenian towns and cities. Reverend Ephraim Jernazian drew a direct connection between the failure of the Zeytun Armenians to stand their ground and the heroic defense of their neighborhood by Urfa Armenians. Hopeless as their actions might have been at the time, the Armenians of Urfa made the point that they would not be submitting to tyranny willingly, nor give up their lives easily to help fulfill the violent designs of the Young Turks.”
“The clarity of that lesson from the past resonates today with the necessary defense of Nagorno Karabakh where Armenians yet again a century later face another enemy whose objective remains their expulsion from their homeland. The commitment of the Armenians of Artsakh to avoid the fate of the Western Armenian population was inspired by the tragedies of the Armenian Genocide and the pledge of survivors to avoid a repeat of such a calamity,” concluded Krikorian. “I want to thank Rouben Adalian for uncovering these valuable records on the Armenian Genocide, and Joe Piatt and Aline Maksoudian for working with Dr. Adalian in creating this impressive exhibit,” Krikorian added.
“Relief workers, educators, missionaries, orphanage administrators, and other volunteers from the United States played a massive role in relieving the plight of the survivors,” stated ANI Director, Dr. Rouben Adalian. “Many of the longtime American residents of Turkey also witnessed and reported the deportations and massacres of 1915. Because of the remoteness of Konya from the other major centers of the Armenian Genocide, Dr. Wilfred Post, Dr. William Dodd, and Miss Emma Cushman may not have been extended the recognition they deserve. The compelling evidence of this exhibit now ranks them among the heroic Americans who helped save lives during the Armenian Genocide.”