Memoirs of Armen Dadian (1894-1975) - Dadian Armen

Translated by Simon Beugekian 

Chapter 1:

Towards the Battlefield

It was July 24, 1915. At the time, we lived in one of the Armenian neighborhoods of Uskudar [Üsküdar]. The exams had ended, and these were meant to be days of rest for me. Before noon, as usual, I was sitting with an acquaintance at a table in the outdoor café “Marco”. I was waiting for the day’s edition of the newspaper, but above all, I was looking forward to the arrival of a girl I knew who had recently blossomed into a beautiful young woman. She visited the area almost every day, right before noon, with her mother and younger sister. They would stay for a few hours, the two sisters sauntering and chirping in the shade of a long row of trees. I had developed an irrepressible fondness for this girl, without ever having exchanged a word with her. I was barely twenty years old, and was naturally more than willing to fall in love with such a girl and to offer her my heart unconditionally. That day, prior to the arrival of the young miss, the newspaper seller came around, and I bought a copy of Azadamard, while my companion obtained a copy of Joghovourt. Azadamard was the organ of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, while Joghovourt was that of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party.

I purchased the paper chiefly to read the editorial in first column of the first page, but before getting to it, my eyes fell on a headline in large typeface – “Drama in Sarajevo”. It was followed by a short article that was of great importance. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife had been assassinated by a young Croatian (Serbian) in Sarajevo during military exercises [sic]. The Austro-Hungarian authorities had arrested the culprit, and now demanded that their forces be allowed to enter Serbia to fully uncover his identity and the political motivations of his backers. Serbia has launched its own investigation, rejecting the entry of Austro-Hungarian officials into its territory, etc. Germany had sided with Austria-Hungary, while Russia and France had sided with Serbia, declaring that they would defend the latter’s territorial integrity, etc.

“What terrible news!” I blurted out, and dropping my newspaper, I grabbed my friend’s. It, too, relayed the same news on its first page, in an article almost identical to one I had read. My friend was surprised by my reaction – 

“Why are you so troubled? What concern is it of ours?”

“This terrible incident is the prelude to war,” I answered.

“Perhaps a war would be favorable for us,” he said.

“Don’t be naïve!” I replied, “if war erupts, we will face the Turks alone, and they will be free to deal with the Armenian Issue as they see fit.”

“But,” he retorted, “would Germany, Austria, and Italy allow the Turks to act as they wish?”

“Turkey is waiting for this very opportunity,” I replied, “it knows that those countries, as allies, will not wish to antagonize it over such a trifling issue as the Armenians, when they themselves are engaged in a war for their very existence. The Turkish armies will be relied upon in the Caucasus theater of operations, and will be asked to keep one or two million French, British, and especially Russian soldiers engaged and away from other fronts.”

Armenians were often worried of massacres, but not of deportation. At times of peace, they also put their hopes on foreign powers. However, if war broke out, no foreign power would jeopardize its political and especially military interests simply to help Ottoman Armenians.

Soon, events began unfolding in the European continent and on the high seas. Millions of soldiers were mobilized and sent to the French, German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Serbian borders. Already, on the day after the assassination of the Archduke, the German battlecruiser Goeben and light cruiser Breslau entered the Dardanelles, in accordance with a prior agreement between the Germans and the Turks, and dropped anchor in the Sea of Marmara. They replaced their German flags with Turkish ones, and their crews were made to dress in Turkish soldiers’ and officers’ uniforms (including the fez). In terms of their speed, the caliber of their armaments, and the range of their guns, these two battleships were superior to all ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Turkey did not hasten into battle, as it was not sufficiently prepared, and it had no need to immediately wage war. Still, the authorities rushed to mobilize and equip 2-3 military classes throughout the country. This mobilization was followed by a logistical campaign to supply the frontline forces. The authorities requisitioned all silk, wool, and cotton clothing in the country. They also confiscated textiles, and imposed restrictions on the trade of wheat, barley, corn, olive oil, sugar, etc., throwing the markets into chaos. In exchange for the requisitioned goods, the authorities issued vouchers that promised future payment. This was par for the course in all belligerent countries, and was a time-honored tradition in times of war. No government had the capability to pay in advance for such vast volumes of requisitioned goods, nor would any government wish to empty its coffers to do so. Notably, most of the country’s merchants were Christians or Arabs, most of whom were later killed. Requisitioning also targeted some foreign subjects suspected of allegiance to the enemy. Soon, on the French front, Alexander von Kluck (under the command of Ludendorff) violated Belgian sovereignty and descended upon Marne and Paris. But with great difficulty, Joffre’s divisions were able to halt their progress. The war of decisive battles was soon replaced with the war of trenches. On the Russian front, the Carpathian Mountains and the swamps of the Masurian Lakes slowed down the advance of the Central Powers. Serbia, however, could not escape the blow. It was too far away from its allies, and the Austrian armies attacked too quickly. Naturally, the war could not yet cause much damage to Turkey, because Turkey was beyond the grasp of the Allies, and any campaign against it would require lengthy preparations. A few Turkish newspapers began eagerly reporting every German or Austrian success, while inflating the number of Allied prisoners that had been captured. As one would expect, communication with the outside world was virtually cut off or became very slow, because the sea had become a battlefield for destroyers and submarines. Ships flying the flags of neutral countries were naturally free to navigate the waters, but the coasts of the belligerent countries were mined and dangerous even for neutral ships. Although Turkish forces had not yet been involved in fighting, and Turkey was far from most of the battlegrounds, it was still a member of the Central Powers, and was under close foreign military observation. 

This state of affairs lasted for 2-3 months. But one day, while the Russian fleet was conducting naval exercises in the Black Sea, the Goeben and the Breslau, flying the Turkish flag, under the false pretense that they had been attacked by Russian frigates, attacked the Russian fleet and bombarded Sevastopol. I believe they also bombarded the port of Kiev. These actions forced the Turks to openly declare war on Russia on the Caucasus front, and against Britain in the area of the Suez Canal. At around that time, Jemal Pasha was appointed governor of Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. More precisely, he was a viceroy at the head of a vast army, which now marched resolutely on the Suez Canal. According to rumors, some of these forces had crossed to the other side of the canal, but had been defeated by a British counterattack and most of them had been slaughtered or taken prisoner. A few weeks later, the British landed forces on the western coast of the Persian Gulf. They captured Basra, and began advancing on Baghdad.

So now Turkey was embroiled in a widespread conflagration, which would last more than four years, and would result in its losing much of its southern territories, including Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Arabia. These lands were home to 10-15 million people. Aside from these territorial losses, Turkey incurred enormous costs, including the loss of the five million Ottoman pounds that had been paid in advance to France for the construction of battleships. These ships were requisitioned and pressed into service by France, and were used in the war effort against Turkey.