Afrin During the Armenian Genocide
Cover photo: Bernard-Henri Lévy
The city of Afrin in northern Syria is again on the agenda today because of the operation “Olive Branch”, which the Turkish authorities launched against the Kurdish forces. About a hundred years ago, Afrin was again on the agenda. But then, the reason was different - the Genocide of Armenians.
Afrin occupied an important place in the period of the Armenian Genocide due to the fact that a hundred years ago forwarding camps were formed there. According to the book "The Armenian Genocide", published by Raymond Kevorkian in Turkish, many Armenian groups passed through these camps during the genocide.
One of the camps was created during the deportation of the Armenian Catholic community, which was located in Ankara. The group was arrested by the Turkish gendarmerie on August 27, 1915. It consisted of 1,500 men, along with the bishop and priests.
The dissenters will not be spared
A group of Armenians was sent to Kırşehir, Kayseri and Bigu, then it passed Pozanti and, according to the few survivors, reached the city not far from Syrian Aleppo. Their journey lasted about a month. After that, only a designated inspector, Hakky Bey, who controlled the resettlement of the expellees, controlled their further journey. Some were sent to Resuline, others to Deir-ez-Zor (Syrian cities).
Their final destination was a camp in the city of Katma, but none of those who turned out to be among this group could survive in the end. Another route was added, Karaman. The first arrests began on May 23, and on August 11, 1915 the whole group of detained Armenians overcame Eregli, Pozanti, Tarsus and Osmaniye. Before Aleppo, they were joined with another group of deported, but later, unlike the Armenian Catholics from Ankara, they were sent to the Syrian desert.
At the same time, the long deportation of the Armenian population from the city of Aksehir began. Their journey started on August 20 and lasted until October. The first group of detainees traveled by train to Eregli, where, during the stop, the governor Faik Bey, Police Commissioner Izzet Bey and gendarme commanders Mishat Bey and Mustafa Bey searched and took valuables from the deportees. After that, the group continued on its way to the city of Osmaniye. Up until October 23, the deportees were in Osmaniye, after which they were sent to the Syrian desert.
The governor of Aleppo, Bekir Sami, reported that by September 1, about a thousand deported from the Gara joined the main group of prisoners. On the personal initiative of the governor, instead of being sent to Damascus, they were sent to the desert.
Armenians were taken by train to the Turkish city of Osmaniye, and from there they were settled in camps, and then they walked to the transit center located in the town of Karlyk, where they waited for the second stage of the deportation.
On the road to Aleppo, many people lost their lives. The consul in Aleppo Hoffman informed the embassy in a telegram that another 40,000 people were expected to be killed during the genocide. Ethnic groups from Western, Central and Northern Anatolia were sent to camps. About three hundred thousand people were forcibly exiled to the south.
In the camp of Rajo the bodies of the dead were kept in tents
In the city of Rajo, on the way down from the train station, there was a camp located on marshland. The territory was covered with rag tents. One of those who passed the genocide and survived, told about that place: “The bodies of the dead were stored in tents. People who did not have tents, settled under the railway bridge. During strong wind and rain, many drowned. Their bodies were everywhere. Few managed to escape there.”
The same situation was in a nearby camp, not far from the railway. Sargis Makarov, the author of numerous studies on the Armenian Genocide, wrote in his book “The Armenian Genocide”: “Armenian tents were numerous. And there was a large number of patients who were deported, those who were very ill. Everything was in ruins. The bodies of many of the dead were left lying in the rain, without burial. I was also very sick, I had a high fever and insomnia. Every night, thieves came to the camp, robbed everyone and killed those who tried to resist. ”
On September 6, another thousand people arrived at the camp. The witness, who arrived with the new group camp, Vahram Dadyan, wrote about this: “Lack of food and hygiene continued to cause numerous illnesses and losses in the camp”.
When Dadyan saw the situation in the camp, he realized that if in the near future he could not escape from the camp, he too would become a victim of the epidemic or die of starvation. All appeals to Aleppo officials, with a request to improve the conditions for the deported Armenians, did not have any result.
All around were dying
Professor Arpin Partigyan, who was born in Afyonkarahisar in 1903 and survived the genocide and the epidemic, writes:
“On foot, we reached the camp. It was autumn and the air was cold. People wanted to quickly get to their destination, set up a tent and hide inside, as the rains began. I called my brother and told him to walk beside me. But in that crowd and the mess I lost sight of him. I don’t know whether he was lost or kidnapped. I do not know. We got hungry, but we had nothing to eat. We ate grass or tried to find the remains of wheat in horse manure. In the end, everyone got sick.. It was typhoid or dysentery. Since we had nothing, not even medicine, we could not be treated. Everybody around was dying. ”
On November 8, the German consul, who was in Aleppo, sent a telegram to the German chancellor, where he wrote: “The camp in Katma is fully occupied. The number of deportees approached 200 thousand people”. After that, the Armenians were sent to the city of Azez.
On November 1915, one of the eyewitnesses of what was happening in the camp - Yervant Odian witnessed rumors between the deportees. He called the camps in the cities of Rajo and Deir ez-Zor the Armenian Auschwitz. These are places from which you need to stay as far away as possible.
In November-December, all Armenian prisoners were sent to the city Resuline to clean the strategically important road Adana-Aleppo and to avoid escapes. Some managed to escape. One of them - born in 1903, Hovsep Pishtikian told us about those days:
“We arrived in Katma (a village in northwestern Syria) and realized that the genocide of Armenians had reached its peak. Adana! Dersim! They gathered Armenians from all over Turkey. We stayed in Katma – at the epicenter of disease and death – for three or four months. More than half of the population died from disease. In the last days of autumn, all the survivors were taken to Resulin and Deir-ez-Zor.
According to Raymond Gevorkian, the death toll in the camps in Katma, Rajo and Azez in the autumn of 1915 was about 60 thousand people.
Translated by Manan Ajamyan.