September 7, 1890
If it be true or not that the only perfect goodness and happiness ever known in the world were once the blessings of a garden in Armenia, certain it is that little trace of them is left. If the wretched inhabitants of that unhappy country may still seek refuge from the blazing sun of the Orient beneath the shade so welcome to Adam and Eve, if their lips may still touch the fruits that nourished this sinless pair, there is nothing else to remind them of the quiet and contentment, the peace and security, that once dwelt on the banks of the Euphrates, for Satan, in the shape of “the unspeakable Turk”, now has possession of the terraced gardens, the shadowy groves, and the snow-capped peaks of that loveliest of lands: and only by a miracle is it that the firebrand of insurrection does not burst in flame and scorch and wither its varied charms.
Muffled sounds of discontent have from time to time reached the ears of the Western world. Even tales of ravishment, pillage, and murder have traversed the distance to appeal for aid and sympathy, to tell that one of the oldest peoples in the world — one that had won empire and renown before the children of Israel ceased to be the bondsmen of Egypt — could no longer bear the oppression of Turkish rule. “Hundreds of peasants”, says a correspondent of the London News, “are daily leaving the province of Erzeroum for Russia and Persia, but many of them are butchered on the way by official brigands sent in pursuit.
The state of Moosh and the neighborhood is simply one of anarchy. The prisons of Van are crammed with Armenians who are undergoing a horrible system of flagellation and torture. The eye everywhere meets ruined villages and churches and abandoned fields. A vast country rich in resources has been turned into a desert”.
Is there to be no defense against this savagery? Yes, says the London News, pointing to the Government of the Czar. “This misguided friend of Armenia would have his armies march from the north again and wrest from the Ottoman the provinces that still remain subject to the Crescent. “Odious”, it says, “as in many respects the Russian Government may be, and repugnant to Western ideas as are the despotic principles upon which it is founded, there can be no doubt that where it supersedes the corrupt and savage anarchy which prevails in the Ottoman Empire the change is one for the better”. That the ardent hope of the News is the deliberate plan of the Czar there can be no doubt.
Russia is ambitious to inherit all that remains of the Sultan’s empire in Asia Minor. She lets slip no chance to foment the strife within its borders that will justify her interference. If it is her turbulent hand that keeps the Balkan peninsula in a ferment, it is to the same desperate and unscrupulous agent that the friends of Armenia trace the recent bloody outbreaks. Familiar with Russia’s reckless and cruel cunning, they believe her to be the author of the letters that led the Turks to desecrate the church in Erzeroum by searching for the arms never secreted there, thus exasperating the Armenians, who seized the occasion to revenge themselves upon their hated oppressors; that hers were the emissaries — lawless creatures hired in Van, Moosh, and Bitlis — that invaded the Armenian cathedral in the Turkish capital, and, under the pretext of rebuking the Patriarch for not having secured from the Porte a redress of the grievances of his countrymen, created an uproar and brought about a bloody conflict.
But is so desperate and heartless a policy needed to discredit the rule of the Turk? Let his thousand crimes in Europe and Asia answer the question. Does it inspire the belief that if successful Russia will be a more generous and humane master than he? Let her conduct in that part of Armenia bequeathed to her by the treaty of Berlin answer this question. To her admirers like the London News, who believe that in spite of all her faults she has the ability and the desire to bring order out of anarchy and make a people rescued from a cruel oppression feel that she is a friend indeed, the answer will bring no word of hope or cheer.
For the peace that has reigned in her Armenian provinces is the peace that reigned in Warsaw; the rights and privileges that her Armenian subjects have enjoyed are the rights and privileges that the natives of England enjoyed under William the Conqueror. The crimes and outrages that brigands have not committed Russia has committed herself.
In the last number of the Fortnightly Review the writer of an article on “Armenia and the Armenian People” tells how brigands roam through Russian Armenia, preying upon its helpless inhabitants; how Russian officials, under the cover of their authority, commit depredations hardly less outrageous; how they seized the wife of a well-known land owner because she refused to pay duty on the dress she wore, and, stripping it from her back, compelled her to “traverse the city from one end to the other — in returning to her hotel — in her linen”; how the same censorship described by Mr. George Kennan in the Century Magazine is cramping and crushing the intellectual activity of the Russian Armenians; how the same antagonism to alien creeds that is extirpating all dissenting organizations in Russia is operating with the same success on the Armenian Church, “which withstood the persecutions of the Sassanian Kings, the blandishments of Byzantine Emperors, the fiery onslaughts of fanatical Mussulmans, and the more dangerous intrigues of its own schismatic members”; how “tens of thousands of Armenian peasants, whose industry, patient toil, and capital had made the district of Kara the granary of an immense area of Southern Russia were driven from their homes after the treaty of Berlin; how their land was parceled out and distributed among Russians, rent free, with remission of taxes for years; how they were forbidden ever again to set foot in the district unless they came to live in the cities; how the foreign settlers, totally unacquainted with the conditions of the climate and soil, failed so completely to till the land that a famine resulted in that part of Russia dependent upon the district for its corn supply; how the evicted tenants retired to Erivan, where there was a great dearth of arable land and a superabundance of tillers of the soil; how their arrival augmented the general misery, and how, during the famine that followed, starving women devoured their children to appease the fearful pangs of hunger.
If, then, the Armenians can look neither to Russia nor to Turkey for peace and security, whither can they look for these priceless blessings? “To themselves,” cries the Armenian Nationalist. “Let them establish a government of their own. When the hour comes for the Turkish Armenians to throw off the yoke of the Ottoman oppressor, let them become the head of an Armenian confederation, which shall eventually include the Armenians of Russia and those of Persia.” “They have”, says the writer in the Fortnightly Review, ‘”a vitality only equaled by that of the Jews, political aptitudes as marked as those of the Hungarians, and a combination of European love of progress and Asiatic tact and diplomacy”.