The Red Terror on the Cilician Plain
By James Creelman
Danish translation: Rød terror på den Kilikiske Slette
Source: The New York Times, August 29, 1909
Published on January 21, 2012

How the Moslem Frenzy, Started by the Foolish Talk of a Christian Priest, Spread Far Beyond Adana.

[New York, 1909] Herewith The Times prints another of James Creelman's reports [read a first one here] on his investigation into the Armenian massacres.

News of the battle of Adana, the resistance of the Armenians and the killing of hundreds of Moslems, ran everywhere on the Cilician Plain, where the story of a proposed Armenian kingdom had been talked over for weeks. The whole country seemed to go mad.

On the very day that peace was restored in Adana the Moslems sacked and burned every Christian house on the plain, murdering the men and carrying off the women and children. It was a wholesale orgy of blood and fire. I have traveled over a part of the district, and nowhere did I find a Christian house unburned or a Moslem house disturbed. Nothing in the annals even of that land of war and rapine is more appalling. The villagers tore their Christian victims like wild beasts, shouting the name of the Prophet and cursing all infidels.

More than 200 villages were attacked. At Missis only 167 women and four men were saved out of a large Christian population. At Hamedich twelve were saved out of a male population of 600. At Osmanieh, out of 150 families not more than twelve heads of families survived. At Baghehe the whole male population was exterminated; not a Christian man escaped. At Kharmi, too, all Christian male perished. At Ayas sixty-five Christians were slain and two were saved, one by becoming a Moslem and the other by hiding behind a rock. At Saigetche seventy-eight Christians were killed.

It was at Saigetche that a party of Armenian Protestant pastors, on their way to the American missionary conference at Adana, were stopped on the road and butchered. A beautiful and cultivated Armenian woman, whose son was a student at the American School in Tarsus, was dishonored by eighteen Moslems and then murdered.

While this dreadful tragedy was enacted the wife of the mudvi, or head man, of the village sat on a balcony laughing and clapping her hands.

A Moslem mob besieged Hadjin, where Miss Lambert had charge of an American orphan asylum containing 300 children. Here the Christians opened fire on their assailants and beat them off for days. Miss Lambert telegraphed for help. One of her messengers was killed. Another was shot at. But, at last, through the effort of the American Vice Consul at Mersina, troops were sent from Missis under a reliable officer and Hadjin was saved, although the Christians of Missis were slaughtered as soon as the garrison of the village left.

So it was throughout the great plain. For a hundred miles the flame and smoke of burning villages and farmhouses could be seen in all directions. Rough troops of horsemen swept from place to place, followed by hordes of running field hands, with riffles, pistols, swords, scythes, daggers and clubs.

They shot the Christians in their houses, hacked them with their swords and scythes, beat their brains out, burned them alive. They trailed them through the wheat and barley fields with dogs, and for days the hunting of men became a regular sport.

When all the Christian houses were looted and destroyed, mighty herds of Christian cattle, sheep, and goats were driven eastward to the mountains, and camel trains with plunder passed over the plain with a multitude of captured Christian women.

This is the twentieth century! And not a word of serious protest from the great Christian nations!

There was peace in the city of Adana for ten days, a horrible peace, with thousands of Armenians hiding in schools, churches, and foreign factories.

But the more the Moslems counted their dead, the deeper was their desire for full vengeance on the Armenians who had so stoutly defended their homes. The heroic work of the young Fedayee, under the long-haired Captain, was an unbearable challenge to Moslem pride. Elsewhere the damned infidels had been trodden under foot and their homes destroyed. In Adana alone had the Christians defeated the plan of extermination.

What right had the Christian missionaries to shelter Armenians while the Fedayee shot down true believers? What right had the British Vice Consul to interfere in the affairs of the people and to shelter rebels? What right had a foreigner and infidel to station guards at the Gregorian school to keep the people from their Christian prey?

Christian and Moslem leaders showed themselves in the crooked, winding streets as a sign of peace; turbaned muezzins chanted the "La ilaha il Allah!" in the grey minarets of the mosques from which death had been showered upon Christian and Moslem; the teachers of Islam stalked about with their rosaries, counting the "Beautiful names of God"; the "Peace be with thee," and "On thee be peace," were murmured as usual in the marked places; the sound of workmen's hammers rang out again, the cries of the lemonade peddlers rose from the lazy, many-colored throngs; and stately, dirty camel processions, brilliant with rugs draped over the wheat bags, moved in from Caesarea Konia, Eregli, and other ancient cities beyond the Cilician Gates.

But, although the wrecked Armenian shops and the burned Armenian houses gave a certain sense of satisfaction to the city multitude, and it was reported that Christian corpses had been found in the sea thirty miles away, nay, even as far as Cyprus - while every slain Moslem had been laid in a good grave - the stories of carnage and annihilation that came from the plain: the thrilling word pictures of whole villages drenched with Christian blood and then obliterated by fire; of farming populations completely wiped out; of Christian women and girls dishonored and caged in Moslem harems; of a vast country dotted with smoking ruins and cluttered with Christian corpses, and of triumphant Moslems, weary with the shedding of Christian blood, the destruction of Christian homes and churches, and the gathering of Christian loot, in tranquil possession of the rich Christian crops and herds - these tales of plunder and sated lust and hate roused a spirit of hell in Adana.

Away with this smirking peace! The warships of Christian nations smoked on the sea coast. Foreign officers and Consuls were staring and shaking their hands at the Armenian ruins, and foreign missionaries were feeding the Armenian refugees or helping them to escape to other countries. Curses on them! It was foreign education and foreign sympathy that inspired the Armenians to plan a Christian kingdom and nerved their oath-bound riflemen to kill hundreds of Moslems. Let the word go forth secretly to all true believers. This time no Armenian would boast that he had not surrendered. This time the interfering Christians would see what kind of stuff the city was made of.

But no time was to be lost. Troops were on their way from the Macedonian army that had re-established the Constitution, proclaimed equality between all races and religions and made a prisoner of Abdul Hamid. Whatever was to be done for the sake of vengeance and the vindication of Moslem superiority must be done at once.

No act was committed by the Armenians or their friends to provoke the second outburst in Adana. It was a massacre pure and simple, inspired by hatred, revenge, and the desire for plunder. The Fedayee had vanished, the pictures of the Armenian Kings were hidden away, the Hunchag and Droschag societies had abandoned their meetings.

When the blatherskite young Armenian Bishop, whose speeches advising his people to arm themselves had helped to bring on the first fight, left Egypt at this time and returned to Mersina, he was prevented from landing. He stormed and threatened, but a British Captain compelled him to return to his ship. It was an order from a British man-of-war that kept the Episcopal agitator from increasing the danger of the situation in Adana by his presence there. The steps taken to keep him out of the country were heartily approved by the Armenians generally, who were anxious to avoid further trouble.

This was the situation when, on the morning of Sunday, April 25, the new troops arrived in Adana and went into camp. That day many Greeks and other favored Christians were secretly advised by Moslems to hoist Turkish flags on their houses. Something was to happen only to Armenians. In the days of the first fight many Greeks and other Christians were spared on condition that they should pay large sums for the purchase of arms to be used against the Armenians. The brother of the American Consular Dragoman at Adana actually paid $528 to save his life, although 300 Christian employes were killed on the two farms owned by his family, all the buildings burned, and more than 1.000 animals carried away. But there was no blackmail in the second attack, which seemed to be directed against the Armenians only.

On Sunday afternoon a few shots were heard in the city. Turkish soldiers claimed that Armenians fired on them while they were peaceably eating their supper. The Armenians insist that the soldiers began the trouble.

Then an unparalleled scene of horror followed. The Gregorian School, in which about 2,000 Armenian men, women and children, including many invalids, were crowded, was set on fire, and, as the refugees tried to escape from the burning building, they were shot down like dogs by the soldiers and the mob. As the flames wrapped the structure and ate their way into the interior the cries of the terrified multitudes within rose above the roar of the conflagration. The Moslem mob shouted for joy as they heard the screams and groans of the trapped Armenians and saw white-faced men and women, holding children in their arms, trying to reach liberty, only to be killed by the volleys which squads of soldiers fired steadily. To reach the street the victims had to run along an outside gallery and down a stairway. In their determination to drive their victims back into the flames, the Moslems shot at them as they dashed along the gallery.

At the foot of the stairs stood a soldier who drove his bayonet into breast after breast. Those who escaped the riffle fire died on his steel. He stood in a great pool of blood, with dead and dying Christians piled about him, his hands dripping and his face splattered with blood. Dying men and women clutched his legs as they sank to the ground. Behind him the mob roared deliriously, and a hail of bullets swept the building. It is said that the murderer's arms became so tired that he had to be relieved and another man put in his place.

A brave Jesuit priest managed to get several hundred of the Armenians out of the burning school, and led them to a place of safety. But it is probable that more than a thousand of the refugees were killed by the soldiers and mob or burned alive. Up to the time the roof fell in and the heavy stone walls toppled down, the fire of the Moslem riffles was unceasing.

Hardly had the Gregorian school been attacked when the lower Armenian church, also filled with Armenian refugees, many of them sick, was set on fire and, as its frightened inmates rushed out, they were driven back by a continuous shower of bullets or slaughtered as they reached the streets.

Flames showed in the Protestant church, the Catholic Armenian church and schools, and the Jesuit church and schools. As the darkness came on great columns of fire and smoke towered up.

Here, there, everywhere new fires appeared. The mob, assisted by soldiers and policemen, was systematically looting the Armenian quarter - the handsome, stone-built, and prosperous part of the city - and deliberately destroying it by fire. The glare of hundreds and hundreds of blazing buildings lit the narrow streets, through which Armenians were hunted and killed without mercy.

Troops of Turks, Arabs and Circassians wrecked the Armenian houses, completely emptying them of their contents. The floors were torn up, and every nook and cranny searched, so that no Armenian might be left alive and no treasure be overlooked. Then kerosene was poured out and the torch applied.

Several weeks afterward I walked through the wrecked district, and it seemed as if some mighty convulsion of nature had occurred. That portion of Adana was utterly destroyed, and the stench of Christian corpses still buried under the broken masonry was eloquent of the as yet uncounted dead, while every few yards I saw an iron safe, torn open and empty.

All night, all day, and all the next night the great fire continued to burn. The Jesuit school was swept away. Not a shot had been fired, not a blow struck by an Armenian, even in self-defense, throughout the massacre. The streets were filled with dead bodies. It is estimated that three thousand Christians were murdered in the city after the Gregorian school was set on fire, including those who perished in the flames. The Governor and the military commander even refused to allow the French and English naval officers to bring fire engines from their ships at Mersina to check the conflagration. Nor did they attempt to prevent their troops from joining in the work of murder and incendiarism. One officer openly admitted that he ordered his troops to fire on the Armenians on the ground that it was better military policy to have his men shoot under control than to have them take things into their own hands.

Whatever may be said about the provocation offered by a few harebrained Armenians before the original outbreak in Adana, it is beyond question that the piteous massacre and pillage, which began with the attack on the defenseless Armenian school, was deliberate barbarism in which the Turkish provincial Government was directly involved.

When I talked to the Governor of Adana about the tragedy in which not less than thirty thousand Christians were slain and as many more starving and homeless survivors thrown into refugee camps and asylums, to be fed, clothed, and cared for by aliens, to say nothing about the wounded, he set his red fez on the back of his head, sprawled comfortably in his chair, seized the tube of his nargileh (Turkish pipe) by its blue velvet stem, thrust its fat amber mouthpiece between his big, flat teeth, crossed his slippered feet, and puffed the tobacco slowly.

"It is a quarrel among ourselves," he said. "Both sides misunderstood the meaning of the Constitution. There was much foolish talk about liberty and equality. Speeches were made and feelings were hurt. The whole thing has been greatly exaggerated. It does not concern outside countries."

He rubbed his stomach, threw his head back, and laughed noiselessly.

"The American missionaries? Oh, they do much good in enlightening a part of the population. I recognize that, of course. But their teachers are altogether Christian. That is bad. No Turk will send his children to them, for they would be thought to make the sign of the cross. The teachers in the American schools should be half Moslem and half Christian. That would be a good arrangement. Then the benefits would not be confined to the Armenians."

Again he showed his teeth and laughed silently, rolling around his chair.

"Things are not half so serious as they have been represented," he said. "See!" - spreading out a large sheet of paper covered with Turkish characters - "there were only 5,538 killed in all. That is not so very bad, is it?"

Even the polite little Turkish official interpreter, who had been eyeing the gaudy chandelier overhead and struggled to keep a straight face, moved his eyes stealthily sidewise to watch me, and gave himself up to the luxury of a catlike smile.

It was only when I drove out over the Cilician plain, escorted by two mounted Turkish soldiers and accompanied by the American Consul, Mr. Nathan, with his official guard and interpreter, that the full horror of the devastation wrought by the Moslem hordes could be felt.

In the American missions at Mersina, Tarsus and Adana, in the desecrated churches, the fire-swept ruins, the emergency hospitals, and the tented refugee camps, I had seen thousands of homeless women and children, many of them without a man of their own blood left to protect them.

But in the country there was an unspeakable sense of desolation and death. All day long we drove past blackened, deserted farmhouses and burned villages. Hour after hour, mile after mile new-made graves, unburied Christian bodies stripped of their flesh by the dogs, but not one Christian home spared.

It is a land of great beauty and extraordinary fertility. The rich black loam plain extends from the towering, snow-covered Taurus Mountains to the Sea, and reaches for more then a hundred miles with only one break of hills.

As far as the eye could see, fields of wheat, cotton, barley, sesame, and oats covered the landscape, with here and there smiling green vineyards, groves of mulberry, almond, and apricot trees, meadows brilliant with poppies, daisies, and wild parsley, and thousands of larks singing endlessly.

The most prosperous farmers and land owners, as well as the most successful, industrious, and intelligent peasants of the plain, were the Armenians. They made the soil blossom. Their farmhouses were massive stone structures and their villages were substantial, trim, and dignified compared with those of Moslem population. While traveling over the country there were times when the broad harvests and flat prospect suggested well-cultivated American prairie farms.

All day long we passed abandoned crops. The owners were dead. The overripe wheat was dropping to the ground. The young cotton was choked by weeds. Here and there bands of Turks were gathering in Christian grain. In some cases the Moslem reapers had agreed to give half of the crop to such as were left of the Christian proprietors. No Christian dared to show himself in the fields, where decaying human bodies were still lying.

When we got to the stone village of Giaour Kur, or Christian village, we found it a mere heap of jumbled stones, with now and then a fire-scorched wall. Of its three hundred Christian inhabitants only twenty-five were saved.

The survivors said that when all the Christian ammunition was exhausted and some of the villagers tried to escape by night, a few women crept in among the reeds by the river in the hope that the mob would pass them by. As the poor mothers crouched in the darkness at the edge of the water they could hear the Moslems howling and searching for fresh victims. Nearer and nearer they came. The women threw themselves flat. When the babies began to cry the frantic mothers, maddened by the fear of discovery, flung them one by one into the river to silence them.

On two neighboring farms I saw many bodies of Greeks still lying in the fields. Dogs had torn them. The sculls showed sword cuts. The great farmhouses had been destroyed and the herds driven away.

The thriving village of Ingerly was a waste. Its strong masonry was broken and scattered. So complete was the wreck that it might have been destroyed a century before. There were a few scowling Moslems lounging about the street, which were so heaped with the remains of burned houses that we could hardly pass through them; but not one Christian could I find to tell the story of Moslem fury.

In the middle of the village was a large compound, and there we found several Turks smilingly camped on the roof of a small outhouse. They were very amiable, made us sit cross-legged and drink coffee, and then, looking over the frightful waste that had once been the homes of more than 500 Christians - not to speak of several hundred laborers from outside - they admitted that some bad men from a long distance, mostly Circassians, had attacked Ingerly and had, they feared, killed thirty-one persons. The truth is that more than 600 Christians were murdered in the village by their own neighbors.

Soon afterward we reached Akarja, where a trembling group of survivors, Greeks, Syrians, and Chaldeans, told us of the massacre of all the Christians in the place. A well ninety feet deep was filled to the top with bodies. Three thousand acres of growing cotton surrounding Akarja were abandoned to the weeds. So determined were the Moslems to destroy the place that they worked every day for a week, burning the buildings and overturning the stone walls.

Wherever we looked as we moved along the road it was the same. Every Christian house was destroyed. The only inhabitable houses belonged to Moslems. Language can hardly express the sense of desolation suggested by so many miles of lonely ruins in a sunlit country filled with fields of grain, each deserted house or village the scene of a massacre.

Occasionally a camel train paddled slowly along the road.

The fezzed and turbaned groups here and there, in red and blue and dirty white costumes, which gathered in fragments of the crops in a lazy Oriental way, took on a new and horrible aspect. These were the slayers of their Christian neighbors, innocent of wine, but capable of committing deliberate murder after a diet of cold cucumbers and lettuce. It is hard to understand how sober men, under any provocation, can kill women and children; and these Turks, Arabs, Kurds, and Circassians are strong, manly-looking fellows, free from dissipation and accustomed to a simple out-of-door life.

From the evidence of the few who escaped from the villages during the massacre, all agreeing that the Moslems continually called upon the name of the Prophet and cursed Christianity while slaying their victims; from the fact that in many places Moslem teachers or priests led the mobs with green banners in their hands and that the murderers invariably put on white turbans before beginning their deadly work; and from the earnest repetition, by Turks with whom I talked, of the story of a Christian kingdom to be established by the Armenians, I am convinced that the great massacre was the result of a deliberate plan carefully worked out by the Mohammedan League, under the sanction of Abdul Hamid. After seeing and talking with the country Moslems and looking upon the results of an insane fury that swept them into savagery almost below the level of wild beasts, I cannot believe that either natural religious prejudice, or inherited and developed predatory instincts, or both, can account for what happened. Religion was a mere pretext for rousing the passions of the people; religion, racial dislike, and jealousy served as the means through which the old Sultan worked out his scheme of political vengeance through the Mohammedan League.

In the village of Abdoglou, within sight of the historic Pyramus River, a solitary surviving Armenian, with a rosary in his trembling hands, guided us through an appalling wreck of burned houses, among which many bodies and bones were scattered, and in the corner of one house, with the torn corpse of a murdered friend at his feet, he told us in awed whispers of what had happened.

Abdoglou was one of the most prosperous villages of the Cilician Plain, and at the time of the massacre it contained more than 500 Christian inhabitants, in addition to which there were about 500 outside Christian laborers drawn to the place for work in the crop season.

On the day of the first peace in Adana, when the whole country was thrilling with the Moslem plan for a general extermination of Christians, the leading Turks of the village sent to the military commander at Missis and induced him to give them riffles with which to defend the Armenians of Abdoglou against any invading mob. Through this trick the Moslems secured a large supply of arms and ammunition. Then they persuaded the Christians to give up most of their weapons, solemnly promising to protect them. This was a common Moslem device employed all over the plain.

After disarming the Christians the Moslems then began to pillage and burn their houses, and that night a swarm of armed horsemen from the surrounding district poured into the streets, shouting the Prophets name and calling for the slaughter of all infidels. The victims shot themselves up in the four strongest houses of the village and for two days kept their enemies out. But in time the houses were fired, the doors were beaten in with axes, and all who were not burned alive were shot or stabbed to death, and their wives and daughters carried off. Seven carts were employed for the whole day in carrying the corpses to the banks of the Pyramus.

Up to that time there had not been the slightest sign of ill-feeling between the Moslems and the Christians of Abdoglou.

In the journey of nearly fifty miles which I made the story was nearly always the same, and there was little variation in the experience of those who visited other parts of the destroyed country.

In Adana I asked one of the leading Moslem teachers, a mullah of great intelligence and influence, to explain the massacre. He was an old man, thin, white-haired, sharp-featured, a veteran who had given strong proof of his opposition to crime and his friendship for Christians. Pulling his turban down over his eyes and running his rosary through his wrinkled fingers, he expressed his admiration of the work done by the Christian missionaries, and declared that, if he had dared to, he would have willingly sent his own daughters to Dr. Chamber's American school. He said that the thing which lay at the bottom of the massacre was the inability of Moslems to tolerate any challenge to the principle of Moslem supremacy.

"No constitution, no proclamation of equality between races and religions, can change the situation," he said. "The Government cannot do what the Prophet himself could not do if he were here."

"Yet the Sheik-ul-Islam and many great doctors of the sacred law have told me that it was the religious duty of a Moslem to protect his Christian countryman," I said.

"Yes, yes, it is true. Nevertheless, things are as I told you. The Moslems of this country - I speak of the ignorant millions and their leaders - will never accept the principle of Christian equality."

"But is it possible that the teachers of the Moslem religion cannot reach and influence the members of their faith?"

"The Sheik-ul-Islam himself, if he came here, could do nothing."

Then, folding his arms and swaying from side to side, he told this fable:

"Once there was a lion who went hunting with a hyena and a fox. They captured a sheep, a goat and a hare. 'How shall we divide the spoil?' demanded the lion. The hyena spoke first. 'You will eat the sheep, I will eat the goat, and the fox will eat the hare,' he said. Thereupon the lion bit the hyena's head off. Then the lion turned to the fox. 'How shall we divide the spoil?' he asked. 'Well,’ said the fox, 'you will eat the sheep for breakfast, then you will eat the goat for dinner, and at night the hare will do very well for your supper.' 'What put that in your mind?' asked the lion. 'The hyena's head,' answered the fox."

"And that illustrates the situation of Moslem and Christian in Asia Minor," added the wise old mullah.

The voice of the American people today can compel an initiative behind which the chivalry and humanity of the masses of Christian Europe would unite in a demonstration majestic enough to inspire fear, if not respect, even in the Moslem of Asia Minor.

After the slaughter of 30,000 men, women and children, the execution of a few minor criminals, while hundreds of fully identified murderers and the men who set them on are allowed to go about gloating over their work, is a challenge to Christendom. If the Turkish Government is not strong enough to prevent or punish widespread barbarism in Asia Minor, the great nations should take the work in hand, and America, free from any suspicion of political intrigue or conquest, should be the first to speak. The systematic extermination of Christians is as well worth international protest and international interference as the old questions of piracy and the slave trade, and although it may be true, as the Sheik-ul-Islam and the Grand Vizier assured me in Constantinople, that there is nothing in the true policy of Islam to justify or suggest attacks on Christians, my investigations on the field of the last massacre have convinced me that unless the great Christian nations speak now, and speak in unmistakable language, and with a solemn pledge to back their word by deeds, the immense Christian population of Asiatic Turkey must continue to live in daily fear of their merciless Moslem oppressors.