Letter From Aleppo

Drone strike. Aleppo, October 2016.

We deem it our duty to call attention to the fact that our educational work will lose its moral foundation and the esteem of the natives, if the German government is not in a position to prevent the brutality with which the wives and children of slaughtered Armenians are treated in this place. The convoys which, on the departure of the exiles from their homes in Upper Armenia, consisted of 2,000–3,000 persons—men, women and children—arrive here in the south with a remnant of only two or three hundred survivors.

The men are killed on the way, the women and children, excepting those of unattractive appearance and those who are quite old or quite young, are first abused by Turkish soldiers and officers, and then brought into Turkish or Kurd villages, where they have to go over to Islam. As regards the remnant of the caravans, every effort is made to reduce them by hunger and thirst. Even when a river is passed, those who are dying of thirst are not permitted to drink. As their only food a small quantity of flour is strewn on their hands as a daily ration; this they greedily lick off, but its only effect is to delay death from starvation for a little while longer.

“Opposite to the German Technical School at Aleppo in which we do our work as teachers, a remnant of some of these convoys is lying in one of the hans; there are about 400 emaciated forms; about 100 boys and girls, from five to seven years old, are among them. Most of them are suffering from typhoid and dysentery. On entering the yard one has the impression of coming into a lunatic asylum. When food is brought to them, one notices that they have lost the habit of eating. The stomach, weakened by months of starvation, has ceased to be able to receive food. Any bread that is given to them is laid aside with an air of indifference. They just lie there quietly, waiting for death.

“How can we teachers read German fairy tales with our pupils, or, indeed, the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible? How can we ask them to decline and conjugate indifferent words, while round about in the neighbouring yards the starving brothers and sisters of our Armenian pupils are succumbing to a lingering death? In these circumstances our educational work flies in the face of all true morality and becomes a mockery of human feeling.

“And those poor creatures who in their thousands have been driven through the town and the neighbouring districts into the desert; nearly all of them are women and children, and what becomes of them? They are driven on from place to place, until the thousands dwindle into hundreds and until the hundreds dwindle into insignificant remnants. And these remnants are again driven on until the last survivors have ceased to live. Then only the final goal of the migration has been reached. Then the wanderers have arrived at ‘the new homes assigned to the Armenians,’ as the newspapers express it.


Ta’alim el aleman’ (‘that is the teaching of the Germans’) says the simple Turk, when asked about the authors of these measures. The educated Muslims are convinced that, though the German people may disapprove of such horrors, the German Government is taking no steps to prevent them, out of consideration for its Turkish allies.

Mohammedans of more refined feelings, Turks as well as Arabs, shake their heads disapprovingly; they do not even conceal their tears when, in the passage of a convoy of deported Armenians through the town, they see Turkish soldiers inflicting blows with heavy sticks on women in advanced pregnancy or dying persons who cannot drag themselves any further. They cannot imagine that their government has ordered these cruelties, and ascribe all excesses to the guilt of the Germans, who during the war are held to be the teachers of the Turks in all matters. Even the mullahs declare in the mosques that it was not the Sublime Porte but the German officers who had ordered the ill-treatment and annihilation of the Armenians.

The things which in this place have been before everybody’s eyes during many months, must indeed remain a blot on Germany’s shield of honour in the memory of Oriental nations.

Many educated persons, who do not wish to be obliged to give up their faith in the character of the Germans whom they have hitherto respected, explain the matter to themselves in the following manner: they say, ‘The German nation probably knows nothing of the horrible massacres which are on foot at the present time against the native Christians all over Turkey. How is it possible otherwise, having regard to the veracity of the German nation, that articles should appear in German papers showing complete ignorance of all these events, and only stating that some individual Armenians were deservedly shot by martial law as spies and traitors?’

Others say: ‘Perhaps the hands of the German government are tied by some convention regulating the limits of its competence, or intervention does not appear opportune at the present moment.’


Adapted from the anthology Germany, Turkey and Armenia (1917). Photograph courtesy of War Explosions. Published under a Creative Commons license.