UK Media Coverage of Armenian Massacres IV & V

By Katia M. Peltekian, Beirut

British Response to the Armenian Massacres of 1914-23

Part 4: Official Response

The subsequent parliamentary discussions on Cilicia and the on-going massacres took the same line of thought, and when push came to shove, the Government dismissed the issue by declaring that Cilicia was under French jurisdiction, not British. The British Government also blamed the Americans for taking so much time to decide whether the USA would accept the mandate over Armenia; some circles believed that this hesitance to finalize the Peace Treaty with Turkey gave Turkey the impetus to demand more beneficial terms despite the fact that it had lost the war.

By Katia M. Peltekian, Beirut

British Response to the Armenian Massacres of 1914-23

Part 4: Official Response

The subsequent parliamentary discussions on Cilicia and the on-going massacres took the same line of thought, and when push came to shove, the Government dismissed the issue by declaring that Cilicia was under French jurisdiction, not British. The British Government also blamed the Americans for taking so much time to decide whether the USA would accept the mandate over Armenia; some circles believed that this hesitance to finalize the Peace Treaty with Turkey gave Turkey the impetus to demand more beneficial terms despite the fact that it had lost the war.

As the Allied Powers abandoned Armenia one after the other, the young Armenian Republic turned towards Bolshevik Russia. This caused some discontent by the Allied powers, but as one MP Lieutenant-Commander Kenworthy put it in May 1920, “If we could not protect the Armenians, why should there be any objection to Soviet Russia doing so.” In fact, after the U.S. officially rejected the mandate for Armenia, some MPs proposed that Britain take up the mandate over Armenia. During one June 1920 discussion in the House of Commons, this exchange took place:

Mr. Palmer – In view of the fact that America has already refused a mandate for Armenia, can the right hon. gentleman (the PM) say whether this country will be compelled to undertake that duty? 

Mr. Bonar Law – That is an important question, but I think I can say at once that we shall not undertake it.

At which Lieutenant-Commander Kenworthy exclaimed,  “No oil there!”

The rest of 1920 had similar discussions regarding the mandate over Armenia. In addition to the British, the French and the Italians, America and Holland also rejected to take up this task; the last choice was for the League of Nations become the mandate over Armenia, but this was deemed not feasible as the League had neither the finances nor the man-power to take up such a mission.

During the same period, the power of Mustapha Kemal Pasha grew. He probably realized that the European powers were unable to come to any agreement over Turkey; he signed deals with the Bolshevists, boldly continued the old policy of exterminating the Armenians and Greeks, and despite the fact that the Treaty of Sèvres between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire was signed in August 1920, Mustapha Kemal rejected the terms, calling the government in Constantinople illegitimate.

With the signing of the Treaty of Sèvres, the French seem to have changed their policy in Cilicia: General Gouraud arrived back in Cilicia, and ordered not only the disarmament of the Armenian volunteers but also the deportation of 14,000 Anatolian Armenians from Cilicia. The General also warned the Armenians that when the French troops withdrew from the region, the Armenians should either accept the Turkish rule or leave the country (October 1920).

Towards the end 1920, Armenia went Bolshevik. And this is when some MPs believed “the time had come to let Armenia go, as being a factor of no international importance, but involving this country in expense and trouble.” (Sir, J.D. Rees December 1920)

The situation did not improve much in 1921. Massacres at the hands of the Turkish Nationalists continued wherever remnants of Armenians were left. There were a number of appeals from both British and Armenian circles never to subject the Armenians, Greeks and other Christians to Turkish rule; one appeal from the Armenian Archbishop of Cilicia Father Saradjian reads:

We appeal to Great Britain, the personification of justice, the protectress of the unprotected, the only nation that has shed blood for safeguarding the rights of Christian minorities; have mercy on this nation, which, suffering and slaughtered since centuries, has shed its blood with you solely for securing the right of breathing freely under the Christian religion. We want nothing else but a hearth wherein to live and breathe freely.- SARADJIAN (Armenian Archbishop of Cilicia), Armenian Cilician Refugees. (nov. 1921)

However, the headlines of 1921 continued publishing reports on the dire situation in the Armenian provinces:

  • Fresh Armenian Massacres: Angora Revived Old Methods
  • Armenian Town Wiped Out
  • The Terror of the Turk: Great Exodus From Cilicia
  • “We Have Been Betrayed,” General Torcom

During the same time, the Indian Moslems increased their pressure on the British Government and showed their dissatisfaction towards what the British had in mind for the future of Turkey. In fact, even Gandhi adopted a resolution in June 1921 stating that

If the British Government were to engage in active hostilities against the Angora Government, it would be the duty of every Indian to refrain from helping it to prosecute such hostilities as being in direct defiance of Moslem opinion, and therefore that it would be the duty of the Indian soldier class to decline to serve in such a campaign.

In the House of Commons towards the end of 1921, the protection of the Armenian population was put up for discussion after the French transferred the authority of Cilicia to the Nationalist Turks under Mustapha Kemal.

Lord R. Cecil — Will not the Government recognize that they are bound by the strongest possible obligations to do everything they can to protect the Armenians?

 Mr. Cecil Harmsworth – The Government have done everything in their power, in the circumstances, to protect the Armenians.

 Mr. A. Williams – Will the hon. gentleman state any one thing that the Government have done to give effect to their promises? (Hear, hear) Does the hon. gentleman mean to say that the Government are impotent to carry out their promises?

No reply was given.

Mr. Chamberlain, replying to Mr. T. P. O’Connor, said: – The policy of this country in respect to the protection of the Christian populations of Asia Minor has not changed, and has been made the subject of unremitting representations to the Governments principally concerned. As to the Treaty of Sèvres, further discussions are about to take place between the Allies, and it would not be desirable to make a statement at this stage.

During another session of the Commons (December 1921), Lord Robert Cecil moved,

“That this House deeply sympathizes with the sufferings of the Christian population in Asia Minor and urges the Government to take possible means to assist them.”  He added that The British Empire was built on good faith, and he hoped that the Government would be able to reassure the House that the promises that had been given to the Armenians and the other Christian peoples in that part of the world would be carried out, even if it was at great inconvenience to ourselves.

Mr. A. Williams said that, much as he felt for the sufferings of these people, he felt even more for British honour. These people were repatriated by [the British] and the French from Aleppo, a place of safety, to Cilicia, where they were promised protection. Our promise created an obligation upon us.

However, one MP  Mr. J.D. Rees replied that there was not much to choose.   He said that having regard to their opportunities there was little to choose between Turks and Armenians. The assumption that there were not two sides to the question was provoking to our Mahomedan fellow subjects in India and dangerous from the point of view of their loyalty to the British connexion.

Mr. Chamberlain said he was not lacking in sympathy for [the] Mahomedan fellow subjects in India and if he condemned the Turkish rule in Armenia it was not because it was Mahomedan rule over a Christian people, but because it was a barbarous and brutal rule.

The Intrigues at Lausanne exhibit further the British concern in the Armenian Question. Lord Curzon, the head of the British delegation, was very articulate in demanding what should have been the right to self-determination and self-governance of the Armenians in Cilicia and Anatolia. However, the head of the Turkish delegate Ismet Pasha, had this to say in January 1923:

The Armenians had only themselves to blame if by their consistent abuse of the generosity of the Turks they had provoked their masters to adopt a policy of reprisals. The Jews resident throughout Turkey had never had occasion to complain of ill-treatment, and consequently it was only logical to consider that the Greeks and Armenians were primarily responsible for their sufferings.

But what happened behind closed doors must have been different from what was made public; despite Lord Curzon’s declaration that The Armenian question was one of the great scandals of the world, and the world would not be content that the remnant of these wretched people should be left without any protection beyond that which the Turkish Government might be pleased to afford despite all that, in July 1923, Turkey and the Allied Powers signed the Treaty of Lausanne which superseded that of Sevres.  

As demonstrated, official Britain was not passive towards the inhumane treatment of the Armenians nor towards finding a just solution for the Armenian remnants. The British Government, and especially the British Foreign Office, had ample reports that were confirmed by its own agents. Members of the Parliament defended the Armenians, wanted to help the survivors, and even demanded a free Armenia. However, at the end, the interests of Britain and the British Empire took precedence and the Armenian Dream of a free homeland was crushed.

Note: All citations are taken from “The Times of the Armenian Genocide: Reports in the British Press,” edited by Katia Minas Peltekian. The book in two volumes compiles over one thousand articles from the British Press during 1914-1923.

British Response to the Armenian Massacres of 1914-23

PART 5: The Public Response

As politicians and lawmakers debated and discussed the situation in Armenia, the British public did not sit idle. Despite the economic situation of Great Britain during the War, several funds to help the Armenian refugees & survivors mobilized just a few months after the War broke out, and appeals for donations were made by different British organizations to help the Armenians. These appeals were printed in the British press both in the form of Letters to the Editor and as announcements, sometimes as large as a page or half a page.

One such organization was The Friends of Armenia, headed by Lady Lucy Frederick Cavendish, a churchwoman who urged Prime Ministers as well as Foreign Secretaries to help the Armenians. The Friends of Armenia was established long before the Great War broke out, and continued helping the Armenians during the massacres of the late 19th century and subsequent massacres that followed well into the beginning of the 20th century. In January of 1915, in one of the many open letters published in newspapers, Isabel Somerset & Lucy Cavendish asked the British public to support the Armenian Red Cross. They wrote: 

There are now 12,000 Armenian refugees at Sarikamysch alone to be provided for. .. Hundreds of old men, women and children have marched through the snow without shoes or stockings,  these  articles having been seized by Turkish soldiers, who had been billeted in their houses. In many instances, these wretched people were driven out just as they were by the Turkish soldiers as they entered the villages… It is to the generous heart of the great British public that we make this appeal. Donations of money may be sent to the hon. treasurer, Mr. H. A. Godson Bohn, at 17, Holland Villas-road, Kensington, or to the hon. secretary, Miss E. J. Robinson of warm woollen clothing, including mufflers, gloves, cardigans, stockings, socks, and band-ages for the volunteers, and warm garments of any kind and boots in good condition for the refugees will be gratefully received and acknowledged by the hon. secretary.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s mission also appealed to the public in a Letter published in several newspapers in March 1915, asking for financial assistance:

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s missionaries who have just returned from Urmi bring a heartrending tale of the refugees who crowded the roads between Urmi and Tabriz and the Russian frontier, many of them perishing of exhaustion and exposure to the winter weather. A telegram has reached his Grace the Archbishop from representative Syrian refugees at Tiflis, men well known to the missionaries, telling of further massacres and carryings into captivity. Many who have escaped with their lives have not a penny in the world. Starvation must befall them if help is not forthcoming. If any of your readers will help to raise a small sum for those unhappy people I shall be thankful to forward it for distribution to the British Consul at Tiflis. A hundred pounds would do a great deal. Sums may be sent to the secretary of the Archbishop’s Mission (F.W. Pitman, Esq., Church House, Westminster, S.W.)…

Another fund that also mobilized to help the Armenians was The Women’s Armenian Relief Fund. In September 1915, in an open Letter by Madeleine Cole, Hon. Treasurer of the Fund wrote:

At this time of awful crisis in the history of unhappy Armenia we, the Committee of the Women’s Armenian Relief Fund, feel impelled to appeal to all Christendom for sympathy with Armenia’s matchless wrongs and for offers of help to her people…

The latest news which now reaches us via America is that our special friends the missionaries of Van, whom we as a committee have so long supported and loved, had to fly before the Turks when the Russians evacuated the city. Ill, broken-hearted, destitute, they reached Tiflis on August 17, Dr. Ussher seriously ill and Mrs. Reynolds suffering from a badly fractured leg. … We old friends of the cause must sorrow for the present ruthless shattering of all our plans and hopes and work for the uplifting of the nation. But we can do more than sorrow, we can and we do most solemnly protest, and we can and do hold Turkey and Germany responsible for this last and greatest crime upon humanity. To-day we send to every part of the world where Armenians have sought asylum our true, deep, fraternal sympathy, together with our vow that as far as in us lies, individually or collectively, we will see to it that freedom, justice, and full political rights be ensured to the Armenian nation in the final settlement of peace.

In October of 1915, The City of Manchester organized a “Conference” at City Hall at the call of the Lord Mayor of Manchester. At the conference, the attendees established the Manchester Armenian Relief Fund, which would be restricted to the raising of money to help other already-established Organizations and Funds which were helping the Armenian refugees. During the meeting, an appeal was made to all the churches, clubs and different communities in Manchester to collect funds.

At about the same time, the Lord Mayor of London established The Armenian Refugees (Lord Mayor’s) Fund for the relief of Armenians who had escaped from Turkey. The Committee members included Lord Bryce, Lord Cromer, Lord Curzon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, Cardinal Bourne, among others, who all took an active interest in helping raise funds. Within a month over £8,500 pounds were sent to the Tiflis Consulate in order to help the thousands of refugees who had reached Etchmiadzin. By December, some £14,000 sterling pounds (the equivalent of £1.5 million sterling pounds in today’s economy) were distributed.

The Lord Mayor’s fund became the major Fund and the most active in Britain; all other Funds and organizations collaborated with it in raising funds and necessary articles to help the survivors. The announcements placed in the papers were large, sometimes covering the length of a page. In February 1916, the fund placed a large announcement that covered half a page asking for help after Erzurum was liberated by the Russians. (see image: The Fall of Erzeroum)

Another such appeal by the Lord Mayor’s Fund was published in April 1916, after which a series of smaller announcements were placed on the front pages of the British Press. One such appeal was to help the Starving Armenians (see image), others were to assist in the Armenian Homecoming and the Restoration of the Armenians.

In July of 1916 as part of the campaign to help the homeless Armenians, the papers printed the mother-son poster, called “A Martyred People,” which was drawn by the Dutch painter Louis Raemaekers  especially for the Armenian Refugees Lord Mayor’s Fund. (see image: The Martyred People).

By the Spring of 1917, the appeals that appeared in the British press focused on helping the Armenian orphans. The Mayor of Manchester established another special fund for Armenian Orphans that would “be devoted solely to relieving the children among the refugees who are orphans and have no natural protectors. Of some 20,000 orphan refugees, much the larger half are destitute, naked, and hungry…” In his open letter, Mayor Smethurst quoted from sources on the ground, such as the British Consul at Batum Mr. Stevens, who had reported to the British Foreign Office, that “The children are in a terrible condition. Most of them are starving, and have become so emaciated that they look more like skeletons than human beings”. The Mayor also quoted from an American mission who had telegraphed that  “as late as January 11 thousands of orphans required immediate help, and that there had been cases amongst them of death by starvation.” Therefore, the Mayor wrote to the people of Manchester thatIt is for these orphans that the present appeal is made. The Manchester Armenians, in spite of the fact that their trade had been severely hit by the war, had recently raised £1,500, which had been sent to Armenia for this object.” He added that he made this appeal  “knowing well how heavy the claims on British people at this time were, but knowing too, that the depth of human kindness was infinite.” As the number of orphans grew,  appeals of the Mayor of Manchester were published in The Guardian. By July of 1917, the number of orphans had doubled to 40,000 according to the American consul, thus the Mayor set aside July 20 & 21 as Armenian Days, hoping that the whole of Lancashire would show its support to the people in distress.

In June 1917, the City of London also designated June 13 Armenia’s Day so that the public would have an opportunity to do something to help the “people of this unhappy nation in their misfortunes.” A one-page announcement was published in the newspapers which quoted a number of statements about Armenia and the Armenians by British Lords and Politicians, such as Lord Bryce, Lord Cecil, Viscount Grey, Lord Cromer, Lord Rosebery, the late Lord Gladstone, as well as President Wilson and some writers such as Anatole France. The following are some of the quotes printed on the appeal:

“Among the enslaved races who have suffered most from the Ottoman domination are the Armenians, the wholesale massacre of whom during the last two years has shocked the entire civilized and Christian world. In our own country, in Russia, and I believe even more in the United States of America, the incredible sufferings of this nation have aroused profound sympathy, and all three countries have raised large sums for their repatriation in the future. I need not say that his Majesty’s Government look with profound sympathy on these efforts, and are resolved that after the war there shall be an era of liberty and redemption for this ancient people.” – Right Hon. H. H. Asquith.


“It’s a nation of martyrs, and much of its modern story is but a record of massacre. But let us not forget that it is also a nation of a long and glorious history; that it was one of the earliest to create a civilized and cultured society; that it was the first practically as a nation to adopt Christianity; and that it has adhered to Christianity for all these centuries through every horror of massacre and oppression … – T. P. O’Connor, Esq., M.P.

“I believe there is no question which appeals to the hearts and the minds and the consciences of this country as this question of Armenia.” – Lord Rosebery.

Even after the War ended, the British humanitarian aid for the refugees and survivors did not come to a halt. More vigorous calls were made to help the destitute Armenians. One announcement in The Guardian read (December 1918):  Miss Emily J. Robinson, hon. secretary of the Armenian Red Cross and Refugee Fund, writes from 35A, Elsham Road, Kensington, London, W.14: – General Clayton has cabled that there are 85,000 Armenian refugees at Homs, Hama, and Aleppo, 40,000 of whom are totally destitute. There are over 3,000 Armenian men in Damascus relief camp. Funds are exhausted. Winter conditions aggravate the suffering. At this Christmas season some may feel moved to send help for these people in dire distress…

In 1920, the Armenian Refugees (Lord Mayor’s) Fund continued its appeals to help the survivors of the massacres; large half page announcements regarding this were published in May of 1920 with the sole purpose of Saving the Children of Armenia. (see poster Save the Children of Armenia)

In addition to the humanitarian assistance, and as the Peace negotiations with Turkey began, the British public showed its discontent in the way the negotiations were going, especially in regard to the Armenians and other Christians. On February 8, 1919, a demonstration was held in support of the claims of Armenia & Greece in Trafalgar Square, and the press reported that attendance was “large”. During the demonstration, messages of sympathy were read from Queen Alexandra & Lord Bryce. The resolution at the demonstration demanded the end of Turkish domination over Armenia and the punishment of the “authors of the massacre of two million Christians during the war.” 

In addition to raising funds, in 1920, a few petitions were printed in the papers demanding the liberation of Armenia from Turkish rule once and for all as promised to the Armenians who fought on the side of the Allies. One such appeal asking the public to write to their MPs came in April 1920: a one page announcement that truly echoed the British public outrage regarding Armenia’s future being left in the hands of the Turks.  (see poster, Britons be Quick)

In 1922, politicians and public joined efforts to help the Armenian survivors as much as they could. After the burning of Smyrna in September of 1922, which caused the death of tens of thousands of Greeks and Armenians, Lord Balfour joined his fellow citizens and at the League of Nations demanded to speak on the question of Asia Minor. He said:

   “I have received information from my Government, according to which they fear that there is a real danger of some great calamity happening to a large number of refugees, Armenian and Greek, who are now without shelter and without food in Smyrna. I need hardly say that on such an occasion I am not going to touch in the remotest way on any question of political interest. I am concerned only with the question of humanity. I am sure that I can have all your sympathy in this matter, and I may say that my Government are prepared, if other Governments will collectively provide a similar amount, to give without delay £50,000 for this humanitarian object. I earnestly hope that their efforts will be seconded by the representatives of other countries.

As Lausanne came to a close, there were more immediate calls for help especially to save the orphans. At the end of 1922, palaces in Greece were requisitioned to house the 25,000 orphans. Relief arrangements in Greece, Britain and other countries were made to finance these orphanages. In fact, the British continued helping the four orphanages of the Lord Mayor’s fund in Yerevan, while pledges were made that until the Armenian authorities were in a position to take them over, these children would remain dependent on the generosity of the British Public.

Note: All citations are taken from “The Times of the Armenian Genocide: Reports in the British Press,” edited by Katia Minas Peltekian. The book in two volumes compiles over one thousand articles from the British Press during 1914-1923.


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