An Encounter with Djemal Pasha

Special for the Armenian Weekly

By Missak Vassilian
Translated by Jennifer Manoukian

The following is the account of a 16-year-old Armenian boy’s unexpected encounter with Djemal Pasha, a member of the the Ittihadist triumvirate of WWI, in December 1917. It was given to me by his son, Asbed Vassilian, who sees in this brief exchange a larger story about the resilience and perseverance of the Armenian people.

Djemal Pasha in his car
Djemal Pasha (on the back seat)

In 1915, the benevolent Turkish government, in its monstrous plan, did not spare the faculty and students at the Kelegian orphanage in Chork-Marzban (Dortyol), but instead deported them under the guise of a brief excursion. I think a Turkish unit from Adana came specifically to organize the deportation. A handful of students were reunited with their parents, and some of the older students were sent to the Dar-el-Eytem Turkish orphanage in Adana. According to the information we received, barely a few months after arriving at the orphanage, those boys were sent to the deserts of Meskiné and Der-Zor. Finally, around 20 boys, including myself, were transferred to a German orphanage in the village of Harni. After about two years of studying German, Turkish, and other subjects, the German orphanage suffered a severe financial crisis; they used to give us bread made with barley flour that had not been sifted, and even this was difficult for them to secure. During this period of financial crisis, a couple of German officers came to the orphanage and met with the administration. A few days after the officers left, around 20 students who had been studying German for 2 years were assigned to work as translators at the German military’s station in Ayran. The purpose of that military facility was to oversee the train traffic on the narrow rail lines (around 60 centimeters wide) that ran from the station in Ayran to a station called Incirlik, where two wider rail lines converged.

Kelekian orphans (Via AGBU Flickr)
Kelekian orphange (Via AGBU Flickr)

Around this time, some friends and I went for a stroll around the market dressed in our school uniforms. That day, two Turkish policemen arrested us and brought us to their guardhouse. One of my friends fled and informed the Germans of our arrest. A low-ranking officer and a German soldier soon arrived at the guardhouse. The Turkish policemen who had arrested us fled without saying a word. The officer then asked us why we did not say that we worked for the German military. We said that we had told them, but that they had ignored it and brought us to the guardhouse anyway.

After this incident, they fitted us for German soldiers’ uniforms and turned us into military personnel, so that a similar event would not happen again. After the wide rail lines between the Ayran and Incirlik stations were joined, we moved with the entire military corps to a station called Kelebek. There was work to be done to complete the joining of the rail lines between Kelebek and Belemedik. At the station in Kelebek, they housed us in a wooden room in what they called the barracks. It was one of the nicer Turkish barracks.

Although it was still winter, that day at the end of 1917 was as sunny as a spring day. Barely a few steps away from where we lived, nearly all the Turkish officers at that station were lined up. Djemal Pasha had come from Damascus to meet the officers on his way back to Constantinople. Curious to see him, some friends and I sat down in front of the barracks, swinging our feet as we waited. Barely 15 minutes had passed before they announced that he had arrived. He got out of his special car, dressed in a short coat and flanked by two bodyguards, and joined the officers a few steps away from us. After the major met Djemal Pasha, he began to introduce the officers. He had barely introduced the first officer when the pasha, pointing at us, asked him who the kids were who were swinging their feet. The major replied angrily:

Paşa hazretleri, bunlar Alman askiar elbisesi giymiş Ermeni çocuklardır. Almanlar bunları tohumluk saklıyorlar.” [“Your Excellency, those are Armenian kids dressed as German soldiers. The Germans are keeping them as seeds for the future.”]

Djemal Pasha
Djemal Pasha

The pasha immediately asked him to bring one of the boys over. Since I was the closest, the major called me over. I approached the pasha and greeted him. The pasha asked if I was a soldier. I said that all of us were, as if he could not have guessed from our uniforms. He asked what kind of soldiers we were, and I said that we were German soldiers. Then, he asked how we became soldiers. I said that we were transferred to the German orphanage in Harni from the Kelegian orphanage in Chork-Marzban (Dortyol), and that after studying Turkish and German for two years, they assigned us to be translators for the German military. After listening to what I had said, the pasha shook his head slowly, and said:

Acayip! Demek ki Dörtyol Kelegian mektebinden sürgün oldunuz. İki sene Almanca öğrendiniz ve Alman ordusunda askiar tercümen oldunuz. Hey Türklük, bu milleti mahvedemezsiniz ve bu millet mahvolmaz. Yürü, kuzum.” [How strange! This means that you were all deported from the Kelegian orphanage in Dortyol, studied German for two years and became translators in the German army. Oh Turkish people, you cannot destroy this nation and this nation will not be annihilated. Go on, my son, go.”]

And I went on my way.

Jennifer Manoukian

Jennifer Manoukian

Jennifer Manoukian is a translator of Western Armenian literature. She earned an MA in Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies from Columbia University and a BA in French Literature and Middle Eastern Studies from Rutgers University. Her first book length translation,The Gardens of Silihdar by Zabel Yessayan, was released by AIWA Press in 2014.
Jennifer Manoukian

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  1. Interesting. Did he consider these children “Turk”? What strange behaviour from a man who has been branded as a monster and mass murderer of Armenians. In Syria, his 4th Army was left responsible for recieving and settling the streaming in Armenian and other refugees. While he was fighting a bloody war against the most powerful nation on Earth at the time, he also had to deal with problems of civilians. He was forced to feed the refugees from his own military stocks at times. It was him also who set up orphanges and schools for Armenian children (with help from Halide Edip). There was famine and locust in the area in that year, much worsened by the blockade of ports by the British. They did not even let the civilian help and Red Cross, then complained about how Pasha treated Armenians.

  2. Murat,

    You are ignorant: each high ranking murderer, I mean Turkish leader, knew that the western powers would hang them for crimes against humanity. No one less than Churchill said this in 1915, and it was widely reported. It’s one of the reasons they killed everyone right away and hid the evidence.

    The Turks sometimes mitigated or hid their atrocities in the presence of Austrians and Germans. Djemal was playing that angle up when the German was watching him. He also played both sides of the street: he secretly tried to work a deal with the Allies under which he would kill the other Triumverate leaders in exchange for becoming the sole leader. Fine Turk loyalty.

    Do you suppose he would kill an Armenian wearing a German uniform under German command? He was a vicious genocider, but he wasn’t stupid.

    Should we feel sorry for the losses he coped with that he caused by attacking the Russians? He got what he deserved ultimately: death in a gutter in Tbilisi by the race he could not exterminate.

    Tough guy. killed millions of Armenian, Assyrian, Pontic Greek, Greek and Arab women. Coward leader of a coward lazy nation.

    That’s the sort of guy you guys worship.

  3. Turkey is a proud nation of murderers and also one of the largest drug dealing nations in all the world.
    So much to be proud of.

  4. There is no need to make blanket statements about an entire nation. There are criminals in every nation (yes, Armenians too, believe it or not!!), but to brand an entire nation as a nation of murderers defeats the purpose of calls for justice. This is exactly what the CUP party did: associated an entire nation with a small band of armed Armenians they perceived as traitors. They carried on their genocidal plan by attributing the “traitor” brand to all Armenians. Is this the result you wish to achieve? You do know where that leads us next, right? The persecuted becomes the persecutor (see Israel and the way it deals with Palestinians for example).

    This slice of history is very interesting and to many people, it may appear to be at odds with claims of genocidal intent. However, evidence must be taken in its entirety. One cannot assess or mitigate Djemal Pasha’s criminal intent simply based on one comment. Often we hear similar claims by modern day war criminals (for example Serbs accused before the international criminal tribunal claiming that they had Muslim and Croat friends); but that in of itself does not preclude the harboring of a criminal intent.

    The issue here is to divide intent from motive. Assume for a moment that Djemal Pasha may not have necessarily “wanted” to annihilate the Armenian nation out of hatred, but that he just wanted to get rid of the Armenian population for another reason (say, enriching the Turkish population, or joining all Turkish nation in a pan-turkish all encompassing empire), that – again – does not preclude the harboring of genocidal intent. Djemal Pasha may have wanted to get rid of the Armenian population for a number of reasons. Patting a kid on the shoulder and saying “go on my son” is of interest, but of little mitigating value.

    Nevertheless, thank you Mr. Vassilian (and Ms. Manoukian) for this very interesting piece of history. Every event, every moment in history, has its raison d’etre and is worth being told.

    • You are right and you are wrong.

      You are of course right that many Turks did not cut off the breasts of Armenian women before dousing them with gasoline and setting them alight, or bludgeon the men to death while their hands were tied behind their backs, or slit their throats and behead them. You are right.

      But you are also wrong: then and today, many perhaps most Turks have eliminationist, Genocidal hatred against Armenians. Calling a man “Armenian” in sophistocated Bolis is grounds for a defamation lawsuit or a battery or worse.

      Yes, we revere the unshakable humane handful of courageous Turks who defied their orders and defy their nationalist countrymen today. They number far less than 1/2 of 1 per cent of the nation.

  5. Well Alex, you are right. There are murderers and there are murderers.
    I don’t believe there will be any nation on this earth as cruel as Turks are. Yes, Jews were murdered in an organized way by a machine/system called Nazis. But the German people did not kill the Jews the Nazis did.
    The Armenians were butchered not by the the criminals of the day the Ittihads but the Turkish people were involved by killing, murdering, raping the Women stealing what belonged to the Armenians. Even today Turks are seating on our wealth. They have become richer by stealing and killing our people. They have killed the BREAD and BUTTER of their country (which was not even their country). Yes they are Murders with Capital letters and they will be Murderers for the next 100 generations to come. It is in their DNA. I don’t know who you are Mr Alex, do not rationalize sad events because no country understand Turkey and the Turks then the Armenians. Look what they are doing in Syria. They are stealing the Syrian wealth and destroying the good country and killing and raping the people who were supposed to be Neighbors and kissing each other as brothers. Its because they are Thieves, Murderers Rapists right front of our own eyes in the 21st Century. So, may be you should stop for a moment, reflect on what i am saying in response to your lecturing and stop being an Academic and try to learn things from our perspectives because we know who these people are. I hope the Syrians will know too.

    • Yes, it’s been well documented that the Nazis were, in fact, aliens from outer space, not Germans. Therefore Germans were not Nazis. No German ever killed a Jew in WWII. Only alien Nazis did.

  6. The government of the United States committed genocide against Native Americans and stole their land and wealth. I have never heard Armenians empathize with the plight of the Native Americans.

    • That’s a red herring fallacy. The Native American Genocide experience, and the Armenian perception of it, doesn’t excuse the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. we should perform a serious inquiry to understand the Armenian perception of the Native American experience, not simply assume that Armenians are generally indifferent to it.

  7. I know of many Armenian Americans who speak about the genocide of Native Americans and have appeared on radio shows about it. It has been written about in this newspaper.

  8. One has to be fair enough and also publish Turkish eyewitness accounts about atrocities that Armenians did to Turks. No one in the West talks about this. Turkey(!) is regarded as a murderer nation but where is Armenia apologizing for the genocide of Turks and later Azeris? where is France apologizing for the genocide in Algeria? Where is the USA apologizing for the genocide of its natives? The list is long… These are all very sad events, including the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. But no people should build its identity on hatred.
    PS: it is not “askiar” but “asker” (soldier)

    • Sort of like saying that the Jews in the Warsaw ghettos attacked Germans and killed hand fulls and therefore should apologize? the Turks, throughout history, were horrible . Ask ANY race under Turkish rule, they will all say the same thing: Animals, murderers, thieves, rapist. Nothing More. No apology needed to be given by any Armenian. Its your race that should apologize.

    • Antiochian– Grow up. Stop repudiating the truth and start acknowledging reality. A criminal doesn’t share the responsibility of his crimes with his victims.

  9. It’s rather hilarious how that neurotic Turkbaijani clown from above, attempts to foolishly establish that the Armenian people committed genocide against the Turks and Azeris. This must already be the third or fourth time, that he/she is attempting to do this, under different usernames. You know what this is called? This is called the definition of extreme Turk/Azeri desperation, in an attempt to minimize their horrendous criminal histories.

    The Armenian Genocide, which happens to be recognized by the International Association of Genocide Scholars, is an extremely well-documented fact with an enormous amount of factual evidence from foreign diplomats, missionaries, and military officers, who were present in Anatolia during the period of time that these atrocities were taking place. That’s the reason why countries like the United States, Germany, and Britain, ended up collecting such a massive amount of evidence on the Armenian Genocide. As a matter of fact, Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, happened to have a huge pile of factual evidence in regard to the extermination of the Armenian people in Anatolia during World War One.

    On the other hand, exactly what sort of factual evidence is there, in regard to the Armenian people committing genocide against the Turks and Azeris? The answer to that question is zero factual evidence. A Turk/Azeri must obviously be a combination of desperate and foolish to actually claim that the Armenians committed such a genocide due to Turk/Azeri eyewitness accounts of these events. How ridiculous that sounds! After all, by now, the whole world is fully aware of the persistent horrible lies spread by the two terrorist brother nations of Turkey and Azerbaijan, in their desperate effort to hide their despicable criminal histories.

  10. “This slice of history is very interesting and to many people, it may appear to be at odds with claims of genocidal intent. However, evidence must be taken in its entirety. One cannot assess or mitigate Djemal Pasha’s criminal intent simply based on one comment.”

    Actually, based on that one comment alone, genocidal intent is clearly presented and highlighted, and it could not be any clearer:

    “Oh Turkish people, you cannot destroy this nation and this nation will not be annihilated.”

    The meaning of this is that, the Turkish people wanted to destroy this nation (genocidal intent), and Djemal was one of its project managers acting for its premeditated interests. He expressed disappointment when he saw the target nation was finding other ways to survive. ‘Genocidal intent’ is very clear.

    • Indeed HagopD:

      “Paşa hazretleri…saklıyorlar.” [“Your Excellency….The Germans are keeping them as seeds for the future.”]

      “The Germans are keeping them as seeds for the future”.
      “Seeds” (!)

      The silence from the monster and mass-murderer – is deafening, in response to the vile description of Armenian children by the savage nomad major. And when the monster and mass-murderer speaks last, he confirms their plan to destroy a nation: {“….you cannot destroy this nation….”}

      This is actually pretty hilarious: our denialist guest Murat is so absorbed in his typical Turkic hero worship of mass murdering genocidal psychopaths to notice that his idol openly acknowledges his fellow savage nomadic Turkic tribesmen’s guilt: “Oh Turkish people, you cannot destroy this nation and this nation will not be annihilated.”

      Aren’t you the same denialist Turk that wrote this ?
      {“ Unlike the Armenian genocide myth, where the facts and figures are mostly manufactured.”} (Murat @HDN 8/9/2012 9:29:39 PM)

      btw: The monster and mass-murderer was right; Genocidal Turks came close, but did not succeed in annihilating us.
      And we will never forget what was done to us by Turks.
      More than enough of us now to do what needs to be done.
      The day will come.
      Djemal knew it will come: he was most certainly whispering to himself “…told them so….”, as his evil spirit was descending to the depths of Hell, while the 3 heroic Armenian executioners- Stepan Dzaghigian, Artashes Gevorgyan, and Petros Ter Poghosyan – were standing over the twitching carcass of the mange jackal, smiling.

  11. {“ One has to be fair enough and also publish Turkish eyewitness accounts about atrocities that Armenians did to Turks.…..”}
    {“… where is Armenia apologizing for the genocide of Turks and later Azeris…”}
    (Antiochian // April 17, 2014 at 6:48 pm //)

    You need to study and understand the meanings of the words ‘tragedy’, ‘atrocity’, ‘massacre’, and ‘genocide’ before you bloviate about things you have no understanding of, denialist InvadoNomad from Uyguristan.

    Indeed, the list of things you are confused about is long.

    One question for you, nomad: IF Armenians had allegedly committed ‘genocide’ against Turks, how is it possible for Armenians (and Assyrians, and Greeks), who were about 25% of Ottoman Empire, to have almost completely disappeared from Turkey today, and there are something like 50 million or so Turks and Turkish people in Turkey ? (I am not counting Kurds and ‘others’).
    Shortly before the Genocide of Christians began in 1915, the Muslim population of Ottoman Turkey was about 15 million (75%), out of the total of about 20 million. Christians* were about 25%.
    Now it is about 75-80 million (Turks+Turkic peoples+Kurds+other Muslims). (99.8%)
    Christians and Jews ? down to about 150,000. (0.2%)

    Did the mis-Education system of Turkey teach you denialist Turks a special Turkish version of math and biology ?
    Did they teach you that the more people you kill the more they multiply ?

    {“But no people should build its identity on hatred.”}

    Armenians have had a crystal clear identity going back at least 5,000 years, Turk.
    Our identity is based on a sedentary civilization that creates**.
    What is denialist Turkish identity based on – grand theft*** ?
    Do you even know who or what you are ?

    About that ‘hatred’ thing:

    Here is a sample of what many of your Turkish kin have built their identity on: pure Anti-Armenian hatred; singing, dancing, celebrating (!) the launch of the Genocide of Armenian civilians, women, children, babies.
    Celebrating death and destruction of Armenians.
    The very definition of Hatred, with a capital H.
    [Turkish-Americans celebrating the Armenian Genocide, Washington DC, 2010.]

    InvadoNomadic Hate-filled Turkic savages from Uyguristan, circa 1000AD, magically having time-travelled to Washington DC, April 24, 2010, to spew their rabid bile.

    * women and children were heavily undercounted in the Ottoman Census; more so in Armenian villayets, children in particular.
    ** a Turkish Armenian created the Latinized alphabet that Turks use today: did you know that, nomad ?
    *** (by Uğur Ümit Üngör)
    *** [“In fact, today, the source of the Turkish bourgeoisie’s wealth is Armenian and Greek property, although books on Turkish economic history never mention this,” he said.] (İsmail Beşikçi @TodaysZaman, May 2011)

  12. David Barsamian,

    It was rather odd, when you criticized Armenians earlier for not having empathy for the plight of the Native American Indians. Because, the truth of the matter is that there are numerous Armenians out there, who actually empathize with the plight of the victimized Native American Indian people. Anyway, it was nice of you to apologize for that incorrect statement.

    By the way, you were wrong when you stated that the United States stole the Native American Indians’ wealth. To begin with, they didn’t possess any kind of material wealth, such as cash, gold, furniture, or properties. They were exterminated for only one reason, and that reason happens to be that they were in the way of Uncle Sam’s westward expansion towards the Pacific Ocean. As a result, the Native American Indian people’s lands were stolen, and they ended up being the victims of genocide.

  13. I wonder who is Mr Andiockian ??? To defend…is the right for every person and every country when they are attacked. Mr Andiockian read a bit of history and see who is the real criminal. It shows even in your writing because you don’t have the courage to come up with at least with a Turkic name so we can say there you go he has some guts. But you don’t, you can’t. You hide behind an Armenian name. How shameful.

  14. Zohrab Balian is right, Hi Amo .. Antiockian maybe you should read the book by Hasan Cemal grandson of Djemal Pasha 1915:Ermeni Soykirim . Maybe then you will realize that the Armenian Genocide is somewhat different to other Genocides and one example is an interesting piece of information provided in the book that has to do with the late İlhan Selçuk, a columnist of the Cumhuriyet daily who has held great value for Kemalists. He has apparently never spoken of his Armenian mother. This is quite a remarkable example of how the Kemalist state has not only tried to cover up historical facts but also induced citizens to hide their ethnic origins. Denialist I.T Remnant Turks like yourselves should read such books as Hasan Cemals .. Antiockian you claim why don’t we apologise for Azeris .. How can we apologize to something that never occured .. Everybody knows that Khojaly massacre is fabricated lies. For your information whats funny is that the pictures in Khojaly Massacre of murdered children etc were the same pictures taken from Kosovo and from murdered Kurdish children .. The Azeri state thought people wouldn’t realize , but boy they were wrong. . All those other countries you named before are also murderers .. Yes the Americans committed Genocide on there Natives, Yes the French on the Algerians , yes Australians on the Aboriginals ,but stop trying to justify your killings of the Armenians by saying ” oh. the US done it ” . Admit your crime and move on .. I wonder how it might feel being a denialist , because when your arguing your silly point you look rather silly.

    • “Antiockian you claim why don’t we apologise for Azeris .. How can we apologize to something that never occured ..” Exactly..

  15. A small edit to the last paragraph of my last post.

    Instead of

    “I’m not saying that Turks and Kurds and Circassians (yes, there were many) took part in murdering the majority of Armenians (Greeks and Assyrians) between 1915-1923.”

    it should read:

    “I’m not saying that Turks and Kurds and Circassians (yes, there were many) did not take part in murdering the majority of Armenians (Greeks and Assyrians) between 1915-1923.”

  16. Djemal pasha was like almost all the ittihadist Cup members a donmeh jew , after 1916,all what he wanted at the end was to become king of palestine and Syria


    Along with Hasan Cemal, the Kurds have recently apologized as well.
    I don’t understand you Turks who haven’t even been around for 30 years have the audacity to deny something in a manner as if you were there yourself. This is an outrage. The saddest part of all of this is the fact that you haven’t evolved much as human beings.

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