Niles and Sutherland Chapter from Prof. Justin McCarthy's "Death
and Exile," pp. 223-228
ADDENDUM, July 2007:
Prof. McCarthy has made the original document available on his university site regarding
Few outsiders saw the situation in eastern Anatolia im- mediately after World War I. Of
those who did, one group, American missionaries, were almost completely unreliable as
witnesses to Muslim suffering. With the Armenians gone from eastern Anatolia, the life
work of the missionaries had been destroyed, and their one-sidedness and understandable
bitterness made them unreliable observers. While they were capable of documenting in great
detail actions against Armenians, they were with few exceptions incapable of mentioning
actions against Muslims. Another group, Westerners, were agents of the British and
American governments, suffered from some of the same disabilities as the missionaries, and
were also prejudiced. Some of them, however, rose above their prejudices to become
Captain Emory Niles and Mr. Arthur Sutherland were Amer- icans
ordered by the United States government to investigate the situation in eastern Anatolia.
Their report was to be used as the basis for granting of relief aid by the American
Committee for Near East Relief (ACNRE, more usually "Near East Relief). The two men
were quite unusual. Like Lt. Dunn, who provided Admiral Bristol with much accurate
intelligence, Niles and Sutherland decided simply to ride through the area until they saw
what was needed. Also, like Dunn, they did it with a minimum of support and with great
courage. Their courage extended to their report, for they set down what they actually saw
and heard, not what their prejudices dictated to them. For Americans in Anatolia, this was
a rare phenomenon. The remarkable fact is that they were concerned about Muslims, not as
Muslims but as human beings who were in need of relief. Perhaps naively, they assumed that
their orders covered reporting all those in eastern Anatolia who were in need of relief,
not only Christians, and they did so. Most of those in need were Muslims, and the
suffering they reported was mainly Muslim suffering. It may be for that reason that their
report was never included in the papers of the American Investigation Commissions; only a
partial copy of it can be found in the American Archives, well-hidden among documents on
very different topics, luckily not destroyed, but only buried.215
In most cases, Niles and Sutherland simply reported what they saw,
without comment. However, as they began to observe what was actually happening, they also
began to change what had been their typical Western opinions about Turks and Armenians:
[Region from Bitlis through Van to Bayazit] In
this entire region we were informed that the damage and destruction had been done by the
Armenians, who, after the Russians retired, remained in occupation of the country, and
who, when the Turkish army advanced, destroyed everything belonging to the Musulmans.
Moreover, the Armenians are accused of having committed murder, rape, arson and horrible
atrocities of every description upon the Musulman population. At first we were most
incredulous of these stories, but we finally came to believe them, since the testimony was
absolutely unanimous and was corroborated by material evidence. For instance, the only
quarters left at all intact in the cities of Bitlis and Van are the Armenian quarters, as
was evidenced by churches and inscriptions on the houses, while the Musulman quarters were
completely destroyed. Villages said to have been Armenian were still standing, whereas
Musulman villages were com- pletely destroyed.216
Niles and Sutherland were not pro-Turkish or pro-Muslim observers.
On the contrary, they came to eastern Anatolia with all the usual American prejudices in
place. Although they had never seen evidence of Muslim massacres of Armenians, they
believed them to have taken place and to have been as awful as was commonly believed in
the West. They commented, "We believe that it is incontestable that the Armenians
were guilty of crimes of the same nature against the Turks as those of which the Turks are
guilty against the Armenians." The difference, of course, is that they had seen the
evidence of the Armenian crimes, not the Turkish—the one charge is based on evidence,
the other on hearsay. However, this makes it more reliable concerning what they actually
saw, because, despite their prejudices, they reported the evils perpetrated by Armenians.
The two Americans reported on the condition of eastern Anatolia
after the war. The picture they painted was of a desolate place where crops, houses, and
human lives had been destroyed. In the area between Erzurum and Bayazit, they found that
the surviving Muslims had no milk, meat, or grain. The Muslims lived on wild grain and
wild vegetables, "neither of which has much food value." The Muslims blamed
their fate on the Armenians and the Americans agreed:
In this region [Bayazit-Erzurum] the racial
situation is intensely aggravated by the proximity to the frontier of Armenia, from which
refugees are coming with stories of massacres, cruelty and atrocities carried on by the
Armenian Government, Army and people against the Musulman population. Although several
hundred Armenians are actually living in the vilayet of Van, it would seem impossible that
Armenians could live in the rural regions of the vilayet of Erzerum, since the utmost
hatred of them is manifested by all. Here also the Armenians before retiring ruined
villages, carried out massacres, and perpetrated every kind of atrocity upon the Musulman
population and the doings of the Armenians just over the frontier keep alive and active
the hatred of the Armenians, a hatred that seems to be at least smoldering in the region
of Van. That there are disorders and crimes in Armenia is confirmed by refugees from
Armenia in all parts of the region and by a British officer at Erzerum.217
In the region between Erzurum and the Armenian frontier, the
destruction had been nearly complete. Retreating Armenians had destroyed every possible
village on their line of retreat. Two- thirds of the housing had been destroyed, as had
most of the Muslim population: "The region218 has
between one-third and one-fourth of its former population, varying in certain districts.
Those cities and villages on the line of retreat of the Armenian army suffered most."219 "All the villages and towns through which we passed showed
the marks of the war. Most of them were completely ruined."220
The most eloquent evidence given by Niles and Sutherland was
statistical—enumerations of surviving Muslim villages and houses. In considering Van and
Bitlis, for example, they found that in 1919 both cities had 10 percent or less of their
pre-war population. The Armenians had destroyed all but a few Muslim houses (Table 19).
All the public buildings and Muslim religious structures were gone.
DESTRUCTION IN THE CITIES OF VAN AND BITLIS.
SOURCE: Niles and Sutherland.
A similar situation was found in other villages. Most Muslim
villages were simply gone, whereas Armenian villages had survived. Niles and Sutherland
gave examples from the vilayet of Van and the sancak ofBayazit (Table 20).
VILLAGES IN VAN VILAYETI AND BAYAZIT SANCAGI,
BEFORE AND AFTER THE WAR AND ARMENIAN OCCUPATION.
* Repaired with materials from other villages.
** Both Armenian and mixed villages.
SOURCE: Niles and Sutherland.
Although they did not see the Caucasus nor have first-hand knowledge
of the fate of Muslims in the territories that had been Russian, Niles and Sutherland
repeatedly heard the same stories of atrocities from refugees and Muslims of the border
regions. Judging partly on what they had seen in Anatolia, they believed the tales to be
It was at Bayazid that Musulman refugees from the
Caucasus made their strongest appeal on account of atrocities committed by Armenians upon
them and those Musulmans who remain. The notes taken at the time show what the Armenians
are doing now in the Caucasus and what they did at Bayazid during their occupation. There
is a most intense bitterness and thirst for revenge against the Armenians here.221
Niles and Sutherland accurately summarized the history of the
eastern Anatolian Muslims in the conclusion of their report:
Although it does not fall within the exact scope
of our investigation one of the most salient facts impressed on us at every point from
Bitlis to Trebizond was that in the region which we traversed the Armenians committed upon
the Turks all the crimes and outrages which were committed in other regions by Turks upon
Armenians. At first we were most incredulous of the stories told us, but the unanimity of
the testimony of all witnesses, the apparent eagerness with which they told of wrongs done
them, their evident hatred of Armenians, and, strongest of all, the material evidence on
the ground itself, have convinced us of the general truth of the facts, first, that
Armenians massacred Musulmans on a large scale with many refinements of cruelty, and
second that the Armenians are responsible for most of the destruction done to towns and
villages. The Russians and Armenians occupied the country for a considerable time together
in 1915 and 1916, and during this period there was apparently little disorder, although
doubtless there was damage committed by the Russians. In 1917 the Russian Army disbanded
and left the Armenians alone in control. At this period bands of Armenian irregulars
roamed the country pillaging and murdering the Musulman civilian population. When the
Turkish army advanced at Erzindjan, Erzerum, and Van, the Armenian army broke down and all
of the soldiers, regular and irregular, turned themselves to destroying Musulman property
and committing atrocities upon Musulman inhabitants. The result is a country completely
ruined, containing about one-fourth of its former population and one-eighth of its former
buildings, and a most bitter hatred of Musulmans for Armenians which makes it impossible
for the two races to live together at the present time. The Musulmans protest that if they
are forced to live under an Armenian Government, they will fight, and it appears to us
that they will probably carry out this threat. This view is shared by Turkish officers,
British officers, and Americans whom we have met.222
215. Niles and Sutherland. On the bona fides
of Captain Niles, see U.S. 867.00/ 1005, Philip Brown of Princeton University to William
Carr, Princeton, 11 October 1919.
Other reports, such as those of the Harbord and
King-Crane Commissions were surely well-publicized. By rights, the statements of Niles and
Sutherland should have been included alongside the Harbord Reports, but were not. One
cannot help but believe that their evidence was not what those in power wished to hear.
General Harbord mentioned in his report that Captain Niles had visited areas of eastern
Anatolia that the Harbord Commission had not seen, but Harbord completely misrepresented
what Niles had written. (See Justin McCarthy, "The Report of Niles and Sutherland: an
American Investigation of Eastern Anatolia after World I," XI. Turk Tarih Kongresi,
Ankara, 1994, pp. 1809-53. This article reprints the Niles and Sutherland Report.) Both
the Harbord and King-Crane reports commented in detail on the situation in provinces such
as Van and Bitlis without having been there. Very little attempt was made to elicit
Turkish opinion or testimony. Indeed, the Harbord Commission's only interpreters were
Armenians, so the likelihood of accurate reporting about what the Turks thought was
extremely remote. *
216. Niles and Sutherland, op. cit.
218. "Erzerum, Frontier District, i.e., Diadin, Kara Kilissa, Alashgird,
Zeidekan, Velibaba, Khorasan, Keupri Keui, Jaghan, Hassan Kale, Ilidja, Karabijik, Baiburt."
219. Niles and Sutherland, op. cit.
222. Ibid. See also Istiklal Harbimiz, pp. 369-71.
* Holdwater: In fact, an
Armenian woman who rebelled against the Armenians' atrocities was with the Turks when
General Harbord visited Ataturk. She overheard the Armenian-Americans in Harbord's group
instruct the translators — in Armenian — to do the translation as they pleased.
Harbord then took this woman as part of his entourage for the rest of his mission, but
much damage was already done. Read more here.