By Mattheos Eblighatian
Translated by Vahe H. Apelian
Edited by Jack Chelebian, M.D.
This segment is from Mattheos Eblighatian’s book titled, “A Life in the Life of My Nation”. His sons Melkon, M.D. and Krikor, Attorney at Law, have edited the book (1987). The chapter is titled “Aram Manougian”. In 1913 Mattheos Eblighatian was appointed prosecutor general in Van. The community leaders in Istanbul had told him that only Aram and Ishkhan are authorized to contact him in Van with caution.
“Before reaching a resolution of the case, one evening, around 10:30 pm, I was busy studying the dossier when the maid informed me that a visitor by name of Manougian wanted to see me.
At the beginning, the name did not ring a bell. When I looked at the maid quizzically, she said – “It’s Aram Pasha”.
Of course, with much interest, I welcomed the man whose activities in Van constituted the crux of the people’s daily conversations.
He was a bit taller than mid-height, with a thick mustache; broad-shouldered, and looked between 30 to 40 years of age. He was the exact opposite of Ishkhan. From the very first sight, he left a good impression. From the beginning, our conversation took such a turn as if we had known each other for many years.
Alluding to the assassination of the dentist, he noted:
“You left us in an awkward situation. Fortunately a week ago I received a letter from Zartarian, which was a relief. We like people who are cautious, but you took it a bit to an extreme by not keeping any contact with us - and noted smiling – that such an extreme disassociation could have had unpleasant consequences. Zartarian, at your urging also advises us to be cautious. I was waiting for the past few nights for you to be alone for an opportune time to visit you”.
- “How did you find out that I was alone?’ I asked lightheartedly.
- “From the maid”, he answered.
Of course, it had not occurred to me until that day, that in my house, I lived under the surveillance of the Tashnagsoutium (Armenian Revolutionary Federation).
It was well past midnight when Aram departed. In those two hours, he amply elaborated on the situation in the countryside and naturally dwelt upon issues that had to do with the judiciary. “Presently the pressing issue – he said – is the retaliation for the assassination of the teacher Raphael. The organization has dealt severely with the perpetrators. A few persons have been apprehended because of it”. Naturally, I promised to study their case. He also elaborated to a great extent on their mutual relations with the governor. Both sides had established good relations with each other and were keen on keeping the relations on track.
I was extremely appreciative of this candid conversation with Aram because it was important for me to know as how to proceed under certain circumstances. We came to an understanding of my future relations with them. I was to deal only with Aram and Ishkhan and those seeking my assistance should contact me only through either one of them.
And it became that way to the very end. Issues that had to do with the judiciary would be addressed to me by Aram and often in my office. This was not something that would raise any concern for anyone. Aram had free access from the governor’s office to every other official’s. Everyone’s issues would land squarely on his lap. In the market, there would always be a crowd around him. Most of them were villagers whose issues it would become Aram’s to resolve. Let it not surprise anyone when I note that I first heard these things from the governor himself, who visited me a few evenings every month. In close circles, the governor would lavish much praise on Aram’s legendary austerity. He would tell me that the majority of the salary Aram received from the educational department of the Akhtamar region; he spent preparing the pleas the villagers addressed to the government. There would be days when he absolutely had no money is his pocket. There also would be days when he would not have had any food, being so engrossed in his myriad tasks that he would not have the time to think about food.
Indeed, I also ascertained later that at times he did not seem to know whether he was hungry or not. He liked to drink tea without sugar. At times he would place a cube of sugar in his mouth and drink tea that way. When he happened to be in the court at lunchtime we would have something to eat together. I realized that he had lost the habit of having lunch with regularity. That would become more obvious to me when he would have his lunch with me in the evenings. He had a sociable, lively, and a cheerful temperament. But when it came to national issues, Aram’s demeanor would completely change; he would speak forcefully and at times roar like a lion.
As I said earlier, Aram and the Governor cultivated an amicable relationship and both wanted to keep it that way. But there were instances when that relationship would cool down, even got strained, because of disagreements about general or specific issues. The most important issue of contention between the two had to do with the Kurds. Much can be said about the Armenian-Turkish, Armenian-Kurdish, and Turkish-Kurdish relations. Discussing them would take us far and beyond. Suffice to note a few words to shed light on the issues mentioned here.
It is well known that three nations cohabit on our native land, Armenians, Kurds, and Turks. In spite of the fact that the latter was the newcomer and a minority, the Turks had become the ruler of the land and had established themselves firmly. In the beginning, the demography was not what it is presently. But from the very beginning, the Turks had strived to make the Turks the majority in any area. The Turks, who did not discriminate in the means to achieve their goal, had initially acted with total impunity. Massive massacres, displacements, forced Islamization (i.e. Turkification), devshirme, that is to say rounding up four to five years old Christian boys and raising them as Islamized Janissaries and resorting to administrative gerrymandering so that the Turks would become the majority in any province. For example, geographically Hadjin and Zeitoun were not far from each other but each was in a different administrative area, with one being incorporated in the province of Adana while the other in Aleppo. In the same manner, the Armenian inhabited Van was tied to the Kurdish Hakkari and both were incorporated in the province of Van.
The basic policy of the Turks was “divide to rule”.
The situation with the Kurds was different. The government did not move against them with the same zeal. Foremost, the Kurds were Muslims. Consequently, they were spared from the calamities that befell upon the Armenian, and thus, over time, had grown in number. The government was unable to subjugate the multiparous and multifarious Kurds, and hence was obliged to treat them differently although the aim remained the same, that is to say, to curtail their number. First, the government encouraged mixed marriages. By marrying a Turkish woman, a Kurd would become cultured and be part of the dominant race. The government opened a lot of opportunities for them and would allow them to exploit and usurp Armenian owned properties and labor without restraint. The second option was creating divisions among the different Kurdish tribes and alternatively siding with one against the other. Thirdly, by incorporating them in the hamidiye (cavalry), where the Kurdish forces were smothened with kindness. These were exercised for so long that they had become second nature to the Turkish officials. It should be noted that the Turkish officials benefited greatly from such treatment.
After the proclamation of the constitution, the situation undeniably changed. For the Kurds, subjugating the Armenian with impunity became much more difficult although not impossible. Kurds lost some of the ill-gotten gains they had, and the Turks’ influence was diminished. The Armenians gained some freedom to maneuver and out of necessarily took matters into their own hands to respond to the daily realities they faced.
It also became clear that the Kurdish menace did not have final and un-remediable consequences. Ishkhan would explain as follows. During the Hamidian period, the Armenian villagers hardly survived living hand to mouth existence and did not have an extra loaf of bread to offer to the hungry Armenian freedom fighters – fedayees – roaming on the mountains. During the few years of the Constitution, when the Armenian villagers could at the very least harvest what they planted, their misery had noticeably diminished and life had become much more tolerable. Of course, there were a lot of land disputes remaining from the Hamidian period that needed resolution. There was the issue of security that was paramount with the Armenian leadership. That is to say how to curtail the massacres of the yesteryears when the Turkish government continued to encourage the Kurds and at times even joined them with arms to punish the “traitor Armenian infidels”.
The Armenians naturally did not want the Kurds to remain instruments in the hands of the Turks to be used against them. The Turks on the other hand, having their long-term goals in mind, always looked for ways and means to pit the Kurds against the Armenians. For this very reason, the Governor persecuted fiercely unruly Kurdish bandits but encouraged the Kurds who attempted to subjugate the defenseless Armenians. The Turkish government aimed to make impossible fostering any amicable relationship between the Kurds and the Armenians. Thus, there were inevitable sharp differences between Aram and the Governor regarding such issues vital to the Armenians.