21 January 2009

2706) Khlebof War Journal - War Journal Of 2nd Russian Fortress Artillery Regiment Of Erzeroum , 1918

Khlebof War Journal
War Journal Of the Second Russian Fortress Artillery Regiment OF ERZEROUM,
From its Formation Until the Recapture of Erzeroum by the Ottoman Army, March 12th, 1918

Translated from the original Russian manuscript, 1919 .


Certain passages of this journal show up the atrocities committed by the Armenians towards the Mussulmans. Those who wish to have further details on the oppression and iniquities so cruelly inflicted on the Turks, may advantageously consult the memoirs of Lieutenant Colonel Twerdo Khlebof, commander of the 2nd Russian Fortress Artillery Regiment at Erzeroum, recently published.

Towards the middle of December, 1917, the Russian Army of the Caucasus had retired from the front on its own initiative and without authorization of its officers or superior command. The fortress artillery regiment stationed at Erzeroum left with the rest of the army, and there only remained about forty officers belonging either to this regiment or to the fort of Deve-Boynou. These officers had remained from a sense of duty in charge of the batteries which their men had abandoned. More than four hundred cannons were in the forts, and, as it was impossible to move them, they were obliged to be left behind. As for the officers, they wished to preserve their military honor, and waited for fresh troops or for the order to quit their posts. Those who remained after the departure of the 1st regiment, formed the second fortress artillery regiment of Erzeroum. The Armenians of this town, taking advantage of the retreat of the Russian army, had rebelled an had formed the Armenian Military Union. The command of the army attached four hundred of them to this second regiment. They were all novices quite new to the service. Some deserted and the remainder only served as sentinels or to keep guard round the batteries.

Some time before the retreat of the Russian Army, internal warfare has commenced in the north of the Caucasus. Communications between Russia and Transcaucasia were at that time interrupted and the provisory government constituted at Tiflis had taken the name of Commissariat of Transcaucasia, declaring Transcaucasia an integral part of Russia and that they represented the government provisory and until the return of a normal situation. The commissariat of Transcaucasia, while not claiming to be an independent government, decreed, in December, 1917, the formation of a new army to take the place of one which had withdrawn. This new force, on the basis of nationalities, was to be formed of Russian, Georgian, Mussulman, and Armenian army corps, and to have contingents recruited among the Circassian tribes and so on.

Until the intervention of a decision on the subject of the nationality the artillerymen, the guard of the fortress of Deve-Boynou-Erzeroum, was composed of Armenian soldiers and Russian officers. The command was entirely Russian. In the same way as the command, the lists of artillery formations were also Russian, and no one could imagine that the troops were Armenians. Nobody, moreover, had given any orders in this sense and these formations have always borne the name of Russians. We have always served in the Russian Artillery, received our pay from the Russian Treasury, and been under the orders of Russian commanders. There was in the regiment a Russian church administered by a Russian pope and no Armenian church.

Almost two months had passed since the retreat of the Russian army and no military appoint had come to Erzeroum. Discipline could not be restored to the regiment. The soldiers deserted and began to pillage. They soon began to threaten the officers and to disobey them openly
.

Colonel Torkom who was, I learnt, an Armenian Bulgarian, was appointed commander of the fort of Erzeroum. Towards mid January, 1918, one of the notabilities of the town, whose name I forget, was assassinated and his house pillaged by Armenian infantry soldiers. The commander-in-chief, Odichelidze, sent for all the chiefs of the troops and exacted the discovery of the assassins in a delay of three days. He declared to the Armenians that their honor was at stake in this crime and that an end must be put to the insubordination and atrocities of their soldiers, otherwise he would be obliged to distribute arms to the Mussulman population for personal defense. Colonel Torkom answered angrily that the crimes and thefts committed by some brigands could not affect the reputation of a whole nation, and that all Armenians were not brigands. The officers then insisted on a court-martial and the application of the penal code and the death penalty on the criminals. Their request was granted, but I do not know if the murderers were discovered.

On February 25th, as far as I can remember, Colonel Torkom organized a review of all the troops in this town of Erzeroum. A salve of 21 cannon was fired on this occasion. During the ceremony Torkom addressed a speech in Armenian to Odichelidze. Not one of us knew Armenian, so naturally we understood nothing. Afterwards, we heard that the question of the constitution of Armenia had been touched upon, and that Torkom had declared he had taken up the administration personally. As soon as the commander-inchief heard of it, he turned Torkom out of Erzeroum. From that we deduced that the government did not wish in any way an independent Armenia.

I had often heard it said, that more than once the Headquarter Staff had declared to the Armenians that all arms, material, and other effects coming either from the front or from the depots in Erzeroum and its neighborhood, had been given to the Armenians only for the time being, and that, in case of need, they had to be restored immediately.

It was on this that the massacre of poor unarmed, inoffensive Turks took place in Erzindjan by the Armenians who, on the approach of the Ottoman troops, left the town and fled towards Erzeroum. According to information received by the commander-in-chief and the declarations of Russian officers present in Erzindjan at the time of the massacre, 800 Turks were assassinated by the Armenians who on their side had only one casualty caused in legitimate defense. It was proved that the unhappy Turkish peasants of the village of Ilidja, near to Erzeroum, were also massacred.

On February 7th in the afternoon, the soldiers and militia of Erzeroum began to collect in the streets a number of men and to sent them off in an unknown direction. This drew my attention, and I asked the reason for it. I was answered that they had been recruited as workmen to clear away the snow from the railway. Towards three o’clock, one of the officers of my regiment, sub-lieutenant Lipisky, telephoned me that several Armenian soldiers had brought live Turks to the barracks, and that they were beating them and were likely to kill them. Having tried to free them, he was himself threatened and an Armenian officer,. .



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