THE facts of the massacre of the French garrison at Ufra, obtained from original sources, took place under the following conditions:
The Nationalists had been besieging the small French force in Urfa during the early days of Apr11, 1920, and at length Commander Hauger was compelled to capitulate. On the eighth of April be decided to evacuate the city and did so under the following terms: That all Christians should have ample protection; That the houses occupied by the garrison should not be reoccupied by the Turks until the garrison had left the city; that the graves of the fallen should be respected that sufficient transport should be supplied to convey their arms, ammunition, etc.(Their own transport being sadly depleted.) One officer of the gendarme and ten men would accompany them for safe convoy.
These were agreed to by the Mutessarif of Ufra and the commander of the Turkish Nationalist forces, but, notwithstanding this arrangement the French were attacked shortly after they had left the town and nearly annihilated.
A native-born American who chanced to be in Urfa on relief work and who desired to proceed to Aleppo decided to accompany the ill-fated expedition and was an eye-witness of what happened. The following account may be interesting as a chapter of authentic history, never before published:
“We left Urfa a at one-thirty a.m. on Sunday the eleventh of April, 1920, Captain Perraut being with the advance guard, four gendarmes leading the way, in center of column the officer of gendarmerie, Emir Effendi, who was to accompany us to our destination.”
“On passing the crest of the hill we observed several gendarmes and we were informed that this was their post. The ascent was very difficult as, the horses were in bad condition owing to lack of food and exercise. The camels delayed us as they were well-laden and climbed very slowly. We halted as usual ten minutes to the hour, the rear guard consisting of one hundred and fifty to one hundred and sixty men, being two kilometers in the rear.”
“At six a.m., passing through a ravine on to a straight stretch of road, we were suddenly attacked from the rear and both flanks, the enemy having machine guns among them. The firing commenced before the camels had passed out of the ravine. They were in the bend and halted. Previous to the attack, I had been marching with Commander Hanger and five minutes before the firing commenced was riding on a Red Cross wagon containing two wounded. When the firing commenced, two wagons which preceded the others, having their horses and mules wounded or killed, were forced to halt. I jumped down, taking cover in a hollow at the roadside, and finding that I was exposed to fire from the hilltops, decided to make my way forward trusting to find the Commander, who I knew was only two yards in advance.”
“By this time the attack had taken a formidable form. The ground here formed a basin surrounded by hills and bare of any cover so that the column was forced to go forward to find a position of defence, which they did five hundred yards ahead. The transport with the above exception, was thus cut off, most of the horses by that time being killed. Firing by this time had become extremely heavy, and going forward I joined Commander Hauger and two other officers in a hole in the hillside, which had been left by some stonecutters and from where he directed operations. We were afterward joined by two other officers and the Turkish officer of gendarmerie, who was then disarmed, and two interpreters.”
“About nine a.m., the rear guard were heard and the firing became very heavy. We were shortly joined by the officer who had been in charge of them, who gave us a thrilling account of what had happened; they had been ambushed in a gully, very few escaping.”
“From a hill to the north, we observed the Turkish Nationalist flag. Shortly after this, several Kurds were seen coming over the hills, apparently a tribe. At ten o’clock or thereabouts, Commander Hauger held a conference and decided to surrender.”
“At this time the line was broken to the east, the transport was lost and the rear guard cut up and many wounded were coming in. He then told the officer of the gendarmerie to go out with a flag of truce.”
“As we had several Armenians with us who needed protection, I suggested that I might accompany him. To this he agreed, and taking my interpreter carrying the American flag, myself carrying the white flag with the gendarme in the center, we proceeded toward the enemy’s position. We were fired on continually. On reaching the destroyed transport column, we came upon a large body of troops and asked for their commander. We were informed that they were without one, being irregular troops, ‘Chetas, etc.’”
“I then instructed the officer of the gendarmerie to send off messengers to stop the fire and this was accomplished about ten twenty a.m.. A few minutes afterward a mob of Kurds rushed from the hills toward the French positions, and the battle recommenced. Seeing that it was impossible to do anything as they refused the truce, I told the officer of gendarmerie to ride to Urfa, a distance of about nine miles, to inform the Mustessarif of what had happened and to bring carriages for the wounded and this he did.”
“Here I witnessed the killing of wounded and the killing of men, who were surrendering their arms. To this, there are many witnesses, including Lieutenant Deloir, who at present is a prisoner in Urfa. I demanded a guard of gendarmes who had by this time arrived to accompany me to Urfa. We proceeded, encircling a hill and striking the road at a natural cistern where we were able to get water. The officer commanding the gendarmes of Urfa arrived and gave me a further guard of six men, instructing them to get to the city as soon as possible, the tribesmen showing great hostility. We proceeded by a circuitous route through a ravine, arriving in Urfa about two thirty p.m., having walked for twelve hours, and bringing with me a Syrian, Jacob, who had been working at the Swiss mission at Urfa.”
“I was unable to save any Armenians as they were not to be seen.”
“Note: The prisoners, some fifty, are in hospital and perhaps another fifty are in prison. There may be more, but at present it is impossible to say as there is a possible chance that some may still be with the Kurds. The official report of the Mutessarif says that they buried one hundred and ninety, and one hundred in hospital and prison brings the number to roughly three hundred, whereas the garrison when en route numbered more than four hundred.”
“Sundry notes: Lieutenant Deloir, before mentioned, was stripped by Turkish regular cavalry and rescued in a nude condition by Kurds who found him some time afterward and who fed him and brought him to Urfa.”
“The Syrian Yakub, whom I brought back with me and who was trying to escape to Aleppo is now in Urfa. The Armenians have not been heard of.”
“When crossing the battle-field, I observed a company of Turkish infantry regulars and the machine section with mule transport proceeding toward the French positions. They were, perhaps, a little late unless there had been action in the hilltops and were going forward to continue to fight.”
“The attack took place in the hills west of Urfa about nine miles from town and two miles from junction of Arab Punar, and Seroudj roads.”
The above story is given precisely as received by me, without alteration, even of punctuation. The characteristic features of this incident are:
The breaking of the agreement; the use of so-called “irregulars” by the Turkish authorities to escape responsibility and the presence of regulars in case of need; the killing of the wounded and of those giving up their arms.
There were present in Urfa during the siege Mrs. Richard Mansfield, widow of the famous actor; Mr. G. Woodward, accountant of the Near East Relief; and Mary Caroline Holmes, a heroic American lady who wrote a book on her experiences, entitled “Between the Lines in Asia Minor”, published by the Fleming H. Revell Company.
The part played by Italy and France, which so greatly contributed to the extermination of the Christian population of Turkey, and the fearful events at Smyrna, are well summed up by George Abbott in the work above referred to, in the following words:
“France, who since the Armistice had displayed a keen jealousy of England’s place in a part of the world in which she claims special rights, presently concluded a separate agreement with Turkey—an example in which she was followed by Italy—and gave the Turks her moral and material support against the Greeks; while England, while refusing to reverse her policy in favor of their enemies, contented herself with giving the Greeks only a Platonic encouragement, which they were unwise enough to take for more than it was worth.”