Turkish Genocides: Karen Jeppe
In front of Gyllings parsonage stands a stone in honour of a women who few probably remember today: Karen Jeppe.
Coincidently, in 1876 during the first large Armenian pogroms, a small girl by the name of Karen Jeppe was to see the light in Gylling, not far from Odder. The child had one leg somewhat shorter than the other, and the midwife said: “Surely, the fist piglet rarely comes out right.” Ingeborg Sick writes that Karens mother refused to let herself be daunted by the rough comment. “Her mother takes her little piglet with her and would not leave her for anything in the world.” (p. 20)
Karen was baptised in Gylling church, and though she physically remains a weakling, it turns out that her spirit grows to compensate. Before one year she speaks. At the age of two, she tells long, intricate tales, prays the Lord’s Prayer at the age of three and spells at four. At the age of five years she reads fluently, and at six she starts ploughing through the historical novels of Ingemann. She lives and breathes the heroes so vividly depicted by Ingemann, great Christian men and women who fight for their country and their faith. Such deeds were the ones Karen wished to do for Denmark and for God.
One day her mother initiates Karen into a secret: When Karen was one year, she contracted a serious pneumonia, a disease often lethal for children. The doctor from Odder was called in. After having examined Karen he told the parents that she might not survive the night, and her mother decides to stay awake in prayer. As the hours passed, she prayed thus: “Lord, if my little girl is to turn into a bad or useless being, better take her to You now. But if she can come to serve You and your cause, please save her from death, as is in your power.” Towards morning something changed. The breathing became normal, and the fever left little Karen.
Karen became a very active child, talking when fitting and when not, noisy, but good at tending smaller children. She loves to do this. And she absorbs enormous amounts of knowledge. Karen’s father is a teacher, and he teaches her English and takes her half a year to German-occupied Als, where she learns German. Her father wanted Karen to become a doctor. He sends her to courses in Latin, and extend courses in physics, mathematics and Nordic language. But Karen has a will of her own: she does not want to become a doctor, she prefer to study maths. Karen takes philosophy with excellence, but one day a dizziness catches her, and it becomes worse.
The doctor diagnoses exhaustion, and that her brain is on the verge of breaking. The cure: rest, rest and rest. But Karen is of a different nature. Soon she is highly restless, then exited, or deeply moved. She can’t remain in rest, which causes her three years of disease, where she’s hardly able to do anything, but her close relation to professor Fanny Frederiksen has deep impact on her in this period.
First the tale from the professor of a small, frail church with a huge oversized organ and great tonal range makes her change her style of living. The professor tells in this fairytale that the organ player in the frail church should not play the organ on all pipes at one time, but just a select few, or the church would collapse when shaken by the full power of the instrument. This is similar to the way Karen is built.
Karen understands the tale and starts to live in accordance with it. At the same time, the professor is a tremendous religious inspiration. The faith of Karen is deepened. One day during a lecture in 1902 professor Frederiksen reads an article by Aage Meyer Benedictsen, who was a strong spokesman for suppressed people. She hears about the Turkish massacres against the Armenian people. Karen is happy to follow the lectures, but in spring 1903 a sentence keep coming up in her mind: “You must!”
But she resists, for if she travels to Armenia, she will be unable to use her knowledge. The calling voice within her gets the eventual victory. She contacts Aage Meyer Benedictsen and hears about the Danish committee for Armenian children, which finances ten boys at the Dr. theol Lepsius orphanage for Armenian children in Urfa.
The call is obvious, but her father initially resists with nails and teeth. Eventually he gives up his resistance and even pays for her equipment, but also her old local priest in Gylling needs to be convinced, and only gives in when preaching the text of the 13th Sunday after Trinitatis. He ends his sermon with these words: “If one shouting for help shouts so loudly that he cannot be ignored, one must of course go out and help him.”
Karen arrived at the orphanage of Urfa, where she assisted during the summer of 1908. That summer the joyous message reached the home that the sultan, who had initiated the murders and killings, had been brought down. Now the Young Turks had entered Constantinople, and promises were given for freedom and better times. But the promises turned out to be paper thin. The Turks soon declared only one religion to be valid, namely Islam, and that no other religion had any role to play within Turkey – in spite of this being the land of Christians before being conquered by the Muslims. Thus everything was to happen much differently than Karen had expected.
One of the first persons she was to meet in Urfa was the American woman Corinna Shattauck, who was not afraid of throwing herself into the struggle for the Christian Armenians. She was leader of the American mission and had with her own eyes witnessed the earlier massacres. One day, standing at the window in the mission house, she saw the first move of the massacre. A Turk attacked an Armenian to kill him, but when his wife sought to protect her husband, the Turk cut off both her arms. At that moment two gendarmes broke into her living room, and she exclaimed: “For the sake of God, get this stopped!” They merely replied: “No one can do so, for it is the will of Allah. But we will guard your house, you must not leave it.”
Corinna then jumped to the gate, opened it, raised the star sprangled banner over the mission house, shouted out and called the refugees. And in the three days of terror that followed in Urfa, 300 wounded Armenians fled, crept and sneaked to her. Everywhere they were, in the living room and on the church floor, and eventually placed on cloth in the yard. She saved, nursed help and fed them. Six major powers stood helpless and passive, but one women kept them at bay and forced the killers of the Armenian people to bring bread to the house. She became an important example for Karen, along with Dr. Lepsius.
Amongst the Armenians she gains many friends at the orphanage, which provides shelter for several hundred children, and she adopts two as her own: Misak, and his bride-to-be, Lucia. One Saturday evening in July 1914 Musak comes from the city to the summer residence of Karen and tells “There is war in Europe, but I shall not disturb your sleep.” The rumour turns out to be true. All men are to be drafted. Karen pays Misak free of military service, a wise decision it turned out, as most Armenian were murdered shortly after being drafted.
One day a terrible noise is heard. Why would the children of the orphanage make such an unrest? It turns out that Turkish soldiers are throwing out the Armenian children and taking over the building. Karen has to move into the hospital of Dr. Lepsius. Soon more terrible events take place. A strange train filled with miserable humans arrives in Urfa. They are called Muhadjirs, deported. All are Armenians and they are to be moved to another place in the country, but where?
They related that they have been driven from their homes on hours notice without having time to bring even the most essential items. They sleep in and around the orphanage. Karen gets food for them, bandage their naked bloody feet, but next day the police forces them on. The next day another crowd of more than a thousand arrives, far more desperate than the first, women have given birth on the way and other women who in desperation had thrown their children in the river. Many are old sick and even dying. That night many die at the orphanage. The feeling is panicky. What will come next?
After New Year the attitude of the Turks grows increasingly hostile. All Armenian with an education are to be imprisoned. They are then subjected to torture: Nails and teeth are pulled out, ears and noses cut off, while drumbeats are played to overwhelm the screaming. The Armenians storm to Karen and ask her what is going on, if they are all destined to die? Karen senses something terrible: The fear of death. One train after another with deportees arrives in transit, people driven by soldiers as if they were animals. They throw themselves down and consume dirty waste water. Others are only able to crawl. Men and women are separated, and gendarmes rob them of everything.
Each train of shabbily clad persons tell their gruesome tales. Now only women and children arrive. Where are the men? They were forced to dig their own graves, shot and thrown therein. Karen works at full power to get the Armenian fathers of the house to help her organise food and drink.
But now the imprisonments also start in Urfa. Their beloved bishop is captured and decapitated along with 50 others outside the city. From that day the church bells are silent. The order now has become clear: “No one is barred from having guests, but housing people wanted by the government is outlawed. In that case we shall proceed as needed!”
Soon hundreds of Armenian soldiers are massacred outside the city; they had been commanded to repair the road. The remaining Armenians take to self-defence. Malaria breaks out. A bullet whistles through the window of the orphanage. In the garden more bullets, and shell fragments. Then deep beats over the general noise. It is the storm bell, the death bell calling the Christians in Urfa, the Edessa of king Abgar.
The last desperate fights roar in the streets and alleys. A male voice sounds from a house: “Mohamedans, you have driven us to despair. Promised us human conditions – and now only furthered the destruction of the Armenians. Killed and vandalized all over the country. Now our turn has come, but we shall die fighting!” Two days the battles raged on. Eventually the white flags went up. All who surrendered were massacred, some by hanging. The gallows are built extraordinarily tall that the dead may be seen wide and far and induce fear in everyone.
One day a Turkish officer told her the following: A girl with her little brother in her hand went off without her family in one of the death marches. He felt pity for her and suggested: “You can be saved by going with a young Turk or Kurd, who will have you and be happy with you.” She replied: “No, I will rather die with my own kin. But please have the mercy to kill my brother first, that I won’t need to worry what became of him.” This he promised, and she called him: “Jacob, you are going home to our Lord, have no fear, for I shall join you. We will find each other in Jesus. Kiss me now, and be calm.”
The boy embrace her with both arms. She kissed him and then gave him over to the gendarme, who broke his skull with his axe. “Thank you”, said the girl. “Now please kill me the same way, with one strike.” She covered her eyes with her small hands, and in one swing she was killed. The gendarme told this himself, and added: “But I have mourned over the little girl until this day. She was so young – so beautiful and so brave.” He also remembered the young girl, who the leader of the deportation march had set his eyes upon. She was hiding for him, until he addressed the crowd: “I shall destroy you all unless she’d coming along to my tent!”
Then they all grovelled at her feet and begged her to go with him. She cried, cried all day long. But when darkness fell, she went, as for her execution. The next day she was found outside the camp. She lifted her hand and waved goodbye. Then she ran up a brink and was gone. Behind the brink was the great river Euphrates, calm and quiet.
Then the Armenian fathers in the orphanage are arrested and murdered. The entire house is emptied of children. The American leader of the home goes insane and kills himself. The home is ransacked by the police. Misak, Karen’s adopted son, has hidden himself under a large stack of blankets. The blankets are searched and Karen prays to God to blind their eyes. And the miracle occurs, the police doesn’t notice him. Suddenly she saw everything in a new light. She saw the chief of police and the cops standing there, and perceived them as mere shadows, without any power.
She asked the mountain to stand still, and it stood still. And they were blind. Karen says: “Then and there I understood that it is the heroes of faith who accomplish things in this world. But the rest of us should be grateful if we even once catch a glimpse of the glory that can be opened in the eyes of faith.” At dusk that day Lucia was standing by the garden gate, unharmed. The three of them then sat there, Karen with her beloved children, much to talk about and be thankful for.
Karen now decides to set her life at stake. Under the home a cavern is dug. This is hard work. Here a group of 12 doomed Armenians survive the remaining time. By night they are up one at a time. As the priest has been murdered, Karen now conducts the morning prayers. One day typhus breaks out. The wife of the deacon, miss Künzler gets infected, and then Lucia. Nursing takes a toll on Karen. She tends the ill, and manages to get them over the crisis, but she is herself suffering an increasing chronic exhaustion. What is the ending of the parable of the little, frail church with the oversized organ? Was the player one day seduced to play at full strength, demolishing the church? Thus asks Ingeborg Maria Sick in her biography of Karen Jeppe.
One day Karen says: “Misak, take Lucia down, I need to be alone.”
“What is the matter?”, Misak asks worriedly.
“Misak, something has broken inside me! I can’t stand it any longer! But Lucia should not see it, she is still weak.” Karen is put to bed. It is as if a foreign force rages her body. She is deadly exhausted but cannot find ease. “Remember, Misak, that it is not sufficient that my body dies. Also the soul needs to come along. Otherwise it will have too much work in the other world, as it always had here.” Then Karen falls quiet. The world slips away from her, the world too hard to live in for those with hearts of inextinguishable fire.
The Norwegian depute among the Kurds, baroness Wedell Jarsberg, was one of the first to bring the message of the horrors to the north. She had only been able to leave Turkey if she swore that she would never mention what she had seen to any man. She broke her oath during a private dinner, and was asked to get Karen back to Denmark.
But Karen was too ill. She stayed in Turkey – also to protect the 12 doomed Armenians in her basement. Usually there was no mercy with Europeans who protected the rebels. No witnesses were tolerated.
The first travellers who met Karen after the war were stricken by the terrible marks the atrocities had left at Karen. At a meeting, where she reported from the events, she asked to not interrupt or question what she told. “No one would benefit from me sitting here fainting.” When someone disregarded her request and asked if many had been murdered during her stay in the country, she replied: “Yes, just one million.”
Karen came home, but already in 1920 she went out again, this time to Aleppo. On her way there she went through Adfan, were 30,000 Armenians had been murdered during a large congress for teachers and priests which had attracted people from all over Armenia. In Aleppo she was to represent the League of Nations and from 1921 onwards organize the work to track down Armenian women who had entered Muslim slavery, and Armenian children who had been abducted. The women she found were to be given education. But she encountered a great difficulty.
The women they found were discouraged, weak and damaged in their minds. All had been raped, had lived as slaves, their husbands murdered, their children dead. When they were to sew, they had forgotten how, forgotten the stings and the patterns they used to know. Then Karen finds the old Armenian patterns, and the painful faces start to glow. The women weep, strew incense over the patterns, as if they were their murdered children.
The first to venture out with the message of freedom for the captives is Karen’s own adopted son, Misak Melkonian, who even becomes leader of all the collecting stations. It was not easy everywhere. In spite of guarantees from the allied powers, many of the commissioners were killed. In the city of Hassitsche a young Armenian enthusiastically and efficiently joined the work and brought streams of children and women from the keepings of Turks and Arabs back into freedom. He was to die, killed by the men whose women and slaves he helped escape.
Thousands were ‘saved’, but with serious and incurable wounds on body and soul. More than a thousand terrifying accounts of the destinies of women and children in the Turkish and Arab houses were committed to paper by Karen Jeppe. She didn’t quit until her body was worn out.
Outside the parsonage in Gylling stands erect as a cliff, a stone found in the nearby fields, with this brief inscription:
Mother of the Armenians
Died in Aleppo 1934
Danish encyclopaedias spend – at best – a line or two on her life and work.
The year before Karen’s death Hitler had seized power in Germany as leader of the German National Socialist party. He had learned from Turkey and the Osmannic Empire and knew that no one in the west or elsewhere would lift a finger in case he pursued a solution against the Jews similar to the one the Osmannic Empire had executed against its Christian populations.
But Hitler miscalculated. He didn’t become a hero after the war. Except in the Middle East. In the years between the world wars the leading figure of the Turkish genocides, Talat, settled in Berlin, in order that the French or British would not catch him. Here he taught Hitler the trade. Hitler noticed that no Turk or Muslim was punished in spite of six major genocides during 40 years, and that all seemed forgotten. It is no wonder that Hitler at the conference at Wannsee suggested that noone would do anything for the Jews, in his famous statement: “Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
The direction was laid out. The entire procedure had been tested several times in the Turkish Islamic caliphate. Marking the doomed with special yellow signs, banning trade, forced deportations to non-existing lands, train transport in cattle wagons, death marches and starvation, letting the victims dig their own graves, mass cremations etc.
‘Holy’ warriors in all Islamic countries are alike in their thinking and acting, and surprisingly in line with communists and Nazis, who even stand as exemplary in their brutality. “Mein Kampf” is now the second most popular book in Islamic countries, second only to the erringly similar Quran.
Everything had been thoroughly tested for efficiency. The deserts used for annihilation were replaced by camps in the remotest possible places. In contrast to the Osmannic Empire the ordinary population were not to take part in the killings, only selected SS units who would be able to remain quiet. Not only the famous SS divisions Leibstandarte and Totenkopf were effective, likewise the two Islamic SS divisions in the extermination of Serbs and Jews in the Balkans. The Islamic SS divisions were created by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, third highest among the Islamic clergy. The Nazis received due punishment. After the war they paid the bill, errors were admitted, and all the leading persons received capital punishment. In Turkey, nothing happened, and in 1955 the time had come for ethnic cleansing of the final remains of the original population of Asia Minor. An atrocity which caused no public outcry, but was tolerated by the west without complaint, because Turkey was an important NATO ally.