As I mentioned in my previous post, nineteenth century Manchester was an enticing destination for many. Full of promise and opportunity, the city welcomed individuals and businesses from all over the world, including Armenians.
Above: Illustration of central Manchester from 1850 (source)
So far I have written four posts about the history of the Armenian community in Manchester:
I’ve researched their lives in the city, and found out where they worked, studied and socialised. However, I’ve said very little about the Armenia they left behind. Nor have I written in any detail about the darker reason behind this period of migration – namely the persecution, and subsequent massacre of Armenians by the then Ottoman government.
This persecution extends right back to the sixteenth century, when Armenia fell under Ottoman rule, later becoming part of Turkey. Families were displaced from their homeland, and many of the Armenians who arrived in Manchester hailed from Constantinople (now Istanbul). Those who migrated were, on the whole, members of the affluent merchant classes. Most were business owners, educated in Europe or in American missionary schools. Britain represented a safer place to live and work, and a country that seemed willing to help the Armenian cause.
Indeed, the Manchester Armenians tirelessly lobbied British politicians such as William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, hoping that Britain might intervene and prevent the persecution of Armenians still living in the Ottoman Empire.
Above: Statue of William Gladstone in Albert Square, Manchester (source)
Gladstone was a loyal supporter of the Armenian cause.
Above: Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli from the Manchester Local Images Collection (source)
Disraeli, on the other hand, supposedly dismissed the Armenian persecutions as “coffee house babble”. How very wrong he turned out to be…
The outbreak of WWI in 1914, dashed any hopes of substantial Western assistance for the Armenian cause. Britain’s attention was understandably diverted, and in 1915 the Ottoman government began to systematically eliminate Armenian citizens, following earlier mass killings in the late 1800s. Images from the Documentary Photographic Archive at the Greater Manchester County Record Office suggest that two soldiers from Manchester, posted in Turkey, may have been there.
I came across the above photograph (source), brought back from WWI service by William Beesley (Royal Flying Corps), of Salford. It shows Mr Beesley with an Armenian girl in Turkey. Given that the Armenian Genocide occurred at around the same time and place as this image, this was not a safe place for an Armenian child to be. Was this before, during or after the genocide? How did Mr Beesley come to meet this young girl? Had Allied forces rescued her?
If so then the Armenians encountered by Lieutenant Salzedo (from Cheetham, in Manchester) were not so fortunate.
A number of photographs were donated to the Documentary Photographic Archive (at Greater Manchester County Record Office) by the daughter of Lieutenant Simeon Lopes Salzedo, who served in Palestine and Egypt with the 39th Judean Batallion of the Royal Fusiliers during WWI. The images he brought back include photographs of captured Turkish and German soldiers and distressing scenes of atrocities against Armenians, including men hanging from gallows and malnourished young Armenians carrying the body of a dead (or dying) child on a makeshift stretcher. Due to the graphic nature of these images (labelled simply as “Turkish atrocities on Armenians”) they have not been included on this blog, but they do illustrate the horrors endured by Armenians during WWI.
Above: Lieutenant Salzedo with his regiment, pictured in Egypt (source)
Back in Manchester organisations such as the Armenian Ladies Association and the Armenian Church were raising money for Armenian aid, and large groups of Armenians met regularly to raise the profile of the Armenian cause. Using the money they raised, Mancunian Armenians funded orphanages and relief efforts. Overall between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have died in the genocide, an atrocity that remains officially unrecognised by the Turkish government, even today.