The High Commissioner at Constantinople ( Bristol ) to the Secretary of State

No. 42

Sir: In previous despatches47 I have reported regarding the withdrawal of the Near East Relief from Armenian territory under Bolshevik occupation, and have communicated the minutes of meetings held between representatives of the Near East Relief and the [Page 928] Bolshevik Commissary at Alexandropol. I now have the honor to submit a copy of a letter addressed on January 4th to the Commissary of Alexandropol, by Dr. E. A. Yarrow, director of the Caucasus branch of the Near East Relief, summarizing the reasons for the withdrawal of relief work from Bolshevik territory.

I have [etc.]

Mark L. Bristol

The Director General of the Caucasus Branch, Near East Relief ( Yarrow ) to the Commissaire of the Alexandropol Local Soviet ( Artzvik )

Dear Sir: In reply to your letter of recent date, I wish to thank you, on behalf of the Near East Relief, for your expression of sympathy and respect for the activities which we have been carrying on. I can assure you that it was with the greatest regret that our Committee felt itself compelled to withdraw from Alexandropol. This action was decided upon after due consideration, in which all the American personnel shared, and it was practically the unanimous opinion of all concerned that it would be impossible for us to continue and do any good under the conditions laid down before us. Our decision was made after the first conference with you, but it was delayed in execution, hoping that there might be some modification of your attitude which would make possible the continuance of our care for the orphans; but after the third conference it was decided that it would be impossible for us to remain.

In order that there may be no doubt as to the reasons for our withdrawal I shall state them briefly. You will find all of them formulated and clearly defined in the discussions at the three conferences we had.

  • First: There was a persistent and almost violent expression of suspicion regarding the purposes for which the Near East Relief had come to Armenia. It was continually hinted that the plain humanitarian motives actuating us were simply a cloak for some deep and sinister political intrigue. In answer to this point I state at once that the Near East Relief has not now, nor has it ever had, any connection with any political body, or even officially with the American Government except in so far as the American Government shows a friendly and helpful interest in any American activity, whether carried on at home or abroad, which is regulated by the fair laws of our land. During Colonel Haskell’s regime there was a semi-official connection between the N.E.R. and the American [Page 929] Government, but this was not of a political nature, Colonel Haskell only acting as the agent of the American Government in the loan of $50,000,000 worth of food supplies to the Armenian Government.
  • Second: All the money expended by the N.E.R. was collected from the American people by individual contributions. Many of those contributing were children and people of the poorer classes who made a great personal sacrifice in giving. Those of the Near East Relief who were administering these funds in the Caucasus felt that a very sacred trust had been imposed upon them in properly distributing the money and supplies sent to them from America. In Alexandropol we were threatened with the seizure by force of these supplies sent for a definite purpose, and with the probability of their being used for other purposes. Our very self-respect demanded that we do everything in our power to safeguard these supplies and the interest of the Americans who had contributed them, and had made us their trustees.
  • Third: In the third conference the American personnel was actually threatened with forcible retention in Alexandropol, and subjection to the indignities of prison and enforced labor. We Americans had to come to the Caucasus to try to save a nation which was rapidly being decimated by starvation. This was accomplished, and then we turned our attention to the caring for and rearing of 20,000 orphan children, the plan being to carry them on for about ten years until the Armenian nation could get on its feet and take over the responsibility. You can imagine the shock that it was to us all when, instead of receiving a grateful acknowledgment for the work we were doing, we were faced with the possibility of being placed in restraint and of being punished if our actions were not pleasing to the Government.

I am sending back Mr. Brown and Mr. Martin, who have volunteered, under your guarantees, to carry on the activities at Kasatche Post until such time as a general understanding shall have been arrived at and a permanent policy decided upon regarding operations in your territory. You probably know that I have sent a Commission to Tiflis to get in touch with our New York Headquarters and with the Bolshevik representatives. When this Commission has finished its sessions and has reported back to these Headquarters I can then let you know what our policy will be hereafter.

Your attitude toward the Near East Relief during the coming days will undoubtedly have its effect upon the decision in Tiflis.

Yours truly,

E. A. Yarrow
  1. Not printed.