Thomas Mugerditchian

Thomas Mugerditchian

Thomas Kalo Mugerditchian was born around 1861 into a Kurdish-speaking Armenian tribe in the village of Rudvan.  After graduating from Euphrates College in Kharpert as an ordained minister in 1890, he spent several years serving Kurdish-speaking Armenian communities throughout the province of Diyarbekir.

In 1894, Mugerditchian was working in the village of Farkin when survivors of the Sasun massacres took refuge there.  Taking eyewitness statements, he sent a report on the events to foreign consuls in Mush.  This brought Mugerditchian to the attention of the British authorities, and he was later hired by Cecil Hallward, the vice consul in Diyarbekir.  As a dragoman and, at times, acting vice consul, Mugerditchian’s work included providing intelligence and hosting travellers such as Mark Sykes and Gertrude Bell.

With the 1914 declaration of war, Mugerditchian left Diyarbekir and travelled to Beirut, where he was placed under house arrest by local authorities, his consular status not recognised.  Fortunately, a Turkish friend at the Beirut Post Office, Ghalib Bey, suppressed a telegram containing Enver Pasha’s orders that Mugerditchian be sent to Constantinople as a traitor.  This allowed time for the local American vice-consul to arrange passage for Mugerditchian alongside other Entente vice-consuls on an Italian steamer bound for Egypt.

Arriving in Port Said on 18 November 1914, Mugerditchian travelled to Cairo where he joined the British war effort as an intelligence officer.  His network of contacts and knowledge of Kurdish, Armenian, Arabic, Turkish, Persian and English made him an effective intelligence gatherer.  From 1916, he served with the ANZAC Mounted Division of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under first General Archibald Murray and later General Edmund Allenby.  Amongst other wartime activities, Mugerditchian collected intelligence for the Gallipoli campaign, interrogated prisoners and translated captured documents after the failed Ottoman assault on the Suez Canal, and petitioned for the invasion of Cilicia.

Mugerditchian also provided the British with reports on the unfolding genocide, some of which were used by James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee in their parliamentary blue book, The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16.  In 1918, Mugerditchian produced his own account of events in Diyarbekir, based on his experiences there until 1914 and the testimonies of two Armenian survivors of the 1915 massacres.  The book was published in Armenian in Cairo in 1919, with an English version being sent to the US State Department (in whose archives it today resides).  It was published as The Diyarbekir Massacres and Kurdish Atrocities by the Gomidas Institute in 2013.

At war’s end, Mugerditchian was awarded the 1914–15 Star and the Victory Medal and became a naturalized British subject.  Supported by Allenby, he sought a pension for his service to the British Empire and, despite being denied several times, was eventually granted a one-off payment.  With this he made plans to join his family who had escaped the genocide in Diyarbekir, by that time living in the USA.

Mugerditchian departed Southampton in April 1921 on the RMS Mauretania bound for New York and was subsequently reunited with his family in Fresno, California.  He died in San Jose in 1945 at the age of 85.