Celebrated Novelist, Conference Keynote Speaker
Bonds of Captivity: Indians and Armenians in the prison camps of Ras al-‘Ain, 1916-18.
In April 1916 a large British-Indian force, under the command of Major-General Charles Townshend surrendered to the Ottoman army at Kut al-Amara in ‘Iraq. Amongst those who went into captivity were some medical auxiliaries from Calcutta: they were young volunteers, of low rank, and they belonged to a hastily-formed unit called the Bengal Ambulance Corps. Along with a number of Hindu and Sikh prisoners-of-war they were made to march to Ras al-‘Ain, in northern Syria, where they were made to work on a rail line. In thisarea there were a number of prison camps, holding thousands of Armenians. They had been transported to this region from cities like Mardin, Diyar Bakir and Erzurum: a great number had been killed and many had died of disease. The Indian and Armenian camps were close to each other and at times the lives of the prisoners became intricately intertwined. Decades later one of the volunteers of the Bengal Ambulance Corps, Sisir Sarbadhikari, would write a memoir of his war years based upon a journal that he had kept during his time in the Middle East. Written in Bengali, the book was privately published, under the title of Abhi Le Baghdad (1958): it attracted little notice and soon vanished into obscurity. This is a recounting of Sisir Sarbadhikari’s narrative of his encounters with Armenians during his years in captivity.