by Gregory John Marcar
My Grandmother Charlotte Johannes Khachick was born to Armenian parents in Shiraz, Persia, on the 25th of August, 1881. She was a natural raconteur who regaled me with fabulous stories as I sat enthralled at her knee. One of these was about a darkly disturbing family tragedy and she spoke bitterly about the ensuing events and a German individual she referred to as “Vase-mase” in her strong Armenian accent. Imagine my surprise when years later my research revealed that a German Consular official, Wilhelm Wassmuss (1880 – 1931) was involved in the anti-British incitement of tribal elements in the Fars Province of Persia. According to Charlotte these machinations unleashed a train of events which resulted in the murder of her elder brother Mackertich.
Around 2014 I was trawling “the net” one night whilst researching family history. As I idly googled various combinations incorporating the name Mackertich something jumped out at me. I read “Political and Secret Annual Files: Murder of Mackertich”. To my amazement it matched exactly the story grandmother told me. Mackertich’s mother Varthkhatoon (my great grandmother) was claiming compensation from the British government for his murder in Shiraz, Persia. These Secret Files had been recently released having passed the statutory limitation. What were the odds of me finding this needle in a haystack? It was almost as if my grand uncle was reaching out to me across a century, pleading for his story to be told. As the files resided at the British Library I enlisted the aid of Louisa Culleton my first cousin once removed. When the documents arrived they corroborated our family story. Thus it was that on 13th November 2017 I was involved in writing this account. It was 102 years to the day of Mackertich’s murder.
At this point it is helpful to put this matter into its historic perspective. During World War 1 Germany planned to sow discord and disorder in the Province of Fars in order to threaten British interests. Accordingly they deployed one of their ablest “agents provocateurs” Wilhelm Wassmuss to incite the Qashqai and other tribal elements in Fars Province against the British. In Shiraz Wassmuss was responsible for enticing pro-German officers of the Gendarmerie and other dissident elements to revolt against the British.
This Gendarmerie consisted of a Persian force under the authority of the Persian government but led by Swedish officers with known pro-German sentiments. Their function was to police the Shiraz-Busheir Road and other significant arteries of trade.
On November 1915 the Germans staged a coup in Shiraz in which the Gendarmerie and tribal elements were involved. The British Consul and eleven other British subjects were taken captive. Others managed to get away. However my grandfather (Charlotte’s husband) Marcar and Mackertich remained behind. Both Marcar and Mackertich worked for British institutions. Grandfather had a position with the Imperial Bank of Persia and Mackertich was a signaller with the Indo-European Telegraph Department, British Indian government which worked overland telegraphs in South Persia. Both Marcar and Mackertich remained on duty to maintain operations feeling they would be safe as Persian subjects fluent in Persian. Alas this hope was unfounded as they were both apprehended. Marcar was incarcerated but Mackertich, having been seized by gendarmerie at Shiraz was summarily executed on the 13th of November 1915. It would appear that his “pro-British” activities had evoked a deep hostility amongst the gendarmerie and their Swedish officers. British authorities explicitly cited the Chief of the Fars Gendarmerie, a Swedish officer named Angmann, as responsible for ordering his murder. Furthermore Mackertich’s property was looted. It was reported that Mackertich had a “well furnished house” at Kazerun with valuable carpets, antiques, etc. He possessed horses including valuable brood mares and mules. In addition he held promissory notes for monies lent and large stocks of wheat and grain at Kazerun. All were looted. Varthkhatoon gave an estimate of 8,000 tomans for furniture, horses and mules but was unable to accurately estimate other losses.
The Gendarmes and pro-German tribal elements now occupied Shiraz and my grandfather Marcar, being imprisoned, faced the prospect of a similar fate to his brother-in-law. Fortunately the insurgents’ occupation was short lived and Shiraz was re-taken by a counter offensive. Marcar was liberated but became very despondent following these events. Mackertich had been a very close and dear friend apart from being his wife’s brother. The entire family was in deepest mourning for this well loved and respected man. Varthkhatoon’s other son-in-law Jordan (Vorthanan) Martin also makes reference to this deep sense of loss.
Lieutenant Colonel Sir Frederick O’Connor, who at the time held a major’s rank, was the British Consul for Shiraz during the insurrection. He was taken captive but was released some time later. In his autobiographical book he refers to Mackertich in the following manner. “Poor Mackertich, a most inoffensive person and a loyal and hardworking employe of the I.E.T.D., but who had incurred the enmity of the gendarmerie whilst stationed at Kazerun, was deliberately murdered in cold blood without any semblance of trial or excuse a day or two later.”
Following these events my Grandfather Marcar decided there was no future for the family in Persia given the volatile political situation which had heightened religious and ethnic tensions. Consequently he determined that the family would emigrate to British India. It was a difficult decision as it meant leaving all that was familiar including friends and relatives. Marcar also possessed fine horses and a stable and had recently built a nice new home. All this was left behind.
The hazardous overland trek to the port of embarkation, Busheir, was graphically described by Charlotte my grandmother. The small caravan set off into an uncertain future with Marcar at its head on horseback. There were mules and camels carrying other family members and the considerable baggage accompanying a major emigration of this nature.
Grigore, the eldest son, would have been approximately nine years old and Haik (my father) some two years the younger. The two children were each in a pannier carried by a beast of burden. Varthkhatoon, the mother of Charlotte and Mackertich accompanied them. Ahead was a hazardous land trek beset with lawless tribes and brigands operating in a somewhat chaotic milieu under the tenuous authority of the Central Government. The party were disguised as muslims to conceal their christian identity. After the party had travelled some distance a messenger from a family friend arrived exhorting them to turn back as there was news that the road ahead was “aflame” with lawlessness. Marcar remained resolute maintaining they had burned their bridges and there was no option but to press on.
Charlotte described the journey as a terrifying ordeal. The caravan was frequently accosted by bands armed to the teeth. Marcar would ride up to parlay and “tribute” was extracted at gunpoint. Having miraculously survived the ordeal the party arrived at Busheir much depleted of resources. At Busheir they finally embarked for India and the anticipated salvation of British rule.
After her arrival in India Varthkhatoon was destitute and dependent upon her daughters. In straitened circumstances she appealed to the British government for compensation for the loss of her son’s life and property. Initially British authorities determined that the Persian government was responsible for providing compensation. At first this was flatly refused by the Persian government citing a number of complaints against Mackertich which were rejected out of hand by the British. After more than seven years of bureaucratic delays Varthkhatoon finally received a total compensation of approximately Rs.26,500. By this time her health had broken down significantly. She Returned to Persia where she spent her final days.
Note: Varthkatoon’s married surname was Khachick, abbreviated from Khachick-Baban which it was previously. It will be noted that in the correspondence she refers to herself as “Mrs. Mackertich.” Her son had been employed by the Indo European Telegraph Department for 25 years under the name Mackertich which is how the authorities knew him. For the purpose of her appeal it appears that Varthkhatoon continued to use the surname Mackertich so as not to confuse the issue.
This article is dedicated to the memory of Mackertich, with his story told may he rest in peace, and to the beloved memory of my Grandmother Charlotte Johannes Khachick.
Below is some of the correspondence released from the British National Archives, Political And Secret Department Records.
The crucial assistance of Louisa Culleton in retrieving these files from the British Library is gratefully acknowledged. The assistance of Katie Marcar in posting this article on the Internet was much appreciated.
Ref.1- Kamsa Tribe, Encyclopaedia Iranica.
Ref.2 – Gendarmerie, Encyclopaedia Iranica.
Refs.3,4,6,11&12 – The National Archives, British Library Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections. Political and Secret Department Records. Political and Secret Annual Files: 10R/L/PS/11/128-1917 File Ref. No.= P4255/1917
Ref.5 – Ibid – Political and Secret Annual Files: 10R/L/PS/11/116-1917
Ref.7 – Oral history recounted by Charlotte Johannes Khachick.
Ref.8 – Jordan (Armenian version “Vorthanan”) Martin – http://www.chatergenealogy.com
Ref.9 – National and International Politics in the Middle East – Essays in honour of Elie Kedourie, Edited by Edward Ingram – pp 115 to 116.
Ref.10 – On the frontier and Beyond; a record of thirty years’ service, 1931, by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Frederick O’Connor, p 236 –as cited at chatergeneaology.blogspot.com.au