Estonian missionary saved two thousand Armenian children in 1915

When the world commemorates the Armenian genocide on 24 April – the Ottoman government’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects within the territory of present-day Turkey – it is worth remembering Anna Hedwig Büll, an Estonian missionary of Baltic German descent, who helped save the lives of several thousand Armenian orphans during the genocide.

Anna Hedwig Büll (1887-1981) was born into a Lutheran family in 1887 in Haapsalu, Estonia, where her father owned a mud cure resort. She was the sixth of eight children in the family.

Büll attended a government school in Estonia until she was 15 and was then sent for continued studies to St Petersburg, where she for three years attended a protestant German school. While visiting her family in Haapsalu in 1903, she was inspired by a lecture given by a well-known evangelist, Johann Kargel, in her father’s house, and decided to dedicate her life to humanitarian mission work.

After receiving her baccalaureate in 1903, Büll spent some time in Germany where she learned about the fate of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Motivated by her desire to work with the Armenian people, she continued her studies at an evangelical school. Soon she was invited to work at an Armenian mission station in Maraş; however, due to her youth she was first sent to work with women and children in German villages and then for a few months with the poor in St Petersburg.

Hedwig Büll
Anna Hedwig Büll.

In 1909, Büll again attempted to go to work with Armenians; however, this time, her trip was put on hold by the Adana massacre in Cilicia (modern-day Turkey). Instead, Büll attended for two years a seminary for missionary teachers.

After finishing her studies, Büll was finally able to proceed for Cilicia where she worked as a teacher at an Armenian orphanage in Maraş (Turkey) between 1911 and 1916. 

Witnessing the genocide and establishing a refugee camp

In 1915, Büll witnessed the Armenian genocide in Cilicia and was instrumental in saving the lives of about two thousand Armenian children and women when Maraş was turned into “The City of Orphans”. Büll was recalled from Maraş in 1916.

The Armenian leader Papasyan seeing what’s left after the horrendous murders near Deir-ez-Zor in 1915 and 1916. National Archives of Norway/public domain.

In 1921, Büll was sent by the newly founded Action Chrétienne en Orient to Aleppo, Syria, where she established a refugee camp for the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. She also organised medical help for plague victims and the construction of two hospitals. Büll organised the establishment of weaving shops, gardens, an Armenian language school, and other enterprises to better the lives of the refugees.

In 1951, when most of the refugees under her care repatriated to the Soviet-occupied Armenia, Büll was refused a visa by the Soviet authorities. She then returned to Europe in 1951. She died at a nursing home for missionaries on 3 October 1981, near Heidelberg, Germany, after having spent more than 40 years of her life for the betterment of lives of Armenian refugees.

Anna Hedvig Büll on a 2016 stamp of Armenia. Public domain.

On 29 April 1989, a memorial tablet was dedicated for her by the Armenian-Estonian Cultural Society on her birth house in Haapsalu, Kooli Street 5. Her memory is also preserved by a monument in Armenia and at the Armenian Genocide Museum in Yerevan. Among the refugees she helped save and in Armenia she is sometimes referred to as the Mother of Armenians.

Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, denies the word genocide as an accurate term for the mass killings that began under the Ottoman rule in 1915. As of 2021, 30 countries – including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Russia – have officially recognised the mass killings as genocide, in which up to 1.5 million Armenians died, a view which is shared by most genocide scholars and historians.

* This article is an edited version first published in Horizon Weekly newspaper. The article was originally published by Estonian World on 11 May 2015 and lightly amended on 22 April 2021. Cover: Armenian orphans at the Anatolia College in 1918.

8 thoughts on “Estonian missionary saved two thousand Armenian children in 1915”

  1. Armenian genocide is completely false.That time Armenians begun to help Russians and attacked Turkish villages and killed thousands of innocent people. That’s why Armenians were sent to Syria and Lebanon reason for keeping them away from killing innocents people

  2. Actually, up to this day, a social action center functions in Aleppo which is know as Miss Bull center which continues her mission. It functions with the support of Action Chretien en Orient and under the leadership of the local Armenian Evangelical Church. Miss Bull and her mission is an unforgettable reality in the psyche of thousands of Armenians who have lived in Aleppo and were touched by her ministry.

  3. It seems that an Armenian wrote that article. it is vice versa.. The armenian’s did genocide in Anatholia number of whole population 90%. also this photos are belong to before deportation. also during deportation renegade Armenians population 550 000 (number of the Hrant Dink-by islamic armenians shooted armenian journalist) and today nearly 5 million Islamic Armenians living in Turkey. one of them republic president Abdullah Gul. also native armenian Fetullah Gulen his armenian movement are attempt of the occupation 2016, 15th july in Turkey..

    1. LizzieBordenAxeMurderer

      YOur numbers don’t jive with the migration numbers of France, America, Syria and throughout the middle east. Fethullah Gulen is a Bulgarian Turk from Erezeroum he is no Armenian but possibly a yahudi the way he works with USA and Israel to destroy Turkey. Tuareg I think you are drinking way too much rakki and should crack open a book and research about the true indigenous people of Anatolia the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians and WHY Turkish Sultan declared a holy war on us. That is right effendi you have to answer to the other Genocides, stealing, raping, plundering and leaving hundreds of thousands of our children orphaned. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of orphans that were islamicized, names changed or forced into harems, marriages, and servitude of sometimes the Turkish families that stole their homes. Shame on Turkey the world will continue to stay.

    2. Why do you hide your face IF you are so sure of your facts? So all these people who were witnesses, who have been told these facts and which facts have been researched ad infinitum are all wrong, according to you.
      Turkey will never be trusted again……..and may God continue His plan for all of us………….

  4. LizzieBordenAxeMurderer

    American Near East Relief which was voted into effect by the US Congress was specifcally set up with the the help of the Ambassador to Constantiople at the time Henry Morganthau, who has also written a book about the ethnic cleansing of Anatolia (Republic of Turkey est. 1923) of Greeks, Assyrians, Armenians, Pontus Greeks. The Library of Congress and the Near East Relief have an extensive amount of paperwork and archives with photos and bills of lading to open orphanages and support, feed,educate, over 134,000 Armenian Orphans. Most of the books written about the Armenian Genocide are by non Armenians the missionaries that went to Anatolia to care for people like my Grandmother from Van our ancestoral land for 2,000 years long before the Turkic mongolian invasions from Central Asia (the roots of true Turks) There is over 3 million turkified Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks, Kurds, Laz, Bulgarians living in Turkey. Many live with knowing they had a grandparent that was Armenian they are called “Hidden Armenians” Sadly today Turkey hasn’t changed they are under civil and external unrest largely because of the grip that NATO has and wants over Turkey along with their puppet Gulen Movement who has made a mess of not only Turkey but every country that NATO has put a Gulen Turkish School in. The Armenian Genocide is possibly the most well researched and documented Genocide the gest of it was creating hate on the Armenians demonizing them for their faith, customs, etc., The bottom line was the German allies of the Ottomans wanted to build a railway connecting the middle east with Anatolia and need the Armenians out of the way, and partly for financial gain. The Turks that banded together to destroy Armenian villages and towns ended up being very wealthy off of our lands, farms, businesses and plundered Churches (we had 1001 of them at one time) They also stole our daughters everything they could. Turkey has a dark psyche until they can comes to terms with their dark past no one in the world will every trust them or be true allies.

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