- Armenian Literature, History, Religion in in Russian

Helen Davenport Gibbons


Table of contents
The cover, pages i-vi (title, copyright notice, etc) | Preface | Table of contents (as in the book)
1. Half way through the first year | 2. Three Christmases and the seven sleepers
3. A visit to Adana | 4. Great expectations | 5. Round about Tarsus
6. Hamlet and the gathering of the storm clouds | 7. The storm approaches
8. The storm breaks | 9. Life and death | 10. Why? | 11. Abdul Hamid’s last day
12. The Young Turks and the toy fleet | 13. A new life 14. Off to Egypt

[ page vii ]


When I was a Freshman at Bryn Mawr I decided I should "write something." My girlhood was uneventful and joyous — the girlhood of the lucky American who has a wholesome good time. I knew I must wait for experience. I was too sensitive about my youth to expose what I was thinking, for fear "they" would know I was not grown up.

The experiences I was looking for came. They were so painful that seven years passed before I put pen to paper. To-day, after the lapse of years, I am not sure that my perspective is good. In looking back upon those six weeks in Adana Province between April thirteenth and the end of May, nineteen-nine, they seem longer than all the rest of my life.

The thought of publishing I rejected and rejected again. I avoided dwelling on that time

[ page viii ]

the way one puts off going back to a house one has not entered since a loved one died. To this day we have lived up to an agreement made back in those days, and my husband and I have never told each other the worst we know about the atrocities committed by the Turks.

But recent events in Armenia brought it all back again. My indignation, and a sense of duty and of pity, transcended all personal feelings. I lived again that night in Tarsus, when we—seven defenseless women, our one foreign man a brave young Swiss teacher of French, and 4,800 Armenians waited our turn at the hands of the Kurds.

Massacres had begun again, a thousand times worse than before. Other American women were in the same untold peril that I had been. The whole Armenian people were marked for extermination. Now, as then, help had to come. But from where? What could I do? I could not go out there. I had my four babies. I had four hundred and fifty French

[ page ix ]

soldiers' babies I had been mothering since the war began.

I had no time to write a book, although the old Freshman ambition still existed. I had been waiting ever since my marriage in nine-teen-eight for a quiet time to come when I could settle down and cultivate a literary instinct, but the chance never came. Our honeymoon had never finished—it has n't yet. I had set up six homes in seven years. We had lived in Tarsus (Armenia), Paris, Constantinople, Paris again, Princeton (New Jersey), and then settled in Paris for the third time.
In Tarsus we went through the massacres of April, 1909, when thirty thousand Armenians were slaughtered by the Turks in Adana Province alone. My first baby was born on May 5th that year, under martial law, in a little Armenian town that was only saved from similar experiences by the protecting guns of the warships of seven nations. At the end of that year we had settled in our first apartment

[ page x ]

in Paris, and Christmas was no sooner past than we had the famous flood of 1910, when a quarter of the city was under water.

There was nothing dull about our life of three years in Constantinople. First came the cholera epidemic; the Effendi, my little son, was born in a house where the neighbors on one side had cholera and those on the other side small-pox. Then the war between Turkey and Italy; more cholera; huge fires which destroyed whole quarters of the city; and finally the First Balkan War, when ten thousand wounded men came into the city in a single day, St. Sophia was filled with a mixture of thousands of refugees and cholera stricken soldiers, and I sheltered myself from a west wind on a hillside above my home and listened with grim satisfaction to the Christian guns of the Balkan Allies thundering at the gates of the city.

Then the Chellabi* sent me back to Paris,


* "Chellabi"—Turkish for "master of the house."

[ page xi ]

to find an apartment near the Bibliotheque National. Kitty Giggles and the Effendi had ordered a new sister, who was to be called Mignonne, and if she was not to be born in Constantinople the sooner I got to Paris the better. Mignonne and I were scarcely home from the Paris hospital than the Second Balkan War broke out—and the Chellabi was down in Albania. He had to decide whether he would stay there and follow the Serbian Army in the field, or come back through the thick of it to me and the baby daughter he had never seen and the musty old manuscripts in the Bibliotheque. It took him a month to get through, while I waited in Paris without news of him.

October that year found us in Princeton, New Jersey. Friends at home pleaded that we had been away five years, and it was time we came back to them. At Princeton, which has the second purest water supply in the world, Kitty Giggles and the Effendi in some

[ page xii ]

mysterious way were struck down with typhoid, and four months of anxiety taught us that war is nothing compared to a sick baby. By a miracle both recovered, and May, 1914, found us all happily playing on the beach in Brittany.

In a few weeks our first real vacation was suddenly brought to an end by the beginning of the great European War, and the Chellabi had to leave hastily for Paris, alone, on Mobilization Day. All the babies in the little Breton village, including my own three, were down with whooping-cough. The following seven weeks down there were a circus. I did everything, from mending the skull of a peasant woman who fell down stairs in a fit of drunken grief to acting as unofficial moire of the commune and making out permis de séjour and passports for the Maire's adjoint to stamp.

The journey back to Paris in the same month as the Battle of the Marne was comparatively easy, as most of the traffic was in the opposite direction. The two years since then, in this

[ page xiii ]

heroine city of Paris in wartime have been an unforgettable experience, in which both fatigue and leisure have alike been impossible. The "Ickle One" came into the world last November, to find her mother deep in baby relief work. Her real name is "Hope," because of my belief that the great hope of France and of the world is in the new generation.

Now it is eight years that we have been inhabiting storm centers, and I have come to believe that my function is to create a normal home atmosphere in abnormal conditions.

The book I have dreamed of has never been written. The appeal on my sympathies made by the sufferings of the Armenians of to-day, however, required that something should be done. For this reason I have resurrected the old and yellowed letters which I wrote to my mother during that agonizing time in Tarsus. Portions of them have been rewritten, and certain intimate details in which the public can have no interest have been cut out, and I have

[ page xiv ]

occasionally added a few explanatory details to make things clearer to the general reader. I now send them out in the hope that the plain story of one American woman's experiences will bring home to other American women and to American men the reality and the awfulness of these massacres and the heroism of the American missionaries, who, in many cases, have lain down their lives in defense of their Armenian friends and fellow Christians.

Technically speaking, we were not missionaries. We went to Tarsus at the invitation of Dr. Thomas Davidson Christie, the President of the College there, to spend a year rendering what service we could to the regularly appointed missionaries; therefore I am at liberty to express, as I did above, my admiration for the American missionaries from a purely impartial standpoint.



Source: Gibbons, Helen Davenport. The Red Rugs of Tarsus: A Woman’s Record of the Armenian Massacre of 1909. New York: The Century Co., 1917
Provided by: Arevik Garamova
Scanned by: Arevik Garamova
OCR: Irina Minasyan
Proofreading: Anna & Karen Vrtanesyan

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