LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. IX.
CROSSING THE EUPHRATES — DRYING UP OF THE GREAT RIVER — DIFFUSION OF THE KURDS — MISS SHATTUCK, THE HEROINE OF OURFA, ETC.
OURFA, May 5, 1896.
MY DEAR FRIENDS, — You see we really are at last in a position to understand “that blessed word Mesopotamia,” for we crossed the Euphrates last Thursday, arrived here on Saturday, and have had two or three days to look about us and take stock of the situation. We crossed the Euphrates at Biredjik, where there is now not a single Christian left: all have either been killed or embraced Islam.1 We came across some of these unfortunate apostates, and indeed one or two were in our party, unless I am much mistaken. One man who came to Aintab wept much over his unfortunate position, and with others will take the opportunity of confessing his faith again when better times come. I fancy they will not find it so easy. Another man sends word that although, for the sake of his wife and children, and in view of his lonely situation in the country, he has embraced Islam, he keeps up morning and evening prayer secretly with his wife. Poor
1 We understand that, through the influence of Vice-Consul Fitzmaurice, these forced converts have been permitted to return to their former profession. — J. R. H.
fellows! We can hardly appreciate the terror under which they live.
As we approached the Euphrates I asked Helen whether she expected to see the river dried up, alluding of course to the interpretation which many people put upon the passage in the Apocalypse, which speaks of the drying up of the great river Euphrates that the way of the kings of the East may be prepared ; but I was hardly prepared to find that the suggested event had really taken place. The great river had evidently been in flood not long since, and had now shrunk to a fifth of its size; and it seemed to me easy to conclude that the drying up of the Euphrates is a regular spring phenomenon. Consequently the passage in the Apocalypse is a cipher method of saying, that when the spring floods subside a Parthian army is waiting to cross the Euphrates. So I read it as history, as so many other events in that book, and the only question is to determine the time when the invasion was actually threatened. The Parthians were the terror of the world — at least, of the Eastern world — in the century before and the century after Christ. They were on a large scale what the Kurds are to-day on a small scale.
Speaking of the Kurds, I was surprised to find how far westward they extended. Our ride from Biredjik to Ourfa took us for two days, partly over hilly, rolling country covered with flocks of sheep and goats, and partly through splendid plains covered with waving corn. But everywhere that I could see the Kurd was in possession; he was not only the nomad visiting the spring pastures, but
he was the agriculturist. We spent the night at Serouj (the ancient Serug, a place in which I was much interested as being the home of one of the most famous fathers of the Syrian Church, Jacob of Serug); the city is now a mere collection of Kurdish huts, built of mud, and having the appearance of a group of beehives. And the whole of the plain was dotted over with similar ant-hills, which made one think of Africa rather than of Asia. Nothing remains of the old civilisation of this region except a series of hills or mounds covering the sites of ancient cities and villages, and no doubt rich in antiquities, if one could be permitted to excavate them.
As I said, it surprised me to see the way in which the Kurd was holding the country. The nomadic Kurd was encamped in tents with reed walls and canvas roofs by the side of the agriculturist, who was tilling the rich plain. I reckon him to be about as unvarnished a savage as one could wish to see. Their wild dogs flew at us, and would cheerfully have torn us to pieces, and the men are not much better. And the Armenian population in this country has this unvarnished savage for its nether millstone, and a certain other varnished savage for its upper millstone — an over-lord and an under-lord. Is it any wonder that they talk of leaving the country, and eagerly discuss any and every possible scheme of emigration ?
Here in Ourfa we are in the city that was once the metropolis of Eastern
Christianity (the home of Abgar, of Tatian, and of Ephrem), and now has become
its charnel-house and sepulchre. We pass constantly by looted shops and battered
doors; we talk with the
widows and pity the orphans; we try amid these wrecks to keep our own faith alive, and to rekindle the faith of the suffering people of God. They are a precious people, their patience is boundless and unutterable, and their charity towards one another abundant. What has been done for them in the West has fractional moral value compared with their care for one another. If the problem of living here can be solved they will solve it; but for myself it seems to be the insoluble and impossible problem, the reductio ad absurdum of existence.
We are delighted with the way in which relief operations have been carried
on here. Miss Shattuck, the heroine of the massacres, is the mainspring, but
she has a capital local committee (of Armenians), who investigate all cases
and classify them, and give help in the wisest way, so as not to multiply
distress in relieving it. There is no one here now, as far as I can make out,
that is starving; the trouble may recur next autumn, but for the present the
people are preserved alive, and most of them are getting to work again. The
weavers have been employed to make cloth for the naked, and the coppersmiths
are now being set to work to supply the empty houses with the necessary cooking
gear; and so gradually the broken fabric of social order is being pieced together,
and the smashed machine made ready for some more revolutions. The greatest
trouble ahead will perhaps be the orphans; but here also the people are taking
hold of the matter for themselves, and it will not do to open orphanage operations
until everything has been done that can be done in the way of finding homes
for them. Some help
will be needed in this direction very soon, but not immediately. We have some idea that the house we have taken, which we have rented for a year at the sum of £ 5 Turkish, may be useful as a preliminary shelter after we are gone, but of this we shall know better presently. There is small-pox in the city, and one case is under care at the Mission House. They do not seem to mind much about it, and have little or no idea of disinfection: and similar modern ideas.
I find that the experience through which we are passing is helping me to a much better understanding of the conditions of primitive Christianity; the situation is sometimes quite Apocalyptic, and one readily comprehends the way in which those books were produced, which dealt with the secret hopes of the Kingdom of God, and with the judgments that follow after persecutors. I must tell you one little story from a Moslem quarter. There is a woman in Aintab — a Moslem who is held in high repute, whether for sanity or sanctity I hardly know (the two things ought to tend to synonym). She is reported to have gone to the mayor, and related a vision which she had of a tree growing in a vessel of water; gradually the vessel filled, and when it filled the tree fell over. The explanation is that the vessel contained the tears of the Christians. I leave you to interpret the rest, and to drop your quota in the flood. — With every good wish to my beloved friends,
J. R. H.
Table of contents
The cover and pages 1-4 | Preface | Table of contents (as in the book)
Turkish Armenia with Route of J.R. & H.B. Harris (a map)
Letter I | Letter II | Letter III | Letter IV | Letter V | Letter VI | Letter VII | Letter VIII
Letter IX | Letter X | Letter XI | Letter XII | Letter XIII | Letter XIV | Letter XV
Letter XVI | Letter XVII | Letter XVIII | Letter XIX | Letter XX | Letter XXI | Letter XXII
Letter XXIII | Letter XXIV | Letter XXV | Letter XXVI | Letter XXVII | Letter XXVIII
Memorandum: Notes of Information from J. R. H. | Letter XXIX | Letter XXX
Letter XXXI | Letter XXXII | Letter XXXIII | Letter XXXIV | Letter XXXV
Letter XXXVI | Letter XXXVII
J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris. Letters from the Scenes of
the Recent Massacres in Armenia. London, James Nisbet & Co.,