LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. XII.
VISIT TO THE BURNED CHURCH — A CALL, UPON THE PASHA’S WIFE — HER WARM SYMPATHY WITH THE SUFFERING PEOPLE, ETC.
OURFA, May (probably near 16th).
DEAR FRIENDS, — A day or two since Miss Shattuck, Mr. S., E. and I went to see the great church where the multitude, between 2000 and 3000, were killed at the time of the massacre, and an awful sight it was.
The two priests who remain alive (who were both wounded and left for dead), met us at the outer gate of the yard, and with very sad faces led us to their ruined church. As we entered, the first feeling was one, not so much of horror, as of awe and thankfulness to God, who has given such ability to man to confess to His name, and to suffer for His sake, and as we thought of the individual and collective victory of faith and faithfulness that was witnessed by Christ and the angels on that great day of the sacrifice of priests and teachers and people in this place, for the moment the greatness of the subject seemed to fill one’s mind to the exclusion of anything else. Not that all the people massacred here were martyrs, of course; but so many were consciously and deliberately so, who could have escaped if they would have denied the faith, that their
constancy casts a halo over the entire company who perished with them.
But these feelings gave place after awhile to the contemplation of the scene itself, and that in its turn to some slight imagination of the awful and unutterable agony that had been endured. Here is the enormous church — blackened from floor to roof — the roof, a mass of black, except where the white calcined stone shows through. All along both sides are the calcined and broken stone brackets which once supported the two great galleries where the women worshipped, and these galleries were crowded on that day as closely as it was possible. What must have been the scene as these fell in with their living burden upon the crowd, and into the flames below! There is another large gallery opposite the altar — not fallen — and from the crowd of women here, numbers of girls were selected and taken away to Moslem harems both here and at Aleppo. One sad tale I must tell, to bring home to your hearts the realisation which only detail affords, and then we will again reverently leave the Church and turn to other things.
One woman had sought refuge here with her husband and sis children. She was
a very nice-looking woman, and, in spite of her mature motherhood, still young,
and a certain Turk had cast his eyes upon her. Her husband was killed in the
churchyard; she saw it, and sought the church with her children; the Turk
followed her triumphantly, saying, “Now I shall have you,” &c.
This drove the poor creature to despair, and
she flung one1 of her children into the flames from the gallery, and then exclaiming, “ What is there to live for ?” sprang after it herself and perished. The child was saved, and with four others of the family (for one was burned) will we hope be soon sent to Constantinople and taken under the kind care of Dr. and Mrs. D.
We learn that the people were lured to the church by soldiers going to their houses previously and telling them that if they went there they would be protected. One of the priests also told us that they knew who the chief instigator of this crime was, and that he sometimes meets him in the street, and when he does so, he, the Moslem, always smiles triumphantly at him!
I should have mentioned previously that the head priest, who was killed in the church during the massacre, having anticipated the fate which was hanging over the people and himself, had spent the entire night previously in administering the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, after the custom of their Church, to one after another of the congregation. Surely, whatever superstition may have mingled with this, to him, most solemn ceremonial, one cannot but greatly admire his devotion and constancy, and believe that it was accepted above as faithful service by Him whose eyes pierce earthly mists, and whose love accepts very imperfect offerings when truly offered.
You will remember that in a recent letter we spoke of a house kindly lent by an Armenian — who had had twenty-one of his family killed — for the use of orphans. When visiting it a few days since we were shown from the roof
1 Query, three. Cf. p. 94. — J. R. H.
a cave tinder the wall of the city, which had been filled with bodies after the massacre, dragged thither by their heels, the cave’s mouth being then stopped up with earth. While we were looking we noticed three or four Armenian women there weeping and wailing over the spot — no doubt their dearest were there buried!
Now for a change of scene.
On the 10th May I received intimation in the morning that at two in the afternoon the Pasha’s lady would receive Miss Shattuck and myself. This Pasha, I think you know, is not the one under whom the massacre took place, but a really humane man sent to allay the excitement and quiet the people.
So, attended by our two guards and Miss Shattuck’s man-servant, we
went, and at the door poor Miss S. was in great distress because she had forgotten
to tell me either to wear goloshes or to carry slippers, for no boots
had ever before trodden those lovely carpets of the reception room! No notice
was taken of my delinquency however, and I am sure I did not let one speck
of dust fall upon the floor! The great lady and her son’s wife —
a very beautiful young woman, beautifully dressed and with her two little
children by her side (quite a picture) — received us very graciously,
and gave us the seat of honour, &c. The first half-hour was spent in polite
nothings. One rug I greatly admired, representing the Eastern hemisphere in
beautiful colours, on a crimson ground, which she said cost £90 or £100,
I forget which, and so on. Then the young lady went out, returning with a
tray on which were two elegant high silver-gilt vases with little forks in
one, and in the centre
a dish of preserved citron. You had to take a fork, spear a piece of citron and eat it from the fork, and then return the fork to the other receptacle, and this while the lady stands waiting. This ordeal over, a servant brought in coffee, and after that real conversation began.
I ventured, in spite of the many cautions I had received on the subject, to refer to the poor Armenian prisoners, and to say how we hoped and believed her husband would interpose on their behalf. She said he had already done what he could, though so far unsuccessfully, and would continue his efforts. None of us had dry eyes while we spoke of their sufferings and those of the people, and I then ventured to take the lady’s hand while I said that the Christians of England would bless her and her husband if they would be like a father and mother to the poor Armenians here. She returned the pressure of my hand very warmly, and held it a while, saying, “It would be a heart of stone that would not be touched to think of what the Christian people had gone through.” Both Miss S. and I believe her a genuine woman, and in her position she may do much good even within her harem walls. Other ladies (Turkish) called while we were there, — one the wife of a captain, who said that her husband had saved 200 Christians the day of the massacre by taking them into safe quarters. Of course I spoke very warmly in response. Before leaving we were both presented with pretty little bouquets — and these Turkish ladies are evidently fond of flowers, as they and the children all wore some on their heads.
The day following this visit (yesterday), imagine my
surprise to receive word that the Pasha’s lady would return my call in the afternoon! I believe this unexpected celerity was to show special honour, though rather embarrassing to Miss S. and myself. I could not make many preparations except flowers, pur quarters not allowing, and Miss S. discouraging my bringing our preserved ginger, figs, and raisins — of which I have a small store — in imitation of the citron, so I contented myself with coffee and half-a-dozen bouquets of roses.
E., our servants, and the guard had all to hide or be sent out of the house
before the great lady arrived (Miss Shattuck bringing her from the Mission
House, where she had previously called). She had four servants with her, and
Miss S. brought a girl to hand the coffee, and as I watched them ascend our
steps, each lady a bundle of black silk and gauze, I thought it a strange
sight and very picturesque. They were most elegantly attired for indoors,
however, when their wraps were removed, and I could hardly keep my eyes off
the younger one, she was so exceedingly pretty (again with her little children
about her). I had much feared beforehand that conversation Would flag this
visit, but it did not do so, as the elder lady propounded a scheme for bringing
here a skilled worker in carpets from near Smyrna, and teaching the women
to make them. Finally she promised to write to the most skilled whom she knew
personally and make inquiries as to expense. They stayed nearly two hours,
and nearly all the time one little slave-girl stood behind the young lady’s
chair, who was nicely dressed, and seemed very gentle, and had been bought
at this same place — an Asia Minor
Sparta, I think. I suggested her sitting down two or three times to Miss S., but noticed that she did not think best to translate it. We parted from these friendly ladies with, I believe, very kindly feelings on both sides.
Our next letter will not exactly be ours, though a circular, but an abbreviation of a long letter R. and I have received from the Gregorians here about their church and schools. — Yours very truly,
H. B. 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.,