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Rendel J. Harris and Helen B. Harris

LETTERS FROM ARMENIA


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LETTER No. XIV.

SCHEMES OF BELIEF AND SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTION — ORPHANS, WIDOWS, AND SCHOOLS.

OURFA, May 17, 1896.

DEAR FRIENDS, — I thought you would like to know that we are finding opportunities for helping the people here, in directly spiritual work, and in the matter of the prospects of this suffering people. This morning at 7 A.M. we had again a very large audience in the church; and I had the privilege of addressing them through an interpreter. At midday H. had a large company of women to talk to; not as large as at Aintab, but then Aintab is, relatively to Ourfa, a much more advanced place. It is no slight blessing to have an American college and hospital in a city; in Ourfa we have only a mission with schools.

After the morning service, we met by appointment three of the leading men of the community (Gregorian Armenians), in order to discuss with them the appeal which they recently sent us, of which you have a tolerably exact translation in our Circular Letter No. XIII. You will remember that they appealed for help in the matter of their orphans, their schools, and their ruined church. I had been thinking over these different points, in order to enter into right sympathy with them, as well as to form a cor-

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rect judgment as to what was needed for the common salvation. The elementary needs of food, clothing, and shelter have, as you know, been met for the present, largely through the mutual helpfulness of the people, but with the supplement of the help given by the Westminster Committee, the Red Cross Society, &c. No relief, or next to none, has been given in money — a very wise restraint.

Postponing, then, the further consideration of beds and shoes and the like, we had to face the question of the readjustment of the social fabric. What was to be done with these wrecked and desolated families, often the mere shreds of once prosperous households ? I told my Gregorian friends that the first thing to deal with was the need of the orphans, and that we had already, as they knew, made a start in that, and, as we could see our way, we would extend the work. But I pointed out to them that we were not building an orphanage in the European sense (which could not be done without firmans from Constantinople), but finding homes for the children for whom no homes were available (you will see from my previous message on this point at how low a figure we are able to work this maintenance of the orphans. Five pounds for a year is so moderate that a number of our friends might indulge in the luxury).

I then went on to the question of the widows, with the view of showing that this was a question, not of maintenance, but of finding occupations and industries. The women of Ourfa are not nearly as clever as those of Aintab ; they have forgotten, moreover, an art which they once

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knew, of making embroideries in gold thread, &c. However, Miss Shattuck has been able to set them to embroidering felt mats in colours, and we have also made some efforts to revive the older kind of work, and expect some very pretty results. I cannot see that anything further can be done for the widows; we shall send specimens of their work to our friends for approbation, and with the hope of obtaining a market.
The next question was that of the schools; and this was very important, and demanded a long investigation. It may, perhaps, sound strange that we should lay stress on this point; but you will easily see that it is by superior intelligence that the Armenians have made such progress in the Bast, and it is imperative, unless they are to relapse into the old barbarism of fifty years back, that the schools be maintained and improved. The recent attack upon the Armenians was, if I may put it figuratively, a blow at the head. Most of the leading men are gone, and many of the teachers. And the recent calamities have made it impossible that the schools, which have just been reopened, can be at once self-supporting, as they were before the massacres. The Gregorians have reopened with about 300 children out of a former 500, and this they could not have done without the aid of the Protestants. The number of teachers is wholly inadequate, and there is no school for girls. There are thousands of children unprovided for. As to the Protestant part of the community, they lean somewhat upon the American Mission, and will recover more rapidly ; they have begun work with 300 to 400 children, both boys and girls. The whole of the work is

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elementary in character, and there is urgent need for some provision of a more advanced nature.

On putting the thing into figures (with the fact before us that the Gregorian school building had not been destroyed at the time of the massacre, so that there was no question of buildings), I found that it was possible to provide accommodation for 400 boys and 300 girls, with a staff of ten teachers, six for the boys and four for the girls; and that these ten teachers could be obtained, in the present distress, for such moderate salaries as from 1000 to 1500 piastres for a school year of ten months; this sounds rather enigmatic, on account of the Turkish money, but it comes, all told, to about £80 Turkish, which is less than £80 English by several pounds. At this point I told them that I was prepared to furnish them with this sum for the first year, until peace should return and trade revive, &c.

But here I paused. We had still to remember that we were dealing only with the schools of the Gregorian Armenians; what of the Protestant part of the community ? They were almost in as bad case, and we had to consider the whole question, and not a part of it. Moreover, we have been learning some of our old lessons about religious liberty and social progress over again in these days; and if we could put the education of Ourfa outside the range of religious jealousy and animosity, what a blessing it would be! So I proposed to our Gregorian friends the question, “ What need was there for two separate committees to deal with the children ? ” Were they prepared to unite with the Protestants in a single committee, so

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as not to have any social friction, provided that they had a numerical preponderance on the committee in consideration of the fact that their school was the larger one. To my delight they replied at once that they had no wish to teach the peculiarities of their own church system in the school, and would gladly join with the Protestants in the formation of a School Committee, if it should be found that the Protestants wished it. And I promised in that case to furnish them with £120 (Turkish) for the first year for the joint-committee. The question of one or two higher teachers we hope to be able to deal with later on.

I feel pretty sure that this is the right thing to do. The Armenian holds his own here, because he is brighter and better educated than the rest of the community. Recent events have put him down at the bottom of the ladder; and as the Armenians say in their appeal, the children are “ immoralising ” in the streets. Unless they are rescued, many will be far behind their dead fathers and mothers, and some of them will be in danger of a change of religion. It seems to me that the rescue of the children intellectually is as important as shoes for their feet, or beds to sleep on.

Prom this question we passed to a much more difficult one, viz., the restoration of the great church, which was the scene of so many martyrdoms. The Armenians at present are conducting a little service in their school, where about 600 people meet, the rest of them worshipping with the Protestants. Their great church holds several thousands, but its interior is ruined, and the fabric has been declared

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unsafe by the Government. The pillars are calcined by fire, and perhaps part of the roof also. They estimate that it will take £2000 to restore it, and want help to do so. I was obliged to tell them that I did not at present see any way of making this appeal public, because the Sultan was hardly likely to permit them to rebuild with foreign money. If they could obtain permission to worship within the blackened walls, I urged them to do so; but this they said was prohibited by the authorities. As I did not see what steps to take to help them, we agreed to defer the matter for the present. One naturally feels no slight interest in the repair of a building which has become historical in the Christian world; and they have no other church in which to worship. But what could one say or do in such a case ? And now I must conclude my little report. — Sincerely yours, J. R. H.

Postscripts by H. B. H.

... I have much sympathy with the two forlorn priests and the few leaders of the people left who mourn over their ruined temple, and who pray continually for its restoration (yet it does not seem as if the money entrusted to us should any of it go to such a fund).

R.’s meeting this morning and mine at noon with the dear women were very interesting times. After my meeting the women all stayed to kiss our hands, Miss S.’s and mine, filing up one aisle and down another, several hundred, and most of them with tears in their eyes or running down their cheeks. Some would stay to tell of husbands and children killed; but there were so many, we (Miss S. and

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I) had to pass them on when we would gladly have listened. I spoke from “ Let their widows trust in Me.”

Miss S. is a truly wonderful woman, and so free from self-life; but oh, she is so tired ! and there is no possible release, not even for a day. We had planned a three days’ excursion to the “ Haran ” of Scripture, and had all arranged to start to-morrow, but now word comes that the Pasha cannot permit or give guards, as he does not consider it safe. There is also a very pleasant gentleman, a missionary, here for a few days, who travels around ; they both come in to our quarters for a little fellowship every evening.

Our next journey will be to Mardin; but letters must go still to us, c/o Bible House, British Post-Office, Constantinople. You cannot think how much we want to hear. We have had no letters at all since leaving Constantinople, April 9.

The heat is commencing here. We are both fairly well.

P.S. (20th). — Since writing, letters of April 29th have come and greatly cheered our hearts.

Everything here is at a standstill, except the spirit of inquiry about spiritual things, which is awakening among the suffering people, and which is really wonderful, and a prophecy to me of good things to come !

Our plans are changed, as the Pasha says it is not safe for us to go to Mardin now, the road being frequented by wild Arabs, so we are going, D. V., to Diarbekir next Monday instead.

 


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

Acknowledgements:

Source: J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris. Letters from the Scenes of the Recent Massacres in Armenia. London, James Nisbet & Co., Limited, 1897
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Irina Minasyan

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