- Armenian Literature, History, Religion in in Russian

Rendel J. Harris and Helen B. Harris


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OURFA, May 24, 1896.

MY DEAR FRIENDS, — This is our fourth Sunday here, and I am just home from the morning meeting, which began about 7 A.M. I had the opportunity of speaking again through an interpreter, and such an attentive audience ! We shall not easily forget the privileges which the Lord is giving us in the way of ministering to this suffering people, and you may imagine our heart-strings are getting tangled up with them by this time. It brings us into unexpectedly primitive Christianity to be standing in the place of a martyred pastor and to be preaching to an audience of confessors, where many bear the marks of deep wounds, and all have lost a heavy percentage of their friends. And such a patient people! I never hear any resentment from them, only desires for peace, and, if possible, for escape from the net in which they are caught.

Now we are moving further east, and expect to find even more acute suffering and worse physical distress than here, if one may judge by the letters that reach us from those quarters. Our next stopping-place will be Diarbekir, and after that we go to Mardin, where we have

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a most cordial welcome from our friends at the American Mission. How long this will take we cannot tell yet, and beyond that we have made no definite plans; indeed, all our plans are made subject to the revision of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

I enclose two letters1 from missionaries in the district to which we are now moving, which will give you an idea of our prospects. If any public use is made of them, it will be best not to quote names of places and people more than is necessary for intelligence. — With remembrance to all
our people, sincerely yours,

J. R. H.

Postscript by H. B. H.

You may like to know that last Sunday I had the privilege of holding another women’s meeting in the Protestant Church, Miss Shattuck interpreting. The large proportion of these dear veiled and sheeted creatures were widows from the massacre, and all had lost dear ones. It was a most interesting sight — perhaps eight hundred or more — of whom a large proportion stayed to kiss our hands, and some to tell their tales, very briefly of course. I longed to put all your love and . sympathy as well as my own into my words, for I felt it a beautiful “ opportunity ” given by God for endeavouring to cheer and comfort. I spoke from Jer. xlix. 11.

On Saturday we attended a very different gathering, the first one of a genial kind that has taken place among the Christians here since the massacre. It was the be-

1 See p. 92.

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trothal of the daughter of the murdered Protestant pastor, a sweet young girl who has acted as a mother to her little brothers and sisters since that time, to one of the Relief Committee, a Mr. Koradgian (whose uncle is now in England), and belonging to a very nice family.
Miss Shattuck had the party at the mission-house, and E. and I had special invitations from both her and the bridegroom’s family. We felt it right to go, and were very glad afterwards that we had done so. The dear people seemed so pleased, indeed R. told them if they made any more polite speeches about our presence we should think it was he and I who were to be betrothed afresh! About fifty guests were present, and the women (I cannot call them ladies, it sounds so conventional and European) were in semi-bridal costume, with flowers in their hair or on their veils — for all the married ones were veiled even in-doors.

Before the religious ceremony began R. was asked to “ make a few remarks,” which, rather reluctantly, as it was so unexpected a request, he did, and then there were other little speeches. The bride-elect was by no means conspicuous either in dress or place in the room, and the bridegroom did not even look her way as he came in, but, followed by a crowd of men friends, went to another part of the room entirely and took his seat.

Lemonade (or a drink like it made of some flower) was served first, and when all had had and drunk a large glassful, Mr. Sanders, the American travelling missionary, performed a little ceremony of prayer, Scripture-reading, and singing. Then the bridegroom took a beautifully

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bound Bible and hymn-book (from Constantinople), wrapped in a blue and green silk scarf, and presented it very bashfully to the young girl, who, never once looking up, took it and gave it to Miss Shattuck to put back on the table again, and then they exchanged rings, also with the same shamefacedness; and then both retired to their places once more, not a word having passed between them.

After this the bridegroom-elect’s sister, attended by a maid, carried sweetmeats around, giving two bundles to the highly favoured and one to the less so. As I received my two the first, I made the mistake of saying one would do for R. and me together, but found I was quite “out” as to etiquette, and our four bundles now adorn our room!

Then Miss Shattuck gave coffee all round, and after this the ceremonious part of the affair was over, and conversation became general, I mean between the men friends and the foreigners, for the Armenian women never talk except when quite alone, and then they do !

Several young girls were present whose betrothed had been killed, but for the time the sadness was lessened — I could not say it was all gone, for every speech referred to it — but one could see how capable of pure, true enjoyment these people are, who have been called upon to drink a cup of such almost unparalleled sorrow. Before the friends left I felt as if I must express to the bridegroom and his father my prayer that he and his wife-elect might live to see the deliverance of their people.

After the betrothal, no matter how long delayed the wedding may be, the etiquette is that the young man does not visit at the young girl’s home.

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Letters from Mardin.

May 10, 1896.

MY DEAR PROFESSOR H., — Your favour of the 3rd inst. was received to-day, and was quite a surprise to us. We heartily congratulate you and Mrs. H. upon your successful journey thus far. The mail of last week informed us that you were en route, but we had not supposed you were quite so near us. May the dear Lord prosper you and yours everywhere you may go in this part of the country. We have long been longing to see you, and to do for you all we possibly can to put you in the way of attaining the objects of your visit. As to hints for your guidance, I scarcely know what to offer, as I do not know just what line you are desirous to pursue. Can’t you come on here first direct from Ourfa, and then perhaps Brother D. and I can help you to lay out your plans with reference to the best times to be at this place and that, and the order of your itinerary, with perhaps fresh information about this, that, and the other place. For instance, I can give you a letter of introduction to the Jacobite Syrian Patriarch now residing in Diarbekir. We are on a pleasant footing with him.

We are still busy with relief work, and in the last two days, Friday and Saturday, we aided over 1500 souls to money, comfortables, and felt mats, to serve in lieu of mattresses. Day after tomorrow we send off L.T.100 (i.e., L.T., pounds Turkish) to the monastery of Mar Krirkos, in the Beshar Kuzze, north of the Tigris, and in a few days a second distribution at Nisibin. The Sanjak and ln will take between £300 and £400, some 3000 being on our lists from that region alone. There are between 25,000 and 35,000 needy souls, hungry, poorly clad, and with almost no bedding in the district we are trying to look after, though for more than a month now the Government has succeeded in stopping our work in the Red wan and Sert districts through the arrest and imprisonment of our distributing agent. We were stopped twenty days here on all kinds of relief work, and a month on industrial relief, though now we are again in full blast, the Government having backed down from its domineering attitude.

Were it not for this relief work I should be tempted to go on to Ourfa to meet and escort you to our Mardin home, but I have thrown everything else aside to push this business day and night, while D.

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runs the station and the school work. Mrs. A. joins me in Christian love and greeting to Mrs. H. and yourself, as also to Miss Shattuck. — As ever, cordially yours, A. N. A.

[N.B. — These missionaries are evidently caring for a very large district. Nisibin is about fifty miles from Mardin ; Redwan, sixty miles ; Sert, eighty miles, &c. — R. H. F.]

May 12, 1896.

DEAR MISS SHATTUCK, — You have been much in our thoughts these past weeks, and I should have written you but for the uncertainty whether or not you are in Ourfa. We hope you are kept in health and peace. What an inexhaustible mine of comfort and encouragement we have in the Word that is sure and tried !

We are so glad Mr. Sanders has been with you — perhaps he is still — if so, our greetings to him. We are all in reasonable health and strength, though Mrs. B. is a little indisposed this morning ; nothing very serious, I think. How good God is to keep us all so well, and give us strength for the extra burdens. Our hearts are sick and sore at the prospect — we see nothing to encourage or give hope save as we lift our eyes above to the everlasting hills of refuge and help — they are always there, for our help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth.

Mr. A. gives all his time and strength to the relief work, which taxes them to the utmost. I should say that he also supplies Pastor Jurjise’s pulpit at the Sunday morning service while he (pastor) is in prison.

Relief work was stopped for some days, but has now started up again. The destitution and want are beyond all description. Last week Mr. A. and I made a hasty visit to one of the near villages that was destroyed — between 500 and 600 houses — a most pitiable sight, the ruined houses. The building was of karpeetch, I suppose you know that word, the sun-dried brick covered with poles and earth; many of the walls were broken through or partially thrown over, — the large poles had generally been carried away, though in some cases the whole roof would seem to have been burned, that is, the combustible part of it. A few wretched families were gathered in the two stone churches — Syrian Jacobite and Syrian Catholic — as the Government insists on their returning to their village. Remembering what a busy hive of industry the place was in former years, the present desertedness, with the listless, apathetic air of the families

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found, seemed to me inexpressibly sad. On our way home we made a little computation of the material damage wrought; it seemed to us that £500,000 was a low estimate ! But the demoralisation among the survivors, the moral damage, in what terms can it be estimated ? The brightness and beauty of spring seems almost a mockery, yet we know that God is good, and His mercy endureth for ever.

I purposed a word of sympathy and cheer, but I fear I have missed it. Your experiences have been so much harder and sadder than ours.

Mrs. B. sends you her warmest love. — Very sincerely yours,

N. C. D.

[I add the following interesting letter from Ourfa. — J. R. H.]

Letter from Ourfa.

May 18, 1896.

MY DEAR MISS M., — You will be interested in the following story of the six orphans we are to send to Mrs. D. of Constantinople. The oldest is fourteen years and the youngest ten. Their names are Hagop, Armen, and the twins — Victoria and Ozmo — and Zexapat. Their father was a merchant. All his goods were stolen, and he was wounded in many places on Saturday, December 28, in his home. He lived that day and night. The next day, when the massacre began again, though suffering terribly, he started with his wife and children for the Armenian church. He died in the street. His body was left in a house near. When the church was attacked the mother and children were in the church, on the second floor. Turks came up the stairs after killing many on the first floor. The grandmother of the children took Hagop and Victoria and got down the stairs, Turks seized Hagop and were about to kill him, when a Kurd took him and said he wanted to keep him, but after three days sent him away. One of the Turks said to the mother, “ We killed your husband yesterday because I wanted to marry you.” Both the mother and children tried to get away from the Turks, but finding they could not, decided they would jump into the fire which had been started in the church. This poor mother threw down Armen, a boy of eight years, and Ozmo and Zexapat, and then she leaped down after them. The mother and the boy of eight years were burned, but though the others were burned some, and considerably harmed by the fall, they are now well. We send with these our pastor’s son of about six years, as Mrs. D. said they would take six children.

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I am too weary to do best work, and hope to get refreshment in a trip to Haran, taking me away from home three days. Mr. Sanders urges me to go with Professor H. and wife, and we expect to start in the morning. I enjoy Professor and Mrs. H. every minute I can be with them. You can scarce know how pressed I am, yet usually I am peaceful — so kept by the prayers of my friends and trust in God for each moment. I visited the interior of the Armenian church last Saturday for the first time since the change. I did not, after all I had heard, believe it what I saw it to be. It made me nearly ill for that day. It is terrible, beyond all language to describe the testimony that the pile gives to the agonies of the occupants. Well that you are not here. You could not endure the strain.

May 19th. — During the past week we have been collecting the children for Smyrna and Constantinople. Yesterday, on making application to the Government for proper papers allowing a quiet and undisturbed journey, the Pasha said, “ No, we shall attend to the orphans ourselves.” (It now seems a settled plan of the Moslems to get these girls into their harems.) It is hopeless for us to try to do anything more. I am wondering now if these children will be left undisturbed in the temporary home we have opened here in Ourfa. I am so sad that I cannot write more of it now.

The Pasha says it is unsafe for us to go to Haran, and so we must not go. Many and constant and continued thanks to you for your efforts for funds. We need it all. — Yours affectionately.


[I add a farewell message which I received from some of my Armenian friends in Ourfa, omitting the Armenian text, and giving their own English translation. — J. R. H.

OURFA, June 1, 1896.

To Rev. (sic!) Professor HARRIS.

DEAR SIR, — Your condescension to visit our city, the kindness and the sympathy which you have shown to our afflicted brethren, have filled our hearts with deep gratitude. Indeed we are at a loss how to express our feelings, especially for the great help you have done for our orphanage and the schools. We cannot but admire your noble heart. We ask your pardon for our own inability to express our gratitude personally when you were here, and by forwarding to you this proof of our feelings we implore the Almighty God to bless you, and send from on high His heavenly rewards of more enduring.]


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


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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