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Rendel J. Harris and Helen B. Harris

LETTERS FROM ARMENIA


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LETTER No. XVI.

WE LEAVE OURFA AND VISIT GAEMOUSH AND SEVEREK — A NIGHT IN A HOVEL — MASSACRE IN SEVEREK — OUR SERVANT CLAPPED IN PRISON — A NIGHT IN A KURDISH TENT — ARRIVAL AT DIARBEKIR.

DIARBEKIR, June 1, 1896.

DEAR FRIENDS, — We left the much-beloved Ourfa and dear Miss Shattuck on Tuesday, May 26th, the latter kindly accompanying us some miles on our journey on her plump little mule. Mr. Sanders had left a few-hours earlier for Aintab, so after speeding us on our way, this brave woman returned back with her servant and guard to her lonely home and work, and to the special effort of endeavouring to obtain leave, once refused, to send her little prepared band of orphans to Smyrna.

Our first night was at Garmoush, the Christian village of which I wrote you in my last, which had been so miraculously saved by a storm, so that the marauders and the Moslems had themselves said, “ Allah does not will it” — i.e., the destruction of the village. Here we stayed at the house of a Protestant pastor, and here we found to our regret that a very fine old Armenian copy of the Gospels, for which E. had offered a good sum, and hoped to get, had been plastered up again inside a wall, fears having prevailed, and was therefore lost to him and scholarship.

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After a long day’s ride the following day, during which we saw many locusts, a plague of which is threatened, we stopped at a Kurd village, the like of which may none of you ever be called upon to enter !

The mud hovel in which we did not sleep was occupied by a crowd of villagers, our two zaptiehs, a number of muleteers, our two servants, and ourselves, besides the closest proximity of dogs, horses, and mules. None of these companions could, however, vie for a moment as to disagreeability with the fleas, each one as big as four or five English ones, which left us not a moment’s rest, while a heavy thunderstorm rolling overhead towards morning completed the chaos.

We started before it cleared next day, and reached Severek about 6 P.M. I got soaked to the skin with the storm, though E. happily had his waterproof, and neither of us were the worse, as the hot sun, when it did come out, soon dried my clothes. At Severek we went straight to the little Protestant church and pastor, and slept the night in the school-house.

This town has suffered very terribly, and there are many hundreds of widows, and they have had hardly any help. We therefore have promised to get some sent there, as the people are “ all hungry, all needing clothing and bedding.” We also left a small sum. The pastor, Abraham Haratunyan, is an extremely earnest young man, a graduate of one of the American Mission colleges, who was simply teacher previous to the murder of the pastor; but he seems to have had the prophet’s mantle descend upon him, as his preaching attracts not only

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Protestant and Gregorian people (as at Aintab and Ourfa), but the Gregorian and Syrian priests also, who say to him, “ We wish to hear you whenever you preach.”

This good man is one of those who braved death for Christ’s sake. He was offered the usual choice, “Islam or death ? ” and chose death ; so they cut him about and left him for dead, but he afterwards revived and is now well. He and another confessor who had had two guns held to his breast, and expected death instantly, but something intervened, told us, on my asking if they felt no fear in the prospect, “ No fear, for we expected we should directly be with Jesus, but the flesh trembled a little.” This was said so simply that it struck me much.

We had scarcely had time to sit down, much less to change our riding clothes, when our visitors began to come; and soon we had a room full, and had quite a reception — the Syrian “Metropolitan of the East,” the Gregorian priest — the one doctor from whom all his medicines and appliances were taken at the time of the massacre, so that he could do nothing for the sick and wounded, and who looked the most forlorn and helpless doctor I have ever seen — a fine old Armenian gentleman once very rich, from whom everything had been taken, and others. R. and I sat at one end of the room, the Metropolitan at my side, a very fine old priest, and the rest all in front, and for a long long time they told us of their sorrows, and of one woe after another.

Close behind us on the wall were thick blood and brain stains, where the previous Protestant pastor had been killed by an axe-blow on the head, smashing in the skull

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and scattering the brains. Right up to the ceiling were these blood-marks, and all around, from a clearly-marked centre to a wide diameter. So under the blood of his martyrdom we conversed, with those who had been equally confessors of Christ, though their lives had been spared, of the past and future of their nation, and of the realities of the faith we held in common, endeavouring to cheer them with the hope that however much man had failed them, God was even now working out some grand design of love for them. R. quoted to them that couplet of Trench1 beginning —

“ Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small,”

and they all caught at the idea in a moment, and seemed to feed upon it.

We had hardly parted from these most interesting guests before a very different party entered, viz., the Turkish kaimakam, or governor, and his officials and soldiers — also quite a company. They were very gruff and not at all friendly, though the great man did condescend to drink our coffee; and he put R. through a very long and unpleasant cross-examination, and also had our two servants in, and treated them the same way. How thankful we were that our previous visitors had

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1 Not Trench, though at first sight it has the appearance of being from the “ Century of Couplets.” As usually quoted in English, it is Longfellow’s translation of a German couplet, which itself goes back into a verse of a lost Greek poet, which is quoted in the Sibylline Oracles, in Sextus Empiricus, in Origen against Celsus, and furnishes a text for Plutarch in his famous tract on the Tardy Vengeance of the Deity. — J. R. H.

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departed when these arrived, as it would have been very dangerous for them to have been found with us.

This cross-questioning elicited the fact that our poor Alexander had no passport (in fact, there is no doubt in our minds but that he is with us because he has escaped from his own city of Aleppo, but concerning this we have asked no questions). Imagine our grief when, after thinking we had passed through our ordeal safely, the following morning he was sent for and put in prison! Poor Griva, the cook, was in despair, and the boy had behaved so beautifully and devotedly to us throughout our travels that we felt as deeply concerned as if a real personal friend were in trouble.

So, as Bunyan says of his pilgrims, we “betook ourselves to prayer;” and after awhile R. obtained permission to call on the kaimakam on his behalf, the Protestant pastor, who speaks English nicely, accompanying him to interpret. I sent a special salaam and request in my own name, and after R. had explained and mollified the great man, the pastor proffered my petition, and the reply was, “Well, in consideration of your wishes, and for the sake of madam’s petition, I will forgive him.” Thus our prayers were answered, and we received the boy back again with great rejoicing.

All danger for Alexander is not over yet, however, as E. was obliged to promise to report him at Diarbekir, and the Pasha here is very severe indeed, and the one under whom all the atrocities were perpetrated; but after so signal a deliverance we are not inclined to doubt final success, and my great desire is, after our journey is over.

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to send Alexander to Robert or Aintab College, for he is extremely quick and intelligent, and if educated will make a very useful man, I think.1

Of our journey from Severek to Diarbekir, the chief feature was one night in a Kurdish tent. We did not want to go to the Kurds at all, but it was a choice between that and the open hillside on a chilly night, and without proper appliances, and our chief zaptieh was determined we should go to the tent. Indeed, he pretty nearly pulled me off my horse in his energetic demonstrations, and we thought it wiser to surrender.

These Kurdish tents are not at all like the elegant ones travellers are accustomed to in Palestine, but huge goat-hair sheets of canvas stretched on poles, and not touching the ground by four or five feet, divided by reed fences about four feet high. Alexander soon spread our rugs and pillows in a corner, and barricaded us in with our luggage, and the chief and his wife came and smoked the pipe of peace, and gave us milk and kaimak (sour curd).

So we resigned ourselves to circumstances, but it was the wildest scene we were ever in. The wild Kurds — men, women, and children — came and stared at us in party after party, but offered us no rudeness, and we were as friendly as looks and smiles and biscuits could go; and so after awhile the excitement of our coming subsided, and all resumed its ordinary course. Just the other side of the reeds by my side two camel foals were

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1 The young man escaped from Constantinople at the time of the August massacres, and has reached England in safety, where he has found a place of service. — J. R. H.

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lying down, while the mother of one of them kept invading the tent, and being as often driven out. The soldiers and Kurdish men were sitting over a wood fire close by, smoking and talking in that peculiarly high and unpleasant key I shall never forget, which is habitual to them, and almost amounts to a scream, and always suggests anger; while on the other side the women and children prepared their mats for sleeping, and our servants kept watch and ward. I did not think under such circumstances that either of us would close our eyes, but we were very weary, and by-and-by the scene all faded away, and the next thing I knew was the grey of early morning, and our men were preparing for the start. So without food or drink we mounted about 4.30, and pursued our onward course.

On the second day from this we reached Diarbekir (yesterday), and have ever since been hearing fresh horrors, past and present, from Mr. Hallward’s dragoman and his wife — Mr. H., the British Vice-Consul, being away — and a young Armenian doctor who studied in Baltimore, and who is nearly wild with indignation, pity, and fear for the future of his people.

All these beg and entreat us to do something to help the people to emigrate. “ If we have to leave our houses, our property that was, everything, we will go all of us, so that only our lives are granted us.” The dragoman says that almost the entire population of Diarbekir would emigrate if the way were made, for otherwise they will die of starvation next winter. — Affectionately,

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

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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