LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. XVII.
DIFFICULTIES AT DIARBEKIR — A ROUGH RIDE TO MARDIN — EXCURSION IN SEARCH OF MSS. — ALEXANDER IN TROUBLE AGAIN.
MARDIN, June 15, 1896.
DEAR FRIENDS, — We left Diarbekir on Wednesday, June 3rd, under some difficulty, my having taken some photographs the day before of the walls of the city and of a ruined Christian village across the Tigris, coupled with some incautious remarks of one of our servants, being the immediate occasion, but behind that, no doubt, a strong Government suspicion of strangers. Again and again, when we thought we were off, was the consular dragoman summoned to the Government headquarters to answer some fresh question about us, and at last, after we had been put under guard of a centurion and two inferior soldiers, and had started to walk to our arabas or springless waggons outside the city, which had been awaiting us for a couple of hours, we were stopped, and had all to go back again and undergo fresh examination.
You can imagine our pleasure, then, when we really found ourselves outside the city gates, and this time riding inside our carriage instead of upon horseback, and actually by the side of the Tigris! But whatever our pleasure was in escaping from Diarbekir, the term is hardly
applicable to any other part of our ride to Mardin, and many a time did we repent of having quitted the saddle and its evils to “ fly to others that we knew not of.”
A large part of the carriage road (so called) between Diarbekir and Mardin is no better than a rough river-bed with boulders, the small ones as big and bigger than one’s head, over which it is one series of bumps and jumps, until one wonders that one’s neck is not dislocated. The floor of our araba was spread with our bed-coverlets and our pillows piled at the back, but they made no appreciable difference as to the result; and then the night in the sheikh’s house ! — but I will not attempt to describe what those who travel in this country in summer suffer at night from fleas, though you must know that sleep is out of the question except in brief snatches. I hope we shall soon sleep on the roofs of our resting-places instead of under them, as the natives mostly do in summer.
Our escort swelled to nine soldiers before we reached Mardin next day — a fact due probably to the desire of these poor men for a little proper food, since they left us on our arrival here without asking any backsheesh (a quite unusual event). One of them, a Kurd, flourished a lance — instead of bearing gun and sword like the others — fully fourteen feet long, and when galloping about with some of the others (for our edification from time to time) he looked just like a picture.
Mardin, which we reached in two days, is in a mountainous region, most picturesquely situated, with a wonderful old castle on the summit of a grand rampart of rock overlooking the city. All around the country was
desolated last autumn and winter by Kurds, though more by pillage than actual massacre, and hundreds of villages were laid waste. The consequence is that here is one of the large Relief centres receiving help from the Duke of Westminster’s Fund, and not less than 20,000 to 25,000 people have been at one time receiving help, and about 15,000 are now being regularly assisted. This work will soon be closed for the summer.
Mr. Andrus, one of the missionaries here, is the head of the Relief Committee,
and has done a splendid work. He is at it morning, noon, and night, having
handed most of his missionary work over to his colleague, Mr. Dewey, but though
his energy seems boundless and his resources and devices for helping the sufferers
endless, yet one can gather from word and look that he with all the other
missionaries whom we have met look at the approaching winter with great uncertainty
The population of the devastated region referred to have next to no harvest, and what they have is even now being eaten by the Kurds’ camels, horses, cattle, and sheep, which they are pasturing with great triumph on the Christians’ corn; and what can be done ? Of course this is not everywhere — a request for sickles came in yesterday from one district — but it is very general.
The refugees here have been put to road-making and mending in the neighbourhood by the Relief Committee (not the Diarbekir road, alas!), but the money will only do a very little in this direction; and what then ?
This city was saved from massacre by one very powerful Kurdish family or tribe, which lives here, who, though
thieves themselves, are friendly with the missionaries, and for their sakes saved the Christians of the city. Mrs. Dewey told me that from the elevation of the mission premises they could see the plains around black with the Kurds day after day, who were gathered together for the purpose of massacre and only waited permission. This however they did not get, and had to retire again. For in no place did the Kurds dare to kill without express permission.
This mission centre is not Armenian but Syrian, and one notices a decided difference in the character of the people. They do not seem to me nearly so intelligent and refined as the Armenians, but we are told they are more trustworthy and less fickle, but have had no opportunity of judging of this ourselves. Also one notices far less spiritual awakening, far smaller audiences in the church, and less interest. This may arise from the fact that massacre was averted here, and that they have not had the baptism of blood and fire of other places to drive them to God — I cannot tell — but the difference is very manifest in spite of the beautiful and continuous work and effort of the faithful little missionary band here, equal, I suppose, in earnestness to that of any other centre.
Now I must tell you that E., accompanied by Mr. Andrus and helpers, has gone out on a little tour in the neighbourhood, manuscript-hunting. This is a special centre for Syrian MSS., and many which are of great value are known to exist in the neighbouring monasteries and churches. But the priests also know their value in one sense very well (though not how to utilise this value), and
they will not sell. All they seem willing to do is to lend a book for a short time, and this is of course very tantalising to R. However, perhaps this trip may be specially successful; we are hoping that it may. It will be a very fatiguing one at any rate, and I shall be thankful when it is over, which may not be for two or even three weeks.
I did not go, as there would have been no special object, and I am quite settling in to the life here and enjoying it, and finding also little bits of work to do. Our one recreation, after the day’s heat and work, is riding, and as the missionaries have really beautiful animals, and are fearless riders, and they kindly provide me with a good mount, we often go out for a run, which is very different to ordinary travel, and quite a change.
Our Armenian boy got himself (and nearly the community) into grave trouble a few days after his arrival here. He went out at night, as at Ourfa, to try and get some of the dreadful dogs around shut up. This was specially on my behalf, as he knew how they annoyed me; but in dealing with a neighbouring dog, he forgot it was a Kurdish and not an Armenian one, as at Ourfa, and was threatened with being killed by its master, and the next day, in the bazaar, he was attacked and badly cut on the head, hand, and arms, and beaten as well, the Moslem soldiers standing by and not interfering. When I saw him after he had been rescued, he was a sorry sight, the blood all streaming from his head. His injuries were not serious, however, and we administered quite as much admonition as sympathy to him afterwards; and it is now
understood that in Kurdistan the dogs are to be left alone.
Our friends here are finishing their present school term in a few days, and having examination. I am attending the English examination only. When this is over they close up their work for a time and retire to a country home about two miles off.
Before concluding this letter, I should say that the native Protestant pastor here is in prison and under sentence for five years, and his only crime — that a copy of a scheme of reforms was found in the possession of another person, who said that the pastor had given it to him! He is said to be a very good man indeed. When we return to Diarbekir we will hear from the Consul whether there is any hope of a reprieve, though, being a Turkish subject, of course Mr. Hallward can do nothing officially for his rescue. — Your friend affectionately,
HELEN 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.,