LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. XX.
A MODERN SIMEON STYLITES — BRIEF ACCOUNT OF A VISIT TO THE TR ABDN — VISIT TO A TURKISH PRISON, ETC.
MARDIN, July 3, 1896.
DEAR FRIENDS, — In visiting among the Christian women to-day I have just heard a very interesting history of one of the men martyred at Harpoot during the massacres, and must send it on.
He was originally a Jacobite monk, and from a boy of fourteen he sought by penance and self-inflicted suffering to buy the forgiveness of his sins. After his conversion to Protestantism he showed his adopted mother (who has just told us about him) the scars all round his body where he had worn a belt with nails in it, and when Mr. Andrus found him first he was in an old disused cistern in a small monastery near Midyat, in which he had fastened a rope from side to side, and when sleep came on he flung himself across it to keep himself awake to pray. In fact he acted as like St. Simeon Stylites as a modern monk could. Before this, however, and when he was first en route with other lads for the monastic life, an earnest native preacher had met him and prophesied to him that he should yet see the insufficiency of the way he had chosen to walk in, and would leave it and believe the pure Gospel.
Mr. Andrus was the instrument through whom God opened his eyes, though Bibles had previously been introduced into the monastery, and this young monk with others was earnestly reading for himself; when he once saw his errors he, with the same earnestness and determination which had marked his monkish life, renounced it, and took a theological course at the Protestant college, and had just gone through it and was ready for ordination when the end came. He was one of those martyred as well as massacred, and tortured as well as martyred. His adopted mother showed us his photograph, and told of his name written in the family Bible with those of her own children, and then with a sob added, “When they asked him to deny Christ and he refused, they cut off one of his arms, and then said, ‘Will you not become a Moslem now ?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘for I have come to this hour in God’s will and appointment, and I will not change.’ Then they literally cut him to pieces before finally killing him.” The photo shows a face of no ordinary force of character, and especially of great determination. His name was Baulus Bursom or Paul Barsauma.
H. B. H.
MY DEAR FRIENDS, — I do not know that there is very much of special interest to report. The greater part of the last three weeks has been spent by me in the mountains to the north and east of Mardin, as far as the Tigris river. This is the Mount Masius of the ancients, but in the present day is known as the Tr Abdn, or Mountain
of the Servants; I suppose it acquired this name from the frequency of the monasteries which are found all over the district. By a mixture of Syriac and Arabic it is often called the Jebel Tr, which is a mere repetition (Mt. Mountain). A dreary country enough, for the most part bare limestone crags with a little growth of scrub oak, and almost waterless in many parts, except where the limestone gives place to some more generous soil. The interest of this country to me lies chiefly in the fact that the Syriac language is still spoken here, both by the clergy and the people, and there is hardly a church where there are not some Syriac MSS. It is a good district also for studying the decline and prophesying the approaching decease of Syrian monasticism, for most of the monasteries are either in ruins or so much reduced as not to be much better than ruins. I am glad to be at the bedside of this erratic religion, and if a shake would hasten the patient’s dissolution, I would gladly give him a brace of shakes.
It is also a good country for studying the decline of the Turkish Government; for the people are almost bled to death by their unjust rulers, and I found village after village either wholly deserted or reduced to a fraction of its original population, while the hill-sides were full of traces of ancient vineyards, and fruit-trees were growing wild that must at one time have been carefully cultivated. There has been no systematic massacre over this region, only habitual oppression and local outbreaks of disorder. We passed through one village which had been raided a few hours before by Moslems, who had carried off 300 sheep; but these robberies ought hardly to be
classed with what has been going on in other places, for they are probably as natural to the life of the people as the ancient Border raids between England and Scotland. However that may be, the decline of the prosperity of the district was to me very patent, and one can only hope that the sick man who is responsible for the state of affairs will before long find some one to give him also a necessary and sufficient shake.
The travelling was very hard and rough, the more so because the hot weather has now fairly set in; so that although there was generally a favourable breeze, and we were seldom at a lower altitude than 4000 feet, I found my endurance well tested. We had often to rise very early in the view of a hard day’s riding; the last two days were especially heavy; we were up on these two days at 1.40 and 1.30 A.M., and in the saddle at 2.50 and 2.40, riding six hours at a stretch before we had a proper breakfast. But the night air and the early morning air are wonderfully refreshing, and I do not find any unpleasant result except a little extra weariness, which will soon pass off.
As to the results of this little expedition, well, they were a little disappointing; a great deal of damage had been done in some places by the Kurds, who have an especial spite against books, and love to show their antipathy to Christianity by destroying the Gospels. One monastery where we hoped to find interesting matter was completely ruined, and all the books destroyed. It is fortunate that we do not live by books alone. In other places the people had walled up or hidden away their
treasures, or if they showed them, resolutely refused to part with them. So you will easily see how disappointments can come in battalions.
To-day (July 3) I have had the opportunity of visiting the Turkish prison in Mardin in company with my friends of the American Mission, Dr. Andrus and Mr. Dewey. We went to see the Protestant pastor and teacher, who have been for more than seven months in prison on the charge of sedition and treason. You will be surprised when I tell you what it all amounts to; a copy of reforms supposed to be those agreed upon by the European Powers (though I suspect the whole document was a forgery) was found in the possession of the teacher, and it was maintained that he had obtained them from the minister. A charge of treason was laid against them both, and they were sentenced for a term of years. Happily we hear that there is some chance of a new trial being granted in consequence of appeals made to Constantinople, but what the outcome will be is still uncertain.1 You can put this case along with the rest of the Turkish caricatures of justice, such as the case of the preacher who was condemned for having a copy of Lord Salisbury’s speech in his pocket, &c.
We were not allowed to go into the wards of the prison, but only into an outside room, into which the prisoners were presently brought. I should have liked to go over the whole of the building, but all I could see was a courtyard with a tank in it, a number of men sitting in the shade under one of the walls, and at the tank a man
1 Unfortunately the sentence was confirmed.
helping another prisoner, who was heavily ironed, to wash his face, a new version of the law of bearing one another’s burdens.
We had a pleasant interview with our incarcerated friends, who seem to be well cared for. An Eastern prison is not like one of ours. The prisoners feed themselves, except for a ration of bread and water supplied by the Government, and this means a certain amount of access to them from outside. They were bright and cheerful, had books, I think, with which their friends had supplied them, and, on the whole, my first impression of a Turkish prison was favourable. If we are to be thrown into prison on frivolous charges, it is something to have one’s books and one’s dinner sent to one from the outside.
And now our time at Mardin is coming to an end, and we move northward. We hear good reports of the work done by our Red Cross friends in the district to the east of Harpoot; one of them, Mr. Wood, is not many days from us; he was at Diarbekir till the 25th of last month, and is now organising relief at Meiafarkin, a place not far to the north of Diarbekir, where there seems to have been much suffering. Apparently we have just missed seeing him, but perhaps we may meet by-and-by.
With best wishes to all our good friends in England, sincerely yours,
J. R. H.
[Note. — Miss Kimball writes to the Women’s Fund from Van down to 22nd July. She expected to start for England 4th August. The results of the late outbreak were not yet known ; entire regions, in which terrible things had happened, were still shut up by the Kurds,
but it was evident that the whole province was utterly laid waste. About 6000 were still on their relief bread list in the town, on the principle of just keeping soul and body together, but they were trying to reserve funds for the yet darker times of autumn and winter. Help, after Miss Kimball leaves, is to be administered conjointly by the British Consul and Dr. Raynolds, the solitary representative remaining of the American Mission. They still continue the four bakeries at a total cost of £45 per week. The Government severely refuses all applications for permission to emigrate or leave the town. — R. H. F.
Note. — For reasons which belong to secret crafts, as well as because such fox-hunting as I was engaged in does not properly belong to the Armenian question, I have not in this place told all that I know about the diffusion of Syriac literature in the Tur Abdin. There is, further, no law requiring one to dilate upon one’s disappointments. One thing at least was the reverse of disappointing, the bath in one of the rivers of Paradise, the loving remembrance of which induces me to add a fragment of a private letter to a brother who has often partaken of such aquatic joys with me : “MIDYAT, June 21, 1896. — . . . How many times I have wanted thee lately. But most of all this last week, when I was washing away the accumulated sin of a week’s travel by bathing in that sweet river of Paradise whose name is Hiddekel, Diklath, or Tigris. If thou hadst been there and under the same burden of the flesh and that live and dead matter that clings thereto, how sportively would we have swum across it, at the risk of landing a quarter of a mile lower down, to say nothing of being indited by the River Conservancy Board of Mosul under an Act to Prevent the Pollution of Rivers. We might even have conspired to do, what I ached after, we might have hired a kellik or raft on skins and floated down. It would have only cost us five days to Nineveh, and we could have been better than Hemerobaptists, of whom the Sabean remnant exists down the river at Bagdad. But wishes are of small service, and the axiom ‘I wished for Leonard there’ does not verify itself with ‘I found him in Llanberis.’...
I am taking a week or two to search this mountain (Mount Masius) for some early relics which ought to be extant amongst a people who talk Syriac to you and understand you when you talk back. It has been hard work some of the time. If we have not exactly been
‘bedmate of the burdock and the snake,’ we have been under the sign of the Scorpion, and have our own interpretation of ‘ fighting with beasts at Ephesus’ . . .
One day this week we were up at 3.30 and in the saddle at 4 (breakfastless), and did not reach our sleeping place till 7 P.M. By the end of that day we came to a country where there was no need to prohibit the use of opiates.
My love with this. Goodness and mercy are following us as though they belonged to our caravan. ‘Sister’ is in Mardin, busied with good works and orisons in which we are both remembered.” — J. R. 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.,