LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. XXI.
JOURNEY FROM MARDIN TO DIARBEKIR — FORDING THE TIGRIS RIVER — INCIDENT AT A DESOLATED VILLAGE — NATURE AND EFFECTS OF THE MASSACRE AT DIARBEKIR — THE FRENCH CONSUL — PLANS FOR FUTURE MOVEMENTS.
DIARBEKIR, July 9, 1896.
DEAR FRIENDS, — Having purchased two very nice horses for ourselves at Mardin (for the sum of about £16 for both), we had a much less fatiguing return journey to Diarbekir, sixty miles, than the araba ride thither. We were accompanied part way on our first day’s journey by the two gentlemen of the mission, Mr. Andrus and Mr. Dewey, and also the two younger ladies, Miss Pratt and Miss Graf, and we have become so attached to the brave little company who hold the fort at Mardin that it was not very easy saying good-bye, especially as we left them surrounded by so many difficulties and dangers. The night before leaving we had, however, a very comforting season of united prayer, and we are sure that we left them as truly safe under the shadow of the Divine wings in their lonely station, as that we ourselves are led and guarded in our going forth once more.
We were quite a cavalcade in this setting out, and more numerous than we wished, by the customary addition of soldiers. Pour of these, with the Chief of Police,
were appointed to accompany us; so with five military, four missionaries, two servants and a muleteer, and a Syrian Christian gentleman who attached himself to our party, and ourselves, we were fifteen in all, and when all were on the canter together it was quite a pretty sight looking back. Indeed, one time the soldiers became quite excited, and, quitting the beaten path, galloped round and round on the hillside, flourishing their guns at arm’s length in the left hand, while the Chief of Police (by no means either a young man or light weight) went along with the rest, whirling his sword over his head, and all five shouting haute voix.
This man has anything but a satisfactory record with regard to the late troubles, but having no choice as to having his company or not, we did our best to be kind to him, giving him portions of Mrs. Dewey’s nice American cookery at each meal, and in return he always had his own carpet spread for us, sitting on the rocks or ground himself, and when I thanked him was profuse in his declarations that he was the one under obligation, and so on. Thus we reached our journey’s end quite friendly, regretting that with so kindly a disposition he should at the same time have been so frightfully cruel when acting under the direction of a fanatical religion and Government.
We forded the Tigris before entering Diarbekir, to cut off a bend in the road, and as the current ran with great force and it was a good width, it was something of an undertaking. Of course we got pretty wet, and to add to my trials my horse lay down and rolled on the dry soft
sand the moment we landed, and I had only just time to extricate myself from the saddle. It was extremely hot, however, and we soon dried up, and came into Diarbekir at the Mardin Gate in excellent spirits.
I should say that after crossing the Tigris we passed through a desolated village, by name Kahby. Somehow I did not at the first moment understand what the silence and desolation meant. We had forgotten, in the pleasure of nearing our journey’s end, that we were surrounded by the marks of the havoc of last winter, and when we passed one large building after another (for these houses are built like granaries or fortifications, very high and solid, and quite different from those of the southern plains) with no sign of life, and all more or less dilapidated, it seemed at first as if we had fallen upon some recently excavated city of the past, and then, in a moment of course, the real state of the case rushed into the mind. Of the one hundred houses belonging to this village, the Consular Report gives eighty as having been burned!
As we were leaving it, a poor Christian woman suddenly appeared from behind a building where, no doubt, she had hidden on our approach, and seeing a lady among the party, rushed up to me and took my extended hand with gesticulations more eloquent than words. It was sad to leave her with only the small expression of sympathy I was able to give by a warm hand-clasp, but delay was not possible at the time. I wonder what her tale would have been could we have stayed to listen!
We received a very kind welcome from our consul, Mr.
Hallward, and later on from M. Meyrier, the French consul, who dined with us.
I am sorry to say that this delightful gentleman is soon to leave Diarbekir, but my regrets are not on his account, for he has had a truly awful time here, and has not dared to leave his responsible post even to visit Mardin, since he came two years since, but I lament for the people whom he has so helped. He was alone here at the time of the massacre, for Mr. Hallward did not come till afterwards, and he was the means of saving fifteen hundred lives at the risk of his own and family’s safety, by opening the Consulate buildings to the Armenians. He also made efforts which restrained in some degree the tide of diabolical cruelty, and stopped the massacre after three days, through the French Ambassador’s remonstrance with the Porte. His wife and four children were with him in the Consulate, and for three days they could not be screened from sights and sounds the most terrible. He has since sent them to Constantinople.
Even here, however, the Moslems were not equally fanatical, and M. Meyrier told us last night, when we dined with him, that on one of these massacre evenings, believing himself to be alone, he threw himself on his divan, and gave way to a burst of uncontrollable weeping. Suddenly four or five Moslems made their way into the room, but he could not at once restrain himself, and continued weeping, while covering his face from them as much as was possible. Seeing this, they all sat down in silence at first, and then one after another broke down and wept too (and he said they were real tears!). Explain
the phenomenon as we may, the fact is, at any rate, some alleviation to the general tale of horror.
We find things in a terrible state here. The two consuls are not able to grapple with the needed work, and cannot, of course, do anything among the women like the lady missionaries, and the distress is dreadful. Three Christian Protestant women called on me to-day and told me such horrors, and they say there is no one in Diarbekir who has not lost some near relative, husband, or father, or brother, or wife, while the sufferings of the poor abducted women and girls are beyond words. About forty of these have been reclaimed from neighbouring Kurds, and before leaving Diarbekir I am going to make some arrangement for helping them, for, of course, they are perfectly destitute, besides being utterly brokenhearted.
I had arranged to visit a good many of the Armenian women in their own houses, and so to hear their tales with my own ears, but we are so entirely under supervision that this very plan was immediately reported to the authorities. The women are now afraid to be brought under Government notice, and so I have given up the idea, but shall have opportunities on Sunday of speaking both to the Gregorians and Protestant women after their usual services, and of reading my letter.
E. has had a good deal of disappointment here on the manuscript question. The Syrian Patriarch who controls all the MSS. of his Church is said by our consul to be a man of very bad character, in league with, and in fact a nominee of, the Vali here who carried out the massacre.
Whether from our known friendship with the American missionaries or from the simple fact that ignorance and fanaticism hate Western scholarship, the fact is that he has set himself to prevent R. seeing the books he most wished to see, and told the Vali, while we were at Mardin, that he should not let him see them! This is very trying, but we comfort ourselves in the thought that the issue of this matter not being in our hands, but under Divine control, we may leave the matter where it is without fretting about it, E. having done all that has seemed possible to obtain access to these treasures (which undoubtedly exist, and may be, we trust, reserved for some future more successful investigator).
We are going to Harpoot on Monday (the 13th), and expect to stay there a while till we shall have time to hear from England. We were planning to omit Bitlis and Van from our route, partly because of recent events, and the apparent uselessness of expecting to find more valuable MSS. in the present state of panic in these parts, and also because every one here, and the two consuls the most recently, are anxious for us to do all in our power to promote a speedy Government permission for emigration, for which it looks as if our presence in Constantinople to make representations to the authorities, and especially the Ambassadors there, would be a necessary part.
But yesterday we received an urgent appeal from Mr. Atkin, of the Duke of Westminster’s Committee, to remain here for some months longer, we being presumably the only English travellers in this part of the country,
and, since the Red Cross agents are now recalled to Constantinople, the only persons with permission to go from place to place, which lays upon us great responsibility.
Will you aid us in our decision by sending us your united and individual judgment on this matter, for we do not see clearly for ourselves ? Tell us also what the Friends’ Appeal has brought forth, and how we stand as regards funds to administer. Probably we shall leave £100 or £200 for the destitute women here, and our little fund is getting low. Please send our letters still to Mr. Peet, Bible House, Constantinople, as we communicate with him by telegraph. — Yours 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
J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris. Letters from the Scenes of
the Recent Massacres in Armenia. London, James Nisbet & Co.,