LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. XXIII.
JOURNEY FROM DIARBEKIR TO HARPOOT — TAURUS MOUNTAINS — SOURCE OF THE TIGRIS — HEROIC BAND OP MISSIONARIES AT HARPOOT : STORY OF THEIR PRESERVATION DURING THE MASSACRE AND IN THE PRESENCE OF DEATH.
HARPOOT, July 22, 1896.
DEAR FRIENDS, — We left Diarbekir for Harpoot early on the morning of July 13, accompanied for the first hour or so of our journey by our kind friend and host, Mr. Hallward. Towards evening we began our ascent of the Taurus mountains, and all the following day were in their midst, now climbing up, up, up; and then winding down again through some narrow pass or beside the edge of some steep precipice, while all around the wild and lonely mountain scenery every moment seemed to offer some fresh beauty or wonder to our view.
We kept very near the Tigris a good part of the way, and at one part it was extremely beautiful, rushing over a rocky bed with great volume and force. We believed we finally traced its source to a wonderful blue lake of “ incredible crystal,” as Mr. Ruskin would say, which lies high up amid the mountains, lonely and without even a boat on its surface, reminding us very much of the Sea of Galilee (except that it is smaller), and our imaginations, looking forward to the good time coming when this country shall be open to civilisation, pictured it a lovely
summer resort for the dwellers on the neighbouring plains, all dotted over with white sails, and its shores with happy homes.
Our descent on the third day into the great plain on the northern side of the Taurus was very tedious and trying, especially as we accomplished it under a blazing sun — but our good horses never once made a false step — and before evening we had arrived at the Government village Mezreh, at the foot of the steep hill of 1000 feet high, on the summit of which Harpoot stands, and were met and kindly greeted by our Consul, Mr. Fontana, and also by Dr. Barnum and Mr. Ellis, two of the missionaries from Harpoot, who, after we had stayed a little while in conversation with the Consul (who lives at Mezreh), escorted us up the hill to their fortress-like town. In riding across the plain, we had come through much desolation and two ruined and burned villages, and on entering the town, we rode through the entirely ruined Christian quarter until we arrived at the American Mission, where four buildings only remained standing out of twelve, the rest being heaps of ruins.
The kindest welcome awaited us here as at every mission station previously visited, and we were soon at home with this heroic little band, every one of whom has faced immediate and terrible death without fear or flinching. This is no figure of speech, for their destruction was evidently intended by the authorities here, if not by those at Constantinople, and it was not by any Government protection (as with Miss Shattuck at Ourfa), but by direct Providential intervention that they were saved.
The soldiers were ranged on the hill-side below, and the cannon planted pointing at their buildings, which stood high above the Christian quarter, and the bullets fell in showers upon the premises, while one shell burst in Dr. Barnum’s little study, and we saw the path it made and where it broke, with its own remains, which he keeps as a relic.
The officials put the blame for this disgraceful attack on those above them when not on the Armenians themselves, and justice and truth are things unknown.
And this continued reign of deceit and lies and oppression is never for a moment varied by the opposite. The poor villagers send constantly to the mission with one tale of sorrow or another. The Kurds are taking their harvest, for example; the missionaries tell this to the Vali, with name of village, date of robbery, &c, who professes to be as much interested as they in the good of the people; and then follows the invariable report, which sounds like an echo of the Sultan’s letter to Queen Victoria last winter, “ We have made all inquiries, and we find none of these complaints are true,” and that is the end!
This neighbourhood has suffered more largely in pillage and destruction of property than any other in Armenia, and already about £ 30,000 has been spent here, and over 73,000 people kept alive, and still the needs are almost as great as ever. There is not a village rebuilt yet of the more than 150 which have been pulled down and burned.1
The tale our missionary friends here (Dr. and Mrs. and
1 A waggon-load of kerosene cans was supplied by the Government to the Kurds for the purpose, &c.
Miss Barnum, Mr. Ellis, and two single ladies) told us of the time of the tragedy here, was most thrilling. They were all together, with over 100 of their people, afterwards 400 gathered round them, and driven by the fire and the whistling of bullets from one place to another. They had also with them two aged and paralysed missionaries, who had to be carried — a Mr. Wheeler and Mrs. Allen — and they all found a temporary shelter on the top of the roof of the girls’ school-room, since burned, which having a little parapet around, was some protection from the observation of the soldiers on the opposite hill. Here they expected and prepared to die together, but after a while, finding the entrance to the boys’ school-room, which was on higher ground, accessible, they planned a united retreat thither. In doing so they were deliberately fired at by a Turk, who had found his way to the roof on which they were, as well as became again the targets for a brief space of the soldiers’ bullets. The Turk aimed too high, else one or more must have been killed, his bullet was found in the gateway they passed through afterwards ; and as for the rest, the Lord had evidently given His angels charge concerning His servants to protect them in all their ways, and these bullets also did not touch them.
I asked our friends what their feelings were under these terrible circumstances, and I will give you some of their replies as nearly verbatim as possible. One said: “ I had always feared death till then, but at that moment all fear was taken from me and death seemed nothing.” Another said : “I believe my husband was almost disappointed we did not go, it would have been so lovely to have been taken
out of all the confusion and trouble here, by a brief pang, and all together.” She also told me she had unloosed her dress in front that a sword should meet with no hindrance in its thrust, and so she should go the quicker. A third said: “ My thought was a query whether a bullet going through me, would have force to wound Mr. Wheeler or not” (the helpless friend whom he was assisting to carry); and Dr. Barnum said: “I assure Mrs. H. there was not a woman screamed on our whole ground, and our ladies were as calm and collected as they are now.”
The evident Divine protection over these servants of the Lord extended to the scholars also. When the buildings were fired, sixty of the young girls made their escape to neighbouring houses, each of her own choice taking from her small stock of possessions neither jewellery nor clothes, but just her little Bible under her arm. All of these girls returned safely two days after, when the immediate danger was over, and then indeed there was excitement and many tears, and Mrs. Barnum said she was so hugged by the women and girls in their joy, it was hard for her to keep on her feet!
When one contrasts this safety with the dreadful occurrences outside the mission circle, it is the more remarkable. Only a very short distance from Harpoot, for example, thirty-two women, headed by a noble and very intelligent woman well known to the missionaries, had thrown themselves into the Euphrates and were drowned, to escape apparently otherwise unavoidable dishonour, and more than one father played the part of Virginius of old and killed his daughter outright.
The missionaries lost everything they had in the looting
that followed the massacre and fire, but have since bought back a good deal, so that they are living quite comfortably now; but the Government holds out no hope of any indemnity for rebuilding at present, and objects even to small walls being put up, for immediate convenience.1
As the post is now going out I must conclude, and remain for us both, yours always affectionately,
HELEN B. H.
1 A tiny statistical return will assist the imagination to grasp the extent of the desolation in the districts of Harpoot and Palu: —
Statistics for Palu and its Forty-three Villages.
|Armenian houses||. . .||2,074||Kidnapped girls||. . .||43|
|Number of Armenians||. . .||14,878||„ women||. . .||152|
|Houses plundered||. . .||2,059||Girls married to Turks||. . .||29|
|„ burned||. . .||755||Women „ „||. . .||21|
|„ destroyed afterwards||. . .||259||Girls returned||. . .||16|
|Killed||. . .||900||Women „||. . .||92|
|Wounded||. . .||513||Churches destroyed||. . .||44|
|Families converted||. . .||474||Monasteries „||. . .||2|
|Individuals „||. . .||3,181||Schools „||. . .||37|
|„ circumcised||. . .||603||Ecclesiastics killed||. . .||16|
This list does not include those who died from fear and exposure. The kidnapping represents but a small part of the violence done to women.
Statistics gathered at Gregorian Episcopate for Harpoot
its Seventy-three villages
|Needy persons||. . .||26,990||Forced conversion of men|
|Houses plundered||. . .||6,029||and women||. . .||7,664|
|„ burned||. . .||1,861||Wounded||. . .||1,315|
|Churches badly injured and||Miscarriages||. . .||829|
|defiled||. . .||29||Killed in fields and highways||. . .||280|
|Churches burned||. . .||15||Persons burned||. . .||56|
|Protestant chapels destroyed||. . .||5||Died of hunger and cold||. . .||1,014|
|„ „ badly||Suicides||. . .||23|
|damaged||. . .||18||Martyrs||Bishops||. . .||1|
|Monasteries burned||. . .||2||Priests||. . .||11|
|„ damaged||. . .||4||Protestant ministers||. . .||3|
|Forced marriages to Turks||. . .||166||Teachers||. . .||7|
|Rape||. . .||2,300||Men, women, and children||. . .||1,903|
|Forced conversion of priests||. . .||12||Total deaths||. . .||4,127|
Loss of property . . 1,651,956 lires Turkish.
This does not include Malatia, Arabkir, Egin, Charsanjak, Gighi, Palu, Choonkoosh, and Diarbekir districts.
These statistics have been carefully prepared.
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.,