LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. XXIV.
HOW TO HELP THE DESOLATED VILLAGES? — CONDITION ABOUND HARPOOT — DESPAIR OF THE VILLAGERS — PETITION FROM HOO-I-LOO FOR REBUILDING OF PROTESTANT CHURCH — VISIT TO THE VILLAGE IN RUINS — MEAL IN AN ORCHARD — ASSESSING THE TAXES OF THE DEAD UPON THE SURVIVORS — PLANS FOR FUTURE WORK — VAN, MALATIA, ETC.
HARPOOT, July 25, 1896.
DEAR FRIENDS, — One of the most difficult problems in connection with the relief of Armenian distress is that of the villages, and it is difficult in two ways. The first is that these villages are so numerous that to deal with them is much the same as trying to deal with single shops, houses, or persons in a city where there has been murder and pillage. One does not know where to begin, and even if one had a millionaire on the Belief Committee, one would hardly know where to stop. But the second reason which makes it hard to help is that a village is a village. It has no walls, nor gates; little or no active government (though that is not always a hardship, when, as in this country, the dogs persistently fraternise with the wolves): and consequently when an attack has once been made upon the Christians either by their neighbours or by outside tribes, the chances are that it will be repeated as often as there is anything worth plundering in the village. In the city, people can combine their strength
(even when disarmed by the Government as the first step in a massacre); they can hide a good deal of their property or carry it from place to place; but what can a poor villager do, who owns a very obvious yoke of oxen, and an almost as obvious store of grain ? I know of several towns that have been able successfully to resist massacre, but I cannot at present recall a successful defence of a village.
And it is the sense of their helplessness in these villages that makes their and our hopelessness, whenever we give way to despair with them. Here at Harpoot, one looks to the south, from the cliffs where we are perched, across a great upland plain bounded on the south by the Taurus mountains, which we crossed on coming from Diarbekir. This plain is well watered by mountain streams and dotted all over with villages, mostly Christian villages, and almost all of them have been burned and destroyed. For days before the massacre and plunder at Harpoot, the missionaries watched the flames rising from one village after another, as the Kurds and Turks drew nearer and nearer to this doomed city. And what is true of this plain is true of every plain and hillside in this part of the country. It is the same to the north of Harpoot, across the Euphrates, where they have not only carried off the spoil of the people, in oxen, grain, implements, and other properties, but have come back again to plunder them of the oxen purchased for them by some of the relief workers (happily the Government has secured restitution of this last bit of plunder), and are even now threatening them with a renewal of the attacks of last
autumn. Is it any wonder that the people feared to till their fields, or that they fear to gather in their harvest, or that they huddle together like sheep, in villages that have not been burned, or where the desolation is less complete ? It is a problem to aid them, a more difficult one to secure them from further danger: both parts of the question appear at first sight equally hopeless.
Some days ago we had an interesting visit from some villagers at the south side of the plain, coming from what was once the richest Christian village in the neighbourhood. The men came to the mission (two of them, if I remember, were the deputation) to ask for advice and help. They had been visited, I believe, some time since by one of the Red Cross agents, who had urged them to begin to rebuild their ruined houses, and had offered to start them by giving £5 a piece to the first ten or twenty houses — an excellent plan, and one that went right to the heart of the difficulty. The people, however, had refused the help, not because they were averse to help, but because they were in despair. What was the use of building what would be pulled down again, or of storing what would be plundered again? So the offer was declined, strange as it may seem. It will help you to understand the discouragement of the people.
Their recent visit was on a slightly different errand. There is (or was) in the village a fine Protestant church, which was built four years ago, and is now wholly destroyed, only the bare walls standing. Since the troubles, they have been holding their service in the Gregorian Armenian church, at the close of the Armenian service;
but without much sympathy from their hosts, who have now told them that they cannot any longer entertain them. So the deputation came to Harpoot to know if something could not be done to put their church in order; they did not want their houses built, but they wanted, so they said, a place to pray in, and they begged for help in rebuilding their house of worship. Dr. Barnum told them that there were no funds available for any such purpose, and sent them away, only promising that we would think over their case. I need hardly say that I was very interested in the people who put God first in this way; and while I do not believe in exterior sanctities, I felt the sanctity of spirits that had become prayerful by misfortune, and wished to know more about them. And so it came about that we planned an expedition to them, and yesterday five of us rode across the plain to examine into things for ourselves.
Hoo-i-loo is the name of the place, as nearly as I can write it from sound (for you will not find it marked on any map), and it lies between three and four hours from here (all distances, as you know, are measured by hours with us, like the German Stunde, and an hour stands for the distance covered by a laden horse in an hour of time, say between three and four miles English). Our party consisted of Mr. Gates, Miss Bush, Miss Emma Barnum, our two selves, our servant, and a zaptieh. There was a cool breeze blowing, and we had a delightful ride across the plain, passing on the way a little Armenian church into which were built two Latin inscriptions, dedicated by Nero to some officers of the third legion. It seemed
appropriate to find the name of Nero here! It ought to be inscribed over the whole country-side, and on a thousand broken walls and ruined homes.
When we came to the village, we found that it consisted of about three hundred houses, and that not more than six were standing. All the rest was brown, bare, broken wall of mud-brick, without a roof, and with hardly a door or a window-shutter left. The people began to come around us and welcome us ; one of the first women that drew near had lost her hand; there was no more than a stump left by the sword of the destroyer.
We went to the ruins of the church; the roof, as I said, was gone, and every piece of timber in the walls was burnt out by fire. The debris had raised the floor by perhaps a foot. The people crowded round with eyes full of tears, the women telling of slain sons and other pitiful things; the pastor, too, came to talk to us — a fine young fellow, in whom we were much interested. We made the tour of the village, found a little Catholic church similarly destroyed; then I took a lesson in archaeology, for I noticed the streets deep in dust from the disintegrating brick, and saw how these mounds or tells were formed that we have seen so many times on our journey. Moreover, it was clear that desolations of this kind had occurred from the earliest times in this country, for how else could we explain the frequency with which such tells or mounds are found ? If the people at Hoo-i-loo do not rebuild, there will be a tell formed there within a couple of years.
One single thing I found which had escaped destruction. High on the wall of a ruined house, in the second storey,
a photograph was nailed. We sent for a pole and got it down. It was a group of Armenian workmen from a factory at Worcester, Mass., and had doubtless been sent home by some happy emigrant to his relations.
When we had finished our tour of the village, we were taken to an orchard, where they had prepared us a meal. “ The robbers have not stolen our gardens,” said the poor people. “No,” I replied, “nor did they steal the sunshine,” at which they brightened up. They set before us great dishes of apricots, apples, plums, and mulberries and cherries prettily arranged with hollyhock blossoms, and brought us milk, both fresh and curdled; and did everything in the way of hospitality that an Eastern people can do so much better than we. And we talked over all their plans, and encouraged them to believe for better days.
I must not forget to state that our study of the village showed that the
houses were fired one by one; those that were spared belonged to Turks. They
were fired by petroleum, the supply of which was brought in a waggon from
Harpoot, by an official of the Government. The man who did it is well known;
and I suppose he will be rewarded by-and-by with promotion, if one may judge
from parallel cases.
And now what are we going to do for these poor people ? We are encouraging them again to rebuild their houses, and shall try to help the foremost of them; and as to the church, who knows but what we may find some way presently to fulfil the desire of their hearts and give them and their pastor a “place to pray in ?”
I must not close this letter without saying how delighted
we were to hear that Friends had sent us £1000 for our work here. Some of it may go to the village of Hoo-i-loo. We shall try to be very wise, very wary, and very economical in the distribution of it, so that all of it may go to the neediest people, and none of it may be turned into taxes. By the way, in regard to taxes, we have bad news from Ourfa; the Government is assessing the taxes of the dead upon the survivors! If this is true, it is one of the most heartless schemes that could be devised, and will throw the people back again just as they are rising. And I am almost certain, from the character and position of my informant, that it is true. — Your sincere friend,
J. R. H.
Extracts from Private Letters.
If all goes well, I hope to see thee and the rest of our friends in about six weeks’ time. Meanwhile letters will still find me if addressed to the Bible House at Constantinople.
J. R. H.
Partly on account of Mr. Atkin’s earnest request to us to continue our reports from this country, and partly because I am glad to remain in the country a while longer, I am letting E. return alone. But I shall continue to write you as before, because there is always so much to tell, and now that E. is going there is (perhaps) less need of reticence in using any information I may give, because the Turks despise women so much I don’t think they will trouble themselves very much about my doings or say-
ings. Both our servants will go with R., and I shall accompany him with two of the missionaries to Malatia and then return here with them, leaving the future to Divine guidance. I am so thankful that your £1000 came, or the news of it, before R. left, so that we could consult about its use.
Please do not forget your lonely friend and sister in the service of Christ, now that my so greatly better other self is going home, and let me have a line from time to time, to old address.
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.,