LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. XXVI.
DETENTION AT HARPOOT OWING TO DIFFICULTIES OF TRANSIT — STORY OF A YOUNG ARMENIAN, JUST RECOVERED FROM HIS WOUNDS, NOW PUT IN PRISON — QUESTION OF THE RELEASE OF THE MANY IMPRISONED ARMENIANS ; IS BRIBERY LAWFUL ? — A HARD CASE — EXAMPLE OF THE EARLY CHURCH — THE MISSIONARIES’ DECISION — LETTER FROM OURFA — TEACHING THE WOMEN AND GIRLS — WORK FOR THE ORPHANS — “HARRIS HOME” IN FULL OPERATION — ONLY THOSE ENTIRELY ORPHANED CAN BE HELPED.
HARPOOT, July 30, 1896.
DEAR FRIENDS, — We are detained here by a concurrence of such events as make travelling in Turkey difficult; for example, the Government is harassing us over the travelling papers of our servants, and I have already spent a Turkish pound in telegraphing; then one of our baggage waggons has been seized by the military pasha, with the promise that he would find us another, and it turns out that the other is broken down and needs repair; and, last of all, one of the waggoners who has turned up is badly drunk, and as these fellows killed a woman this morning, as she stood at her own door, by their reckless driving, we don’t feel like employing a drunken man belonging to a craft where the sober ones are so risky. So we are stopped till to-morrow morning, and perhaps by that time some of the difficulties will be cleared away. Almost every day brings some fresh story of injustice.
One of the most pitiful of recent cases was that of a young Armenian who came to call here; he belongs to a wealthy family, but in the recent troubles he lost father and brother, and almost all their estate : he was wounded in forty places, and you will not be surprised that he has taken eight months to recover; rather you will be surprised at his recovering at all, and will pronounce it an irregular proceeding. And now, just as he is recovering, face to face with a ruined business and a desolated home, the Government have arrested him on a charge of conspiracy, and are searching his house. The ground of this proceeding is, that he wrote a letter to a friend in Erzeroum asking him to assist a poor fellow either to find employment or to escape to Russia. This letter has been intercepted, and is considered evidence of conspiracy. The pathetic side of it lies in the fact that the man has already suffered to the utmost limit, but this does not satisfy the persecutors, and I suppose they will not spare him unless he can bribe his accusers and his judges.
Talking of bribery and its prevalence in the social order, we have been dealing with it in the mission lately as a burning question, which had to be faced, not merely theoretically, but practically. (We are all of us sound theoretically, it is no question of abstract ethics.) The question arose as follows. As you know, the prisons in Turkey are filled with leading people from the Armenian community, especially with Protestant teachers and preachers, who are the chief agents of civilisation in this country, and therefore the favourite victims of the Government in their attempts to reduce the Armenian
people to primitive serfdom and savagery. In Malatia, and in Arabkir, two neighbouring towns, there are many-Armenians in prison, all of them known to be innocent of the political offences with which they are charged, and none of them as yet honoured with a trial, although they have spent two-thirds of a year waiting for it.
Well, last week the leading Armenians out of prison succeeded in opening communications with the authorities for the release of the leading Armenians in the prison. An intimation was made that the major part of them would be released on a payment of £80 Turkish. The people were prepared to close with the offer. They raised £40, and came to the missionaries (and I suppose to ourselves) to aid in the good work of emancipation of the brethren. The terms were not bad; the Government would allow all the prisoners except four or five to go out, reserving only the handful in question for trial, in order that the world might see that it was the Armenians who made all the trouble, from which it looks as if they meant to hang five, but were not particular which five.
Here comes the rub! The missionaries say (with one or two exceptions), “ We have never bribed, and we never will, if we once begin this, even with good ends in view, there will be no end to the claims that will be brought forward, and we shall encourage injustice, &c.;” others pleaded the importance of the liberation of the preachers and teachers at this crisis; and, for the sake of argument, I reasoned on their side, pointing out that we do not pay people to do wrong, but to do right; just as in the Customhouse, when you have nothing contraband, you pay to be
let alone, and are guiltless of any wrong to the revenue. Also I quoted the Apology of Aristides, who says of the early Christians that if any of their number are imprisoned for the sake of their Messiah, they help him to the best of their ability, and if it be possible that he be liberated, they liberate him. These words imply, at the time when they were written, the maintenance of the prisoner from outside, and his release by what we should call bribery, but which in the Bast is named backsheesh.
However, I do not think our friends here thought the argument convincing; they have indeed supplied the needs of the imprisoned by money, food, &c, but shrink from direct interference with the distribution of justice and with the repression of injustice.
Probably they are right, especially as their choice of a selected number of prisoners would involve the execution of the remainder — a grave responsibility — and in the end we all agreed, I think, to do nothing; we naturally come to that conclusion in the special case, because we do not feel that we have any funds to spend that way. It is, however, very interesting to find oneself discussing a problem which must have often presented itself in the early Christian Church, and which, I imagine, they usually settled in a different way to ours. The Armenians do not understand our attitude, but then they are so accustomed to pay blackmail for everything, that they have hardly reached the point at which the problem asserts itself.
One thing, however, is clear to me; that just as one is obliged to suffer with the people when we are not free to struggle for them; so if we cannot open prison doors with
golden keys, we must find some other keys, in the shape of lawful persuasion. If only we might be able to do something in this work! — With every good wish, your sincere friend,
J. R. H.
Extracts from Letter from Miss Shattuck.
OURFA, June 27, 1896.
PROFESSOR AND MRS. H.
MY DEAR FRIENDS, — We can’t get permission even for Burbulian to come here as preacher. The poor people are all wanting a pastor. Mr. Knadjian and the old preacher of the Protestant Syrians preach for us on the Sabbath; the church reopened during the week. The women teachers I have had to increase, and also to put in teachers from house to house, so many of the women are intent on learning to read. The large girls, many of whose betrothed have been killed, are in our school, and have one appointed to teach them at as fast a rate as they can follow, and meanwhile to read the Gospels to them giving the life of our Lord, and they are required to give back from memory what they can.
I had not called at the Palace since the week you left till last Friday. The wife of the Pasha inquired particularly for you, Mrs. H., and sent salaams. The son informed me that “an American traveller is expected here, name not in mind.” I suspect it is some one who has come and gone, as long after Messrs. Wistar and Wood had left us our inspectors reported their “ intended visit to Ourfa.”
The sums you have given I indicate by enclosed receipt.
Including Yevnige’s Vohan, we have in Harris Home
twenty-nine, i.e., twenty-seven children. We have the necessity of opening a second home for girls, and I am doing this now (Monday). We took in no girls last week for want of room. We have several on the list, also boys to be received immediately. I am having stone-men enlarging kitchen in our back yard, so we yet are far from order and quiet, but since it is the season for sleeping outdoors we get on tolerably well. We have eighteen, and four to come in to-day; all are complete orphans but one, and the sons of the matron at Harris Home. We dare not yet open the way for half-orphans, though many widows unable to care for their many children want to give us one. The unbounded confidence in any plans I make for these poor women and children throws upon me a very heavy responsibility. The Lord grant us all wisdom and grace for what is our part to carry on the great work.
— Very affectionately,
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.,