LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. XXXV.
DEPARTURE PROM HARPOOT — DELAYS, FAREWELLS — TOILSOME JOURNEY’ — ARABKIR — A FINE CITY, IN RUINS — THE BETTER CLASSES IN POVERTY — VISITS FROM THE WOMEN TILL STOPPED BY THE GOVERNOR — A HEROIC TURKISH ZAPTIEH : VISIT TO HIS SICKBED.
ARABKIR, October 6, 1896.
DEAR FRIENDS, — To the last moment of leaving Har-poot it seemed very doubtful whether we could get off. Our teskerehs had not come, nor our zaptiehs, and the Consul, whom we had expected in the morning, did not appear either, and so we dressed for our journey and sat down to lunch (after which we were to make our start for a five hours’ ride), with rather heavy hearts.
Pretty soon it seemed as if our fears were to be realised, as a message from the Consul reached us that the Vali had requested that we would defer our visit, but that he had insisted, and hoped for the best; that, however, he had promised for us if we went that we would not enter Eghin for ten days (this, of course, to give the authorities there time to remove, as far as possible, the traces of the recent bloody work before our arrival). Later the Consul arrived, and later still, the soldiers, and then we knew we were really to go — but not till the very last moment!
After so long a stay at Harpoot, you can imagine that the last farewells meant a wrench for me at least, and
indeed all the previous morning farewell deputations, and callers, had been coming to see me, one being a number of the leading Protestant men (the pastor included) of one of the churches, and a visit of this sort is something that cannot be hurried; and so packing has to be let take care of itself. These Oriental peoples do not feel as we do about last and first moments, but always come both to speed the parting and welcome the coming guest at the wrong time, just when English people would have the consideration to leave them in quiet; yet one cannot complain, even inwardly, they are so courteous and unconscious of being out of place.
However, all these partings over, the last words said, and handkerchiefs waved for the last time to the Mission Station, we started out — the Consul and Dr. and Mrs. Barnum accompanying us for about an hour. I will not detain you with the details of the journey, except to say that it was a pretty hard one on account of our having to keep with the mules because of carrying so much money for relief, and as they did not unload in the middle of the day we were nine hours without food one day — and kept in the saddle pretty much all day long — which was a severe tax on my newly returning strength — though our missionary friends made light of it, and Miss Bush (who is a wonderful woman) did not mind at all.
We reached this city on the third day, and received the usual warm welcome from all classes of Christians. The Protestant mission station here was not destroyed when the massacre took place, because an influential Turkish colonel lives on the adjoining premises, and is friendly to
the pastor and to Christians generally; so he protected this house and others in this neighbourhood, while the ten other Christian quarters were destroyed and reduced to heaps of ruins.
This must have been a really fine city before its destruction ; the houses which remain are far prettier than those of any city I have yet visited in Asia Minor, and with the lovely gardens, and glorious mountains and hills around, it must have been a most attractive spot; and here, they say, numbers of Armenian merchants, after living their business lives at Constantinople or in Egypt’ &c, retired and built beautiful residences in which to spend a peaceful close of life. These houses are almost every one razed to the ground, and the merchants are either butchered or in abject poverty. One of them, seventy years of age, called on Miss B. and myself yesterday and told such a tale; and the gentlemen of our party from eight in the morning till six at night, with hardly ten minutes’ intermission for lunch, are hearing the recitals of such cases one after another, with their secretary at hand making out the list for relief, according to their decision of each case’s need.
Miss Bush and I commenced a similar work with the dear women, having a prepared list, and admitting them to our room one by one. In this way we had heard the sad and terrible tales of about thirty, nearly all widows, whose husbands had been killed — when the kaimakam (governor) stopped us. “ What do these ladies want with our women ? they are writing stories to send to England!” so he forbade any more coming to us.
I wish, dear friends, you could have seen these women—many of them the wives and daughters of the merchants aforesaid— ladies who lately were the mistresses of beautiful homes, some of whom had on earlier visits entertained Miss Bush most hospitably. Each entered our room with her head and face veiled; then she came, at my request (after the usual salutation), to sit by me ; then at our first words of inquiry and kindly pressure of the poor hands came the invariable burst of tears; then, after soothing and encouragement, the tale of woe, the promise of help, the word of sympathy, and the closing salutation, and she retires as quietly as she entered. Often in parting, however, after kissing our hands and retiring, the dear women would come quickly back and embrace one or both of us, kiss my cheeks fervently, my hands again, and twice, my feet as well, lay their heads on our shoulders, salute again, burst into fresh tears, cover themselves all over with their veils, and go out weeping.
All through our two mornings thus employed, through our open windows we were nearly deafened with the drum-beating going on in the next house, because of the circumcision at one time of five of the colonel’s little sons. Every hour, nearly every minute since we came, has this hideous “tom-toming,” the Turkish as well as Chinese expression of rejoicing, been going on, dreary in the extreme, and a painful contrast to the weeping and lamentation in this house.
Yesterday Miss Bush went to the colonel’s house to share the festivities with a large company of Turkish ladies. I was also invited but declined, my apology being
that I was not very well. In the afternoon, feeling a little revived, I went with Miss Bush on quite another errand, although it was to visit a Turk.
Last year, a day before the massacre here, Miss Bush and another lady missionary
left Arabkir to return to Harpoot, it being most important for them to rejoin
the Harpoot party. They were in great danger from bands of Kurds, who thronged
the whole intermediate country. With great difficulty they obtained a horse
soldier as well as one on foot to accompany them. On the road the horse soldier
was twice stopped by Kurds, who demanded that the ladies should be given over
to them, and one Kurd said he would kill Miss Bush and have her horse; the
zaptieh replied that he would himself be killed before they should touch the
ladies, and so he carried them safely through the three days from point to
danger. His name was ____ ____ , a poor soldier, worthy of much honour.
He is a native of this place and a kaimakam’s son, though poor now, and lives about an hour’s ride over the hills, and Miss Bush, having heard that he was very ill, kindly allowed me to accompany her in visiting him, which I felt very glad to be able to do, and so, attended by one of our men and a zaptieh, we started out, and had to begin with a most lovely ride through a succession of wonderful mountain passes, bringing us at last to a burst of Alpine scenery both exquisite and grand in the extreme, and such that, were it only accessible, would attract the entire touring world.
We paid it our tribute of admiration, and praised God
that such beauty had cheered our eyes, and then dismounting, entered a not uncomfortable nor uncleanly house, and were very kindly received by the poor wife. Soon we were permitted to enter the sick man’s room and to sit on a cushion laid close by his side on the floor, and to see the best side of the Turk. He extended his hand, and Miss Bush took the poor, thin, trembling hand in hers, and spoke so tenderly to him, it did my heart good; and then she told him who I was, and as I thanked him on behalf of my country for saving her life at the risk of his own, he took my hand in both of his so gratefully. We stayed a long time with him, and both of us offered a word of prayer for him in English, and he would not let us go without refreshment, and I will tell you what the wife brought us. First, sherbet, then coffee, then a little table was brought in and placed between us, and a tray followed with leben, or sour curd, honey, dried cream, butter, and sweetmeats, and a sheet of their native bread. Oh, how the sick man watched that nothing should be omitted due to paying us the highest honour! It was so thoroughly the reverse side of the picture that I am accustomed to in a Turk, that it touched me very much. Then, knowing that in spite of this hospitality he was almost penniless, we both gave him a little pre-sent, which he hid under his bed, and for which he gave us outpourings of gratitude, only begging that our present zaptieh, a bad-looking man, might not know of our having given it.
Probably this was because if it were known, either it would be stolen or create jealousy. Indeed Miss B. says
the story of his goodness to her must not he published with his name, or it may ruin him; but for my part I think in a very little while he will be beyond the confusions of this world and its power to injure, and in the presence of his God, where I can but believe he will be tenderly and mercifully dealt with. Oh, how he looked at us with his great dark eyes! and how tightly he held our hands in his white, delicately shaped, trembling ones, as if he could not bear for us to go! To my mind we represented to him an idea — only vaguely comprehended — of a totally different order of life and thought and love from that around him, and he had unity of spirit with us rather than with it, and tried in his poor way to express it. God bless and save him, and may we meet him again above!
With this recital I will close this letter, reserving the finish of our visit at Arabkir for my next, and then will come Eghin. — Your affectionate friend,
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.,