LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
NOTES OF INFORMATION from J. R. H. to a Special Meeting of the Society of Friends held in London, Sept. 4, 1896.
I. — GENERAL FEATURES OF THE H.’S MISSION — THE AMERICAN MISSIONARIES’ GRAND WORK — RECONSTRUCTION OF THE BROKEN SOCIAL MACHINE — HOUSE-BUILDING — THE WIDOWS, ORPHANS, AND SCHOOL CHILDREN — SAFE ADMINISTRATION OF THE FUNDS — THE OURFA WORK — SPIRITUAL LIFE AMONGST THE PEOPLE : MANY POWERFUL MEETINGS — THE PROGRESSIVES OF THE EAST — FELLOWSHIP IN THE CROSS — THE CONSTANTINOPLE MASSACRE : PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
II. — NARRATIVE OF JOURNEY FROM HARPOOT — MALATIA : A RUINED COMMUNITY : FIFTEEN HUNDRED ORPHANS AND FIVE HUNDRED WIDOWS — GREAT MEETING IN AN ORCHARD : HYMN-SINGING : BREAKING THE SPELL OF DESPAIR — HELP TO THE SCHOOLS: THE SECTS UNITING — HELP FOR THE ORPHANS — RESTORING OF HOMES — ARABKIR AND GURUN : A TRIANGLE OF DESTRUCTION — H. B. H.’S CONVICTIONS FOR VAN — SIVAS : A TERRIBLE MASSACRE — TOKAT, AMASIA, AND MARSIVAN.
I. — GENERAL NOTICE OF THE MISSION OF J. R. AND H. B. H. TO ARMENIA.
J. R. H. described some of the delays and difficulties they had met with, but which had proved generally helpful in the end, e.g., they could not have well got into the country earlier than they did, or at a better moment. They had indeed been wonderfully guided.
Their great care in going to work silently had not
perhaps been understood at first, but events had shown it was wise.
They had been able to visit every city they designed to visit; once only having met with prohibition as to route. They soon found that no fresh organisation was wanted: the Armenian question is an American one. The civilisation of Asia Minor is American; it is covered by a network of American agencies; there are good colleges and schools, medical colleges, and schools for training preachers. The same thing is going on as in Bulgaria: the Americans are training the future rulers of the country. The Armenians were getting wealthy, enterprising, full of skill and commercial activity, thus provoking the hostility of the Turk, and furnishing a seed-bed of persecution. Our friends always co-operated, where they could, with the American missionaries as well as with the English Consuls, and never had he met with more beautiful cooperation than with the Americans, who were always at their service.
It felt like putting together a clock that had been smashed: it was a piece of broken society, and you had to study the conditions of life, beginning at the bottom — food, clothing, shelter — working up. Suppose in one of our towns, one half of the shops were looted, one fifth of the population dead or wounded, one fifth of the women widows, it would be very difficult to put it all together again. Whole trades had disappeared: you want to shoe a horse, all the smiths are dead; tools are stolen, and the workmen have nothing, and cannot get them back. The social problem was therefore very difficult, requiring much
adaptation and skill. What could they do ? Put together those who belonged
together — try to construct a commonwealth out of ruins !
The capital necessary for this would be, indeed, almost boundless; it was absolutely impossible to undo the work that the Turks and Kurds had done by giving money. You come into a village where every house but five or six are in ruins, and in the midst of these ruins the people are living and sleeping, with very little to cover them. The villagers say, “ It is useless: the houses will only be pulled down again if we build them;” but you converse with them, and you see that if some would build a few houses others would follow suit. This is the true evolutionary line. Our friends supplied not money, but materials for building, the people found labour; they built five or six small houses, and this furnished a nucleus: others would then build. It would take £10,000 or £15,000 to rebuild a village; they could only put down £100 worth of raw materials as a beginning.
They devoted attention to this because the winter was coming, and they saw
that many would die of cold as well as starvation.
Then as to the widows and orphans: No one else was working for them, that part of the community was incapable of recovering itself: men could begin again and go to work; the child is helpless, and widows nearly so. In Malatia there were 1560 orphans and 500 widows, and almost every Christian house was ruined. Imagine the state of fear and despair in which the people were. Our friends took hold of the question, and began to
organise, collecting some of the orphans into little groups, and setting women to take care of them. The children were running wild about the streets, playing at massacre, and learning everything that was bad. Our friends induced the Gregorians and Protestants at Malatia to combine in a school committee, and they then furnished accommodation for 1500 children for the present.1 They saw no other way of restoring the social machine.
Something permanent was thus done. Others had given away corn; the harvest was being collected, and was a rich one. They had not therefore given much for food, and never gave money, lest the Turks should take it away. The Turks had indeed made strenuous efforts to get at the relief funds, and not always without success, but so far as he knew they had got none of theirs.
They had gone over the length and breadth of the country, having ridden 1500 miles: H. B. H. would probably ride another 1000. Some journeys were very-rough and dangerous; they could not have done it without a sense of Divine help, and the prayers of the people of God, which they felt were given them. We should not now diminish our intercessions, but remember the one left behind, who had taken the hardest part of the work, and was bearing the burden. May the Lord preserve her and bring her back!
Some of the work had developed in a remarkable degree, especially at Ourfa. They came there at its worst point.
1 Obstacles have been thrown in our way in the prosecution of this plan, which we hope will be surmounted.
The condition was something like that in England after the Black Death. The price of labour had risen, and this made revival easier. The Turks tried to get complete control of trades, &c, but could not. Our friends undertook 20 orphans to begin with, and tried to restore the school for 700 children; now Miss Shattuck writes there are 70 orphans and 1100 children under care, and the city has largely recovered, and trade and industry are reviving. The place where things were worst has now a better prospect than most.
He had had many precious and beautiful opportunities of speaking to the people, through an interpreter — many large and powerful meetings. The Turks sent watchers to try and find objectionable matter, but exhausted their subtlety in seeking for such. He had two or three thousand people at a meeting, and they would listen all day, if you would speak: like the early Friends’ meetings, where there was no clock but the celestial ones.
The Gregorian Armenians were as a rule willing to help them; sometimes they were suspicious and would not, but generally otherwise. H. B. H. had a large women’s meeting at Malatia: the priests were present and sympathetic.
After these meetings they seemed to get hold of the length and breadth of the community: every one comes and tells you their trouble, and in a little while you can take stock of the situation, and begin to put the works together.
There is a good work to be done amongst these people: they are not savages, but the progressives of the East.
They know your sciences, your mechanics, and are rapidly imbibing the principles of Protestantism. There are many deep and sincere Christians, loyal to Jesus Christ; many have borne every discredit and dishonour for the Great Name. In one case, a man at Malatia was riddled with bullets in the form of a cross, that, as they said, Jesus Christ might find him if He wanted him. A woman came to J. R. H. to ask why God permitted such dishonour to His Name: she was referred to the Gospel, where Jesus was reviled and taunted on the cross. The people were thus down at the lowest point in regard to faith, and in danger of gravitating to despair. He hoped that their service had helped the people, and had shown them that God rules through all.
There is still need of caution at present in any publication, as a hostage is in the enemy’s country.
J. R. H. arrived at Constantinople on Sunday, August 24th, and for two days was engaged in trying to see ambassadors and other persons of influence, but without much avail. Miss Kimball, from Van, with whom and her two companions he had travelled from Samsoun, while walking down the streets of Galata, said, “ These streets will run with blood before long.” They did so. It was known that something was going to happen.
J. R. H.’s personal experience in the streets during the massacre on Wednesday generally confirmed the newspaper accounts. It was systematically organised: the carts were ready, and the wards of the city were taken one after another; the porter of one hotel said ninety-six carts of dead bodies passed the door before 4 A.M.
on Friday morning; not a single male Armenian was left, it is said, in one quarter: they were hunted like rabbits.
II. — NOTES OF J. R. H.’S JOURNEY.
Chiefly a Summary of Circular Letter No. XXVII.
Taking up the thread of our narrative from Harpoot, July 30th: We went from Harpoot to Malatia: Shakir Pasha, the Reform Commissioner, was there; the British Consul went also, and some missionaries from Harpoot. There was much excitement in the place on our coming, the whole town came out to view us, and we were welcomed remarkably.
We were much surprised at what we found. At Harpoot it had been a country difficulty, a village question, many of the houses were not destroyed; the lives had been mainly spared, — a few hundred people killed. In Malatia it was a contrast. A city, in which the destruction of life was awful, almost all the houses were down; it was like Ourfa again, where there were very few Christian villages outside the city.
We visited Shakir Pasha, and called on the Mutessarif,—it was he who gave the direct orders for the massacres; he killed the Christians even in the Government buildings, ordered them out in the street and had them shot under his eyes, when they begged to be spared. We asked permission of Shakir Pasha for H. B. H. to pay a visit to his wife. She is a European (Polish). . . .
After these arrangements on the Saturday, we looked about the city, a beautiful one, a city of gardens — every
house in its own garden, with streams of water running through; perhaps 40,000 inhabitants. The houses were not as at Ourfa of stone, but of mud bricks and poplar beams, some very beautiful, but destroyed easily, simply burnt out; 500 or 600 had gone, only two or three Christian houses were left, — we had one. The people were living in gardens and on the ground. The place had been visited by the Red Cross Mission.
There are no missionaries living at Malatia: it is under the Harpoot station, the preaching all done by natives, and well done. There are 1560 orphans in the city, and over 500 widows. In one ward of the city there was only one male Christian left. Christians are perhaps one in nine of the population; there were killed altogether about 3000 (November 1895). Very little news of this came to Europe. The people defended themselves in the Armenian church, barricaded themselves on the roof of the church with the stones found there, and kept up fire for eight days, till the Government was obliged to send them protection.
The missionaries and ourselves examined into the state of the city. On the Sunday we went to see the Protestant church, which we found ruined and the school destroyed; it was a large and a beautiful church, not yet completed. The pastor was in prison; we tried to get him released. We had a meeting in an orchard, where there was a verandah; the people came, and the missionaries also, a large crowd in the open air under the trees. I spoke, of course through an Armenian interpreter. I asked the people to sing a hymn; some hymns are not allowed by
the Turks (as, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun”). They said, “ We can’t sing; we have not sung anything since the massacre.” I said, “ You must sing :” a lady started a hymn, and by-and-by the whole congregation joined in. This broke the spell, — the apathetic despairing mood of the people; they had “ hung their harps on the willows,” and we got them down. I spoke, it was a very good meeting ; they said it was what was wanted, and their condition had been spoken to.
Then the people began to visit us, and we learned the state of the city. It was like Ourfa, but with the complication that the people were houseless, and there was not the same number of wounded.
We left after three days. H. B. H. stayed on and investigated the whole of the city for orphans and widows. We examined the question of the schools. I promised to put a roof on the Protestant school-house, so that they would meet there on Sundays for worship. Understanding that we were going to help the Protestant school, the Gregorians also asked help. We made them a similar offer to that which we had made at Ourfa. “ Were the Gregorians prepared to join the Protestants in a common School Committee ? ” Yes, they were now willing. So we put our heads together and reorganised the school, to take 1500 children, Protestant and Gregorian. The people were penniless: Armenian schools are generally independent and self-supporting; now the children were running wild in the town. We arranged this, getting a builder to roof the school-room.
As to the Orphans: We could not found an orphanage
(had no firman from the Government), so we did as before, got some of the best women to take the children into their homes, and to look after them at an estimate of so much per head; twenty to begin with, and I telegraphed afterwards to take more.
Houses had to be built. Of course we could not rebuild a city, even though labour is cheap. So we set a good example to stimulate them to rebuild, provided materials for certain houses — maybe we shall build ten or twelve houses to encourage the others. The people in winter will be making mud bricks for themselves. “Will they be destroyed again ? ” Well, we must relieve ; we can’t speculate as to the future. The people said, “It is no good, the houses will be pulled down, and we shall be plundered.” Miss Bush of Harpoot was put at the head of the schools.
All our money is kept in the mission safes, and none of it, as far as we know, has been lost.
Malatia forms a triangle with other two towns (Arabkir and Gurun) that have been very roughly treated. Arabkir was visited by the Red Cross Mission early in the spring, when typhus was raging (2000 cases), and they had done chiefly medical work.
H. went back to Harpoot, travelling with two missionaries (Mr. Gates and Miss Bush) to that place. She is staying on with a prospect of further relief work in the country.
I worked my way down from Malatia to Sivas by Saturday night, five long days’ journey. There was a very terrible massacre there, the Protestant pastor was shot and
many leading Christians. I put up at the American Mission. On Sunday I preached in the Protestant church, and there were other services also throughout the day. I stayed to meet the English and American Consuls; they were all of one mind, the situation is intolerable, a disgrace to England.
I reached Tokat two days after (where Henry Martyn died); there had been no trouble there, but the people were threatened.
Amasia came next, after two days more. The people here were plundered, but helped one another. No outside aid required.
I was at Marsovan for Sunday, and preached in the church. The town was badly treated. Much relief money had been received, and all put into industries. Fifty looms were started, and thus they got all the money back again (the relief work has therefore become self-supporting). I found a difficulty as to drugs; one of the lady missionaries was providing them out of her own salary.
I came on to Constantinople on August 24.
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.,