VILAYET OF BITLIS.
The Vilayet of Bitlis lies due west of Van, across the Lake. The chief Armenian centres in the province were the town of Bitlis itself, commanding the principal pass leading from the lake-basin to the upper valley of the Tigris ; the town and villages of Moush, situated in the only considerable plain along the course of the Mourad Su or Eastern Euphrates ; and the semi-independent highland community of Samoun, a group of Armenian villages in the massif of mountains which separates Moush from the headwaters of the Tigris and the lowlands of Diyarbekir.
The extermination of the Armenians in these three places was an act of revenge for the successful resistance of the Armenians at Van and the advance of the Russian forces to their relief. There was no pretence here of deportation, and the Armenians were destroyed, without regard for appearances, by outright massacre, accompanied in many cases by torture.
21. THE NORTH-EASTERN VILAYETS : STATEMENT COMMUNICATED BY THE REFUGEE ROUPEN, OF SASSOUN, TO THE ARMENIAN COMMUNITY AT MOSCOW ; PUBLISHED IN THE RUSSIAN PRESS, AND SUBSEQUENTLY REPRINTED IN THE "GAZETTE DE LAUSANNE," 13th FEBRUARY, 1916.
At the beginning of the European war, the "Dashnaktzoutioun" Party met in congress at Erzeroum in order to decide on the attitude to be observed by the Party. As soon as they beard of this congress, the Young Turks hastened to send their representatives to Erzeroum to propose that the Party should declare its intention of aiding and defending Turkey, by organising an insurrection in the Caucasus in the event of a declaration of war between Turkey and Russia. According to the project of the Young Turks, the Armenians were to pledge themselves to form legions of volunteers and to send them to the Caucasus with the Turkish propagandists, to prepare the way there for the insurrection.
The Young Turk representatives had already brought their propagandists with them to Erzeroum---27 individuals of Persian, Turkish, Lesghian and Circassian nationality. Their chief was Emir Hechmat, who is at present organising bands of rebels at Hamadan (Persia). The Turks tried to persuade the Armenians that the Caucasian insurrection was inevitable ; that very shortly the Tatars, Georgians and mountaineers would revolt, and that the Armenians would consequently be obliged to follow them.
They even sketched the future map of the Caucasus.
The Turks offered to the Georgians the provinces of Koutais and of Tiflis, the Batoum district and a part of the province of Trebizond ; to the Tatars, Shousha, the mountain country as far as Vladivkavkaz, Bakou, and a part of the province of Elisavetpol ; to the Armenians they offered Kars, the province of Erivan, a part of Elisavetpol, a fragment of the province of Erzeroum, Van and Bitlis. According to the Young Turk scheme, all these groups were to become autonomous under a Turkish protectorate. The Erzeroum Congress refused these proposals, and advised the Young Turks not to hurl themselves into the European conflagration---a dangerous adventure which would lead Turkey to ruin.
The Young Turks were irritated by this advice.
"This is treason! " cried Boukhar-ed-Din-Shakir, one of the delegates from Constantinople: " You take sides with Russia in a moment as critical as this; you refuse to defend the Government ; you forget that you are enjoying its hospitality!
But the Armenians held to their decision.
Once more before the outbreak of war between Russia and Turkey, the Young Turks tried to obtain the Armenians' support. This time they opened their pourparlers with more moderate proposals, and negotiated with the Armenian representatives of each Vilayet. At Van, the pourparlers were conducted by the provincial governor Tahsin Bey, and by Nadji Bey; at Moush, by Servet Bey and Iskhan Bey (this latter is at present a prisoner of war in Russia) ; at Erzeroum, by the same Tahsin Bey and by others.
The project of an Armenian rising in the Caucasus was abandoned. Instead, the Ottoman Armenians were to unite themselves with the Transcaucasian Tatars, whose insurrection was, according to the Young Turks, a certainty.
Once more the Armenians refused.
From the moment war broke out, the Armenian soldiers had presented themselves for service at their regimental depÙts, but they refused categorically to form irregular bands. On the whole, up to the end of 1914, the situation in Armenia was quiet. But when the Turks had been expelled from Bayazid and driven back in the direction of Van and Moush, their fury turned upon the Armenians, whose co-religionists in the Caucasus had formed themselves into volunteer legions under the leadership of Andranik and other patriotic leaders, and had been giving aid to the enemy.
It was then that the disarming of Armenian soldiers, gendarmes and members of the other services began. The disarmed Armenian soldiers were formed into groups of a thousand each, and sent into different districts to build bridges, dig trenches and work at the fortresses.
At the same time the wholesale massacres began. The first victims fell at Diyarbekir, Erzeroum and Bitlis. Soldiers, women and children, both in the towns and villages, were slaughtered en masse. By the end of last January the massacres had extended over the whole of Armenia. In the Armenian villages, the whole male population above the age of twelve was led out in batches and shot before the eyes of the women and children.
The first movement of revolt declared itself towards the beginning of February, at Koms. Seventy Turkish gendarmes had arrived there with orders to massacre the chief men of the place, and among them Roupen and Gorioun. When the Armenians learned their purpose, they threw themselves upon the gendarmes and killed them all. They proceeded to take the local governor prisoner, and found on him the following order from the governor of Moush:--
"Execute the decision communicated verbally to you."
On the same day the leading Armenians retired into the mountains, where they were joined by the young men under arms from the district of Moush.
Two thousand Turks, commanded by Mehmed Effendi, took the offensive against them, but were annihilated by the Armenians.
This was how the revolt in Armenia began.
The Government saw that the insurrection was spreading, and announced the suspension of the process of disarmament, rescinding at the same time the order for the deportation and extermination of the people of Sassoun. A commission of enquiry was appointed, consisting of Essad Pasha, the Kaimakam of Boulanik, the President of the Military Tribunal at Moush, and Mr. V. Papazian, an Armenian member of the Ottoman Parliament.
The commission found that the gendarmes were the whole cause of the trouble between the Armenians and the Turks, and the Government promised to put an end to the reprisals. Talaat Bey telegraphed from Constantinople that the representatives of the Armenians were not to be molested.
Quiet was re-established for the moment, but in the month of May the Turks attempted to force their way into Sassoun, and at the same time the massacres began again without warning at Harpout, Erzeroum and Diyarbekir. The Armenians repulsed the Turks and took up a position round the town of Moush, where a large number of Turkish troops were concentrated. This was the situation when the Turks perpetrated the great massacre of Moush at the end of June. Half the inhabitants of Moush were massacred, the other half were driven out of the town. The Armenians never knew that at that moment the Russian troops were only two or three hours' distance from Moush.
The massacres extended over the whole plain of Moush. The Armenians, who had managed to retreat on to the heights of Sassoun with a remnant of their forces and a slender supply of munitions, attacked the Turks in the valleys and gorges of Sassoun, and inflicted considerable losses upon them. A fraction of the Armenians who escaped the massacre broke through the Turkish lines and reached Van, which was already in the hands of the Russian troops.
The number of Armenian victims is very large. In the town of Moush alone, out of the 15,000 Armenian inhabitants there are only 200 survivors ; out of the 59,000 inhabitants of the plain hardly 9,000 have escaped.
22. BITLIS, MOUSH AND SASSOUN: RECORD OF AN INTERVIEW WITH ROUPEN, OF SASSOUN, BY MR. A. S. SAFRASTIAN, DATED TIFLIS, 6th NOVEMBER, 1915.
At the moment of writing, there is very little doubt that during the months of June and July last the Turks have almost completely wiped out about 150,000 Armenians of Bitlis, Moush and Sassoun.
When a detailed account of the horrors which accompanied these massacres is fully disclosed to the civilised world, it will stand out in all history as the greatest masterpiece of brutality ever committed, even by the Turk. A short description of these horrors was given to me by Roupen, one of the leaders in Sassoun, who has miraculously escaped the Turkish lines after long marches across Moush and Lake Van and has been here for the last few days. As soon as the Turks went into the war, they entered into negotiations with the Armenian leaders in Moush and Sassoun with a view to co-operating for the common defence. The Turkish representatives, however, laid down such conditions as a basis for agreement that the Armenians could scarcely entertain them as serious. Until January things had gone on fairly smoothly, and the Armenians were advised by their leaders to comply with all legitimate demands made by the authorities. On the failure of negotiations, the Turks adopted hard measures against the Armenians. They had already ruthlessly requisitioned every commodity they possibly could lay hands on, and now they demanded the surrender of their arms from the peasantry. The Armenians said that they could not give up their arms while the Kurds were left armed to the teeth and went about unmolested. Towards the end of January, a Turkish gendarme provoked a quarrel in Tzeronk, a large Armenian village some 20 miles west of Moush, where some 70 people were killed and the village destroyed. Soon afterwards, another quarrel was started by gendarmes in Koms (Goms), a village on the Euphrates, where the Turks wanted to raise forced labour for the transport of military supplies. As a previous batch of men employed on similar work had never returned home, the peasants grew suspicious and refused to go. Local passion ran high, and the Turks desired to arrest one Gorioun, a native of considerable bravery, who had avenged himself upon Mehmed Emin, a Kurdish brigand, who had ruined his home in the past. All such conflicts of a local character were settled in one way or another by negotiation between the authorities and the leaders of the Dashnaktzoutioun. party. In the meantime, Kurdish irregulars and Moslem bands, who were just returning from the battle of Kilidj Geduk, where they had been roughly handled by the Russians, began to harry the Armenians all over the country to the limit of their endurance. In answer to protests, the authorities explained away the grievances and gave all assurances of good-will towards the Armenians, who naturally did not believe in them.
The Massacres at Sairt and Bitlis.---Towards the end of May, Djevdet Bey, the military governor, was expelled from Van, and the town was captured by the native Armenians(40) and then by the Russo-Armenian forces. Djevdet Bey fled southwards and, crossing the Bohtan, entered Sairt with some 8,000 soldiers whom he called "Butcher" battalions (Kassab Tabouri). He massacred most of the Christians of Sairt, though nothing is known of the details. On the best authority, however, it is reported that he ordered his soldiers to burn in a public square the Armenian Bishop Yeghishé Vartabed and the Chaldean Bishop Addai Sher. Then Djevdet Bey, followed by the small army of Halil Bey, marched on Bitlis towards the middle of June. Before his arrival, the Armenians and Kurds of Bitlis had agreed upon a scheme for mutual protection in case of any emergency, but Djevdet Bey had his own plans for exterminating the Armenians. He first raised a ransom of £5,000 from them, and then hanged Hokhigian and some 20 other Armenian leaders, most of whom were attending the wounded in field hospitals. On the 25th June, the Turks surrounded the town of Bitlis and cut its communications with the neighbouring Armenian villages; then most of the able-bodied men were taken away from their families by domiciliary visits. During the following few days, all the men under arrest were shot outside the town and buried in deep trenches dug by the victims themselves. The young women and children were distributed among the rabble, and the remainder, the "useless" lot , were driven to the south and are believed to have been drowned in the Tigris. Any attempts at resistance, however brave, were easily quelled by the regular troops. The recalcitrants, after firing their last cartridges, either took poison by whole families or destroyed themselves in their homes, in order not to fall into the hands of Turks. Some hundred Armenian families in the town, all of them artisans or skilled labourers badly needed by the military authorities, were spared during this massacre, but since then there has been no news of their fate.
It is in such "gentlemanly" fashion that the Turks disposed of about 15,000 Armenians at Bitlis ; and the Armenian peasantry of Rahva, Khoultig, and other populous villages of the surrounding district suffered the same fate.
The Massacres in Moush.---Long before this horror had been perpetrated at Bitlis, the Turks and Kurds of Diyarbekir, followed by the most blood-thirsty tribes of Bekran and Belek, had wiped out the Armenians of Slivan, Bisherig, and of the vast plain extending from Diyarbekir to the foot of the Sassoun block. Some thousands of refugees had escaped to Sassoun, as the only haven of safety amid a sea of widespread terror. They told the people of Sassoun and Moush of the enormities which had been committed upon themselves. The line of conduct to be adopted by the Armenians was now obvious. The Turks were resolved to destroy them, and therefore they had to make the best of a hopeless situation by all means at their disposal. Roupen tells me that they had no news whatever as to the progress of the war on the Caucasian front, and that the Turks spread false news to mislead them. The general peace was maintained in the Province of Bitlis until the beginning of June, when things came to a climax. The outlying villages of Boulanik and Moush had already been massacred in May. Now Sassoun was attacked in two main directions. The Kurdish tribes of Belek, Bekran, and Shego, the notorious Sheikh of Zilan and many others were armed by the Government and ordered to surround Sassoun. The 15,000 Armenians of these mountains, re-inforced by some other 15,000 from Moush and Diyarbekir, repelled many fierce attacks, in which the Kurds lost heavily, both in men and arms; whereupon the Government again entered into negotiations with the Armenian leaders, through the Bishop of Moush, and offered them a general amnesty if they laid down their arms and joined in the defence of the common fatherland. And, as a proof of their genuineness, the authorities explained away the massacres of Slivan, Boulanik, &c., as due to a deplorable misunderstanding. Oppressions suddenly ceased everywhere, and perfect order prevailed in Moush for about three weeks in June. A strict watch, however, was kept over the movements of the Armenians, and they were forbidden to concentrate together. In the last week of June, one Kiazim Bey arrived from Erzeroum with at least 10,000 troops and mountain artillery to reinforce the garrison at Moush. The day after his arrival strong patrols were posted on the hills overlooking the town of Moush, thus cutting all communication between Moush and Sassoun. Kurdish bands of "fedais" and gendarmes were commissioned to sever all intercourse between various villages and the town of Moush, so that no one knew what was going on even in the immediate neighbourhood.
Early in July, the authorities ordered the Armenians to surrender their arms, and pay a large money ransom. The leading Armenians of the town and the headmen of the villages were subjected to revolting tortures. Their finger nails and then their toe nails were forcibly extracted ; their teeth were knocked out, and in some cases their noses were whittled down, the victims being thus done to death under shocking, lingering agonies. The female relatives of the victims who came to the rescue were outraged in public before the very eyes of their mutilated husbands and brothers. The shrieks and death-cries of the victims filled the air, yet they did not move the Turkish beast. The same process of disarmament was carried out in the large Armenian villages of Khaskegh, Franknorshen, &c., and on the slightest show of resistance men and women were done to death in the manner described above. On the 10th July, large contingents of troops, followed by bands of criminals released from the prisons, began to round up the able-bodied men from all the villages. In the 100 villages of the plain of Moush most of the villagers took up any arms they possessed and offered a desperate resistance in various favourable positions. In the natural order of things the ammunition soon gave out in most villages, and there followed what is perhaps one of the greatest crimes in all history. Those who had no arms and had done nothing against the authorities were herded into various camps and bayoneted in cold blood.
In the town of Moush itself the Armenians, under the leadership of Gotoyan and others, entrenched themselves in the churches and stone-built houses and fought for four days in self-defence. The Turkish artillery, manned by German officers, made short work of all the Armenian positions. Every one of the Armenians, leaders as well as men, was killed fighting ; and when the silence of death reigned over the ruins of churches and the rest, the Moslem rabble made a descent upon the women and children and drove them out of the town into large camps which had already been prepared for the peasant women and children. The ghastly scenes which followed may indeed sound incredible, yet these reports have been confirmed from Russian sources beyond all doubt.
The shortest method for disposing of the women and children concentrated in the various camps was to burn them. Fire was set to large wooden sheds in Alidjan, Megrakom, Khaskegh, and other Armenian villages, and these absolutely helpless women and children were roasted to death. Many went mad and threw their children away ; some knelt down and prayed amid the flames in which their bodies were burning ; others shrieked and cried for help which came from nowhere. And the executioners, who seem to have been unmoved by this unparalleled savagery, grasped infants by one leg and hurled them into the fire, calling out to the burning mothers : "Here are your lions." Turkish prisoners who had apparently witnessed some of these scenes were horrified and maddened at remembering the sight. They told the Russians that the stench of the burning human flesh permeated the air for many days after.
Under present circumstances it is impossible to say how many Armenians, out of a population of 60,000 in the plain of Moush, are left alive ; the one fact which can be recorded at present is that now and then some survivors escape through the mountains and reach the Russian lines to give further details of the unparalleled crime perpetrated in Moush during July.
The Massacres in Sassoun.---While the "Butcher" battalions of Djevdet Bey and the regulars of Kiazim Bey were engaged in Bitlis and Moush, some cavalry were sent to Sassoun early in July to encourage the Kurds who had been defeated by the Armenians at the beginning of June. The Turkish cavalry invaded the lower valley of Sassoun and captured a few villages after stout fighting. In the meantime the reorganised Kurdish tribes attempted to close on Sassoun from the south, west, and north. During the last fortnight of July almost incessant fighting went on, sometimes even during the night. On the whole, the Armenians held their own on all fronts and expelled the Kurds from their advanced positions. However, the people of Sassoun had other anxieties to worry about. The population had doubled since their brothers who had escaped from the plains had sought refuge in their mountains ; the millet crop of the last season had been a failure ; all honey, fruit, and other local produce a been consumed, and the people had been feeding on unsalted roast mutton (they had not even any salt to make the mutton more sustaining); finally, the ammunition was in no way sufficient for the requirements of heavy fighting. But the worst had yet to come. Kiazim Bey, after reducing the town and the plain of Moush, rushed his army to Sassoun for a new effort to overwhelm these brave mountaineers. Fighting was renewed on all fronts throughout the Sassoun district. Big guns made carnage among the Armenian ranks. Roupen tells me that Gorioun, Dikran, and 20 other of their best fighters were killed by a single shell, which burst in their midst. Encouraged by the presence of guns, the cavalry and Kurds pushed on with relentless energy.
The Armenians were compelled to abandon the outlying lines of their defence and were retreating day by day into the heights of Antok, the central block of the mountains, some 10,000 feet high. The non-combatant women and children and their large flocks of cattle greatly hampered the free movements of the defenders, whose number had already been reduced from 3,000 to about half that figure. Terrible confusion prevailed during the Turkish attacks as well as the Armenian counterattacks. Many of the Armenians smashed their rifles after firing the last cartridge and grasped their revolvers and daggers. The Turkish regulars and Kurds, amounting now to something like 30,000 altogether, pushed higher and higher up the heights and surrounded the main Armenian position at close quarters. Then followed one of those desperate and heroic struggles for life which have always been the pride of mountaineers. Men, women and children fought with knives, scythes, stones, and anything else they could handle. They rolled blocks of stone down the steep slopes, killing many of the enemy. In a frightful hand-to-hand combat, women were seen thrusting their knives into the throats of Turks and thus accounting for many of them. On the 5th August, the last day of the fighting, the blood-stained rocks of Antok were captured by the Turks. The Armenian warriors of Sassoun, except those who had worked round to the rear of the Turks to attack them on their flanks, had died in battle. Several young women, who were in danger of falling into the Turks' hands, threw themselves from the rocks, some of them with their infants in their arms. The survivors have since been carrying on a guerilla warfare, living only on unsalted mutton and grass. The approaching winter may have disastrous consequences for the remnants of the Sassounli Armenians, because they have nothing to eat and no means of defending themselves.
23. MOUSH : STATEMENT BY A GERMAN EYE-WITNESS OF OCCURRENCES AT MOUSH ; COMMUNICATED BY THE AMERICAN COMMITTEE FOR ARMENIAN AND SYRIAN RELIEF.
Towards the end of October (1914), when the Turkish war began, the Turkish officials started to take everything they needed for the war from the Armenians. Their goods, their money, all was confiscated. Later on, every Turk was free to go to an Armenian shop and take out what he needed or thought he would like to have. Only a tenth perhaps was really for the war, the rest was pure robbery. It was necessary to have food, &c., carried to the front, on the Caucasian frontier. For this purpose the Government sent out about 300 old Armenian men, many cripples amongst them, and boys not more than twelve years old, to carry the goods---a three weeks' journey from Moush to the Russian frontier. As every individual Armenian was robbed of everything he ever had, these poor people soon died of hunger and cold on the way. They had no clothes at all, for even these were stolen on the way. If out of these 300 Armenians thirty or forty returned, it was a marvel ; the rest were either beaten to death or died from the causes stated above.
The winter was most severe in Moush ; the gendarmes were sent to levy high taxes, and as the Armenians had already given everything to the Turks, and were therefore powerless to pay these enormous taxes, they were beaten to death. The Armenians never defended themselves except when they saw the gendarmes ill-treating their wives and children, and the result in such cases was that the whole village was burnt down, merely because a few Armenians had tried to protect their families.
Toward the middle of April we heard rumours that there were great disturbances in Van. We have heard., statements both from Turks and from Armenians, and as these reports agree in every respect, it is quite plain that there is some truth in them. They state that the Ottoman Government sent orders that all Armenians were to give up their arms, which the Armenians refused to do on the ground that they required their arms in case of necessity. This caused a regular massacre. All villages inhabited by Armenians were burnt down. The Turks boasted of having now got rid of all the Armenians. I heard it from the officers myself, how they revelled in the thought that the Armenians had been got rid of.
Thus the winter passed, with things happening every day more terrible than one can possibly describe. We then heard that massacres had started in Bitlis. In Moush everything was being prepared for one, when the Russians arrived at Liz, which is about 14 to 16 hours' journey from Moush. This occupied the attention of the Turks, so that the massacre was put off for the time being. Hardly had the Russians left Liz, however, when all the districts inhabited by Armenians were pillaged and destroyed.
This was in the month of May. At the beginning of June, we heard that the whole Armenian population of Bitlis had been got rid of. It was at this time that we received news that the American Missionary, Dr. Knapp, had been wounded in an Armenian house and that the Turkish Government had sent him to Diyarbekir. The very first night in Diyarbekir he died, and the Government explained his death as a result of having overeaten, which of course nobody believed.
When there was no one left in Bitlis to massacre, their attention was diverted to Moush. Cruelties had already been committed, but so far not too publicly ; now, however, they started to shoot people down without any cause, and beat them to death simply for the pleasure of doing so. In Moush itself, which is a big town, there are 25,000 Armenians ; in the neighbourhood there are 300 villages, each containing about 500 houses. In all these not a single male Armenian is now to be seen, and hardly a woman either, except for a few here and there.
In the first week of July 20,000 soldiers arrived from Constantinople by way of Harpout with munitions and eleven guns, and laid siege to Moush. As a matter of fact, the town had already been beleaguered since the middle of June. At this stage the Mutessarif gave orders that we should leave the town and go to Harpout. We pleaded with him to let us stay, for we had in our charge all the orphans and patients ; but he was angry and threatened to remove us by force if we did not do as instructed. As we both fell sick, however, we were allowed to remain at Moush. I received permission, in the event of our leaving Moush, to take the Armenians of our orphanage with us; but when we asked for assurances of their safety, his only reply was : "You can take them with you, but being Armenians their heads may and will be cut off on the way."
On the 10th July Moush was bombarded for several hours, on the pretext that some Armenians had tried to escape. I went to see the Mutessarif and asked him to protect our buildings ; his reply was "It serves you right for staying instead of leaving as instructed. The guns are here to make an end of Moush. Take refuge with the Turks." This, of course, was impossible, as we could not leave our charges. Next day a new order was promulgated for the expulsion of the Armenians, and three days' grace was given them to make ready. They were told to register themselves at the Government Building before they left. Their families could remain, but their property and their money were to be confiscated. The Armenians were unable to go, for they had no money to defray the journey, and they preferred to die in their houses rather than be separated from their families and endure a lingering death on the road.
As stated above, three days' grace was given to the Armenians, but two hours had scarcely elapsed when the soldiers began breaking into the houses, arresting the inmates and throwing them into prison. The guns began to fire and thus the people were effectually prevented from registering themselves at the Government Building. We all had to take refuge in the cellar for fear of our orphanage catching fire. It was heart-rending to hear the cries of the people and children who were being burnt to death in their houses. The soldiers took great delight in hearing them, and when people who were out in the street during the bombardment fell dead, the soldiers merely laughed at them.
The survivors were sent to Ourfa (there were none left but sick women and children) ; I went to the Mutessarif and begged him to have mercy on the children at least, but in vain. He replied that the Armenian children must perish with their nation. All our people were taken from our hospital and orphanage ; they left us three female servants. Under these atrocious circumstances, Moush was burnt to the ground. Every officer boasted of the number he had personally massacred as his share in ridding Turkey of the Armenian race.
We left for Harpout. Harpout has become the cemetery of the Armenians ; from all directions they have been brought to Harpout to be buried. There they lie, and the dogs and the vultures devour their bodies. Now and then some man throws some earth over the bodies. In Harpout and Mezré the people have had to endure terrible tortures. They have had their eye-brows plucked out, their breasts cut off, their nails torn off ; their torturers hew off their feet or else hammer nails into them just as they do in shoeing horses. This is all done at night time, and in order that the people may not hear their screams and know of their agony, soldiers are stationed round the prisons, beating drums and blowing whistles. It is needless to relate that many died of these tortures. When they die, the soldiers cry "Now let your Christ help you."
One old priest was tortured so cruelly to extract a confession that, believing that the torture would cease and that he would be left alone if he did it, he cried out in his desperation: "We are revolutionists." He expected his tortures to cease, but on the contrary the soldiers cried : "What further do we seek ? We have it here from his own lips." And instead of picking their victims as they did before, the officials had all the Armenians tortured without sparing a soul.
Early in July, 2,000 Armenian soldiers were ordered to leave for Aleppo to build roads. The people of Harpout were terrified on hearing this, and a panic started in the town. The Vali sent for the German missionary, Mr. Ehemann, and begged him to quiet the people, repeating over and over again that no harm whatever would befall these soldiers. Mr. Ehemann took the Vali's word and quieted the people. But they had scarcely left when we heard that they had all been murdered and thrown into a cave. Just a few managed to escape, and we got the reports from them. It was useless to protest to the Vali. The American Consul at Harpout protested several times, but the Vali makes no account of him, and treats him in a most shameful manner. A few days later another 2,000 Armenian soldiers were despatched via Diyarbekir, and, in order to hinder them the more surely from escaping, they were left to starve on the way, so that they had no strength left in them to flee. The Kurds were given notice that the Armenians were on the way, and the Kurdish women came with their butcher's knives to help the men. In Mezré a public brothel was erected for the Turks, and all the beautiful Armenian girls and women were placed there. At night the Turks were allowed free entrance. The permission for the Protestant and Catholic Armenians to be exempted from deportation only arrived after their deportation had taken place. The Government wanted to force the few remaining Armenians to accept the Mohammedan faith. A few did so in order to save their wives and children from the terrible sufferings already witnessed in the case of others. The people begged us to leave for Constantinople and obtain some security for them. On our way to Constantinople we only encountered old women. No young women or girls were to be seen.
Already by November  we had known that there would be a massacre. The Mutessarif of Moush, who was a very intimate friend of Enver Pasha, declared quite openly that they would massacre the Armenians at the first opportune moment and exterminate the whole race. Before the Russians arrived they intended first to butcher the Armenians, and then fight the Russians afterwards. Towards the beginning of April, in the presence of a Major Lange and several other high officials, including the American and German Consuls, Ekran Bey quite openly declared the Government's intention of exterminating the Armenian race. All these details plainly show that the massacre was deliberately planned.
In a few villages destitute women come begging, naked and sick, for alms and protection. We are not allowed to give them anything, we are not allowed to take them in, in fact we are forbidden to do anything for them, and they die outside. If only permission could be obtained from the authorities to help them! If we cannot endure the sight of these poor people's sufferings, what must it be like for the sufferers themselves ?
It is a story written in blood. Two old missionaries and a younger lady (an American) were sent away from Mardin. They were treated just like prisoners, dogged continually by the .gendarmes, and were brought in this fashion to Sivas. For missionaries of that age a journey of this kind in the present circumstances was obviously a terrible hardship.
24. MOUSH DISTRICT : NARRATIVE OF A DEPORTED WOMAN, RELATED BY HER TO MR. VARTKES OF MOUSH(41), RECORDED BY HIM ON THE 25th JULY, 1915, AND PUBLISHED SUBSEQUENTLY IN THE ARMENIAN JOURNAL "VAN-TOSP."
To-day I heard a terrible story. All the Armenians who were deported from Moush were either killed or drowned in the Mourad River(42). Among these were my mother and three sisters with their children. This news was brought to us by a woman who came here at midnight. We thought she was a ghost, as she seemed like one coming from the grave. She had saved her two-year-old boy.
She immediately asked for bread. We had not any, as we were living on raw grain and meat, but we gave her what we had. After she had had enough, we asked her all kinds of questions. She was from the village of Kheiban, and was one of the deported. This is what she told us :
"The Turks collected all the women and children of the villages of Sordar, Pazou, Hassanova, Salekan and Gvars, and after keeping them for five days they brought them to Ziaret. Here the inhabitants of Meghd, Baghlou, Ourough, Ziaret and Kheiban joined them, and they were all taken towards the bridge over the Mourad River. On the way the families from the villages of Dom, Hergerd, Norag, Aladin, Goms(43), Khashkhaldoukh, Souloukh, Khoronk, Kartzor, Kizil Agatch, Komer, Shekhlan, Avazaghpur, Plel and Kurdmeidan joined the party, making altogether a company of 8,000 to 10,000 people.
"All the old women and the weak who were unable to walk were killed. There were about one hundred Kurdish guards over us, and our lives depended on their pleasure. It was a very common thing for them to rape our girls in our presence. Very often they violated eight or ten-year-old girls, and as a consequence many would be unable to walk, and were shot.
"Our company moved on slowly, leaving heaps of corpses behind. Most of us were almost naked. When we passed by a village, all the Kurdish men and women would come and rob us as they pleased. When a Kurd fancied a girl, nothing would prevent him from taking her. The babies of those who were carried away were killed in our presence.
"They gave us bread once every other day, though many did not get even that. When all our provisions were gone, we gathered wheat from the fields and ate it. Many a mother lost her mind and dropped her baby by the wayside.
"Some succeeded in running away, and hid themselves in the fields among the wheat until it was dark. Those who were acquainted with the mountains of that region would thus escape and go back to seek their dear ones. Some went to Sassoun, hearing that it had not yet fallen, others were drowned in the Mourad River. I did not attempt to run away, as I had witnessed with my own eyes the assassination of my dear ones. I had a few piastres left, and hoped to live a few days longer.
"We heard on our way from the Kurds that Kurdish Chettis (bands of robbers) had collected all the inhabitants of Kurdmeidan and Sheklilan, about 500 women and children, and burnt them by the order of Rashid Effendi, the head of the Chettis.
"When we reached the Khozmo Pass, our guards changed their southerly direction and turned west, in the direction of the Euphrates. When we reached the boundary of the Ginj district our guards were changed, the new ones being more brutal. By this time our number was diminished by half. When we reached the boundary of Djabaghchour we passed through a narrow valley ; here our guards ordered us to sit down by the river and take a rest. We were very thankful for this respite and ran towards the river to get a drink of water.
"After half-an-hour we saw a crowd of Kurds coming towards us from Djabaghchour. They surrounded us and ordered us to cross the river, and many obeyed. The report of the guns drowned the sounds of wailing and crying. In that panic I took my little boy on my back and jumped into the river. I was a good swimmer and succeeded in reaching the opposite shore of the Euphrates with my precious bundle unnoticed, and hid myself behind some undergrowth.
"By nightfall no one remained alive from our party. The Kurds left in the direction of Djabaghchour. At dusk I came out from my hiding place to a field in the vicinity and found some wheat, which I ate; then I followed the Euphrates in a northerly direction, and after great difficulty I reached the plain of Moush. I decided to go to the mountains of Sourp Garabed, as I had heard that there were many Armenians there. During the nights my boy was a great comfort to me. I felt that a living being was with me and fear lost its horror. I thank God I have seen the faces of Armenians again."
The poor woman ended her story, and our hearts were stricken with sorrow, for we had loved ones among the unfortunate people of her convoy. Two days later her boy died from lack of nourishment, and after five days she was found by a party of patrolling Kurds and killed.
25. MOUSH : RESUME OF INFORMATION FURNISHED BY REFUGEES IN THE CAUCASUS AND PUBLISHED IN THE CAUCASIAN PRESS, ESPECIALLY IN THE ARMENIAN JOURNAL "MSCHAK" ; COMPILED BY MR. O. H. PAELIAN, AND COMMUNICATED BY HIM TO THE ARMENIAN JOURNAL "ARARAT," OF LONDON, MARCH, 1916.
The following reports concerning the massacres and deportations in the region of Moush and Sassoun have come to hand from completely independent sources, yet it is remarkable to note how they confirm one another.
The massacres of Moush began on the 28th June (11th July), Sunday morning, and lasted until Monday night. They were organised by the Governors of Van and Bitlis and carried out in the presence of their representatives, among whom were Abdoullah Bey of Sipuk, Topal Ibrahim of Moush (tax collector), Hassan (tax collector), and the police hakim. Before the massacres, all the prominent Armenians underwent indescribable sufferings. They were flogged and their limbs twisted until their thumbs began to bleed. The day the peasants were arrested they wished to take Holy Communion first, but were refused. The monks of Saint Garabed and the prominent Armenians of the villages of Gvars, Sortra and Pazou were assassinated in the monastery. The perpetrators opened the tomb of Bishop Nerses Kharakhanian, with the hope of finding money. They took his shroud and put the body back in the tomb. Mehmed Effendi, the Ottoman deputy for Gendjé(44), collected about 40 women and children and killed them. Two hundred of the inhabitants of Moush were brought to the village of Shekhlan and thrown into the Mourad River. One hundred men from Sassoun, who surrendered, were imprisoned without food or drink. When they begged for bread, the Turkish inhabitants could not stand their wailing, and asked the Government either to give them bread or kill them. They were all killed about the middle of November.
Then the Government looked for the Armenians who had found refuge with some Kurds, and finding about 2,000 of them massacred them all. The fact is confirmed that Kegham Der Garabedian, the Ottoman deputy for Moush, was hanged. The property of the Armenians of Moush and Bitlis was sold by the Government, and all their sheep and cattle which were left with the Kurds were requisitioned by the army of Halil Bey.
According to reports from the Caucasus, the Turks gathered together about 5,000 Armenians by treachery and deception from 20 Armenian villages round the monastery of Saint Garabed at Moush and massacred them. This took place near the wall of the monastery. Before the massacre began, a German officer stood on the wall and harangued the Armenians to the effect that the Turkish Government had shown great kindness to, and had honoured, the Armenians, but that they were not satisfied and wanted autonomy; he then, by the report of a revolver, gave the signal for the general massacre. Among the massacred were two monks, one of them being the father superior of Sourp Garabed, Yeghishé Vartabed, who had a chance of escaping but did not wish to be separated from his flock and was killed with them. From the Sahajian. district about 4,000 Armenians found refuge in the forests of the monastery, and fought against the attacking Turks and Kurds. They kept themselves alive on wheat, raw meat without salt, turtle, frogs, etc. Some of them finally surrendered, but no one knows the fate of the remainder. The monastery of St. Garabed was sacked and robbed. The Turks opened the tomb of St. Garabed and destroyed everything. They also discovered some secret chambers. Turkish chiefs took up their quarters in the monastery with imprisoned Armenian girls.
According to another report no one was spared in Moush, not even the orphans in the German Orphanage. Some of these were killed and others deported. The Rev. Krikor and Mr. Marcar Ghougasian, teachers in the German Orphanage, were killed, and only two escaped death, Miss Margarid Nalbandian and Miss Maritza Arisdakesian. These were graduates of the German Seminary at Mezré, and owe their lives to a kind German lady.
According to the reports of some Armenians who had found refuge in the forests of Sourp Garabed and finally made their way to the Caucasus, Hilmi Bey was appointed for the purpose of clearing the Armenian provinces of Armenians. This man reached Erzeroum on the 18th May, and then went to Khnyss, Boulanik, Khlat, etc., massacring every Armenian in these places. According to a letter, dated the 19th June (3rd July), written to one of these refugees, Hilmi Bey had three army corps (?) with him, a body of gendarmes, and the volunteers of Hadji Moussa Bey and Sheikh Hazret, who had come to Moush to massacre the Armenians. To these forces were added the Turkish mob of Moush, the Turkish refugees from Alashkerd and Badnotz, Keur Husein Pasha and Abd-ul-Medjid Bey. The massacres were directed by Governor Djevdet of Van, Commander Halil of Diliman, Governor Abd-ul-Khalak of Bitlis, and Governor Servet Bey of Moush. The order for massacre was given on the 28th June (11th July). According to Turkish Government statistics 120,000 Armenians were killed in this district.
26. BITLIS : LETTER DATED 14th OCTOBER, 1915, FROM A FOREIGN RESIDENT AT BITLIS TO A GERMAN OFFICIAL ; COMMUNICATED BY THE AMERICAN COMMITTEE FOR ARMENIAN AND SYRIAN RELIEF.
From having seen you yesterday, I am assured that you will receive with kindly consideration what I feel obliged to write to you. It is about the women and children who still remain with us.
It might be well to relate first a few of the recent events bearing on the matter.
On the 23rd June the Armenian men of the city, including those on our premises, were led to prison. A few days later, when they began to take the women from the city, I called on the Vali and told him that I could not give up the girls of our school and the women who had come to me for protection. He said that Halil Bey had decided the matter in regard to the women, and that he himself had no power to alter that decision, but that he would leave those on our premises till the last. I wrote a letter to Halil Bey with the consent of the Vali, to whom I sent a copy. I received no answer.
The women and girls are now employed in the hospitals, and by this means we have been able to keep them until now. We have spoken with Djevdet Bey recently, but he gives us no assurance of their ultimate safety, and says that the children must go. Of our Protestant community, we have twenty-five teachers and pupils, twenty-five women and twelve children. Apart from these there are other women who are employed in the hospital, and about thirty orphans. The first orphans whom we received were brought to the school by Turkish officials, and since it appeared that the Government did not disapprove, we have received others and provide them with food and shelter. Much as we should like to save them all, we feel that we can only insist on keeping those of our community.
My heart is full of this subject. It is not my desire in anyway to oppose the Government. Our superiors give us very definite instructions on this point before we come out. We all agreed here that since the Government thought it a necessary war measure that the men should be taken into exile, we could not refuse to give them up. But since that time I have witnessed so many things that seemed unnecessary, that the giving up of those entrusted to my care now seems a different matter. I am not saying that we can prevent their being taken---some of our women have already been taken from us---no one realises more than we do our own helplessness. But we are trying by every means in our power to save them. I plead with you for your help in this. I have wanted very much to see the Vali, but owing to Miss A.'s being ill I have had no interpreter.
We received word recently from Constantinople that the Government had informed our Ambassador that Protestant communities would not be molested, and that he had notified the consuls to that effect. But such orders have not been carried, out here.
These women and children who are with us cannot possibly do harm to the Government---why must they be sent away to such a fate? If the hospital were removed, we could then be responsible for their support, until such time as it would be fitting to take, them with us to Harpout. My first plan, in the event of their trying to take our girls, was to barricade the school building, and compel them to force their way in or set fire to the building. Death in that form would have been welcome to the girls under those circumstances. The plan was not practicable, and I am telling you only that you may understand how much we dread the fate that awaits them. When I suggested the plan to my associates, I met with some opposition, but Sister B. said : "If I were in your place I would do the same thing," and suggested 'that she should take some of the women whom I could not accommodate in the school, to another building, and remain with them there. Her sympathetic understanding at that time was a great help to me. I have always had a great faith in Germany. Through Miss C. I learned to love her country. Somehow, I trust you as I trusted her, and I feel that you will do for us what she would have done had she been able. Both Miss A. and myself entreat you most earnestly that you will use what influence you can exert here, that we may keep these women and children with us.
Your companions are here and inform us that you will leave to-morrow. We regret that we shall not see you again, but enjoyed the opportunity of meeting you the one time.
AZERBAIJAN AND HAKKIARI.
The province of Azerbaijan lies immediately east of Van, across the Persian border, and consists principally of another and still larger inland basin, shut in by mountains which drain towards the central Lake of Urmia.
Though Azerbaijan is nominally a part of Persia, there are practically no Persians among its inhabitants. The majority of them are Shiah Mohammedans, speaking a Turkish dialect ; but the parts west of the Lake, and especially the districts of Urmia and Salmas, are occupied by a Semitic Christian population, variously known as "Nestorians" (from their religion), "Syrians" (from their language) or "Chaldoeans" (from their race). They are descended from the former inhabitants of Mesopotamia, who were pushed into and over the mountains by Arab encroachment. A larger number of them is still left on the Ottoman side of the watershed, in the Hakkiari district round the headwaters of the Greater Zab, and further west, again, near the confluence of the Tigris and the Bohtan. In the two latter districts they are now in a minority as compared with their Kurdish neighbours, and Kurds are also interspersed among the Nestorians in the Urmia basin, especially towards the southern end of the Lake, but also on the west (Tergawar).
When, in the winter of 1914-15, the Turks took the offensive against the Russians on the Caucasian front, they sent a subsidiary army, reinforced by Kurdish tribesmen, into Azerbaijan. The weak Russian forces occupying the province retired northwards at the beginning of January, and the Turco-Kurdish invaders penetrated as far as Tabriz, while the Nestorian villages on the western side of Lake Urmia remained in their possession for nearly five months. The Russians were followed in their retreat by a considerable part of the Christian population, who suffered terrible hardships on their winter journey. Those that remained behind flocked into the town of Urmia, and were subject to all manner of atrocities during the twenty weeks that the Turks and Kurds controlled the place. The Russians completed the re-occupation of Azerbaijan in May, 1915 ; they entered the town of Urmia on the 24th May, five days after their first entry into Van, and freed the people of Salmas and Urmia from their oppressors. But they could not save the communities in the Zab district, who suffered in June the same fate as the Armenians of Bitlis, Moush and Sassoun ; and when the Russians were compelled to evacuate Van again at the end of July, the panic spread from Van to Urmia, and a fresh stream of Nestorian refugees swelled the general exodus of Christians into the Russian Provinces of the Caucasus.
27. URMIA : STATEMENT BY THE REV. WILLIAM A. SHEDD, D.D., OF THE AMERICAN (PRESBYTERIAN) MISSION STATION AT URMIA ; COMMUNICATED BY THE BOARD OF FOREIGN MISSIONS OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN THE U.S.A.
Persia is not in the war, but the war has been in Persia ever since its beginning. Indeed, the military movements of Russia and of Turkey date back several years before its outbreak. The Turks in 1906 occupied a strip of territory along the Persian border extending from a point south-west of Soujboulak to a point west of Khoi. The purpose was no doubt to secure a boundary-line making it more possible to move troops from the Mosul region into Trans-Caucasia, as well as to make it easier. to hold the frontier against any Russian attack. In 1911, the Turks evacuated this strip of territory and the whole boundary question was submitted to a mixed commission, on which the British and Russian Governments were represented as well as the Turkish and Persian. When war began in August, 1914, this commission had completed its work from the Persian Gulf to Salmas. The Russians, in connection with internal disturbances in Persia, occupied with their troops a number of cities in northern Persia. Tabriz was occupied in 1909 ; Urmia and Khoi in 1910. This measure enabled the Russians not only to control Persia, but also to secure the road from their rail-head at Djoulfa to Van through Khoi. When the Great War began, Russia was therefore in occupation.
Disturbances at once began along the border and at the beginning of October, 1914, a determined attack was made on Urmia, ostensibly by Kurds. It was afterwards clear, from statements made by Persians and Turks who were engaged in the attack, that the nucleus of the fighting force was made up of Turkish soldiers and that the attack was under the command of Turkish officers. It was also clear from statements made by Persians friendly with the Turks and unfriendly towards the Russians, that the result of success in this attack would have been the looting of the Christian population, with probable loss of life.
About a month after this attack, war was declared between Russia and Turkey. About the same time the Russians closed the Turkish Consulates at Urmia, Tabriz and Khoi, and expelled the Kurds and other Sunni Moslems from the villages near Urmia. Arms were given at the same time to some of the Christians. The Turks in response expelled several thousand Christians from adjoining regions. in Turkey. These refugees were settled in the villages vacated by the Sunni Moslems who had been expelled. Turkish and Kurdish forces gathered along the frontier and especially to the south in the Soujboulak region.
In the latter part of December, two engagements took place ---one 20 miles south of Urmia between Kurdish and Russian soldiers, in which the latter were successful; the other was at Miandoab, at the south end of Lake Urmia, in which the Russian forces, with some Persians, were routed by Turks and Kurds. About the same time Enver Pasha invaded Trans-Caucasia from Armenia at Sarikamysh in the Kars region. This threatened to cut off Russia's communications with Persia, and orders were given for the evacuation of Tabriz, Urmia and Khoi. The evacuation of Urmia took place on the 2nd January, that of Salmas a day or two later, and that of Tabriz on the 5th. Meanwhile, the military situation in Trans-Caucasia had changed with the rout of Enver Pasha's army, and Khoi was not evacuated.
For convenience it may be well to summarise the military events from the 1st January to the 1st June. Tabriz was occupied by the Turks and Kurds, but, about the 1st February, a crushing defeat a few miles north of Tabriz led to its sudden evacuation and to the flight of the Turkish forces back to Miandoab. The American Consul at Tabriz, the Hon. Gordon Paddock, with the very effective co-operation of the German Consul, who had previously been in the American Hospital under the protection of the American Consul, kept the city of Tabriz from loss of life and to a large extent from loss of property. The Turks collected large Kurdish forces from the Soujboulak region and from districts in eastern Turkey; these, together with a smaller force of Turkish regulars, moved through Urmia and Salmas against Khoi, joining Turkish forces from Van under Djevdet Bey. This campaign against Khoi lasted until the 1st March, and was unsuccessful. In March the Russian forces drove the Turks from Salmas and occupied this region. Affairs remained in this condition until April. In April the Van campaign of the Russians, with the aid of Armenian volunteers, began. A Turkish force of approximately 18,000 men with mountain guns under Halil Bey, an uncle of Enver Pasha, reached Urmia on the 16th April. They had come over the mountain passes from Mosul, having been sent from Constantinople by way of Aleppo to Mosul. Halil Bey was defeated in Salmas, and in May retreated towards Van. The Turkish forces were finally withdrawn from Urmia on the 20th May, and the Russians reoccupied that city on the 24th May. The region of Soujboulak was occupied by the Turks for some months longer, but the campaign in that region has no bearing on the Christian population, since there are no Christians in the region.
The Christian population in this region is partly Armenian and partly Nestorian---or Syrian, as they call themselves. The Armenian element consisted of four or five thousand in Tabriz, ten thousand or more in Salmas, a small number in Khoi, and some six or seven thousand in the Urmia district. The Nestorians, except for less than 2,000 in Salmas, all lived in the Urmia district. Including refugees from Turkey and the Armenians, there were in Urmia , at the beginning of 1915, not far from 35,000 Christians. The Syrians or Nestorians include not only members of the old Nestorian Church but also Protestants, members of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Roman Catholics or Chaldeans, as the last are generally called. In Maragha there is a colony of Armenians numbering some hundreds. Excepting the Christians in Tabriz, Maragha, and the city of Urmia, the last numbering not more than 2,000, all these Christians live in villages, Mohammedans and Christians sometimes sharing a village between them and sometimes living in separate villages. These Mohammedan villagers belong to the Shiah sect but speak the Turkish language.
The evacuation of the Russians put all the Christians in peril. The Salmas Christians (except about 800), most of the Christians of Tabriz, and eight or ten thousand from Urmia fled with the retreating Russians. They left on the shortest notice, without preparation and in the heart of winter. Many perished by the way, mothers dying in childbirth, old men and women and little children falling by the wayside from exhaustion. This fleeing army of refugees, increased in numbers by several thousand from the regions in Turkey between Khoi and Van, passed over the Russian border and scattered in the villages and towns of Trans-Caucasia. Many of them died of disease due to the privations and exposures of flight and life as refugees.
This flight left some 25,000 Christians in Urmia. All of these sought shelter from massacre. On the one hand the Kurds were pouring into the plain, urged on and followed by Turkish officers and troops; on the other hand the Moslem villagers set to work robbing and looting, killing men and women and outraging the women. Several thousand found refuge with friendly Mohammedans. Great credit is due to no small number of Moslems, most of them humble villagers and some men of higher rank, who protected the imperilled Christians. In some cases safety was bought by professing Mohammedanism, but many died as martyrs to the faith. In several places the Christians defended themselves, but the massacring was not confined to these. Villages that deliberately gave up their arms and avoided any conflict suffered as much as those that fought. The mass of the people fled to the city, and all, including the city people, took refuge in the mission compounds. The French Roman Catholic Mission sheltered about 3,000, and the compounds of the American Presbyterian Mission about 17,000. The latter were enlarged by joining up neighbouring yards and so enclosing in one connected compound, with only one gate for entrance and exit, some fifteen to twenty yards. The American flag was placed over the compounds of the American Mission, and here people were safe from massacre. The villages, in the meantime, with three or four exceptions, were a prey to plunder and destruction. Everything movable that possessed the least value was either carried away or destroyed.
During the months of Turkish occupation there was never a moment of real safety for the Christians. The most unremitting efforts on the part of the missionaries secured comparative safety within the city walls, so that the people were scattered to some extent from the Mission Compound; and a few villages, including two that were not plundered at the beginning, were kept comparatively safe through the efforts of the Persian Governor. Beyond these narrow limits the Christians could not go. This was shown by constant robberies and murders when Christians ventured forth. During this period the Turks were guilty not only of failure to protect the Christians effectively, but also of direct massacres under their orders. One hundred and seventy men thus massacred were buried by the American missionaries, their bodies lying in heaps where they had been shot down and stabbed, tied together and led out to be murdered by Turkish agents. These massacres took place on three different occasions. Once men were seized by Turkish officers in the French Mission and sent out from the Turkish headquarters to be killed ; once there were men seized in a village which was under the protection of Turkish soldiers and had had its safety pledged repeatedly by the highest Turkish officials ; and once there were men from just over the border in Turkey who had been forced to bring telegraph wire down to Urmia and were then taken out and killed. In each of these cases some escaped and crawled out, wounded and bloody, from the heaps of dead and dying, to find refuge with the American missionaries. Besides these, the Armenian soldiers in the Turkish army, previously to the arrival of Halil Bey, were shot. In Urmia, the total losses of this period, from the evacuation of the town by the Russians on the 2nd January until their return on the 24th May, were the murder of over one thousand people---men, women and children; the outraging of hundreds of women and girls of every age---from eight or nine years to old age ; the total robbing of about five-sixths of the Christian population ; and the partial or total destruction of about the same proportion of their houses. Over two hundred girls and women were carried off into captivity, to be forced to embrace Islam and to accept Mohammedan husbands. The Salmas district suffered quite as much as Urmia, excepting that the mass of the people fled with the Russian troops, and consequently the crimes against women were not so numerous. About 800 who remained in Salmas, most of whom were old people, with some of the poorer and younger women, were gathered together by Djevdet Bey before his withdrawal from Salmas and were massacred. This happened early in March. The Salmas villages were left in much the same condition as those of Urmia.
The relief work began before the evacuation. Unsettled conditions had frightened people, and many had brought their goods for safe keeping to the American missionaries. With the evacuation many more brought their property, whatever they could save from the general riot. The protection of those under the American flag and of others in the city and in Mohammedan homes was accomplished only by the most constant vigilance during all those months. It was necessary to feed thousands .of the people, and over ten thousand people were fed for about six months. Many of the girl., and women who were taken captive were found and returned to their homes ; information was secured as to others, which led to their subsequent rescue. Conditions of life were such that it was impossible to prevent epidemics, those that carried off the largest number being typhoid and typhus. Both of these diseases were probably brought by Turkish soldiers cared for in the American Hospital. The total number who died of disease during the period of Turkish occupation was not less than four thousand. Of eighteen adults connected with the American Mission, thirteen had either typhus or typhoid, and three lost their lives. The French missionaries suffered just as severely, and were in greater peril of violence.
To assign guilt and analyse the causes of this terrible loss of life and property is not an altogether easy task. There is no class of Mohammedans that can be exempted from blame. The villagers joined in the looting and shared in the crimes of violence, and Persians of the higher class acquiesced in the outrages and shared in the plunder. The Kurds were in their natural element. The Turks not only gave occasion for all that happened, but were direct participants in the worst of the crimes. On the other hand, individuals of every class deserve credit. There were many villagers who showed only kindness. The Persian Governor made it possible, by his co-operation, for the American missionaries to do what they did ; the Kurds responded to appeals for mercy and, in some cases, returned captive girls unsolicited and did other humane service. A few individual Turkish officers and a number of their soldiers took strong measures to keep order. One such officer saved the city from loot when riot had already begun. There were various causes ; jealousy of the greater prosperity of the Christian population was one, and political animosity, race hatred and religious fanaticism all had a part. There was also a definite and determined purpose and malice in the conduct of Turkish officials. It is certainly safe to say that a part of this outrage and ruin was directly due to the Turks, and that none of it would have taken place except for them.
The duty of Americans, and especially the missionaries, is not so much to apportion the blame as to repair the damages. The task in Persia is very great, but the opportunities are equally as great. The number of destitute persons has been increased by the influx of forty or fifty thousand refugees from Turkey---Nestorians who lived in the mountain region between Urmia and Van, and who were forced to flee from their homes by the Turks and Kurds. In outlying districts the men have been massacred, and those who have survived are mainly women and children; but from the mountain valleys, where the bulk of these people live, they were able to escape en masse.
28. FIRST EXODUS FROM URMIA, JANUARY, 1915: REPORT DATED 1st MARCH, 1915, FROM THE REVEREND ROBERT M. LABAREE, OF THE AMERICAN MISSION STATION AT TABRIZ, TO THE HON. F. WILLOUGHBY SMITH, U.S. CONSUL AT TIFLIS ; COMMUNICATED BY THE BOARD OF FOREIGN MISSIONS OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN THE U.S.A.
In view of your interest in the welfare of the Persian Christian refugees here in the Caucasus, and your efforts in their behalf, may I submit to you a report on their condition as I have seen it in my journey hither from Tabriz ? Commissioned by the American Presbyterian Mission of West Persia to investigate the affairs of the many thousands who have fled recently from Persia into Russia in order to escape the cruel vengeance of the Kurdish border tribes, I left Tabriz over two weeks ago and have spent the intervening time visiting the various centres where these refugees are congregated. It is hard to estimate exactly the number of these refugees from Persia, for mingled with them are a multitude of fugitives from Turkey. The total number of all these unfortunates in the district of Erivan, where most of them have found refuge, was stated by a good authority to be seventy thousand. The Persian contingent is pretty consistently estimated at from fifteen to twenty thousand. The refugees from Turkey are almost entirely Armenian, and are being taken care of by the wealthy Armenians of this province through their well organised relief committees. Those from Persia are less fortunate, for a majority of them are Syrian; and, although the Armenians have been very generous to them also, they have no influential friends to speak in their behalf and minister to their needs. It is also safe to say that the fugitives from the Urmia plain are the most sadly in need of assistance, for they had no previous warning of the impending disaster, and most of them have come out without any preparation whatever for their prolonged sojourn in a strange land.
I doubt whether the story of that awful flight can ever adequately be told. Few tales that I have ever heard can compare with it in heart-rending interest. The whole northern section of the Urmia plain learned of the departure of the Russian troops about ten o'clock on the night of Saturday, the 2nd January (1915). By midnight the terrible exodus had begun, and by morning the Christian villages of that district were practically deserted. People left their cattle in the stables and all their household goods in their homes, just as they were, and hurried away to save their lives. If anyone possessed a horse or a donkey or any other beast of burden he was fortunate, and if he happened to have ready cash in his home he was even more so; but, well-to-do as a man may be, cash is not always on hand in the villages, and so many who, according to the standards of the country, were rich, started on their long journey with a mere pittance, and the vast majority of men and women and children were on foot. Before the seven days' hard walking through the slush and mud to the Russian border was accomplished, all encumbrances were cast aside, quilts, extra clothing, and even bread, for it became a question with the poor, tired, struggling crowd which they would carry---their bedding or their babies. Of course, very many of the weaker ones never reached Djoulfa at all, but lay down by the roadside for their last long rest, and those who did reach the Russian border were so haggard and emaciated that their own friends did not recognise them. Almost worse than the weary tramping by day, in the most terrible mud, were the nights in the villages by the way. Every possible shelter was so crowded that there was no room whatever to lie down, and the air became so foul before morning that the occupants were nearly suffocated ; and yet those who could find no shelter and lay out all night in the wet were even more miserable. As one has heard the same sad story repeated a score of times with only a difference in details, one has wondered what human flesh and blood can stand in a great crisis like this. I should like to give two instances that have come under my personal knowledge ; such stories might be multiplied a thousand times.
One old man with two daughters-in-law and six grandchildren started on that fatal night from the village of Karagöz. All were afoot, and the women carried their little ones by turns, while the old man stumbled along as best he could, unable to carry any burden. He at last gave out, lay down by the roadside and died. The two women and their little charges pressed on for a day or two longer, when one of them gave birth to a baby, also by the roadside. The mother tore off her dress, wrapped the baby in the pieces and resumed the weary tramp. Fortunately for them, the two women found their husbands waiting for them in Russian Djoulfa; but, alas, in the new complications arising from the coming of the baby two of the other children were separated from the party and lost. Two days the parents waited in Djoulfa, until a wagon-load of little waifs was brought in by kind-hearted soldiers. They found their two little ones among the number, but so emaciated by their hardships that they died shortly afterwards. People dying and children being born by the way are commonplaces of this journey; but it is not every one that has had a combination of such misfortunes.
Here, again, is another instance no less sad. The pastor of our Cosi congregation set out, as others did, in the dark, together with his wife, married daughter, and five-year-old granddaughter ; but he became separated from them very soon, so that the women were compelled to make the journey alone. They reached the town of Nahichevan, in Russian territory, with hundreds of others in a wholly exhausted condition. All three of them were sick and were taken to the local hospital, where a few days later the father of the family found them. But shortly afterwards, when the thousands of refugees were cleared out of the town and scattered in the villages, he was forced to leave, and his family have not seen him since. The daughter and grandchild were dismissed from the hospital, and the old mother, rather than remain alone, sick as she was, left also. For five days they stayed with a crowd of others in the railway station, when they were moved on to another village ; and there, the old woman's dysentery having become so bad and the little girl having developed the prevailing scarlet fever, they were taken to the village hospital. I found them there a couple of weeks later, or rather the younger woman and her child ; the mother had passed away two hours before I arrived. I buried the dear old woman, in whose house I have been many times. I gave her a better funeral than most of the other dying refugees ; but it was only a rough coffin with shavings as a pillow for her poor tired head. And then, with a little money put into the hand of the daughter and a promise to do what I could to find her father, I left her, dazed as a woman in a dream, and came away. The father cannot be found, and I fear that he has dropped down in some unknown spot and died.
I have wondered time and time again whether this panic-stricken flight was not some terrible mistake, and whether the people had not better have stayed at home and cast themselves on the mercies of the Kurds and their Moslem neighbours; but as the stories of the sufferings of those who remained behind begin to reach us---stories of bloodshed and forced apostacy, and of women and girls carried off to a life worse than death---I have revised my judgment. Even all this untold misery by the way and in a strange land is better than the fate of those who remained at home.
But I must pass on to report the conditions as they now exist among the refugees. In my effort to get the facts, I have had interviews with the Exarch (the Metropolitan Bishop of Tiflis), the Governor of the Erivan district, the Armenian Bishops of Tabriz (now in Nahichevan) and of Erivan, members of the various relief committees and the village elders, who act as local relief committees, together with a very large number of the refugees themselves in various sections of the province. Whatever one may find to criticise in the administration of relief, one cannot but recognise the tremendous burden that has descended upon the people of this region and the serious problems they have had to face. While one cannot say that there has been an adequate effort to grapple with the difficulties, yet much has been done. The Government officials have given free railway transportation to the interior, and they have wisely had the people scattered among the villages, where they can best be taken care of. The energetic Armenian committees have taken care of their own people, and have been unexpectedly generous to the Syrians who are quartered in their midst. In Tiflis the Syrians themselves have done much for their own race in that city, and have had an efficient committee working in conjunction with the municipal relief committee. But more worthy of praise than any or all of these together are the humble kind-hearted villagers themselves, who have carried the heaviest end of the burden, taking in the homeless wanderers, giving them shelter and even bedding, and furnishing them with food. Had it not been for this unorganised relief, the misery would have been many times more intense. In one village, of 50 houses, I found 307 refugees ; and in another, of 100 houses, 850 dependents. In the former place all that had been received from outside sources had been 220 roubles, and in the latter the extent of outside relief had been about six pounds per head of poor flour. But the farmers of that section have had a bad year of it, and are themselves feeling the pinch of poverty ; and the burden of all this multitude of destitute people is getting to be almost intolerable. At best, too what has been done by all agencies combined has failed to save the wretched refugees from their sad plight. With often twenty of them in one room, sleeping on the grass, destitute of bed-clothing and having unwholesome-looking bread to eat, their lot is not to be envied. No wonder that after the hardships of the journey scores and hundreds of them have died, pneumonia and enteric troubles and scarlet fever having carried off a multitude. The scarlet fever has been especially virulent, and there was scarcely a house which I visited where from two to five little ones had not been carried out to the cemetery. One could hardly hope to save a man with dysentery on the five kopecks (1 1/4d.) a day given for his support, or with the coarse flour given in other districts. While one cannot but pity all, yet one's especial sympathy goes out to those whom one has seen in their own country living in comfort and, for this country, even in luxury, yet here, in this strange land, dependent on the dole of bread given them.
With such conditions I have not dared to do anything in the way of relief, except to leave here and there small sums for the sick and for those particularly suffering. As long as I have not found anyone that has died or is dying from hunger I did not think it justifiable to expend our little funds in the hopeless task of making men comfortable. More and more am I persuaded that we must reserve our efforts to the time when these people begin to return to their homes. If the way opens for such a return, it must be our first endeavour to restore them to their villages ; for very many of them have their wheat-fields and vineyards, and if these are not looked after this spring, the relief problem of the future becomes many times more serious. But how are these unfortunates to get home ? Some of them had a little money when they came out and some reserve strength; now both funds and physical force are gone, and after the hard journey back they will reach homes plundered of everything, and in many cases burnt. Officials here have declared that there is no question but that the Government will send them back by rail to Djoulfa free of charge ; but, when they are once in Persia, then all relief committees save our own cease to act. It is on this basis that I wish to make my appeal to the American public. In a report which I subjoin, Dr. Shedd, of our Mission in Urmia, gives us a picture of the conditions there among those who, to the number of ten to fifteen thousand, have found shelter in our Mission yards. Up to the 25th January I learn that he has spent over eight hundred pounds sterling in their support ; and he names £3,000 as the minimum of what is needed for the people there. He himself considers this an under-estimate, looking at the problem only from the limited knowledge he had at his command ; and I am sure that it is. Five thousand for those in Urmia and five thousand for those who have fled, seems to me a more reasonable estimate. Ten thousand pounds is a big sum to ask, especially at this time, when so many other portions of the world are stretching out their hands to our country for aid; but most of these have many eloquent tongues to voice their cry, while for this people, that have lived so far away among fanatical Moslem masters, who is there to speak ? I can only hope that this little story of their sufferings may bring some relief, even if it is not the sum asked and so much needed. I wish I might hope that others would help in this work; but the French Mission has little assistance to give, and the Orthodox Mission, that has made a big bid for the friendship of this people, seems to have completely flattened out. I doubt whether anything can be hoped for from that source, and I am very sure that nothing will be given in a large unsectarian way. And so it appears to me that we of America are the only ones that can be relied upon to come to the assistance of this old historic people, who have now endured the heaviest blow that has fallen upon them for centuries.
There is one other matter. I have said that we must reserve our help for the time when these people return home; money given them here, unless it be in very large sums, can do no good. You, however, have suggested that £200, given through me to the heads of the Relief Committees of the Caucasus to be used for these Persian refugees, might do more than anything else to quicken their own assistance to this unfortunate people. The reasons you have given for this judgment have seemed to me strong ones, and I have telegraphed to-day to our headquarters, stating the facts. If any such funds are sent, I shall ask you to help me in giving the money in such a manner as shall produce the best results. In the meantime I wish to thank you most cordially for all that you have done to assist me in this good work.
29. AZERBAIJAN, BEHIND THE RUSSIAN FRONT : EXTRACTS FROM A SERIES OF LETTERS BY THE REV. ROBERT M. LABAREE; COMMUNICATED BY THE BOARD OF FOREIGN MISSIONS OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN THE U.S.A.
(a) Letter dated Tabriz, 12th March, 1915 (to Mr. Labaree's mother).
Sad news. The Kurds driven back from Khoi massacred 800 Syrian and Armenian men with cruel torture. This in the plain of Salmas. In Urmia the largest and wealthiest Syrian village, Gulpashan, which had been spared by payments of large sums of money, was given over to plunder by the returning Kurds. The men of the village were all taken out to the cemetery and killed; the women and girls treated barbarously. Sixty men were taken out of the French Mission, where they had taken refuge, and shot. Others have been hanged. The Swiss teacher of the missionaries' children has died of typhoid. I have been asked to go to Urmia, but every way is blocked. Please let Mr. Speer know facts.
(b) Letter dated Tabriz, 13th March, 1915 (to Mr. Speer).
Dr. Shedd's latest communication speaks for itself and reveals a terrible condition of things at Urmia. This condition, I fear, has been rendered even more acute in the two weeks since the letter was written by the defeat of the Turks and Kurds near Salmas. At that time all the remaining Christian refugees in Diliman (the chief town of Salmas) suffered terribly. All the males above twelve years of age were taken to two neighbouring villages, tortured and shot. Their number is estimated at 800. The women were to be made Moslems, but the entrance of the Russians into the town the next day prevented that. I doubt not but that the retreating Kurds will wish to do the same thing as they pass through Urmia. One is perfectly helpless at such a time. The Consuls are acting in concert, but what can they do ? The only salvation seems to be that the Russian army may advance soon to Urmia, but for military reasons this may be out of the question.
My own visit to Urmia has been stopped for the present by events. There is no possible way of my reaching Urmia, unless the Consul should go and I should accompany him.
(c) Letter dated Diliman, 19th April, 1915 (to the Presbyterian Missions Board, New York).
There seems no more prospect now than when I last wrote of any measures being taken by the Russian authorities to relieve the Urmia situation. If any plans are afoot for the occupation of the city they are not at all in evidence, and I am persuaded that a good many things must happen elsewhere before the local conditions will be materially changed.
Recently a Mr. McGowan, a reporter of the Associated Press, fresh from America, arrived here---all interest over the situation. He was most anxious to reach Urmia, if any way could be found to get in and any assurance be given that he could return. We decided upon a perfectly open policy. With the consent of the Russian officers here, we secured a messenger and sent him directly to the Turkish Consul in Urmia, asking for guards and safe conduct, from a point just beyond the pass to the city, and return. In our letter to the Consul we enclosed an open letter to Will Shedd, asking his advice in the matter. Indirectly we hear that our messenger was put under arrest (lest, I suppose, he should undertake to return), and no answer has been sent to our request ; while, on the other hand, horsemen were despatched to a midway point to escort into the city some Persians who had sent a request very much like our own by the same messenger. It is no use making any more efforts to get inside this chestnut burr, until through God's Providence it opens itself. I am here to render what help I can, and while as yet I have been able to do nothing, yet perhaps it will be given me later to give some little assistance to our poor, tired, beleaguered friends in Urmia. Mr. McGowan has gone back to the Caucasus. It was a pleasure to get sight of an American face and have a fresh whiff from the outside world.
The news that comes to us from across the Turkish border is far from pleasant. The many hundreds (and perhaps some thousands) of Armenians and Syrians in the region of Bashkala have been massacred. The Armenians and Kurds in and about Van have begun to fight. In the mountains Mar Shimun is said to have gathered the independent tribes about him , and they are battling for their lives against great odds. These are the near-by places. What is going on inside Turkey, God only knows.
Yesterday I assembled about fifty Armenians from the neighbourhood of Bashkala in a near-by village for a service. They were all men in the employment of the Russian army when it withdrew from there several months ago. They had to come away with the troops, leaving behind their families and all that they possessed. They feel certain that their wives and children have been massacred or else taken away to a captivity worse than death. When one stands before such an audience, the words that are so easy to speak at other times fail one. Is there, any balm in Gilead for such wounds ? Is there any power to take away from the hearts of these men the sorrow and the rankling spirit of revenge ? May God never put me in a position like that, or else may he give me more grace than I now possess.
When one knows that three-fourths of the Moslems of this district, if not nine-tenths of them, were implicated in the plunder of Christian villages, and that many of them were parties to worse crimes, it is hard to have the same zest for work among them. But now that the way to Urmia seems barred for the present, I am planning to plunge into that work. Just now the Moslems here are so alarmed lest they suffer for what they have done that they are ready to listen to almost anything a Christian may say. It is a pity that in so many cases this willingness has no higher motive.
(d) Letter dated Tabriz, 6th May, 1915 (to the Presbyterian Missions Board, New York).
Just a word to report that I am safe at home. My departure from Salmas was most sudden and exciting. An overwhelming force of Turks and Kurds attacked the place, and in the course of manoeuvres we were nearly caught between the two firing-lines. It is not an experience that often comes to one, nor is it one that one wants repeated. With hundreds of other refugees, now twice plundered, we made our way to Djoulfa, and from there I came here.
30. TABRIZ : LETTER DATED TABRIZ, 17th MARCH, 1915, FROM THE REV. F. N. JESSUP; COMMUNICATED BY THE BOARD OF FOREIGN MISSIONS OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN THE U.S.A.
On the 1st November (1914) Turkey declared a "Djihad," or Holy War, against the Allies, and it was soon evident that she would try to stir up other Moslem nations. In December a small force of Turkish troops crossed into Persia at Soudjboulak, south of Urmia, but we thought nothing of it, knowing that the Russian forces here would be able to cope with them. But on the last day of December it became evident that the Russians were actually about to withdraw from here, and there was a panic among the Armenians and other native Christians. Day and night the poor Armenians fled out of the city towards the Russian border, and out of 750 or more families only about 250 were left, most of these being the poorest people. From the first we were beset by people asking to be allowed to take refuge with us. We had permission to admit those who were connected with us, and, in addition, had to make arrangements to receive all the Europeans who might need protection. It was decided that all the missionaries should come to this compound, where the Memorial School and men's dispensary are located. You can imagine the rush and work of the first days of January---all the school-rooms to be cleared of everything so as to be ready for the crowds of people so anxious to get in, people to be interviewed day and night rules to be made as to who and what were to be admitted, our own houses to be made ready for the advent of the missionary families. For example, my house, in which I had been living alone on Friday, by Saturday night contained five families, consisting of ten adults and seven children ; and whereas up to that time Dr. Vanneman and I had been having our meals alone, now in my dining-room all the Americans ate together, nineteen adults and a number of children! By this time almost all the Europeans had left the city, including the Consuls of the Allied Powers; the banks were closed and the Indo-European telegraph office was shut. The Europeans who were left in the city came to us for refuge, all except one family of Italians and a few Germans, Austrians and Turkish subjects who thought they would be safe. But even these asked to have a place reserved in case of need, for no one knew what might happen when a horde of undisciplined Kurds entered the city. Not only this, but a number of prominent Mohammedans came to ask protection, and very many more left the city to flee to Teheran, knowing that they might be molested or blackmailed.
On Tuesday, the 5th January, the Russian troops left the city and encamped on its outskirts ; the next day they started north towards Djoulfa, and on Friday, the 8th, the Turks and Kurds entered. For the next three weeks they were in possession of Tabriz. We were cut off from the outside world, without news of what was occurring elsewhere, practically shut up in this compound with the four hundred who had taken refuge with us. We had as our guests Belgians from the Customs and Finance Departments, French Catholic Sisters with forty or fifty of their school-children, two German ladies who had been sick and unable to go with the rest of the German colony, a Russian lady, and two American Seventh Day Adventist missionaries from Maragha, but most of the people were Armenian and Nestorian. As you see, they were of all nationalities and religions, but all lived together in the greatest goodwill, and things moved with a remarkable lack of trouble or friction.
We had planned to observe the regular Week of Prayer with nightly services in our church, but our church had to be abandoned, for almost every Christian from that quarter of the city had fled, and no one dared to stir out of doors after dark. But we were given a greater opportunity. Instead of a week's services attended by fifty or sixty people, we had Evangelistic services in the assembly room of the Memorial School every night for a full four weeks, with a hundred to a hundred and fifty in attendance, and all listening with the most earnest attention. And as we had with us refugee families from Soudjboulak, Maragha and other places, we had a chance to preach the Gospel to those rarely, if ever, reached by the truth. Instead of having to seek a congregation, we had it ready within our gates, and one composed of those whose hearts were softened in the fact of our common danger and life together.
As the time went on, the blackmail and plundering on the part of the Kurds grew worse and people became more anxious. It was indeed a welcome day when the sound of cannon and machine guns was heard to the north, and it appeared that the Russians were returning to deliver the city. This they did on the 30th January, and so well had the campaign been arranged that the fleeing Kurds were cut off from the city after the battle, and so could not loot or kill on their retreat, as many had feared they might. And thus in God's providence the city was relieved, and we and the many lives entrusted to us were kept safe from harm during that trying time.
When the roads were once again open and word reached us from other places, we began to hear of the terrible plight of the Christians of other places, especially Urmia and Salmas. When suddenly and unexpectedly the native Christians of those places heard that the Russian army was immediately to be withdrawn, they knew that their only safety from the cruelties of the approaching Kurds lay in flight. Men, women and little children were obliged to start off at once, in mid-winter, most of them on foot, unable to make preparation or to carry sufficient food, clothing, or bedding, and to flee in terror of their lives through snow and deep mud, wading through streams and toiling over the mountains and across plains covered with almost impassable mire, till at last they might reach Djoulfa on the Russian frontier, nearly 150 miles away. The story of the horror of that flight will probably never be fully told. From Urmia 17,000 or 18,000 must have fled. When they reached the Salmas plain, their numbers were swelled by thousands of Armenian Christians fleeing thence. Men who went through the experience tell us that the events of those days are indescribable. On the edge of the Salmas plain multitudes could find no lodging and had to sleep in the snow. Some children were carried off by wolves, and many more died before morning. And then the march of those days ! Up before daylight, struggling in the snow and slush and darkness to find and keep to the road through the. mountain passes, hurrying on ever, knowing that at the end of the day only those who first arrived could be sure of finding shelter for the next night ; parents becoming separated from each other and from their children in the darkness or in the mass of hurrying people, unable to find them again, but hoping that they might meet at the end of the day; people throwing away the quilts or other necessary bedding they had brought because physically unable to carry them ; the road strewn with abandoned goods; the weak and sick falling by the wayside, many never to rise again; men become as beasts in the common struggle just to live. At night many would arrive long after dark at the appointed stopping-place only to find every caravanserai and lodging so full that they would be forced to spend the night out of doors. Those within fared little better, crowded in so tightly that often they could neither lie nor sit down, but had to remain standing all night in rooms with every door and window shut, and the air so foul that the winter's cold without seemed preferable. And at such stopping-places exhausted mothers and fathers were anxiously going from house to house and group to group, seeking their lost children. The fugitives have many terrible tales to tell. By the time they had reached Khoi their plight was desperate, but beyond Khoi their sufferings were increased by the deep mire through which they had to struggle. One of our Christian workers from Urmia told me that with his own eyes he saw a man go up to his mother, who had sunk exhausted in the mud, and shoot her through the head, rather than leave her to die by degrees or to be killed by wolves. They tell of a family who started from Urmia---an aged father and his two married daughters, each carrying two children, one on her back and the other in her arms. There, in the mire beyond Khoi, the father could no longer go on and had to be left, and one of the women gave birth to a child. She wrapped the new-born babe in a piece of cloth torn from her dress, and taking it in her arms struggled on, but the other two children had to be abandoned like their grandfather. On arriving at Djoulfa these women found their husbands, who had been in Tiflis and had hurried down to meet the fugitives. There for several anxious days they waited, hoping for news of the lost children. The fathers had been away long, and could not be sure of recognizing them, and the mothers were too exhausted to return. At last some soldiers came in with a waggon full of lost children whom they had rescued, and among them were the two little ones. But they had suffered so from exposure that in a few days they both died. The grandfather had perished in the mire.
Mr. Labaree, of our station, left for the Caucasus as soon as the way was open, to find out conditions and see what we could do to help the poor refugees. There are 70,000 or more reported in those regions, not only from Persia, but from Turkey and the border. The Armenians of the Caucasus had organised relief committees, and the Government was also helping. The average grant was about 2d. or 1 1/2d. per adult a day. The villagers among whom those thousands of absolutely destitute strangers were distributed were very kind, but the burden was very heavy for them. Mr. Labaree said that the poor fugitives were in a pitiable state. Sickness had followed the exposure and strain---scarlet fever and other diseases---and in almost every room he visited he heard of four or five children who had died.
But the condition of those who did not, or could not, flee from the Urmia and Salmas plains has been even worse. In Urmia about 12,000 took refuge in the three compounds belonging to our Mission, while 3,000 more were in the French Catholic Mission. Here most of them have remained since the 1st January, but some have withdrawn to yards adjoining ours, some have been taken out by force and killed by the Turks, and many have died. Urmia has been entirely cut off from us. A few letters and messages they have succeeded in sending through, and from these we have learned something of their condition. At the first arrival of the Kurds and Turks, most of the people remaining in the Christian villages fled to the Mission for protection. Of those who stayed in the villages, many girls and women were carried off by the Mohammedans and many men killed. In those first days of January, about ten thousand were crowded into our compound at Urmia city. In the church there were three thousand, so many that they could not lie down to sleep. At the beginning from ten to twenty-five were dying daily in our city compound, and a little later the mortality increased to from twenty-five to forty a day. At first it was not possible to take the bodies out of the grounds for burial. Later, when they were able to secure some adjoining yards, conditions became a little better. Dr. Packard, hearing that a large Christian village was being attacked by the Kurds, rode out there and, at the risk of his life, made his way to the Kurdish chiefs and then to the village, and persuaded the Kurds to spare the lives of the people on condition of their surrendering their goods. Thus, by his influence with the Kurds, won by many medical services in the past, he was able to save nearly a thousand poor people from massacre and conduct them that night to the city.
All these thousands have had to be fed and cared for. It has meant a daily expenditure of from £50 to £55 sterling for the three tons of bread distributed each day. Some of the wealthy fugitives to Russia left money with the Missionaries on their departure, with permission to borrow it and use it if necessary, and in this way they were able to get on up to the last reports, for we have been unable in any way to reach them or send them money. But it is now nearly a month since we have received authentic news from the Missionaries at Urmia. At that time they reported the situation as very grave. We have heard that a Turkish officer and several men entered our Mission grounds by force, beat Mr. Allen twice because he could not tell them of the whereabouts of some men they sought, and carried off several men to kill them. From the Catholic Mission, in the same way, some forty men were taken and massacred. In a village whose people had from the first been peaceful and had paid a large sum for protection, 51 (others report 85) men were seized, taken outside and butchered, and then the soldiers returned to outrage the women and girls, not even little children being spared.
For three weeks Mr. Labaree has been in Salmas, hoping that a Russian expeditionary force might be sent to rescue the Urmia Christians and that he might be able to go over to help the Missionaries, who must be greatly worn by the strain and by their work. But as yet he has neither been able to go nor to send or receive any word, nor are there any signs of a rescue.
This is the most awful calamity which has befallen the Nestorian people in the ninety years of our mission work among them. About 1,000 had been killed and 2,000 had died of disease or fear up to the middle of March, just in Urmia itself, and the Nestorians here estimate that perhaps as many more died on the flight to Russia or have died since. This would mean a fifth or a sixth of the 30,000 Nestorians who live on the Urmia plain. Their prosperous villages have all been pillaged and most of them burned, and their churches destroyed. Of the survivors, half are refugees in great want in the Caucasus, the rest remain in Urmia in conditions of peril and fear and need which wring one's heart. Already over £4,000 sterling must have been spent by the Missionaries in Urmia to preserve the lives of those taking refuge with them. As soon as it becomes in the least safe, they must be helped to return to their ruined homes and villages to make a fresh start. Two months ago Mr. Labaree appealed to America for at least £10,000 sterling as the smallest sum required, and as time goes on it becomes evident that more will be needed. Thus far about £2,400 has been received from the American Red Cross and our Board, £30 from our missionaries in Hamadan, and £20 from the English missionaries at Ispahan. Of course we here are trying to help too. These poor distressed Nestorians are the especial charge of our American Presbyterian Church, which has laboured so many years for their good, and there is little hope of help for them in this hour when so many nations are in trouble, except in so far as we help them.
And it is not only the Christians of Urmia that are in great need. Those of the village of Miandoab (Armenians, these), have similarly lost everything. The Kurds still occupy their town., and they are refugees in Maragha and Tabriz. At Maragha the Armenians have suffered greatly, for most of them had to flee, and now they have the burden of all the refugees from Miandoab and other villages. And in Salmas it is worse. All the Christian villages on that plain have been smoked. Most of the Christians fled when the army withdrew in January, but some remained behind and these sought the protection of their Moslem neighbours. But a few days before the return of the Russian army to Salmas, when the Turks saw that they would be compelled to flee, they secured the names of all Christians by a ruse, pretending that all who registered would be protected. Then they gathered all the men into one place and carried them out in companies of about twenty-five, each to be shot down in cold blood. Others were tied with their heads sticking through the rungs of a ladder and decapitated, others hacked to pieces or mutilated before death. In this way practically every Christian man remaining in Salmas was massacred. You can imagine the fate of girls and women. The most detailed report received, signed by a number of men now on the ground, stated that from 712 to 720 men were thus killed in Salmas.
IV. Azerbaijan and Hakkiari, con't
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