1915: Urmia: Letter of Rev. Labaree to the Presbyterian Missions Board, New York
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.
1900-1999 A.D. Assyrian History Archives