1915: Urmia During the Turco-Kurdish Occupation: The Diary of a Missionary
URMIA DURING THE TURCO-KURDISH OCCUPATION: DIARY OF A MISSIONARY, EDITED BY MISS MARY SCHAUFFLER PLATT, AND PUBLISHED BY THE BOARD OF FOREIGN MISSIONS OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN THE U.S.A.
Urmia, Persia, Saturday, 9th January, 1915.
I want to start a letter telling you of the events of the last week, though I cannot tell when it will reach you. As you know, the Russians had taken possession of this part of Persia, and were maintaining order here, so that for the last year conditions were more orderly, peaceful and prosperous than for long years before. They had a consul here who was very capable, and tried to do justice to all.
When war was declared between Russia and Turkey, we knew that this meant war for Urmia, for we are right on the Turkish border, and only a few years ago Turkey tried to get this section for herself, but failed. We were told by the Russians in authority here that they would hold Urmia against all odds, so the city was fortified by trenches and defences on every side, and several thousand reinforcements came.
On New Year's Day, according to our custom, we received our friends. As many as a hundred and forty of our Moslem and Christian friends, men and women, called "to bless our New Year." On Saturday, the 2nd, like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, we were informed that the whole Russian army was withdrawing; some had gone in the night, the rest would leave immediately. There was a panic at once among the Christian (Syrian and Armenian) population.(45) The Osmanlis, or Turks and Kurds, were but a few miles away, and the Christians were absolutely defenceless.
At once, as soon as the Russians had gone, with large numbers of Syrians and Armenians leaving at the same time, the evil-minded Moslems all over the plain began to plunder the Christian villages. When the people were trying to flee to the missionaries in the city, they were robbed on the roads of everything they had, even of their outer clothing. In some of the villages the Moslem masters placed guards to prevent the people from going themselves or bringing their possessions to the city, saying they would protect them. When they tried to get away, these same guards robbed and stripped them.
The crowds had begun to pour in at our gates on Sunday the city people were taken in by night and many others from near by. On Sunday morning we put up the American flags over the entrances. On Monday morning Dr. Packard, with American and Turkish flags, accompanied by two Syrians, started out to meet the leading Kurdish chief. He arrived at Geogtapa in time to prevent a terrible massacre. The people of Geogtapa who had not fled to the city had gone to our church and the Russian church, both of which are situated on a high hill formed of ashes, a relic of Zoroastrian times. The churchyards are enclosed by high mud walls. All finally went to the Russian church, which was on the highest ground. They barricaded the strong doors, and, when the Kurds attacked, the men defended the fort with their guns and the women crowded like sheep into the church. When Dr. Packard arrived, a lively battle was going on, with little chance for the Christians. He had great difficulty in getting to the chiefs without being shot ; but he finally reached them, and they knew him. Some of these Kurds had spent weeks in our hospital and had been operated upon by Dr. Packard, so they listened to him while he pleaded for the lives of the people inside. After several hours' entreaty, they agreed to let the people go with him if they would give up their guns and ammunition.
I was talking yesterday with Layah, our Bible Woman, who was inside the church. She said that when Dr. Packard first tried to signal to them, they did not know him and kept on firing, but when they recognized him a shout went up: "It's the Hakim Sahib! Thank God! We are saved!" I asked her what the Kurds did when they came out, and she said they stood by and helped them, saying : " Come on ! Come on! Don't be afraid !" In the rush, Layah fell and broke her arm, and is now lying on Miss Lamme's sofa resting.
All Monday the refugees had been coming in, until it seemed that every room and storeroom was full, many of the rooms not lying-down full but sitting-up full. But that night, when Dr. Packard came, he brought over fifteen hundred more with him, and they had to be stowed away. This is Saturday, the sixth day these thousands have been here in our yards, not less than ten thousand---perhaps twelve or fourteen thousand. We have taken several small yards and houses adjoining ours, and the English Mission yard adjoining the seminary yard is also full. Of course, the two Englishmen of the English Mission had to leave with the Russian army, and with them a large number of prominent Syrians who had been sympathizers with Russia. Here in the city there has been plundering and some destruction of property, but no general disorder---unless it be in the Armenian quarter. The fine brick quarters which were built as barracks for the Russian army I understand have remained intact, because the invaders are afraid to go near them for fear they may be mined.
From the first the Sheikh promised protection to us and our people, and when the Osmanli officers came they immediately took possession of the city, and have tried to keep order and prevent plundering by Moslems. The other day a Moslem, terribly wounded by a Turkish guard while robbing, was brought here for treatment. This is an illustration of our position : Here is a Mussulman thief, plundering Christians, shot by the Osmanli guard, and then brought to us by his friends that we might care for him.
Although we were promised safety for all within our gates there is no certainty. On Wednesday morning I lay in bed a little longer than usual, and about half-past seven suddenly an awful cry of fear and despair went up from thousands of throats, and the crowds rushed toward the church, then swayed back, not knowing whither to fly. From the church, where human beings are packed in like sardines, they began jumping from the windows. My first thought was that the Kurds had broken in through our back gate, which opens into the Moslem quarter, and that the massacre was about to begin ; but the poor, terrified people soon quieted, and before I could get dressed I knew it must have been a false alarm. The poor, hunted creatures think that if they can only hold to the skirts of a missionary they will be safe.
On Thursday, Hannah, the wife of one of our pastors, reached us after great suffering and exposure. They lived in Nazi, and heard the report that the Russians were leaving. They couldn't believe it, but on Sunday afternoon Kurds from the west came and began plundering. The people all fled to a walled village, because they thought they might be safer there and because our preacher there, Kasha Oner (Preacher Abner), had many friends among the Kurds, being a mountaineer. On Monday, a Kurd visited them, pretending that he had been sent by the Turks from the city, telling them they need have no fear, as they would be protected ; but it became evident that he was a spy. Afterwards a band of Kurds came, demanded the guns, and drank tea with the people; then others came and they began robbing and killing. The people gathered together like a flock of frightened sheep, and many were slaughtered. The greater part of them got through the great gateway while the Kurds were plundering, and that night they spent in the mountains without food or shelter and with very little covering. One of our girls, Katie, who had gone home on Friday for her Christmas vacation, was among them. She saw her mother murdered and had to leave her body lying by the gate as they ran. The next morning more than four hundred of them started towards the city, cold, hungry, exhausted; many, having lost their shoes in their flight, had frozen and bleeding feet. Hannah came here, her feet were dressed, and she is lying comfortably on a mattress on Miss Lamme's floor. Her husband and daughter were already here. The rest of the party were taken in at our College compound, two miles west of the city.
The pitiful tales we hear of murder, of narrow escape through snow and mud, hungry, sick and cold, are numberless.
Monday, 11th January, 1915.
Several families from Degala are camped in our parlour, and the night before last Victoria, one of the women, came to me and said an old woman had just come in who didn't seem able to answer anything she asked her. I found her crouched in a corner of the hall. She said she was so cold. At first she couldn't eat, but after drinking some tea she improved. We had absolutely no place but a stone floor for her ; but we took up a carpet from my bedroom, rolled her up in it in the upper hallway, and she went to sleep. She was the janitress of our church in Barbaroud , fifteen miles to the south. The Kurds did their worst there several days ago, and she had escaped, barefooted, almost naked, and without food. She died a day or two later.
One poor woman, who had both husband and son killed, has gone crazy, and we haven't any place to put her but a dark closet under the stairway. At midnight I was awakened by her pounding on the door. She has a nursing baby. Thank God, to-day they took her to the hospital, where they can care for her a little better than here. (She died two days later.) At the College compound, where the hospital is, they have only about two thousand, and we have perhaps twelve thousand, and every day more are coming. Those who have been hiding with Moslem friends are coming to us day by day, and we haven't any place to put them. We have not been able to take the dead from our yards, so we are burying them in the little yard by the side of the church---twenty-seven so far. Some die every day, and there is no shroud or coffin for them.
We have just had a Praise Meeting in the parlour with fifty or sixty who could gather from the halls and rooms near, and we feel more cheerful. We thought if Paul and Silas, with their stripes, could sing praises in prison, so could we.
Wednesday, 13th January.
Since Monday, the 4th, we have been giving out bread. In the morning we sell to those who have money, and in the afternoon give free bread to those who cannot buy, disposing of over four tons of bread a day. Practically all the refugees from the city have their own food, and some from the villages, too. We buy our bread from the bazaar (market), and a very efficient and willing young Syrian has been attending to the weighing and giving out, while groups of other young men have been selling and distributing. The only things we have had for carrying the bread are our clothes-baskets and old tin bath-tubs, and they are doing good service. We have received some gifts of food for the refugees from Moslems. One man gave over six hundred pounds of meat, which we cooked and gave out in one section, but it is very difficult to distribute anything except bread among so large a number. I am speaking only of what we are doing here in this compound, where by far the larger number of refugees are. They are doing similar work in Sardari (the Boys'-School premises) and at the College compound. Mr. McDowell is looking after sanitary conditions and the streams of water flowing through the yards, which furnish the only drinking water for the crowds, and conditions are much improved.
There are hundreds of mountaineers who have no place to go to. Before this affair they were distributed among the villages, and we had established a number of schools especially for them. These people had been driven from their homes by the Kurds early in the autumn. Many of them seem little better than animals-dirty, lazy, satisfied with any hole to lie in and just enough bread to keep their stomachs comfortable. Of course, they are not all of this sort, but we have several hundred that are. They are chiefly crowded into the church and our large schoolroom. The people who are suffering most are those who have been accustomed to the comforts and decencies of life, who are crowded together like cattle, without sufficient clothing or food.
The day after the flight from Geogtapa we went with a basket of bread to one of the larger rooms of the Press, which was filled with self-respecting people who had the day before been in comfortable circumstances, but who had fled with nothing, or had been robbed of whatever they had tried to bring with them. When they saw the bread for distribution, they began to cry and cover their faces, and we had to drop the bread into their laps---they didn't reach out for it. Of course, we assured them that, under such circumstances, it was no shame to eat the bread of charity.
When the people began to flee, they wanted to deposit their money with us, and our Treasurer accepted it on condition that we could use it without interest and repay it when normal conditions are restored. It is with this money that we have been enabled to buy bread and save these people from starvation.
Children are being born every day. We have managed to give two small rooms to these women, many of whom haven't even a quilt. Children were born even in the crowded church. One of the women who was reporting these cases complained in a very aggrieved tone that some were "even bringing two," as if one wasn't enough to satisfy anybody under existing circumstances.
This is the first day that we have been able to get donkeys to haul away the refuse. I hope we shall soon be able to take the dead to the cemetery.
Thursday, 14th January.
Mr. Allen returned last evening from his journey to the villages of the Nazlu river. Several thousand fled towards Russia ; many have hidden with Moslems, who are now trying to force them to become Mohammedans and to give their girls in marriage to Moslems. In Ada perhaps as many as a hundred were killed, most of them young men. It is told that they were stood up in line, one behind another, by the Kurds, to see how many one bullet would kill. I went down to see the woman in the room under mine who had received word of the killing of her brother in Karadjalu. Everywhere there is wailing and sadness, and her lamentation for her dead brother is the wail of thousands of hearts :--
"Oh, Yeremia (Jeremiah), my brother!
Saturday, 16th January.
Yesterday some Abijalu. people were in, asking for bread, although a week ago they were among the well-to-do. The same story of robbery, exposure and horror. When a Kurd tried to carry off Shamasha Sayad's daughter, she jumped into the well and stayed there for hours in water up to her chin. Some one said a few days ago, "Blessed are the dead," and I echoed the sentiment.
Monday, 18th January.
In the midst of panic, distress and death, we have had two weddings. Both had been arranged to take place on the Syrian New Year, the 14th January. Dr. Shedd performed the ceremony in both cases. Both brides had their trousseaux ready, but felt these were not proper times for the display of finery, so wore ordinary dresses.
These last few days a number of the city families have returned in fear and trembling to their homes, taking just a very few things with them. This is relieving the overcrowded rooms somewhat, and Miss Schoebel this afternoon is trying to drive the people out into the sunshine long enough to have the rooms swept---or, rather, shovelled. It consumes all one's energies to try to get anyone to do anything. All the responsibility and much of the actual labour has devolved upon the missionaries. Of course, many of our best men fled to Russia, and among those who are left there are few leaders. There are some notable exceptions, though, both here and at the College---e.g., Jacob David, who without missionary assistance has charge of eight hundred and fifty refugees and is doing finely. Another, a young shopkeeper, has had charge of the weighing and distribution of bread, with much of the buying, from the beginning. He has done the work with surprising efficiency and self-devotion. Bands of young men have been ready, day after day, for distributing bread. The nights have been divided into three watches, and groups of men have taken their turns in acting as watchmen. Mr. Nisan, who has charge of the English Mission yard, one night found the watchmen asleep, so the next day they were tied to trees, and a placard placed over them with the inscription: "Unfaithful Watchmen," as a warning to others. Guarding the streams is a very necessary and a very difficult task. Mr. McDowell finds it extremely hard to get anyone among the hundreds of Syrians here who can be trusted to oversee such work, or who can be kept on a job longer than an hour or so at a time.
We are urging some now to return to their homes. Many are so afraid, and we cannot give them assurance of safety. Some Kurds have gone, but many are still about. The people come to the individual missionaries and beg for just one small room for their families, each one with his own special plea. When we tell them the greatest danger for them just now is to remain crowded in such narrow bounds, it makes little or no appeal to them. They are nine-tenths fatalists any way, and think that it all depends upon the "will of Allah." They say: "Let us die by the hand of God and not of the Kurds."
We have been having unusually fine weather; only two bad days, and they were not cold. A Mohammedan was heard to say: "Do you see how God loves these Christians ? Who ever saw such weather in the middle of winter ? "
Dr. Shedd is the representative of our station before the Government; he and Dr. Packard have had that end of the work, daily pleading before Persian and Osmanli authorities for the Christian population. It was told us that a prominent -Moslem had said : " Dr. Shedd is the best Christian in the city ! Just see how he comes every day through the deep mud to plead for those people !"
Wednesday, 20th January.
A few people from the city went to their homes, and our hopes began to rise ; but yesterday and to-day others came in from the Nazlu river and from Tehargousha. Thirty-six dead were carried to the trench in Mart Maryam(46) (St. Mary) churchyard yesterday ; the larger part of them were children.
Lucy, daughter of Kasha (preacher) David of Ardishai, came in yesterday with her baby from Gulpashan, where they had been refugees for some time, living in terror of Kurds by day and night. They also feared the Moslem neighbours and the Turkish guards sent in to protect the village. Her own village was Tehargousha. In terror the people fled to the roofs as the village was surrounded by Kurds, and there was no avenue of escape. The Kurds came up on to the roofs and commanded the people to go down. Lucy, with one Kurd below her on the ladder and two above her, her baby on her back, got down. In the yard she saw her younger sister, Sherin, a pretty girl of about fifteen, being dragged away by a Kurd. She was imploring Lucy to save her, but Lucy was helpless. When she was telling me this with tears and sobs, she said: "Every night, when I try to sleep, I hear her entreaties, 'Oh, Lucy, I'll be your sacrifice. Save me, Lucy !' I called to her, 'Pull your head-kerchief over your face ; don't look into their faces.' She tried to conceal her face, and daubed it with mud, but she has such beautiful dark eyes and rosy cheeks! The Kurds grabbed the young women and girls, peering into their faces, till each one found a pretty one; for himself, then dragged her away. If they had only killed my sister we could say, 'She is dead, like many another---it is finished'; but that she should be in the hands of a Kurd---we cannot bear, it ! " Some of these captives have been recovered, but there is no word of Sherin.
Saturday, 23rd January.
Yesterday we counted three thousand three hundred in the church, and many have gone out, so there must have been four thousand people there these last two weeks. Is it any wonder that children are dying by the score ? Morning and afternoon there are burials ; at other times the bodies are collected and laid in a room near the gate. To-day Mr. McDowell succeeded after long efforts in getting a cart for scavenger work. It came but one day. We have not been able to get even donkeys, except five or six. The scavengers would not come into the yards of Christians for such work, even though Mr. McDowell offered to pay well. We cannot open our back windows, the stench is too dreadful. I suppose the mere mention of such things is quite shocking even to read; but we have been living in such surroundings for nearly three weeks, and see only a little light ahead. We are hoping we can distribute some of the mountain refugees in empty houses here in Mart Maryam, and the Christian quarter.
Many Moslems who pretended to accept food and goods of Christians for safe keeping, are now claiming them as their own. One of our preachers, after having been plundered of practically everything by his Moslem neighbours, was received as a refugee into one of their houses and was fed from his own dishes, of his own food, and put to sleep in his own bed.
Dr. Packard has been gone for several days to the Nazlu villages, to gather together the remnants of the people scattered in Moslem villages, or in hiding, and to see if it be possible to put them into a few of their own places again. Most of the Kurds have left, but the Syrians are unarmed, and, just as from the beginning, their Moslem neighbours are their greatest enemies. If it isn't a Djihad (Holy War), it is very near it. It must have been planned beforehand, for there has been concerted action, from one end of the plain to the other, though here and there some Moslems have been friendly throughout, have done many kindly deeds and saved many lives.
Just at this joint we had an interesting diversion. A band of Turkish soldiers came into our yard and said they wanted to search our premises for wounded Russian soldiers. They searched the houses of the Allens, the Müllers, and our house; then the schools and all outside buildings and storehouses, even to the smallest closets. You might have thought they were searching for a lost hair from Osman's beard! I have an idea they thought we were concealing arms or ammunition, though ten days ago we collected all we could find anywhere among the people, and gave them up to the Osmanli commander. As we had nothing hidden, of course we had nothing to fear, though some of the people were scared.
A dozen times a day I pray: "Oh, Lord, how long?" All the first days it seemed as if it must be a horrible dream from which I would awake; but it has become a three weeks' reality, with little hope of a near dawning. It looks as if our long night might stretch out till the dawn of peace in Europe. And for these things who shall answer, if not the Powers of Europe ?
We have read that America has done so much for the sufferers in Europe ; surely they will not be too poor to help this little corner of misery, with its twenty-five or thirty thousand sufferers, and with absolutely no one on earth to look to but the American Mission ! For months we have not been permitted to write of conditions here, and now we are entirely shut off from the world, even from Tabriz. Anything we write "must be in French, just to say we are well." Our last word from Tabriz, the nearest mission station and residence of the American Consul, was written on the 31st December, and this is the 23rd January.
Sunday, 24th. January.
The fourth Sunday, but no Sabbath. To-day nearly all the people were taken out of the church and distributed among the empty houses near the Russian Mission and in the old church. I went with some of the young men who are helping with the distribution of the bread to count the people in each place. In one house there were two hundred and fifty; these are all mountaineers. We give to each one sheet or loaf of bread per day; about ten ounces. Not very extravagant feeding, you see!
Tuesday, 26th January.
On Sunday a Jew brought us word from Usknuk that Kasha David's daughter, Sherin, is there in the house of a Kurd, and that every effort is being made by gifts, persuasion and threats, to make her turn Mohammedan, but that she always answers "You may kill me, but I will never deny my faith." We are making plans to try to get her back. Dr. Packard reported on his return from the Nazlu. villages that in one place practically the whole population has become Moslem and have given up their church to be a mosque, while some even cursed their former faith. But, of course, such people never had any religion, and changing the name of it is a matter of convenience.
Wednesday, 27th January.
Miss Lamme and I went to-day to the Jewish quarters to look up Syrian refugees there. We found them in large numbers in the Jewish houses, where they had been kept and in some cases fed. Yesterday the French Mission sent away from their yards two hundred and fifty or more persons, who first went to the Governor. He telephoned to Dr. Shedd, and we had to receive them. They were put into Dr. Israel's house in Dilgusha, outside the city walls. All the houses there have been completely plundered; many have been robbed of doors and windows. No one thinks of returning to homes there, but a great many have returned to Mart Maryam.
Everywhere about the Yards people are basking in the wonderful sunshine, which is more like April than January. The common sight everywhere is the everlasting hunt for vermin, friends and neighbours graciously assisting one another. I suppose it is a vulgar subject to mention, but "we've got 'em," and must go on living in hourly contact with thousands of others who swarm with them.
Friday, 5th February.
We can't complain of the monotony of life, for we never know what will happen next. On Tuesday morning I had a wedding in my room here. The boy and girl were simple villagers. He had gone to Russia and brought back a little money, with some foreign clothes. Then his folks began to look round for a wife for him. He was betrothed several months ago to Anna of Ardishai, and, according to custom, gave her the money to buy her trousseau. For several weeks she had been sewing, until at last the wonderful silk dress, white silk head-kerchief, veil and all the necessaries, were ready. The wedding was fixed for the Syrian New Year; but the Kurds came and carried off wedding clothes and everything else in the house. They all fled here, and were married in the old, dirty garments they were wearing when they ran for their lives, for this was a month ago. In the flight the bride's mother was lost, probably killed, as nothing has been heard of her since. Their only present was a little tea and sugar that I tied up in a kerchief and gave to the bride, that they might invite a few friends to drink tea instead of eating the dinner they had intended giving.
There are a great many people who have been accustomed to good living heretofore, but for months have had no cooked food, so I invited a number of these to dinner on Wednesday. We had a meat stew, bread, cheese, pickles and tea, all they could eat. There were thirty-five for dinner, and twenty for supper. There was enough left over to feed fifty or more poor and sick ones outside. The whole thing cost about four dollars and fed a hundred people. We spread long cloths on the parlour floor and ate with wooden spoons from enamel plates borrowed for the occasion from the school. The matron and school-girls did the cooking and serving.
But for our next-door neighbours the scene quickly changed again from weddings and dinners to one of terror and flight by night. The house of Dr. ------ adjoins ours, and the roofs are continuous. For several days there had been rumours that their house would be plundered by the Turkish authorities, and they had not dared to undress and go to bed in peace, but on Wednesday they felt more safe and went to bed early. I myself had gone to bed, but not to sleep. Just before eleven o'clock I heard loud knocking on their gate, and then a rapid trampling of feet on the roof over my room. Pretty soon there was quite a commotion in our front yard. I jumped up, and saw in the yard a dozen or more Turkish soldiers, who entered through our front door and went up to the roof through our halls. I dressed as quickly as I could and went to Miss Coan's room on the roof, to find that some of the women from Dr. -----'s family were already there. In a few minutes the rest of the women and children from there climbed the wall or slid from the roof on to our balcony, and I let them in through the window into our parlour. They were crying and frightened nearly to death, but kept quiet. The Turks searched the house, but took nothing, saying they had come to take evil men, not things. They came back through our house again. The orders have been in our yard that the gate should never be opened at night but by one of the gentlemen; so, when they first knocked, the guard came and called Mr. Allen. He let them in and went with them to Dr. -----'s house. In the meantime, a Syrian had aroused Mr. Müller, and when he tried to get out of his front door he found a Turk guarding it. He tried to push out, saying that he was the master of the house, but the Turk struck him and refused to let him pass. When the gang returned from our neighbours', they insisted on searching Mr. Müller's house, even going into the bedroom where Mrs. Müller was in bed and Ruth was sick. Meanwhile a second band came and pounded on our gate, but our guards had run away, and finally one of the men climbed a telephone pole to the roof, got down inside and opened the gate. The officer tied up the Persian guards as a punishment for not opening the gate. Afterwards they went into the Allen house and even asked to have the piano played. It is maddening to have our premises and houses invaded in this way, and by such a lot, but we are helpless, and, for the sake of what we may be able to do for the safety of the people, our gentlemen have to smile and try to turn away their wrath with soft words, even though they are threatened and called liars by the representatives of the invading Government. I don't believe the Mission in the seventy-five years and more of its existence has ever been placed in so difficult and humiliating a position.
Still the ghastly procession of the dead marches on. Between seven and eight hundred have died so far. A great many are able to get plain wooden coffins for their dead now, but the great mass are just dropped into the great trench of rotting humanity. As I stand at my window in the morning I see one after another of the little bodies carried by, wrapped mostly in a ragged piece of patch-work ; and the condition of the living is more pitiful than that of the dead---hungry, ragged, dirty, sick, cold, wet, swarming with vermin---thousands of them ! Not for all the wealth of all the rulers of Europe would I bear for one hour their responsibility for the suffering and misery of this one little corner of the world alone. A helpless, unarmed Christian community turned over to the sword and the passion of Islam !
This morning my attention was called to a girl of twelve, who was too sick to be kept any longer in a room with other people. A young Syrian woman, who was helping with the sick, wanted to put her into that closet under the stairway from which none ever come out alive. I said: "She will die in there." She replied: "Of course she will die, but we shall have to find a place for her until she does." We put her there temporarily until we found a small room where there were only twenty. These we distributed among other crowded rooms, brought Margareta there, laid her on some matting and covered her with an old carpet. Poor child, she has a sweet face, but life has treated her cruelly.
Dysentery has been bad for a long time, and when the sick get helpless and their condition offensive, it is almost impossible to get anyone to care for them unless they have near relatives. Dysentery and measles have both been epidemic for a long time, and nearly all deaths are directly due to one or both of these diseases.
We had a real respectable funeral in the front yard this afternoon. A good old woman from Degala died, and her pastor had a service for her. This is only the second real funeral service I have seen, though a. preacher is always present at the two burials daily, and conducts a service at the cemetery.
Friday, 12th February.
To-day we have begun a new method of giving out bread. We have printed forms, which we fill in and ask the heads of families to sign, promising to pay us later for the bread. All day thousands have been crowding the big tent in the yard, where a number of young men have been filling in and giving out these tickets for bread. The problem is a big one. Undoubtedly some could find bread who are taking it free, but we cannot decide most of the cases. Then we are spending thousands of borrowed money, and as yet no response to our cablegram sent long ago to America ! The numbers asking for bread are increasing daily, but if we should refuse it, hundreds would die of starvation.
Again the yards are wet and muddy from inciting snow. The last two days have been very hard for the thousands without fuel and with very little clothing. One of the verses that helps to keep my faith steady these days is: "He that spared not His own Son."
The death-rate has been considerably reduced ; for two weeks or more it averaged over thirty a day.
Mr. Allen is off on a tour to the villages of the upper Nazlu river, to see what is left there, and to give help or encouragement to anyone who may be left. A while ago when Mr. Allen visited the villages on the Baranduz, one of our Bible Women told him of a certain spot she wished him to visit. She lived in Kurtapa, and as she was about to flee with a bag containing nine tomans (47) of money, the robbers appeared at the door. She quickly threw the bag down beside a broken earthen tub and the thieves did not see it. Mr. Allen went to that village, found the room and the broken tub with the bag of money beside it, and brought the money to its owner.
Last week, the Shahbanda, or Turkish Consul, who is now the chief authority, demanded six thousand tomans of the Syrians. With great trouble this was partly collected and partly borrowed by the help of the Sirdar (Persian Governor), who demanded six hundred more for his share. The Shahbanda promised that, if this were given, the shops and houses of the Syrians in the city would not be disturbed. It remains to be seen how much his word is worth.
To-morrow completes six weeks of this siege and semi-siege condition. We keep on praying, but see no signs of deliverance. We are shut off from the world, and thousands are held in this bondage by a few hundred Osmanli troops and a few wandering Kurds. I realize now that Persia is dead---or worse ; she has no manhood nor moral character left.
Wednesday, 17th February.
A few days ago the Turkish Consul arrested all the men at the French Mission. After some examination, a hundred were sent away, leaving about sixty-three at the Consulate. A gallows with seven nooses was erected at the "Kurdish Gate" of the city, the one near us, and on Sunday the ropes were put in place. The people here on Sunday were very badly scared. The women of the men under arrest came and wept and besought Dr. Shedd to do something, but he could do nothing. That evening the people gathered in the, church for prayer, and continued praying until midnight. Each night since similar meetings have been held. As yet no one has been hanged, but the Turkish Consul is demanding money for their release. The second day after the arrest of these people, a Turkish soldier was sent to us to ask us to send bread for the prisoners, and we have been feeding them ever since. When their women-folk went to see them they were charged two krans (ninepence) admission. It has been reported that the prisoners have been tortured in various ways known to the Turks, in order to extort money from their families.
The Turkish Consul has demanded the ten thousand tomans of English bank money committed to us when the bankers fled. The matter has been referred to our Consul in Tabriz. If it should have to be surrendered, we should be in straits, for that is all we have to buy bread with for these thousands of hungry people. Weeks ago we appealed to America, both to the Red Cross and to our Board, but there is no reply.
It was reported to me that there were refugees here who had stores of flour, meat, butter, etc., and yet were taking bread from us, so yesterday I made an investigation and found small quantities ; but if the whole were sold, it would not amount to twenty dollars, and the owners would be reduced to nothing but dry bread, and, though this might do for a limited time, they cannot "live by bread alone " week after week. Undoubtedly this terrible epidemic of dysentery which has carried off hundreds is due largely to lack of proper food and want of variety of food.
As I made the rounds of our own yards yesterday and visited the people herded together in one of the dark store-rooms of our Persian Girls'-School, it seemed to me that their condition of cold, hunger, filth and sickness was about as miserable as they could get in this world. One great difference that was apparent in all the rooms was the absence of small children, hundreds having died during these last months.
The evangelistic work is now well organized, and everywhere there are at least daily meetings for everyone. The women workers under Miss Lamme visit outside places. Mrs. McDowell, with native women, also visits outside places where there are large numbers of refugees herded together. Mr. McDowell tries to keep the preachers at work, too.
Last week a group of one hundred and fifty or more mountaineers who are staying at Sengar, two or three miles from the city came down with one of Kurdu's men, asking us to feed them. They said that heretofore they had been provided for by Kurdu, a Kurdish chief, for whom they had been working, carrying away for him the plunder he had collected here, and that now he was leaving and we must feed them. We put them off several times, but finally accepted the additional burden. Every one who gets tired of his job of charity or responsibility throws it upon us. There seems no end, and this is the seventh week.
Thursday, 18th February.
Yesterday afternoon I went out to the College compound for the first time since Christmas. We had to drive under the gallows at the city gate. It creates rather unpleasant feelings to think that perhaps some of our friends may be suspended there.
Our Mission is being treated with more consideration than at first, and we are hoping that perhaps the Turkish Consul has heard from Constantinople, and that our own Government has been exerting influence at Berlin and Constantinople. For weeks we have had no word from the outside world; but we all rest in Jehovah and wait patiently for Him."
Friday, 19th February.
This has been a snowy day again. The people have been making it a day of fasting and prayer---as if every day were not a fast day!
Saturday, 20th February.
All day negotiations have been going on in regard to the English bank money. When Dr. Shedd and Dr. Packard were called to the Turkish Consulate, they found there the former Urmia Consul, who had fled from here last autumn when war between Russia and Turkey was first declared. He had gone south to Soujboulak. It looks as if he were perhaps fleeing now in this direction, which would mean that the Russians were in Soujboulak ; we have heard this report. It is being reported that the Kurds were making preparations to-day for leaving here. It may be that the Consul's haste to get this money is another evidence that he is expecting to leave soon. He told the gentlemen to-day that he thought that, as Americans, they ought to make a contribution toward the cause of Turkey. They have felt that a compromise on the ten thousand is the best way out, and suggested that he take two thousand; but he refused to take less than five thousand, and promised that he would not take it before to-morrow, so if something does not develop before to-morrow we shall probably be the poorer by that amount. We are hoping that it may be taken without any show of force or violence. Of course, we cannot make any resistance.
To-day we finished going over all the bread tickets, arranging the names according to villages. Then we called in responsible men from each village and went over the lists, to find out those who would be able to help themselves soon, and those who had reported more members of families than they have. I am sorry to say that we found scores who were cheating in various ways, and now we have to get hold of all of them---a big business for some days to come. We are distributing 14,000-15,000 loaves of about ten and a half ounces each day; but there are so many getting more than a loaf each that there are probably not more than eleven thousand persons receiving.
An epidemic of typhoid has broken out at the College among the refugees---twenty-seven cases. To-day, even in the midst of our troubles, the Evangelistic Board met to consider a reorganization of the work. When the people are able to return to the villages, they will probably have to settle temporarily in a few of the larger ones.
Sunday, 21st February.
To-day there are three or four services in the church. This morning it was packed for a communion service and many were turned away. Another communion service is arranged for this afternoon, and then again next Sunday, to give an opportunity for all communicants,
Tuesday, 23rd February.
Last night one of the most terrible things that has yet happened occurred. In the evening ten or a dozen of the prisoners from the French Mission, taken ten days or more ago by the Turkish Consul, were discharged, and we all felt that probably the rest would soon be set free, as there was no special charge against them. But this morning five men, two of them Moslems, were found hanging from the gallows at the Kurdish Gate, and forty-eight others were shot beyond the Tcharbash Gate. No one has dared to go out yet and get the bodies, though Dr. Shedd has asked permission of the Turkish Consul. For two days we had felt so much more hopeful, but to-day a terrible fear has fallen on the people. There is much silent weeping, but little violent demonstration, though the mothers, wives and families of the murdered men are here. The question in everybody's mind is: "What will the Turks do next ?" Forty or fifty shots were distinctly heard in the night between one and two o'clock, but no one guessed what they meant. We had begun yesterday to take their bread tickets away from a few of the people to try to force them to go to their villages or find money in some way to provide for themselves ; but now they are too frightened to leave and everything is set back again. Two or three days ago the Turks took some things from the French Mission property here, carpets, etc., and we hear that they are plundering more to-day. On Sunday we received a card from Tabriz saying that everything was quiet there, that £1,000 relief had been received, and that Mr. Labaree was going to the Caucasus to relieve the refugees who had fled from Urmia to Russia.
Wednesday, 24th February.
The French missionaries and the nine nuns were very much alarmed for their personal safety. They asked that one of our men should go there and put up an American flag ; but, of course, we could not do that. Yesterday the Turkish Consul sent word that if we wanted the bodies of the three Christians hanging at the gate, we had permission to take them. Mr. McDowell and Mr. Allen went with some Syrians, took down the bodies, and buried them. There has been a little more disorder than usual, and the people are terrified again. I have had to give back many of the bread tickets that we had collected. There are hundreds of people who have fields and vineyards, but who cannot borrow a dollar. These tickets are really promissory notes which they have signed, promising to pay later, but we need cash now, and our bread queue does not decrease---rather, increases. I wonder what a trained Red Cross worker would do with a mob that will not stand in line or stay where you put them ; who, when you go over the case and give the answer, refuse to take it, but stand about and weep briny tears by the hour. They have no sense of honour, don't know how to tell the truth, can't tell the same story twice, and do not know much about anything except that their stomachs are empty. They try to get bread under the names of the dead, and when accused of evading the truth, will declare in the most injured tones: "We wouldn't lie." There is much that would be funny in these investigations if it did not get monotonous.
Saturday, 27th February.
When Mr. McDowell returned from the burial of those shot on Jewish Hill, he reported that they had found forty bodies and identified all but five or six.
On Wednesday night, a still more horrible deed was committed at Gulpashan. This village and Iriawa had been shielded, partly through the efforts of a German; but on Wednesday night a band of Persian volunteers, arriving from Salmas or beyond, went there, took fifty men, and, according to reports, shot them in the graveyard near by. They then plundered the village, took girls and young women, outraged them, and acted in general as one might expect Satan to do when turned loose.
The horror and sadness of everything has been brought nearer to us by the death of Mlle. Madelaine Perrochet, a young Swiss girl who came with the Coans four months ago to teach the missionary children. She was only twenty-one, so bright, so pretty, that we had all learned to love her dearly. She spoke English well, and, of course, French and German. She died on Thursday, after dinner, and yesterday (Friday) we had the funeral service in Dr. Coan's living room, led by Mr. McDowell. We could not take her out to our little cemetery at Seir, so she was buried in Dr. Coan's garden, just at the right of the entrance to the long grape-arbour. In his prayer Mr. McDowell used the words: "We are not only walking in the valley of the shadow of death, but we are dwelling there in these weeks."
Just now two of the young Syrians who are the chief men in helping with the bread came in and told me that they had received warning secretly that they had better leave here and hide with some friendly Moslems, as the Turkish Consul is going to take out all the young men from our yards and other places in the city and kill them--"wipe them out." I cannot believe that it can be true, but we cannot know. If they enter our yards by force and murder men, then there is no further safety for any of us. As one of these young men said just now : "Let us commit everything into the hands of God, and then wait and be ready for whatever comes."
Typhus is raging at the College. Yesterday there were seventy cases at the College compound, and over a hundred others on diet, with the probability of a large part of them developing typhoid. It is impossible to take care of so many cases or feed them properly under such conditions. At the hospital they are buying all the milk and mesta (matzoun) they can get. Mrs. Cochran has had charge of the feeding there, as well as doing much else, and yesterday she went to bed; to-day there are symptoms of typhoid. Mrs. Coan and Miss Coan took care of Mlle. Perrochet, and the last week or two had the help of a Syrian woman who has had a nurse's course in America, Miss George. She has proved very efficient and a great help and comfort.
There was a great deal of anxiety lest something should happen here ; but we woke on Sunday morning in safety and saw a rainbow in the northern sky, though there was no rain. The reports of Mr. Allen from Gulpashan were too black to be written. The soldiers sent out by the Consul to protect the villages against Kurds and Moslem looters left unviolated hardly a woman or girl of those remaining in the village, and a number of girls were carried off. It seemed quite apparent that they understood that the whole business of protecting was to be a farce. When on Sunday morning Mr. Allen returned and wanted to bring people with him, he was not permitted. Those who had been murdered in the cemetery a few nights previously had been buried under a few inches of earth, and when he wanted to have them uncovered to identify them and bury them deeper, he was refused. The soldiers had made them all sit down on the ground and then shot at them. They then looked them over, and any who were found to be breathing were shot the second time. The only reason for all this was that they bore the name of "Christian." What has the Christian world to say ?
Mr. McDowell went to Iriawa and found similar conditions there. We were very glad to see him and Mr. Allen safely back, for they undoubtedly were in jeopardy themselves and were treated insolently by the soldiers.
Mrs. Cochran is better, and we feel now that she will not have typhoid. It is a tremendous relief. Only seven died here in this quarter yesterday. The death list here has passed the thousand mark, and, including the Boys'-School yard and the College, fifteen hundred. All the past week three young men and myself have been kept busy all the morning and into the middle of the afternoon examining bread tickets, hearing pleas, and giving out new tickets as the new refugees have come in. The last several days we have purchased, without counting the College, nearly ten thousand pounds of bread daily.
Friday, 5th March.
Mrs. Cochran has typhoid, but so far in a light form. Mrs. Coan and Miss Coan are taking on her work as best they can, and caring for her too, with the help of the Syrian nurse, Miss George. Dr. Packard has been in bed two or three days, but we do not know if it is typhoid or not. Mr. Allen went to Gulpashan with permission from the Turkish Consul, to bury those who had been murdered. He found fifty bodies. When he came back, a crowd of sixty-four, mostly women and girls, came with him. Our yards and rooms, including the church, are crowded again, but with cleaner people. Most of the mountaineers are out. Two families of mountaineers who are friendly with the Kurds started out yesterday for their homes. It is spring now, and time for ploughing and sowing, and unless the people can soon get to their villages there will be a dearth of wheat and other grain next year. There are repeated reports of the approach of the Russian army, and some Germans here have said that they were soon expecting to go on a journey. If the Turks should have to flee, there is no telling what they might do before going ; but we do not dare to let our hopes of deliverance rise, for it makes the long wait harder.
A few days ago the ex-Turkish Consul sent word that if there were any girls held captive that we wanted to get, he would find them for us. That looks as if there had been a quarrel---or perhaps it is a trick to trip us into being unwise. It takes the wisdom of the serpent as well as the simplicity of the dove!
Saturday, 6th March.
Dr. Packard has developed typhoid. There is only Mrs. Packard to take care of him, and she is far from strong, and there are four lively boys to care for and keep out of mischief and danger. Since Mlle.'s death, it leaves the children's education on the mothers' shoulders, and Mrs. Packard has been trying to take the bulk of it.
This morning I made out the second month's report of the bread funds which have passed through my hands. So far we have spent approximately £1,500. Over £120 has been collected in sales, which leaves nearly £1,400 debt for us. This does not include College or Boys'-School yard. All of this has been spent on dry bread alone, two hundred and twenty-three and a half tons, all brought in on the backs of carriers. About one hundred and fifty pounds is a man's load. This month we have distributed four and a quarter tons a day.
There is considerable fear to-night among the Christians that the Turks may strike a blow before they go. We have twenty-five extra guards of Persian soldiers. All day Moslem villagers have been fleeing to the city in fear of what the Russians may do when they come. We do not know how near they are, for we have no means of communication. It would seem strange to lie down in quiet and peace, knowing that all fear and terror to these poor people were passed.
Sunday, 7th March.
Dr. Packard is very sick with typhoid; yesterday his temperature was 105. He seems quieter to-day. Dr. Pera, former hospital assistant, has promised to take care of him every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Mrs. Packard will be night-nurse. Mrs. Cochran seems to be getting along quietly. Thirty cases of typhoid are reported in one of the houses in the suburbs, which a few days ago we filled up with refugees brought from the College compound. They probably brought the germ with them. The only reason it is not raging here is the eternal vigilance of Mr. McDowell in looking after sanitary conditions and the watercourses. He has frequently to appeal to the Governor to get donkeys for carrying off refuse, though he pays well. As the church is full of refugees, two meetings are held daily in the Seminary yard. Kasha Moshi of Geogtapa makes a fine outdoor preacher.
Just now, as I came from dinner, a woman met me, leading a little girl by the hand, and in her most wheedling tones tried to present her to me as a gift, saying she was her great-grandchild. I laughed and said I already had one hundred such gifts. She felt that I was not properly appreciative ! There are scores of people who would like to dump their responsibilities under these conditions. We have had a number of cases of relatives deserting old and helpless women and leaving them for us to care for until they died.
Monday, 8th March.
Yesterday there was general fasting and prayer until noon for Dr. Packard's and Mrs. Cochran's recovery. There is a beginning of what we hope maybe a deep and permanent spiritual awakening. In such times one lives in the presence of eternal realities, and Heaven seems quite near. It is marvellous how the Word of God speaks to us in every condition and experience through which we pass.
Tuesday, 9th March.
On Sunday a Mohammedan orator made a speech in a garden in Dilgusha to a crowd of several thousand people, practically all Moslems. He said that Italy and Persia had joined in the alliance with Germany, Austria and Turkey, and, of course, are in the way of victory. America had taken no part in this war, but is doing good all over the world without regard to race or religion, caring for the sick and wounded, feeding the hungry and befriending the needy. The American missionaries here, he said, have done and are doing this, and everyone should honour them and stand up for them. At this there was great applause.
Last night a body of askars entered the house of Dr. -------, whose yard adjoins ours, and demanded Mar Elia, a Russian Bishop, who has been in hiding these last weeks. They didn't find him, but took about forty pounds' worth of money and jewellery and frightened the people nearly to death. Our watchman called Mr. McDowell and Mr. Allen and they tried to go over to the help of the women. Mr. McDowell climbed the ladder from this side to go over into their yard, but at the top met a gun in the hands of an askar, who demanded his retreat. Mr. McDowell, out of respect for the gun, didn't insist on having his way. That yard is not in our hands and we have no flag there, so, of course, we couldn't do anything. This has scared the people again. This morning one woman brought me some jewellery and papers to keep for her. She had been in America and only returned last spring, and was bewailing her stupidity in returning. She says she is only waiting for a way to open for her to go back, never to return. Hundreds are saying the same thing, and I think there will be a large emigration to America when the way opens. I wouldn't mind emigrating myself for a while !
Friday, 12th March.
We cannot complain of the monotony of life for these last two or three days. It was on Monday night that the Turks tried to get the Bishop, but he escaped over the church roof. The next afternoon they suddenly appeared again, and this time found him hiding on the church roof behind a parapet. He tried to get down an old ladder standing by the wall, but the askar who was at the other end of the roof raised his gun and told him he would shoot if he attempted to run, so he was captured. It is said that he had two thousand tomans in gold and Russian paper money on his person. This, of course, was taken. The most unfortunate incident of that capture was the arrest at the same time of Dr. Lokman. At Mr. McDowell's request, Dr. Lokman (Syrian) had gone over the wall into Dr. -----'s house to find out if there were any typhoid cases there, and was caught by the askars. Our mission at once began to make efforts to secure their release. The Turkish Consul demanded £200 for Dr. Lokman and £2,000 for the Bishop. In the evening he sent word that unless they were immediately redeemed they would be shot at midnight. He ordered the Persian Governor to send eight men to assist at the shooting. In the meantime they had gotten hold of another man or two. When word came about Dr. Lokman there was some hustling to find the money. "Brides" (young married women) were asked to give up the gold pieces from their dowry, and in a short time the £200 was sent. When Dr. Lokman was notified of his release he was sleeping soundly without any realization of the doom hanging over him. When he reached our yards and his family and friends congratulated him, he felt like one raised from the dead. Just as soon as he heard that the others were still in danger, he said: "Well, we must try to do something to release them." He is one of the most prominent Syrians here and influential with the Persian Government. From the first day of these troubles he has been on hand to help in governmental affairs in every way possible. All day yesterday efforts were being made to get money to redeem the others.
These last two nights our yards have been overflowing with people from the Christian quarter here, and. already the Moslems from the villages are crowding into the city for fear of the Russians. As one of our bakers said yesterday: "The city gates cannot let them in fast enough." The city is in a panic for fear of what the Russians will do to the Moslems when they arrive. Heaven grant that they will act in the spirit of Christ and not of Mohammed! Everywhere the Moslems are now anxious to show themselves friends of Christians. David gives expression to my sentiments concerning the wicked in Ps. 59.
The Germans, I understand, have already left, except one of the leaders, and he is ready to go in haste. Yesterday I had to stay in bed with a headache, and it seemed to me that the very air was vibrating with expectation and excitement. Ten thousand times a day the petition arises, " O Lord, deliver us." Ten weeks to-morrow! It seems impossible to hold out much longer. " O Lord, deliver us from the hand of the wicked." Dr. Packard is still quite sick. Mrs. Cochran seems to be getting along slowly. They have so many cases of typhoid at the College that they have put up the big tent in the School yard there for a hospital.
Tuesday, 16th March.
To-day our hearts are heavy and sorrowful. Dr. Packard is very sick indeed, and it seems now as if Miss Coan has typhoid or typhus, whichever this sickness is. Mrs. Cochran appears to be getting along all right. We want Dr. Vanneman from Tabriz, but there seems to be no way to get a message through to him. Dr. Shedd asked the Turkish Consul to help us get a messenger through, but he said he couldn't. The Russians are between Urmia and Tabriz. We have twenty-five or thirty cases of typhoid here in this compound. Mr. McDowell is trying to empty a few rooms to put the sick in, but it is very difficult.
Last night there was great fear again in Mart Maryam lest the new arrivals might devise some new evil for them, and many wanted to crowd into our yard, but every place is full. We are feeding 15,000 persons daily, one loaf each. A note by secret messenger came from Dr. Vanneman a few days ago, saying that they had received £1,200 for relief. This means a great deal, but it will pay only a third of the debt we already have. The Turks still hold Shamasha Lazar and Mar Elia (Bishop) for a big ransom. Our funds are getting low, and Mr. Müller has borrowed some money at 24 per cent. interest. Last week our hopes of deliverance were high, but hope so long deferred makes the heart grow faint. Mr. McDowell was trying to get some sick people out of the big school-room when he saw a tired and weary woman, with a baby in her arms, sitting in one of the seats, and said to her: "Where do you stay?" She said: "Just here." " How long have you been here ? " "Since the beginning (two months)," she replied. "How do you sleep at night ? " "I lay the baby on the desk in front of me, and I have this post at the back to lean against. This is a very good place. Thank you very much."
The men don't dare to go outside our yards for fear of being arrested and held for ransom. One of the Syrian physicians was asked by a missionary to go outside and see some sick. He laughed and said: "I'll go if you will pay the bill."
Thursday, 18th March.
It is such a relief to have Dr. Packard come to himself again, though he is very weak. Miss Coan's fever still continues, and Miss Lamme has gone to the College to help there. This morning Mr. McDowell is down with fever, but we hope it is only malaria. Shamasha Lazar, who has been a prisoner for a week at the Turkish Consulate, was released on payment of one thousand tomans cash on the condition that he finds the other £400 within two days.
If there were a mail or some other way open to Tabriz, we could sell orders on Dr. Vanneman, our Mission Treasurer in Tabriz, but the bankers will not buy such orders now because they can't dispose of them until a way to Tabriz is opened. The day before yesterday we tried to make a bargain with our twenty or more Mohammedan bakers, who are supplying us with about six tons of bread daily, to let us have it on twenty days' credit. They agreed to do it on condition that at the end of ten days we would pay half ; but after they left here they agreed among themselves that they would not deliver bread yesterday, though they didn't tell us. In the morning, when we found that no bread was coming, we sent out and got other bakers to deliver for cash. When our regular bakers found we were buying elsewhere, they came back, and after a long discussion they promised to deliver for twenty days, if we would pay half every five days. So it stands ; we shall see if they stick to their bargain. Fortunately, yesterday we had half a day's supply on hand, and managed to buy enough to finish out. There is a cash famine, and anyone who has any money wants to hold on to it in such uncertain times.
This morning, a little after five, we were aroused by shouts and a commotion near by. The askars with their officers had entered the English mission yard by climbing a ladder from the street over the wall into the yard of a Mr. -------, who is a Syrian, but an English subject. The watchman gave the alarm, and Mr. Müller and Mr. Allen were soon on the spot. Of course they couldn't do anything but reassure the women. Eight or ten men were arrested and taken away, probably to be held for ransom. That property has been connected with ours from the .beginning of these troubles, and the American flag has been over the entrance. Mr. Allen said to the officer: "You don't intend to respect the American flag ? " He replied : "The Turkish flag is also there." (It is under the American flag.) This makes one feel doubtful for the safety of our own yards. It is wonderful how quiet these thousands of people can keep while such things are going on. A number of women and girls sleep in the parlour adjoining my room, and I opened the door and told them not to leave the room. They said: "No, we are only dressing" ; but it was evident that they were trembling with fear; and this is the state we have lived in for eleven weeks.
One of the most pitiful objects of humanity that I have ever yet seen came into the room to ask for a ticket---a boy of about twelve or fourteen, wasted to a mummy-like skeleton by hunger and sickness, so weak that he could hardly stand or speak, unbathed for these many months. I asked where he had been staying. He said: "In the school-room."
The Turks have demanded ten thousand suits of shirts and pyjamas for the army. Eight thousand were demanded from the Moslem women, and two thousand from the Christian or Syrian women. As the latter are practically all here with us and in the Christian quarter, it fell upon the missionaries to take the responsibility, so Miss Schoebel took charge. So far fifty-five bolts of calico have been sent; Miss Schoebel gave out the material to responsible women, and they in turn found others to help with the sewing (mostly by hand) and about eight hundred of the shirts are ready. How would you like to sit down and make clothes for Turks and Kurds who had robbed you, burned your homes, murdered your husbands, brothers, and fathers, dishonoured your women, and carried your girls into captivity?
Saturday, 20th March.
The prisoners taken from the English Mission yards by the Turks were kept about twenty-four hours, examined, and to the great and unexpected joy of everyone were set free without ransom. The Turks said they had heard that a Russian spy was being kept in that yard, and when they found no evidence of this, they set the men free. Another thing may have had something to do with it. The night before last several Turkish soldiers who were sick with typhoid went to the College compound. When informed that there was absolutely no place for them, they returned to the Consulate, which is in the former Russian Mission. The Shahbanda then sent for Dr. Shedd. It was after nightfall and we didn't know why he was sent for, but were fearful lest another blow might be about to fall upon us. But he asked him if we would be willing to care for their sick, a dozen or more, who have typhoid. He was told that there was no room in the hospital or College building adjoining, which are already crowded full of sick, but that we would do what we could. This probably had something to do with the dismissal of the prisoners. For two days no other arrests have been made, and only the Bishop is now a prisoner. The last ransom they asked for him was fifteen thousand tomans. The Shahbanda has said that he is going to take down all the American flags except the one over our main entrance. We have several other properties adjoining ours which are full of refugees, and several of the naturalized citizens have American flags up.
We are happy this morning that all our sick are better. Mr. McDowell was up yesterday and Miss Schoebel has no fever this morning, so it looks as if she had only malaria. Mrs. Cochran is getting along finely ; Dr. Packard we hope has passed the crisis ; Miss Coan seems to be having a light case. Our rooms. hallways, and every place are crowded to the limit again. The men are afraid to stay anywhere else for fear of arrest. The Turks have given out word that several thousand troops are coming, and are demanding houses in Mart Maryam, and those turned out have nowhere else to go.
We are having trouble in getting bread, as the bakers refuse to deliver without cash on the spot. They say the "blue eyes" (Russians) will return, "and then you will not pay us." Mr. Müller will try to-day to get wheat on several months' credit, and we shall use that instead of cash if possible. I am realizing what a wonderful thing money is, and what a dreadful thing it is to be without it, especially under such circumstances. As long as we could pay cash we couldn't stop some of the bakers from bringing more than we wanted. We feel, with so many of our number sick, so many others busy caring for them, the end of our money in sight, and our physical strength almost exhausted, that surely deliverance must be near. Through eleven weeks we have looked for it in vain.
I have just paid a visit to the school dining-room, which is one of our hospital rooms. If there is another spot on this earth of more concentrated human misery, I hope I may never know it. One boy had just died. The mother looked up at me so pitifully, and said: "Lady, he is dead." Another baby was lying on the floor dying, under the influence of khash-khash (opium). The mother has no milk for lack of food, and the baby is dying of starvation. The mother said: "Khanum, I am so sick, what shall I do ? " I could only reply: "I do not know." Twenty others were lying on the floor, without bedding, in various stages of misery, groaning, weeping and appealing for help. One child was lying on his father's coat with a hard bundle under his head, with the marks of slow starvation upon him. To-morrow he too will probably be gone, and we shall thank God that it is so. They are so many, our strength and our means are so limited, the rooms are so crowded, we can do little for them and death is their best friend. One of our Bible Women is lying here, with her two daughters on one side of her and her sister on the other. Her boy died a few weeks ago. When I spoke to her she tried to raise herself up and tell me about some of the other sick in the room. We have been furnishing matting for the sick to lie on, and using Mr. Sterrett's supply of wood for fires in the sick room ; the rest have had to do without fires except the few who have been able to get wood for their rooms. In one of the typhoid rooms yesterday I noticed a pile of charred wood in the corner and asked about it. They said they had sent to the village and brought in the half-burned beams of their homes for fuel. That was all that was left of their house, except a pile of mud. Others have done the same thing.
Yesterday Rabi Nanou, one of our Bible Women, went out as usual to hold meetings in the places where large numbers of refugees, mostly mountain people, are huddled together. She was stopped in the street by an askar who demanded her long coat. She told him she had been stripped of everything when she first fled from her village, and that the coat had since been given her by one of the missionary ladies. He said, nevertheless, it was not necessary for her, and demanded that she should take it off. Just then another askar came up who had been a guard at our gate. He interfered, saying that he knew her as a deaconess who went out every day to preach to the people, and she was allowed to go on with her coat.
A while ago I took some soft-boiled eggs and several pieces of bread to the sick ones in the dining-room, and to Rabi Surra and her family. They are very grateful for everything. I've no doubt that, if they were properly fed, most of them would be up in a week.
Sunday, 21st March.
Yesterday Mr. McDowell called a meeting of all the native doctors to try to get them to help in the responsibility of caring for the increasing number of typhoid cases. There are a number of doctors who do practically nothing and find excuses when anything is asked of them. It is hard to understand how they can spend hours every day sitting in their rooms or walking up and down the pavement here while they might be doing something to help in the care of the scores of sick people and in the effort Mr. McDowell is making for the preservation of the health of the community. Our assistant physician, Dr. Daniel Werda, is sick with typhoid, and Dr. David, of Soujboulak, who went out to the hospital to help, has been brought home sick. Dr. Pera our former assistant, is at the College compound now, helping with the sick missionaries and a few special cases, and Dr. Joseph Khoshaba has consented to go out there to help. Dr. Theo. Mar Yosep has been our stand-by from the very beginning, and is the only native doctor here in the city yards who has really worked. He has been on hand every day.
Tuesday, 23rd March.
Sunday evening was the beginning of the Persian New Year, Noruz, and as soon as the cannon went off to announce that. the New Year had begun there was a great firing of guns and torpedoes, more than usual. It was kept up for half -an-hour or more, and many of the people were badly frightened, thinking that perhaps a battle was on. We heard the next day that the Shahbanda was scared, not knowing what it was.
The Shallbanda sent forty-eight bolts of muslin for pyjamas, and the women under Miss Schoebel's directions are now sewing on them, having finished eight hundred and fifty shirts.
The smells in our backyards are almost unbearable. I can't open my back window at all. The sun is quite hot and dries things up; it also brings out the awful smells. Last night the Shahbanda gave us permission to send a messenger to Tabriz for Dr. Vanneman. Our sick are all getting along fairly well. Dr. Packard has passed the crisis and each day seems a little bit better. There are about twenty-five Turks in the hospital now.
Thursday, 25th March.
We are trying to send away some of the people by taking back their bread tickets to-day ; but we cannot give them any assurance of safety. They are so crowded here, and there is so much sickness, and money is so scarce, that it seems the lesser of two evils to send some of the people away, even though a few be killed.
Yesterday we gave each of the sixty sick persons in the school dining-room a soft-boiled egg, and in the afternoon tea, which was served by two or three school-girls. Sugar and tea are so expensive, about three times the regular price, that it costs about six shillings just to treat that one room to tea. The big school-room is in just as bad a condition as the dining-room, only with so many more tenants that it seems impracticable to do anything there. I've no doubt that if hundreds of these people were properly fed for a week they would be on their feet, but it is beyond our means and our strength. Just now the voice of Kasha Moushi Douman of Geogtapa comes to me through the open window of the paved school court where he is preaching. Twice a day preaching exercises are held in the school yard, and besides there are a number of preachers and women who go round daily to rooms and other yards for services.
Monday, 29th March.
We have had two or three rainy days, which are very hard for the people. Some of the sick are lying on the balcony with almost no covering or bedding. I saw one of the most awful sights I have yet seen on the school balcony yesterday---a woman stretched out on the bare bricks, half-naked, in the throes of death, the damp cold air blowing over her, friendless, helpless. The whole school-room, aisles, desks, corners, and platform is filled with the most miserable of the starving sick. We made the man who has charge of our tea-stand take the samovars there yesterday, Palm Sunday, and give each of the one hundred and fifty people two large glasses of tea. It costs about twelve shillings, but eight shillings were given me by Syrians. With the thousands of dollars of debt just for dry bread, we don't feel we can borrow money for special food for the sick ones, except in limited quantities for typhoid patients. We need space more than anything else, rooms where we could put the sick on straw mats with at least a quilt over them, a fire and a little food besides dry bread, which many are too sick to eat. It seems dreadful to think of two thousand people dying here in this way, but after twelve weeks of it we cannot but feel glad every time one more of these helpless suffering ones finds rest. Sometimes for days I seem to be hardened past feeling, and then again the horror of it all sweeps over me. We pray and pray and cry out to God for deliverance, but no help comes. We seem shut off from the rest of the world and left to our fate. Nothing from the outside world for three months ! We hear many reports, but few materialize. We are told that word has come that the Crown Prince has arrived in Tabriz and that Urmia should celebrate, so there has been a great deal of firing of cannon, display of banners, and decoration. We have had our entrance decorated with banners and rugs. There is a great deal of rejoicing among the Persians, who desire to see the Persian Government strong enough to turn out both Turk and Russian.
A few days ago, Mr. Müller managed to borrow a thousand tomans from a merchant in the bazaar. It was counted out in two-kran silver pieces. This he was bringing home on the back of a porter, he walking close behind with a Persian soldier. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by six Kurds, armed to the teeth with guns, cartridge belts, and daggers. Two walked ahead and punched the money-bag to assure themselves that it was really money; the others pressed close behind Mr. Müller as they followed him through the streets. They asked him where he was taking the money, but he walked on in dignified silence, not deigning to answer, though trembling for the safety of the money. They reached our gate in safety, and as he turned in, Mr. Müller thanked the Kurds for their safe escort. They laughed and passed on. Some of the young Syrians who guard the gate report that a few days ago a bunch of Kurds in passing stopped to talk and said: " We came down here to the plain with the intention of killing you all, not one of you would have escaped, but (pointing to the Stars and Stripes over the gate) we don't dare pass under that flag!" Everybody feels that had we not been able to give refuge to the Christians, there would have been few left to tell the tale ; and so even yet we do not dare to force the people out, and they all say: "We would rather die here of hunger and disease than take our chances with the Kurds and Turks. "
Our sick missionaries all seem to be getting along well, and we are very thankful. The typhoid here in the city is usually light, and there are few deaths from it, though many from dysentery. Measles almost disappeared some time ago.
Thursday, 1st April.
Rabi Nannou of Geogtapa, our best Bible Woman, has died of pneumonia, after a few days' illness. For the three months that she has been a refugee here she has been a fearless and faithful worker, going out daily for religious meetings to the houses where the mountaineers have been huddled, looking after the sick, not hesitating to go to any place where she could help. For several years she has supported from her small salary her brother's four orphan children, and has been to them both father and mother. Herself unmarried, she has given her means and love unselfishly to these as if they were her own children. There is no one to fill her place.
We have started to buy wheat on credit, as our cash is very low and we are not able to get more money. We have just bought four hundred bushels from Rabi David of Degala for part of his debt to us. When he was in prison and fined one thousand tomans to save his head, we furnished part of the cash and took his note. He can't pay cash now, so he is paying in wheat, which we will have ground to give to the hungry. What credit we can get for bread is for a few days only. Most of the bakers need the money to carry on their business.
Friday, 2nd April.
Bertha Shedd, ten years old, has been sick with typhoid for several days, and now Miss Lamme is beginning; the latter went out to the hospital about two weeks ago to help there when Miss Coan went down with. it. Dr. Packard, Mrs. Cochran, and Miss Coan are getting well. Oraham Badel, our financial agent and general assistant in the City Compound, is very low this morning ---just as I was writing he died, leaving a wife and four little ones.
Several hundred Turkish troops have come into the city, evidently in retreat, as there are wounded among them. It is not evident from which direction they came. Last evening one of the Turkish officers came rushing in here in great distress. He had taken poison by mistake and came in here to be saved. He was given an emetic, and his life was saved. They have heard of germs and are very much afraid of typhoid, and had some corrosive sublimate in a glass for washing hands. This man saw it and, thinking it was wine or whiskey, poured it down his throat. He was terribly scared, and after being relieved of the poison, it was suggested that, as his life had been saved, he should try to save other lives.
Sunday, 4th April.
This journal is fast becoming an obituary. At first the hundreds who died were the poorest and the weakest, but now many from among our best are going. Yesterday Dr. Daniel Werda, Dr. Packard's assistant, died of typhoid. For three days Mrs. McDowell has been in bed with high fever. It is not evident yet that it is typhoid. Last night our cook went to bed with typhoid. Miss Schoebel is now trying to make her comfortable and makes her old mother look after her. All day we have been trying to get something to eat for the hundreds of sick who have nothing for Easter. Easter is the Syrian "Great Feast," and is to them what Christmas is to us. They say: "The Little Feast (Christmas) was black, and now the Great Feast is black too." They had hoped so much that deliverance might come before the feast. We have given eggs and soup to about five hundred sick, and before evening I hope a glass of tea will be given to as many more. To-morrow we plan to give soup to several hundred more that we didn't reach to-day. We don't use relief money for anything but bread, and so have only personal funds for the sick---a very little.
Tuesday, 6th April.
We have dwelt so long in the valley of death with the sick, the starving, the dying, with the unending procession of little bodies sewn up in a piece of cloth, friendless corpses carried out on ladders. with gaping mouths and staring eyes, crude unpainted coffins, coffins covered with black chintz, the never-ceasing wail, and eyes of the mourners that are never dried, hands outstretched for what we cannot give, and now so many of our own number are down. I felt on Sunday as if I ought to get my own burial clothes ready so as to make as little trouble as possible when my turn came, for in these days we all go about our work knowing that any one of us may be the next to go down. And yet I think our friends would be surprised to see how cheerful we have kept, and how many occasions we find for laughing; for ludicrous things do happen. Then, too, after dwelling so intimately with death for three months, he doesn't seem to have so unfriendly an aspect, and the "Other Side" seems very near and our Pilot close beside us. It is at such times that one finds out just how much faith in the unseen he has, and just how much his religion is worth. I find the Rock on which I can anchor in peace are the words of Christ Himself : "Where I am, there ye may be also." "If any man serve Me let him follow Me, and where I am, there shall also My servant be." That is enough---to be where He is. Recently, as I have read sermons or books written for the trying times of life, I have found them tame and insufficient for the occasion; our own experiences are so much more intense and go so much deeper that nothing but the words of God Himself can reach to the bottom. I have been re-reading Browning's Prospice, but it doesn't thrill me as much as it did, for I have something better: "For I know whom I have believed . . . " and "I am persuaded that Death cannot separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
This morning Mrs. McDowell's rose-spots appeared, and now we know that she has typhoid or typhus (it was typhoid). Rabi Ister Alamshah has consented to help in the care of Mrs. McDowell. Miss Schoebel and I were perfectly willing to nurse her, but it would mean throwing our work on some other missionary already loaded up. Mr. McDowell will give up some of his work and help in nursing Mrs. McDowell. There are now six of our number sick, and it is impossible not to feel that someone else will go down in a few days unless it becomes possible to send the crowds away.
To-day Miss Lamme's rose-spots appeared, so her case is pronounced typhoid.
Thursday, 3rd June.
Almost two months since I last wrote in my journal. On Sunday, the 11th April, I went to bed with typhoid or typhus, and three days later Miss Schoebel went down with it also. Rabi Elishua, a teacher of the Persian Girls'-School, came to nurse me at once. She kept up for three weeks and saw me through the worst of my sickness ; then she took the disease. Three of the other Seminary teachers in succession came to care for Miss Schoebel, and each one went down with the disease in turn. Miss Bridges, of the American Orphanage, came to help us during the day, and in twelve days went to bed with typhus. She is just getting about again. All the teachers who helped to care for us have recovered, though one of the other teachers died.
We were all surprised to find how competent these untrained, inexperienced girls were as nurses when there were no available missionaries left to nurse us. We were dependent upon them and got along finely without any complications. When the last one went down we knew that she was the last intelligent nurse we should find, and after that we were dependent upon ignorant village women.
A great many things happened during the two months of our illness and convalescence. A very large number of our Syrian friends died. Of our own circle Mrs. McDowell died on the 16th April, and Mrs. Shedd on the 17th May. We can't take in yet what their loss will mean to us when we get to living under normal conditions. Mrs. Müller attended Miss Schoebel and me for two and a half weeks; then she took the fever. Her little boy was born in a few days, but only lived overnight. This is the fourth grave we have out in Dr. Coan's orchard by the grape-arbour. It hasn't been possible to take them to our cemetery at Seir. This week Mr. Müller went to bed with typhus. His fever has been high. He is the thirteenth out of eighteen missionaries to get the fever, besides two of the children, Bertha Shedd and Ruth Müller. On Monday, Mr. Labaree, with two nurses, Miss Easton of the Tabriz hospital and Miss Burgess, who had reached Tabriz on her way to Urmia, arrived. Mr. Labaree had been trying for weeks to get through, but was unable until the Russian army opened the way. Yesterday, the 5th June, Dr. Lamme arrived and began work last evening. One .of the hard things during these five long months was our isolation from the outside world. Of course we know that our friends were thinking of and praying for us, but it is a great help to have the tangible evidence in the shape of these friends and of letters from many others.
On Sunday, the 24th May, the advanced guard of the Russian army entered Urmia, and in the afternoon the commander came to call on our gentlemen. When we learned that the army would not remain, but were ordered to follow the enemy, there was consternation and great fear. And when the army moved on, the Moslems immediately began to annoy and rob the Syrians who had returned to their villages. There was great fear of a Moslem uprising against the Christians, and hundreds fled in the direction of Salmas. Finally the Russians left a small guard of about two hundred men. Three days ago about six thousand Russian troops, with artillery, came in from the south and marched through the city. We watched them from our roof, and it was a goodly sight to us besieged people. We shall try now to empty our yards of refugees. A few days ago there were still about one thousand left in our own yards and in one yard adjoining, which we have been renting for refugees, besides many others in surrounding yards. The stench in our back yard is almost unbearable. I don't know how we can get rid of the smells or disinfect the ground, which must be soaked for two or three feet, as that yard has been used as a latrine for hundreds of people for more than five months.
Yesterday two Red Cross nurses, who have come with the Russian army from Mongolia, asked to be our guests for a few days until the army moved on in the direction of Erzeroum. They say that from there they will go to Jerusalem. When travelling they dress like the Cossacks, but wear their nurses' costumes in the house.
A few days ago a number of prominent Syrians, who had fled when the Russians evacuated Urmia, returned, many of them to broken and badly damaged homes. We had a service of thanksgiving in the church yesterday, the first time for many months, as it had been occupied by refugees. Thousands have lived in such terror and want, it is a wonder that many have not lost their minds. It has seemed sometimes as if our tears were all dried up and our emotions were dead, we have seen and felt so much. I suppose it is nature's way of saving brain and nerve. When I look at these poor wretched creatures and little children like skeletons, I find I still have some feelings left. It is estimated that four thousand people have died from disease, hunger, and exposure, and about a thousand by violence. The suffering can never be told, nor is it ended. Hundreds, yes thousands, are destitute, and even if we empty our yard there is no one left but the missionaries to save them from starvation, and we look to America. In the name of all Christians we have tried to witness for Christianity before this Moslem people. Will the Christians of America pay the bill ?
1900-1999 A.D. Assyrian History Archives