1916: Azerbaijan: Statement by Mr. M. Philips Price, War Correspondent For Various British and American Newspapers on the Caucasian Front
AZERBAIJAN : STATEMENT, DATED TIFLIS, 22nd FEBRUARY, 1916, BY MR. M. PHILIPS PRICE, WAR CORRESPONDENT FOR VARIOUS BRITISH AND AMERICAN NEWSPAPERS ON THE CAUCASIAN FRONT ; COMMUNICATED TO ANEURIN WILLIAMS, ESQ., M.P., AND PUBLISHED IN THE ARMENIAN JOURNAL "ARARAT," OF LONDON, MARCH, 1916.
In the October of last year I came to Diliman on the plain of Salmas in north-west Persia. I had been in Urmia during September and had seen the condition of the Assyrians (mostly Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant) in the low country round that lake. The American missionaries of Urmia were doing a great deal, and on the whole the condition of the country was not so very bad. There was housing accommodation and a good deal of corn, and it seemed as if the Americans would keep the situation in hand. But in Salmas there was a very different state of affairs. At the end of September, 25,000 mountain Nestorians from the Tkhuma, Baz and Tiari regions, who had been fighting with the Kurds all summer and had had to flee for lack of ammunition, came pouring into the plain led by their Patriarch, Mar Shimun, and began to plant themselves down in the orchards and gardens round the villages. All the villages of the plain were already occupied, and, as the winter was just setting in, their condition without housing, food and clothing was desperate. I sent a message to Mr. Shipley, the British Consul at Tabriz, telling him of the situation, and he telegraphed to the Archbishop of Canterbury for financial assistance. Meanwhile relief committees were organised under the Russian Consul Akimovitch, the Armenian Bishop Nerses, who lent funds from the Armenians of the Caucasus, and an American Missionary from Urmia, Mr. McDowell, with funds from America, and they began to organise relief during November and December. The method adopted was to distribute to all the refugees, Armenian, and Assyrians alike, a daily allowance of 10 kopecks a day, since increased to 15 kopecks, and to distribute warm quilts and coats from materials purchased in the bazaars of Diliman and Khoi. Some medical detachments of the Russian Red Cross and Soyus Gorodof were sent with medical aid to combat typhus and dysentery, which was beginning to and still is taking many in toll of the refugees. As regards the. medical side of the relief, I am inclined to doubt the possibility of making effective provision under the circumstances. There are not sufficient skilled doctors, and it is impossible to get drugs through from the Caucasus in sufficient quantity to do much good.
I did not observe on my return to Salmas after a journey to Van in November any real improvement in the health of the refugees. Every day a hundred or more Assyrians and Armenians were dying in the villages round Diliman, and the same thing is going on now.
It seems to me (and these friends of mine, who have also been there and have seen the conditions, agree with me), that it is impossible under the circumstances to combat the disease by medical assistance. The hardy mountaineers from the headwaters of the Great Zab and Tigris can best be helped by giving them the means to resist disease. Once disease has hold of them, no half measures of medical relief can help. I am therefore strongly of opinion that, if more relief is sent, it should take the form of money, which should go to increase the daily allowances of the refugees, enabling them to buy for themselves, from the Persians of Diliman, food and clothing, which alone will enable them to resist disease.
The position is now as follows. When I left Diliman for Van at the end of October, I saw in the regions round Bashkalé another 5,000 or 6,000 Assyrian and a sprinkling of Armenians living in caves of the rocks or in the open, and feeding on raw grains of wheat, which they were picking from the ruined corn-fields. On my return in January most of these were in Salmas, and so I think about 30,000 Assyrian and Armenian refugees are now there---that is, after deducting 15 per cent. as loss from disease in the last three months. The Russian and American relief organisations which are working there of course stand in need of more money to carry on their work effectively. In order to save the refugees from starving, doles of money must be given out to them till next harvest at least. I should certainly think that the Americans, whose committee is centred in Tabriz, under the American Consul there, are doing the best work with the means at their disposal. With the Russian organisation there is more delay and greater leakage. Relief is being given impartially by the Americans to Assyrians and Armenians of all denominations. This cannot always be guaranteed for the Russian organisation.
I would therefore strongly appeal for further help for the distressed refugees of this ancient Assyrian Church, together with their brethren of the Armenian Gregorian, Catholic and Protestant faiths, and should suggest that it be sent to the British Consul at Tabriz to distribute with the American missionaries in the form of increased daily allowances for food and clothing.
1900-1999 A.D. Assyrian History Archives