† 1915: Rev. Robert M. Labaree, Tabriz, Persia — The “Jihad” Rampant in Persia
Perhaps nothing will better show the spirit in which the war is being wage in Persia than recent massacre of Christians in Salmas. Certainly nothing more clearly reveals the consequences of injecting religious prejudices and hatreds into the conflict which is making such havoc of the world. The suffering and bloodshed on the plains of France and Poland, where Christian is fighting Christian, are sickening; but the horrors there are somewhat mitigated by some acknowledgment of Christian ideals. But when Moslem is arrayed against Christian, and a "jihad" or holy war is proclaimed, all the elementary passions in man burst forth without check in savage fury.
Salmas, where I write, is only one little spot in the world of Islam, and the forces involved in the conflict are inconsiderable and almost negligible as compared with the multitudes engaged in blood-letting elsewhere. But small as the numbers are, one can see what would happen if the "jihad" should become general throughout Moslem countries. Then wherever Mohammedan and Christian communities touched one another the same awfulness of hate and cruelty would be seen on an indefinitely larger scale.
Salmas is the extreme northwestern corner of Persia, where is to be found a Christian population of about twelve thousand Armenians and Syrians, surrounded by a very much larger number of Moslems. Three months ago, when the Russian army withdrew from this region, the greater number of Christians, realizing what would happen at the advance of the Turks and Kurds, fled across the Arax river into Russian territory. A small portion of them alone remained, secreted in the homes of friendly Moslems, and scattered among the Mohammedan villages of the plain.
All that was left in the Homes of the fleeing Christians was plundered, not only by the invading Kurds, but even more by the inhabitants of the district, and the larger part of the booty is now hidden in the different Moslem villages. The governor of this district, who is himself a Mohammedan, told me that he was sure that 90 per cent. of the Moslems here were implicated in this wholesale robbery. The Christians were the most prosperous people of the community; so their houses were well furnished with all the comforts of an Eastern home, and their stables were filled with the best of cattle. They were naturally envied by their poorer Moslem neighbors, who welcomed the popular doctrine that in the time of a "jihad" the property as well as the lives of Christians is lawful prey to Mohammedan.
But property is small consideration at such times. It was from death--from death in its most horrible forms, that the people fled. How well founded were their fears may be seen in a recent events in the very town in which I am writing. For weeks the few who remained behind kept concealed in their various hiding-places, most of them in this town of Dilman. They were secreted by Moslem friends, even against the pressure of the Turkish officials, who with fiendish determination sought them out. As soon as it became known where the Christians were hidden, all the males, to the number of about 750. were seized and gathered at central points, from which they were taken to nearby villages, bound together in twos and threes, and there were massacred with all the cruelty that human deviltry could invent. Eyes were torn out, members severed one by one, and parts of the body flayed. Then all were hacked to pieces, their bodies thrown into wells or stretched in rows under walls which were pulled down upon them. The bodies of little boys as well as of old men were found a few days later among the dead, all bearing marks of the awful tortures they had endured. The massacre was carried out with deliberateness and cruelty worthy of a savage; but the man who planned it all was a Turkish official who had studied in the Roman Catholic College at Beirut, Syria.
He was the son of a Jumer Vali of Van, who in the time of the massacres there had shown himself well disposed toward Christians.
The most relating features of the "jihad" remain to be told. The women and girls whose fathers ,brothers, husbands, had been thus butchered, escaped an awful fate by the timely arrival of the Russian army the day after the terrible deed was perpetrated. But women elsewhere were not so fortunate. Take, for example, the case of the large and prosperous village of Gulpashan, near Urumia. After the men of the village had been taken out and shot in cold blood, the women were given over to the brutish will of their captors. Not a female, from the old women of seventy years down to the little girls from seven to ten, escaped the savage lust of the fiends in human form. None were spared; a fact that proves the crime was not the result of blind passion only, but a deliberate purpose to dishonor all Christian women.
Alas, such acts call forth similar acts of retribution on the part of those who are called Christians, but who know not the gentleness and love of Christ. There is here a band of Armenian volunteers numbering about 1,000 to 1,500 who are one arm of the Russian army. Smarting over the massacres perpetrated on their people in Turkey in past years and still more over recent crimes, these men are burning to repay I like coin.
Who can preach the theory that war is a benefit to humanity, that it develops the virile elements in men, and saves us from the self-indulgence that peace brings? War in fact means only the calling forth of all that is hateful and fiendish in man; and in no sort of conflict are these qualities developed in more lurid fashion than in the miscalled "holy wars" of the East.