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1915: Urmia: Letter From the Rev. Y. M. Nisan to the Rev. F. N. Heazell
by Rev. Y. M. Nisan
Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 02:49 pm CST


The day after the departure of our missionaries from Urmi, that is, the 3rd January (1915), the Kurds and Turks, and with them a great number of the Moslems of Urmi, began to raid and kill and to make captives from a large part of the Christian villages.

The majority of the Christians, to the number of about 25,000, took refuge in the courtyards of the Americans and French and in our own premises. Up to the present time there is a large number of the Syrians in our yard; another portion, we do not know how many, fled to Russia with the Russian army. The besieged people here were provided with bread, one portion each per day, by the missionaries; but many have not escaped death. People died from the following causes :---(1) From fear ; (2) from their bad dwelling places ; (3) from cold ; (4) from hunger ; (5) from typhoid fever---the dead up to now from this disease, as far as we can tell, are from 800 to 1,000. Those who died from the slaughter and raiding of villages numbered 6,000. Many died in the houses of their refuge from the causes mentioned above. About 2,000 died of those who fled (to Russia), either on the road or after their arrival there. In our house my daughter Beatrice died from fright, and, 25 days after Beatrice, Mrs. Nisan died from grief at the loss of her daughter ; also Michael, nephew of Khan Audishu, my relative, and to-day his wife, too. Nanajan, my daughter-in-law, and her two sisters are now in bed with typhoid fever.

One day 48 people were seized in the yard of the French Mission. Mar Dinkha, bishop of the Old Church, was one of them. As they were keeping him in prison some days, I tried to buy off Mar Dinkha with the promise of 50 gold pieces, but they asked 100. I was outwitted at that time, for as often as I raised my offer they would advance the price. Then they carried them outside, and when they were bound arm to arm they were all shot.

Once they went to the village of Gulpashan and demanded a sum of money; they took money and carried off everything else as well; 45 men who were on the watch were killed that night.

At the beginning of events, the Turks demanded, in the name of the Persian Government, every kind of weapon for hewing and cutting (instead of knives) ; these were all seized in the name of the Persian Government. Afterwards two Osmanli officers and some soldiers came to the houses and searched for weapons and men in our yards, and so to every room and cupboard. Boxes were opened and examined and the people were in the greatest fear.

One day afterwards they entered the yard and seized Mar Elia, the Russian Bishop and Doctor Lokman. After a long imprisonment the Bishop was ransomed for 6,500 tomans, and the doctor for 2,000 tomans. The Melet Bashi of the French was taken from their yard and afterwards ransomed for 3,000 tomans. Shamasha Lazar, whose house is just by the American gate, was seized and bought off for 4,500 tomans. The enemy had one list of 80 names, written by their own hand, of men who were doomed to be killed, or bought off at a great price.

Audishu Khan fled from our house to the house of a Moslem friend, and remained hidden for two months, but by the rogues of the village and the commander here he was robbed of 27,000 tomans.

One night two Turkish officers with some soldiers descended by means of a ladder into our yard ; they seized Mr. George, our neighbour, and the brother-in-law of Mr. Comin, who was groom in his house; also Jawar, our gatekeeper, and Babu our cook and his son; also Kasha Pilipus, natir kursi of Mar Yohannan, and Asakhan my servant. At that time, because I had two persons very ill, I was watching from the balcony of my house so that they might not enter my rooms. Twice they came beneath the balcony and looked up, and when they saw me they went away. There is no doubt that the angels were watching over us and sent these men away.

At first Jawar's brother and his son were seized, when carrying bread for him (Jawar). After an imprisonment of two nights and one day we got them out by paying 68 tomans for the two of them. A friend of mine worked this for my sake.

The Osmanlis and the Kurds left Urmi two days ago. The Russian army is now a little way from Urmi. To-day we are very confused and fearful; they are saying that the Russian army will return. One part of the Syrians have fled and left Urmi.

One letter previous to this one---I doubt if it has reached you. I shall be glad if you will let me know quickly what is to be my work here in the future, because just now I am like a bird without a nest and without companions. There is no word from Samuel my son, and I do not know where he is.

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