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1915: Hakkiari: Refugees from the Hakkiari District: A Series of Extracts From Letters by Members of the American Mission Station at Urmia
by Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 03:11 pm CST

(a) Extract from a letter, dated 8th November, 1915, from the Rev. E. T. Allen.

As you know, the first attack by the combined force of Turks and Kurds was made in June and was partially successful. The people were driven out of their valleys into the high mountains central to Tiari, Tkhoma, Tal and Baz. In this movement not many lives were lost, but many villages were destroyed. The hostile forces were for some reason withdrawn, and for some weeks there was comparative quiet, broken only by spasmodic attacks by local forces. About three weeks ago there was another concerted attack made by the Turks and Kurds on their stronghold in the mountain top, and they were driven out. Between fifteen and twenty thousand, with great difficulty, made their escape, part of their road being held by the Kurds. They came down the Tal and Kon Valleys, followed by the Kurds, and attempted to turn up the Zab to get out by way of Djoulamerk. They found the Kurds in force at the Djoulamerk bridge, and were forced to turn down stream. At the head of Tiari they crossed the Zab and went up into the hills, which they found deserted by the Kurds, who had gone to war. They then made their way round behind Djoulamerk, meeting no hostile force until they reached the ridge between Quodshanis and the Zab. Here again they found a force of Kurds waiting for them. They had quite a sharp fight with them and the Kurds were worsted. From there on they had no more trouble reaching Bashkala in safety, and later coming down to Salmas.

These are the people I found in Salmas. They number, according to my estimate, between fifteen and twenty thousand. Among them are Mar Shimun and his family and all our helpers, with one or two exceptions. (Mar Shimun is the Patriarch of the Nestorian Church.)

With reference to those who were left in the mountains, perhaps a thousand more succeeded in getting through. There are still some thousands shut up there, and their fate is still uncertain. How many were killed in this last attack, I have found no one who could give even an estimate, but undoubtedly the number must be large. This is in reference to those in Salmas. All the facts cannot be given out, but this is their case in brief. The mass of them are without shelter of any kind and also without bedding. They are sleeping on the bare ground without covering. The rains have begun and the winter promises to set in early. What all this means to these thousands who are without shelter, you need not be told.

Since coming down a great many of them have been taken sick with a peculiar form of bowel trouble, such as the mountaineers have been having here. Dr. David Yohannan estimates that there are as many as one thousand cases. The fatality is not as great as might be expected, but there are a great many deaths. One tribe reported forty deaths within a week. I have seen the dead lying on the roadside, and the women carrying their dead, orders to move on giving them little time to die decently or to be buried with respect. I gave no relief while there. Along the road they had gathered up a little grain; the Russians were giving out 1,200 loads, and help was being given on the threshing floor and from door to door. I have been making a complete list, so that when we are ready to begin we shall have them classified and shall be able to handle them. We shall give flour or wheat in weekly allowances. The cost per head will be about five shahis (1d.). I shall refrain from giving as long as I see they can subsist on what they get from other sources.

Bedding is needed as badly as food. There is not much choice between dying from hunger or dying from cold. We shall have to supply several thousand outfits, cost of each about three-and-a-half tomans (12s.). You may rest assured that I shall use the utmost caution in the giving of relief.

There is no further word from those left in the mountains. There is still hope that some of them may succeed in getting through, but undoubtedly many will be lost.

(b) Extract from a letter, of later date, from a missionary.

About 150 or more of the Mutran's people came down. Some of the children were a sight to see for destitution. I had a tableful of women to breakfast with me the next morning, including one of our own pupils who was married into the Mutran's family. They said that 200 Turks had been living off them since a year ago, but that their flocks had been so multiplied that they were able to sustain the burden. At last the Turks began sending twenty men every day with packs on their backs to Mosul, loaded with the spoils of their houses, so they feared their own end or deportation might be near ; they found a chance to escape one day when their guards were a mile or two away, and silently stole away with some of their possessions.

(c) Extract from a letter, of later date, from a missionary.

Some of the refugees in Salmas had flocks and possessions, but all were ravaged by disease, so that even if they had work they could not do It. A boy who was with me found his relatives among the people. One uncle of his had been living in the barracks. He had lost his three children one after the other, and then his wife died and he had no one to care for his affairs but himself. He was so weak he could not do anything---reduced to skin and bone himself---but he got a rope and tried to carry the body of his wife on his back to bury her somewhere. He had not even strength enough to dig her a grave. There the story ended. The boy said the man broke down and could not tell any more, and he did not have the heart to ask what had become of her.

Another of our preachers has lost three of his four children, and the last was very ill when we saw her. His wife had lost her brother and two sisters---one of them a pupil in the Fiske Seminary.

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