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1916: Second Exodus From Urmia : Narrative of the Wife of the Rev. David Jacob, of Urmia
by Wife of the Rev. David Jacob
Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 03:40 pm CST


As a native of Urmia and myself a refugee who has fallen into great trouble, I am writing a few short details about my unfortunate nation. For centuries as Christians we. have been crushed by the enemies that surround us. Our best looking girls have been forced to deny their creed; our men have been killed, our homes plundered, and our property has been robbed.

In all these troubles we lived under the Persian Government, and obeyed their rules ; we have never been untrue to them, or disobedient. For the past seventy years the only help we have had has come through the English and American Missions that have been in Urmia. When the Russians arrived at Urmia it was a delight to us, we thought our rights would be more clearly established ; of course, things were much better than before ; all the country was safer than it ever had been. This was like a dream for a few years ; all of a sudden, when this terrible war began, we felt almost certain that it would harm us, although we never dreamed that it would bring us under such a curse.

In the cold January, when even the beasts do not wish to go out from their caves, the people were left homeless, bleeding, impoverished and starving. This all happened when the Russian forces withdrew from Urmia ; very many left their beloved and comfortable homes, and started with them on an endless journey, which caused the death of many dear souls from cold and hunger. The rest of the Christians crowded into the American Mission compounds, with nothing left; here they were fed on a morsel of bread which came through the kindness of the Missionaries. There is a great deal to tell of the misery of the people during the last winter; it was a life too wretched for humanity. Those that were used to comfortable beds now slept on the bare ground. For five months of captivity we lived expecting death every minute, surrounded by sick people who needed help ; our little children died of measles ; our young and strong ones could not stand the terrible epidemics of typhoid and typhus, while the elderly people could not live such a hard life ; they died in the first weeks, of dysentery. Now the villages were plundered and mostly burned, a good many people killed, and our little girls and women wickedly tortured (very many even now have not been found; they were mercilessly carried into captivity); through all this long time of anxiety and expectation, during which our time was given to weeping, we prayed that God would once more save us by sending the Russians to our rescue.

It was a great relief when we heard that the Russians, for their own interests, were coming to Urmia once more. After their coming the people were at liberty, and were able to go out into the country once more. For three months they tried to live in the villages, though a very poor and wretched life it was, with everything gone and most of the buildings burned. In these hard times we were thankful to the American Missionaries and the Russian Consul who helped us in settling down. Although at this time we did not do any evil to our enemies who had treated us so unkindly, we heard them say that if once more the Russian army should leave Urmia, no Christian would be safe.

On the 4th August the peasants crowded into the city of Urmia ; they had heard indirectly about the armies leaving. It was a sight that could not be described. The sick, helpless little children were terrified. All night and the next day the road that led towards the Russian border was full of refugees, although the Consul assured us that he would not leave without warning us ; but the fear was so great that nothing could keep us back.

In the first invasion of Urmia some of those that dwelt inside the city gates were in more security than the villagers, although they were fined a great deal and suffered many hardships and losses of property, and there had been deaths in almost every home; but this second attack meant that we must leave all and flee. On Friday morning, with sober face and heavy heart, I left my dear home. I am grateful to God that until now my home had not been robbed, so that it was very hard for me to leave its comfort and start out into the world with no hope of returning again. With many other comrades in the same plight, we began our dreadful journey. For two families we had a little cart in which we put a few necessary coverings, a little bread, and my three little children. It was very hard for us to leave our property, but life is dearer than all the riches of the world.

On the way we met all classes of people, the rich and poor were reduced to the same level; very few had carriages, because our neighbours would not hire us any, some had horses and donkeys, but the majority had to walk with great bundles on their backs. We were quite unused to such a hard journey; some sat on the roadside and wept from sore feet; it was hard to walk in shoes, and without shoes the sun burned them until the blood came; dear, innocent children died on the way; it broke the parents' hearts to part with them; old and feeble men and women were left behind; little unlucky babies were born in the sight of the passers-by; everyone was in need of help, but no help could be found. We were like the Israelites scattered in the desert, only they had Moses to conduct them to Canaan, while we had no one.

The first night we were so tired and exhausted that we stopped in a place that had very little water, a dry, dusty place ; our bed was the ground, our pillow a stone, the sky our quilt. The little excited children cried all night ; large crowds of people were coming all night ; while some rested and went on, others from behind took their place. The next day we were so tired and hopeless that we wished we had died at home and had not started on such an endless and aimless pilgrimage.

It broke my heart when I met a little girl; her feet were sore and she could walk no further. She cried, "Oh mother! Oh, God!" The mother had a heavy load and could not carry the child, the father was killed, they had no friends. I carried the little girl on my back for about half-a-mile, but could not any further. It was too heart-breaking. Why should innocent children suffer so ?

Our next stop was a better place; it had splendid, cool water, and shade; but the people were so many that bread was scarce, starvation was upon us. A great many were sick by this time and could not move. This was a Moslem town ; they did not like to have us there, but they could not turn us out on account of the Russian soldiers being near. There were Christian villages on our way, but by this time. they had all been destroyed. Here we stopped a few days. We heard that the Cossacks had not left Urmia entirely; they had moved their headquarters a few miles, so that we had hope that we would not lose all. From here some of us went to Tabriz, which is a larger city, and a little safer than other places. Now we are a nation scattered like the flock without a shepherd, some living here and some there, a miserable existence. Some have gone back to Urmia; most of them have found all their crops gone. If we had not left Urmia this second time, our condition would not be so hard as it is now, the places near the city having mostly been kept safe by the kindness of the Russian Consul, who did not leave Urmia; but in the more distant places the crops and vineyards have all been destroyed. We are more than grateful to the Americans, who have ransomed our lives from death by the money that has been spent for us the last winter. We hope and pray for the victory of the Allies, that through their kindness the rest of us might live. So far one-third of our nation has perished, and even we who survive are so broken by the strain we have suffered that sometimes we are hopeless. Now we are facing a winter of famine and wretchedness, homes without bedding and clothes. Of course nobody can supply all our needs. In addition to our own trouble, our countrymen from Turkey are taking refuge in the Urmia district, and their condition is worse than ours.

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