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1915: First Exodus From Urmi: Narrative of Mr. J. D. Barnard
by Mr. J. D. Barnard
Posted: Tuesday, July 18, 2000 03:58 pm CST


I have been asked to give a brief account of our journey home from Urmi. I will merely confine myself to the happenings on the road.

On the 3rd January we got upon our way, but we were in some doubt as to what course to pursue. The army, we were told, was taking the route northwards to Khoi, on the direct road to Russia. However, we did not like to quit the country altogether unless we were absolutely obliged, so we finally decided to make our way round the north of the Lake to Tabriz and there confer with our consul, if he were still present---reports varied on this point. An additional reason for the selection of this route was that M. Cordonnier was going in that direction, and his Customs officials who accompanied him were of incalculable assistance to us, as they knew the road, transacted all necessary business, and acted as an armed escort in case of an encounter with ugly customers by the way.

We had not gone far before we came up with a sight which we shall never forget to our dying day. As far as the eye could reach in either direction was a great river of fugitives, comprising very nearly the whole Christian population of the villages of the Urmi plain. They had had to flee at a moment's notice with such things as they could carry; a great number were absolutely without food; the nights were bitterly cold; and many old people and little children died by the way. Especially painful was the passage over the high pass leading into the plain of Salmas. It was covered with deep snow, which on the northern slope became ice, and the sight of these poor creatures slipping and stumbling down the steep descent, with the precious beasts of burden falling from fatigue and totally unable to rise again, was one that Belgium could hardly equal. Worst of all was the feeling that we were powerless to render any assistance. Many a mother cried for a lift for her little ones on our horses, but what could one do in the midst of thousands ?

On the second day we parted from this sad procession, they going on towards Khoi, and we, as I said above, taking the road eastward round the Lake. We met with all mannner of reports by the way; it was quite impossible to learn the truth of what had happened at Tabriz, and we never knew what the next bend in the road was to bring forth. At one halting-place we met with a striking instance of the ups and downs of an oriental career, being overtaken by an ex-official of some importance in the service of the Governor of Urmi, now humbly and shamelessly suing our companion, against whom he had so often worked, for a place in the douanes. As we rounded the end of the Lake we saw a great column of smoke rising up from Sherafkhané, the landing-stage for the boats on the eastern shore, and were informed that the supply of petroleum was being burnt to prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy, the boats having been previously sunk.

On reaching Sofian we found a considerable number of Russian troops in the village, and took courage. We tried to telephone through to Tabriz to enquire who was there, but without success, so left our tired animals to come on in the morning---we had been travelling most of the previous night---while we went on to Tabriz in a carriage which most opportunely happened to be obtainable. We arrived that evening, the fifth day of our wanderings, to find that all the English residents had left some days ago ; so we proceeded to the American consulate to ask advice. This was concise and definite: "The Russian troops may leave any minute---the Turks are only nine miles away---you had better get on as fast as you can." Again fortune favoured us, and we managed to procure a carriage which had just returned from conveying our consul, Mr. Shipley, to the frontier, only waiting a few hours to refresh ourselves, while things were made ready. . . .

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