LETTERS FROM ARMENIA
LETTER No. XXV.
VIGOROUS PROTESTS AGAINST WESTERN SCEPTICISM — DIFFICULTIES OF RELIEF WORK — REBUILDING OF VILLAGES, ETC.
HARPOOT, July 25, 1896.
MY DEAR FRIEND E. W. B., — We are delighted to hear from Constantinople as well as from thyself the news of the arrival of £1000 from the Friends. I have already sent word as to what we have been doing financially, and will now say a little more on the subject in order that our friends may know exactly what our policy has been, so far as that policy has been susceptible of definition. But first let me say something with regard to the statement in thy last letter, that there are Friends who still talked of atrocities being “manufactured,” and others who feared that what was contributed would go into Turkish hands. The first of these difficulties moves my indignation. Do they want me to bring home a collection of people with slashed heads and faces and minus hands and ears ? Or to dig up the burnt bones from the caves and trenches into which they have been thrown by the sackful ? It can be done, I suppose, but I fail to see how it would add to the evidence of credible witnesses, including ourselves. The fact is that not one half of the horrors of last winter has been told in Europe. No doubt
there has been occasional inaccuracy in the newspaper reports, but it would be a mistake to suppose that these reports erred always by excess, and not by deficiency. As to the fear of our funds falling into Turkish hands, that is a reasonable fear. It has happened with other workers in a number of cases, and will happen again, unless our simplicity succeeds in outwitting the rapacity of Turkish officials and magnates. The real answer to this difficulty seems to be in having a right policy for relief. Our policy, then, is as follows : In the first place, we generally avoid giving personal relief; the distress is of such magnitude that any attempt to deal with individual cases can only be compared with the conventional draining of the sea by means of a shell. What we aim at is the reorganisation of social order, which in most cases appears to be hopelessly shattered. It is not the giving of relief in food and clothing, except as a temporary expedient, for if we do nothing more than that, the people are presently back again at the bottom of the pit of distress. If, however, we can encourage them to return to their ordinary occupations, and find them the means of recommencing the task of bread-winning, then we do something that is permanently good. And we do the same when we relieve the social organisation of the burden of those who are quite incapable of self-maintenance, as in the case of widows and orphans. No money can possibly go into the hands of rapacious officials when you buy back a man’s tools, or when you provide orphans with food, and shelter them in your own hired house. In the villages we find the problem very acute; the
houses are all ruined, and the people are afraid to rebuild. Consequently the first thing to be done is to restore confidence by finding a few of the more courageous, who are willing to make the attempt if they are helped with the necessary timber and materials. It is impossible to rebuild a village which would cost £1000 to £2000 in the necessary timber and mud-brick without paying anything for labour, but it is possible to help a few people who are not wholly in despair, and when they begin to build the others follow them like a flock of sheep, and one soon has enough shelters in order for the coming winter. This is what we are trying to do here, and, while I admit that the building of a single village seems almost as absurd as the relief of a single needy person, it is not really so, for the good that is done is contagious, and is sure to be imitated.
I am sending a little account of a visit which we paid yesterday to one of the ruined villages, which will help to explain this part of our programme.1 It is very difficult indeed to set people to work again in their crafts and trades. Agriculture recovers because nature goes on with her benevolence irrespective of atrocities, and without inquiring who rules the land, but trade and commerce are at a standstill; there is no home consumption, and no export of manufactured goods. The ablest artisans are idle, and it will be long before they find occupation again, and as if to crown their miseries, we hear now from Ourfa that the authorities are beginning to assess the taxes of the dead on the living. I see no way out of this phase of the misery, which results from the rottenness and rapa-
1 See p. 149.
city of the Government. The case is hopeless; the tree must come down, and the people had better stand from under. Unless they are enabled to make a partial emigration, they will probably be all destroyed. But emigration, like relief, is useless if sporadic; it can only be done successfully on a large scale, and this means Government co-operation.
I hope that nothing I have said will discourage our friends. Thus far we have not been without success, and in Ourfa the success has been phenomenal. The schools which we reopened have now over 1000 scholars, and the orphanage which we started has 70 children, without counting those which have been sent to Constantinople. We should try to do something with the broken machine here, and perhaps at Van. At Diarbekir the people were in such fear that we were not able to plan much permanent work, still I hope that there and elsewhere the suffering has been alleviated. Our friends will see that it was wisely decided to make no new organisation for relief, no organisation can come near to the fitness of the American Missions. If the country can be saved, the foci of its salvation are the mission stations, and in a lesser degree the consulates. No one knows the needs of the people like the Americans, and no one is so busy and so wise in giving aid as they are. They at all events have come to the kingdom for such a time as this. I have just briefly given some of the leading impressions made on my mind by this summer’s work. It is a great delight to know that our friends are taking hold of it with us. They may be sure we will do our best to see that their
benevolence is not wasted or misapplied, and they will share with us the benedictions, which attend the service, both the outward blessings of those who are ready to perish, and the more precious commendations of the Man of Sorrows that are spoken inwardly.
J. R. H.
P.S. — I am turning homeward in a few days, while H. remains for a month or two longer in the hope of continuing and of extending the work. Perhaps she may go as far as to Van if the way should open.
Table of contents
The cover and pages 1-4 | Preface | Table of contents (as in the book)
Turkish Armenia with Route of J.R. & H.B. Harris (a map)
Letter I | Letter II | Letter III | Letter IV | Letter V | Letter VI | Letter VII | Letter VIII
Letter IX | Letter X | Letter XI | Letter XII | Letter XIII | Letter XIV | Letter XV
Letter XVI | Letter XVII | Letter XVIII | Letter XIX | Letter XX | Letter XXI | Letter XXII
Letter XXIII | Letter XXIV | Letter XXV | Letter XXVI | Letter XXVII | Letter XXVIII
Memorandum: Notes of Information from J. R. H. | Letter XXIX | Letter XXX
Letter XXXI | Letter XXXII | Letter XXXIII | Letter XXXIV | Letter XXXV
Letter XXXVI | Letter XXXVII
J. Rendel Harris & B. Helen Harris. Letters from the Scenes of
the Recent Massacres in Armenia. London, James Nisbet & Co.,