THE RED RUGS OF TARSUS
Written by Helen Davenport Gibbons and originally published in 1917
I have been sewing and helping care for the wounded.
Mrs. Christie gave me the first Relief money that came, a Turkish gold-piece, worth four dollars and forty cents. With it I bought a roll of flannel. On Jeanne’s balcony I fixed a hand-run sewing machine. There I basked in the sunshine as I worked on baby night-gowns all day Sunday. When I tell you that I made twelve nighties in a day you know the machine did speed-work. Our caldrons are all in use heating water so that mothers can wash their children and their children’s clothes, and take advantage of the sunshine to dry things. Every time I finish a nightie, it means another baby can have a bath. We have contrived sanitary arrangements, and small trenches have been dug for drainage. Queer the Turks never thought of turning off our water. It could have been done easily through the surface pipes.
Dr. Peeples of the Covenanter Mission was the first doctor to come through. He got here before his supplies. I shall never forget his face when I showed him my table with the Red Cross kit. He appropriated the medicine-case and some bandages and marched off with them. Dr. Peeples and I dressed wounds. But Mother Christie stopped that on account of “my condition.” Afterwards we compromised. I installed a table inside my door and worked away preparing medicines and dressings. I handed these out to the doctor on a tray, curving my wrist around the door-jamb and so was spared the pain of seeing the patients. I do not take stock in the popular notion that I might “mark the child.” Only the pleasant things that happen to me can touch that child.
The arrival of the British battleship Swiftsure has saved Mersina. Yesterday the commander went to Adana by special train. On his return he stopped at Tarsus and invited Dr. Christie and Herbert to accompany him to Mersina. They accepted with alacrity. Early this morning Herbert boarded the Swiftsure and had a chat with the captain. As a result, the captain allowed six officers to come to Tarsus with Herbert by special train today. We had them for lunch and took them all over the city, showing them the work of the mob. When the refugee children saw these officers arrive, the poor kiddies were terrified. Many ran and hid, and the wee ones found their mothers as quickly as possible. The officers’ uniforms were the cause, according to the kiddies’ own words. How is that for proof that Turkish soldiery helped in the massacring!
We believe that one hundred were killed in Tarsus and four hundred in villages nearby. Adana’s murders are in the thousands. The killing of Miner brings the tragedy right into our mission family. Mary is supernaturally calm and brave. Not only does she do everything for her baby, but she is in the midst of all the relief work.
While Herbert was in Mersina, Mrs. Dodds of the Covenanter Mission urged him to take me there so as to get me away from the danger of contracting some disease. She also urged that the discomfort of our now crowded quarters at Tarsus was not good for me. We have nearly five thousand refugees on the college grounds. If railroad communication is reestablished before my baby comes, we are going to accept the invitation of Mrs. Dodds. I do not know from day to day and cannot plan.
Mother, if I am not ready for the skeptics, and for those who smile and jeer, yes, jeer is the word, at missionaries! The stick-in-the-muds who thought we came all this long way because we wanted adventure must be wagging their narrow little heads and wagering that we are getting more than we bargained for. I am a great believer in letting every one have his point of view. But generally one finds that the people who boast that they are liberal and broad-minded are the most bigoted people on earth. They assert their point of view, but are unwilling to admit another’s right to his. One does not have to believe in missions or want to be a missionary. But one does not have to ridicule missionary effort and missionaries, either. Among the missionaries here, women as well as men, not a single one has shown the white feather. Quite the contrary, I doubt if any other score of Americans in the United States would have upheld better the glorious traditions of our race for coolness, resourcefulness, and ability to grapple suddenly with a crisis. The American women here are made of the same stuff as my several times great-grandmother in Lebanon Valley, who carried the gun around the room together with the broom as she did her sweeping.
I can never think of the Armenians without a stirring of the heart in affection and admiration. How can Americans resist the call to help people who have the courage to die for their faith? One has to be brought to their level of suffering, to be put into the situation in which they have lived during centuries of Turkish oppression, to understand them. Mother, they are heroes—these Armenians, children and grand-children of heroes. It is nothing spectacular that they have done, except in periods of massacre like this. But all along they have kept the faith, they have preserved their distinct nationality, when an easy path lay before them, were they willing to turn from Christ to Mohammed. I see now so vividly what they have been born to, what they grow up from early childhood fearing. Is not the greatest heroism in the world the silent endurance of oppression that cannot be remedied, the bending of the neck to the yoke when there is no other way, the living along normally under the shadow of a constant and justified fear of death and worse?
What saved the Tarsians the other night? Any dread of international complications? Any respect for our Government? What do the Kurds know about us? Nothing. Last summer when we were camping far up in the Taurus mountains above the timber-line, a fellow of the type who has been doing the dirty work for the party in power at Stambul, came along to talk with us. We had chopped down a scrub pine-tree to build a fire and were sitting around the fire after supper. We were eating walnuts. I offered him some. With them I gave salt. He took both walnuts and salt, touched them to his forehead by way of thanks, and began to eat. Socrates expressed satisfaction that the man had done this—said we could be surer now that he would not turn fierce dogs loose the next day, when we broke camp. In talking to the man, I asked him what he knew about my country. He was a shepherd, and had never seen a town bigger than Tarsus. He replied, “There are a great many Americans in America, at least five thousand, all very rich and all very kind.”
What saved the Tarsians? St. Paul’s College. Those people have had the vision held up before them, and some of its light must have got into their dark hearts. I keep thinking of the way Jesus forgave people because they just didn’t know what they were doing. I do not believe for a minute that it was the American flag that saved the Christian population of this town. The Stars and Stripes mean nothing to them. It is the way Daddy and Mother Christie have lived before these Turks all these years that did it.
Listen to this, and you will see what I mean. Three hundred refugees owe their lives directly to one act of thoughtful kindness. Sometime before the massacre, Dr. Christie heard that the only son of a village Sheik had died. He got on his horse and went straight out to comfort the old father. The news came late in the day, so that Daddy Christie was obliged to make the trip in the night. I have seen the Sheik several times myself. He came one day and invited Herbert and me to go hunting with him. He is a superb specimen. In the midst of the heat and hatred of last Friday, the Sheik appeared with some three hundred Armenians. The order to massacre had come, “and a massacre is good hunting, you know,” he blandly remarked. “As I was about to go forth, I reflected that the people here were Dr. Christie’s friends. Cannot see why you like them,” he added, “but seeing you do, here they are.” The old man, of course, is a Moslem. He told us he found some of those he brought in hiding in the swamps, not far from his home, “lying in the water, with just their noses sticking out to breathe,” he laughingly explained.