THE RED RUGS OF TARSUS
ABDUL HAMID’S LAST DAY
Written by Helen Davenport Gibbons and originally published in 1917
I wish you knew right now that we are at the Dodds in Mersina. It would relieve your mind of anxiety that must be weighing on you. But we cannot send an optimistic, reassuring cablegram. In the first place it would not be true. Then no message must go out whose chance publication in the newspapers would tend to make the world believe that danger here is passed. The Powers might relax what diplomatic pressure they are exercising at Constantinople—might even recall warships or stop others that we hear are coming. Herbert is getting out the news by smuggling to Cyprus. He feels the responsibility of every word that is telegraphed. So we send you no message at all. There is still fear of a second and a worse outbreak. The massacre is not over yet.
Early yesterday morning we learned that a train would go down the line to Mersina at the usual hour. I packed what baby things I had left, and a steamer trunk with a few of our clothes. Miss Talbot said she was ready. My Armenian physician saw that the chance was excellent to get to the coast in our company. He had a valid reason for accompanying me. We took his whole family under our wing. His brother, a boy just turning into the twenties, has lost his mind—we hope only temporarily—as a result of the strain we have been under. The boy got it in his head that I alone could save him. He has been camping outside our door, and fumbling with our shutters at night. My Sub-Freshmen kept an eye on him, but I have had to humor him. As he is my physician’s brother, and there has been no way of secluding him, I have had to do this. The boy insisted on sitting in my compartment on the journey yesterday. He kept me in sight. Once arrived in Mersina, they were able to take him away to a friend’s house.
We reached Mersina in time for lunch, where Mrs. Dodds—the soul of kindness and solicitude—had kept rooms for us in her apartment. Mrs. Dodds’ little daughter, Mary, is a wonderful child—just like her mother in wanting to be constantly doing things for other people. The atmosphere of this home is so sweet and wholesome that it makes me proud of my Covenanter ancestry and wonder if certain religious beliefs I have always thought were narrow and absurd have not their place and their reason. I asked Herbert about Covenanters last night, and found that he knew less than I did. For a parson just out of Princeton Seminary, my husband is astonishingly ignorant of theology. He doesn’t seem to know or care any more about doctrines than I do. Until last night, we had never talked about theology, and then the conversation languished after a few sentences.
Just after lunch two Turkish transports appeared off Mersina. They came inside the line of warships, and began to disembark troops in the barges that went out immediately to greet them. From the windows of the Dodds’ living-room we could see the barges returning laden with soldiers. My eyes would not shut tight enough to dim the flash of the sunshine on the waves and on the blood-red fezzes. Herbert declared that he must go down to the scala to see them land. I did not want to prevent him, for I felt just as he did. Why couldn’t I go too? It didn’t seem to be “just the thing for one in my condition,” but you know, Mother, that I can’t live without exercise, and I have been impressing now for nearly a year upon Herbert two things: that I need out-of-doors as much as a fish needs water; and that I can go anywhere and do anything he does. I shall never let him get the idea into his head that I am barred from phases of his life just because I am a woman! Not a bit of it! Herbert had to take his wife along.
A disreputable looking lot they were, wretchedly clad and shod, and topped off with mussy, faded fezzes. We were told that they had come from Beirut to restore order in Cilicia. They had taken part in the Macedonian movement last summer, and were regiments whose officers adhered to the “Young Turk” movement, and could be relied upon to check any attempt to renew the massacres. There was much effervescence in the town. Groups were talking excitedly. Herbert and I were crazy for news. The last we heard was that Mahmud Shevket Pasha’s army was moving on Constantinople. The regiments lined the main street on the way to the railway station. Something was going on—we could not tell what. Suddenly they cheered—all together. The cheering was taken up by the crowd. The band began to play. The regiments wheeled from attention, and continued their march.
We went into a Greek shop. “What does all this mean?” we asked. The proprietor eyed us in astonishment. “Don’t you understand?” he answered. “Abdul Hamid has been deposed, and his imprisoned brother proclaimed sultan. The soldiers are cheering for Mohammed V. The authorities here kept back the news. They didn’t want to make the announcement until the troops unquestionably loyal to the New Régime were landed.”
There was much anxiety during the rest of the afternoon. The Christians were nervous, Greeks and Syrians as well as Armenians. The British have landed a few marines, and established a wig-wag station on top of a house near us. People began to come for refuge to the American mission at nightfall.
We have rumors of a second massacre at Adana this morning.