THE RED RUGS OF TARSUS
THE YOUNG TURKS AND THE TOY FLEET
Written by Helen Davenport Gibbons and originally published in 1917
I suppose that baby doesn’t come because I’m too busy and the time is not propitious. There are more important things to think about and to do. Sounds unmaternal and abnormal, doesn’t it? But just like other girls I had my dreams of how these days of waiting would be. And up to several weeks ago I plied the needle vigorously, and thought a lot about how many of each wee garment would be necessary, and what sort of blanket would wash best. I hesitated a long time before deciding which dress was the prettiest for IT to be baptized in. Now I don’t know how many garments I have. I haven’t even made a complete inventory of what we brought from Tarsus. We are too engrossed in the duties and problems that each day brings forth to think at all about the morrow. Honestly, Mother, during the four days we have been in Mersina, maternity hasn’t had much of a place in my mind—I mean, of course, my own maternity. Heaven knows we have the babies coming in abundance all the time around us, and there is everything to be done for them.
I wrote you of the landing of the Turkish regiments from Beirut on the day we learned of Abdul Hamid’s deposition. They went to Adana the same day, and started that night a second massacre more terrible than the first. The Armenians had given up their arms. On the advice of the foreign naval officers—trusting in the warships here at Mersina—they accepted the assurance of the Government that the “rioting” was over. So they were defenseless when the Young Turk regiments came. The butchery was easier. I spare you details. I wish to God I could have spared them to myself. Most of our Adana friends who escaped the first massacre must have been killed since last Saturday. The few who have reached Mersina are like the messengers that came to Job. Adana is still hell. The soldiers set fire to the French Mission buildings, and are going each night after other foreign property. The American Girls’ Boarding School was evacuated. The teachers and some girls who were saved arrived yesterday, and are with us. One of our American teachers has typhoid, and reached us on a stretcher.
Herbert brought me here from Tarsus to get away from the contagion that might come from the crowding of refugees in our compound. It is now worse here than it was in Tarsus. And this morning word came to us that we must be ready at any moment to move to the French Consulate. The captains of the warships had a meeting last night, and decided to defend the French and German consulates in case of trouble. They notified the local authorities that if killing began in Mersina three hundred German, French and British sailors would be landed with machine-guns to protect foreigners. The idea is to gather the foreigners together, and let the Armenians and other native Christians shift for themselves. Of course we could not enter into any such scheme as that. The Dodds would under no circumstances desert those who have taken refuge with them. Anyway, we Americans are invited only by courtesy. Ships of the other Great Powers are here. American ships are supposed to be en route. But we have not seen them yet. We wonder if the new Administration is going to continue the supine policy of Mr. Roosevelt, who always refused to do anything for Americans and American interests in this part of the world. I used to think that missionaries looked to Washington for help and protection. Now I know that the United States is known in Turkey only by the missionaries. If our flag has any prestige or honor, it is due to men like Daddy Christie, and not to the Embassy in Constantinople or the few Consuls scattered here and there.
At the station, soldiers are turning back the Armenians who have managed to slip into trains at Adana and Tarsus. From a long distance one can see, when riding in the train, the warships in the harbor, flying the flags of the “protecting” Powers, whose obligation to make secure life and liberty for Armenians was solemnly entered into by the Treaty of Berlin. One does not expect much of Russia: the treaty was imposed upon her. But England, France, Germany, Austria, Italy—they all have warships at Mersina. Armenian refugees, fleeing from the massacre at Adana, which occurred right under the nose of the English, French, Germans, Austrians and Italians, see these warships as the train draws into Mersina station. Turkish soldiers, of the same regiments who massacred them three days ago, bar the way. Back they must go to death.
Herbert and I meet the trains. We look for the chance to smuggle friends through. We got H— B— through yesterday. The Swiss stationmaster, Monsieur B—, remonstrated hotly with Herbert about allowing me to come to the station. “It is no place for your wife,” he declared. “There might be bloodshed any minute, if a refugee resists.” But I held my ground. I knew H— B— was going to try to get on this train. He had money to bribe with, and could travel first-class. Mother, I managed to slip into the first-class coach just as the train stopped, and came out the other end leaning heavily on H— B—’s arm. We left the station through the waiting-room, and none said a word or stopped us. H— B— was safe. Herbert couldn’t have done it. The Turks, for all their cruelty, have a curious chivalry upon which I banked. I was not mistaken. H— B— kept my arm all the way to the Dodds. The poor boy is in agony. He has just heard that his father, a wealthy merchant of Alexandretta, was killed, and his mother and sister—well, I’ll leave it to you to guess.
But this adventure is nothing to one I had late in the afternoon of the twenty-seventh. Herbert had gone for news to the wigwagging station the British have established on a villa just in front of Major Doughty-Wylie’s. I thought there might still be some oranges in the bazaar. It was an excuse to walk. I cannot stay indoors—no matter what happens. It wasn’t far, anyhow. Just a little way down our street. As I was returning, I heard “Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey,” coming from somewhere. It struck me as curious. I stopped. The whistling continued staccato and insistent. It came from a narrow side street. I waited until the patrol had passed along, and then whistled in turn, “Every night the papers say,” and stopped. Immediately it was taken up: “There’s a robbery in the park.” I decided to investigate. Several houses along, I heard a whisper, “Mrs. Gibbons.” Under the stoop was an American Armenian, whom I had met during the winter in Adana. He had been waiting for some one he knew to pass on the main street. He was in rags—had worked his way overland somehow from Adana. He would be arrested if he tried to make the Mission. Patrols were passing constantly. I told him to wait where he was. I went back to the Dodds, put on Herbert’s raincoat, stuffed a cap in the pocket, and returned to the side street. The Armenian refugee could cover himself completely in the coat. I told him to pull the cap well down over his ears. He walked back with me. It was no trouble at all. The young man has money, and an American passport. The latter is no good to him. As he can pay, we think it possible to smuggle him somehow aboard a ship1.
Almost all who have reached Mersina, however, are women and children. For the men are killed on sight. The refugees in the Dodds’ compound are of my sex. They are husbandless, fatherless, sonless. Now we know that the only difference between Young and Old Turks is that the Young Turks are more energetic and thorough in their massacring. None would succeed in escaping the dragnet were it not for the fact that Armenians look and dress—and many of them speak—just like Turks. Refugees are not easily detected.
My doctor has gone. The day after we reached Mersina, he had a chance to get passage with his family to Cyprus. I urged him to go. I had Miss Talbot, and I could not have on my mind the responsibility of his remaining just to take care of me. I am glad he left when the going was good. Now it is practically impossible. The scala, from which the little boats go out to the ships, is carefully guarded. The Young Turks are taking “strict measures” to put down “the rebellion”! Armenians who try to escape from the Adana butcher’s pen are hauled before the court-martial. According to the Turkish reasoning, attempting to avoid death is proof of an Armenian’s guilt.
As I write these awful things—a few weeks ago I should have called them incredible things—I see from my window the half-moon of warships a mile out to sea. They ride quietly at anchor. Launches are all the time plying to and fro between ships and shore. That is the extent of their activity.