The Sixty-Two-Day Siege of Urfa

THE Land of Abraham has recently witnessed in these reconstruction days a notable and thrilling event, in the siege of the city of Urfa, Mesopotamia. From the diary of one who was the American representative, and who has spent eighteen months in Near-East refugee work, we cull the following.

Here we are in Urfa, without communication with the outside world, for the Arabs and Kurds have broken up the railroad and cut telegraph wires, and we are prisoners. The more I see of this country, the better Mexico seems. The French, who have a garrison here, are now attacked by forces of the Nationalistic army under Mustapha Kemal Pasha. We have raised Red Cross and American flags on our orphanage, which has sheltered over a thousand refugees; but the Turk does not bother about such a little thing as a flag. The first French soldier has been killed and the water-supply cut off. Intermittent shots arc heard about us. C’est la guerre maintenant. The Armenians, short of ammunition, have been making bombs out of condensed-milk cans. They knew what to expect from the Turks.

We have fortified the orphanage by digging a hole to the cellar and barricading the windows with a hundred cases of condensed-milk cans. The French are expecting reinforcements. Bullets are rattling around the house and occasionally zip inside close to one’s head. We put out all lights, and things quiet down. It is snowing and extremely cold. Have a one-log fire in the house. The Turks are continually firing on the hospital. A bullet passed through the doctor’s apron one day. Our supply of oil is gone and we use candle-light. This is our worst night yet, and the passing hours seem years. The Turks have captured ‘One Tree Hill’ behind our house. It was important in the control of the fire upon the city. We watched several detachments make their way toward our grounds across the field, and saw four men shot down. A score or so of French soldiers have come to the house for our protection, some of them Verdun veterans. Things are getting serious. It was dangerous to go outside, and when a soldier did have to go, we gave him a white sheet as a camouflage against the background of snow.

The siege drags on. It is terribly wearing and distressing. I’ve just had the first bath in sixteen days, and have changed my clothes the first time in five days. We lost track of the days yesterday and it took a long time to figure out the time. Believe me, these are the longest days I have ever spent, and the word week is a thousand years. Have slept in the cellar for the last five or six nights and am getting the characteristics of the cave-man. If ever I see any canned stuff served on our home table, I ’ll vamoose.

A wounded soldier was brought in today. It was pathetic to hear him calling to his sergeant, asking for his tin hat, though he was dying. We are barricading now with bolts of unbleached muslin, blankets, flannel cloth, boxes of shoes, books, cases of provisions, stones, anything we can find. It’s a little affair compared with the great war, but a tricky situation. We wonder if anybody in America or outside of Urfa is thinking of us. The siege has been on for three weeks, and no sign from outside. Our cook is so scared that he can’t cook, so we have a sort of cafeteria.

Still we go on. Sometimes the suspense and confinement become unbearable. We were excited, however, to-day by the appearance of a French aeroplane flying over Urfa, the first sign that the people outside are remembering us. It will hold up our morale until help comes. The plane came in the midst of a shelling attack by the Turks. Everybody, soldiers, maids, kids, women, cooks, flew to the windows to see that big beautiful aeroplane in the blue sky. ‘Teerha-teerha!’ — ‘Avion français!' — and everybody fell all over everybody else, so great was our joy. The Turks had seen it, too, and were running in all directions.

The American consul at Aleppo has sent a note, expressing solicitude for our welfare. A messenger has arrived from Admiral Bristol, to make an investigation of the killing of Messrs. Perry and Johnson near Aintab. The Turks have fired some 400 shells around headquarters and have made some effective shots. All this morning we could see big detachments of cavalry riding to and from the city. We would hear the boom of cannon, and a fraction of a second later we would see the dust and stones rise in the air, or else note the crumbling of a wall. The Turks very nearly got into the biggest French barracks. One shell whizzed into our bathroom and landed in the tub, but did not explode. Twenty-seven days of siege, and America does not seem to care. Our flag affords us no protection. It was about a year ago when the first relief-train started from Derindje with Dr. Barton. The shell-caps that we have picked up around are all German.

The French cavalry will have to walk hereafter. Horse-meat is not so bad, after all, — some fresh every day, — roast dogs, cats and donkeys to vary the menu. We were five weeks without meat. Cheerio et bonne chance! Old Noah had nothing on us. We’re sending out a sparrow with a bit of pork and beans in his mouth, to see if he can find peace anywhere.

Attacks are frequent. The Turks are clever and walk like cats, but machinegun-fire drives them off with weird and jackal yells. After fifty-four days we are still alive, without reassuring news or any secours. Food is getting low, especially wheat for bread. The French have the whole headquarters fixed up with listening-posts, trenches, dugouts, and abris, just like the big war. There are supplies for eight days more. We reflect whether to start crawling to Aleppo, turn Mohammedan, be hung, become prisoners, or commit suicide. Captain Perrault says an aeroplane will come Sunday and the colonne will be here for Easter.

We are making an American flag to fly over our house. The other one is shot to shreds. The Algerian soldiers will not eat vegetables cooked in horsemeat fat, so they’re hungry, although their morale is good. We sometimes laugh, and get along. Every day we pray for courage, patience, faith, and often quote from the Arabic: —

’Say unto him weighed down with care,
It will not last;
For joy doth vanish quite away,
And so does care.’

We feel pretty sore at the way the French outside of Urfa have treated their post here. No word or help for two months. As if the lives of five hundred Frenchmen did not amount to much in France. Maybe we don’t amount to much to America either.

The Turks seem, after fifty-nine days of besieging, to be fortifying the big hill back of us, and adding a bit of color to the scenery by hoisting up their flags — red, with a white crescent—all over the fortifications. They have sent another parlementaire, demanding that the French leave. Hauger of course refused. Water scarce, no fat for cooking. We’ll wait till the flour-barrel is empty and the Turks rush in.

For sixty-two days we have been a besieged house — the rain of bullets our daily music. All this time we learned to know and love our French allies. Chagrined and starved, the French could do nothing but surrender. They did so, and one of the conditions was safe-conduct to Jerobalus. They left Urfa at midnight (April 10), and not more than ten miles from the city were attacked by over three thousand Kurds and massacred, only two officers escaping. Three hundred and fifty were killed, and the rest as prisoners were marched naked through the streets. The Mutasarif finally allowed us to take clothing for them to the prison. The Turk professed ignorance of all treachery, and in the next breath said he could n’t help it. An armistice of twenty days was signed, and thus the party of Americans who had accomplished all that was possible and withstood the terrible siege, ran the gauntlet and reached Beirut.

You cannot imagine how much more we have learned to love America since we have been out here, and how we want her to do and be all that is just and Christian.