Leslie A. Davis

Leslie A. Davis

See also Maurice Wertheim, Palestine Affair & beginnings of WW I, for another view of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of WW I.

Article from the Port Jefferson Echo, 18 Jul 1914, p. 8.

Consul Leslie A. Davis Writes Interesting Narrative

The first question you will ask is where is Harput [Kharput, Elâzığ], and how do you get there from Batum [Batumi]. If you look on the map these two places will appear to be very close together but the astonishing fact is that one can go from Batum to America in less time than from Batum to Harput. Perhaps the remote situation of Harput will be more clearly understood if you will bear in mind that you can come from New York to Constantinople in one-half the time that you can come from Constantinople to Harput. In other words, the journey to Constantinople is only one-third of the entire journey. This is due, of course, not to the distance but to the lack of means of communication in the interior of Turkey.

The only approach from the north is from Samsun on the Black Sea. From there a so-called wagon road runs across Asia Minor in a generally Southeasterly direction all the way to Bagdad. The distance from Samsun to Harput is only about 350 miles, but the journey takes at least twelve or thirteen days owing to the condition of the road and to the fact that it has to be made with the same horses all the way. The road is mountainous most of the way and is in about as bad condition as can be imagined. In most places it is deep in either mud or dust or else is over rocks. In many places great gulleys have been washed in it. No attempt is made to keep it in repair and the natural consequence is that traveling through such a country is painfully slow. What a pity that there is not yet an railroad here as almost the entire region is exceedingly fertile and grain grows in abundance, but there is no way of getting it to market.

The only way to travel is on horseback or in covered wagons something like those the pioneers in our own country used in crossing the prairie. There is no seat, but one can put a blanket in the bottom of the wagon and pile his baggage up in such a way as to be fairly comfortable. Trunks, of course, have to be carried on a separate wagon. The constant jolting on the entire journey is enough to wear out both the traveler and his baggage. The worst feature of travel in the interior of Turkey is the absolute lack of hotels and impossibility of obtaining food. The “khans” along the road where one has to stop at night are far worse than the average American barn and are unsanitary beyond description. It is far preferable to sleep in the open when possible. In any case, it is necessary to carry a folding camp bed and one’s own bedding. It is also necessary to carry an oil stove, on which to prepare meals, and provisions enough to last the entire journey as bread and eggs are about all that one can be purchased even in the cities. One has to be extremely careful about the water, as most of the water is impure, and the only safe way is to boil enough ech night to drink the following day.

The difficulties of the journey are such that the trip could hardly be recommended to any one who was not brought here by sheer necessity, yet it is over historic and interesting ground. There are a number of large cities with a population of from 40,000 to 75,000—Amasia, Tokat, Sivas, and Malatin. At Amasia and Tokat there are picturesque castles built by the Romans, on each case on rocks 1,00 or 1,500 feet high and overlooking the city. It was near Amasia that Caesar sent his famous message “Veni, vidi, vici” [“I came, I saw, I conquered”] and Xenophon is said to have led his ten thousand through the same city. Some of these cities were also visited in the fourteenth century by Tamerlane who led his forces here from Central Asia (the region visited last fall.) At Harput also there are the ruins of a very fine old castle, magnificently located. All of this country is historic. Not far from here is the land of the Hittites and the ruins of ancient Nineveh and of Babylon and the reputed site of the Garden of Eden are not many days’ journey to the eastward. From the standpoint of scenery, this country is beautiful in places, but it cannot be compared with the wonderful mountain scenery of the Caucasus, which surpasses even Switzerland and Norway and is probably excelled by very few places in the world.

On the way here I stopped a day at Marsovan [Merzifon] where there is a large American college. That was not on the direct road, but the president of the college sent me an urgent invitation to come there and it was well worth visiting. There are a number of Americans there and the college building and grounds are quite modern. A new hospital is just being completed. Instruction is given in this college in English, as the student body is so mixed—Turkish, Armenian, Greek, even Russian, and many other nationalities. In most of the other American schools and colleges in the interior of Turkey instruction is given in Armenian. I stopped a day also at Sivas where there is another American school with a few American teachers. The American college in Harput (Euphrates College) is one of the oldest in Turkey and there are about a dozen adult Americans here connected with the college and hospital. I shall be able to tell you more about this later.

It may be of interest now, however, and probably very few people interested in missions have ever thought about it or know, that the United States Government finds it necessary in some places to maintain consulates to protect the missionaries and their property, for that is by far the principal purpose of this consulate—quite a contrast to the commercial work at Batum. It is the only one in the interior of Asia Minor (except the ones at Aleppo and Bagdad, far to the south.) Consequently, this consular district is very large and includes in its jurisdiction six mission stations, some of which are more than two weeks’ journey.

This is not the only work of this consulate, however. The particular Vilayet (or Government) in which it is located is the Mamouret-ul-Aziz, and great numbers of Armenians have gone from this Vilayet to America.

It is said that as many as 80,000 have gone from here. Many of them have returned at different times and there is always more or less business in connection with their property and estates and questions about their citizenship. Then, as Turkey is, of course, a non-Christian country, American consuls here have extra territorial jurisdiction, that is, judicial power over American citizens. This is a power given to consuls in only a few of the non-civilized countries, principally Turkey and China.

The position of consuls in Turkey, and especially in the interior of Turkey, is somewhat unique, their rank being equal to that of the Vali (Governor.) He is the only official on whom it is proper to call. All the others are expected to call on the consul, contrary to the custom in other countries where he makes the first call on them.

The building occupied as consulate and residence is virtually a palace and is said to be by far the best house any where in the interior of Asia Minor. It is immense and connected with it is a large garden and orchard, with an artificial swimming pool, barn and other outbuildings. The beauty of it is marred somewhat, however, by its being surrounded by a high wall, which is the invariable custom in Turkey, making it seem something like a prison. The house was originally built for the Vali and is in true Turkish style, the women’s apartments (or harem) being entirely separate from the men’s apartments. It is of three stories, as you will see from the picture enclosed herewith [a picture was not published with the letter]. The prison-like appearance of the place is still further intensified by having three uniformed kavasses (armed guards) stationed at the door. Whenever I make a call or go anywhere I am always accompanied by one or two of these kavasses wearing a sword and in full uniform. This is not so much because of any danger as for sake of appearances. Personally, however, I don’t particularly like so much display and I long for the wild mountain life of the Caucasus and, strange as it may sound to most people, the freedom of Russia.