Sunday, April 23, 2017
“We Will Never Forget”
Vahe H. Apelian
A hundred and eight years ago today, on April 23, 1909, Kessab was sacked completely as the aftermath of the Adana massacre. This historical event appears not to have been adequately studied by historians athough it is well documented in reports by American missionaries who were serving the Armenian communities in the Ottoman Empire on behalf of American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) .
Among these missionaries was Miss Effie Chambers, the beloved and much remebered missionary in Kessab. It is in her memoirs that she noted that on Friday April 23, 1909, “half an hour before the sunrise” the attack commenced. On Monday April 26, 1909, the NY Times reported the following: “Constantinople, April 25 - Dispatches reaching here from points in Asiatic Turkey bring tidings of Armenian and Turkish conflicts all over the country. Dr.J”M Balph, who is in charge of the missions at Latakia, Syria, telegraphs that the refugees are arriving there from outlying parts of the district who report massacres and the burning of towns. He also reports that there are the gravest apprehensions concerning the conditions at Kessab where Miss Chambers is one of the missionaries”.
Miss Effie Chambers was not in Kessab when the attack occured. She had gone Adana to attend to the survivors of the massacre there which had taken place early that month. In her report to the Board about the attack on Kessab, she reported the following: “our young men, 150, who defended the place and gave the people a chance to get away. The enemy was from 10-20 thousand. Our boys withstood them till noon. Then the enemy being reinforced and the young men’s ammunition all being gone away were forced to retreat and escape fo their lives, but even to the last they covered the retreat of helpless women and children who could not get away with the others, and got them to places of safety.” These young men were either members or affiliates of the Kessab Armenian Revolutionary Federation.
Dr. Albert Apelian, in his book “The Antiochians” writes that the southern neighboring Turkmen village Faku Hassaan (pronounced now as Fakassan), helped the fleeing Kessabtsis to secure a passage to the Mediterranean Sea and have their representatives reach Lattakia to ask the French and British consuls' help to evacuate the survivors reaching the sea. He aslo notes that the sudden change of guard in Constantinople, due to the dethroning of Sultan Abdul Hamid, and his replacement with the more moderate Sultan Reshad came at this opportune time enabling the French and British consuls to send boats to evacuate the escapees, without concern for repercussion from the Sublime Porte.
The Kessabtsis nonetheless paid a hefty price. Miss Effie Chambers acted as the secretary of the relief committee. In a report to the Board, dated July 17, 1909, the gave the following figures about the ensuing sacking of Kessab: villages receiving aid 11, number at present on relief lists 5251, burned Houses 516, burned Shops 62, number killed 153, widdows 79, orphans not over 15 years old 64. These numbers reveal the widespread despair in Kessab. In the same report Miss Effie Chambers noted, “All the wheat in Kessab will not feed the people 15 days if none comes from other sources”.
Miss Effie Chambers’ round the clock work must have exhausted her physically and emotionally. She felt the need to return home to Iowa after having served the Armenians for almost twenty years, the last eight years being among the Kessabtsis. Reports indicate that she was in the United States in May 1912.
Among other personal possessions she brough with her is an embroidery most probably the women of Kessab embroidered for her in gratitude for her dedicated services to the Kessabtsis between 1904 to 1912. The Chambers family safeguards the emroidery to this date.
What is most noteworhty about the embroidery is the Armenian inscriptirons that reads “In gratitude from the Kessab Armenian Revolutionary Federation” (երախտապարտ Քեսապի Հ.Յ. Դաշնակցութիւնէն).
Its English inscription on the top read: "To Miss E.M. Chambers in Memory of Gratitude"
The inscription in the middle read: "We Will Never Forget".
Miss Effie Chambers spent her later years with her brother Will in the old family home in Iowa. She died on October 3, 1947 at the age of 84 and was buried in Chambers cemetery, which her grandfather, Ezekiel Chambers, had given to the community in the year 1857.