Being in a Siege: Marash 1920 and Mosul 2017

Mosul 2017

Think of a city you know with a population of about 600,000. For me in Canada, it’s Hamilton, Ontario. Now think of a particular street in the city’s business section. There’s at least one billboard, a stoplight, street signs, and a number of shops. Now, picture that city after a siege. The buildings are bombed-out shells. The streets are littered with rubble of concrete and cement. The cars that happened to have been parked there are blackened, molten metal. The billboard is a mere skeleton, and the light standards are empty sentinels, standing for nothing. Just like the photo above of Mosul. Today there was another battle in Mosul. The Iraqi and Kurdish forces report that the ISIS/ISIL troops are now contained in a one square kilometre area of the city near the Tigris River. Near defeat. The UN reports that 8,000 people per day are walking out of the city to safety—those that are still alive. What’s it like being in a city under siege? We have photographs of Mosul 2017 and its escaping civilians; we have reports of missionaries and relief workers in Marash, Turkey in 1920. Their experiences are likely similar.

Marash Siege: 22 days

Rev. Charles F. H. Crathern, a YMCA field secretary, noted in his diary that shops in the bazaars of Marash (now Kahramanmaraş) were closed on January 21, 1917. “At noon shots were heard by the relief workers indicating that the long threatened clash in the city had started.” Nurse Frances S. Buckley also kept a diary (see my post On the Ground for more details from it). Within the American compound, she noted that “a man was killed in the sick room window this afternoon. Every corner of the house is filled with refugees.” By the next day the fighting between the French Algerian troops, with Armenian support, and the Turkish Nationalists with organized brigands, intensified. “A woman who was running to us this morning with her baby was shot just as she turned the corner of the house,” wrote Frances. “The baby was wrapped, and rolled just beyond the dead mother’s feet. We hear her crying, and no one can go to her. It is dreadful. Our sick room is filling with wounded.” On the 23rd Charles could see through his field glasses civilians being shot down by snipers: “It was pitiful to see them throw up their hands and scream while [trying] to escape.”

On January 27 Frances wrote that they buried a little girl and boy who were killed earlier at the compound’s gate. “A little boy died who was shot on the sick-room stairs this morning. The civilians who are tearing down the houses near us, to protect us from fire, are bringing in food.” The next day, NER worker Paul Snyder drove a REO truck towards Aintab, accompanied by Charles Crathern, NER nurse Helen Schultz, Armenian merchant Garabed Kouyoumjian, French officer Lieutenant Counarai, and the lieutenant’s orderly. Snyder drove passed six abandoned wagons. “Beside one lay a dead mule in a pool of blood,” he noted. “Nearby was a soldier’s helmet, and on the road a pile of spilled onions.” They heard rifle shots in the distance. NER worker Stanley Kerr later wrote that the sounds grew louder, and suddenly a bullet “broke two leaves of a front spring. The officer threw Helen “to the floor and covered her with his blanket roll. A bullet crashed through the steering wheel, destroying one of the spokes, and metal fragments drew blood from the faces of Snyder and Crathern.” A friend of Helen reported that Counarai “was shot through the coat and Snyder was wounded.”

On February 2, “at three o’clock, two bombs hit the house,” wrote Frances. “At the same time there was great firing, and fires started in the houses.” Six days later, she noted that “machine guns mowed the people down as they tried to leave the city. A tunnel has been made under the street. There are holes in the house across the street where they try to set us afire with a long pole and kerosene cloths.”

civilians fleeing to safety in Mosul

Civilians being helped to safety in Mosul, 2017.

On February 10 the French retreated from Marash in the night. Charles reported that he, Dr. Mabel Elliott, two nurses, and a relief worker evacuated the hospital immediately, and travelled with the French and 5,000 refugees on the three-day trek to Adana. Half of the refugees “died from exposure to cold and snow.” The rest of the relief workers stayed at their posts and managed to survive on rations of 4 ounces of rice a day. Approximately ten thousand civilians who remained in the city weren’t so lucky.

Mosul Siege: 259 days and counting

Mosul has been under siege since October 17th. As of today, that is 259 days. Below is a still photo from a video taken by a drone of Mosul yesterday, July 3 (Associated Press). The battle isn’t over yet. Let’s hope the destruction is coming to an end very soon.

Mosul July 3, 2017

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