This article was penned to the London Daily News by Mr. MacGahan. It is dated August 2, 1876, from Tartar Bezarjik.
Since my letter of yesterday I have supped full of horrors. Nothing has as yet been said of the Turks that I do not now believe; nothing could be said of them that I should not think probable and likely. There is, it seems, a point in atrocity beyond which discrimination is impossible, when mere comparison, calculation, measurement are out of the question, and this point the Turks have already passed. You can follow them no further. The way is blocked up by mountains of hideous facts that repel scrutiny and investigation, over and beyond which you can not see and do not care to go. You feel that it is superfluous to continue measuring these mountains and deciding whether they be a few feet higher or lower, and you do not care to go seeking for mole hills among them. You feel that it is time to turn back; that you have seen enough.
But let me tell you what we saw at Batak. We had some difficulty in getting away from Pestara. The authorities were offended because Mr. Schuyler refused to take any Turkish official with him, and they ordered the inhabitants to tell us that there were no horses, for we had to leave our carriages and take to the saddle. But the people were so anxious that we should go that they furnished horses in spite of the prohibition, only bringing them at first without saddles, by way of showing how reluctantly they did it.
We asked them if they could not bring us saddles, also, and this they did with much alacrity and some chuckling at the way in which the Mudir's orders were walked over. Finally we mounted and got off.
As we approached Batak out attention was drawn to some dogs on a slope overlooking the town. We turned aside from the road, and passing over the debris of two or three walls and through several gardens, urged our horses up the ascent toward the dogs. They barked at us in an angry manner, and then ran off into the adjoining fields. I observed nothing peculiar as we mounted until my horse stumbled, when looking down I perceived he had stepped on a human skull partly hid among the grass. It was quite hard and dry, and might, to all appearances, have been there two or three years, so well had the dogs done their work.
A few steps further there was another and part of a skeleton, likewise, white and dry. As we ascended, bones, skulls, and skeletons became more frequent, but here they had not been picked so clean, for there were fragments of half dry, half putrid flesh attached to them. At last we came to a little plateau or shelf on the hillside, where the ground was nearly level, with the exception of a little indentation, where the head of a hollow broke through. We rode toward this with the intention of crossing it, but all suddenly drew reign with an exclamation of horror, for right before us, almost beneath our horses' feet, was a sight that made us shudder. It was a heap of skulls, intermingled with bones from all parts of the human body, skeletons nearly entire and rotting, clothing, human hair and putrid flesh lying there in one foul heap, around which the grass was growing luxuriantly. It emitted a sickening odor, like that of a dead horse, and it was here that the dogs had been seeking a hasty repast when our untimely approach interrupted them.
In the midst of this heap, I could distinguish the slight skeleton form, still inclosed in a chemise, the skull wrapped about with a colored handkerchief, and the bony ankles encased in the embroidered footless stockings worn by Bulgarian girls. We looked about us. The ground was strewed with bones in every direction, where the dogs had carried them off to gnaw them at their leisure. At the distance of a hundred yards beneath us lay the town. As seen from our standpoint, it reminded one somewhat of the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
We looked again at the heap of skulls and skeletons before us, and we observed that they were all small and that the articles of clothing intermingled with them and lying about were all women's apparel. These, then, were all women and girls. From my saddle I counted about a hundred skulls, not including those that were hidden beneath the others in the ghastly heap nor those that were scattered far and wide through the fields. The skulls were nearly all separated from the rest of the bones --- the skeletons were nearly all headless.
These women had all been beheaded. We descended into the town. Within the shattered walls of the first house we came to was a woman sitting upon a heap of rubbish rocking herself to and fro, wailing a kind of monotonous chant, half sung, half sobbed, that was not without a wild discordant melody. In her lap she held a babe, and another child sat beside her patiently and silently, and looked at us as we passed with wondering eyes. She paid no attention to us, but we bent our ear to hear what she was saying, and our interpreter said it was as follows: "My home, my home, my poor home, my sweet home; my husband, my husband, my dear husband, my poor husband; my home, my sweet home," and so on, repeating the same words over again a thousand times. In the next house were two engaged in a similar way; one old, the other young, repeating words nearly identical: ---"I had a home, now I have none; I had a husband, now I am a widow; I had a son, and now I have none; I had five children, and now I have one," while rocking themselves to and fro, beating their heads and wringing their hands. These were women who had escaped from the massacre, and had only just returned for the first time, having taken advantage of our visit to do so. As we advanced there were more and more, some sitting on the heaps of stones that covered the floors, others walking up and down, wringing their hands, weeping and wailing.
The Turkish authorities did not even pretend that there was any Turk killed here, or that the inhabitants offered any resistence whatever when Achmet-Agha, who commanded the massacre, came with the Basha-Bazouks and demanded the surrender of their arms. They at first refused, but offered to deliver them to the regular troops or to the Kaimakan at Tartar Bazardjik. This, however, Aschmet-Agha refused to allow, and insisted on their arms being delivered to him and his Bashi-Bazouks. After considerable hesitation and parleying this was done. It must not be supposed that these were arms that the inhabitants had specially prepared for an insurrection. They were simply the arms that everybody, Christians and Turks alike, carried and wore openly as is the custom here. What followed the delivery of arms will best be understood by the continuation of the recital of what we saw yesterday. At the point where we descended into the principal street of the place the people who had gathered around us pointed to a heap of ashes by the roadside, among which could be distinguished a great number of calcined bones. Here a heap of dead bodies had been burned, and it would seem that the Turks had been making some futile and misdirected attempts at cremation.
A little further on we came to an object that filled us with pity and horror. It was the skeleton of a young girl not more than fifteen lying by the roadside, and partly covered with the debris of a fallen wall. It was still clothed in a chemise; the ankles were enclosed in footless stockings, but the little feet, from which the shoes had been taken, were naked, and owing to the fact that the flesh had dried instead of decomposing were nearly perfect. There was a large gash in the skull, to which a mass of rich brown hair, nearly a yard long, still clung, trailing in the dust. It is to be remarked that all the skeletons found here were dressed in a chemise only, and this poor child had evidently been stripped to her chemise, partly in the search for money and jewels, partly out of mere brutality, and afterwards killed.
* * * * At the next house a man stopped us to show where a blind little brother had been burned alive, and the spot where he had found his calcined bones, and the rough, hard-vizaged man sat down and sobbed like a child. The number of children killed in these massacres is something enormous. They were often spitted on bayonets, and we have several stories from eye-witnesses who saw the little babes carried about the streets, both here and at Olluk-Kni, on the points of bayonets. The reason is simple. When a Mohammedan has killed a certain number of infidels he is sure of Paradise, no matter what his sins may be. There was not a house beneath the ruins which did not contain human remains, and the street beside was strewn with them.
Before many of the doorways women were walking up and down wailing their funeral chant. One of them caught me by the arm and led me inside of the walls, and there in a corner, half covered with stones and mortar, were the remains of another young girl, with her long hair flowing wildly among the stones and dust. And the mother fairly shrieked with agony and beat her head madly against the wall. I could only turn round and walk out sick at heart, leaving her alone with her skeleton.
And now we began to approach the church and the schoolhouse. The ground is covered here with skeletons, to which are clinging articles of clothing and bits of putrid flesh. The air was heavy, with a faint, sickening odor, that grows stronger as we advance. It is beginning to be horrible.
The school-house, to judge by the walls that are part standing, was a fine large building capable of accommodating 200 or 300 children. Beneath the stones and rubbish that cover the floor to the height of several feet are the bones and ashes of 200 women and children burned alive between these four walls. Just beside the school-house is a broad, shallow pit. Here were buried 200 bodies two weeks after the massacre. But the dogs uncovered them in part. The water flowed in, and now it lies there a horrid cesspool, with human remains floating about or lying half exposed in the mud. Near by on the banks of the little stream that runs through the village is a saw mill. The wheel pit beneath is full of dead bodies floating in the water. The banks of this stream were at one time literally covered with the corpses of men and women, young girls and children, that lay there festering in the sun and eaten by dogs. But the pitiful sky rained down a torrent upon them and the little stream swelled and rose up and carried the bodies away and strewed them far down its grassy banks, through its narrow gorges and dark defiles, beneath the thick underbrush and shady woods, as far as Pesterea and even Tartar Bazardjik, forty miles distant. We entered the church yard, but here the odor became so bad that it was almost impossible to proceed.
We take a handful of tobacco and hold it against our noses while we continue our investigations. The church was not a very large one, and it was surrounded by a low stone wall, enclosing a small churchyard about fifty yards wide by seventy-five long. At first we perceive nothing in particular, and the stench is so great that we scarcely care to look about us; but we see that the place is heaped up with stones and rubbish to the height of five or six feet above the level of the street, and upon inspection we discover that what appeared to be a mass of stones and rubbish is in reality an immense heap of human bodies covered over with a thin layer of stones. The whole of the little churchyard is heaped up with them to the depth of three or four feet, and it is from here that the fearful odor comes.
Some weeks after the massacre orders were sent to bury the dead. But the stench at that time had become so heavy that it was impossible to execute the order or even to remain in the neighborhood of the village. We are told that 3,000 people were lying in this little churchyard alone, and we could well believe it. It was a fearful sight --- a sight to haunt one through life. There were little curly heads there in that festering mass, crushed down by heavy stones, little feet not as long as your finger, on which the flesh was dried hard by the ardent heat before it had time to decompose; little baby hands, stretched out as if for help; babes that had died wondering at the bright gleam of the sabers and the red eyes of the fierce-eyed men who wielded them; children who had died weeping and sobbing, and begging for mercy; mothers who had died trying to shield their little ones with their own weak bodies, all lying there together, festering in one horrid mass. They are silent enough now. There are no tears nor cries, no weeping, no shrieks of terror, nor prayers for mercy.
The harvests are rotting in the fields and the reapers are rotting here in the churchyard. We looked into the church, which had been blackened by the burning of the woodwork, but not destroyed nor even much injured. It was a low building with a low roof, supported by heavy, irregular arches that, as we looked in, seemed scarcely high enough for a tall man to stand under. What we saw there was too frightful for more than a hasty glance. An immense number of bodies had been partly burned there and the charred and blackened remains that seemed to fill up half way to the low, dark arches and make them lower and darker still were lying in a state of putrefaction too frightful to look upon. I had never imagined anything so horrible. We all turned away sick and faint and staggered out of the fearful pest house, glad to get into the street again.
We walked about the place and saw the same things repeated over and over again a hundred times. Skeletons of men with the clothing and flesh still hanging and rotting together; skulls of women, with their hair dragging in the dust; bones of children and infants everywhere. Here they show us a house where twenty people were buried alive; there another where a dozen girls had taken refuge and been slaughtered to the last one as their bones amply testified.
Everywhere horrors upon horrors. Of the 8,000 to 9,000 people who made up the population of the place only 1,200 to 1,500 are left, and they have neither tools to dig graves with, nor strength to use spades if they had them.
As to the present condition of the people it is simply fearful to think of. The Turkish authorities have built a few wooden sheds in the outskirts of the village in which they sleep, but they have nothing to live upon but what they can beg or borrow from their neighbors. And in addition to this the Turkish officials with that cool cynicism and utter disregard for European demands for which they are so distinguished, have ordered those people to pay their regular taxes and war contributions just as though nothing had happened. Ask the Porte about this at Constantinople, and it will be denied with the most plausible protestations and the most reassuring promises that everything will be done to help the sufferers. But everywhere the people of the villages come with the same story --- that unless they pay their taxes and war contributions they are threatened with expulsion from the nooks and corners of the crumbling walls, where they have found a temporary shelter. It is simply impossible for them to pay, and what will be the result of these demands it is not easy to say. But the government needs money badly and must have it. Each village must make up its ordinary quota of taxes and the living must pay for the dead.
We asked about the skulls and bones we had seen upon the hill upon our first arrival in the village, where the dogs had barked at us. These, we were told, were the bodies of 200 young girls who had first been captured and particularly reserved for a worse fate. They had been kept till the last; they had been in the hands of their captors for several days---for the burning and pillaging had not all been accomplished in a single day - and during this time they had suffered all that poor, weak, trembling girls could suffer at the hands of the brutal savages. Then, when the town had been pillaged and burned, when all their friends had been slaughtered, these poor young things, whose very wrongs should have insured them safety, whose very outrages should have insured them protection, were taken in the broad light of day, beneath the smiling canopy of heaven, cooly beheaded, then thrown in a heap there and left to rot.