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Yakoub pointed out, as we went along, the former dwellings of wealthy inhabitants, and told me how and where they had been murdered. A solitary church had been built since the massacre; the foundations of others were seen amongst the ruins. The pathways were still blocked up by the trunks of trees cut down by the Kurds. Watercourses, once carrying fertility to many gardens, were now empty and dry; and the lands which they had irrigated were left naked and unsown. I was surprised at the proofs of the industry and activity of the few surviving families, who had returned to the village, and had already brought a large portion of the land into cultivation. The houses of Asheetha are not built in a group, but are scattered over the valley like those of the Tiyari districts.” Each dwelling stands in the centre of the land belonging to its owner; consequently, the village occupies a much larger space than would otherwise be required, but has a cheerful and pleasing appearance. The houses are simple, and constructed so as to afford protection and comfort, during winter and summer. The lower part is of stone, and contains two or three rooms inhabited by the family and their cattle during the cold months. Light is admitted by the door, and by small holes in the wall. There are no windows, as in the absence of glass, a luxury as yet unknown in Kurdistan, the cold would be very great during the winter, when the inhabitants are frequently snowed up for many days together. The upper floor is constructed partly of stone, and partly of wood, the whole side facing the south being open. Enormous beams, resting on wooden pillars and on the walls, support the roof. This is the summer habitation, and here all the members of the family reside. During July and August, they usually sleep on the roof, upon which they erect stages of boughs and grass resting on high poles. By thus raising themselves as much as possible, they avoid the vermin which swarm in the rooms, and catch the night winds which carry away the gnats. Sometimes they build these stages in the branches of high trees around the houses. The winter provision of dried grass and straw for the cattle is stacked near the dwelling, or is heaped on the roof.
* Asheetha and Zaweetha were formerly looked upon as half-independent districts, each having its own Rais or head. They were neither within the territories nor under the authority of the Meleks of Tiyari.
As this was the first year that the surviving inhabitants of Asheetha, about 200 families, had returned to the village and had cultivated the soil, they were almost without provisions of any kind. We were obliged to send to Zaweetha for meat and rice; and even milk was scarce, the flocks having been carried away by the Kurds. Garas was all we could find to eat. They had no corn and very little barley. Their bread was made of this garas, and upon it alone they lived, except when on holidays they boiled the grain, and soaked it in melted butter.
The men were now busy in irrigating the land; and seemed to be rewarded by the promise of ample crops of their favourite garas, and of wheat, barley, rice, and tobacco. The boys kept up a continued shrill shriek or whistle to frighten away the small birds, which had been attracted in shoals by the ripe corn. When tired of this exercise, they busied themselves with their partridges. Almost every youth in the country carries one of these birds at his back, in a round wicker cage. Indeed, whilst the mountains and the valleys swarm with wild partridges, the houses are as much infested by the tame. The women, too, were not idle. The greater part of them, even the girls, were beating out the corn, or employed in the fields. A few were at the doors of the houses working at the loom, or spinning wool for the clothes of the men. I never saw more general or cheerful industry; even the priests took part in the labors of their congregation. I walked to the ruins of the school and dwelling-house, built by the American missionaries during their short sojourn in the mountains. These buildings had been the cause of much jealousy and suspicion to the Kurds. They stand upon the summit of an isolated hill, commanding the whole valley. A position less ostentatious and proportions more modest might certainly have been chosen ; and it is surprising that persons, so well acquainted with the character of the tribes amongst whom they had come to reside, should have been thus indiscreet. They were, however, most zealous and worthy men; and had their plans succeeded, I have little doubt that they would have conferred signal benefits on the Nestorian Chaldaeans. I never heard their names mentioned by the Tiyari, and most particularly that of Dr. Grant, without expressions of profound respect, amounting almost to veneration.* During the occupation of Asheetha by the Kurds, Zeinel Bey fortified himself with a few men in the house constructed by the Americans; and the position was so strong, that, holding it against all the attempts of the Tiyari to dislodge him, he kept the whole of the valley in subjection. Yakoub Rais, who was naturally of a lively and jovial disposition, could not restrain his tears as he related to me the particulars of the massacre. He had been amongst the first seized by Beder Khan Bey; and having been kept by that chief as a kind of hostage, he had been continually with him, during the attack on the Tiyari, and had witnessed all the scenes of bloodshed which he so graphically described. The descent upon Asheetha was sudden and unexpected. The greater part of the inhabitants fell victims to the fury of the Kurds, who endeavored to destroy every trace of the village. We walked to the church, which had been newly constructed by the united exertions and labor of the people. The door was so low, that a person, on entering, had to bring his back to the level of his knees. The entrances to Christian churches in the East are generally so constructed, that horses and beasts of burden may not be lodged by Mohammedans within the sacred building. A few rituals, a book of prayer, and the Scriptures, all in manuscript, were lying upon the rude altar; but the greater part of the leaves were wanting, and those which remained were either torn into shreds, or disfigured by damp and water. The manuscripts of the churches were hid in the mountains, or buried in some secure place, at the time of the massacre; and as the priests, who had concealed them, were mostly killed, the books have not been recovered. A few English prints and handkerchiefs from Manchester were hung about the walls; a bottle and a glass, with a tin plate for the Sacrament, stood upon the table; a curtain of coarse cloth hung before the inner recess, the Holy of Holies; and these were all the ornaments and furniture of the place. I visited my former workmen, the priests, and those whom I had seen at Mosul ; and as it was expected that I should partake of the hospitality of each, and eat of the dishes they had prepared for me—generally garas floating in melted rancid butter, with a layer of sour milk above—by the time I reached Yakoub’s mansion, my appetite was abundantly satisfied. At the door, however, stood Sarah, and a bevy of young damsels with baskets of fruits mingled with ice, fetched from the glacier; nor would they leave me until I had tasted of every thing. We lived in a patriarchal way with the Rais. My bed was made in one corner of the room. The opposite corner was occupied by Yakoub, his wife and unmarried daughters; a third was appropriated to his son and daughter-in-law, and all the members of his son's family; the fourth was assigned to my companion; and various individuals, whose position in our household could not be very accurately determined, took possession of the centre. We slept well nevertheless, and no one troubled himself about his neighbor. Even Ibrahim Agha, whose paradise was Chanak Kalassi, the Dardanelles, to which he always disadvantageously compared every thing, confessed that the Tiyari Mountains were not an unpleasant portion of the Sultan's dominions. Yakoub volunteered to accompany me during the rest of my journey through the mountains; and as he was generally known, was well acquainted with the by-ways and passes, and a very merry companion withal, I eagerly accepted his offer. We left part of our baggage at his house, and it was agreed that he should occasionally ride one of the mules. He was a very portly person, gaily dressed in an embroidered jacket and striped trowsers, and carrying a variety of arms in his girdle. The country through which we passed, after leaving Asheetha, could scarcely be surpassed in the beauty and sublimity of its scenery. The patches of land on the declivities of the mountains were cultivated with extraordinary skill and care. I never saw greater proofs of industry. Our mules, however, were dragged over places almost inaccessible to men on foot, but we forgot the toils and dangers of the way in gazing upon
* Dr. Grant, who published an account of his visit to the mountains, fell a victim to his humane zeal for the Chaldaeans in 1844. After the massacre, his house in Mosul was filled with fugitives, whom he supported and clothed. Their sufferings, and the want of common necessaries before they reached the town, had brought on a malignant typhus fever, of which many died, and which Dr. Grant caught whilst attending the sick in his house. Mosul holds the remains of most of those who were engaged in the American missions to the Chaldaeans.