H. M Knadjian.

The eternal struggle; a word picture of Armenia's fight for freedom online

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lined the streets and gazed at me. They were speculating who
I was and for what evil doings I was being deported.

My escort led me straight to the prison; and what a
prison ! The whole atmosphere reeked with a nauseating odor.
The warden took me through the main inclosure to an inner


cell. When he opened the door, I could not see the inside, it
was so dark. Gradually my eyes grew accustomed to the dark-
ness and I could distinguish a hole, twelve feet by fourteen,
where three prisoners were confined. He pushed me in and
locked the door behind me. I was left alone with my fellow
prisoners. They surrounded me and asked for tobacco. I said
I did not smoke. Give money, then, to send for it. "All my
money is gone," I answered, "taken away from me." They
felt my pockets and found none. With disgust, they shoved me

From their conversation I gathered that they were all
desperate criminals. One of them was convicted of murder.
They all looked capable of committing the worst kind of fel-
ony. I dreaded to be shut up in company with such characters.

When the time came to distribute the rations, a small
loaf of bread was given to each of us, the earthen water jug
was filled for common use, and the tin Kerosene lamp hang-
ing on the wall was lit. It smoked dreadfully. The sooty fumes,
mixed with the loathsome smell of the dirty bodies of the
men, in such proximity, made breathing difficult.

I did not eat the bread nor drink water, although I
was hungry and thirsty. It made me sick to see them take up
the jug and drink from it in turn.

Sleep did not visit me that night. During all the time of
my incarceration, in fact I can say, during all the years of my
life, I never spent such an awful night. As I leaned against the
wall I watched my companions. No movement, no word es-
caped my attention. What would prevent these malefactors
from strangling me in my sleep; not that I was safe even
when wide awake. Was it not kismet (fate) that had led me
into their clutches. Outside, hundreds of giaours are slaughter-
ed; should they not have their share in rendering service to
Allah by killing a Christian?

I remembered once, when I was a youngster, I had
dreamed that I was shut up in a cave filled with poisonous
snakes. It was horrible. The companionship of these criminals
gave me the same sensation. My eyes never closed. My lungs
were filled with the vitiated air. I felt faint, but the danger
of the situation kept me alert and watchful. By and by, they
stretched themselves on the ground and slept. The sound of
their snoring was music to my ears. I passed the time in this
position until morning.


At last the door of the cell opened and a gruff voice or-
dered us out for our morning necessities. I stood in the middle
of the courtyard and raised my arms to Heaven and prayed.
The tears ran down my cheeks. I could not control them. My
nerves were rendered powerless ; I was hysterical.

After a while the warm rays of the sun sobered me and
restored my mental calmness. A deep sigh escaped from my
lungs. I lifted up my voice and thanked God that He made
me once more to see His glorious sun.

I approached one of the jailers and asked him to take me
to the governor. I had something important to tell him.

"He is not here. He has not come yet," he said. "It is
too early."

I entreated him not to return me to that same cell. "Al-
low me to remain here in the open air, till he arrives."

He let me stay and showed me a seat near the wall.

When the governor arrived, I was taken to his office.
My desperate position endowed me with boldness. I stood
there before him, not as a prisoner, but as a questioner: "Kai-
makam Bey, what have I done that I am treated in this man-
ner. Am I a robber? Have I committeed murder, that I should
share a room with robbers and murderers? I have so far, been
treated by the government with all the respect due my rank
and station. Why am I subjected to such indignity in this

The Kaimakam was a young man about my age with
a sympathetic and open face. He was looking at me attentively
during my short speech. When I finished speaking, he took up
the parcel which contained the papers of my indictment from
the table in front of him, and began to read.

After a while he looked up again and offered me a chair.

"I see that you are a preacher and an educated man. I
am going to talk to you without reserve. The Armenian revo-
lutionaries are making a big mistake in taking a separatist at-
titude in their quarrel with the government. Even a child can
see that in your present scattered condition, you cannot win
independence. There is a strong dissatisfied element amongst
us too. The Young Turkish Party is trying to change the
existing system and introduce reformation in the monarchy.
But as long as the Armenians are endeavoring to divide the
country, they cannot expect our sympathy. If they would
keep quiet and wait patiently, or better still, support our ven-


ture, we will be able to bring about the necessary improve-
ments by which the Ottoman races will be benefited."

When I understood that he belonged to the Young Turk-
ish Party and did not entertain hostile feelings against us, I
took heart and explained to him that I was not a leader of the
revolutionaries and was not connected with any party. My
imprisonment was based on a misunderstanding. Some of the
officials in Marsovan, suspecting my influence with the young-
er men to be seditious, had planned my removal from that
city. "Like you, I believe that our government needs reforma-
tion, but I do not take an active part in the movement. Politics
is beyond the sphere of my duties. To tell the truth, I am op-
posed to any forcible change in the land. Improvement should
be achieved by peaceful means."

"That cannot always be done. Sometimes one is con-
strained to arrive at an objective by force of arms. But I was
referring to the Plan of Reformation for the six villayets,
which was sponsored by the highest authority in your nation.
Why reformation for six villayets only ? Why not for the whole
country? If it was necessary to solicit the foreign powers,
which is considered treasonable in some quarters, why put
distinction between the Armenians and other races? Are we
not all Ottomans ? Do we not all suffer from the same misman-

To answer these questions would have taken me too far
into the discussion of dangerous political matters and imperil
my position, I refrained from reasoning with him, because the
man was a Turk, although an enlightened one. I requested that
I be sent off on my journey as soon as possible. I was not re-
turned to the prison. He ordered that immediate arrangements
be made to expedite my departure.

Another time I was crossing the mountains of the south-
ern part of the Taurus range. The ground was covered with
thick snow. The air was cold and crisp. The sun was high in
the sky, but its warmth was not strong enough to penetrate
my chilled body. My hands were frost bitten; my feet would
not get warm. I was shivering. Suddenly I saw four horsemen
coming up from behind an elevation in front of me. My escort,
with whom I had made friends as usual, saw them too. He
knew at once who they were. Turning to me he said: "Be
calm and fear not ; take a free and easy attitude. Do not show


in any way that you are an Armenian. When they speak, do
not answer. I will take care of them."

When the horsemen came nearer, I could see that they
were Kurds. Their leader ordered us to stop. His followers
stood in a line along the highway, holding their rifles. He
spoke to the zaptiah: "Who is this giaour?"

"What did you say? Giaour! Giaour yourself!" retorted
my companion. "How dare you speak disrespectfully of an of-
ficial of the government, by calling him giaour?" And he act-
ually directed his gun towards him.

"Proceed, Effendim." This was addressed to me.

"Wait a minute," said the chief of the Kurds. Looking
at me, he asked, "What is your name?"

Without giving me a chance to speak, my custodian re-
plied: "What will you do with his name? You see I am a
policeman performing my duty, under the shadow of his maj-
esty the Sultan, as a safeguard to one of his office-bearers. You
know what it means to resist an officer of the law."

I admired the daring and the coolness of the man. He
was so ready and quick in his repartee, that the marauders
were confused and did not know what to make of him. He
signed me to move on. Standing before them for a minute or
two, gun in hand, hurling defiance at them, he turned and fol-
lowed me. His courageous deportment had saved my life. I
did not know how to express my gratitude. I had no money or
any valuables to give him. Looking behind, I could see that
the robbers were moving in the opposite direction. I took a
long breath.

"Who were those men?" I asked.

"They are Kurdish highwaymen out in search of victims.
They kill and rob and plunder," he answered.

"If you had not shown courage and daring, they would
have killed me. I owe my life to you. I am sorry that I have
nothing with which to compensate you. But I promise that
when I arrive safely in Ourfa, I will reward you."

At the top of the next hill, I looked back. There was no
one following us. My companion said, "Do you know what I
was told in Diarbekir, when I was detailed to escort you? They
told me it was not necessary to take so much trouble with a
giaour. Finish him in a convenient place on the way and say
that the Kurds attacked and killed him. But I am a conscien-


tious man and fear Allah. I cannot murder a human being
who has done me no harm."

These words made me pause and think. There are men,
then, among the Turks, of virtuous and sterling qualities. This
was not vacuous boasting ; the man had proved his moral in-
tegrity and nobleness of heart in an undeniable manner. What
better chance could be given to test his rectitude than the one
presented to him, when the robbers were actually ready to
carry out the order of his superior officers, if he would only
stand aside, without reddening his hand with my blood! We
should not, then, condemn the whole race as bloodthirsty
wolves. The massacres are mostly the result of mob rule, stir-
red and authorized by the rotten government. This man's con-
duct convinced me that there must be many individual Turks,
who fear God and would not willingly shed innocent blood.

A short time after this incident, the government mail
carriers met us, going in the same direction. We joined the
party and under its protection, we arrived safely at our next
stopping place.

My last station was Severack, a small town, about two
days' journey from Ourfa. There again my escort was changed.
This time it happened that he was a Circassian by race, an
amiable man. From his conversation I learned that he was not
a lover of the Turk. Born and brought up in the Caucasus and
having come into contact with more civilized nations, he con-
sidered the Turks and the Kurds nothing but savages. He had
known many Armenians in his own country, some of them in-
timately. A comradeship was established between us.

In the evening we halted in a Kurdish village. As usual
we went to the guest chamber of the chief, who was a patri-
archal old man, with a long white beard and a benevolent
countenance. Soon after, a crowd composed mostly of young
men, gathered in the hall. I did not like their looks. Their as-
pect was menacing. They were restless continually coming
and going. They talked in whispers. Through the window I
saw a group of men in secret consultation, gesticulating and
pointing a thumb towards me. I was agitated. They were
hatching a plot against me; it was plain. My companion sus-
pected this too. While he conversed with the old man, his at-
tention was attracted to the movements of the villagers. The
chief noticed our uneasiness. He got up from his place and
went out, calling some of his men after him. He told them


something in Kurdish none of us could understand. But from
his mode of speech, it was obviously an angry threat. When he
came back, he told us the following story.

"You know that the country is in a tumult. Traveling is
not safe. There have been fighting between the Mohammedans
and Christians. In a recent encounter in Ourfa, one of our men
was killed. Since then his relatives and friends are filled with
a fury of vengeance. They were waiting for a chance to retal-
iate. A short time later a young Armenian merchant was pas-
sing through the village, unaware of the precarious condition
of the land. He was at once attacked and robbed of all his
possessions. He had a considerable amount of money on him.
After looting everything, they stripped him and led him to
that clump of trees over there and were going to murder him.
I heard of it just in time. I went to the place of execution. A
young man, well built and good looking, was standing in the
middle of these killers to be sacrificed in vindictiveness for
their dead friend. When he saw me, he appealed to me to save
his life. While I was uncertain what to do, he had the presence
of mind to take off the ring from his finger and putting it on
my finger, said, "Now I am your son ; you have to protect me."
He was clever. It touched my heart. I drew my sword and
faced the crowd. I told them to scatter. 'You hounds, go!
Your friend was killed in a fair fight. This man has done you
no harm.' None dared to raise a hand. They are all my men;
most of them are related to me. I led the Armenian to my
house, restored his clothes and offered him food.

"In the night, I heard a stir outside the window. I got
up and peered through the darkness. Some of the men were
trying to force an entrance into the room where my guest
was sleeping, to kidnap him, no doubt. I shouted at them and
they ran away. I did not sleep after that. Towards morning be-
fore twilight, when everybody was in bed, I woke the young
man and took him to another village in the vicinity where my
sister is living, and told her to hide him. I kept him there in
hiding for twenty-three days. After quiet was restored a little
and the roads were safer, I put him on my donkey and led him
to the city and delivered him to his people, who were thinking
him already dead. You should have seen their joy. They did
not know how to show their gratitude. They loaded me with
presents. The men kissed my beard, the women kissed my


hands, again and again. They would not let me return. They
entertained me for three days and fed me most lavishly.

"My men have not forgiven me for snatching their victim
from their hands. They are looking for other prey. But be not
afraid; they cannot touch you. They are all my dogs; I can
hold them in leash."

This story, instead of reassuring me, increased my anxi-
ety. How can a feeble old man restrain a score of wild wolves
hungry for vengeance! They would have many chances to
fall upon me and cut me down, before the chief even heard of
it. Evidently my custodian felt in the same way. He told me
not to leave his side. Holding the rifle in his hand, he was un-
remittingly watchful. When I went out, he followed me. At
last everybody retired. It was soon after midnight. He stood
up and made a sign to me to accompany him. We stole out of
the room silently. Our horses, saddled and ready, were teather-
ed in the open courtyard. We leaped on them and beat a re-
treat in the darkness of the night. To avoid pursuit, the Cir-
cassian did not take the well known beaten track, but turned
to the left, and went in a round about way, until we reached
the low hills. Zigzagging through them, we hurried to put a
safe distance between us and the village. The sun was just
rising when we came within sight of the vineyards of the city
of Ourfa, about five miles north of it. Considering ourselves in
a safety zone, we dismounted and rested a little while.

I had been away from home about eight years. In ordin-
ary times, there would be a great rejoicing on my return. I was
going back, now, as a captive, a prisoner. No father, mother,
brothers, friends to meet and welcome me. I had not heard
from them for I did not know how long. Were they all alive?
Had any of them been murdered during the massacre, which
I felt sure, must have taken place in Ourfa, too?

As we approached the city, I heard the sound of firing
in the distance. 'What can that be?' I asked myself.

Turning to my companion. I saw that he was also listen-
ing attentively: "What do you make of it, Zaki effendi?"

"Oh, it is nothing," he said. "The Kurds in the next vil-
lage are having a wedding, and, as is their custom, they are
discharging their guns in the air."

I knew that there was a hamlet behind the hill on our
left ; I was aware also of the Moslem practice of shooting their


guns during the wedding festivities, but this seemed to be the
sound of too many firearms.

The roads were deserted. There were no travelers going
or coming. This was unusual. Generally there is much traffic
on this main road to the city. What did all this mean?

My suspicion turned into certainty as we came nearer;
a battle was in progress in Ourfa at this very hour.

Zaki stopped his horse, dismounted, faced toward Mecca
and went through the motions of a Mohammedan prayer.

I also dismounted and stood beside my horse and prayed.
I remembered that it was Christmas Day the twenty-fifth
day of December. It was the anniversary of the birth of Christ.
The whole Christian world was celebrating it with joy and
gladness, singing in the churches, "Glory to God in the high-
est, and on earth, peace, good will toward men," while, in
this Moslem world, fighting and bloodshed, enmity and hat-
red, cursing and blasphemy were rampant among men. I pray-
ed to the Prince of Peace, to restore peace on earth and good
will toward all the races of this benighted land of ignorance,
superstition and cruelty. I committed myself to His almighty
arms and asked Him to give me courage to endure sufferings
faithfully and martyrdom bravely, if so be His will.

When Zaki finished his prayer, he said : "This looks more
serious than I thought; fighting is going on in the city."

"What will you do?" I asked.

"What can I do?" he answered. "I will defend you until
we arrive at the government house safely. After that my re-
sponsibility ends."

"I am going to make a request, Zaki effendi. You are a
good man. Last night you saved me from those murderous
villagers. They would have killed me, but for your care and
protection. Do not take me to the city. Allow me to run away.
I am a native of this place; I know the surrounding country
well. There are many caves among the mountains where I
can hide myself until peace is restored. Here is my horse ; take
it; sell it; and keep the money. I give it to you gladly. Every
foot path, every trail is well known to me around Ourfa ; I can
find my way easily."

"No, it is not safe," said Zaki. "As soon as the news of
killing and plundering spreads around, hordes of Turkish and
Kurdish villagers would pour into the city from all sides. Be-
fore you went very far, you would be observed and pursued.


It is better for you to put yourself in the hands of responsible
officials. You will have more chance to survive as a prisoner,
than as a fugitive."

I tried hard, but he would not be convinced. Later events,
however, proved that he was right. A number of men who hap-
pened to be outside the city limits were caught and mercilessly
butchered. Among them, several vineyardists who had gone
out very early to prune their vines and who returned home in
the afternoon unaware of the danger, and had walked into the
death trap.

To reach the government house, we had to pass through
that part of the city which is divided by a deep creek with a
stone bridge over it. The massacre was at its height. The Ar-
menians were running hither and thither, seeking safety. The
Turks, with drawn swords, were chasing them. A dozen Turks
after one Armenian, and the Armenian without any means of
self defense. Once he was caught, no amount of entreaty was
of any avail ; he was killed. The dead bodies were thrown into
the brook. The pious Mussulmans, before cutting the throat of
their victims, invoked the help of Allah. The customary form-
ula is: "Bissm Allah, el rahman el rahim." (In the name of
God, the merciful, the compassionate.) To do murder with-
out mercy, to shed the blood of a fellow human being, who
cannot defend himself, in the name of a merciful God ! What a
travesty of religion ! That is Islam through and through !

My custodian, holding the rifle in his hands, in a threat-
ening attitude, was riding beside me. He looked this way and
that and would not allow anyone to approach.

A numbness enveloped me, as if I were dreaming.
What I saw could not be real. My mind would not function.
The howl of the murderers, the screams and the screeches of
the wounded, the moaning and the groaning of the dying
sounded far away. My eyes became accustomed to the mon-
strosity of the scene before me. I lost feeling and sensibility.

Somehow, we passed through the mob unharmed, cross-
ed the bridge and entered the courtyard of the serai. Zaki
spoke to an official and handed him my papers. The latter
glanced through them hurriedly and looked up at me. He or-
dered me to dismount and to follow him. He led me to one of
the compartments of the prison, full of Turkish prisoners and
locked me in. The place was airy and well lighted, but I did
not relish the companionship of the Turks. Rapidly they gath-


ered around me and wanted to know who I was and where I
was coming from. I told them I was a native of Ourfa and
was coming from a far country.

"From America, eh?" one of them asked.

I did not answer.

"What is your name?"

I told them.

"How are you related to Hagop effendi?" My father was
well known in business circles.

"I am his son," I replied.

My questioner smiled in an ugly fashion. He turned to
his companions and said something in a low voice, which I
did not understand. Instinctively a fear crept into my heart.
I was sure they were planning my death. Especially one of
them inspired me with loathing a man who used to live not
very far from our house just over the boundary line, in the
Turkish section. From my childhood, I remembered, I dread-
ed the sight of this scoundrel. His left arm was paralyzed, but
he was the embodiment of evil. He recognized me. With a
malicious expression, he approached and asked: "You are so
and so (calling me by my first name, with an unprintable ad-
jective), are you not? This time you cannot escape me."

I did not answer.

He raised his hand to my throat. I gathered all my
strength and gave him a hard knock on the head. He fell flat
down on the ground. I was not going to be throttled without a
struggle. All the men in the room laughed. Evidently he was
not popular with them. He got up and was preparing to try
again, when the door opened and a jailer made a sign to me
to follow him. I breathed freely. Once more I had had a hair-
breadth escape from death. He led me to another compartment
which was set apart for Armenian prisoners.

The place was full; there was hardly room in which to
move. They were mostly young men. Many of them well
known to me, my boyhood companions. But they did not rec-
ognize me. I was so changed. Especially they did not expect
to have me appear suddenly among them in prison after an
absence of many years. When I spoke to them familiarly and
told them who I was, they were astonished. "Good heavens!
What on earth brings you back home, just on a day when hell
is let loose?"

"I do not know. Providence, probably. To be killed on


my own native soil and with my own friends and relatives."

Outside, the slaughtering continued. The window looked
down upon the brook. Dead bodies could be seen strewn along
the embankment. Those who could escape sought protection
in the courtyard of the serai. Now and then a wounded Turk
would be carried on the back of another to the dispensary to
be treated. I saw many familiar faces in the crowd gathered
outside the prison wall.

At sunset the bugle sounded and the firing stopped.

We spent the night in a state of uncertainty. It was im-
possible to say what would happen to us in the morning. In
all probability we would be led to the bank of the creek out-

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Online LibraryH. M KnadjianThe eternal struggle; a word picture of Armenia's fight for freedom → online text (page 14 of 21)