H. M Knadjian.

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

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was writing to commiserate with me. I answered him giving
the good news of the Ambassadors' plan of reformation of the
six Armenian vilayets. When that is adopted, I told him, we
shall all be set free.

There was an American missionary, Dr. Dodd, a phys-
ician, residing in Yozghat at that time, with whom I was ac-
quainted. I sent word to him asking him to come and see me
at the police department where I was kept. When he arrived
I was led to a room, where a number of leading Turks had


gathered, consulting about the political situation. The subject
of deliberation was the reformation of the six provinces. They
openly showed their opposition to it. They were blaming the
Armenians for the troubles in the country. They did not dis-
guise their hostile and threatening attitude. Dr. Dodd told me
afterwards that the Mohammedan population is stirred up be-
cause of the coercion exercised on their sovereign and is
threatening to rise and to massacre all the Christians. He is
afraid, he said, this thing would kindle a general conflagration
in the already excited condition of the populace.

I asked him to use his influence to obtain my relase. He
advised me to wait a little longer. It is not a convenient time
to ask favours from the authorities. They are very sensitive
about the activities of the foreigners. Everything is in chaos.
He informed that the government had already changed its
orginal intention concerning my case. Instead of sending me
to Erzingan, to the military headquarters of the fifth army,
to be tried there by court martial, they have directed my
course towards Sivas, to wait there until the outcome of the
proceedings in Constantinople.

I could not sleep that night. The spectre of the court
martial and of the gallows was before my mind. What a hair-
breadth escape from death ! For what treasonable act had they
accused me that I should be tried by the highest military
tribunal? The sentence would have been "guilty" without a
doubt. I remembered previous trials when the accused, with-
out exception, were condemned to die. I felt sure that they
would not only have condemned me, whether I was guilty or
not, but would immediately have carried out the sentence be-
fore my frieids had a chance to intervene.

I arrived in Sivas, however, safely, and was an inmate
of the Central prison there.



This truth came borne with bier and pall,
I felt it, when I sorrowed most,
'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all


It was a large two story building with barn-like apart-
ments for living quarters. On one side of the courtyard a pool
of running water served as a bath. The prison housed about
two hundred inmates.

My room was on the second floor. A window next to the
door opened on a wooden balcony. At the back of the room,
near the ceiling, a small aperture with strong iron bars ad-
mitted the day light It was devoid of any furniture, except
a piece of matting and a small chair without a back.

Along the balcony there were cells for incommunicado
prisoners. Although I belonged to this class, yet my door
was left unlocked in consideration for my profession.

The ration was an earthen jar of water and a loaf of
dark bread, twice a day. The first night I suffered from the
bitter cold, having no covering. When the jailer came to bring
bread and water, I asked him to buy a small mangal (charcoal
brazier) and some fuel; also tea, sugar and a tea-pot. I gave
him the few piasters left in my pocket.

The hot tea and the charcoal fire revived me.

Later in the day the head jailer they called him the
governor of the prison came to see me. He was a thick set,
strong looking man, and about fifty years of age. He had a
gruff voice and spoke roughly with the prisoners. He treated
me courteously, however, and asked if I wanted anything. I
told him that I should like to see Mr. Perry, the American
missionary. Hasan effendi promised to let him know.

When Mr. Perry arrived a jailer led me to the office of
the prison house where he was waiting. We had never met
before. He was a typical American gentleman, with a kindly
face and refined manner. He said he had heard of my arrest
and imprisonment, but did not know that I was in the city
of Sivas. What had I done to draw suspicion on me? I said
the whole thing was a mistake and based on a misunderstand-
ing. Could he intercede with the Vali for my release? He said


he would do so, but his gloomy appearance did not inspire
me with hope. At the same time I should like to have a mat-
tress and blankets, if it is not against the prison regulations.
He asked the officials and received no objection. At parting
I requested him to lend me a Bible. He did not promise, afraid
that I would not be permitted to have books in my possession.

On the same day, towards evening, the janitor of the
local Armenian Evangelical Church, brought the desired ar-
ticles. I was called down to receive them. From a distance,
behind the barred gate of the main entrance, he saw me, and
when he handed the mattress to the door keeper, he held one
corner and shook it, with an expressive meaning. Evidently
there was something hidden in it.

In the privacy of my room, I opened that corner and
found a small pocket New Testament. What a welcome gift!
It gave me as much joy as a spring of cold water to a man
dying of thirst in the wilderness. It was a sedative to a suf-
fering man from a painful malady. Let others think what they
may, that little volume was to me an inexhaustable source of
consolation, encouragement and inner peace. I greedily de-
voured its contents. The familiar verses revealed themselves
in a new light. I read it many times from end to end. My
favorite passages disclosed wonderful meaning under the
stress of incarceration. I took my stand on the promises of
God challenging Him to fulfill them in my case. In times of
dejection I recited aloud reassuring sentences such as : "I will
in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee.
So that with good courage I say, the Lord is my helper ; I will
not fear; what shall man do unto me?" St. Paul must have
been in similar circumstances when he wrote, "I am pressed
on every side, yet not strained; perplexed, yet not unto des-
pair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not des-

It is wonderful how much comfort and spiritual strength
one could derive from such passages as; "We know that to
them that love God all things work together for good," or
"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth and scourgeth every
son whom he received."

I had known in the past the comfort that prayer bestows
upon the believer, but had never experienced the consciousness
of the power that can transport and elevate the soul. Believe
me, every time I knelt down to pray, the nearness of God was


perceptible, with renewed strength to bear. All my troubles
slipped away. It was easy to understand how the great Apostle
could write to his congregation to rejoice under similar cir-

The good people of the church continued sending food
every day on a tray. In order to keep his friendship, I always
invited Hasan Effendi to share the meal with me.

One day he informed that a sum of six Turkish pounds
had arrived for me from Marsovan, which he was keeping in
his safe. "Whenever you need money I will give it to you in
small amounts. It is not safe to carry such a large sum on
your person." The news was encouraging.

To spend the time I frequently went out on the balcony
and, leaning against the rail, watched the prisoners below.
On one occasion a familiar figure in the crowd drew my at-
tention. Although the man's back was turned to me, his square
shoulders, powerful neck and proud carriage, could not escape
my recognition : It was Aryan. He was talking intimately with
a giant fellow like himself. Bending forward to command a
better view, I was staring at him with concentrated attention,
when he turned my way and began walking with his compan-
ion. As if conscious that some one was gazing at him, he look-
ed up suddenly. His penetrating eyes flashed. A slight smile of
understanding spread over his face, but did not betray himself
and continued his promenading.

Finding a small piece of paper I wrote on it : "The sky is
darkened, but a ray of light appears through the clouds." Rol-
ling the paper in the shape of a cigarette, I waited. Just as he
was passing the balcony, I made a slight tapping sound with
my foot and dropped it in front of him. He picked up the cig-
arette, put it in his mouth and went his way.

In the evening, the Kurdish prisoner, who was employed
to assist the jailers, brought my ration and taking a cigarette
from behind his ear, offered it to me. The message read : "The
patient is on his way to recovery under the care of an able
nurse." The meaning was plain. Arusag was in the city and
planning Aryan's delivery.

This was how it had come about.

After leaving Marsovan, Arusag had come to Sivas and
settled down there. She had changed her disguise of man's
clothing and put on the dress of a nurse. She assumed a Greek
name, Sophy Papadopoulos. As a certified nurse from England,


she applied to the doctors of the city for employment. Speaking
the Greek language like her native tongue, she went to see
the government physician, who was a Greek by nationality. He
was glad to meet a compatriot and promised to help her. Soon
after a favourable opportunity presented itself. The Vali, Jemil
Pasha, was looking for a private tutor for his twelve year old
daughter. He asked Dr. Theopilus if he knew of one suitable
for this position. "Yes, Your Excellency," he replied. "I know
just the right person that will answer your purpose perfectly.
She is a young Greek lady, a nurse by profession, highly edu-
cated and speaks several languages. She has recently come
from England and is seeking employment. She will be able not
only to teach your daughter what you desire, but will also
superintend her health. She is an accomplished piano player."

"Why, that is the person I want," said the Vali. "Since
I had that piano sent to me from Constantinople, no one has
been able to play it properly. What is this young woman's

"Mademoiselle Sophy Papadopoulos."
"Doctor, will you bring her to see me?"

"I will do that, Your Excellency."

The governor was fascinated with the appearance and
the comportment of Arusag when she was presented to him
by Dr. Theopilus. He engaged her at once with a generous
remuneration. The pupil also. Jemilah Hanum, was enraptured
with her and they lost no time in becoming fast friends.

Arusag was glad for this position. She thought that by
serving the Vali faithfully and well, she would acquire influ-
ence with him and try indirectly to help the national cause.
She made herself agreeable to all the inmates of the house. The
women adored her and looked upon her as a superior creature.
There were about a dozen of them the governor's wives and
concubines. When she gave a piano lesson to Jemilah, they
gathered around her and listened admiringly. They asked her
to play Turkish tunes : They liked them better than the Europ-
ean music. She accomodated them obligingly.

Investigating the whole residence she made herself ac-
quainted with every part of it for emergency. There was a
small room next to the private office of the governor, which
was separated from it by a wooden wall, the upper part being
left open. Every time he had a consultation with his officials,


Arusag went to that small room and heard all that passed be-
tween them.

One day the superintendent of prisons in reporting to
the Vali, mentioned the name Levon, a leader of a band of
revolutionaries, who was detained in the Central Prison, await-
ing his trial, Arusag's heart gave a sudden leap. She had dis-
covered at last where her beloved was. She rejoiced that he
was alive. After that she turned all her attention to find a way
for his release.

The question was how to proceed. Jemil Pasha respected
her highly because of the good care of his daughter, but she
did not dare to ask him for Aryan's release. Being known as a
Greek woman, she could not show interest in an Armenian,
without drawing suspicion upon herself. The discovery of her
deception would endanger both their lives. However, she must
find some way to achieve her purpose.

First of all it was necessary to let Aryan know that she
was in the city and ready to help him. She told her mother to
cook dolma, a kind af stuffed squash popular among the Ar-
menians. In one of them she put a piece of paper with these
words: "The child that fell in the sea must be saved." With
the points of a fork, she inscribed on the outside of the equash
the capital letter "D". She sent the dish of food thus prepared
to the prison to be given to a man by the name Levon.

When Aryan received the plate of food, he, at first could
not understand the meaning. Nobody in Sivas knew him, not
even the revolutionaries had heard of his arrival, to the best
of his knowledge. Who could be the person or persons to send
him food? It occurred suddenly to him that there must be a
message in it. Handling the dish carefully he examined each
squash turning it over until he caught sight of the letter D.
Opening the dolma cautiously he found the scrap of paper.
He stared at it with wonder. The handwriting was Arusag's;
she had followed him and was planning his release. This dis-
covery cheered him. He did not know how she could accom-
plish such a difficult undertaking, but he had confidence in
her resourcefulness. He had no way of replying and had to
wait for another communication to know what his part in this
adventure was to be. Not long after he received the details
of her project.

Next to my room there was a cell where a young man
served his time under lock and key. I had seen him often pas-


sing my window in company of a jailer, going to the lavatory,
morning and evening, without having a chance to speak to
him. Every time he passed he turned his head and looked at
me silently. We were separated from each other by a thin

One day I heard three taps on the wall. I answered it in
the same manner. He began talking in a low voice. I could not
understand what he said. He went to the corner where the two
walls met. The wooden partition had shrunk and left a crack.
When he spoke again I could hear him.

"Who are you?' asked the voice.

I told him.

"The preacher of Marsovan?"

"Yes, how do you know?"

"I have heard about you."

"And who are you?" I asked in turn.

"My name is Chukhchik." (Bat)

"That is not a real name. What is your surname?"

After a little hesitation, he said : "When I joined the rev-
olutionary party, I laid aside my name and surname. I am
known among my comrades by Chukhchik."

Evidently he did not want to reveal his identity. Prob-
ably he was the son of a prominent family whom he was care-
ful not to implicate.

"What are the charges against you?" he asked again.

"No specific charges as far as I know. Nowadays every
Armenian is suspected. There is no distinction between the
guilty and the innocent. ... It is enough that a man's name
ends in 'ian'. He is a rebel. The government considers only
those loyal who would betray their countrymen. All outstand-
ing men are under suspicion."

"Yes, that is so," he said. "I am sorry for you."

Here was no more than a boy yet he forgot his own
troubles to commiserate with me. My heart went out to him
with affection. I found consolation in the knowledge that some
one sympathized with me.

Chukhchik was about 24 or 25 years old. Slight in build,
with fiery black eyes and quick movements. One could not but
like his frank open face. He was uneducated.

"Chukhchik," I asked, "for what cause were you arrest-


"I am a terrorist."

"What did you say?"

"I am a terrorist," he repeated, putting a proud emphasis
on the word.

"Do the police know?"

"Yes. I was caught in my second engagement."

"Second? Do you mean to say that you had already killed
a man when you were caught in your second attempt?"

"Yes," he said calmly.

"You actually murdered him?"
"Of course."

I sat down, My knees could no longer support my weight.
I was no more in a mood to talk. I wanted to think. This
simple minded and lovable young fellow had committed a
crime; had shed the blood of a fellow being, and yet did not
feel compunction. His conscience did not trouble him. He was
talking of the most heinous crime a man can perpetrate, as if
it were an ordinary, every-day act. More than that, he had the
feeling of satisfaction of a man, who had successfully perform-
ed a difficult duty, no matter if it resulted in his arrest and im-
prisonment and cost him his life.

The question rose in my mind: who is responsible for
this abnormality? Is an act of terrorism murder, or the just
punishment of a traitor? Is it justifiable from a moral point of
view? If it is murder, then it is sin. "Thou shalt not kill," says
the Book. If it is a penalty visited upon the malefactor, who
is the judge? Who is to decide his execution? This boy in the
next cell cannot be held accountable for the deed; he simply
obeyed an order, as he considers, from a higher authority.
Then the Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Party
must bear the brunt of responsibility. Could the men who con-
stitute it claim that they have as much right to put a traitor
to death as a government has in hanging the man who delib-
erately betrays his country? Could the supremacy of purpose,
the superiority of national interests vindicate this action ?

The accuracy of reasoning followed by the revolution-
aries could not stand the test of ethical science. What would
Christ say? We have a concrete example in His life. He was
betrayed by Judas. Although the end of the traitor was tragic
yet Jesus had no part in his death. He only pointed him out as
a renegade and as such he was disgraced and exposed to the
contempt and aversion of his fellow disciples. The degradation


was so severe that it led him to the termination of his life.
Moral death resulted in physical dissolution.

Another time, as if conjecturing the battle raging in my
mind, Chukhchik asked: "Is it sinful to put a traitor to death?"

"My boy, the Bible says 'No murderer has eternal life
abiding in him.' As Christians we should obey the law of God."

"But the Committee decreed and the lot fell on me. I
had to execute the judgement. To obey is one of the duties of
a devotee to the national cause. Is it not so?"

If the Committee had the authority of a court of justice
and a legal trial had taken place ; if the opportunity was given
to the accused to defend himself, and by undeniable proof the
crime was established, then the matter would be different.
Under the present circumstances it is advisable to follow the
example of the Master.

"I heard you praying in the night," he said. "I have never
prayed in all my life."

"Why don't you pray?"

"I do not know how."

"You know the Lord's prayer?"

"No I do not."

"Then I will teach you."

On the following days, as soon as we were awake, we
retired to the corner and I taught him the Lord's prayer. Be-
sides repeating this prayer every day, I told him he should
pray in his own words. "If you have any thing in your mind,
any trouble and anxiety, take it to God in prayer. Any need
that you feel in your heart, ask God to supply it. You would
be greatly comforted. Prayer gives us strength to bear our
trials with more patience. God is our Father. He hears us
when we pray. I draw much consolation from my prayers."

The reading of the Bible, the conversation with Chukh-
chik and watching the prisoners down below in the courtyard,
occupied my time and partly alleviated the tediousness of im-
prisonment. The good people of the church never missed send-
ing me food every day. My relationship with the head jailer
was good. I was waiting and hoping soon to be released
through the intercession of Mr. Perry, or, at least, to be called
to trial. The uncertainty of the future was painful. What would
be the charge against me ? If I knew, I could prepare a defense


accordingly. What worried me was that they would convict
me on a trumped-up charge without a chance of vindication.

Communication with the outside world was cut off al-
together. I did not know what was going on beyond the prison
walls. Mr. Perry's visits did not enlighten me. To all questions
he turned a deaf ear, with a sad and dejected expression, from
which one could easily gather that the country was passing
through troublesome times. Evidently the plan of reformation
for the six vilayets had failed, otherwise I would have heard.

From the scraps of news that Aryan slipped through, I
learned that the Armenians of the city of Trebizond were mas-
sacred. This was done without any provocation. The Armen-
ians were few and far apart in that locality and the revolution-
ary activities hardly noticeable among them. Abd-ul-Hamid
encouraged by the discord and dissension among the European
ambassadors, concerning this complicated question, had de-
cided to take the matter into his own hand and to solve the
difficulty by destroying the subject of the dispute. When the
Christian population could be reduced to almost non-existence,
their friends would find themselves before an accomplished
fact and desist from interfering in his internal affairs. The
terror of blood and fire began to spread from city to city all
over the country.

I could see Aryan every day. He would sometimes stop,
in his walks with another Armenian prisoner, under the bal-
cony where I stood and talk to his companion in tones loud
enough for me to hear, and in this way would transmit all the
news he had. His information he gleaned from the Turk with
whom he was intimate. Osman, the son of Ahmed, had been
the leader of a band of robbers, holding up travellers on the
highways. During the fight he had killed a zaptiah and was
caught red handed.

The Kurdish prisoner, who assisted the jailers, was brib-
ed by Aryan. He transferred messages between us. One day
he brought a letter to Chukhchik. Another time the Kurd gave
him a pocket knife. There was something in the air. I noticed
that he was occupied in his cell. Several times on my giving
the usual sign rapping on the wall, he did not respond immed-
iately. The sound of jumping down from a chair could be

"What are you doing," I asked once.


"Nothing. Just standing on my chair and looking out-
side through the window."

There was no harm in that. I was in the habit of doing
the same thing myself.

The scenery outside was really beautiful. Looking
through the small aperture the prospect enchanted me. The
peaks of the hills succeeding each other could be seen in the
distance, glowing brightly with the rays of the sun. Below, in
the valleys, the vineyards and orchards were painted gorgeous
yellow and red by an autumn touch. The air was clear; the
sunshine felt warm. In the open all nature was calm and peace-
ful. I would stand watching by the hour fascinated by the
view. To be on those hills free and unhindered, to go where
you wanted unrestrained . . . what a boon ! One does not real-
ize the value of freedom until deprived of it. The difference
between captivity and liberty cannot be understood until one
has actually gone through the expeerience. Freedom is a great
priviledge, a priceless possession. Falling in battle fighting for
a sacred cause is honourable, but to be shut in a small cell
awaiting an unknown future is intolerable. I appreciated Pat-
rick Henry's great speech before the Revolutionary Congress
in Virginia, closing with the words "Is life so dear or peace
so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
Forbid it, Almighty God ! I know not what course others may
take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."

One night I was suddenly aroused by a noise from the
next room. A shower of small stones and dirt had awakened
me. The door of the cell gently opened and shut again. Two
men were talking in whispers. I put my ear to the crack in the
wall and heard Chukhchik say: "The big stone is moving;
you are stronger than I am; take it down."

The other person never spoke. Only the creaking of the

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Online LibraryH. M KnadjianThe eternal struggle; a word picture of Armenia's fight for freedom → online text (page 9 of 21)