Ravished Armenia/Chapter 11

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Ravished Armenia by Aurora Mardiganian, translated by Henry Leyford Gates
Chapter XI — "Ishim Yok; Keifim Tchok!"

CHAPTER XI


“ISHIM YOK; KEIFIM TCHOK!”


I threw the knife away and stood up. The zaptiehs soon found me. I was resigned for whatever was to happen, and did not run from them.

I told them I had come out from the city; that I wanted to join some of my people; that if they would not harm me I would not give them any trouble. I still had the three liras, or three pounds, which the good Turkish lady had given me, but I knew if I gave it to them they would only search me for more and then, perhaps, kill me. So I told them I would get money for them from my people if they would let me join a company that was not to be killed.

“Maybe all will be killed; maybe not all. We do not know. Come with us. Get us money and we will let you live,” one of them said to me.

I walked with them a little ways, until we saw coming toward us a long line of refugees. Then the zaptiehs halted, and from what they said to each other I knew they had been sent from a village a little way behind us to join the guards escorting this party.

Soon the party drew near. The zaptiehs said I must stay near the front of the line, and that they would come after a while and hunt for me, and that I must have money or they would take me off and kill me. They came to me a few hours later, and I gave them the three liras, and they kept their promise and did not molest me again.

The party of refugees I had joined was from Erzeroum and the little cities in that district. My heart leaped with joy when I saw among them a few Armenian men. It was the first time I had seen men of my people for so long, and I was so happy for the women whose husbands and fathers could still be with them. When I was led up to this party by the zaptiehs the first women to see me held out their arms to me. They thought I was one of the girls of their own party who had been stolen the night before. When I told them I had escaped from Diyarbekir they were glad for me, and one lady who had lost her sixteen-year-old daughter to the Turks said I might take this daughter’s place and march with her. Another little daughter, six years old, was with her still.

There were two thousand, or a few more, in this party. They were all that were left of 40,000 Armenian families who had been deported from Erzeroum and nearby villages. Erzeroum is 150 miles directly north of Diyarbekir, but the Armenians there had been sent to Diyarbekir in two directions. Some had come by way of Erzindjan and Malatia. These had walked
Driven forth on the road of terror.jpg
DRIVEN FORTH ON THE ROAD OF TERROR
The old and the very young just leaving their home in an ancient city, on their way to the desert. In the foreground is a zaptieth, who has stolen an armful of rugs from the exiles.

almost 300 miles. Others had come by way of Khnuss and Bitlis, and these had walked 250 miles. The survivors of both parties reached Diyarbekir at almost the same time as those who came by way of Bitlis had been kept for many days at towns along the route.

The only friend the Armenians at Erzeroum had when they were being assembled for deportation was the good Badvelli, Robert Stapleton, the American vice-consul, whose home is in New York City. Dr. Stapleton took all the Armenian girls he could crowd into his house at Erzeroum, and when the Turks came for them he showed the Turks the American flag over his door, and ordered them away. There were many mothers in this party when I joined it who were glad their daughters had been among those who were left under Dr. Stapleton’s protection, and they wondered if they still were safe.

Many months later I learned the good American Badvelli kept them all safely until the Russians came to Erzeroum and took them under their care.

There were almost 75,000 men, women and children in the parties that went by way of Erzindjan. Of these only 500 reached Diyarbekir. All the prettiest and youngest girls had been stolen by the Kurds or zaptiehs and given to Turks along the way. The girl children under ten years old had all been either killed, if they were not strong and pretty, or sold to the Turks, who kept them to raise as Moslems for their harems or sent them to Constantinople to be sold into the harems of wealthy Turks there. Many of the younger women who were not stolen had been outraged to death. All the grandmothers and women who were ill had been abandoned at the roadside, or killed outright. So only the 500 remained.

Of the other parties, which had numbered 50,000 individuals, and who had mostly come from the smaller cities near Erzeroum, with many rich families, including teachers, bankers, merchants and professional men from the city itself among them, only 1,500 were left—about 300 men, I think.

When the different parties recognized each other in camp outside Diyarbekir, they rejoiced greatly, and they were allowed to move their camps together. They remained outside Diyarbekir eleven days, because all of them had been robbed cf their money and all valuables, so they could bribe the Vali to let them stay inside the city.

Each night while they were camped outside Diyarbekir Turks came forth from the city to steal girls, and soldiers came out to borrow girls and young women for a little while. They had no food except one loaf of bread for each person, every other day, sent out by the Vali, and occasionally something which American missionaries in the city managed to smuggle out to them by bribing Turkish water carriers.

During the night, while I was hiding in the rocks, they were told they were to be taken away again in the morning, this time to Ourfa. They had begged the Turkish officers to let them stay a while longer, because so many of them were suffering with swollen feet, which had grown more painful, even to bursting, during their eleven days of rest. They asked to be allowed to wait until their feet were better again, but the Turks would not grant this.

So they had started early in the morning, and now I was with them, and before me lay the long walk to Ourfa, 200 miles further toward the Arabian deserts—unless I suffered the harder fate of being stolen again along the way.

For the first time since I had been taken from my home that Easter Sunday morning, so many weeks before, I learned, when I joined this party on the way to Ourfa, where my people were being taken—those who were allowed to live. Soldiers who went out to the refugee camps from Diyarbekir had told these exiles that all who reached Aleppo, a large city on the Damascus railway, were to be taken from there to the Der-el-Zor district, on the southern Euphrates, and there put to building military roads through the deserts. As only a few men lived to reach there, the strong women were to be used.

But always there was hope of deliverance. So many Armenians had friends in America, sons and brothers who had left our country to go to the wonderful United States. They prayed every night that from America would come help before all were dead. There were rumors even then that help was coming; that good people in the United States were sending money and food and clothing and trying to get the Turks to be more merciful. It was this hope that kept thousands alive.

When I joined this party it could only move along very slowly, because of swollen feet. When we came to the rocks where I had been discovered it was very painful for those whose feet were broken open to pass between them, because the pass was very narrow and the stones sharp. For more than a mile we had to walk along this rocky defile—then we came into the open again. I had a pair of sandals, with leather bottoms, which I had saved from the house of the Germans. These I gave to the lady who had asked me to march with her, for her own feet were bleeding. No one else in the party had shoes or slippers or any covering for their feet, except rags which some could spare from their clothing.

Outside Diyarbekir some of the refugees had traded laces which they had saved by wrapping them around their bodies, for donkeys and arabas (ox carts). They had been told they might keep these until they reached Ourfa. In the arabas they had hidden many small pieces of bread which they had saved from their occasional rations at Diyarbekir, hoping thus to provide against the sufferings of starvation along the road. But when they reached the rocks the pass was so narrow there was great trouble getting the arabas through.

Some Turkish villagers from the other side had come to the rocks, and when they saw the trouble the refugees were having with their arabas they asked the zaptiehs guarding us why they could not have the donkeys and the carts. The zaptiehs told them if they would give some money to be divided among the guards they could take them.

So the villagers paid money to the zaptiehs and then swooped down upon us and took away our animals and carts. They would not allow us to take what few belongings were in the carts, and the pieces of bread, saying they had bought everything the carts contained from the zaptiehs.

In one of the carts were two little girl twins, nine years old, whose mother had died at Diyarbekir. They were being taken care of by their aunt, who had three times bribed soldiers to let them alone, until she had nothing more to bribe with. She had hidden them in her araba, thinking she could save them and spare them the weary walking. The villagers who took her cart refused to let her take them out. He said they went with the cart.

The woman was crazed, and screamed loudly. She attacked the villagers with her hands. An Armenian man was near, and he and many women rushed at the Turk, who was alone. Three zaptiehs rushed up, but the women and the man were determined, and the zaptiehs were afraid to help the villagers. They told him to let the aunt have the two little girls.

Although there were about 2,000 refugees in this party, I could count only eleven zaptiehs sent along as guards. As many men as could be spared by the Turks at Diyarbekir had been sent north to the army, and the supply of guards for refugees was very short. Had there been more zaptiehs they would not have hindered the Turk from stealing the little girls.

At the next village the zaptiehs decided they would have to have more help if they were to enjoy the license customary among them along the road. At this village they stopped us and held a long conversation with the Mudir, or village chief. Soon after the Mudir approached, followed by twenty or thirty of the most evil looking Turks I ever saw. Each one of them carried a gun and wore on his sleeve a strip of red woolen cloth, the badge of police authority.

When we went on these Turks were distributed among us by the zaptiehs as additional guards.

During the second day upon the road we met a party of mounted Turkish soldiers, escorting a group of very comfortable looking covered arabas, such as are used by the wealthy for traveling in the interior of Turkey. In these arabas there were forty hanums, or Turkish wives, who were on their way with the soldier escort to Erzeroum, to join their husbands, who were high military officers with the army in the great military fortress there. They had come from Damascus, Beirut and Aleppo.

When our party approached, the arabas of the hanums halted, and the soldiers ordered our guards to halt us also. Then we saw that several of the arabas were occupied by young Armenian girls, from eight to twelve years old, all very sweet and gentle looking, as if they were the daughters of wealthy families. Some of them waved their little hands from under the curtains, and that is how we discovered them. From six to ten were crowded in each of their arabas, and each of the hanum’s arabas hid others.

The little girls told us they were from Ourfa and Aleppo. Their parents and relatives all had been killed, and they had been given to the hanums, who, they understood, intended to put a part of them in Moslem schools at Erzeroum, so they could have them for sale when they were a little older. The others the hanums would keep as servants or to sell at once to friends among rich Turks.

The hanums descended from their arabas and asked our zaptiehs if there were any very pretty girl children among us. The zaptiehs did not approve of losing girl children to these Turkish wives, who, they thought, would take them without paying for them. So they said there were none. But one of the hanums saw a little girl holding onto her mother, and insisted upon having her brought to her. When she looked at the little girl closely she saw she was pretty, and commanded one of the soldiers to take her into her carriage.

The child’s mother held onto it desperately, and when the hanoum, with her soldier near, put her hands on the little girl to pull it away the mother lost her reason and struck at her.

The soldier immediately caught hold of the woman and asked of the hanum, “What shall I do with her?” The hanum said, “Have we any oil to burn her?” The soldier said, “I do not think so.” Then the hanum held out her hand and the soldier gave her his pistol. The Turkish woman went up to the mother and shot her with her own hands. She then caught the little girl’s hand and led her to the arabas. The little one wanted to kiss her mother, but the hanum jerked her away.

With our party was the wife of Abouhayatian Agha, the great scholar, of Van, who had escaped, when the massacres began, to Diyarbekir. Her husband had been a friend of Djevdet Bey. When the soldiers were turned loose upon the Armenians at Van, so Mrs. Abouhayatian told me, her husband went to Djevdet Bey and remonstrated with him. His reply, now famous all over Turkey, was: “Ishim yok; Keifim tchok,” which means, “I have no work to do; I have much fun!” After that, whenever regular soldiers were sent to slaughter Armenians, they called out to each other:

“Ishim yok; keifim tchok!”

Over this same path I walked, more than 400,000 of my people had trod—some of them having walked a thousand miles or more to get there. And of these, sole survivors of the millions who were deported from their homes, those who are alive to-day are lost in the deserts, where there is no bread or food.

God grant that I may soon go back to this desert, from which I escaped, with money and food for those of my people who may still be alive!

When we camped near a village at night our zaptiehs would invite the village gendarme and his friends to come out, and they would sell young women to them for the night. The mother or other relatives of these young women dared not even object, for if they did the zaptiehs would kill them. Sometimes there would be better class Turks in some of these villages, and they would pick out girl children and buy them. They would pay our guards for the child they fancied and take it out of its mother’s arms. These children now are being taught to be Moslems, and, if they are old enough, made to work in the fields. Some of them are concubines besides.

Three babies were born during the first days of this journey. The mothers were not allowed to rest along the way, neither before nor after. They were made to keep up with the party until the little ones were born. Sometimes the men would carry the mother a little way, but when the zaptiehs saw them doing this they would make them put her down. They would say the woman didn’t deserve to be carried because she was bringing an unbeliever into the world.

These events always amused the zaptiehs greatly. When one of them discovered a baby was about to be born he would call his comrades, and they would walk near the poor woman, making her keep on her feet until the last minute. Then they would stand close to her and laugh and jest. As soon as the baby was born the mother would have to get upon her feet and walk. If she could not walk the zaptiehs would leave her on the road and make the party move on.

Almost always the zaptiehs killed the babies. The first two born near me they took from the mothers and threw up in the air and caught them like a ball. They did this four or five times and then threw them away. The mothers saw, but they had to walk on. The third baby was not killed. It was born in the evening, just after we had camped. The zaptiehs were busy with their horses and did not notice. This one was a sweet little boy. Its father was dead. Its mother was so happy—and so sad, both together—when she first held it in her arms. She asked God to let it live, but there was no way. She had had so little food herself she could not nurse it. The little thing starved to death in her arms.

When we left the district where the villages were we began to suffer for water. The zaptiehs carried great water bags over their saddles, but they would give none of it to us. For days at a time we marched without a drop of moisture to quench our thirst. Then we would come to a group of houses where Turks lived around a well, or spring. The Turks always would refuse to let us go near the wells, demanding pay for each gourd of water. Men would stand guard at the wells with guns and sticks to drive us off if we went near.

But no one in our party had anything left to pay with. Our women would go as near to the houses as they dared, and get down on their knees and beg for just a swallow of the precious water. Sometimes the Turks would let us go to the wells when they were convinced we had nothing to give them. But not always. At one place the head man, who had been a pilgrim and was called Hadji, demanded that if we could not give him money or rugs, we must give him for the community three strong men who could help till the fields which were watered from his spring.

We appealed to our guards, but they would not take our part. They stood by the Turks, and said if we wanted water we should be willing to pay. At least thirty of our party had died that day for want of drink. Some of the women’s tongues were so swollen they could not talk. There was talk of rushing on the spring in a body, but we knew this would cost many lives, for our zaptiehs stood near with their guns, and we knew, too, it would be held against us and probably cause a massacre.

Finally Harutoune Yegarian, who had been a student at Erzeroum, said he would sacrifice himself. He asked if there were two other men who would give themselves. Two men whose wives had died, and who had no daughters, at once said they were willing. Many women embraced them. Harutoune was standing near me, and I cried for him. He saw me.

“Don’t weep for me, little girl,” he said to me.

“Every Armenian in the world should be glad to give himself for his people.” Then he kissed me, and I think his kiss was the kiss of God.

The three men said they would stay and work in the field for the Turks, and so they let us have water—all we could drink and carry away.

When we reached the city of Severeg, half way to Ourfa, we had not had water for four days. There are three open wells on one side of Severeg, and they feed an artificial lake, which was filled when we arrived.

Some of our women were so parched they threw themselves into the lake and were drowned. Others could not wait until they reached the lake, and jumped into the wells.

So many did this they choked the wells, and the Turks, who had come out to meet us, had to pull them out. We who had kept our senses crowded around those who were pulled out and moistened our tongues from their wet clothes. After we left Severeg a fever attacked our party. Every day many died by the wayside. The zaptiehs rode at a distance away from us, and when any of the men or women dropped behind, they would shoot them. The fever parched the throats of those who suffered from it so badly that when we came to the next group of houses where there was a well the men braved the guns of the Turks and zaptiehs and rushed up to them.

After that the zaptiehs were wary of persecuting us too much, but we paid the penalty at Sheitan Deressi, or “Devil’s Gorge,” which we reached on the twenty-third day out of Diyarbekir.

When all our party had entered the gorge the zaptiehs left their horses and climbed above us and opened fire upon us. We were trapped so we could not turn back and could not escape. The zaptiehs picked off all the men. From early morning until dark they continued shooting from the walls of the gorge, and at each shot a man fell. When evening came all had been killed or mortally wounded.

When night fell the zaptiehs came down and began killing women with their knives and bayonets. They picked out the older women first, and soon all these were dead. When the moon lighted up the gorge the zaptiehs picked out the young married women—or those who had been married but now were widows—and amused themselves by mutilating them. They would not kill them outright, but would cut off their fingers, or their hands, or their breasts. They tore out the eyes of some. When dawn came only those who had succeeded in hiding behind rocks, or we who were young and might be sold to Turks, were alive. During the next day I counted, and there were only 160 left of the 2,000 who left Diyarbekir with me. I have heard it said that more than 300,000 of my people were killed in this spot during the period of the massacres.

Now that we were so few the zaptiehs made us march faster, and as we were nearly all young they were more cruel to us. I was glad that morning when I discovered that the lady who had let me march with her had survived. She had hid during the night, and had saved her little girl too. But my gladness for her soon became sorrow. The little girl was taken with the fever that day. The next day she could not walk any more. When the zaptiehs discovered she was suffering from the fever they commanded the mother to leave her at the roadside. The mother laid the little girl down, but she could not leave her when the child held out her arms and cried. A zaptieh came up with his bayonet pointed, ready to kill the mother, and I pulled her away and comforted her. Every step or two the mother would look back until we could not see her little girl any more.