Ravished Armenia/Chapter 2

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Ravished Armenia by Aurora Mardiganian, translated by Henry Leyford Gates
Chapter II — The Days of Terror Begin

CHAPTER II


THE DAYS OF TERROR BEGIN


I had gone upstairs to my window to watch father crossing the street to the square. Mother had fallen onto a divan in the reception room downstairs. Lusanne and my little brothers and sisters stayed with her, even the little ones trying to make believe that, perhaps, father would return. When I saw the soldier take Paul, too, I screamed. Mother heard and came running upstairs, Lusanne and the others following. I was the only one who had seen. I would have to tell them—to tell them that not only father, but that little Paul, who had wanted to be a priest, when he grew up, like Father Rhoupen, was gone too. For a moment I could not speak. Mother thought something had happened to father in the street, and that I had seen.

“Tell me quick—what is it? Have they killed him?” she cried. I couldn’t answer—except to shake my head. Suddenly mother missed Paul for the first time. Something must have told her. She asked Lusanne: “Where is my boy? Where is Paul? Why isn’t he here?”

Lusanne started to run downstairs to look in the yard. I motioned her not to go. I put my arms around mother and said, between my sobs:

“They took Paul too—he is with our father!”

Mother sank upon the floor and buried her face. Lusanne and I knelt beside her. But she didn’t cry. Her eyes were dry when she gathered us to her. I never saw my mother cry after that, even when the Turkish soldiers, at the orders of Ahmed Bey, were beating her to death while they made me look on before returning me to Ahmed’s harem.

Out of my window we could see the men comforting each other, or talking excitedly with the leaders, in the square. By the middle of the afternoon more than 3,000 men and older boys had assembled. The soldiers and zaptiehs searched our houses that no man over eighteen might escape. When women clung to husbands and fathers the soldiers said the men were summoned only to be addressed by Ishmail Bey, the Vali, who was coming up from his capital, Harpout. Some of the women believed this explanation. Others knew it was not true.

Not very far from our house was the home of Andranik, a young man who had graduated from the American School at Marsovan, and who had come to our city with his parents to teach in our schools. He was very popular in the city, and it was to him Lusanne was to be married. When the Turks conscripted young Armenian men they spared Andranik because of his position as a teacher.

When his father answered the summons to the square Andranik remained behind. He disguised himself in a dress belonging to his sister and made his way to the edge of the city where he bought a horse from a Turk whom he knew he could trust. By the Turk, Andranik sent word to Lusanne that he would ride to Harpout, where he knew the German Consul-General, Count Wolf von Wolfskehl, and beg of this powerful German official to intercede for the Armenians of Tchemesh-Gedzak.

Lusanne was much encouraged when she heard Andranik was safe. All afternoon neighboring women, some of them wives of wealthy men, came to our house to look from our windows into the square, hoping to catch a glimpse of their loved ones. The soldiers would not let the women gather near the square, nor communicate with the men.

One pretty woman, Mrs. Sirpouhi, who had been married not quite a year to a son of our richest manufacturer, was just about to become a mother. From our window she caught sight of her husband. She could not keep herself from running across to the square, screaming as she went, “My Vartan—my Vartan!” Vartan was his name.

The young husband heard his wife calling and ran to the edge of the square, holding out his arms to her. Just as she was about to throw herself upon him a zaptieh struck her on the head with his gun. When this zaptieh and his companions saw the young woman was almost a mother they took turns running their bayonets into her. The husband fell to the ground. I think he fainted. The soldiers carried him off. They left his bride’s body where it fell.

At sundown, when nearly all the Christian women in the city must have cried their eyes dry, as did Lusanne and I, we heard the muezzin calling the First Prayer from the minarets of the El Hasan Mosque in the Mohammedan quarter. It seemed to me the muezzin was mocking us as he sang: “There is no God but Allah; come to prayer; come to security!” Without letting mother know I knelt by myself and asked our God if He would not think of us—and send our fathers back. Perhaps He heard me for as soon as the Mohammedan prayer was over a soldier came to our door.

He said father had paid him to bring a message; that he would be able to speak to us if we should go at once to the north corner of the square. To prove his message was true the soldier showed us father’s ring.

With my little sisters and brothers holding to our hands, mother, Lusanne and I ran quickly to the north corner, and there father and Paul were awaiting us. For a time he could not speak. Then he said:

“We are to be driven into the desert!”

The officers had told them they would be taken only to Arabkir, sixty miles away, and allowed to camp there until the Turks were ready for them to return home again. Father said he hoped this were true—but he did not believe they would be allowed to return. He told mother that since little Paul was along he would like to have her bring him a blanket to wrap up in at night, and money. He had with him a hundred liras, or $440. in American money, but perhaps if he had more, he thought he could bribe the soldiers to let Paul ride a horse, or perhaps, escape when they began the march.

Mother and I hurried to the house. She went into the basement, where father had hidden a great deal of money for us. When I went to get a blanket I thought of my “yorgan,” a birthday blanket father had brought me from Smyrna when I was ten years old. It was the most beautiful thing I had. The Ten Commandments were woven into it, and it had been made, many people had said, a thousand years ago. I took this to Paul and another blanket for father. Paul cried when he saw I had given him my yorgan. We wrapped dried fruit, and cheese in thin bread, also, to give them. Mother took 200 liras—almost a thousand dollars.

The soldiers would not let us talk long to father the second time. We stood across the street just looking at him until it was too dark to see him any more, and then we went home. We never saw father or Paul again.

When we reached our house we found Abdoullah Bey, the police chief, waiting in the parlor. Abdoullah always had been a friend of father’s, and we thought him a kindly man. Perhaps he would have helped us if he could, but when mother begged him to have Paul, at least, restored to us, he showed us a written order, signed by Ismail Bey, the Vali, which had been given him by Husein Pasha. It read:

“During the process of deportation of the Armenians if any Moslem resident or visitor from the surrounding country endeavors to conceal or otherwise protect a Christian, first his house shall be burned, then the Christian killed before his eyes, and then the Moslem’s family and himself shall be killed.”

“You see I cannot help you,” Abdoullah Bey said, “even though I would. But I can advise you as a friend. You have two daughters who are young. It is still possible for them to renounce your religion and accept Allah. I will take word personally, if you wish, to Husein Pasha that your Lusanne and Aurora will say the rek’ah (the oath to Mohammed). He is willing to take them both, and thus spare them and you many things, which, perhaps, are about to happen. Soon it may be too late.”

Husein wanted us both! I remembered Father Rhoupen’s words, “Trust in God and be true to Him.” But it seemed as if I ought to sacrifice myself. Even then I would have gone to the Pasha’s house, but mother said to Abdoullah:

“Tell the Pasha we belong to God, and will accept whatever He wills!” Abdoullah respected mother for her courage. He bowed to her as he went out. “I am sorry for what may come,” he said.

That evening Andranik returned from Harpout and came at once to our house. He still wore his sister’s dress. When he appeared at the door Lusanne ran into his arms. I read in his face bad news.

“I begged of Count von Wolfskehl to save us. He said the Sultan had ordered that no Christian subject be left alive in Turkey, and that he thought the Sultan had done right.”

Lusanne secretly had thought Andranik would be successful. She had such confidence in him she did not think he could fail. She was overcome when her hope was destroyed, but she thought more of Andranik than of herself. She begged him to try to escape. Andranik decided he would remain in his women’s clothes. Lusanne cut off some of her own hair and arranged it on his head so bits of it would show under his shawl and make him look more nearly like a girl. They thought perhaps he might get out of the city at night, unmolested, and hide with friendly farmers.

But, somehow, the authorities learned Andranik had not surrendered himself. Early in the evening the zaptiehs undei command of Abdoullah, surrounded his house and demanded that he come out. When his mother said he was not there, the gendarme chief replied that if he did not appear at once the house would be burned with all who were in it.

A neighbor woman ran in to tell us. Andranik threw off his disguise, took an old saber father had hung on our wall, and rushed out. He cut his way through the gendarmes and got into his home, where he found his mother and sister and his other relatives in a panic of fear. The gendarmes shouted to him to come out at once. Andranik saw them bringing up cans of oil. He kissed his mother and sister again and stepped out into the street. They killed him with knives on the doorstep. His sister ran out and threw herself on his body, and they killed her, too. When a neighbor told us what had happened, Lusanne ran out to Andranik’s house and helped his mother carry in the two bodies.

Father and the other men were taken away that night. In our house we were sitting in my room trying to pick them out from the shadows in the square made by the torches and lanterns of the zaptiehs, when many new soldiers appeared, and, suddenly, there was a great shouting. Soon we saw the men, formed into a long line, march out of the square, with zaptiehs and soldiers all about them. It was too dark for us to identify father and Paul, but we knew they would be looking up at our window and hoped they could see us.

They took the men toward the Kara River, which is a branch of the Euphrates. Many were so old and feeble they could not walk so far, and fell to the ground. The zaptiehs killed these with their knives and left their bodies behind. It was daylight when they came to the little village of Gwazim, which is on the river bank twelve miles away. There was a large building at Gwazim which the Turks sometimes used as a barracks when there was war with the Kurds, and at other times as a prison. Half the men were put into this building and told they would have to stay until the next day. The zaptiehs then took the others across the river toward Arabkir.

At noon of that day the zaptiehs returned to Gwazim. They had killed all the men they had taken across the river just as soon as they were out of sight of the village. When we, in Tchemesh-Gedzak, heard that part of our men had been left in the prison, hundreds of women walked the dusty road to Gwazim. Lusanne and I went, hoping to get one more glimpse of father and Paul.

In Gwazim there was an aged Armenian woman who had lived in our city at the time of the massacre in 1895. She was pretty then, and when the Kurds stole her she saved her life by turning Mohammedan. Then she was sold to a Turkish bey at Gwazim. He kept her in his harem until she grew old. All the time, while professing Islam, she secretly was Christian. The bey had given her the name “Fatimeh.”

Fatimeh persuaded the guards at the prison to let her take water to the men. When she told the prisoners the zaptiehs had returned without the other men they knew the same fate was in store for them.

When Fatimeh came out she told me father and Paul were inside and had sent word to us to be hopeful. In a little while we saw her going into the prison again, this time with two big rocks, so heavy she could hardly carry them, hidden in her water buckets. She came out again and filled her buckets with coal oil.

When it was dark the younger men, who were strong and brave, killed all the older men by hitting their heads with the rocks Fatimeh had taken them. Father killed Paul first, because he was so little. When all the old and feeble men were dead, the young men prayed that God would think they had done right in not letting the old men suffer and then they spread the oil, set it afire, and threw themselves in the flames. Fatimeh told us what had happened while the prison burned. The zaptiehs suspected her and carried her into the burning building and left her.

It was almost dawn Saturday morning when Lusanne and I returned to mother. “As God wills, so be it,” was all she said when we told her what had happened at the prison. She said there had been a great celebration in the El Hasan mosque, in honor of the Mohammedan Sunday, while we were at Gwazim. A special imam, or prayer reader, had come all the way from Trebizond to read special prayers set aside for such great events as the beginning of a holy war or massacre of Christians.

That morning soldiers went through the streets posting a new paper on the walls. It was what we had feared — an order from the Governor that all Armenian Christian women in the city, young and old, must be ready in three days to leave their homes and be deported — where, the order did not say.

As soon as the Turkish residents heard of the new order many of them began to go about the Armenian half of the town offering to buy what the Armenian women wanted to sell. As there were none of the men left, the women had no one to advise them. To our house, which was one of the best in the city, there came many rich Turks, who told us we had better sell them our rugs and the beautiful laces mother, Lusanne and I had made.

Every Armenian girl is taught to make pretty laces. No girl is happy until she can make for herself a lace bridal veil. Always the Turks are eager to buy these, as they sell for much money to foreign traders, but no Armenian bride will sell her veil unless she is starving. Lusanne and I had made our veils, and had put them away until we should need them. We knew we could not carry them with us when we were deported, as they would soon be stolen. So we sold them, and mother’s, too. The most we could get was a few piasters. Since I have come to America I have seen spreads and table covers, made from such bridal veils as ours, for sale in shops for hundreds of dollars. Father had brought us many rugs from Harpout, Smyrna and Damascus. For these mother could get only a few pennies.

On the second day after the proclamation, which was our Sunday, the soldiers visited all the houses. They walked in without knocking. They pretended to be looking for guns and revolvers, but what they took was our silver and gold spoons and vases.

That afternoon a company of horsemen rode past our house. We ran to the window and saw they were Aghja Daghi Kurds, the cruelest of all the tribes. At their head rode the famous Musa Bey, the chieftain who, a few years before, had waylaid Dr. Raynolds and Dr. Knapp, the famous American missionaries, and had robbed them and left them tied together on the road.

The Kurds rode to the palace of Husein Pasha. In a little while they rode away again, and some of the Pasha’s soldiers rode with them. That meant, we knew, that the Governor had given the Kurds permission to waylay us when we were outside the city.

All that night the women sat up in their homes. In our house mother went from room to room, looking at the little things on the walls and in the cupboards that had been hers since she was a little girl. She sat a long time over father’s clothes. I got out my playthings and cried over them. Some of them had been my grandmother’s toys. Lusanne did not cry. She thought only of Andranik and the loss of her bridal veil, and her tears had dried, like mother’s. Little Hovnan and Mardiros, our brothers, and Sarah and Aruciag, our sisters, cried very hard when we told they must say good-by to their dolls and their kites.

When morning of the last day came I slipped out of our home to visit Mariam, my playmate, who lived a few doors away. Mariam’s family was not very rich, and mother had said I might give her twenty liras from our money, that she might have it to bribe soldiers for protection. But Mariam was not there.

During the night zaptiehs had entered her house and taken her out of her bed, with just her nightdress on, and had carried her away. The soldiers said Rehim Bey had promised them money if they would bring Mariam to his house. Mariam’s mother and little brother were kneeling beside her empty bed when I found them.

On my way back to our house a Turk stopped me. He asked me to go with him. He said I might as well, as “all the pretty Christian girls would have to give themselves to Turks or be killed anyway.” I broke away and ran home as fast as I could. I could not forget the look on that Turk’s face as he spoke to me. It was the first time I had ever seen such a look in a man’s face. I tried to explain to mother. She put her arms around me, but all she said was:

“My poor little girl!”

The women had been allowed until noon to assemble in the square. Already they were arriving there, with horse, donkey and ox carts, some with as many of their things as they could heap on their carts, others with just blankets and comforts, a favorite rug and bread and fruits. In Armenia every family keeps a year’s supply of food on hand. The women had to leave behind all they could not carry.

When it came time for us to go I thought again of the look in that Turk’s face. For the first time I realized just what it would mean to be a captive in one of the harems of the rich Turks whose big houses look down from the hills all about the city. I had heard of the Christian girls forced into haremliks of these houses, but I had never really understood. Lusanne was older. She knew more than I. If only I could have died with Andranik,” she said.

Mother thought of a plan she hoped might save Lusanne and me from the harems or a worse fate among the Kurds and soldiers. She brought out two yashmaks, or veils, such as Turkish women wear on the street, and made us put them on, hiding our faces. Over these she had us put on a feradjeh, a Turkish woman’s cloak. We looked quite as if we were Turkish women, with all our faces hidden.

“It is only death that faces me, but for you, my daughters, there are even greater perils,” mother said to us. “You will be able now to walk in the streets and the soldiers will think you are Mohammedan women. Try to reach Miss Graham, at the orphanage. Perhaps she can hide you until there is a way for you to escape into the north, where the sea is. And if you do find safety, thank God, and remember He is always with you.” Then she kissed us and bade us go.

Miss Graham, who was an English girl, had come to our city from the American College at Marsovan, to teach in our school for orphaned Armenian girls. She was very young and pretty. The Turks had seemed to respect her, and mother thought we would be safe with her.

While mother went to the square with Aruciag, Sarah, Hovnan and Mardiros, Lusanne and I mingled with Mohammedan women who had gathered to watch the scenes at the square and to bargain for pieces of jewelry and other things the Armenian women knew they must either sell or have stolen from them. We planned to wait until dark before venturing to reach Miss Graham’s.

Soon we saw Turks, both rich citizens and military officers, walking about in the square roughly examining the Christian girls. When they were pleased by a girl’s appearance these beys and aghas tried to persuade their mothers to let them profess Mohammedanism and go away with them, promising to save her relatives from deportation. When mothers refused the Turks often struck them. Officers killed some mothers who clung too closely to their daughters.

Many young girls gave in to the Turks and agreed to swear faith in Allah for the sake of their mothers, sisters and brothers. Toward evening the khateeb, or keeper of the mosque, was brought to receive their “conversions.”

More than fifty girls took the oath. Just as soon as the oaths were all taken the officers signaled to the zaptiehs and they took all these girls away from their families and gathered them at one side of the square. Then the richer beys began to examine the apostasized girls. The soldiers would give a girl to the one who paid them the most money, unless an officer also wanted her. The higher military officers were given first choice.

One by one the soldiers dragged the girls who had sacrificed their religion in vain to save their mothers and relatives out of the square and toward the homes of the Turks. Lusanne and I had gone close to watch our chance to speak once more to mother. We saw everything. And while they were taking the girls away we saw a zaptieh carrying Miss Graham in his arms. She struggled hard, but the zaptieh was too strong. We learned afterward the soldiers had gone to her school to get the little Armenian girls, and when Miss Graham tried to fight them they said her country couldn’t help her now, and since she was a Christian they would take her, too.

It was to Rehim Bey’s house, where Mariam already had been carried, they took Miss Graham. They did not even try to make her become a Mohammedan. Rehim Bey was very powerful, and was a cousin of Talaat Bey, the Minister of the Interior at Constantinople.