Ravished Armenia/Chapter 4

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Ravished Armenia by Aurora Mardiganian, translated by Henry Leyford Gates
Chapter IV — The Cruel Smile of Kemal Effendi

CHAPTER IV


THE CRUEL SMILE OF KEMAL EFFENDI


During the night Turkish residents from cities near by came to our camp and sought to buy whatever the women had brought with them of value. Many had brought a piece of treasured lace; others had carried their jewelry; some even had brought articles of silver, and rugs. There were many horse and donkey carts along, as the Turks encouraged all the women to carry as much of their belongings as they could. This we soon learned was done to swell the booty for the soldiers when the party was completely at their mercy.

As the civilian Turks went through the camp that night, they bargained also for girls and young women. One of them urged mother to let him take Lusanne. When mother refused he said to her:

“You might as well let me have her. I will treat her kindly and she can work with my other servants. She will be sold or stolen anyway, if she is not killed. None of you will live very long.” Several children were stolen early in the night by these Turks. One little girl of nine years was picked up a few feet away from me and carried screaming away. When her relatives complained to the soldiers, they were told to be glad she had escaped the long walk to the Syrian desert, where the rest of the party was to be taken.

Dawn was just breaking, and we were thankful that the sleepless, horrible first night was so nearly over, when, in a great cloud of sand and dust, the Aghja Daghi Kurds, with Musa Bey at their head, rode down upon us. The soldiers must have known they were coming, for they had gathered quite a way from the camp, and were not surprised. Perhaps it was arranged when Musa Bey visited Husein Pasha, in Tchemesh-Gedzak, just before we were taken away.

The horses of the Kurds galloped down all who were in their way, their hoofs sinking into the heads and bodies of scores of frightened women. The riders quickly gathered up all the donkeys and horses belonging to the families, and when these had been driven off they dismounted and began to walk among us and pick out young women to steal. Lusanne and I clung close to mother, who tried to hide us, but one of three Kurds who walked near us saw me.

He stopped and tore my veil away. When he saw the mud and dirt on my face he roughly rubbed it off with his hands, jerking me to my feet, to look closer. When he saw I really was young, despite my disguise, he shouted. One of the other Kurds turned quickly and came up. When I looked up into his face I saw it was Musa Bey himself!

The bey clutched at me roughly, tore open my dress and threw back my hair. Then he gave a short command, and, so quickly, I had hardly screamed, he threw me across his horse and leaped up behind. In another instant he was carrying me in a wild gallop across the plains. His band rode close behind, each Kurd holding a girl across his horse. I struggled with all my strength to get free. I wanted to throw myself under the horse’s hoofs and be trampled to death. But the bey held me across his horse’s shoulder with a grip of iron, as he galloped to the west, skirting the banks of the river.

I screamed for my mother. The other girls’ screams joined with mine. Behind us I could hear the shouts and cries of our party. I thought I heard my mother’s voice among them. Then the shouts died away in the distance. Soon I lost consciousness.

When I came to I was lying on the ground, with the other girls who had been stolen. The Kurds had dismounted. Some were busy making camp, while others were in groups amusing themselves with such of the girls as were not exhausted. Musa Bey was absent.

My clothes were torn and my body ached from the jolting of the horse. My shoes and stockings were off when the Kurds came down upon us, so my feet were bare. For a long time I lay quietly, fearing to move lest I attract attention and suffer as some of the girls already were suffering. When I could look around I saw that among the girls were several whom I had known, and some I recognized as young married women. Some I knew were mothers who had left babies behind.

On the ground near me was quite a little girl, Maritza, whose mother had been killed by the zaptiehs just after we left Tchemesh-Gedzak. She had carried a baby brother in her arms during all the long walk of the first day on the road. She was weeping silently. I crawled over to her.

“When they picked me up I was holding little Marcar,” she sobbed. “The Kurds tore him out of my arms and threw him out on the ground. It killed him. I can't see anything else but his little body when it fell.”

It was several hours before Musa Bey came back. A party of Turks on horseback rode up with him. They came from the West where there were many little villages along the river banks, some of them the homes of rich Moslems.

When they dismounted, Musa Bey began to exhibit the girls he had stolen to the Turks. Some of the Turks, I could tell, were wealthy farmers. Others seemed to be rich beys or aghas (influential citizens). Musa Bey made us all stand up. Those who didn't obey him quick enough he struck with his whip. When I got up off the ground he caught me by the shoulder and threw me down again. “You lie still,” he said. I saw that he did the same thing to two or three other girls.

The Turks brutally examined the girls Musa Bey showed them, and began to pick them out. Those who were farmers chose the older ones, who seemed stronger than the rest. The others wanted the prettiest of the girls, and argued among themselves over a choice.

The farmers wanted the girls to work as slaves in the field. The others wanted girls for a different purpose—for their harems or as household slaves, or for the concubine markets of Smyrna and Constantinople. Musa Bey demanded ten medjidiehs, or about eight dollars, American money, apiece. I thought, as I lay trembling on the ground, what a little bit of money that was for a Christian soul.

Little Maritza, who stood close to me, was taken by a Turk who seemed to be very old. Another man wanted her, but the old one offered Musa Bey four medjidiehs more, and the other turned away to pick out another girl. The Turk who bought Maritza was afraid to take her away on his horse, so he bargained with Musa Bey until he had promised two extra medjidiehs if a Kurd would carry her to his house. Musa Bey gave an order and a Kurd climbed onto his horse, lifted Maritza in front of him and rode away by the side of the man who had bought her. She did not cry any more, but just held her hands in front of her eyes.

After a while all the girls were gone but me and the few others whom Musa Bey had not offered for sale. The ones who were bought by the farmers were destined to work in the fields, and they were the most fortunate, for sometimes the Turkish farmer is kind and gentle. Those who were bought for the harem faced the untold heartache of the girl to whom some things are worse than death.

When the last of the Turks had gone with their human property, Musa Bey spoke to his followers and some of them came toward us. We thought we had been reserved for Musa Bey himself, and we began to scream and plead. They picked us up despite our cries and mounted horses with us. Musa Bey leaped onto his horse and we were again carried away, with Musa Bey leading.

I begged the Kurd who carried me to tell me where we were going. He would not answer. We had ridden for two hours, until late in the afternoon, when we came to the outskirts of a village. We rode into the yard of a large stone house surrounded by a crumbling stone wall. It was a very ancient house, and before we had stopped in the courtyard I recognized it from a description in our school books, as a castle which had been built by the Saracens, and restored a hundred years ago by a rich Turk, who was a favorite of the Sultan who then reigned.

I remembered, as the Kurds lifted us down from their horses, that the castle was now the home of Kemal Effendi, a member of the Committee of Union and Progress, the powerful organization of the Young Turks. He was reputed throughout our district as being very bitter toward Christians, and there were many stories told in our country of Christian girls who had been stolen from their homes and taken to him, never to be heard from again.

Only a part of the castle had been repaired so it might be lived in, and it was toward this part of the building the Kurds took us when they had dismounted. I tried to plead with the Kurd who had me, but he shook me roughly. We were led into a small room. There were servants, both men and women, in this room, and they began to talk about us and examine us. Musa Bey drove them to tell their master he had arrived.

In a little while Kemal Effendi entered. He was very tall and middle aged. His eyes made me tremble when they looked at me. I could only shudder as I remembered the things that were said of him.

When Kemal Effendi had looked at all of us for minutes that seemed torturing hours he seemed satisfied. He spoke to Musa Bey and the Kurds went out, followed by him. I do not know how much Musa Bey was paid for us.

Women came into the room and tried to be kind to us. One of them put her arms around me and asked me to not weep. She told me I was very fortunate in falling into such good hands as Kemal Effendi. “He will be gentle to you. You must obey him and be affectionate and he will treat you as he does his wife. He will not be cruel unless you are disobedient,” the woman said. I do not know what was her position in the house, but I think she was a servant who had been a concubine when she was younger.

Until then I had tried to keep myself from thinking that I had lost my mother and sisters and brothers. What the woman told us was to happen to us in the house of Kemal took away my hopes of ever seeing them again. I told her I would kill myself if I could not go back to my relatives.

It was late in the evening before Kemal Effendi summoned us. He had eaten and seemed to be gracious. One of the girls, who had been a bride, threw herself on the floor before him, weeping and begging him to set us free. Kemal Effendi lost his good humor at once. He called a man servant and told him to take the girl away. “Shut her up till she learns when to weep and when to laugh,” he ordered. The man carried the girl out screaming. Kemal then asked us about our families, how old we were, and if we would renounce our religion and say the Mohammedan oath. One girl, whose name I do not know, but whom I had often seen in our Sunday school at Tchemesh-Gedzak was not brave enough to refuse. The Kurds had treated her cruelly, and the one who had carried her away had beaten her when she cried. She moaned, “Yes, yes, God has deserted me. I will be true to Mohammed. Please don't beat me any more.”

When she had said this Kemal smiled and put his hand on her head. “You are wise. You will not be punished if you continue so.”

The second girl would not forsake Christ. “You may kill me if you wish,” she said, “and then I will go to Jesus Christ.” As soon as she had said this a man servant dragged her out of the room. I looked at Kemal Effendi, but he was still smiling, as soft and smoothly as if he could not be otherwise than very gentle. I could see that he was more cruel even than people had said of him.

When Kemal Effendi spoke to me his voice was very soft. I can still remember it made me feel as if some wild animal's tongue was caressing my face.

“And you, my girl,” he said, “are you to be wise or foolish?”

“God save me,” I whispered to myself again, and then something seemed to whisper back. I heard myself saying, without thinking of the words, “I will try to be as you wish.”

“That is very good. You will be happy,” Kemal replied. “You will acknowledge Allah as God and Mohammed as his prophet? Then I will be kind to you.”

“I will do that, Effendi, and I will be obedient, if you will save my family also,” I said.

“And if I do not?” Kemal asked.

“Then I will die,” I replied.

The Effendi looked at me a long time. Then he asked me to tell him of my family. I told him of my mother, my sister, Lusanne, and of my other sisters and brothers. He made me stand close to him. He put his hands on me. I stood very straight and looked into his face. I promised that if he would take my mother and sisters and brothers also I would not only renounce my religion, but obey him in all things. And for each thing I promised I whispered to myself, “Please, God, forgive me.” But I could think of no other way. I was afraid that even now, perhaps, my mother, brothers and sisters were being murdered. It seemed as if my body and soul were such little things to give for them.

Kemal kept me with him more than an hour, I think. Each time he tried to touch me I shrank away from him. It amused him, for he would laugh and clap his hands, as if very pleased. “I will die first,” I said each time, “unless you save my family.”

I had begun to lose hope; to think Kemal was but playing with me. I could hardly keep my tears back, yet I did not want to weep for I knew he would be displeased. Then, suddenly, he appeared to have made up his mind. He arose and looked down at me.

“Very well. The bargain is made. I will protect your relatives. I prefer a willing woman to a sulky one. We will go to-morrow and bring them.”

I would have been happy, even in my sacrifice, had it not been that Kemal Effendi smiled as he said this—that cruel, wicked smile. I would have believed in him if he had not smiled. But I felt as plain as if it were spoken to me that behind that smile was some wicked thought.

I begged him to go with me then to bring my people before it was too late. He said it would not be too late in the morning; that he would go with me after sunrise; that I need have no further fears. When he left the room the woman who had spoken to me earlier came in to me. She took me into the haremlik, or women’s quarters, where there were many other women.

I think the harem women would have been sorry for me had they dared. They tried to cheer me. They asked much about our religion, and why Armenians would die rather than adopt the religion of the Turks. I could not talk to them, because I could think only of the morning—whether I would be in time—and wonder what could be behind that smile of the Effendi’s.

They put me in a small room, hardly as large as an American closet. They told me an Imam would come the next day to take my oath.

They did not know the Effendi had promised to save my relatives and bring them to the house.

I had not been alone in my room very long when a pretty odalik, a young slave girl, slipped silently through the curtained door and took my hand in hers. She was a Syrian, she told me, whose father had sold her when she was very young. She had been sent from Smyrna to the house of Kemal. She was the favorite slave of the Effendi. She wanted to tell me that if I needed some one to confide in when her master had made me his slave, too, I could trust her. She said she was supposed to have become Mohammedan, but that secretly she was still Christian. She did not know many prayers she explained, for she was so young when her father had been compelled to sell her. She wanted me to teach her new ones.

It was so comforting to have some one to whom I could talk through the long hours of waiting until sunrise. I told the little odalik I had promised to be a Moslem only to save my mother and sisters and brothers. I told her what Kemal had promised, how he had smiled and how I feared something I could not explain.

“When he smiles he does not mean what he says,” the girl said, sadly. “Often when he is displeased with me he smiles and pets me. Soon afterwards I am whipped. When the Kurd, Musa Bey, who brought you, came to tell the Effendi he had stolen some girls and wished to sell the prettiest to him, the Effendi smiled and said, ‘Be good to the best appearing ones, and bring them here.’ I would not trust him to keep his promise.”

Early in the morning the Effendi sent for me and asked me to describe my relatives. I told him it would be impossible for him to find them in so large a party. He agreed I should go with him and we set out, he riding his horse while I walked beside him. I tried to convince him I was contented with the bargain we had made—even that I was glad of the opportunity to have his protection. Yet I knew that behind his smile was his resolve to have my family killed as soon as he had brought about my “conversion” and had obtained the willing sacrifice he desired.

Kemal knew the party in which my family was would be taken across the river at the fording place to the north. We went in that direction, but they had not yet arrived and we turned back to meet them.

When we came close to the river bank, which was high and cliff-like, I looked down at the water and saw it was running red with blood, with here and there a body floating on the surface. I screamed when I saw this, and sank to the ground. I shut my eyes, yet I seemed to see what had happened—a company of Armenians taken to the river bank and massacred, cut with knives and sabres before they were thrown into the river, else they would not have stained the river for many miles.

The Effendi reproached me.

“Christians are learning their God cannot save their blood. It is what they deserve. Why should you weep now, my little one, when already you have decided to give your faith to Islam?” I could not look at him, but somehow I could feel that in his eyes there would be the gleam of that terrible smile.

I gathered strength and replied firmly: “I am not used to blood, Effendi.”

We went on, close by the river, looking for the vanguard of my people who would come from the south. The river banks reached higher, and the river narrowed until it was almost a solid red with the blood. Afterwards I learned seven hundred men and boys from Erzindjan had been convoyed to the river and killed by zaptiehs. The zaptiehs stabbed them one by one and then threw them into the river. And this river was a part of the Euphrates of the Bible, with its source in the Garden of Eden! Kemal rode dose to the high banks. I walked at his side. Below me the river seemed to call me to security. If I went on I knew Kemal would only feed false hopes by promising protection to my relatives he would soon tire of giving. And I would have to make the sacrifice he demanded in vain. I waited until we were at the very edge of the cliff. Then I jumped. I heard the curse of Kemal Effendi as I struck the red water. When I came to the surface I saw him sitting on his horse at the top of the cliff, looking down at me. I was glad I could not tell if he were smiling.

I had learned to swim when I was very young. Unconsciously I struck out for the opposite shore and reached it safely. The banks were not so high on that side. Soon I was free. It must have been that Kemal did not have a revolver or he would have shot me. I did not look back, but ran onto the plain. I did not know if Kemal would send searchers for me, so I hid in the sand, covering myself so Kurds or zaptiehs could not see me if they rode near, until I saw the long line of my people from Tchemesh-Gedzak approaching on the other side of the river.

I remained through the rest of the day and night, while the refugees camped at the fording place. When they crossed the river the next morning I managed to get in among them during the confusion. My mother was so happy she could not speak for a long time. Kemal Effendi had ridden up to them, she told me, and had demanded that the leader of the zaptiehs find my relatives and punish them for my escape. Mother bribed the soldiers and they told Kemal my relatives were not among the party.

The party was given no opportunity to rest after the laborious fording of the river, but was made to push on toward Arabkir. Little Hovnan and Mardiros, and Aruciag and Sarah, already were almost exhausted. Their little feet were torn and bleeding, and mother and Lusanne kept them wrapped in cloths. There were no more babies in the party, for just before they forded the river the zaptiehs made the mothers of the youngest babies leave them behind. The mothers nursed them while they were waiting to be taken over the river and then laid them in little rows on the river bank and left them.

The soldiers said Mohammedan women would come out from a nearby village to take the babies and care for them, but none came while we still could see the spot where they were left, and that was for several hours. Several of the mothers, when they realized the promise of the soldiers was just a ruse, jumped into the river to swim back. The soldiers shot them in the water. After that we were not allowed to go near the river, even to drink.

Late that day we came to a khan, or travelers’ rest house, such as are found along all the roads in Asia Minor, maintained after an ancient custom of the Turks as stopping places for caravans. We were told we could rest there for the remainder of the day and night, but when we drew near the khan a party of soldiers came out and halted us. We could not go to the building, our guards were told, as it was occupied by travelers being taken north to Shabin Kara-Hissar, a large city in the district of Trebizond near the Black Sea.

Soon we learned who these travelers were. They were a company of “turned” Armenians, as the Turks call Christians who have given up their religion. The company was from Keban-Maden, a city thirty miles south. The company arrived at the khan that morning, having traveled twenty miles the day before.

The zaptiehs who guarded our party and the soldiers who had come from Keban-Maden with the others, soon became friends and talked earnestly with each other. They had forbidden us to go near the khan, and we wondered why the “turned” Christians were not to be seen. Presently a slim young girl crept out of the house and, unseen by the soldiers, crawled along the ground until she came to the outskirts of our camp. She was naked and her feet were cut and bruised.

She was a bride, she said, who had “turned” with her young husband. The Mutassarif of Keban-Maden had promised all the Armenians in his city that their lives would be saved if they accepted Islam, the child-bride said, and more than four hundred of them, mostly the younger married people, agreed.

Then they were told, she said, they would have to go to Shabin Kara-Hissar. As soon as they were outside the city the soldiers robbed them of everything worth taking. Then most of the soldiers returned to Keban-Maden so as not to miss the looting there of the Armenian houses. The soldiers that remained tied the men in groups of five and made them march bound in this way. During their first night on the road, the bride said, the soldiers stripped all the women of their clothing and made them march after that naked.

Terrible things happened during that night, the girl said. Nearly all the women were outraged, and when husbands who were still tied together, and were helpless to interfere while they looked on, cried out about it, the soldiers killed them. The little bride had come over to us to ask if some of us would not give her a piece of clothing to cover her body. Many of our women offered her underskirts and other garments, and she crawled back to the khan with as many as she could carry, for herself and other women.

They did not know what was going to happen to them. They did not believe the soldiers who said they would be permitted to live at Shabin Kara-Hissar in peace. Their guards already were grumbling, she said, at having to take such a long march with them just because they had “turned.”

That night a dozen or more of our youngest girls, from eight to ten years old, were stolen by the soldiers and taken to the khan. We didn’t know what became of them, but we feared they were taken to be sold to Mohammedan families, or to rich Turks. Mother slept that night, she was so worn out, but Lusanne and I took turns keeping guard over our sisters and brothers, keeping them covered with dirt and bits of clothing, so the soldiers as they prowled among us, would not see them.

Before daylight the Armenians in the khan were taken away. We had not been upon the road next day but a few hours when we came upon a long row of bodies along the roadside, we recognized them as the men of the party of “turned” Armenians. A little farther on we came to a well, but we found it choked with the naked corpses of the rest of the party—the women. The zaptiehs had killed all the party, and to prevent Armenians deported along that road later, from using the water, had thrown the bodies of the women into it.