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By Sempad Shahnazarian

Chapter Seven 

ne after the other the months went by, with more homework, more reading and more reports to be written. It was a very enjoyable walk, every morning, from Pera to school. At that time groups of girls, on their way to school, swarmed and enlivened the streets with their smiles and chattering, casting bashful looks at the boys.

  There were lectures given every week by well-known writers and visiting students from European universities. Some of those lecturers honored moderate or conservative ideas. Others delved into Marxism and Anarchism. Debates and discussions were organized throughout the entire year.

  Theatrical activities created an intellectual atmosphere by bringing all classes of Armenians together.  Concerts given by Komitas Vartabed were attended by aristocrats, ambassadors of European governments and their families, by writers, composers and by the general public.

  These concerts were repeated by public demand and had spread its activities as far as Adapazar and elsewhere.  Musical talents were discovered and led into the world of music. New strains of melodies were cultivated based upon fresh and fascinating thrills of pastoral creations.

  Thus, under the Constitutional regime, the Armenians could breathe, work and progress without any hindrance or interference.

  Newspapers gave glowing pictures of the educational revival in Moush, Van and elsewhere. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation had launched an educational campaign. Every village should have its school and should fight against illiteracy. They read about these accomplishments with enthusiasm. The Moushetzi, Sassountzi and Vanetzi students often got together to read some of their writings and discuss the general situation.

  One day, from the veranda of Ketronagan Varjaran, Sempad and some of his classmates were viewing the Sea of Marmara. The boats and the barges blasted their horns noisily, impatiently awaiting customers to be taken over to the Asiatic side of the port, when Ardashes Sarafian, a Moushetzi student of Law, exclaimed: “Yes! Materialism has an unshakable foundation. Life is based upon it. Human history can only be explained by economic forces working on it.”

  “You are right!” said Sempad. “If that history has the same spirit as the spirits of the prostitutes that live down below,” pointing to the ill-famed streets of Galata, “they don’t let you touch them without being paid. They don’t give you a kiss without getting something in return. Everything they do is based upon matter.”

  “Everything in human life is determined by economic force,” continued Ardashes. “It is an all powerful agent that shapes and molds all human thought and ways of life. Under the beautiful colors and hues of the landscape lies the palpable and visible reality of matter. Through Holy and Divine ceremonies one can hear the factory whistle blow. Sublime melodies and concerts are only cries of the poverty-stricken workers and the earth is the sovereign of our mind.”

  “According to you,” said Sempad, “ Monism is the law of the Universe. Monism or pure materialism is the credo of the people of the ill-famed streets. I do not consider that doctrine a universally mighty force. I believe in Dualism. Besides matter, there exists a non-material force whose essence is yet unknown, but it coexists with matter and is inseparable from it. That the progressive or retrogressive movements of individuals or nations are not determined solely by economic forces, but also by the spirit or by the Power of Reason. Saints are not attracted by the shiny and glowing sight of gold and silver. They are transported by Heavenly visions.”

  Thus, inflamed with the zeal of youth, they went on discussing and analyzing every social event and movement to prove their points. All the while, from down below, came shrieks of laughter from lewd women, mingled with the coarse words thrown at them by the drunken sailors. 

  Life surged on in the cabarets where in an atmosphere of a heavy stench of liquor and smoke, naked women contorted their bodies on the stage and shook their breasts to satisfy or to sharpen the thrills of the spectators.

  Ardashes again began expounding his communistic views, saying: “Capitalism cannot subjugate and exploit the working class at its will. It cannot continue to make masses of people suffer in poverty without retribution. Class struggle makes the change of economic structure unavoidable. The International Proletariat will handle the destiny of Humanity, abolishing nationalistic feelings and inclinations and building a humanity with no national differentiation. When nations are melted and annihilated in that huge cauldron, losing their individuality, then all of the problems will be solved and everybody will be able to cultivate and develop his aptitudes, free as a bird.”

  “You are out of your mind, Ardashes! You talk big! What wisdom you are shedding!” one of the boys shouted. “At that time there would be no Armenian Question left to be solved. It would dissolve, evaporate and vanish together with everything else. When is that going to happen, anyway?”

  “When the International Proletariat abolishes capitalism!” he said. “That day is not far away. We must not have any doubt about the victory of communism. It is inevitable. This bourgeois exploitation cannot last very long. Soon the monstrous domination of machine will end and the proletariat dictatorship will put into practice the following program:

1) Abolish the private ownership of land and the income to be ascribed to public purposes. 
2) Heavy progressive taxes upon income.
3) Abolish the right of inheritance.
4) Everything will be centered in the hands of the State.
5) The means of transportation and communication will be owned and controlled by the State.
6) Enlarge all means of production. Cultivate and enrich the soil according to a general public program.
7) Equal and obligatory work. Organize industrial armies especially for agriculture.
8) Combine agriculture with industry, and gradually abolish the differences between cities and villages with equal distribution of the people all over the different parts of the land.
9) Free education for children in public schools.
  This is the program that will be put into effect as soon as the proletariat comes out victorious in its fight against capitalistic class...humanity with no national or class distinction. This is the ideal toward which every man must move.”

  “Plagues take humanity in which dreams of nations have vanished together with their individualities,” exclaimed Sempad, adding, “I believe in the idea of the international bouquet, where every nation is present with its natural talents and abilities, composing a symphony of culture and progress. Let’s come down from the heights of these philosophical ideas and talk about our immediate aims. In a few more months we will be getting our diplomas, then what?” 

  “I will go back to Moush, help my father to expand his hardware business and practice Law,” said Ardashes.

  “I will go home too, but I’ll get established at Sourp Garabed Monastery as a teacher and devote my spare time to writing. Literature is going to be my career,” said Sempad.

   “I plan to go to the university in Prague, major in medicine and return to Sassoun,” said Karekin Yeretzian.


  Early in the morning, he was sitting at the table writing a letter home when suddenly the door was flung open and Karekin rushed in with a newspaper in his hand. With a quizzical smile on his face, he asked abruptly, “What are you writing?”

  “A letter to tell my family that I will be home soon.” 

  He smiled enigmatically and said: “Throw it in the waste basket, Sempad. You are not going home.”


   “Read this!” he said, extending the newspaper to him, with the front page up.

  He grabbed it quickly from his hand, and looked at the headline:

  MOBILIZATION! DECLARATION OF WAR!! Men between the ages of 20 and 40 must report immediately to their respective draft boards! Turkey has aligned with the Central Powers Germany and Austro-Hungary against the Allies England, France and Russia.

  He was shocked! He looked at Karekin dazed, and their minds were in turmoil. They were both thinking the same things... Home... Moush... Sassoun... twenty days walking distance...with no other means of transportation.  Besides that, there was no legal feasibility to leave Constantinople. The mobilization, cruelly, stood in their way.

  Their minds worked feverishly with lightning speed.

  Sempad instinctively took the letter off the table, crumpled it, hesitatingly first, then with sudden violence, tore it to pieces and tossed it into the waste basket, saying, “There is nothing we can do but to report to the Draft Board.”

  “I know! I Know! We can do nothing! Things are moving so fast! I have a terrible headache. Let’s go out and breathe the morning air.”

  Multitudes of people were pouring into the main street and were getting noisy. Some patriotic songs were beginning to be heard. Screams and idiotic outbursts punctuated the air. Curses and threats against the Allies and the Christian minorities electrified the seething and jostling crowd.

  How clearly one could see flashes of hatred in the eyes of the Turks toward all non-Turkish elements such as the Greeks and the Armenians.

  “I am beginning to feel the strain of the war already, without even having heard the first shot,” said Sempad.

  “Don’t be so sensitive!” said Karekin.

  “Don’t you have the same feeling I have?”

  “Just forget it. It’s getting on my nerves. Let’s join the parade. We must act diplomatically,” said Karekin.

  They walked alongside the noisy crowd for a while, even joining the singers and then became tired of the whole scene. They came out of the crowd and walked down to the Hairenik Publishing Company to see what the atmosphere was like there. The newspaper was just coming out of the presses when they got there. The Declaration of War and Mobilization was printed in large characters on the front page with a column underneath elaborating on it. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation had declared that the Armenian people in Turkey were faithful to the government during these critical days, peacefully pursuing their national goal -- An Autonomous Armenia-- but had no authority upon their brothers and sisters living under different flags. 

  They read it and looked at one another in surprise.

  “I agree with that policy if it is based upon the understanding of a provisional loyalty,” said Sempad, “but the minute Turkey scowls at us and begins to practice its old policy of oppression and killing...good-bye loyalty...”

  The editor of Hairenik had a friendly conversation with them, cautious of emotional outbursts and of extreme optimism. His suggestion to them was to report immediately to the Draft Board and thereby avoid undue complications.

  “You are lucky in one way,” he said. “You have the necessary education to get enrolled in military school Mektebi Harbiye as cadets and in a short time become officers of the Reserve. You ought to be glad for having finished secondary school Yedi Senelik Idadiye, it may come in handy, becoming a second lieutenant in no time.”

  All the schools were closed for the day. They were taking part in the patriotic parade. Some soldiers were marching with civilians in a disorderly way.

  “I will see you tomorrow morning with your diploma.”  said Sempad, suddenly, and walked into his room.

.   ...Things are moving so fast, he thought. To go home is an impossibility now. He must stay and comply with the requirements of the law. How disappointing it will be for everybody at home when they don’t receive the letter stating that he is on his way home. It is all right if it is a temporary absence...but is it? Who knows? With these thoughts in mind, he walked down Kazandgilar Street like a somnambulist, trying in vain to find a way out of it. He stopped in front of the house where he roomed. He was exhausted and moody and while, searching for the key in his pocket, Maria, the landlady, opened the door from behind with a smile on her face, saying: “You look so pale, Sempad. What has happened?”
Chapter Seven  - Continue >
Updated 20 June, 2000 Contents.......
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