History &
& Alphabet
Youth &
Feasts &

By Sempad Shahnazarian

Chapter Eight 

his Greek village Galigradia had a population of about 300. It covered the sides and top of a hill near the Sea of Marmara. Its barns and stables extended as far as the mountain ridge beyond the village. There the herds of sheep and cattle grazed, peacefully, in spite of the nearby training camp.

  At the foot of the hill stood a little wharf, where fishing boats and canoes oscillated lazily. The fishermen always seemed to be repairing their nets and cleaning the boats of the remains of rotting fish, oysters and other marine animals.

  The village had clung to the Greek language and customs with amazing patriotic stubbornness. The fishermen were the only ones who could speak Turkish. A gap existed between the Greeks and the Turks, similar to that which has existed for centuries between the Armenians and the Turks. The houses were built of rock and had small narrow windows that looked out onto narrow irregular streets.

  In the evening when the herds of sheep and cattle moved down the mountainside to the village, clouds of dust were kicked up from the dry ground. That produced a spectacle of charm and beauty. Their sounds mixed with the smell of wool and milk played amiably with the lengthening shadows of the trees and bushes.

  The battalion camped outside of the village. A house was assigned to the officer candidates and another one to the Captain. Of the seven candidates, three were Armenians, two were Turks, and two were Kurds. Two of the Armenians were later sent to different units. All of these candidates were under special care and had certain minor privileges. They used to drill every day by riding horses in the mornings and by having artillery drills in the afternoons, except for Friday, the Turkish Sabbath.

  During the first week, the horseback riding was so tiring that they could not walk the way soldiers were supposed to walk when they first got off their horses. Extensive infantry, artillery drills and other maneuvers filled the landscape with machine guns rattling all day long. The boys and girls of Galigradia were afraid to stroll around outside the village because of the Turkish soldiers lurking behind the bushes and shrubs.

  A month lapsed and Sempad had become adapted to the routine. Every evening when he returned from drill he would lie down on his bunk and stare at the ceiling. He would think about the day’s events, the riding on the mountainside, the jumping over ditches and streams, the terrified herds of sheep running in every direction, then returning to their peaceful grazing after their bleating had subsided. All these things would crowd his mind, a numbness would envelop him and he would fall asleep.

 One evening after drill and supper, he went down to the seashore. While sitting on a boulder that jutted out of the sand, he was looking at the liquid horizon that burned with the flames of the sunset. A couple of sea gulls were fishing and dancing over the waves and the sea heaved restlessly, displaying a luminous highway on the surface as far as the distant horizon. As he was viewing this beautiful sight and engulfed in thoughts, he heard footsteps approaching the beach.  He turned his head around and saw a little boy of about five, standing a few feet away from him. He was blond and suntanned and had dark brown eyes. The boy wanted to say something to him but he was afraid. Sempad could clearly see the fear in the boy’s eyes. After a long and scrutinizing look at the little boy, he could see that a trace of trust and confidence was flickering in his eyes and then he started to smile slightly.

  Sempad could not speak Greek to tell him that he should not be afraid of him. He had picked up a few words but not enough to converse with him. A strange idea, therefore, came to him! He decided to teach him an Armenian song! Which one shall I teach him? He asked himself. Which song would interest him more than anything else? He thought and thought, and finally decided that Dashnagtzagan Khoump would be the right one. He looked into his eyes and in a soft voice began to sing the tune of the first line... 

  The little boy began to smile this time and even his lips began to move to the rhythm of the song. After repeating it a few times, patiently, the little boy began to sing with him, first wavering then with more confidence. When he finished singing the first line some of the boys and girls, who were playing on the hilltop, ran down the hillside to the beach where they were standing. 

  They wanted to learn the song, too. Now his group was composed of about twenty kids, ranging from five to twelve years of age. At the end of an hour’s practice they had learned the tune as well as the words of the first stanza. 

  The sun had set and it was time to turn in. When he said gali nikta sass, which in Greek means good night to you, the whole group cried “gali nikta sass, daskalos!” “Good night, teacher!” They marched away, to the tune of the song they had just learned, and disappeared in the streets. The entire village rang of the beautiful march of our revolutionaries.

  When he got to his room and reclined on his bunk, he did not feel as tired as usual. He felt relaxed and happy.

   After supper, the following evening, he hurried to the beach. The sun was gliding down to the horizon producing a most wonderful sunset. He stood on the little strip of sand to enjoy the spectacle of the mirror-like sea, the rose tinted clouds and the landscape. From the hilltop, an army of children stepped down and stood at attention in front of him. He nodded and the children began to sing the song they had learned the previous evening. After practicing a half-hour and after the new children had learned to sing the march, a girl of about twelve by the name of Vasso, Vassilika, came forward. She asked him with sign-language to take the group up on the hill so the whole village could hear them sing. Since he had no objections she, enthusiastically, led the whole group up to the top of the hill that dominated the panoramic scene of the 26th Artillery Division.

  That evening, when they left the “concert,” they had learned the tunes and words of two more Armenian songs, Goujn Ara and Knah, Knah  by Komitas Vartabed. Their parents had gathered here and there, in front of their houses, and were watching and listening to the chorus with the greatest enjoyment they had experienced in some time. The children sang Knah, Knah with such beauty and enthusiasm that even their parents’ lips were moving to the tune of the music.

  When it was time to go Sempad said, “gali nikta sass.” The children answered, “gali nikta sass, daskalos,” and, full of joy and delight, began singing Knah, Knah and disappeared in the streets. The reverberations of the song covered the entire village and surroundings.

  Vasso hung around until everybody had gone so she, herself, could say, “gali nikta sass, daskalos,” to her teacher.

  Something unexpected and incomprehensible was happening. The children of this Greek village were enlivening the whole countryside with Armenian songs.

  Two weeks passed with evening “concerts!”  The chorus was composed of forty regular attendants with an excellent repertoire! Dashnagtzagan Khoump, Knah...Knah, Sona Yar, Im chinari Yar, Kinovi Yerk, and Papouri Djan. The Greek children of Galigradia could sing these songs beautifully. The effect of the natural background of the sea, the rolling hills and the sunset made everything more charming and more delightful.

  One evening, when he was directing the group, he noticed a feeling of fear fluttering in the eyes of the children looking over his shoulder to a point beyond. He, instinctively, turned around and confronted two high-ranking Majors, standing a few steps from him looking at the singers.

  He saluted them and stood at attention, inwardly trembling. The children also were scared and preoccupied but kept standing there, waiting for any development. 

  “At ease, my boy!” said the elderly officer, in Armenian. Sempad was so amazed at hearing those few Armenian words from him.  He had thought he was a Turk.

  “Are these Armenian children?” he asked.

 “No Sir! They are all Greek.” he said. The questioning continued in Armenian. The two Majors were Armenian doctors serving in the 26th Artillery Division.

  “You mean to tell us that these are not Armenian children?”

  “Yes sir!  I am the only Armenian here in this village.”

  “They sang those songs so beautifully!”

  “I taught them all of those songs since I arrived here about a month ago.”

  He began to conduct the group with pride, through all of the songs they had learned. The children were relaxed now and were convinced that the officers were not Turks. They put all of their vigor and energy into making it sound more beautiful. The songs were performed one after another and the officers listened with delight. People came pouring out of their houses, stood outside and watched and listened with admiration.  They had no fear on their faces anymore and they were proud of their children who could sing the Armenian songs, so beautifully.

  The officers overwhelmed with national pride and emotion and in spite of their rank, took Sempad in their arms and embraced him with exclamations of delight and amazement. Then the elderly one turned to one of the orderlies who was standing there holding the bridle of his horse. He called him and took something out of his pocket, handed it to him and said: “Hurry!” 

  The children evidently sensed what was happening. Their eyes flashed with joy, and they looked at each other, smiling and whispering and nudging each other, while their parents watched with suspense and delight.   A moment later the orderly returned with a bag full of candy and dried fruits. Sempad distributed the contents of the bag to the children who stuffed their pockets and handkerchiefs with them and dispersed while calling out in unison: “Efkharisto poly! Thank you, very much!” 

  The elderly officer said: “After supper in Boyouk Tchekmedge, a few miles from here, we decided to ride around for a while. We were far out on the side of the mountain enjoying the beautiful view and the fresh air when a stream of music hit our ears. It became clearer as we rode along until we recognized it as one of Komitas Vartabed’s  songs. We were puzzled. We had no idea there were any Armenians living here. How surprised we were when we found out that they were Greek children singing Komitas Vartabed’s songs. We congratulate you, son.” he said. After shaking each other’s hands, they left.

  The following evening, as usual, he went to the beach. The children were gathered on the hilltop, waiting for him. He joined them and began going over the songs they had learned when, from out of nowhere, one of the candidates, Ahmed, approached the group with a sly expression on his face.

  “You are going to learn Turkish songs from now on.” he said. 

  They did not understand him, of course, but they were able to size up the situation right away and looked at him scornfully.

  Ahmed sang a Sharki and asked them to sing with him.  This song could never interest any Greek child.  They nudged one another, laughing. He sang it over and coaxed them to follow him but the children stood there, silently. He became enraged and began to curse the children in the most vulgar way then casting a look of hatred and anger at Sempad, left the beach and disappeared. 

  A moment after this unpleasant incident was over, everything became normal again and the singing started over and continued, as usual. Before the singing was over an orderly came and handed Sempad a slip of paper.  It was from the Captain and it stated that he wanted to see him. From the expression on Sempad’s face, the children became silent. He told them that he would be right back!

  When he entered the Captain’s office and stood at attention, the Captain shouted: “What are you trying to do here? Are you trying to Armenianize the Greek children? Is this Dashnagtzagan or Hunchagian propaganda you are doing here? Anyway, I don’t want to hear anymore of that!”

  “All right, Sir!” he said and left.

  The following evening he came to the beach with an entirely different mood. The children were assembled on the hilltop, waiting. As he shook his head negatively to their invitation, Vasso and two boys came down to see him. With the few Greek words he had picked up, he said: “I can’t teach you anymore.” 

  With hatred in their voices, they exclaimed: “Ahmed! Ahmed! We know!”

  They stood with him for a moment, worried and disappointed. They all knew what was happening. Their parents must have explained to them about Ahmed’s appearance and his reporting Sempad to the Captain. All these things were not strong enough in them to kill the will, pleasure, and determination to sing. So they began to sing again, assembled on the hilltop, this time under the direction of Vasso.

Sempad kept sitting on the boulder, at the seashore, watching the sunset and the approaching twilight when suddenly, came the yell of the children, from the hilltop: “Gali nikta, Daskalos!”

  He turned his head toward them as they quickly disappeared in the streets, singing Knah...Knah, with the entire village echoing its rhythm, leaving Vasso alone, waving goodnight.

  When he returned to his room he found a note from the Captain ordering to see him, right away. He quickly reported to him. He was sitting at the table with his head looking down at a sheet of paper.

  “What did I tell you, yesterday?” he shouted, without even looking up at him.

.  “You told me to stop teaching the children to sing.” he answered calmly.

  “Then, why did you disobey me?”

  “I did not disobey you, Sir. I wasn’t with them today when they were singing.”

  “Don’t lie to me.”

  “I am not lying...They sang under the direction of their conductor. I can’t make them forget what they have learned.”

Chapter Eight  - Continue >
Updated 20 June, 2000 Contents.......
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