cautioned Hagop. “Control yourselves. There are all kinds of people
lurking around here.”
kept looking at Sempad’s uniform with amazement.
is this?” he asked, pointing at the uniform. “Are you now a zabout,
was amazed at this unexpected occurrence especially when Sempad told him
the stranger was his cousin. While they were conversing, Hagop began preparing
something for them to eat. He put three bowls of madzoun yogurt
and three cups of coffee on the table.
was sobbing and wiping away his tears from his face. He then told the tragic
story. “One day, the gendarmes announced that they were expecting an attack
on the village. For the protection of the people, it was necessary for
them to take refuge in some houses, barns and churches while they waited
outside watching for the Kurds. Some innocently believed in that maneuver
and crowded those places, while others took to the mountains, distrustful
of their fiendish plan. Kurds, as well as gendarmes, surrounded the crowded
barns, houses and churches and set fire to them. Screams and cries covered
the entire village. In no time, everything was engulfed in flames and smoke.
The Kurds and gendarmes fired their rifles at those attempting to escape
the flaming conflagration. Beto said he had Kurdish clothes on and nobody,
during the commotion, suspected him of being Armenian.
You know Mesrob, Kegham and Arshavir are in the United States,” said Sempad.
“You do know that, don’t you? How about my father, mother, grandmother
and my aunt? How about my little brother Arsen and sister Satenik?”
his head in silence.
I am asking you! How about them?”
burst into tears. A moment afterward he stammered... “They were all killed
on Shumlag Mountain, and Satenik was abducted by the gendarme captain and
taken away somewhere around Adana. A week before this happened I told your
father I was going to come to Constantinople to see you. Satenik sent you
this as a remembrance.” He took a little packet out from his bosom and
handed it to Sempad. He opened it. It was a carefully folded yazma,
silk scarf...Her own scarf, rose-colored...
to cry and covered it with kisses. Then with trembling fingers folded it
over and put it in his pocket, next to his heart. After a long pause, he
asked him: “What are your plans?”
stay in Constantinople and work.”
Poor Beto! thought Sempad. Stay here and work? Where? Doing what? Sempad
got up and told him he would be right back. He told him that if any one
should ask him where he’s from, he should say, Konia... He went to his
room and came back with a suitcase, containing civilian clothes. He asked
Hagop to let him sleep there for a couple of days. After giving him a little
money he left and was on the way to his room, preoccupied with the difficulties
that awaited Beto. He was nearly in the same fix but in more danger than
he got to his room, he found Maria’s parlor open. He went in and sat comfortably
on the lounge and waited for her. When she came in and found him sitting
by the window, she screamed with joy and came to shake his hand with affection.
“How are you, Sempad? When did you come?”
look fine! You are rather impressive in your uniform.”
mean you would rather see me wearing this uniform all the time?”
no! You are just as sweet in your uniform as you are in your civilian clothes.”
she was in the kitchen preparing something to eat, he was looking outside
at the conglomeration of frame houses all around, thinking about his dark
future, and the gruesome story that Beto told. He unconsciously clenched
his fists and uttered words of rage which never before came out of his
mouth. His mind was in turmoil! Through sly and diabolical planning, the
government had seen to it that his people should not be in a position to
took the youth into the army then disarmed them and incorporated them with
the workers’ battalions leaving the villages with the old men, women and
children. Then an army of chetehs, gangsters, was organized by releasing
all of the criminals from the prisons to take care of them. In spite of
this policy, some provinces, namely Moush, Sassoun, Van, Shabin, Karehissar,
Zeitoun and Musa-Dagh... revolted to defend themselves
and registered heroic acts, all in vain.
submerged in these thoughts, when Maria called: “The table is ready, Sempad.”
When he took his seat at the table, she looked at him in surprise and said:
“What has happened to you? You seem to be overwhelmed with sorrow, and
heard a lot of bad news, today.”
“So have I.”
she said. “Vartkess and Zohrab have been arrested and sent away, God knows
where! Can you imagine? Members of the Parliament being treated like that!
Then changing the mood of the conversation, she said: “I have missed you
so much, Sempad! You have been in the army for over a year now.”
at her with gratitude and lowered his head. Her face flushed and she looked
at him with misty eyes. She, then, flung her arms around his neck,
pressed his face to her bosom and began kissing him frantically.
Something within him began to boil, sending hot currents through his entire
body. His lips had never touched a woman’s lips yet. He was a virgin in
every way. He knew of life only through novels, plays and poetry. He would
close his eyes and converse with visionary beauties, soaring in space,
perched on sailing clouds. He would read to them his own poems, enjoy the
blue immensity studded with stars, and sing with them. To him, love was
an impalpable force that makes man fly away from his earthly existence,
in a world of vision and of luminous melodies... A moment afterward when
they regained themselves, she said: “When are you going to go back, Sempad?
Or, are you going back at all?”
forty-eight hours I have got to be there, or else!”
He was not going there any more. They both became silent for a long while,
then he said: “Don’t worry, Maria! Everything will be all right some day,
taking his sister’s scarf from his pocket he unfolded it and displayed
it for her to see.
is that?” she asked.
is my sister’s scarf that she sent to me.”
to cry like a baby, stammering...all the while! “I met my cousin today
at Hagop’s coffee house. He gave it to me.” He told her about what Beto
had seen. She, too, began to cry. She stopped asking him any more questions.
She had a full understanding of the situation in the vilayets far to the
east of Constantinople.
afternoon, he walked down to their club, the headquarters of their political
organization Dashnagtzoutune and that of the Hairenik Publishing
Company. He went upstairs to the editor’s room. He saw a man sitting there
at the table very dejected, staring into space. He told Sempad that, Zartarian
(the chief editor), Varoujan, Khajag and other prominent writers had been
arrested and sent away. The paper had been indefinitely suspended, and
the club was not the way it used to be. Everything was in a chaotic state.
Sempad stayed there a long moment, looked around, shuffled the old papers
on the table, gazed at the man’s glassy eyes and left.
in the street, he came upon some of his friends, who were in a hurry, and
were afraid to stop and engage in conversation with him. He stopped at
a third-class restaurant, sat at an unpainted wooden table, looked at the
cook, and ordered some Halvah, sweet. The cook seemed to recognize
him. His uniform made him smile mysteriously.
later, he walked down to Ketronagan Varjaran where he had studied for five
years and graduated. It was open. He entered the Dean’s office and
to his surprise he saw a Turk, in civilian clothes, sitting at the desk,
somewhat occupied with books and papers. Evidently impressed by Sempad’s
uniform, he stood up and saluted him cordially and pointing to a chair,
asked him to sit down. One of the teachers, who was occupying another table,
surprised to see him in uniform, got up from his seat and introduced him
to his colleague as one of his graduate students. He was very glad he had
dropped in to see him. A moment later they accompanied him to the classrooms
so that his uniform might become a source of inspiration for the younger
were all new faces. They were Armenians, to be sure, but under a new Dean
a Turk and new leadership. He visited three classrooms, thanked
his hosts for their courtesy, went through the courtyard and entered Krikor
Loussavorich Church. There was absolute silence! He stood there for
a moment as a last visitor, looked at the Crucifix and smiled bitterly
at the theological ideas behind it.
walked down the wharf he heard a cheerful melody coming out of one of the
lowest Café Chantants of the neighborhood. He went in. It was a
spacious room with a little stage. The air was heavy with the stench of
liquor and cigarettes. Simple wooden tables were all around. The orchestra
was composed of a clarinet, violin, oud, piano and drum. They were
playing an oriental melody. Some Italian, Greek and Turkish sailors were
sitting around drinking. A Greek fisherman jumped to his feet upon seeing
him and yelled joyfully: “Hello Daskalos! Come over here with us.”
was hesitating, the fisherman tapped him on his back with his hand, saying:
“I am from Galigradia.”
Sempad exclaimed, with surprise.
Sempad to his friends and began telling them of the beautiful work he had
done with their children. They ordered him some wine and kept on chatting
when, suddenly, a beautiful girl with only a fig-leaf cover, appeared on
the stage. Cries of approval greeted her from every table. She walked quietly
back and forth for a while and then began dancing. She contorted her body
with all sorts of movements, shaking her full round breasts into a flutter
and the curves of her shapely hips into an embracing, hugging and maddening
cataclysm. Then with her hands clasped on the back of her head, standing
erect, began to tremble as if uncontrollably calling to action everything
she had. Screams of the utmost thrill filled the air. Some soldiers tried
to rush onto the stage. There was excitement, uproar and turmoil. In spite
of the Galigradian’s insistence to stay, Sempad got up, asked him to say
hello to all the children back home, bade them all good-bye and left.
Maria opened the door for him to enter, she exclaimed nervously: “What
happened to you?”
happened to stop at a Café Chantant. I met a friend there from Galigradia.”
you drink or dance or have fun?” she asked.
ordered a glass of wine for me, but I didn’t drink it.”
Maria! I did not. You know I don’t drink or dance. I am the same person
now as I was before.”
looked at him and smiled. “Have you decided, yet, what you are going to
going to go back tomorrow.”
silence reigned with a long mutual stare. Suddenly, her daughter whimpered
in her sleep and she went to quiet her. She then came back and sat by him
on the couch.
you are having any trouble or difficulty don’t hesitate to call on me.”
She said. “There is no more Moush for you, unfortunately, and no more parental
care. What are you going to do after you come out of the service?”
don’t know. I’ll think about that when I cast this uniform away.”
you will always be thinking about your parents, your brother Arsen, your
sister Satenik and all of your relatives. This chapter must be considered
closed forever. You must, now, think about your future.”
think about my future, now. Who knows what may happen to me?”
his hand into hers she began to play with his fingers, unconsciously, and
raising her eyes, whimpered: “You can never tell what is in store for you
I hope they keep you around here.”
do I,” he said looking into space for a moment. “I don’t want to wear this
uniform any longer, I hate it!”
you really mean that?” she exclaimed. “When are you going back?”
not going back!” he said.
she burst out loudly.
not! I am here to stay, Maria!” he said, looking into her eyes to see her
so glad to hear that! I am glad, but scared.!” Then she went on telling
him what to do and what not to do. Never go out anymore. Never open the
door to strangers or to anybody for that matter; her Turkish neighbors
might be suspicious.
so glad, Sempad...it seems that my prayers have been answered.”
and months passed and he never went out. He utilized his time by reading
and writing. He translated Spinoza’s Ethique, that profound philosophical
study, from French into Armenian. He also wrote some short stories, prose
day Maria came in all excited and tearful, sat by him, on the couch, held
his hand into hers and said: “Your friend Ardashes has been arrested and
shot at the Merkez Commandanlik. His landlady told me.”
shocked, as well as terrified.
know what, Sempad? I am going to go around to see if I can find a minor’s
certificate you could use. I know an old woman who is willing to see me
about that. I might be able to get her sixteen year old son’s birth certificate.
If I do, your name will be Garo. Still, you must be very careful not to
go out, not to sit at the window and never open the door to anybody. Another
thing I must tell you; groceries are hard to get and are so scarce that
I am obliged to rent out a couple of rooms, on the first floor, to a mother
and her children, a boy and a girl. The children go to school and the mother
works as a cook. I hope you like the idea.”