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By Sempad Shahnazarian

Chapter Thirteen 

s the clarion blasted reveille the Legionnaires jumped to their feet and began to pack quickly as they were told the night before a cruiser was on its way to carry them to Cilicia.

  As they came out and saw the cruiser anchored a little distance from the shore, their eyes shone with joy and excitement. For some reason, however, the embarkment did not start until late in the afternoon. The Legionnaires were kept in suspense all day. Finally, late in the afternoon, they began boarding the ship and in less than one hour the cruiser began to plow its way on to Alexandretta.

  The night was clear and pleasantly cool. The Legionnaires, sitting or standing around on the deck, seemed to have some tales to tell as they all had come out of the same hell.

  “What are you thinking about, Sempo?” asked Beto.

  “I just touched Satenik’s scarf and was thinking about her.”

  Sitting on the platform of a big gun and looking at the starlit sky they conversed all night long.

  “Do you know where we are headed? Remember where I bought those figs to cure your tonsillitis? We are on our way to a village close to that place! I can already see the hazy ridge of mountains that extend to where we met the girls who knew Satenik.”

  Sempad cocked his ears to hear what Beto was saying looking intently at the hazy horizon. It was daybreak now. Everything was calm and quiet. The eastern horizon began to get clearer and clearer.

  “We are getting close to Alexandretta,” said Sempad. “It won’t take fifteen more minutes to get there. Oh, look! The ridge is getting silvery. The colors are changing fast here. It looks like golden dust that is covering the top of Musa Dagh. The sun is coming up.” Everybody was enchanted by the glorious sunrise. A moment later the cruiser was passing through the shadow of Musa Dagh that was cast on the mirror-like sea.

  After the cruiser docked at Alexandretta and the debarkation began, groups of Armenian and Algerian soldiers were watching to see if they could see a familiar face among them when an excited voice called: “Sempo! Sempo!”

  It was Arshavir’s voice - his brother Arshavir, who had joined the Legion from the United States. They had not seen each other in over ten years. 

  “Arshavir!!” cried Sempad. He ran toward him when the sergeant shouted: “Rassemblement!”

  Sempad obediently took his place in the line but kept on looking at Arshavir with tears in his eyes. Arshavir was looking at him with the same feelings, yelling: “I will see you in Eks! That’s where you are going.”

 After a couple of hours walking along the foot of Amanos ridge, crossing creeks and streams, they arrived at Eks, a veritable paradise. Houses were virtually covered from sight by orange, lemon, pear, cherry, apple and apricot trees. The Legionnaires occupied the school, a two-story building at the edge of town. The building stood firm and solid in the center of a spacious courtyard that was enclosed by a stone wall about five feet high and had a gate that faced the town.

  After a dormitory had been arranged, the Legionnaires were allowed to stroll around to become acquainted with the town. Vartan, Sempad and Beto walked together looking around the silent streets without uttering a word. Every house had an orchard behind it. The streets had no pavement. They were just natural sandy ground with pebbles strewn around. The houses were all of stone and were vacant. Cats looked at them in surprise, from the top of the fences. Some dogs barked. Because of the absence of caring hands, the streets were littered with fruit that had fallen from the overhanging branches of the trees.

  Walking from one end of the town to the other, they encountered only an old man, the sole inhabitant of the town...sitting by a fence, with his hands clasped over a walking stick, plunged in thought. Around the corner they came upon a church without a door, giving free access to dogs and coyotes. The altar had been ravaged of the Crucifix, chandeliers, censer and other Holy articles. A weird and gloomy silence hung over the scene.

  “Let’s talk to that man.” Sempad said and returned to where he was sitting.

  “Parev, hello!” said Sempad.

  The old man raised his eyes in surprise, and in a hesitating voice asked: “Are you Armenians? What uniform is this?”

  “Yes, we are Armenians under the French flag.”

  “Then you must be the Gamavor Akhbarner, Brother Volunteers, we had been waiting for.” He said with a sigh. After a moment’s silence, he added: “You are too late, now. There is no one left to be saved except for a few dozen poor devils who escaped to the mountains.”

  “What happened? Where are they?” asked Sempad.

  “Strewn all over. Rotting in ditches. What could they do with only knives and hatchets against the attackers who were armed with rifles and machine guns. They fought and tried to defend themselves...but there they are...”

  “No one lives here anymore?” asked Sempad.

  “Only the Captain of the Gendarmerie, Mustapha, with a dozen of his men helping to keep peace and order here.”

  “Peace and order in a town where only one person lives.” said Sempad.

  The old man raised his eyes toward Heaven and exclaimed: “How indifferent God is toward the satanic crimes Mustapha committed here and elsewhere...I heard that he had done some killing in Moush, too, before he came here. Every time I see him walk on these deserted streets I curse God for His indifference.”

  Sempad took a couple of francs out of his pocket and handed it to him, saying: “You may be able to use these.”

  The old man said, “Thank you! How can I use it?...But thank you just the same.”

  At this time, Mustapha, who was followed by three of his men with rifles slung over their shoulders, just turned the corner and walked toward them.

  The old man mumbled fearfully: “Here comes the Captain...the dirty dog!”

  They watched him approach them, in silence. When they got closer, Mustapha, disregarding the presence of the Legionnaires, shouted angrily at the old man: “What the hell are you doing here? Why don’t you go home and stay home?”

  “What home?” answered the old man. “You burned it down with my family in it!”

  Mustapha, turning toward the Legionnaires, said with a sly look on his face: “Don’t pay any attention to him. He is a damned liar...a gossip, sitting here all day, shedding tears and cursing. That’s all he does.”

  “Doesn’t he have anybody here to take care of him?” asked Sempad.

  “I don’t know.” said Mustapha.

  The old man, scrambling to his feet and tottering down to a ditch nearby, exclaimed: “Here lies my family and many other families!”

  The Captain, realizing the direction the conversation was leading, nodded to his men and ceremoniously walked away saying: “We are here to cooperate with the Legion to keep peace and order in the town.”

  What nonsense! thought Sempad. They said good-bye to the old man and within a few minutes came upon Mustapha and his men, again. This time, the Captain courteously saluted the Legionnaires and with a wry smile, he said: “That man is always bothering us...telling stories...lies. We like to see our streets free of those characters. That’s our duty. Now that the French army is here we must double our efforts to have a cleaner town.” 

  The Captain asked Sempad where he was from.

  “I was born in Moush.” Sempad said.

  ‘Moush?” he exclaimed, exchanging a mysterious look with his men. “What village?”

  “Khas Kiugh.” he answered.

  “Oh, I have been in Khas Kiugh and had a wonderful time there!! A girl fell in love with me and we finally ran away from there.”

  “What was her name?” Sempad asked.

  “Satenik” he answered.

   Sempad felt as though he would explode. He clenched his fists in fury. Beto noticed this and immediately took hold of his arm, squeezed it hard and whispered: “Control yourself! I remember him now...let’s act wisely!!”

  “What is your name?” asked Sempad.

  “They used to call me Ahmed but now they call me Mustapha.” he answered.

  “You use to live on the highlands of Taurus?” asked Sempad.

  “How did you know that?” At this, he stared at him with suspicion. He kept looking at him for several minutes, scrutinizing him in silence. He then nodded to his men and they walked away and disappeared into the desolate streets.

  “He is the man I have been looking for.” mused Sempad. “We must wait and see how things are going to work out...It’s time to turn in now.” They walked back to the casern.

  Two weeks passed with no incidents or problems of any importance. The news of the Legionnaires being at Eks had spread all over the surrounding territory. Every day more new faces were seen there, walking silently around the dead town. Survivors had been coming down from their shelters, in the mountains. The Legionnaires talked with them about what had happened, how it started and who was to blame. Their answers were invariably the same. Pashas Talaat, Enver and Jemal conceived the diabolical ideas and their colleagues put them to work. One of those criminal colleagues, around here, is Mustapha the captain of the Eks  Gendarmerie. They all said that he has lately been fomenting trouble again. The presence of the Legionnaires was getting on his nerves. The neighboring villages had been alerted by him. It was the beginning of a new movement, the Kemalist movement which was endeavoring to overthrow the present government.

  We must not let discipline deter us from doing what is necessary to stop further crimes here, thought Sempad, and in his quiet manner began to converse with Beto and Vartan. Beto looked at him, perplexed, and said: “Be careful, Sempo! Don’t lose your head.” Sempo just looked at them a long moment without uttering a word and kept walking.

  All the survivors had come down from their mountain shelters into town. The entire population was now at fifty. There were no small children. The people did not say much. They just looked around with blank expressions and listened with their heads lowered. Their eyes seemed glassy with fear.  Young widows could not raise their eyes. Life, however, began to slowly assume a somewhat normal appearance. In about one month, one could see groups of people standing here and there chatting and watching with hate, Mustapha and his men, as they walked past through the streets of their town.

  One Sunday, the entire population of Eks, only fifty persons and some Legionnaires, had gathered at the church to discuss the situation. A civilian middle-aged man mounted the platform in the courtyard and without any introduction, began to speak: “We are very glad to have the Legionnaires here. They should have been here four years earlier so they would have been able to see how our town was flourishing. We had a population of two thousand persons then, not fifty. We still are very proud to have them here with us now. You must have, of course, read in the papers that we now have an Independent Armenia.” Applause and cheers filled the air.

.  “On this solemn occasion, it gives me great pleasure to have among us a Moushetzi, Legionnaire Sempad Shahnazarian. He will be our only speaker today. Sergeant Shahnazarian!”

  He mounted the platform amid tumultuous applause and began:

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