Sempad was standing in the guard house on top of the hill. He was surveying
the panorama of the gigantic Taurus ridges, which stood calm and mute in
the flaming sunset. There was no sign of habitation for miles around. A
weird and treacherous silence enveloped everything like an invisible mist.
These ridges, with their awe-inspiring wooded folds, resuscitated dreary
memories of the day, April 24, 1915. This is when an entire nation, uprooted
from its ancestral homeland, was rolling down like an immense avalanche
onto its grim destiny.
Ekbez!... He was familiar with every inch of ground and seemed to hear
echoes of the screams of massacred innocents. Behind dense thickets and
chaparrals, covering the gracefully sloping hills of Islahieh, he seemed
to see thousands of terrified eyes, sensing the stealthy approach of the
Turks, armed with rifles, knives and hatchets.
to scream at the top of his lungs and curse the civilized world for its
apathy in the face of such atrocities. He recalled the maddening whirlpool
of the recent past. His miraculous escape from the massacre and the crossing
of the Palestine front to the English army, the joining of the Legion d’Orient
at Cyprus Island and his return to the same front against the Turks. The
battle of Arara, where Turkish forces were crushed and defeated opening
the way for the occupation of Cilicia, the ancestral home of hundreds of
thousands of Armenians. The hope that the Armenian Legion would soon become
the nucleus of the future Armenian army had enthused him immensely.
years had elapsed since the defeat of the Turks and none of the dreams
had materialized. He was there just wasting away, decaying uselessly! Armenian
volunteers from all over the world had been waiting, in vain, to finish
their business with the defeated enemy. Now the unbelievable was happening.
Dark forces were at work to undo what the Allied victory had achieved.
Arms and ammunition were being given to the Turks to reverse the tide of
the events. Kemalist forces were being organized and encouraged by the
gold-worshipping diplomats of the West to kill the claim of the Armenians,
"The Little Ally.” The Armenians had fought so bravely on every front against
sun had gone down behind the ridges and the somber shadows of twilight
filled the valley. Sergeant Sempad came out of his meditations and noticed
that the last glow of sunset had already disappeared from the horizon.
He walked, sullenly, down the hillside to his tent where Beto was reading
by candlelight. Without disturbing him, he took his shoes off and pushed
them under his bunk. He hung his trousers and coat on the pole, sprawled
out, unfolded his blanket and slowly covered himself with it.
silence became so burdensome, Beto interrupted his reading, looked up and
said: “What is troubling you?”
was on his back looking at the taut canvas of the tent, fighting back his
Can’t you hear me?” called Beto. Sempad answered quietly: “My body is here,
but my mind is in Moush...primitive dwellings...churches...simplicity...carefree
childhood...Sourp Garabed Monastery with its huge, massive walls like those
of medieval fortresses isolating it from the living world...Three steeples
thrust high, like daring thoughts into the blue space. Nine old reverends
appeared and disappeared, twice a day, after morning and evening services,
like living shadows. Our heavenly trips on the glorious Innagnian Mountains,
in search of mushrooms and partridge eggs. Flocks of sheep rolling down
the slopes like a snowdrift. Then...the bomb of war exploded. Nations began
to grope in the smoke and the dust of the battlefields. Our idealistic
nation aligned itself with the Allies against the Central Powers. Then...the
annihilation movement, because of the Armenian people’s friendly attitude
toward the Allies...deportation and massacre...Monasteries, churches and
towns wiped out...stinking roadside ditches...”
He fell asleep but nightmares began to haunt him...thousands of corpses
began to come to life. They slowly moved their legs and arms as if awakened
from a long and restless sleep looking to the right and to the left trying
to locate their relatives and friends. As if a soft whisper of autumn leaves,
their lips began to move...it became louder and louder until it rang like
a maddening chorus of hair-raising cries. Towns were now burning with their
inhabitants in them...Smoke and flames spread out to the wheat fields.
Herds of cattle fled in a wild stampede before the on-rushing fire and
the Sergeant found himself right in the middle of that carnage... He turned
from one side to the other and a muffled groan came out of his throat muttering
some indistinct and inarticulate words. He suddenly jumped right up and
sat straight in his bunk with terror in his eyes.
was still awake. He did nothing. They only exchanged furtive looks and
lowered their heads. Beto, then, blew the lamp out and stretched himself
on the bunk. For a long time he remained awake thinking about Sempad.
morning, the atmosphere of the camp had completely changed. The entire
battalion had assembled to hear the order that had just been received from
the General Command. Immediately after reading the report, the tents began
to be taken down and packed. Knapsacks and other equipment were arranged
properly for inspection.
not the same dreamy and melancholic fellow anymore. He was jovial and lively
now. He was everywhere, helping his men to pack and get ready to move on.
has happened to you, Sempad?” said Beto, grinning. “Any special reason
for this change?”
news of the campaign! I have been getting tired and disgusted lately, sitting
around and doing nothing. This inactivity was just getting on my nerves.
A change might make us feel fresher and livelier. After all, we did not
join the Legion to lie around. We came here for an entirely different reason
and you know what that reason is.”
I know!” said Beto, mockingly “To finish our business with the worst criminal
the world has ever seen!!”
do you speak with such sarcasm?”
to the fact that I don’t expect anything good to come out of this campaign.
Our Allies simply don’t wish to hurt the Turks for our sake. They are making
us fight for their own interest not for ours.”
not so sure about that,” said Sempad, thoughtfully. “Let’s not forget that
the Allies have recognized Armenia as a free and independent country with
Van, Moush and Erzeroum annexed to our ancestral lands. What else
do you expect?”
to see the Truth of the Allies’ declaration...” said Beto with a grimace.
if nothing comes of it, the performance of my patriotic duty will be able
to hush my inner voices and secure myself some restful sleep.” said Sempad.
whistle reverberated a sad farewell. Thundering applause was mixed with
outbursts of joy as well as tearful handshakes. The whistle blew three
times and the train pulled out. Hundreds of Legionnaires began singing
the “Marseillaise” and “Pam Porodan,” and the wheels of the train slowly
rolled under the silent gaze of the surrounding hills. Soon after, a hush
enveloped the whole outfit. Everyone began singing to himself. Sergeant
Sempad was contemplating the panorama of the interlocking wooded ridges.
Every inch of that ground was familiar to him. He remembered spots where
fragments of human skeletons were strewn about with the weird and mysterious
stares of bleached skulls dominating the scene.
hung down its fluttering veil and everything was quiet and intangible.
When the train drew near the entrance of Ayran tunnel, a few miles from
Islahie, Turkish machine guns and small arms began firing from the surrounding
wooded hills, without any casualties.
train came out of the tunnel with no further incidents, unloading at the
entrance of a formidable cleft formed by the gigantic folds of the Amanos.
There was a strong column of French, Algerian and Senegalese soldiers there,
who had been waiting for them.
reigned, save the occasional wailing of coyotes from far distant hollows.
Absolute silence was the order of the night. Even the horses seemed to
have understood it. They hung their heads down to the ground, swaying back
and forth quietly grazing.
Sempad, you have a friend here looking for you.” someone whispered.
silhouette of a tall man, dressed in the Kurdish style and armed like an
Armenian Fedayi stood before him.
you do not recognize me in this outfit,” he said. “I am Sassountzi Petros
from Sourp Garabed Monastery, your friend. Satenik is in Sassoun now, safe.
Don’t worry about her. Soon my guerrilla friends will take her to Armenia.”
in the world!!!! Petros!!” exclaimed Sempad. “What brought you here,
heading a band of Armenian guerrillas operating in these mountains. I offered
my services to General Querette and he gladly accepted it. I am now spearheading
this column of yours against the Kemalist forces operating in this area
and the area surrounding Marash.”
“I can’t believe my eyes, Petros! Eight long years since I left Sourp Garabed
Monastery and then meeting you here under these circumstances...it is just
unbelievable. What about our Holy Monastery?”
steeples have been bombarded into gaping holes and the Cathedral has been
converted into barracks. Of course you know what happened to the
nine old priests...rotting in ditches.
do you think of all this?” asked Sempad pointing to the soldiers, horses
and the light artillery.