History &
& Alphabet
Youth &
Feasts &

By Sempad Shahnazarian

Chapter Fifteen 

ne Sunday morning, Sergeant Sempad was standing in front of the casern gazing at the panorama of the city. The distant hills and plains spread out before him resembling a beautiful landscape painting. Church steeples and Mosque minarets stood high like giant thinkers, rubbing their foreheads against the sky. The Turks were holding drills in the fields near the City Hall. The Citadel was conspicuously dominant upon the entire city. Rifles and bayonets shone brilliantly from the drill grounds. Groups of gendarmes and civilians could be seen swarming over the surrounding hills and mountainsides, digging trenches and foxholes. Intensive military activity was in full swing, in and out of the city.

  Mosques were crowded with the faithful. Patriotic and provocative speeches were being delivered. Flames of hatred and scorn against the Armenians, the Legionnaires and all of the French forces were being fanned by the religious and political leaders. Arms and ammunition were being distributed to the civilians, blatantly. This was evidently the final phase of the underground movement, which had culminated into an overt preparation of revolt.

  Sempad scanned the entire picture, which was getting extremely gloomy and explosive. He walked thoughtfully toward a group of Senegalese who were cleaning their rifles and machine guns. They were exchanging smiles and jokes, when all of a sudden as if pressed by a button, the entire city and its neighboring hills, exploded. Thousands of shots came from every direction...from houses and minarets, from barricades and trenches and from the higher grounds overlooking the city. The Legionnaires immediately dashed to their trenches around the casern and the Senegalese to theirs, ready for action. A Turkish field artillery battery from its emplacement on the northern ridge of the city began shelling the casern, scoring two direct hits. It was immediately silenced by the French gun that was positioned on the drill ground.

  Intense firing started from a hill located not very far from the barracks, in the cleft of a giant mountain.  Sergeant Sempad was ordered to take it at any cost. He grinned contentedly, assembled his men and gave them the necessary orders. He then leaped on like a leopard over the cultivated fields, with his men fearlessly following him. As they became a hot target to enemy fire they threw themselves to the ground and began to crawl. 

  “Keep your heads down and keep crawling!” shouted Sempad.

  The machine guns began rattling and the light artillery began sending its shells, over their heads toward the Turkish positions. The hill was taken before sunset. They immediately started digging in, and consolidate their trenches. That night the sky was overcast.
The left wing of their line was very active during the night. At about nine o’clock it began to snow. At dawn the ground was already covered with a white blanket.

  Looking from the hilltop the city displayed a ghastly picture. Flames bursting out here and there, unchecked. Explosions of hand grenades shook the ground and the snow kept coming down like a shivering mist.

  Suddenly, the silence was pierced by Beto’s shouting: “Where the hell are you going you son-of-a-bitch?” he kept cursing, firing and hitting the Kemalists right in front of his foxhole!! Three corpses had fallen there under the snow flurries. The sergeant congratulated Beto for the way he had acted and let his men take a look at the bodies being covered by the snow. Everybody was excited and aroused by this heroic act by Beto.

  Four weeks elapsed with continuous fighting. General Querette began to show signs of restlessness. In spite of his insistent requests no reinforcements arrived. The use of ammunition had been drastically cut and their rations were at a minimum. Rumors of a surrender were circulating... 

  Surrender to the Turks??

  The atmosphere was dark and heavy and the Armenian Legionnaires were drawing up their plans for future actions.  Surrendering to the Turks meant sure death! They would rather fight their way out than surrender to them. Nothing but death could stop them in their resolve to reach their base at Adana.

  It was one of those gloomy days when Lieutenant Adge suddenly entered the dormitory, calling “Rassemblement!” The Legionnaires assembled in that large, spacious hall where the lower halves of the windows had been covered with heavy slabs of stone, dimpled by enemy bullets. Guards vigilantly watched their movements.

  The Lieutenant said: “Things are going badly now...We have got to do something about it...The siege is tightening its noose around our necks. We have to break it loose and let our men breathe easily. We need provisions also...I need twenty volunteers for an important mission...Remember, this is the most dangerous assignment you have ever had!”

  Right after he finished translating the instruction, Sergeant Sempad stepped forward and came to attention.  Lieutenant Adge, however, said curtly: “No! Not you, Sergeant!” He had other plans for him. The Sergeant remained adamant, saying: “You are asking for volunteers and I am answering your call.”

  “I need you for a more important mission...” said the Lieutenant.

  “If I come back alive I promise to volunteer for that one also.” said Sempad.

  The Lieutenant smiled and said: “All right! Pick your men and be in my room in five minutes and I will give you the details.

 After picking his men, Sergeant Sempad reported to the Lieutenant. It was a long and narrow chamber with a single window overlooking a Turkish bastion about three hundred feet away. An appreciable part of that distance had been converted into trenches and machine gun posts by the Legionnaires. The room was dimly lit by shaded candlelight and the lower half of the window was blocked by a heavy piece of rock, the edges of which had been chipped away by bullets.

  Sergeant Sempad clicked his heels and stood at attention. The lieutenant returned his salute and began to give his instructions: “Each and everyone of you must carry a musette bag full of hand grenades, a can of benzine, rags and matches, in addition to your rifle and bayonet. The raid will start tonight at nine o’clock sharp against this fortification.” He stood by the window and pointed cautiously at a stone house that had a series of holes in its wall where one could see Turkish machine guns. He also pointed to two other fortified houses on the right and left of the main target and concluded: “Your mission will consist of destroying these fortified points and saving the casern from the impending danger.”

  At about 8:30 that night, Sergeant Sempad led his men through a maze of trenches to a distance of about one hundred feet from the specified target. He stood there silently and vigilantly studying the situation. He, then, looked at his wrist watch. It was exactly nine o’clock. From a machine gun nest, Sempad’s cousin Srab cautioned him by saying: “Be careful Sempad! Don’t lose your head! Take care of yourself. Good luck!”

  Without undue alarm or ceremony he sent one of his men crawling to the house on the right of the main bastion. He crawled on cautiously under the cover of continuous fire by the Legionnaires and stopped within a distance of about fifty feet from the objective. He set fire to a ball of rags soaked in benzine that were fastened to a wooden handle and threw it straight at the door. He then threw another one at the window. He repeated this action several times until one of the fire balls stuck on the overhanging eaves causing the house to burst into flames. At this time, Sempad pitched a hand grenade directly into the burning area. Dust, smoke and screams from the house filled the air. Everything was engulfed in a mass of flames and black smoke.

  At the height of the commotion, they switched their attack to the main bastion. Turkish machine guns and small arms began to clatter from behind the stone walls together with the most vulgar curses. The Legionnaires answered them with grenades and fire balls.

   After four hours of relentless attack, the bastion crumbled down and became a heap of smoking ruins. The loop was broken and from the adjoining stables cattle, horses and donkeys began streaming out not knowing where to go. The Legionnaires knew where they should go. They herded them back to the casern for their meat supply. The following day, everybody was raving about the horse and donkey barbecues and all the other “princely” cuisine!! 

  Standing by the burning ruins of the bastion Sergeant Sempad was watching the flames and looking in the direction of the City Hall, twenty blocks away. Its windows reflected the flames of the burning city and from various quarters the clattering of machine guns and small arms reverberated. At the height of the successful Coup de Main a young adjutant suddenly appeared and said: “Sergeant Sempad! All is well now, you can turn in!”

  Sempad was so inspired by the success of the mission he never gave a thought to the base intentions of the adjutant. He was trying to get credit for the successful mission so that he would assure himself a promotion to the rank of lieutenant. 

  Casting a look of rage and disgust upon him, Beto said: “Where in the hell have you been hiding until now? I know what you have in mind... This is not your mission! This is the mission of Sergeant Sempad Shahnazarian... He and his men started and finished it gloriously, not you! Get the hell out of here!!” He turned to Sempad and said: “Let’s not dream. There is an extremely patriotic task awaiting us now.” He pointed toward the City Hall, and added: “You must have forgotten Vartan Shahbaz, the old revolutionary, and Doctor Arshag Bogosian. They are about fifteen blocks from here, beleaguered!!  Wouldn’t you like to take a chance at it?”

  He smiled and said: “Let’s do it!”

  He took about a dozen of his men, put a guard at every corner of the street, and proceeded on through the Turkish quarter. They went silently and cautiously, to the house where their friends lived. It was past midnight.  Arriving there without any incident Beto tapped softly on the door in the courtyard. Doctor Arshag appeared right away and whispered in a low voice, from behind the door: “Who is it?”

  “It is Beto, open the door!”

  He opened the door and they entered quietly.

  “I came here with my men to try to save you!” said Sempad. “Would you like to take a chance?”

  Doctor Arshag called the old revolutionary, Vartan Shahbaz, who came down from the second floor with a pistol in his hand. The doctor told Vartan that Sempad was here with his men to take them to the casern.

  “Do you think we should take a chance?”

  “Yes! Let’s go!” he answered quickly and gave orders to get the people moving.

 In no time, a multitude of men, women and children came from the adjoining houses, through the underground passages. They came out onto the street silently and followed the Legionnaires, climbing up the hillside to where the bastion was still burning. Arriving there, they met other groups of survivors, totaling about three hundred who had been saved from the neighboring houses. They were all sent to the American Hospital compounds near the General Command Headquarters.

  At about three o’clock in the morning the front was quiet. Sergeant Sempad took his men and returned to the barracks. He walked with contentment and pride down the dark corridor to Lieutenant Adge’s room and tapped on the door.


  He walked in, clicked his heels, came to attention and said: “La mission est accomplie! The mission is accomplished, my Lieutenant.”

  The Lieutenant embraced him without evident emotion and said: “I am proud of you, Sergeant! Go and rest, now!”

  He bade him goodnight and went to the dormitory tired and exhausted. With all his equipment and everything on he flopped down on the floor and fell asleep. A smile curled the corners of his mouth just before he closed his eyes. He did not have any nightmares that night. He slept soundly, happy with the good job he had done.

  In the morning, a delegation, on behalf of the refugees came to invite him to the American Hospital where everybody was waiting to express their thanks and gratitude to him and his men. He and his men, however, had no time for celebration and festivity. A good job had been done and that is all there was to it. He was assembling his men to relieve the outpost on the hilltop. Nothing could change that. Forty-eight hours later when he was relieved he was told to report to General Querette.

.   “Must be another raid!” Sempad mused as he came out of the dugout with his men. He, then, directed his steps toward headquarters. It was dark when he got there. The building was enclosed by massive walls and guarded by Algerian soldiers. After lining his men up for possible inspection, he went into the General’s office, a spacious and dimly lit chamber, bare and quiet. The General was sitting in one corner, smoking and thinking.  The Captain occupied a table by the entrance, with a candle burning in the candlestick holder. He walked to the center of the room and stood at attention before the General, telling him his name and identifying his unit.  The General abruptly came to his feet, walked toward the Sergeant, kissed him on the cheeks, saying: “I congratulate you, Sergeant, for the splendid job you have done. See the Captain for your next assignment.”
Chapter Fifteen  - Continue >
Updated 20 June, 2000 Contents.......
Copyright © 1999 HyeEtch. All rights reserved
Web Site Design by SSS Graphics