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.
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.
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.
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.
your heads down and keep crawling!” shouted Sempad.
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.
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.
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.
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...
to the Turks??
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
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
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!”
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
you for a more important mission...” said the Lieutenant.
I come back alive I promise to volunteer for that one also.” said Sempad.
Lieutenant smiled and said: “All right! Pick your men and be in my room
in five minutes and I will give you the details.
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.
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!”
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.
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!!
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!”
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
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?”
and said: “Let’s do it!”
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?”
is Beto, open the door!”
the door and they entered quietly.
here with my men to try to save you!” said Sempad. “Would you like to take
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.
you think we should take a chance?”
Let’s go!” he answered quickly and gave orders to get the people moving.
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
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.
in, clicked his heels, came to attention and said: “La mission est accomplie!
The mission is accomplished, my Lieutenant.”
Lieutenant embraced him without evident emotion and said: “I am proud of
you, Sergeant! Go and rest, now!”
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.
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.