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GENOCIDE

By Sempad Shahnazarian

Chapter Two

ears ago, when Garabed and Petros were becoming tired of being shepherds, they decided to become priests. Petros soon realized he had made a grave mistake.

  Standing at the altar during High Mass, he could not concentrate at all on the rituals. He would be thinking of the moonlit summer nights, shepherd’s flute, his flock of sheep, his pack of dogs and their colorful barking and howling.

  He would remember the spring at the foot of the cliff, with his girl-friend Hasmig in his arms trembling with love, dreaming of the day when they would be married and would continue living as shepherds in the beautiful mountains around Sourp Garabed Monastery, carefree and happy. There would be plenty of milk and cheese and wild fruits and greens to live on...but God took her away from him.

  Ever since then, the spring had become a mystical spot for him. He would sit there hour after hour and dream of their enchanting moments together. Many times he had let her plunge into the crystalline water alone, promising to keep his eyes shut so as not to see her in the nude. Could it ever be possible to keep such a promise?

   It had always seemed to him there existed a hidden bond between his natural inclinations and the spirit of this cliff that stood as a rival against the beautiful marble belfry.

  It’s been standing there thousands of centuries, strong and proud, sending its message through the spring to whomever could understand the language.

  It was only after his visits there with Hasmig that enabled him to decipher it. He was so inspired by it, he began to think the water wasn’t really water at all.  It was materialized thought; a liquid poem. This cliff, he thought, had more wisdom in it than the Monastery itself...its foundation was deeper and unshakeable, and its wrinkles stored more tenacity to the eternal conflict of forces.

  In spite of his unchristian reflections he kept wearing the monk’s robe until it became unbearable.

  In the church he would stand in a corner, silent, with his head bowed as if he was praying, but his mind would be roaming over the highlands.  Priests would be stealthily looking at him, shaking their heads tragically for his everlasting perdition.

  He could see and feel all that, so he decided to leave this atmosphere of tears and prayer to live in the hollow of this cliff, which commanded an enchanting expanse of rolling hills.

  Thus, in the dreamland of the Karke’s ridges he would stroll every day, and dream...dream...dream!!

  At night, he would sit at the entrance of his cave looking at the starlit sky, listening to the sounds of the spring and flying into the ocean of the blinking stars, looking for Hasmig...

  Every now and then a star would blink at him meaningfully, making him tremble...Could it possibly be her?...Who knows?  The Universe is an enigma!!

  As it was getting a little late, Sempad got up and left with a handshake.

*****

  It was the last day of the Navassartian festivities, a National Holiday and a Day of Pilgrimage.

  Garabed Vartabed came to see Petros, accompanied by three shepherds.

  “Come on out of your hole, you heathen.!!”  hollered Garabed joyfully before reaching the hilltop.

  Petros came out and saw his old friends in holiday attire with the spirit of the Day shining on their faces, tears of joy shone in his eyes, and they began embracing one another like little children. They all sat down in the shade of a wild apple tree, watching the thousands of pilgrims down below, surging in and out of the Monastery, joyful and happy.

  Zourna, drums, flute, singing and dancing together with the appetizing smell of shish-kebab and other delicacies had virtually converted the Monastery into a gay and jolly bazaar.

  “I haven’t yet had a good night’s sleep ever since the pilgrims poured in a week before,” said Garabed Vartabed. “Every night I had to keep watch over the Holy relics of Saint John, which were encased in a golden hand and laid on a table covered with a silken scarf at the entrance of the Sanctuary, performing miracles on cripples, the blind, epileptics, lunatics and other infirmities.  It’s distressing to see these unfortunates convulse, tremble, and shake with pain, while their mothers or wives cry, imploring pity and the grace of the golden hand.

 Before dawn, a profound silence reigned inside the Cathedral, when all of a sudden, a flash of bluish light illuminated the inside, shaking everybody with astonishment.

  The miraculous force had finally arrived!!

  At that time, I saw an epileptic looking at me tearfully, crossing his face with his trembling hand.  He got up, walked slowly onto the entrance of the Sanctuary, where the golden hand lay, and kneeling before it, kissed it with the most profound faith, began to cry happily, and walked out with his mother, as normal as you and I.”

  That was the only unfortunate whose prayers had been answered that night.”

  They all listened to Garabed’s experience astonished, when one of the shepherds broke the silence, asking if he had seen any other person being cured like that.

  “Yes!  I have seen a cripple and a lunatic get cured.  I was very excited when I saw it happen. Praised be the Lord!  Every time a miracle happened, I would break the news to the Vartabeds who would gather right away for a special ceremony with a choral procession, with the bells of the marble belfry thundering and electrifying the atmosphere. It is very hard to describe the enthusiasm and the excitement of the people who had come from far away to attend the religious festivities. There were among us, pilgrims from foreign countries, enjoying immensely, the spirit of the Day...The Navassartian Day.”

  They listened in silence to Garabed Vartabed, watching at the same time the surge of the people in and out of the Monastery, packing and getting ready to leave.

  The bells began to thunder the farewell to the thousands of pilgrims, who, in multicolor clothes moved down the slope of about five thousand feet elevation into the beautiful plain of Moush.

 Golden dust was blowing into the sky at sunset, and banks of clouds were floating in a celestial fire.

  “Petros, what do you think of all these miraculous events that Garabed Vartabed told us about?” asked one of the shepherds with a slight sarcasm in his voice.

  “Very natural happenings,” said Petros. “When human beings become excited by so-called faith there are forces within their bodies that tend to control the disturbed parts of their bodies and give them back their health.”

  Garabed Vartabed, smiling in silence at the materialistic way of explaining the miracles, said: “I am very sleepy, Petros!  I might as well go and lie down for a while. This week has been a sleepless week for me. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

  He got up sleepily, followed by the shepherds, leaving Petros alone.

  Deep silence reigned over the surroundings when he made up his mind to go down to the spring to cool off...

  Within a short distance from it he stopped, amazed, behind a clump of bushes. A nude, voluptuous woman was standing there, motionless, like a statue. Overwhelmed by his emotions, he came out from behind the bushes and with tottering steps walked toward the girl.!!  “It’s her!  It’s Hasmig!” he murmured.

  When he got close to her and stretched out his hand and cried...Hasmig, she suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke...

“Ohhh!” he exclaimed flabbergasted. Moments later when he came to, he returned to his hole murmuring on the way: “Was it a hallucination?”

  The fire of the sunset was out now and the violet rays hung over the horizon. Soon the sky was already studded with blinking jewels. He reclined in one corner of his cell thinking: “That wasn’t a mirage, or a hallucination...it was the real thing...what a beauty!!”

  He had a burning fever. His brain convulsed in chaotic turmoil, when all of a sudden, his cell was inundated with violet rays, and in the center of the floor stood the same woman...Hasmig, stark naked!...

  He looked at her bewildered.

  “Why are you looking at me like that..?” she asked him in a soft velvety voice. “Don’t you love me any more?  Don’t you know who I am?”

  “Hasmig!” cried Petros, in ecstasy.

  “Yes I am your Hasmig,” she said smilingly.

  “Ahhhh!!” He exclaimed in indescribable turmoil.

  “You think I am an illusion?  Come on and touch me!”

  “Don’t torment me, vision!” babbled Petros, overwhelmed by her beauty.

  “I am not a vision! I am your Hasmig!”

Petros remained motionless, torn with emotions.

  “Come! Come into my arms.” she said, coaxing him to get up from the stone floor.

  “Hasmig! My adorable Hasmig!” he exclaimed. As he was struggling to get on his feet, she retreated toward the exit, calling gaily: “Come here, Petros! Out here the night is so beautiful! Hold my hand!”

  He staggered toward her where she was already standing on the rim of the cliff, waiting...

  As he extended his arms to reach her, she receded a few steps and stood motionless in space over the gaping precipice.

  At this moment, the bells from the belfry began to ring, shaking him out of his hallucination.
 

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.   It was daybreak.

  He kept standing on top of the cliff to see the sun rise, listening, at the same time, to the melodious sounds of the spring...to the concert of the birds in the woods and contemplated the hypnotic panorama of Moush and Sassoun, meditatively, smiling with grief, and murmuring: “Another one of my damned hallucinations!” 


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