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GENOCIDE

By Sempad Shahnazarian

Chapter Five

t was a profound philosophy rather than a story, which Petros just got through relating to Sempad with inspirational zeal and flight. When Sempad was alone and plunged deeply in thought, he could not really tell whether the ideas Petros expressed and the poetical pictures he painted were his own mental creations or just reflections of Sempad’s own inner world.

  All of that was beautiful, but there was something lacking, something very important for normal growth. It was the lack of parental love and affection in the Monastery.

  The lack of communication with their homes made the boys live like poor orphans.

  It would have been impossible for them to grow as healthy children under the nutritive scale they had, had it not been for the heavenly environment, the highlands and the forests, which provided them with the necessary food requirements such as wild mushrooms, vegetables and fruits.

  Their fathers had been jailed as political prisoners and the Monastery was doing its best to help them, in any way possible, to alleviate their misfortunes.

  Far away from their homes they grew almost like wild animals, as far as their food and clothing were concerned, but lived healthily in that glorious environment, receiving at the same time a fairly good preparatory education.

  Sempad never forgot the day when a kitchen helper, a very old woman, pitying him, gave him a half-glass of melted butter residue, which was mostly salt and other impurities usually given to the cats and dogs.

  He grabbed it thankfully, not knowing what to do with it and ran up the stone steps to the dormitory where his little brother Kegham was sitting on his cot, next to his, waiting for him.

  “Look, Kegham, see what they gave me,” he said with excitement.

  Kegham, a very quiet little boy, looked at it with a grimace, but made a practical suggestion. “Let’s add some water to it mix it with some bread and try to eat it.”

  A moment later after they ate it up, they looked at one another with shame and with tears in their eyes, they remembered how their mother used to give those sorts of things to their dog Hurcho, who would grudgingly look at it and walk away feeling insulted.

  The Monastery could not provide the pupils with any butter or milk even though they had thousands of sheep grazing on its pasture lands.  Everything they got from the animals would go to the Mayor or to the Governor as bribes against Turkish and Kurdish gangsters and usurpers, with no results whatsoever.

  They always used to dream of the milk, the butter and the cheese their mother handled every day.

  They remembered how the beggars used to stop at their door at noon, waiting...and their mother, with a sweet and friendly smile on her face, would let them have a casserole full of whatever she had cooked that day.

   How different things were at home, and how empty their stomachs were at the Monastery, with no fault whatsoever to the management.

  Some of the nine Vartabeds were intellectuals, reading and studying classical literature all day long, while trying their own talents in poetry and theology, at the same time.

  Yeghishe Vartabed had a more realistic view of life. He had constructed a fountain on the very spot from where the pilgrims would first see the belfry of Sourp Garabed Monastery, coming up from the Moush Plain thousands of feet below the highland.

  Every day right after morning service, he would take his shovel and pick and go down to the spring to make the necessary changes, removing a stone from one place: cleaning up the already clean surroundings; drinking the ice cold water with pride and satisfaction; washing his face and sitting sown on a boulder to rest and enjoy the sun, the air and the panoramic beauty of the region.

  He also had another occupation, as an Apiarist.

  Just outside the wall of the Monastery, facing the East, he had a little cove in the hillside that contained a dozen earthen beehives, buzzing with millions of bees.

  The flowery highlands and the rocky slopes attracted them with their fragrance and smiles, and the bees sang and danced and crawled over the flowers and came back to their hives to deposit what they had gathered.

  The boys were told how much honey was in the hives, and they would lick their lips as though there was honey on them. They were not fortunate enough, however, to taste any of it.

  Yeghishe Vartabed surprised Sempad one day by calling him to the door of his cell and gave him a loaf of flat bread with some honey spread on it. He said, “I am giving you this for the most beautiful  way you sang Khorhourt Khorin, The Deep Mystery, yesterday at High Mass.” 

  He took it, bashfully, thanked him and ran excitedly into the dormitory to split it with Kegham.

 Yeghishe Vartabed wasn’t a miserly person for not letting them partake of the delicious product of his beehives...It disappeared elsewhere in spite of his will!

  There was another interesting old fellow, Khurno Vartabed, over ninety years old, who had already dug his own grave just outside the Monastery...waiting.

   He would go there every morning and would sit half way down in his grave to clean up the already cleaned mound of soil, which someday would cover his corpse, murmuring some psalms...

  He was not highly educated but he was a psalmist and had learned all the contents of the prayer book for blessing his soul.
  It was interesting to see him half-buried in his grave every day, playing with the soil, murmuring unintelligibly and remaining plunged in meditations until the bells would shake the ground calling him for evening service.

  All the Vartabeds were kind, honest, amiable and charitable persons living in a spiritual world of their own, dedicated to Heavenly inspirations and to luminous flight...

  They were just out of this world!

  In spite of the apparently friendly relations the Head of the Monastery, Vartan Vartabed, had with the Turkish authorities, the conditions had worsened. The government had decided to assign a captain with a couple of gendarmes in every monastery to watch over the Fedayis. It was a hard blow, as it seriously forfeited the legal rights of our religious institutions, ruthlessly.

  One night Kegham and Sempad experienced the most terrible drama of their lives. They were inexpressibly alarmed. The boys and some teachers were looking at them, mysteriously, whispering to one another, evading their looks, and going back and forth to the library.

  They did not know what was happening. In the poorly illuminated hall they noticed a young man who looked like their brother Mesrob, who had recently joined the ranks of the Fedayis. They heard whispering: “No! No!  You can’t see them...let’s go...” They all hurried into the library. “This is the only way out,” they told the young man.

  “I would like to see my brothers before leaving,” murmured the young man.

  “It’s impossible. The gendarmes may be here any minute. Just jump from this window into the snow, cross the courtyard, climb the wall onto the other side and you will find yourself in the forest with snow at least ten feet deep.”

  The young man and a shepherd who accompanied him, looked at each other silently and disappeared according to the instructions.

  After this drama had ended, one of the teachers came over to see Kegham and Sempad: “We are very sorry for not letting your brother Mesrob see you. He must be safe now in the snow-covered forest.

  The next day, as usual, Sempad went to the mill. Petros explained everything to him.

  “Everything is all right now. Last night I hid Mesrob for a couple of hours in the aqueduct. The gendarmes came looking for him.

  No strangers around here,” I said.

  “Oh yes! He’s here. He must be here,” one of the gendarmes said, and getting closer to the aqueduct, he called briskly: “Come on out of there Mesrob, I know you’re here.”

  No answer came from the canal. He called again and again, but, receiving no answer he withdrew, cursing.

  Later on, after making certain that no one was around I took him to the library from where he escaped in the company of my shepherd friend. By now, he must be far, far away.”

  “You think he is safe now?” Sempad asked.

  “Don’t let that worry you,” said Petros. “The life of a Fedayi is always full of dangers, but they don’t care very much about that. Be brave like your father and brother and quit worrying.

  By the way, did you have a chance to see your father in prison, when you were home during your summer vacation?”

  “Yes! Once!” Sempad said. “When the guard opened the door and let me in, I found myself in a dark and damp reception hall, where my father and a half-dozen other Fedayis were grouped in silence. When I saw my father and the others with chains around their ankles, I burst out crying. They took me in their arms trying to cheer me up, saying: “Don’t cry, Sempad! Be brave like us. You see, we are not crying.”

  “They, however, tried in vain to hide their tears from me. They didn’t move around much, so I wouldn’t hear the clang of the chains around their legs but I had already seen them, and was not able to stop crying.

  Zumrout, my aunt, was standing by the door craning her neck, in vain, to see her brother, my father. All she did was strain her eyes, looking and crying.

  The guard did not let her in.

  In spite of everything, they seemed to be in a good mood. I stayed there about fifteen minutes, then left my father and the other revolutionaries in the midst of tears and embraces, joining Zumrout outside, who was still crying.

  Words cannot describe the gloom of the atmosphere; one can only, mentally, visualize its agonizing character.”

  “How is he?” asked Zumrout, tearfully.
 

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.   “He is fine. He was, of course, glad to see me. He asked about you. He was very sorry that they would not let you in. They all hugged me and kissed me and tried to act very jolly.”

  I never mentioned to her that they had chains around their ankles and also that they tried to hide their tears from me.

*****

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