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.
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.
lack of communication with their homes made the boys live like poor orphans.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kegham, see what they gave me,” he said with excitement.
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.”
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.
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.
always used to dream of the milk, the butter and the cheese their mother
handled every day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
had another occupation, as an Apiarist.
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
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.
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.
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.”
it, bashfully, thanked him and ran excitedly into the dormitory to split
it with Kegham.
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!
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...
not highly educated but he was a psalmist and had learned all the contents
of the prayer book for blessing his soul.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
like to see my brothers before leaving,” murmured the young man.
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.”
young man and a shepherd who accompanied him, looked at each other silently
and disappeared according to the instructions.
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.
next day, as usual, Sempad went to the mill. Petros explained everything
is all right now. Last night I hid Mesrob for a couple of hours in the
aqueduct. The gendarmes came looking for him.
around here,” I said.
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.”
came from the canal. He called again and again, but, receiving no answer
he withdrew, cursing.
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.”
think he is safe now?” Sempad asked.
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.
way, did you have a chance to see your father in prison, when you were
home during your summer vacation?”
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.”
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.
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
guard did not let her in.
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.
cannot describe the gloom of the atmosphere; one can only, mentally, visualize
its agonizing character.”
is he?” asked Zumrout, tearfully.