Haykuhi’s story

The following is an excerpt from a longer work called Angel of Aleppo, a Story of the Armenian Genocide

 

Aleppo, January, 1916

I came south, by way of Cemesgerik. After a week, it felt like I had been on the run all my life. That was last year, around May. There was no warning at all. One day the soldiers were there, shouting at us, carrying off the prettiest girls, stealing everything.

They hung all the men of our village in front of us. We had to stand in the square and watch as the soldiers strung them up, one group after the next. Women were crying, tearing out their hair, scratching their faces. The soldiers shot the loudest of them where they stood. When the smoke cleared, my aunts lay dead and my mother was nowhere to be seen.

They came to our house and I ran out back to the house next door. I hid behind the vines and watched as a soldier came to that house and told the mother there he was taking the oldest daughter. Our neighbour had the little sister and brother hiding under her apron. The soldier pulled at the older girl’s hand. Her mama clung to her other hand, crying, screaming.

I was taught that God had a plan for all of us. Was this a part of God’s plan?

The soldier punched the mother’s face and she let go. He dragged that girl away. He did not see babies under her apron. She gave up her older girl to save the younger ones. So do not talk to me of Jesus. Do not talk to me of love.

After that, I was on the road. I met Satenik, who had run away from Trebizond. She told me they took all the men in the town, from twelve years to fifty, put them on a ship and said they will be soldiers. They took them to out on the Black Sea, far away from the shore. The soldiers on board stepped onto another vessel that drew alongside and put a hole in the ship full of men from Trebizond, making it sink quickly. None of the men made it back to land. Some of the drowned corpses washed up on the shore, they say.

In the next village we passed, some of the women and girls tried to run away. They left their homes and lost everything. The soldiers put the ones who could not get away into wagons. Someone who saw it and somehow escaped told us that the soldiers took them to a place where they cut their heads off and opened up pregnant women’s bodies to see if the babies were boys or girls.

They gambled their money on it. Tossed a coin. Heads, a boy, or tails, a girl. They thought it was funny. They cut the heads off and the skulls remained in the sun after the flesh rotted away. Later, the name of that place became Head Ravine.

One young girl, twelve years old – her name was Naira – was saved from that by a local Mussulman merchant. A miracle, maybe? No. He took Naira and sister to his house to hide from soldiers. But his wife got angry. She thought he wanted to marry the young girl as well. Naira became a slave. Soon the man was raping Naira and threatening to tell his brother-in-law, the local mayor, where her family was hiding.

Satenik and I lost ourselves in a caravan heading south. Every village we passed, the crowd grew bigger. An older woman warned us to stay away from the head zaptieh. He was looking for young women to sell. But there was nowhere to hide.

We were caught trying to run away one night. The head zaptieh sold us to a rich bey, who had us sent to his harem. Most of the girls there had to take the Mussulman vows to stay alive. The bey’s men used us for their pleasure. They were pigs.

So do not talk to me of Jesus. Do not talk to me of love. Love is dead.

Satenik and I couldn’t take it any longer. Altogether, there were eighteen of us. All Armenian girls, all desperate. One night, we cut the throat of the biggest pig and broke out, but one of the bey’s men discovered us. Armenush, who was braver than the rest, stabbed him with a knife she took from the other dead pig and hid under her skirt. We had to go, right then. Satenik jumped out of a first-floor up window, and injured her ankle.

We headed south, hoping to find a safe village, but there were none. They caught us, near Malatya. The bey demanded to know who had killed his man.

Up until then, I was a good Christian girl. Now I am soiled. The things I have seen. The things I have done. No Christian husband will have me.

When I was with Anoush and her friends, Hayr Apraham told me I was good at heart. “God will know the difference,” said Apraham. “Pray to Jesus, who is your Saviour. Pray that he may lift the burden from your souls.”

Satenik and I are not evil-doers. But we had seen evil. We know it and it knows us. Prayer has not helped me.

So do not talk of Jesus to me.

I gave myself to the guards to use. I had learnt how to think of other things, most of the time, when a man was rutting on me like a street dog. Satenik got the key when they were distracted and we escaped again. We ran, but it was hard. I had to help Satenik, because her ankle was still sore. We got separated from the other girls and hid overnight under a haystack.

Next morning, we came across all sixteen of them, crucified by the road outside Malatya. They beat our friends and raped them. Then they nailed them, naked on each cross, all sixteen, with long iron nails through their hands and feet.

One girl begged us to pray for them. But it was too late. Armenush was still conscious. She insisted we go. And we did.

So do not go on about Jesus. And do not speak of God’s love. He abandoned us a long time ago. We had to look out for ourselves.

We wandered for days, until we met a wealthy family with a wagon trying to escape. But we were unlucky, because we could not get around the big caravan heading south. The chief zaptieh sold us to the Bedouins, but they didn’t tie us well, when they burnt our faces. They did threaten to whip us if we tried to run off, though.

But we had run off before and we would do it again. We ran away from that caravan, too, with Anoush and her friends.

Do not talk of love. I no longer heed the lessons I learnt when I was very young. Those lessons were like clanging brass in the wind, noise without meaning. My body has been violated and my soul was forfeit, because rich men far away ordered it.

After Malatya, I am shamed, a thing to be bartered for money. I am a whore and a slave for these barbarians. I will die in shame. But they will waste their money on me. No one found the knife between my legs, under the green dress.

Do not ask to Jesus have mercy on my soul. Do not talk to me of Jesus. Do not talk of love. Love is dead.

 

 

By Jon Cocks