Shadows of War
By Markarid Garodian
[The Independent, January 5, 1918]
[Harkarid Garodian is an Armenian girl thirteen years old. She is one of the two and a half million refugees in the Near East for whom the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief are attempting to provide the necessities of life. Markarid's father was massacred, her mother driven out in the desert, her baby sister starved to death. She was taken into a harem. She escaped, joined her brothers in a long trip over the Dersim Mountains to a relief station in Erenzum, Russia. Two of the children died on the way. Two brothers, and this girl, finally reached safety and joined the throng of homeless people who daily gather about the fire at the relief soup kitchen for their steaming bowls of vegetable soup and coarse bread.-—THE EDITOR]
My father was a merchant at Harpoot. He bought and sold beautiful Oriental rugs. Many American people came to him because my father was a Christian and a merchant whose word they could depend upon. He could speak English and ne had studied in America when he was a young man.
We had a beautiful home and were very happy then. Our house was shut off from the .street by a high wall. A little gate opened from the street into the courtyard in front of our home. This court was a lovely place. There were shady trees and bright-colored flowers all about. In one corner was a fountain or pool of cool running water.
Our house was two stories high. A hallway opened in the front, running thru the house. My mother had made this place very beautiful with draperies and plants. Here our father often received his friends and our mother served coffee to them.
On either side of this hall were rooms with divans and many colored rugs. Our very prettiest rooms were on the second floor. To reach our second story rooms we went up steps outside the house on to a balcony, that hung over the garden. We children used to have happy times playing there.
The smaller children went to the American Mission School and my brother and I were in the American College, where our uncle was professor. In the school there were five hundred students. We studied history, mathematics, literature and languages. My brother and I speak English and French as well as Armenian and Turkish.
We lived happy, peaceful lives until two years ago. Our father took us for delightful picnics on holidays. He was very good to us and had planned that our oldest brother could study medicine in America when he grew up.
But my father is gone now; everything is gone except my two brothers.
One day two years ago we came home from school early in the afternoon.
The day was Hrand's birthday and Hovanis and I knew that mother had planned a surprize for him. We hurried home from school so that we might help her with the preparations.
We found our father at home, altho it was only mid-afternoon. One of the city police was with him. The man was telling my father that he must leave his store, his home and his family, and go away to work on the roads.
My mother was crying and clinging to father's arm.
"You cannot go, you must not go," she kept saying over and over.
We children began to cry, too.
Our father, turning to us, bid us keep still. Then he talked with our mother, telling her that she must be very brave.
The officer stood impatiently waiting and said, "You must come now."
Our father kissed us good-by and went away.
We never saw him again. We heard that fifty Armenian business men, our father with them, were driven out to work, for days and days building roads and then later killed.
A week after our father was taken away our uncle and all of the men of the town, including the professors in the colleges and all the rest of the business men were thrown into prison and tortured. We could sometimes hear their screams as we passed by the prison.
The head of our mathematics teacher was cut off and put out on a stick outside the prison wall.
After our father had gone away with the officer our mother did not send us to school. We were very sad and lonely. We thought we were very, very unhappy then, but we were comfortable and had plenty to eat because our father had left two bags of money and we could go out and buy things in the market place.
Then one day a terrible thing happened. An officer came to the house and said our mother would have to go away and leave us.
She had only a few hours to get together a little bundle of food and clothing. She took only a small portion of the money my father had left with her; the rest of it she told Hovanis to hide in the garden to use very carefully when we needed it.
Our mother and dozens of other women were crowded into springless carts. Mounted soldiers were in charge of the deportation. There was not room enough in the cars for all the women, and some of them were made to walk behind. We stood at the gate and saw them go.
Before she went, my mother cut off my long hair, she cut my eyebrows and tried to make.me less beautiful. I did not know why then, but I know now. She knew what would happen to all the pretty Armenian girls.
My brother arid I tried to be brave after our mother had gone because of the little ones. My mother had told us we must care for them. We made up games and amused them in the daytime.
I did my best to prepare the food that Hovanis bought in the market with our money. Our house was very lonely and empty, but we had plenty to eat and were warm and comfortable.
A few weeks after my mother was taken away all of the twenty-five thousand Armenian people remaining in Harpoot were ordered deported.
We were told in the evening that we must be ready to go the next morning. We got together a little bundle of food to carry, with us. In the morning we were driven southward toward the desert. The sun was very hot and beat upon the sand so that it burned our feet.
The soldiers drove us on and on, lashing whips over the people who lagged behind. There were, women with little children in tlieir arms and aged people who could scarcely walk. Our little brother and sister grew too weary to walk so Hovanis and I had to carry them struggling on as best we could. Sometimes we would stop because we could walk no farther. Then we would be commanded to go on.
The food we carried with us from home was soon gone. The children cried for bread. Sometimes we found berries and sometimes brother pulled up plants and we ate the roots.
We passed the bodies of other people who had dropt dead in other deportations.
"We were all driven on until I was taken away from the others by a Turkish officer. He promised me he would permit Hovanis to go back home with the children. I finally made my escape but I could not find the others again. I knew that they had turned toward home so I went back along the road we had traveled.
In the daytime I hid behind rocks and bushes. At nightfall I hurried on again. Sometimes I passed little groups of people but I did not try to join them lest the Turkish officer should find me again.
I decided I would not go to Harpoot but that I would attempt to cross the mountains and go to Russia too. Days and days afterward a miraculous thing happened. In the Dersim Mountains I found my brothers sitting with two of the children huddled about him.
After he had gone home, Hovanis had secured the money from where my mother had hid it in "the ground. Then they had started, over the mountains to look for safety in Russia.
The baby sister, Saturnig, had died before they reached Harpoot when they were returning from the desert. The little brother, Hrand, was blind from want of food. Blindness is one of the most terrible things about starvation. On the desert and here in the relief station I have seen so many people who had gone blind because they had had no food.
Hovanis had bought some food from a Kurd. We shared it. Then we struggled on over the mountains together.
We slept on the ground at night. It was bitter cold. We had no food except roots of plants and now and then something that we bought from the Kurds.
We escaped death miraculously many times. Twice Kurdish mountaineers captured us but they were willing to help us on our way when we gave them, money.
The youngest brother died before we reached the relief station. The exposure and the hunger were too hard for him to bear. The ground was frozen so that we could not bury our brother. We waited two days hoping that he was not dead but at last we had to go on and leave him.
The man in charge of the relief station saw us coming. He took us into his house and gave each of us a bowl of soup. We warmed ourselves by the fire. We watch every day hoping our mother will come. We hope that all the others who are struggling across the desert will come. The hardest thing is that there is not enough food for everybody when they do come. Some days little children have to be turned away without bread or soup because there is not enough.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald