Written by Raffi in 1878
Translated and Annotated by
Beyon Miloyan and Kimberley McFarlane
One week had passed.
A young man was traveling to Aghbak from Van1. Having passed through the valley of Hoşap2, he reached the Chukha-Gagik3 mountain pass. The young man was alone. He was traveling on foot, and swiftly, as though spurred on by something.
He was approaching thirty years of age. His face was pallid and hairless, his cheeks were dry, and his jaw protruded. His thin, gray lips often revealed his snow-white teeth. His black, curly hair fell upon his bare, sunburnt shoulders. His forehead bore a deep scar, which gave his wild face a frightening appearance, but he nonetheless retained a distinctive masculine beauty that reflected bravery, courage and ferocity.
The young man was tall and lean, with strong bones and a muscular build. He was dressed like a Kurd and fully armed; his Asian rifle, scimitar, pair of pistols, metal shield and long spear looked as though they were part of his body.
He paused at times and mindfully surveyed his surroundings. It was not the green mountains that captured his attention, for he did not have the capacity to be seduced by nature; rather, he was surprised to see that his familiar mountains had become barren since his pass through the region ten days earlier. He recalled that flocks of sheep had been grazing in the lush pastures then, with the tents of Armenian shepherds scattered across the valley and the sound of their flutes accompanying the early morning birdsong. The Armenian farmers in the valleys and mountain pastures had been singing their customary songs, plowing and reaping. In short, man had been working sweetly and harmoniously with nature. Yet now? Now all their work had ceased. Not a single person could be seen, nor a single breath heard. Even the young man’s path was devoid of the caravans he was accustomed to seeing come and go. What was the reason? It was as though a wicked and destructive hand had passed over the entire expanse, leaving behind devastation and desolation…
The young man felt something akin to a spasm, and his face turned pale and took on a sallow complexion. It was not fear that disturbed him, for his iron heart was not accustomed to that emotion. It was a passion that more closely resembled rage. His journey now zigzagged up the mountain. Looking toward its peak, he saw the sharp ends of many spears, with cavalry behind. The cavalry also appeared to see him, because they halted and waited for him to catch up, despite the sizable distance between them.
Something then captured the young man’s attention: He noticed that the cavalry were Kurds and that they were singing merrily, like fighters celebrating upon their return from victory. His eyes were so accustomed to seeing these barbaric people’s ways that he was able to glean a great deal from the most fleeting observation. Blood rushed to his head when he saw, in a series of successive realizations, that they were holding spears to which garments were attached like flags, the garments were those of women, and they were undergarments…
That was the shameful act of the barbarian on display: Having taken the chastity of innocent women—having violated young virgins, as if to boast of his immorality, or signal his victory—he proceeds to place her undergarments on his spear to publicly display his lack of conscience and integrity.
The young man restrained his anger and joined the group. In keeping with his masquerade, he gave them a Kurdish greeting:
“Good journey to you,” they answered. “Where are you traveling from?”
“What is the purpose of your journey? Where are you heading?”
The Kurds looked at each other, puzzled.
“Where are you going?” the young man asked.
“We are fighting the giaours,” one of them said, “following the Sheikh’s call.”
“It appears so, seeing that you have obtained your first victory over those garments,” the young man replied sarcastically.
“That was a small catch. We happened upon them on our journey. Our brothers had burned down an Armenian village, but the women had escaped to the nearby mountain—”
“Fleeing from them only to fall into your arms,” the young man interrupted.
“Where are you from?” one of the Kurds asked suspiciously.
“From the Hayderanli tribe of Mount Süphan6,” the young man replied in that tribe’s dialect.
“Aren’t the Hayderanlians going, too?”
“They must go on the instructions of their Sheikh. The Hayderanlians are not to combine with the Shekaks, Rawandiz and Bilbas7, who are under the instruction of Sheikh Jalaleddin.”
Even though the words of the proud Hayderanlian were offensive to his listeners, who were of the Rawandiz tribe, they remained silent under the assumption that the stranger must be important, seeing as he was delivering a letter to the Pasha.
The young man, as if speaking to himself, continued on. “What a bad country this is. It’s my first time here. Are there really no shepherds or villages in these mountains? I am dying of hunger, but there’s nothing to eat.”
“There were,” they answered. “The Armenians had been living here, but a day ago the Harki8 passed through and left nothing.”
The young man’s face grew dark, but he tried to appear unaffected by the news and asked, “So you were left empty-handed?”
“God is merciful,” they said. “By the time we reach Bayazit9, the hunting will be great.”
“May God succeed,” the young man answered, preparing to continue on his journey.
One of the Kurds removed a piece of bread and cheese from his saddlebag, handed it to the young man, and said, “Eat it. You said that you’re hungry, and it’s still a long way to Başkale.”
The young man thanked him and the group departed.
He now understood the reason for the desolation that had enraged him. He now knew what had happened to the lands he had traversed.
He continued on his journey, leaving behind the food the Kurd had given him. He had not eaten all day and was very hungry, but he did not feel it. There are moments when men consume their own hearts. This was such a moment for the young man.
- Van is a historic Armenian city on the shore of Lake Van (now a province in modern Eastern Turkey), which had once been the capital of the Kingdom of Urartu (Ararat) in the 9th century BCE.
- Hoşap is a valley and village in the Van province, where there was, and still stands, a fortress by the same name.
- The first part of the name Chukha-Gagik is pronounced Chew-khah, where the “kh” is a hard sound from the throat, as in pronunciation of the German city “Aachen”, and the second part of the name is pronounced Gah-geek.
- Başkale is the capital of the province of Van.
- A Pasha was a high-ranking Ottoman official.
- Heydaranli is pronounced hi-der-ahn-lee. This tribe was one of the most prominent Kurdish tribes that occupied the region extending between the Ottoman Empire’s Muş and Van provinces; Mount Süphan is located in the same region.
- Pronounced sheh-kahk, rawan-deez and beel-bahs, these Kurdish tribes occupied South-Eastern Turkey and North-Western Iran.
- Raffi notes that the Harki, pronounced har-key, were a violent Kurdish tribe, who resided near the upper tributaries of the Tigris river and were scattered all the way to Mosul.
- Bayazit is in the present day Doğubayazıt district in Eastern Turkey.