Written by Raffi in 1878
Translated and Annotated by
Beyon Miloyan and Kimberley McFarlane
Having buried his father’s body in his simple grave, the young man continued on his journey. He was traveling like a madman, trapped in bitter thoughts. He had lost his father, mother, brother and sisters, and was now in a state of doubt about the one he loved. He hurried onward, but there was still a long way to go until he reached her village.
He was taking impenetrable passages, surrounded by cliffs, shrubs and bushes, and through which a whole army could have remained hidden from the eyes of the traveler, so he was surprised to hear mysterious sounds followed by his name being called: “Sarhat, Sarhat!” Who could it be? There was hardly a man in that area who could have recognized him, and although he had friends, he had sent them away on a number of errands a few days ago. He initially thought that it might be one of them. The voice seemed to come from far away.
‘No, it can’t be one of them,’ he thought to himself. Lifting his rifle up over his shoulder, he stood his ground.
“Sarhat,” he heard again, and then two arms wrapped around his neck and a man embraced him.
“It appears my master does not recognize his own servant,” the man said in Kurdish.
“I recognized you, Město1,” the young man answered and embraced him.
Město was a Yezidi Kurd2, a shepherd for the young man’s father and Sarhat’s childhood friend. When Sarhat had left home, Město had been a chubby adolescent, very high-spirited and faithful, but he was now much taller and had a swarthy face. He was lightly armed, with only a rifle, sword and pistols. The young man was very happy to see his father’s old trustworthy servant, all the more because Město could inform him of the whereabouts of the one being who was most important to him.
“Oh, what a fool I am, Sarhat!” Město said with his characteristic chuckle. “I almost didn’t recognize you! When I first saw you, I hid behind a bush and aimed my rifle at you; I was about to shoot when I suddenly noticed the scar on your forehead, and said to myself, ‘That is the Agha3,’ so I did not shoot. Oh, how you have changed—the devil himself wouldn’t recognize you!”
Město embraced his master again.
“You were going to kill me, Město?”
“Bah. I wanted to take your spear because mine broke. A Kurd without a spear is shameful.”
“When did it break?”
“I had a fight with the Kurds when our sheep were grazing. They took the sheep, the heathens, and didn’t spare a single one. They took your stallion too, Sarhat, that gray stallion. You should have seen it, what a good horse it had become. I fed it well every day, in the hope that one day the Agha would come, but the heathens took it… they didn’t even leave a single sheep.”
“Your sheep, who else’s? Město does not have any sheep. And I took a bullet to my foot. But I also shot a few people…”
“Where are you going with a lame foot?”
“I was going this way… there was a thing…”
“Ah, my tongue is tied… curse the Kurds… to my Agha…”
Město was unable to finish his sentence. His eyes became teary and he started to cry like a child.
“They killed him? I know,” the young man said. “You were going to do what?”
“Bury him. I was not going to leave him like that. My Agha was a good Agha.”
“I buried him,” the young man replied sadly. “Tell me, Město, do you know what happened to my mother, sisters and brother?”
“Město knows everything. He would have to be an idiot not to know. Do you want me to tell you?”
“No, keep it short. Whatever I ask you, just tell me that.”
“Fine, ask me.”
“When did the Kurds come?”
“They came two days ago, at night when everyone was asleep. There were not many of them. Barely one hundred cavalry came to our village and more went to other villages, but even ten horsemen are enough to pillage an Armenian village. Why do Armenians lack in boldness, Agha? It is not good. In fact, it is very bad. The cries and yells became louder when they broke into the huts. ‘Stop, Khankharabians4!’ I told the Armenians that they were not women—they were men—and that if they did not have swords or guns, they should use rocks, wood, axes, or whatever else was available to fight and drive away those dogs, but nobody listened to me. The Kurds started by taking anything of value out of the huts—goods, women, girls. Whatever was left, including the old men and women and the young children, they left in the huts, closed the doors, and burned them down. They also killed the young men.”
“No one was saved?”
“The only ones who were saved were those who had heard that the Kurds were coming and escaped before the attacks. But many people did not believe that the Kurds would do such a thing, because the Kaymakam5 wrote to the people, telling them to stay calm and not to be afraid. He lied to them, damn it.”
“What happened to our house?”
“Your father was not home. He had gone to Başkale, and he told me, ‘Město, keep an eye on the house until I return.’ I was awake when the Kurds arrived, standing on top of the roof with my rifle. But what could Město do alone against all those brutes? Even if I’d only had ten allies fighting with me, I could have prevented them from entering the village, but I was alone. I did not even raise a hand, because I know the nature of the Kurd: had I harmed anyone, they would have exterminated everyone. Instead, I worked in my own way to save the family, without worrying about what else was taking place.
“Without wasting time, I led your mother, brother and two sisters out of the house, but I was such an idiot that I forgot the boy in the cradle and left him behind. Your mother cried, ‘My son, my son!’ and ran back to the house. I was caught between two swords6, not knowing which way to turn. I knew that if I left the girls, the Kurds would take them, so I thought that I would hide them somewhere and go back for your mother. I took your brother and sisters and hid them away behind some rocks on the far side of the village, and then quickly ran back to your mother. When I arrived, I saw that the house was on fire, but the poor lady did not listen to my call nor heed the flames, and she entered. The roof collapsed and she did not make it out…”
The young man remained perfectly still as he listened to all this. He was pale like marble, but his thin lips trembled feverishly. There were no tears in his eyes.
“Why did my father go to Başkale?” he asked in a trembling voice.
“When people heard that the Sheikh had ordered the giaours to be slaughtered, everyone was too frightened to do anything; they didn’t know what to do or where to go to save themselves. Your father gathered three priests and went to Başkale to tell the Khan and the Kaymakam to send soldiers for protection. Earlier, the Khan and Kaymakam had promised they would send soldiers, but then they delayed it and the soldiers were so late to arrive that the Kurds were already there and had done the deed. Seeing that the Kaymakam had deceived them, your father and the priests hopelessly began their return. But the Kurds, knowing that they had gone to visit the Kaymakam, intercepted their journey, the result of which you saw with your own eyes…”
“Where are my sisters and my brother?” the young man asked energetically. “Perhaps they have also encountered tribulations.” “They are in a safe place: I took them to stay with our tribe. They are in my tent with my wife. You would not know, Sarhat, that I now have a wife and a lovely child. Your father, may God enlighten his spirit7, arranged a marriage for me. He brought me a good girl, gave me one hundred sheep, and said, ‘Město, you have served me enough; go now, live for yourself and become the master of your own home.’ But I had eaten the bread from your home—I had grown up on it—so I said, ‘No, Agha, I must die in your home, and since Sarhat has not returned, I will be your eldest son.’”
The young man’s heart was overwhelmed by these words. He embraced Město, kissed his forehead, and said, “Now you will be my brother, good Město, I will not leave you. But are you sure that my brother and sisters are safe in your tent?”
The young Kurd responded with self-assuredness and boasted, “Sheikh Jalaleddin and his entire army could not penetrate Město’s tent! You know well the Yezidis’ zealousness: whenever a man, no matter his race, enters a Yezidi’s tent, he becomes the happy guest of the entire tribe, and the entire tribe will shed blood to prevent that guest from falling into enemy hands.”
He suddenly fell silent and listened carefully. “Do you hear that?”
“What?” the young man asked, because he was so touched by Město’s earlier words that he could not hear anything else.
“They are singing… that’s how the Kurds sing when they take loot and prisoners.”
“So let’s go,” the young man said.
“Let’s go,” Město agreed, and they followed the sounds.
- Město, pronounced as a combination of the two English words “must” and “owe”, is a masculine given name.
- Although the Yezidi people speak Kurdish, they do not generally identify as Kurdish and they follow their own religion, Yezidism. Yezidi is pronounced yez-ee-dee.
- Agha is used here, and in conversation, as a show of respect.
- Armenian residents of a particular village.
- County Executive.
- An idiom, like stuck between a rock and a hard place.
- Customary Armenian words for the deceased.