Written by Raffi in 1878
Translated and Annotated by
Beyon Miloyan and Kimberley McFarlane
Half an hour later, they had ascended a mountain. From there, they noticed a caravan traveling across the valley; it was hard to make out in the distance, but its strange appearance evoked suspicion.
“We’ll cut off the caravan,” Město said, pointing out a barely perceptible path that was used by hunters.
“I don’t want them to see us,” Sarhat said inscrutably.
“They wouldn’t be able to see us, even if they each had one hundred eyes. I know these mountains like the back of my hand. Let’s go.”
Even though Město’s path was very difficult and ceaselessly undulating, it was so short that they quickly passed the caravan and were able to watch it stealthily. When the caravan passed near them, Sarhat saw that it was transporting loot and captives. He turned to his friend and asked, “Are you able to join up with this caravan to find out where the captives come from, where they are being taken, and what tribe the Kurds are from?”
“Yes, I can find all that out.”
“How will you join up with them?”
“As I must; they won’t eat me. I will approach, say hello, and ask why they’re celebrating. I will know what questions to ask after that.”
“Very well, go. Don’t be late.”
Město vanished like a devil and Sarhat watched the caravan closely.
The group of Kurds was on horseback, while oxen and donkeys pulled carts full of household goods and various other objects. They also transported women and young girls on the backs of the livestock that had belonged to their parents; once owners, they were now prisoners on their own animals. To make the caravan’s journey faster, the Kurds had placed skulls on their spears. The broken skulls of the captives’ parents served to keep the captives docile and quiet, and discouraged them from trying to run away.
Sarhat could not track them for long because his mind had started to wander as the caravan passed.
He had the impression that the world had changed; the Antichrist had emerged and man—the image of God—had turned into an animal that preys on its own species. Yet, he also wanted to be just such an animal, which is why he had a burning heart and great strength, but simultaneously feared that he was alone, without allies.
Hopelessness is often accompanied by extreme thoughts. Sarhat was good by nature, but the circumstances of his life had made him bad. He saw an entire people—his people—slaughtered like chickens; their houses destroyed, belongings seized, children taken as prisoners, and they had no means of protecting themselves. He knew that these atrocities had repeated themselves for centuries, but the victims had still not learned how to resist with strength.
He would ask himself, ‘If necessity makes man master of his environment—for example, if the austerities of the seasons force man to invent clothing, and the threat of animals force him to build weapons—then why doesn’t man use the same reasoning to prevent himself from falling victim to the human animal?’ Thinking such thoughts, Sarhat had reached the conclusion that his people were to blame for not understanding the necessities of life, and for failing to realize that they live on the earth with other humans, not angels.
Sarhat had wandered much, having encountered various races and visited many countries, but he had never met a single person who was truly good, so he had formed a bad impression of people in general. He considered everyone a criminal, whether they committed their crimes with their swords, minds, crafts, or in the name of philanthropy or civilization.
In order to explain these thoughts, Sarhat had his own unique expressions. ‘Crime,’ he would say, ‘expresses itself in many colors. Sometimes it appears beautifully packaged, but peel away the outer layer and you will see that what’s inside is crime and nothing more.’
Sarhat was a criminal, a brutal thug. Had he been born in a different country or raised in a different area, perhaps he would have been a different man, or at least a different type of criminal. Atop the mountains of Armenia, on two opposite sides, stand two opposing nations: the Armenians having reached their ultimate slavishness, and the Turks having reached the ultimate barbarity of extremist Islam. If, from the side of the slaves, there was any protest against the despotism of the other side, it would not take any form but that of Sarhat’s criminality.
Perhaps the most pertinent question is why there are so few Sarhats. Indeed, his gang of fellow bandits, which he called “thugs’ mission,” only consisted of twelve other brave men, but we will postpone describing them for now.
“I figured everything out,” Město began on his return.
“Give me the answers to my questions one-by-one,” Sarhat said. “How many cavalrymen are there?”
“No more than fifty.”
“What is their tribe?”
“Where are the captives and the loot from?”
“Where are they taking them?”
“Where are they planning on staying tonight?”
Sarhat paused and began silently counting something on his fingers, then turned back to his friend. “Město, when do you think they will reach the Sakal-Tutan5 gorge?”
Město thought for a moment and replied, “At around sunset.”
“I think so, too,” Sarhat agreed. “Now listen, Město—how long do you think it would take you to reach the Bijinkert village6? Do you know?”
Město looked up at the sun and answered, “I would arrive at noon.”
“Very well,” Sarhat continued. “Have you seen the chapel in the valley of that village?”
“I have seen two of them; one is ruined. Which one are you referring to?”
“The ruined one.”
“I know it. I hid there one night when I stole a horse. It’s a good hiding place.”
Sarhat then asked another question, “What kind of animal noises can you imitate?”
“A lot. I can bark like a dog, crow like a rooster, bray like a donkey, howl like a wolf, bleat like a sheep, meow like a cat, sing like a hoopoe… what do you want? I know many others.”
“That last one is good. Now listen. Go straight to the ruined chapel where you hid the stolen horse. Before you reach the chapel, there is a hill—”
“Atop of which there is a natural tunnel,” Město added.
“Yes. Stand next to that tunnel and sing like a hoopoe three times. You will hear the same in return. I will then respond by hooting twice like an owl. After that, a man will come and see you. Tell him to wait near the Sakal-Tutan gorge before sunset.”
“Will he ask who sent me?”
“Tell him I did.”
“What if he doesn’t believe me?”
“Show him this ring,” Sarhat said, taking the ring off his finger and giving it to Město. “Tell him all about the captives and the caravan—whatever you saw—and tell him that the caravan must be intercepted before it exits the gorge in order to seize the captives and the loot back from the Kurds.”
“Got it. How many of them are there?”
“Who are they?”
“Twelve is enough to attack fifty at that gorge,” Město agreed, “and with me, it will be thirteen… but thirteen is an unlucky number.”
“We are fourteen if you count me, and fourteen is not cursed,” Sarhat said.
“Four is enough to block the gorge,” Město suggested, “and the devil himself can’t escape from there. What a good place you’ve chosen for the deed, Agha, but where will you be?”
“I will follow them to the gorge. But tell me, is your foot going to bother you? It’s quite a distance to Bijinkert.”
“No, it won’t bother me. The bullet missed bone, and I bandaged the wound.”
“How old is the wound?”
“Three days. Město has had many such wounds. It’s no problem.”
“Well, you’d better go.”
Sarhat and Město separated. One started to make his way toward the chapel, and the other started to follow the caravan using hidden trails.
- Raffi notes that the Hartoshi were a half-violent wandering tribe of Kurds whose name is pronounced har-toe-shee.
- A town currently in South-Eastern Turkey.
- A town near the Persian state of Urmia.
- This was in the province of Van at the time of writing.
- A mountain range north of Kemah in modern-day Turkey. It means “beard-holding” in Turkish: this is what they generally call narrow and hard-to-pass gorges, in which bandits prey on travelers more easily.
- Located in the Van province of Turkey.