Эти воспоминания написаны человеком, чудом спасшимся в 1915 году во время курдских зверств в Хлате. Переводить это на русский язык у меня нет никаких сил, но я постараюсь это сделать — чтобы как можно больше людей смогло узнать о событиях апреля 1915 года в горах Западной Армении. Добавлю, что Прхус — это село, расположенное прямо по соседству с другим селом, под названием Мецк, откуда происхожу я сам. События, описанные в воспоминаниях — это наши общие события, и прямо касаются истории моей семьи.
SOKRAT HAKEY MKRTCHIAN’S TESTIMONY
(B. 1901, Bitlis, Khlat Province, Prkhous Village)
Our PrkhousVillage was situated in Western Armenia, in the Khlat (historical Bznounik) Province, on the bank of LakeNazik, in front of the NemroutMountain, beyond which the Moosh plain stretched westward, and to the south lay the Lake Van, and to the east was Sipan. Our village had winding streets, thatched roofs leaning one upon the other. The dwellings of the peasants and the stables were very close to each other and people breathed the same air as the animals. The village had a church built of red tuff. Near our village there was LakeNazik, of which it is told that the Arab horses arose from its depths. The waters of LakeNazik were rich in trout, which, besides being delicious, had curative properties. The stream Tlbi took its source from the LakeNazik and ran into the Lake Van.
On bright days big manlike stones were seen on one of the flat peaks of the NemroutMountain. The people had yarned [sic] a legend, according to which in ancient times, a shepherd had climbed the mountain with his sheep. All of a sudden everything got mixed up, the clouds came down on the mountain, and it began pouring and dropping hail in an unprecedented size. That was why the following was sung in the village:
“The sky is cloudy, it’s hailing,
It’s pouring, pounding on luckless Nemrout.”
The horrified shepherd knelt and entreated God to save them, promising to sacrifice his best ram. Rain and hail stopped all at once. The sun began to shine. The rainbow threw its arch on the sky. The flock and the shepherd got saved. But the shepherd, instead of sacrificing his best ram, caught a fat louse from his body, put it between his nails, cracked it and raising his head shouted: “Oh, Almighty Lord, accept my sacrifice.” And, it is said that God, hearing these words, flew into a rage and changed the shepherd and his flock of sheep into stone.
“He was a godless shepherd, lao! That’s why he got his punishment, lao!” used to say my grandfather.
My mother was literate to some extent that was why one winter she sent me to school giving me a book at random. There, I began reading somehow.
In our village wheat, barley, linseed, hemp, cabbages, turnips and other vegetables were grown. Cattle-breeding was developed also. Our village had few links with the provincial town Bitlis.
At the age of seven I began working with my father: I’ve ploughed and kept the cattle.
In the winter of 1913-1914 a comet appeared. The elders predicted: “War will break out,” “Blood will flow down the rivers,” “There will be an earthquake,” “There will be famine.”
It was the scorching summer of 1914. The ripened wheat and rye fields were floating in a gentle breeze. Suddenly I noticed a horseman riding towards us. He approached my father and said that war had started and he had to go to the village for enlistment.
Even elderly people were called to the army as “damour bashis” (porters – Turk.). Under the severe winter conditions of the Armenian Highland, they loaded elderly men from Bitlis, Van, Erzroom, Kharbert, Sebastia and other places with 3-4 poods of barley to carry to Sarighamish for the Turkish army. That was the most cruel, the meanest, the most malicious, brutal and disgusting plan, which started in 1914 to annihilate the Armenian males, silently under the effect of cold and hunger. From the very beginning of World War I the snow-covered roads were covered with hundreds and thousands of corpses of Armenian men. They took away my father as well, and we never saw him again. That devilish act pursued an aim – to empty the Armenian villages of their males and then to exterminate easily the defenseless women, children and old people.
News came from Sarighamish that the Turkish army was entirely defeated, that part of them was frozen dead in the forests of Sarighamish, and that the whole forest was covered with corpses. It was said that only Enver pasha had been able to save himself by a disgraceful escape. They said that the Russians, who wore warm clothes and were not afraid of snow or frost, drove away the Turkish army. They said that there would soon be salvation.
In March 1915 the remnants of the defeated Turkish army reached our village in ragged clothes, emaciated covered with lice, sick with typhus and dysentery.
In the spring of 1915 the Kurds living in the impregnable mountains and valleys of Zillan (Alashkert) started to escape westward as the Russian army was advanced. That mob had received instructions from the Turkish government to plunder the gâvurs and slaughter them without sparing women, children and old people.
One day in April that mob, armed with rifles, reached our village in the evening and surrounded it. Darkness had not fallen yet when they killed a man near the grave-yard. No one dared to go there to see whether he was dead or alive. We had come together in families. No one could come out of the besieged village. That pack of Kurds did not dare to enter the village by night. In the morning, as they saw that there was no resistance, they attacked the village on all sides, together with their women and began plundering and killing with such atrocity as could be done only by hungry wolves when they attack a defenseless victim.
At the beginning they were killing only the seventy-eighty years old people, and then they began to massacre the teenagers. Before my eyes, on the threshold of our house they killed my ninety-year-old grandpa. Not a single bullet was fired in vain. Soon corpses were scattered in the streets and houses. Corpses had fallen on the roofs and roads. Mothers had lost their children, and children had lost their mothers, for they did not allow them to stay somewhere. They drove people from street to street. I, too, lost my mother and sister. Then, I don’t know how, my mother, almost mad, found me and took me to a yard with high walls, where a few terrified women had taken refuge.
Hardly a few minutes had passed when we saw two Kurds aiming their rifles at us from above the wall. A toothless Kurd put his gun on my breast saying: “He is a boy, it is enough; we must do away with him.” In an instant I noticed how my mother knelt before the Kurd and kissed the old man’s feet and begged him to spare my life. The Kurd began to hesitate, and I grasping the opportunity, left my mother and ran into the street and throw myself into the yard opposite my uncle’s house. Soon, my mother, disheveled, panting and pale, came into the yard saying: “They’re killing, they won’t spare any boys, and many boys have already fallen in the streets. Let’s go, let’s go from here, soon others will come and kill us,” and, dragging me behind him, she took me to her brother’s house. There we saw my uncle’s son – Benjamin, who was of my age, bathing in his blood on the ground. They had just killed him. My mother made me lie near him, stained me with his blood as if I was also dead. Then she took me out to the street and made me lie next to the killed ones, a round whom the maddened women were tearing their hair and clothes. The pretty young women and maidens had disguised their faces by applying soot and mud in order to escape being kidnapped. But often that didn’t work: they pulled them by their hair and took them away. Every minute the corpses grew in number. I was laying among them who were alive a couple of hours ago, with their bright faces, my dear relatives, friends and neighbors: half-maddened women had surrounded us moaning, groaning and lamenting; my mother was among them. They were wailing the heads of their dead children, brothers, husbands in their arms. They tortured to death men and women demanding to tell where they had kept their property, gold and silver. The sun had already set, but the shooting had not stopped yet, when news spread that the people were escaping towards the LakeNazik.
After flooding the village of four hundred houses with blood and tears, the pack of hyenas left the village, and the remnants of the maddened people began to escape without knowing where. The disfigured corpses of their relatives were lying under the sun, swollen and ugly. My mother who was by me all the time had left no hair on her head. She raised me to escape from the village. We had hardly passed two streets, when an armed Kurd came out of a house and ran towards me. Just at that moment Simon – my friend, was also running away. The Kurd left me and ran behind him. Catching the opportunity, I climbed the roofs and ran to our house. I got in and hid under the manure house. I remained there till night. Then I came out. I wanted to enter our house, but my grandpa’s corpse was lying on the threshold. I decided to go back and lie down again near the corpses, but there I saw my mother, pressing my younger brother in her arms to her bosom. She saw me and did not believe I was alive, then she took me to a neighbor’s house where a group of women and children had taken refuge in a dark corner of the room. I wanted to drink, but there was no water left. They had broken and spoiled everything. In the morning we set out to escape. The groups of women and children, escaping from the village, went in different directions. Early in the morning one group ran away through the valleys to the Armenian village of Khoulik and got easily saved, for the Russian army was very near. We entered the glen. The refugees began to eat the springtime fresh herbs and drink the overflowing river water. My mother put down my younger brother on the riverbank, on the green grass, under a huge rock and told me not to move away from the child, and she went to the Armenian village of Spradzor to get something to eat. But hardly had she gone when a group of Kurds, yelling and swearing, began to shoot at the women and children scattered in the valley. The valley was filled with the uproar of women and children. I left my brother and hid behind the rock. Mother, hearing the shooting, came back breathless, picked up my brother and began looking for me with her eyes. When the Kurds left, I came out and went to my mother. We climbed towards the lake. Suddenly another group of Kurds attacked us. One of them fixed his eyes upon my big shoes, took out his dagger to kill me. My mother fell before his feet asking to spare me, but he remained unmoved. A Kurd woman did not let him shoot. I escaped towards the village of Khiartank. My mother also came there in a group of one hundred and fifty hungry and thirsty refugees. We stayed there for a while. At the beginning of June, officials came and declared that, according to the new order of the Sultan, the Armenian massacres were forbidden and that all the Armenian should go back to their villages. We had to return.
Part of the twenty-three Armenian villages of our KhlatProvince lay at the foot or on the slopes of Nemrout. All the inhabitants had been slaughtered. The Armenian villages of the KhlatProvince were razed to the ground: they were Agrak, Haghagh, Eymal, Teghvout, Toukh, Tapavank, Khoulik, Khotadzor, Dsaghken, Dsghak, Koshtian, Kdsvak, Kamourdj, Hersonk, Djiziré, Medsk, Matnavank, Djamouldin, Shamiram, Ourtap, Djrhor, Spradzor and Miandzak. Arriving at our village all of us went to a large house in the upper part of the village. Hungry and thirsty, leaning on each other, we passed that dreadful night. In the morning the Kurds came and found us. They raped the young women and maidens before our eyes. There was a boy who had put on girl’s clothes; they took him away, but when they had found out that he was a boy, they had killed him. We saw his corpse when we were running away to the lake together with my mother, younger brother and sister. On the way my one-year-old brother died. We dug the earth with our hands and buried him in his swaddling-clothes. My mother gave me to an old Kurd acquaintance of ours – Binbo, and I worked for him as a shepherd-boy. But he did not keep my mother and sister, so they went back to our ruined yard where my brother’s grave was.
After a few days the Kurds began to run away towards the Moosh plain. The army of Nicolay II was moving forward. There had not remained a single Armenian in our KhlatProvince; the inhabitants, who were mostly Armenians, had been entirely slaughtered. Now it was the turn of the Moosh plain and the Sassoun highland.
I hurried home and found my mother crying by my brother’s grave. We parted with great difficulty. In June 1915, as a prisoner, I set off with my Kurd master towards the Moosh plain. The Kurd peasants of the DjizrenVillage were running away in horror. Kurd Binbo had yoked four oxen to a cart and I, seated on the last ox, was driving them. We passed by the field of our village. No smoke came out of any chimney. I was like a Kurd in everything. They had changed my name from Sokrat to Avdelbaghi, they had trimmed my hair in the fashion of a Kurd and I had a turban on my head. But the Kurd lads had found out about my being Armenian, when I was grazing the cattle, so they held me, they made a cross of their sticks and forced me to curse the Christian cross. I did not submit: they poured a whole pan of milk on my head as a sign of vengeance and went away. One of them stayed back and said to me in Armenian: “Why didn’t you swear? What would happen? You would get rid of them easily.” I was astonished that he was an Armenian and he could reconcile himself to his state.
I ran away from my Kurd master. The Kurds attacked me several times, but I was saved by miracle. With great difficulty I reached the Russian army, where there were many Armenian volunteers. But they remained in the Moosh plain for one day only; it was July 16, 1915. When they began to withdraw, all the Armenians of the Moosh plain took the road of exile. The road of exile was terrible. There wasn’t my mother anymore. I had found my five-year-old sister, and hand-in-hand, we reached, with great difficulties, Igdir, then – Edjmiadsin. As typhus and other contagious diseases had spread among the exiles, we gave innumerable victims. Every morning they came and took away in carts the dead and those who were dying.
Then I entered the Edjmiadsin orphanage, after which they transferred us to Ashtarak. At the end of the autumn of 1915 there were five orphanages in Ashtarak, with more than three hundred orphans. Those children’s houses were patronized by Moscow, and we got very good education, both practical and theoretical. But the yearning for our Land remained in our hearts.