The Forgotten Hero of the Ottoman Empire: Memoirs of Sargis Torosyan as a Challenge to the Existing Order of Things and History of Turkey. Part 2
Photo: Ara Güler
Sargis Torosyan’s autobiography is a unique document. As an officer of the Turkish army during the First World War, he became its direct participant. The book consists of data and evidence which shed light on those “dark sides” of history, politics and diplomacy of that period of time which influenced the tragic fate of the Armenian nation. In parallel with different intrigues you can see the hero’s experience: his love story, true friendship, betrayals and disappointments. Sargis Torosyan’s memoirs challenge the current order of things and perception of the history of Turkey. The following are several chapters from his book.
The Sad Fate of My Parents
Day by day my anxiety and concern were growing stronger, and I could not stand it anymore. I asked the War Ministry to help me find information about the fate of my family. Enver Pasha's secretary accepted me, heard my story and sent a telegram to Everec’s kaimakam.
The second day, a telegram arrived from the Kaimakam, where it was said that my parents were mistakenly deported, but the Kaimakam and his people were doing their best to find them and return them home.
I was too angry but I understood that I was powerless. I couldn’t believe that at that very moment my parents might go bending under the blows of criminals who were specially released from prison.
Maybe already then my father was lying dead somewhere on the sideline, and his corpse was eagerly being pecked by vultures.
Once I decided to go to one of the neighborhoods of Constantinople, where I could meet people from Everec. One of them told me in secret that a family of Armenians had arrived from Everec the previous evening and was hiding in the next street.
The woman took me to the attic and called:
The door slowly opened, and a young man's face appeared from there: a hunted look, a thin, completely wrinkled face.
He told me that every day Zeki – the kaimakam of Everec – sent to my parents his men, threatening with deportation if they did not accept Mohammedanism and would not marry my younger sister with his son.
He did that deliberately, knowing well that the old Christians would never renounce their faith, that they had grown together with their traditions and convictions. He refused to give them my letters and urged them not to believe the officer-son , since he could be killed at any minute.
I said goodbye to Grigor and thanked him, leaving him all the extra money I had, and hurried back to the camp. I made a petition to the War Minister, reporting on the actions of the Kaimakam of Everec and asking to correct the situation immediately.
The higher law stated that the families of non-Muslim soldiers were exempted from persecution, but Talaat Pasha, the Minister of internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire, violated that law.
One morning an excited woman came up to me. Introducing herself as an Armenian from Angora, she asked me to help her: the Turks had captured her husband, and Turkish policemen were coming to her house every day, were beating and insulting her. I was an Armenian, and as an Armenian I felt sorry for her and decided to help her. She was very happy and invited me to dinner.
About eight in the evening she offered me wine, but I refused. She started begging me to drink a little before dinner. I drank only two glasses. Immediately after dinner, when I was drinking Turkish coffee, I heard excited voices. Someone exclaimed:
– That crazy giaour is upstairs, kill him.
I grabbed the knife, pushed the woman into the room, slammed the door and jumped out into the corridor. I jumped down, smashing the floor lamp and leaving them in the dark. In a confusion, they began to beat each other, thinking that I was among them. Some of them cried:
– Let’s run away from here, the poison hasn’t affected the giaour.
That was the plan to kill me. With the help of one of his mistresses – Fakhry khanum – Taalat Pasha wanted to kill me and secretly throw my body into the sea.
I wrote a letter to my brothers in America. I told them about the plan of the government to destroy the Armenian population. I told them about my futile attempts to find our family and shared my thoughts about the fact that, unless the Allied forces decide completely refuse from military operations on the Turkish front, I do not know how the Turks will get through. I called on them to tell all the Armenians in America about the real state of their compatriots in Turkey and try to organize a legion of Armenian volunteers who would return and protect their nation.
For any person in my place, it would be folly to write that kind of letter. And it's not just that I could have appear under a military tribunal, if it had been found, but I simply did not see a slight chance that the letter would reach my brothers. My only hope was the American embassy. There I found an Armenian interpreter, told him my request and told about my familiars among military officials. My story interested him. He expressed deep sympathy and promised to make sure that the letter would reach the USA.
An Unexpected Meeting and Secret Talk
On the way from Romania to Constantinople, on the train, I got acquainted with a tall and beautiful Arab man. We exchanged usual greetings, and he introduced himself as Major Nouri Bey, the staff officer of the Turkish division.
– Captain, – he said, – I have seen your photo in my friend’s palace who is an Arab pasha. He was praising your heroism and was proudly mentioning that you were as son for him.
I was confused, but decided to rely on my impression that he was sincere, and accept him as a friend, not as a spy. I told him my story.
He said that his real name is Nouri Yusuf, that he comes from a noble and influential Arab family that the Turkish authorities feared, that’s why most of his relatives were captured and hanged
We talked for several hours, and as there was no one in the coupe, he was not trying to hide his anger towards Turks, describing the countless atrocities and humiliations to which his compatriots were subjected.
–So, Captain, – he said. – You see, there is something that unites us: you, the Armenian, and me, the Arab. As soon as possible, I will desert, I will assemble an army from my people and revenge. The Turkish yoke does not rest on Arab shoulders – a riot has already erupted in the minds and hearts of people.
How I Meet my Sister in the Desert
Christmas was approaching, and I was feeling lonely. I've had so much to go through recently: Jamila was away, Muharrem was killed, my parents and sister were gone, I lost so many friends. That Christmas I would be unbearably lonely if the Turkish commander did not allow three Armenian doctors to meet the holiday with me. Each of us had his own sad story, each of us had the memory of our compatriots.
During the conversation one of the doctors mentioned that he had heard a Turkish officer telling that several hundreds of Armenian refugees were working on the railway.
I said that I should go there at once. Somewhere in my heart I still had a hope that I would find my parents.
I knocked on the door of the largest of the houses. After the rattle of a heavy bolt, the door slightly opened: an old woman was looking at us from the threshold, whose face seemed frozen with a mask of horror.
– Merry Christmas! – I greeted in Armenian.
Never before have I seen such a change. Her wrinkled face looked younger and her eyes flashed.
– Merry Christmas, – answered she fearing. – Are you looking for somebody?
I assured her that she shouldn’t be afraid of my uniform and said that I was looking for women from Everec.
I felt as if I had lost consciousness, and the first thing I remembered was the thin, blue-eyed girl with chestnut hair, shy and scared of our uniforms. I was afraid to believe my eyes: I saw my mother's expression in her gaze.
– What’s your name?
– Paitsar Torosyan
Undoubtedly, she was my sister, however I was still asking questions.
– Is your family here? – I asked her realizing the cruelty of my question.
– My father and mother died. Three of my brothers live in the USA, my another brother is an officer of the Turkish army, but he was killed in the battle of the Dardanelles. I am left alone.
And before we both had time to understand what had happened, I was already hugging her tightly in my arms, and she was crying so bitterly that her heart was about to burst.
– I'm your brother, – this was all I could say, and then I kept repeating it slowly and somehow even mercilessly. I felt that I managed to snatch something from the hands of the government, the government which I was already beginning to hate.
For the first time in many months, she was feeling good, and for the first time she had her own separate room. As soon as Paitsar fell asleep I started thinking again : it was not enough for me to simply desert from the Turkish army, I wanted to revenge. I remembered the major of the Turkish army, Nouri-bey, the Arab, whom I met on the train.
The Palestinian Front
It was during the trip to the Palestinian front when I realized for the first time that I might have the opportunity to promote Armenia's national independence sooner than I expected.
Quite by accident, I started a conversation with an intelligence officer who opened up with me after a large amount of whiskey drunk. He said that not only the Allied forces were fighting against the Turks, but also strong detachments of Armenian volunteers from America. In addition, most of the strong Arab tribes rebelled and united under the leadership of Nouri Yusuf, Jafar, Ali Riza, Said, Nouri and Kadir. Arab sheikhs revolted.
Never before this meeting, I met a man who, after drinking so much whiskey, would do so much good to another person.
I spent more than one restless night thinking about how to take care of my sister. It was becoming obvious that it was impossible to continue taking her everywhere with me. She became a symbol for me; the only person I managed to wrest from the hands of the Turks, a girl whom they will not dare to touch while I'm with her.
I left Paitsar in Aleppo with my friends. Several Armenian families were living there safely. When we were leaving, she was crying. Not from fear, because she survived all the horrors that could fall to the lot of a person. No, she was crying from the feeling of approaching solitude
In the Arab Secret Service
On 12th August 1918, I was in Nablus ( a town in Palestine).
In the afternoon, when I went to the Military Club, I was unexpectedly informed that an officer, who introduced himself as my classmate from the Military Academy, came the previous day and left me a message. He was going to return the next day at two o'clock in the hope of meeting me there.
I was curious, and decided to meet him. The next day I went to the club at 1:30 and chose a table in a secluded corner, from where I could watch all those who were entering, while remaining unnoticed.
At three o'clock in the afternoon, a tall, swarthy officer entered the club, dressed in the uniform of a Turkish lieutenant. His movements were swift and nervous. Finally I caught his attentive glance. He went directly to me, smiled, gave a harsh gesture and extended his hand to me.
– How are you, captain Torosyan! – exclaimed he as if he had met his old friend. I was sure that I had never seen him before.
He said how sorry he was that my friend Muharrem had died and that he knew about my meeting with his close friend, Nouri Yusuf-bey. I realized that he was aware of everything, and I felt uneasy. Another intelligence officer who was trying to get information out of me! Nouri Yusuf-bey, the leader of Arab rebels! A person who has a huge influence.
– Captain, let’s understand each other. You are Nouri Yusuf-bey’s friend. You met him on the train on the way to Romania.
I risked again, relying on the sincerity of his clear black eyes, his desire to convince me, which I heard in his voice, and nodded.
– Getting informed that you were sent to this front, Nouri Yusuf wanted to send you an important message. I agreed to find you and deliver his message, disguised as a Turkish officer. And here I am.
We went to the Arab village of Sheikh Haji Said in an hour's drive, which was a safe place for discussions. Two Turkish officers who left on their own for a day's walk..
An armed guard was standing at the entrance. After we said the secret words, we were led to the sheikh. I found myself in a conference room surrounded by harsh faces of nearly two dozen Arab sheikhs. Before I could say anything, they jumped up and greeted:
For half an hour he briefly told me about the alliance concluded by the Arab tribes, and on behalf of Nouri Yusuf asked me to join them as one of their leaders.
That night I could not fall asleep. There were countless schemes in my head and after all, I was completely confused. Finally! Revenge! How well I knew the weaknesses of the Turkish army and where we would rather beat. Until the dawn, I studied maps and compiled in my head the most optimal, from my point of view, plan of action.
A couple of days later, at the meeting of the sheikhs, possible plans of action were discussed. I spoke about the desperate situation of the Turkish army and the low morale of officers and soldiers. My plan was to suddenly and lightly attack them, plunging into panic.
Haji Said approved my plan. Soon we managed to convince the other sheikhs.
From the letter of Nouri Yusuf to Sargis Torosyan:
“Pasha died about seven months ago in Jerusalem, not reconciled with the death of his son. Immediately after the Pasha's death, his wife left for Gaza with her daughters. The elder sister, Feride, got married, and the youngest, Jamila, is ill with tuberculosis. After the death of my father Jamila, who was already very ill at that time told me about your love, and made me promise that I would find you and bring you to her. Captain, I want to fulfill my promise. If you can, without causing any suspicion, take a vacation for a few days. Sheikh Hadji Mahmud will lead you safely here, and then to Gaza, to your beloved”
In the afternoon, after returning to the camp, I wrote a special application for a holiday. The statement was signed.
After dressing Arabian clothes and taking an Arabic name, I set out on a journey to the Jordan Valley.
A weak voice called me by name, and a thin hand like a wing of a butterfly, reached out to me, fluttered and fell again on the blanket. My God! My God! How much life can be so cruel to a man!
I begged her not to talk, and, clasping her arms, told her everything that came to my mind: about my sister, my parents, about the secret conspiracy in which I participated. She fell asleep, and I was glad, because I had to leave. I was expected in the house of an Arab sheikh to discuss the upcoming military actions.
The next day I was sitting next to Jamila and was amazed how life was still burning in her. When dinner was served in the garden, and we were sitting with her mother, she was shining.
When the servants cleaned up the table, and the Pasha's wife went into the house for a short while, Jamila started coughing. Then she started to gasp, tried to get up in bed and fell again on the pillow soaked in blood. I rushed for help, and the servants and the wife of the pasha ran out into the garden. I hugged Jamila and lifted her from the pillow. The pain and horror in her eyes disappeared, and they again sparkled like stars; her eyelids slowly sank, and she left.
She was buried the next day. And the sun was shining in the sky. And Khoja was reading the text from the Koran in a sing-song manner. I do not remember what happened to me from the moment of her death and until the moment when the first hand of earth fell on her grave.
On the Way to Bloody Revenge
Finally, I heard from Sheikh Nouri Yusuf that the time of our revenge had come. The Arab cavalry was mobilized and brought to full combat readiness.
At the same time, several British regiments and a detachment of Armenian volunteers conducted an attack that ended in complete defeat of the Turks, who flew in terrible chaos and panic to their place of deployment.
On the phone I received an order from the chief of staff to leave the post and start acting as a courier between the headquarters. But I was already ready to leave the post for my own purposes. My heart did not even flinch. I was calm, and my revenge was cold-blooded. I answered nothing and cut the wires.
We attacked the Turks, killed most of them and seized equipment and food. I was no longer a man, but a machine for murder. I killed, because life itself was killed in me, and there was nothing left for me to do.
Never before has revenge been so cruelly inflicted upon the victims as the punishment imposed by the Arabs. There were rivers of blood behind retreating Turks.
For all my military career, I had not seen such insight, combat readiness, such reckless courage and discipline as those desert riders were showing.
In the evening I met with Nouri Yusuf and the rest of the leaders who began to bless me in the name of Allah.
I Meet my Brothers and Join the French Eastern Legion
On November 4th, 1918, the Armenian volunteers from America came to an agreement with the Allies, according to which the Turkish province of Cilicia was supposed to be passed to Armenians. They were moving in the direction of Beirut.
I asked for a vacation and, having gathered a squad of eight hundred Armenian volunteers, left the Arab headquarters and headed to Beirut. It seemed that I came alive again when the Arabs showed us military honors, and the Allies sent their representatives to give that event a special importance and solemnity. Throughout the way, we were joyfully greeted by the inhabitants of the Arab villages, and our whole trip seemed to be an endless lavish holiday.
We arrived in Beirut, where we were met by a delegation of Armenian volunteers. I immediately asked if there were any immigrants from Everec.
After a while, two young men came up to me.
– Is captain Torosyan here? – asked they. – He is our brother, and we want to see him
But now I knew one thing for sure. The letter I had sent through the American embassy, reached them, and they immediately told all their friends and compatriots about it. As a result, they managed to collect nearly two thousand volunteers to come here and join the Allies. This happened in the summer of 1917. They landed in Cyprus and entered the service under the French flag.
The next day my brothers and I went to Aleppo to see Paitsar. When we arrived, she ... was dead. She died of sadness and loneliness and from the hardships she had to bear. The brothers could not stand it and cried, while I was standing silent next to them. I did not have tears. Once, in an old garden in Arabia, I looked into eyes, like fading stars. And at that moment something faded in me too.
I stayed in Beirut for almost two months until the French commander of the Armenian troops Romeo captured Cilicia. Several detachments were sent to meet the refugees and to ensure their safe return home.
Closer to the autumn in the behavior of our friends and patrons – the French and the British – something changed, and I felt that the intrigue had started long ago.
The endless streams of Turkish prisoners of war were being released. Unexpectedly and without any explanations, the British, guarding Aintab, Marash, Kilis and Adana, left their positions, passing them to a small Armenian legion.
One of the officers hinted to me that the French and the Turks had concluded a secret agreement, according to which the Allies completely left Cilicia.
The next move, where my people played the role of helpless pawns, became even more catastrophic for us: the French governor of Cilicia resigned, appointing the Turk as his successor.
Bitterness overflowed my people, because he believed that the promises he had received were immutable. I also felt bitter, but was not surprised, because I knew perfectly the treacherous nature of diplomacy. The war created monsters, which in the battles manifested themselves as heroes. Diplomacy is a game of jackals. I preferred to fight.
I put on civilian clothes at night and made my way to the Turkish camp. I introduced myself as Emin Bey, captain of the artillery, and showed them my photographs in Turkish form to be convincing. I was led to high-ranking officers.
From them I knew that the affairs of the Turks were good. Most of the soldiers intended to join the army of Mustafa Kemal. Allies turned from enemies to friends, which was not surprising, because each of them wanted to gain control over Turkey. Providing the Turks with weapons and ammunition, they would rather agree to leave Turkey in the hands of the Turks than they would cede to each other, because they trusted each other less than the Turks.
The next morning I hurried to the Council of the Armenian National Union and told what I managed to find and proposed an action plan consisting of three points:
1. To raise the flag of the revolution in Cilicia
2. To seize all French officers and drive them out of the province
3. Provide the people weapons in order to protect the towns
My proposals were ignored: I was a military man, I was looking at the situation directly, while the Council consisted of rich businessmen who did not understand anything in military or political matters. They were more worried about their personal prosperity than the fact that the Allies had betrayed their people. They were sure that they were protected by decisions taken at the Paris Peace Conference. I tried to explain that words and decisions could not be used instead of bullets, but all my efforts were in vain, and I could not convince them that a monstrous disaster hung over the province like a sword.
More than half of the Armenian volunteers from America realized that the French had betrayed us and, full of disappointment and disgust, they returned to America.
Throughout time, I was defending small villages in the suburb of Adana. I felt weak and helpless. I was tired. Tired of that game and decided to retire from the service in the French troops.
Turkish Guerilla War
It was April of 1920. Followers of Mustafa Kemal were arranging riots and outrages in within country. Now, more confident, the Turks brutally were killing French soldiers, and, thus, the traitors themselves became victims of betrayal.
After retiring from the ranks of the Armenian volunteers, I was going to the mountainous regions along with fifteen brave and resolute riders. All of them were exceptionally accurate arrows, excellent riders and spoke excellent Turkish.
We put on Turkish clothes, to walk around the Turkish villages and spread propaganda. I intended to pass as many settlements as possible, in order to confuse the Turks and confound them by any possible means, telling terrible stories about the power and might of the Armenians and the French. Since I could not fight them, I was hoping in that way to make them fear the attacks .
In the end, the last light went out in me, and I was tired of revenge. Our searches were fruitless, the efforts were futile. Reality had crushed us. And I decided to put off my sword and revolver. Cilicia ceased to be the birthplace of Armenians, it turned into a boiling cauldron, where endless conspiracies and intrigues were prepared and mixed in the blood of my people.
I informed the soldiers about my decision, asking them to go with me to the small town of Everec.
Three days later we reached a familiar valley. I was not sad. I went to satisfy some inexplicable insatiable thirst, without even trying to explain it. I was a spectator, contemplating my own life.
I approached the grounds belonging to my father. Once the air in the gardens was full of the fragrance of fruit trees, and the fields were diligently processed and planted. Now there was only a naked barren land there.
I continued wandering around the city and did not know why, because I was not sentimental. I Was not. All the feelings in me were lost.
Then slowly and without losing our circumspection, we returned to Adana. With every minute we became more and more convinced that all hopes of returning Cilicia to the Armenians were completely lost. Every day more and more Armenians were leaving the province. They were running away full of sorrow, fear and bitterness from the collapse of all their hopes.
Once the French authorities let me know that my actions did not suit them at all and caused them a lot of anxiety, and they strongly recommended me to go to America.
I met with my brothers, and we agreed that the matter was finally lost. At night we boarded the ship and left Adana. The cloudless black veil of the sky stretched above the water. And in this endless blackness a bright star flared up…