Armenian Bible Church            

Հայ Աստուածաշունչի Եկեղեցի

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By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 16 


             One afternoon another piece of disquieting news reached Aneta. Three of the most prominent Protestant leaders of Aintab were arrested and thrown into the same prison where Haralambos and the church elder were incarcerated.  What the life of freedom could not bring together, the prison cell easily achieved!

            All five were in the same cell. But the latter three displayed an air of bitterness.  They even accused Haralambos of being the main cause of their imprisonment. Haralambos tried to calm them down.  “My dear friends,” he said, “Who could be behind our imprisonment? The whole affair is shrouded in mystery. Probably we’ll never know, just as so many deported Armenians don’t have the slightest idea of why they were forced out of their homes. Their national identity is the tag to their indictment. Perhaps the same is true in our case.”   This reasoning mellowed them somewhat. Here were the main leaders of the Christians from both segments, all locked up together. The days ahead were uncertain.

            A week passed, and all five were sent handcuffed to Urfa (Edessa), less than one hundred miles to the east of Aintab. The mere mention of the name Urfa brought shivers of fright to everyone.  It was administrative headquarters of the area which was ruled by strict martial law. Horrifying acts were carried out in this city and kept absolutely secret.

            The five spent two unbearable weeks in Urfa, and then were brought back to the Aintab prison. Right then, the mutasarrif, administrator of the provincial subdivision, was succeeded by another official. At this time there were many changes in the government.  The new man was one inflicted with battle wounds which adversely affected his behavior. No one knew what to anticipate in this place where favoritism, bribery and underhanded dealings were the order of the day.

            A rumor was circulating that the five prisoners would be released through the intervention of an influential Armenian Protestant doctor, Joseph Bezjian, an outspoken opponent of Haralambos. In any case, this was a welcome report. Aneta and the other relatives and friends gathered in front of the prison. The five names were announced and it was stated officially that they would all be set free. Everybody’s joy was unbounded. Then there was silence. “The release will take place tomorrow morning,” the herald declared.  At that point, Dr. Bezjian and the high officer whispered to each other.   People were told to go home, so they made their way in silence, perplexed as to what all of this could mean. 

            Next day the four prisoners arrived safely to their homes, but Haralambos was not released. The church elder ran to the house to tell Aneta of his newly-acquired freedom. But in deep sorrow he remarked, “How I wish I could have remained in and the pastor been freed instead!”

            An intense premonition gripped Aneta. While pleased at the release of the four men, the continued imprisonment of Haralambos brought greater fear and foreboding than the arrest had done.  She wondered what was going on. It was a cruel display of mockery against her husband.  Her mind was inevitably carried to what she couldn’t bring herself to believe. A series of unrelenting intrigues and maneuvers were being carried out against all norms of compassion.  This was a display of the mockeries of man and vagaries of life.

            When the disturbing facts were later brought out into the open, Aneta couldn’t help but remember the maxim set forth by the Lord, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2).  This unalterable truth should have reminded those involved in some conspiracy that one day everything would be brought into the open.  The scheme deeply troubled Aneta’s mind and subsequently became one of her saddest memories.  She wished the plot was a dream, but it was a sad fact.

            The rumor circulated that a shameful bargain had been struck between Dr. Bezjian and the mutasarrif.   It was said that the latter was promised free medical treatment if he would reciprocate by refusing to release Haralambos from prison. One could hardly believe that such an ignoble contract had been arranged, and that on the life of a very effective and innocent minister!   The doctor was known for his deliberate rejection of Christ’s salvation. It was common knowledge that his personal life was not in order. His conduct brought to mind the demeanor of Governor Felix who encountered the imprisoned Paul. He had no interest in Paul’s message which stressed justice, self-control and future judgment. True to the same precedent, the doctor preferred to see Haralambos in a prison cell rather than preaching every evening and bringing sinners to conviction and repentance. This tactic surpassed that of Felix’ (Acts 24:24-27).

            Haralambos was now the lone prisoner. When Aneta visited him following the release of the four he said, “Remember, I am a bond slave of Jesus Christ.” The future was grim and uncertain.  But this couple’s lives, their ministry and its direction were under the sovereign Master’s will and purpose.  Anastasia faithfully took milk to him every morning. Their financial resources were dwindling. Haralambos had no set salary; he never had a regular income. While ministering in the church, he and Aneta were sustained by the free gifts of the people.  In the meantime, many of the church people had been deported. Most of those who remained were of the poorer class, as the policy in deporting people to Deir ez-Zor was to aim at the wealthy and prosperous, in order to expropriate their businesses and farms, along with their household belongings and whatever else they had. The poor were not so important.

            Anastasia and Aneta badly needed to obtain some cash.  Aneta sold her entire dowry which was in a large chest.  She and her mother-in-law started sewing for others. Whenever some particular work was completed, Anastasia took the items to the local bazaar and sold them. Something was available for everybody’s taste. People liked their handwork and wanted more. The God who had fed Elijah through the raven was showing His faithfulness to these poor women. Their faith was fortified. They could take ample help to the prison daily.

            Meantime, the war was going on relentlessly. The situation throughout the Empire was getting worse. The greater the fierceness on the various battlefronts, the faster the apprehension spread among the minority peoples. The deportation of the Armenians was continuing in ever-intensive waves. News was reaching those still in the city about the massacre of many they knew.   The Protestants, exempt from deportation until then, were finally included in the outrageous treatment.  Conditions were becoming more vicious by the day. Times were ominous. Haralambos was languishing in jail with no prospect of getting out. With each passing day the family’s hope was diminishing. While still being held without charge, he was treated as if he had committed a serious crime.

            Aneta and Anastasia contemplated going directly to the mutasarrif and appealing to him in person. But a remark by one of the guards to Anastasia plunged them into despair. Speaking to her respectfully he said, “Mother, I know you aim is to see the mutasarrif on behalf of your son. The case is not quite under his control. The whole matter lies in the hands of that doctor. I have orders not to let you in.”  The infamy was unbelievable. Here was Dr. Joseph Bezjian, a Christian in the eyes of the Muslims, exerting heavy pressure upon the highest official in the city not to release Haralambos! There was no escape from this vicious plot.

            With broken hearts the two women returned home. A few days later a visitor dropped in. He was the father of one of the released Protestant leaders. “My daughter,” he said amiably, “Your husband is hanging between life and death. I beg you, humble yourself; go to Dr. Joseph and plead with him to help you.” This was the last thing Aneta would have considered doing. How could she ask for help from a vindictive unbeliever who was targeting one innocent individual in the midst of national calamity?  Without giving a second thought, she responded in no uncertain terms, “I love my husband very much. Only my Lord do I love more. I’m willing to die if it would mean my husband’s release from prison. But I want it to be made public that I cannot ask pardon from an antagonist of my Lord!”

            He went out and broadcast Aneta’s reply. Those who loved gossip found an interesting morsel to pass around. “Did you hear,” they said to one another, “that heartless woman wasn’t sufficiently concerned for her husband to seek his release when it was within her reach!” Callous insinuations reached her ears, breaking her already suffering heart. But the Lord supplied amazing grace to keep her steady in the face of such cruel accusations.

            One of Haralambos’ former fellow-prisoners, Dr. Joseph’s prospective son-in-law, who perished in the massacre before marriage, visited him in jail and said, “We were released through the doctor’s intervention. Ask his assistance to set you free, too!” The personal story of Mordecai and Haman was being re-enacted in all its shamefulness. History does keep repeating itself. Haralambos was not inclined to utilize an offer immersed in trickiness emanating from jealousy, even if it meant his life. “I only want God’s will to be done,” he said.