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
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
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!”
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
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.
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
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.