Armenian Bible Church            

Հայ Աստուածաշունչի Եկեղեցի

Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 40322  Pasadena, CA 91114 USA

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By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 18 


             Aneta had permission to visit Haralambos once a week.  Haralambos’ mother was given special dispensation to take him milk every morning.  All apparent signs for release vanished.  He was resigned to God’s will concerning the outcome. Yet, humanly speaking, everyone wanted to see Haralambos saved from his ordeal. His spirits were high, and invariably he had a word of encouragement for Aneta. They observed their first wedding anniversary in September at the prison in Aintab — no special meal, no cake, no friends. She asked herself where their second anniversary might be celebrated.

            Aneta’s memories sped back to the previous year at Zinjidere when that surprise visit stirred the town. The speedy wedding, the departure and his promise to her mother, “Next summer, we’ll come and see you,” all flashed before her like a dream. How quickly conditions had deteriorated. What an unexpected turn of events!

            One day Anastasia and Aneta received bleak news. Haralambos was being taken back to Urfa. The prospect filled him with dread. He knew what to expect, but didn’t say much. It was a known practice to kill prisoners on the way, and then pass on the news that the prisoner had escaped while he was being transferred.  This handy fabrication was frequently invented, and no one was in a position to question it. The women were deeply apprehensive about that trip and the feared concoction to cover up the officials’ pernicious scheme.

            Thank God, they were able to arrange Haralambos’ transfer to Urfa through an insider. The government escorts were to follow the direct route without any deviation.  The trip was to be made in the shortest time possible. Once again the head of the prison was helpful beyond imagination. His support and kindness during Haralambos’ imprisonment filled Aneta’s heart with gratitude throughout the ensuing years.  Watching the truly humane nature of this Muslim touched her deeply and made an indelible impression on her.

            The gendarmes who took Haralambos to Urfa brought Aneta news in his own handwriting of his safe arrival after an extremely exhausting journey. Again the couple was faced with a painful separation.   Now no one could take him milk in the morning or even pay him a visit. As the two women contemplated his situation they grieved. The distance today by car or bus between the two cities is approximately two hours on a pleasant paved road, passing through pistachio orchards and other warm-climate trees and gardens.  In those days, traveling on foot would have been a very long day’s journey.    

                        Circumstances in Urfa were harsher than the previous time. With the deterioration of conditions the treatment of prisoners was worse. Haralambos was thrown into a dungeon. The outlook was dismal, but the sovereign God through His love and kindness upheld him and his grieving wife. Two families from the church had been deported to Urfa as bakers. As soon as they learned that their pastor was there in such appalling conditions, they hurried over to him and arranged to take him food daily. Although they themselves were refugees uprooted from home and business with very meager means, God in His caring mercy arranged for these faithful people to extend help. A member of one of the families, Verkin Noradoukian, an English teacher, was the one delegated to take food to Haralambos daily.

            At last Haralambos’ trial came up. The charge against him was: ‘Plotting against the country,’ an accusation as implausible as denying his faith would have been. There is an appropriate saying in Turkish: “Dilin kemigi yoktur,” i.e., ‘the tongue has no bone.’ It can move in any direction. Actually, the charge was the standard allegation against a great number of people who were deported, deprived of all property and killed.  How could these helpless people have conceived a plot against their country?  Nevertheless, it was a handy accusation, sufficient to take one to the gallows.

            The legislative code in the Ottoman Empire, inspired by Quranic precepts, operated at opposite poles to legal norms and practices elsewhere.  Any thinking lay-person, let alone a lawyer, would be totally baffled by this travesty of justice and court procedure. But how else could all these atrocities have been pulled off? How else could they have been justified? The government’s own stance on judgment and punishment was conveniently correct in their own eyes, and that is what counted.  The rights of the accused such as legal privileges, freedom to speak, to select a lawyer, the prerogative to appeal, or any other warrant, could not be considered.

            After a few days Haralambos was called by the judges. He entertained a false assurance that he would be given the freedom and privilege to defend himself.  But it became obvious very quickly that this unjust case could be settled only through a generous rushfet (bribe).  “A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice,” said Solomon (Proverbs 17:23). And the Prophet of Social Justice cried his heart out, “For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.  You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent person keeps quiet in such times; for the times are evil” (Amos 5:12, 13).

            Bribery and favoritism were deep-rooted in the Ottoman governmental system, which ultimately led to its demise. Men in the judicial and all other branches of government were digging the grave of their very own country. Their only concern was to exploit the plight of the sufferer and fatten their own pocketbooks, even in times of calamity. The malaise was so wide-spread that one of their common sayings was, “Rushvet yemeden ish yűrűmez” i.e., “without taking a bribe, work cannot proceed.”  What shameless contradiction to God’s divine principle!

            Haralambos was again reminded of the Apostle Paul’s determined non-compliance to Felix in the face of Felix’s unremitting approaches (cf. Acts 24:26). He made up his mind not to give the judges any hint of a possible bribe. The naked truth was that Haralambos had no money to offer anyone. He asked only one favor from the judges, to take him out of the horrible dungeon. They complied. It was a small ray of hope.  Throughout his trial the judges could not point to any evidence of an intended plot against his country. If they had, he would have been sentenced right then and there. Not knowing what to do with him, they sent him back to Aintab.

            When the prison director saw him come back with no sentence, he wept, saying, “This man is a saint; hardly anyone returns safe from Urfa!”  Haralambos would have returned to his home had he yielded to the magistrate’s wishes for a bribe. But as in the case of Paul, further imprisonment was his lot. The ordeal continued. Aneta and his mother were glad to at least have him back in Aintab. The remaining church people were encouraged by his safe return from Urfa. This highly motivated him to preach in prison. He was Christ’s ambassador in bonds. He proclaimed the Word to Muslim guards and prisoners alike. Not having any heart-lifting singing in their religious rituals, these people learned the songs Haralambos sang and repeatedly requested him to sing them over and over again. He always obliged, accompanying himself on the violin. The song they particularly liked was, “Jesus Loves Even Me,” which expressed a deep longing in their souls.  There was no limit to their delight as they listened to him sing this meaningful song in his beautiful tenor voice.

            Since it was extremely hard for a Muslim to make an open decision for Christ, not to mention his obligation to total loyalty to country and duty, the outcome of these prison meetings remains unknown. The Lord may some day disclose what actually transacted in hearts behind those prison walls.

            The prison director was particularly fond of listening to Haralambos play his violin. He asked Haralambos to teach his nephew to play it. He was hoping that this prisoner would eventually be set free. The delay was causing greater grief in the director’s heart than in so many others’ who knew Haralambos’ predicament.  He sincerely wanted to show him some kindness. One evening he remained in his office unusually long. He called Haralambos in privately, commended him for his faith and good conduct, also for his contribution to the morale of the personnel and prisoners. He said he trusted him implicitly and tonight he was going to extend him a favor. He wanted him to go home to his wife, provided he would return to prison very early the next morning.

            This was a most welcome piece of news, even though it meant only a few hours away from jail. It was little better than a dream. The director himself accompanied Haralambos to the house. Then he bade him and his wife farewell. His confidence of Haralambos’ return was absolute. The hours fled by, like so many of life’s momentary dream-like joys. His clothes were full of lice and fleas. Unbelievable as it may seem, he hadn’t taken a single bath throughout his whole time of imprisonment. His bath that night was unforgettable. “Probably no more baths for me,” he said. It was a heart-rending remark. The clock ticked relentlessly on. Early next morning he kissed Aneta good-bye and headed back to prison. What a sad, piercing separation it was!

            The close rapport between prison director and prisoner was eventually noticed by some and became common gossip. This naturally jolted the director. His kindness continued, but now very carefully and discreetly. There were no more home visits. That was one unique and unforgettable occasion, just like a brief dream.

            The prison director was surrounded by many people who disliked him.  One time coming back from Urfa an attempt was made on his life, but it failed.  Then there was a second attempt.  That too failed.  Consequently he had to be very careful in all his movements.  Haralambos was put in a separate place in the prison and could not enjoy the director’s favors any longer.  A new chapter was in the making.