ALEPPO, A HAVEN TO THE BEREAVED
Aneta’s time in
Aintab was drawing to a close. The city where she and Haralambos had started
their flourishing ministry had unimaginably changed. Most of the Christians
had been deported, the vast majority massacred. She was getting together
daily with a small group of Christian girls for prayer. In this city where
many churches had once flourished, there was now no church left for
Christians to congregate in. Aintab was no longer home, and now she had no
husband. Even so, she sensed that her true Companion was continually
upholding her. Each day He was making His reality known more intimately.
Also her dear mother-in-law Anastasia was with her.
It was unsafe for
Aneta, a young widow, to stay in this half-deserted city. She and Anastasia
had to leave for another place. But where? Aneta couldn’t return to
Zinjidere. The alarming conditions prevailing in Aintab and its surroundings
had spread throughout Anatolia. It was completely unsafe and unwise to head
back to her own town. The roads were too dangerous. They couldn’t return to
Anastasia’s town, Adana, either. The situation was appalling all over. The
enemy was ferociously striking everywhere with expulsions and killings.
Hardly any corner of the country could withstand the evil designs of those
determined to root out the Christian population from Anatolia.
After prayer and
consultation with Anastasia, reminiscent of the Ruth-Naomi relationship, the
women made up their minds to head for Aleppo in Syria. This city was still
under Ottoman domination, but a lot safer than anywhere else as the Ottoman
rule there was waning. The British troops forging ahead from the south were
pressing hard toward Aleppo. They received enthusiastic support from the
Arab population who had revolted against the centuries-long harsh Ottoman
rule, even though both were Muslim. Furthermore, many Christians had
already been deported to Aleppo and its surroundings. Others had fled there
voluntarily. This was the place to go! The “Where to go?” question turned
into “How to go?” At a time when all means of public transport were in the
hands of the military, obtaining a ride was impossible. Their only resort
was finding a coach — if indeed they could procure one! They tried to
arrange this by paying precious gold coins to a Tartar coachman, who was
also a mail carrier.
There was another
snag. They didn’t wish to make it public that they were leaving Aintab. So
many people could not be trusted. It was decided that the coach was to meet
Aneta and Anastasia out of the city after eight in the evening.
Accompanied by three
trusted sisters and an Armenian guide, they walked a long distance out of
the city to where the appointment was to take place. It was bitterly cold,
the wind was blowing and it was snowing. In a cave along the way where they
took refuge, they all pled for the Lord’s mercy and protection. They sensed
that their journey to Aleppo would be fraught with danger and unforeseen
events. When they started walking again, the guide who knew the lay of the
land would occasionally put his ear to the ground to detect any movement of
wheels. It was a treacherous night. At last the covered coach arrived at
the appointed place. They boarded it without knowing who else was in it.
They sat on a narrow bench behind the coachman and the guide. The Tartar
driver put their few possessions in the coach, and they took off into the
night. After an hour’s journey someone struck a match to light his
cigarette. He was a Tartar passenger stretched out on top of the mail
sacks. Sensing Aneta’s apprehension, he said to her, “Fear not, my
daughter; you are in good hands.” Aneta had an upset stomach and she was
shivering from the cold as they traveled through unknown territory.
Sometime during the night they reached Kilis, a town east of Aintab. After
thanking their Tartar driver, the Armenian friend procured a better coach
which was more comfortable. Although they had no idea of where they were,
they weren’t afraid. At about four in the morning they reached Aleppo with
thankfulness in their hearts for God’s evident protection.
The city was
teeming with Christians who had fled from every corner of Anatolia. There
were many from Aintab, people who had left everything and run for dear life.
The guide took them to his home where his young wife holding their
ten-day-old baby boy was eagerly waiting for him. Amazingly, twenty-six
years later, Aneta met her once again, this time in Patterson, New Jersey,
in the USA. There she was converted to Christ in a house meeting led by
Aneta. In Aleppo, a few believers had heard of Aneta’s impending arrival
and were waiting to greet her. Christians who had already found refuge there
arranged a memorial service for Haralambos in the house of a local believer.
They called Brother
Mihran Balian to conduct the meeting. Aneta was surprised to see him
there. He was from the church in Caesarea (Kayseri). He had been about to
be deported but the head elder of the church hid him in a room in his
house. Then he succeeded in finding his way to Aleppo. He was a close
friend of Haralambos. His text was: “Do you not know that a prince and a
great man has fallen this day in Israel?” (II Samuel 3:38). He opened
his message by speaking with deep passion about the young giant who had once
walked in the land. During the touching meeting, Aneta’s mind was occupied
with the familiar text, “Godly men buried Stephen, and mourned deeply for
him” (Acts 8:2). The whole room reminded one of the Valley of Weeping.
The task fell on
Aneta to read Haralambos’ prison letter written before his execution. The
wound in her heart opened anew. The portion of the letter expressing
confidence in God to raise others to follow in his path, and that he was
calling his young wife to be one of those, stirred a fresh excitement in
everyone to serve Christ. A fervent period of prayer followed. The people,
remnants of the massacre, surrendered their exhausted lives anew to the
Master. They could now understand why the Lord was pleased to rescue them
from the sword.
As it looked, Aneta
and Anastasia were going to be staying in Aleppo for a while. It was decided
that day that this house gathering must turn into a regular meeting. The
Reverend Balian asked Aneta if she could take charge of this new fellowship.
She welcomed the request. However, the realization of this immense
responsibility to properly feed this flock filled her with apprehension.
What should she do? Study God’s Word more diligently and read the writings
of authors such as Andrew Murray and C.H. McIntosh. The writings of the
latter, especially on the Pentateuch were invaluable aids in her teaching.
God opened a wide
and effective door before her. She wept with the bereaved, sought to bind
the wounds of the afflicted and mend broken hearts. The fellowship grew
beyond imagination. Soon they had to look for a regular meeting place. Their
prayer was to find a spacious and centrally-located place. In the meantime,
Aneta was offered a good position as teacher in the local Greek Orthodox
School, where she would be amply paid. However, she preferred to teach
private lessons in her own room in order to devote more time to the
It was 1917. The
Ottoman armies were retreating on every front, including the southern one.
One happy day the news spread everywhere that the British forces under
General Allenby had captured Jerusalem without firing a shot. Exactly four
hundred years of Ottoman domination of the Holy City had come to its end.
This brought joy to many deeply bereaved hearts. Aleppo was the
headquarters of the German and Ottoman forces. The city was in a sad state
of growing turmoil. Those who had gone through the deportation were governed
by deep trepidation of a possible battle. Others were happy that the
Ottoman army was about to be pushed out of Aleppo. The news came that
Damascus had fallen. The British forces were about to capture Aleppo.
All of a sudden,
they heard an earsplitting roar overhead. What could it be? Was it the
coming of the Lord? How wonderful if that were the case! They all gazed
upward and saw a few strange machines flying! They were making a lot of
noise. This was the first time that both locals and refugees were seeing an
airplane, to say nothing of the fact that they had never even heard of the
existence of a flying machine. Truly, they were British planes, not bombing
the city, but dropping leaflets commanding the garrison of Aleppo to
surrender. After a whole series of tears and agonies this was a welcome
respite. Flames and smoke were rising in several locations. The Germans and
the Ottomans were setting fire to a number of strategic buildings. The
burning railroad station, which had been hub of military transportation,
reflected the pitiful condition of the defeated forces. Soldiers and forced
workers were hastily dismantling the railway lines to use as raw material
for weaponry, as if they were still expecting to win the war. The army was
once again in the act of destruction. So it was, in advance and in retreat.
whole city’s population was on the flat roofs of the houses. In those
times, all houses in Aleppo had flat roofs. People dried their clothes,
wheat and other items there during the day. Summer nights they slept on the
housetops. No one could be seen on the roofs in the heat of the day. Those
who put down their mattresses to sleep at night scrambled into the house
quickly at the first rays of the rising sun. A simultaneous mobilization was
visible on every roof. Men and women in their nightgowns hastily folded
their mattresses and dashed into the house as if they were escaping from an
But this was
October 26, 1918, a pleasantly warm autumn afternoon. Even if it had been
scorching summertime, people would have been on their rooftops to watch the
flying machines and welcome the invading British forces. The British were
received as liberators by all segments of the populace, both Christians and
Muslims. Some Christian soldiers even started a Sunday school for children,
which they named, ‘Sunshine Corner.’ The bright little chorus by the same
name became the signature tune of their class.
The scene was
exciting. The British forces were made up of Anzacs, Sikhs, Gurkhas from
Nepal, and Arabs who had taken up arms against the Ottoman occupiers. Many
soldiers were riding camels, a different style of cavalry than had ever been
seen. Officers were riding in cars. The resplendent procession was headed by
none other than General Allenby.
Crowds who had seen
so much agony and torment were now heralding Allenby as their savior. An
Arab sheikh approached the general and presented him with the keys of this
archaic city and a little salt on a silver tray. Along with these, he also
gave him an open white flag as a sign of surrender. In Jerusalem’s
surrender the same ritual had taken place. The demise of the bloody Ottoman
Empire was now final. Its armies were in full retreat. Another ferocious
kingdom was being laid to rest in the graveyard of tyrannical nations.
In closing this
chapter, a few facts about Field Marshal Edmund Henry Allenby (1861-1936)
will be apropos. He was a true Christian, fully acquainted with the Bible
and its prophecies. When he reached Jerusalem, out of respect for the city
into which Christ rode on the back of a donkey, he got down from his horse
and walked in. He and some of his high-ranking officers fell on their knees
and prayed. He gave special orders that there should be no shooting or
bloodshed. While they were praying, a sheikh came carrying a silver tray
with the keys of the city and some salt, a symbol of surrender. Then the
general and his troops removed their hats and carried them. They entered
Jerusalem through the Dung Gate (cf. Nehemiah 3:14) with their hats in their
hands. This act won the respect of all the inhabitants of the biblical
city. Jerusalem was liberated following four centuries of Ottoman rule.