REMNANTS OF THE SWORD IN ALEPPO
The allied countries
were fully aware about the ongoing Armenian massacre in the Ottoman Empire
but they couldn’t do anything to stop it. Now the time had come to offer
help. The British Commander who took charge of Aleppo immediately ordered
that all deported people, some of them still on the roads, be found and
escorted to Aleppo. Soldiers were dispatched to various points from where
they assembled these people and then placed them in large army barracks.
Stupefying news was reverberating everywhere. People were retelling the
accounts of their terrifying ordeals. Many stories could have been written,
had there been someone to put them down. Among the massacred relatives were
intellectuals, writers, doctors, etc., who were not even given the
opportunity to be banished, but were singled out for immediate execution,
sometimes with axes.
At the various
deportation points established by the Ottoman army every Armenian man was
wiped out, and sobbing women were left to march on through the desert with
their children clinging to them, or in their arms. Aleppo was like the
Valley of Weeping. Long-separated relatives and friends from cities and
towns all over Anatolia occasionally were rediscovering each other. These
agonizing scenes could drive the most indifferent person to uncontrollable
sobs. Such was the aftermath of a merciless war. The edict for the massacre
cost the lives of approximately one and a half million Armenians, simply
because they were not of the Muslim religion. The unleashing of man’s
hatred and vindictiveness motivated by religious fanaticism compounded with
nationalism generated a literal hell in places it touched.
The joy experienced
by Aneta and her mother-in-law only a few days earlier in Aleppo gave way to
the sad realities of the hour. Wounds still festering opened again. Hopeless
and bereaved refugees were teeming everywhere in the city. These were people
who had lost everything, including many loved ones nearest to them. They
were wondering whether there could be a hopeful future ahead. Many Armenians
were competent in English. They had studied in the various mission schools
throughout Anatolia. A good number of them became interpreters for the
British forces. A sister from Aneta’s Bible group had a son-in-law working
for the Red Cross. He was the son of the woman who had rented a huge house
in the center of Aleppo and offered the group a large front room for their
use. Their new meeting place was taken as God’s gracious provision.
Passers-by who heard the singing often came in. This center developed into
a haven of comfort for the refugees. Later it was transferred to Apraham
Seferian, a well-known leader of the Armenian Brotherhood in the Middle East
to carry on his own meetings.
The war came to an
end. Bloodshed stopped for the time being. The oppression of Christians in
Anatolia ceased mainly because the large Armenian population had been wiped
out. The Ottoman Empire having been defeated, the British were now offering
free transportation to all Armenians wishing to return to their homes in
Anatolia. However, they warned everyone about possible future retaliation.
People who had been abruptly cut off from home and hearth were longing for
their birthplace and not listening to sound reasoning. Their expectation to
resettle did not materialize as they had hoped. Their homes, businesses and
farms had already been taken over by Muslims. During the deportation many
Armenians were forced into Islam. They now lived as adherents to the Meccan
prophet’s religion which they would have never accepted voluntarily. Those
who returned seeking another opportunity were dismayed and eventually
abandoned their places for good, scattering to the four corners of the
earth. They were never disappointed for the new life they chose in
countries which welcomed them. But those who had thought they preferred
life in their hometown melted into the pot of Islam, losing their identity
For Aneta, teaching
private lessons developed into the means by which she earned her livelihood.
It became increasingly clear that she and her mother-in-law were to continue
staying together. Little did Aneta realize then that this relationship was
to last for twenty-three years, until the day Anastasia died. Living with a
loving husband had been pleasant; carrying on life with a despotic
mother-in-law could only have been coped with by God’s grace. If we rephrase
Jeremiah’s words to: “It is good for a woman to bear the yoke in her
youth” (Lamentations 3:27), this was applicable to Aneta’s life.
Anastasia was a good woman, in spite of her Anatolian peculiarities. Her
help and support to Aneta could not be overstated. Aneta said, “I owe my
life to her; she was God’s provided protection for me.”
The Army barracks
continued to be full of refugees. Visiting there and ministering to
shattered lives was Aneta’s main service for the Lord. But to gain special
permission to enter the barracks was not easy. The British authorities were
still afraid of saboteurs. She and her colleagues asked the Lord to grant
them entrance. Confident of His go-ahead, a few of the ladies walked the
long distance till they finally reached the immense building, which formerly
had housed Ottoman and German soldiers. Two Sikh soldiers stood at the gate.
Their hearts were already prepared by the Lord. Following a brief exchange,
they raised the barrier and waved the ladies in.
The women stood in
the central court of the barracks and held an open air meeting. Such a
get-together could never have been arranged in their own Anatolia.
Well-loved hymns filled the air. Immediately people leaned out of every
window to see what was going on. Many gathered around them in the courtyard.
A soul-stirring time of praise filled the air. Then many expressed their
deep indebtedness to God’s grace which had carried them through until then.
Afterwards, Aneta and her friends went from room to room to comfort these
people. Hearts were open and eager to listen. Eventually many of these folks
began attending the meetings and received Christ.
missionary attached to the forces gave Aneta a book which brought new depth
to her witness: the “Exposition on Job,” by Jesse Pen Lewis. For
Aneta who had gone through the school of suffering, the narration was
familiar. But the book presented new truths relating to the ordeal. Since
she was serving a people who had drunk the bitter cup, she couldn’t have
asked for a more appropriate treatise. She used it widely and it deeply
impacted many hearts.
One day Aneta
received an invitation from the Justice Division of the British headquarters
through their chaplain. Friends thought that the British must be calling her
to investigate the matter of her husband’s execution. The chaplain cordially
accompanied her into his office. He had an interpreter with him, who stated
the chaplain’s wish: “We heard that your late husband was pastoring in an
Anglican church and that in the midst of his duties he was arrested and
eventually hung. We would like to hear the story from you.”
Aneta let the
chaplain know she could speak to him directly in English, so the interpreter
was asked to leave. The chaplain listened intently to her account. As a
westerner, he couldn’t believe that such injustice and arbitrary ruling for
execution could happen. He became rather indignant and expressed his
interest to reflect the whole matter to His Majesty’s government. Aneta
could never have anticipated this proposal. She responded, “I came here at
your kind request. I really don’t wish to see earthly governments enter this
case, which to me is shrouded with an aura of the holy. My husband’s battle
had nothing to do with the affairs of this present world. He gave his life
for his Savior in a spiritual battle. I don’t wish to throw it into the lap
of human magistrates who can do nothing to alter the outcome. It will give
me great pleasure if you allow it to be put to rest.”
He was amazed and
sought to pursue his request. But Aneta told him that as far as she was
concerned the case was closed. Her point was made and they parted cordially.