By C. K. Garabed
Published in The Armenian Weekly
February 15, 1992
Sarkis had made up his mind to visit the land of his ancestors, if only to see what had become of the little village of Alipounar, a half-hour’s walk from the walled city of Dikranagerd. All he knew about the Old Country was based on second-hand information: what he had learned from his father, stories told by his cousins, bits and pieces gleaned from friends and acquaintances.
The furthest he was able to go back chronologically was to his paternal grandfather, Kasbar, the village priest, who migrated to Alipounar from the north. That must have been back around 1875 or so. Sarkis’ paternal grandmother, Mariam, was an Alipounarian, and her cousin, Khatchadour, who was the titular head of the clan, took a liking to Kasbar and approved of his espousing Mariam and becoming a member of the married clergy. They were blessed with seven children, not all of whom survived.
The eldest, Garabed, was killed with his father during the Turkish massacres of 1895. Hagop, who as 9 years old at that time, became a silk weaver and migrated to the United States in 1912. Another brother contracted polio and remained crippled for the remainder of his short life. The youngest brother, Hovhannes, a scholar, became secretary of the Armenian school in Dikranagerd. He was killed in the 1915 massacres. Three sisters survived, but only one was able to save her progeny, by hiding them away from the Turks. Hagop had rushed back to his family’s assistance but too late to save his brother and his sisters’ husbands. He returned to the refuge that America offered with the bitterest memories and struggled to maintain the hope that one day his people would be reconstituted in their historic homeland. Hagop’s sisters and their children eventually made their way to Syria and Lebanon. Hagop married a survivor from Dikranagerd and raised a family of several children, of which Sarkis was the youngest.
Sarkis had heard that relatives on his father’s side had buried gold on their property in Alipounar. His quest was to find that gold, if it was still there. He had to figure out how to get there, poke around and then get out. A number of plans were formulating in his mind. He could go openly as a tourist. But that meant that he might be watched wherever he went. He could go secretly, posing as a Turk or Kurd, but he didn’t speak the language of either. He could go alone or with a companion. He finally decided that he needed help in formulating his plan. He contacted one of his cousins who had recently migrated to America from Beirut and who as a young boy had lived in the village of Hazro outside Dikranagerd at the time of the massacres. Although the cousin knew little of Alipounar, he certainly spoke the Turkish language and had an intimate knowledge of the environment. But he would be going back to Turkey at great personal risk, having been originally a Turkish subject before becoming a refugee.
Sarkis went to see him. After describing the options to his cousin, he asked, ”The first thing I must know is, are you interested?” His cousin thought for a bit, then replied, “I will help you all I can, but I cannot go with you. You understand.”
“All right,” Sarkis said, “Help me, at least, with what you know.” And, in agreement, they planned Sarkis’ method of entry into Turkey, the ostensible purpose of his visit and his itinerary.
He was to travel as a businessman, an export/import trader in rugs, dry goods and artifacts. Sarkis was to travel to Greece and Israel before entering Turkey, in order to allay any official Turkish suspicions concerning his true mission. Once in Turkey, his planned route would include those towns and cities that would best fit in with the supposed purpose of his visit. His inclusion of Diarbekir would be considered normal enough, being a fairly large city and a curiosity to tourists.
In Diarbekir, he would get in touch with a certain Mustapha, an old friend of Sarkis’ cousin. Though a Turk, he was sympathetic to Armenians and spoke both Turkish and Kurdish. He would see to it that Sarkis got to go wherever he wanted. Another friend named Melik who spoke Turkish and English would meet Sarkis in Istanbul and accompany him throughout his stay in Turkey. So, with this arrangement, Sarkis felt he would have sufficient support to compensate for his ignorance of the language and customs of the country.
On the appointed day, Sarkis and his cousin drove to the airport, and as Sarkis prepared to leave, he assured his cousin, “Don’t worry about me, even if you don’t receive any mail or phone calls. I’ll return in three months and whatever I bring back we’ll share 50/50.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, just bring yourself back in one piece. Never mind about your buried treasure,” replied Krikor, who was getting apprehensive about the whole idea.
One month went by. No letters or telephone calls. Two months passed. The same. The third month was agony. Finally, Krikor received a letter. He tore it open.
My dear cousin:
I am well. I am in Athens right now, making arrangements for transporting some things from Istanbul that I did not dare to try to bring out with me. Don’t look for me to return to the US for a while. I will tell you all about my adventures upon my return. You have two trustworthy friends in Melik and Mustapha.
I did bring one thing out with me and I’m sending it on to you under separate cover.
Your loving cousin,
The next day, Krikor received the package. Inside was what looked like a sheepskin parchment with writing on it. It appeared to be in Greek so Krikor took it to his Greek friend, Evangelos, who confirmed that it was indeed Greek but confessed that it must be in a dialect with which he was totally unfamiliar, as he could not make out a single word. Krikor asked him to transliterate. If he could render the words from the Greek alphabet into the Roman, Krikor might know whom to go to next. When Evangelos rendered the first line, Kirkor knew immediately what was happening. It was in the Armenian language because it made reference to King Dikran II (The Great) of Armenia. Krikor reasoned that any document in the Armenian language using Greek letters must be at least 1500 years old, inasmuch as the Armenian alphabet wasn’t invented until the fifth century. The problem with understanding the manuscript was that it used the classical Armenian language, with which Krikor was not familiar. He needed help, and of course the clergy was the answer. He sought out the help of Father Karnig, who was very well trained in Krapar. He undertook the task with great pleasure. The result was as follows:
THE DEPOSITION OF ARISTAKES ARDASHADTSI TO KING DIKRAN II
On the fifth day of the month of Navasart, in the first year of the reign of our sovereign, Dikran II, I, Aristakes of Ardashad, the loyal and awe-filled subject of Dikran II, King of Kings, so ordained in the mind of the great god MIHRAD, do depose the findings of my observations for the use of my benefactor, to do with as it may so please him. His majesty requested of me a scientific inquiry into the means of procreating a male heir. I herewith tender the results of my investigation:
Two signal differences have I noted in men and women. One is the degree of physical strength possessed by each. In this regard men are brutes when compared to women. The other is the relative degree of longevity. Even when disregarding the untimely demise of warriors, one notes that, in general, women outlive men. This we then posit as an empirical observation.
Now let us divert our attention to the primary subject of sex determination of the new-born. At what point in the process of conception and gestation does the not-yet born infant assume the character of being male or female? Devout believers ascribe such matters to the intercession of the great goddess, Asdghig. However, there has not yet been a measurable correlation established between sacrifices and offerings to the gods and corresponding results. Nor has any connection yet been established between sex determination and the relative positions of the heavenly bodies. Such an aberrance on my part may be considered blasphemous, but I do not think the gods take notice of such things save in special cases or certain matters that appeal to them.
What then, is the guiding principle on which sex determination rests? We know of the periodic ovulation that takes place in the bodies of females who are of age and we know of the fertilizing sperm that is produced by males of age, but what is the nature whereby these two combine?
I therefore sought to establish a rationale based upon natural forces. I conceived the happy idea that the sex determination characters were possessed by, not the ovum, but the sperm. Also, I assumed that the semen of a healthy adult male was composed of both male and female determining spermata. It was then that I hearkened back to the two basic physical differences between men and women. Perhaps the male-determining sperm was stronger and faster-moving than the female. Perhaps, too, the female determining sperm was longer-lived than the male. Herein, perhaps, lies the answer. The egg that is ready to be fertilized when semen is introduced will accept the sperm that gets there first, logically a male. On the other hand, when semen is introduced before the egg is ready to be fertilized the sperm must dance attendance and though the males get there first, they don’t last as long as the females, one of which finally gets to fertilize the egg.
It would appear, therefore, that if a man and his wife are mindful of the calendar in their conjugal practices, their chances of predicting or determining the sex of their offspring are very good.
I have, therefore, prepared a chart for the personal use of the Queen with which her majesty can easily calculate her periods of ovulation and by which his majesty may be guided in the marital chamber.
Der Karnig, looking pale, turned to Krikor and said, “Do you realize what a tremendous discovery this is? This document is priceless. You must tell your cousin immediately! He must not permit it to fall into destructive hands. It belongs to the Armenian people and must be safeguarded at all costs.”
Krikor was trembling. “What do you suggest?”
Der Karnig solemly replied, “Tell your cousin not to think in terms of profiting from this discovery. It is not something to be sold to the highest bidder. This document belongs in the Matenadaran in Yerevan along with all the other ancient manuscripts housed there. Tell this to your cousin. Promise!”
“I promise,” breathed Krikor. “I am afraid to keep it in my possession. Will you lock it up in the church?”
“Gladly,” said Der Karnig, and he took the fleece from Krikor and gently placed it in the safe.
Krikor was dizzy as he staggered home. What an unbelievable turn of events! He couldn’t wait to write to Sarkis and tell him just what it was that he had found. He translated the text into English from memory and sent a copy along with a note to Sarkis stating exactly what Der Karnig asked him to say.
It was not too long before he received a reply.
My dear cousin:
I am delirious to know of such a precious find. I feel like an Armenian archaeologist. I cannot tell you how elated I am to know of the contribution I am given the opportunity to make to Armenian history and culture. By all means fulfill all Der Karnig’s wishes. You have my complete consent.
I started to transport some things from Istanbul to Athens but stopped. Whatever I have in my possession I am sending to you for you to keep or do with as you please. You will find among them some things of great monetary value. It is all yours as part of the bargain. The rest of the things that I, shall we say, “captured” I have decided to leave in Turkey. Why?, you may ask. I will tell you why.
The entire Anatolian plateau is one vast museum. However, one must learn where to look and search. I have been lucky. As treasures of great antiquity passed into my hands, I experienced emotions I hadn’t known I possessed. I felt, in turn, wonder and awe, mystery from contact with the ancient world, helplessness before the vicissitudes of history, sadness and tears, anger and frustration, then pride and exhilaration. I would liken it to a religious conversion. How is it possible to feel one’s nationality so intensely? Yet that’s how it was. I feel born anew. My true life is just beginning. I am a pioneer, the true descendant of Haig, Ardashes and Dikran. No one can depreciate my spirit. It is invincible.
I am going back to Turkey to stay. I know this news astounds you. However, rest assured that I know what I am doing. I intend, with Melik’s and Mustapha’s help, to learn the Turkish language. I will find a place for myself in the land of my fathers, even if it means being a stranger there. I don’t know how it will turn out. I just know I must maintain an Armenian presence there. If people ask, just tell them I am on an extended vacation. After a while, no one will ask anymore. If I can get a toe-hold there, it may become possible for others to follow. You must think I’m crazy, but there it is. Without his land, an Armenian ceases to be Armenian.
Your loving cousin,