Songs Of Exile -sm19151204

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Hymns and Poems Through Which the Armenians Have Cried Out Against their Persecution
By Alice Stone Blackwell

December 4, 1915

IN this time of bitter grief among the Armenian people, readers of THE SURVEY may like to look into their thoughts and aspirations as revealed in their poetry. For among the people of many nationalities that have been flung into the American melting pot, the Armenians have one of the most interesting and heroic histories.

The Armenians are Aryans and of pure Caucasian blood. James Bryce wrote of them, many years ago:

"They are a strong race, not only with vigorous nerves and sinews, physically active and energetic, but also of conspicuous brain power. Among all those who dwell in western Asia they stand first, with a capacity for intellectual and moral progress, as well as with a natural tenacity of will and purpose, beyond that of all their neighbors---not merely of Turks, Tartars, Kurds and Persians, but also of Russians.

"Thus they have held a very important place among the inhabitants of Western Asia ever since the sixth century. If you look into the annals of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire, you will find that most of the men who rose to eminence in its service as generals or statesmen during the early middle ages were of Armenian stock. So was it also after the establishment of the Turkish dominion in Europe. Many of the ablest men in the Turkish service have been Armenians by birth or extraction. The same is true of the Russian service."

Lamartone calls the Armenians "the Swiss of the East." Dulaurier compares them to the Dutch. Dr. James L. Barton, of the American Board of Foreign Missions, and former president of Euphrates College in Turkey, says:

"I know the Armenians to be, by inheritance, religious, industrious and faithful. They are the Anglo-Saxons of eastern Turkey. They are not inferior in mental ability to any race. I say this after eight years' connection with Euphrates College, which has continually from 550 to 625 Armenians upon its list of students, and after superintending schools which have 4,000 more of them."

Like evidence has been given by a long list of Armenians who have taught in the missionary schools and colleges in Turkey-- Dr. Cyrus Hamlin, the Rev. Frederick D. Greene, Dr Grace Kimball, Dr. Lyman Bartlett and many others. From a large acquaintance among the Armenians in this country, extending over more than twenty years. I can bear personal testimony to their worth. Among them, as among all other nationalities, there are all sorts of persons, good, bad and indifferent; but Lord Byron wrote with truth:

"It would perhaps be difficult to find in the annals of a nation less crime than in those of this people."

The native home of the race is a mountainous region of western Asia, lying around Mount Ararat, and containing the sources of the Tigris, Euphrates and Araxes rivers. According to tradition, it was the site of the Garden of Eden. The Armenians have lived there since before the dawn of history.

Christianity is said to have been preached in Armenia early in the first century in Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. It is historic fact that in A. D. 276 the king and the whole nation embraced Christianity, under the preaching of St. Gregory, called "the Illuminator." The Armenian national church in its doctrines and services, may be roughly described as half-way between the Greek Church and High Church Episcopalianism. Some of its early hymns breath a poetic devotion, like the following by St. Gregory of Narek (born 951, died 1011):

The Christ Child

"The lips of the Christ Child are like to twin leaves; They let roses fall when he smiles tenderly. The tears of the Christ Child are pearls when he grieves; The eyes of the Christ Child are deep as the sea. Like pomegranate grains are the dimples he hath, And clustering lilies spring up in his path."

As a Christian nation whose lot has been cast beyond the frontiers of Christendom, the Armenians have had to suffer constant persecution--in early times from the Persian fire worshippers; in later centuries, from the Mohammedans. Their country has been invaded successively by the caliphs of Baghdad, the sultans of Egypt, the khans of Tartary, the shahs of Persia, and the Ottoman Turks. All these invasions were accompanied by fierce persecutions and great barbarities; but the Armenians have held tenaciously to their faith for more than fifteen hundreds years.

In the middle of the fifth century Armenia had already lost its national independence. It was ruled by feudal chiefs and princes who were subject to the King of Persia. The Persians at this time were aiming at the conquest and conversion of the world. In A. D. 450 the Persian king called upon the Armenians to embrace fire worship; and upon their unanimous refusal, he invaded their country with a vast army. The battle was fought on the plain of Avarair, under Mount Ararat. The much smaller force of the Armenians was defeated, and their leader, Vartan, was killed. But the stubborn resistance offered by men, women and children convinced the Persian monarch that it was impossible ever to make fire worshippers of the Armenians, and he gave up the attempt.

This battle was the Armenian Marathon, and the national songs are full of allusions to it. The Armenian mountaineers of the Caucasus still drink the health of Vartan at their festivals, and wreathe his portrait with red flowers on the anniversary of the battle. In the minds of the common people, all sorts of picturesque superstitions cluster about Avarair. A particular kind of red flowers grow there, which are found nowhere else, and it is believed that they sprang from the blood of the Christian army. A species of antelope, with a pouch on its breast secreting a fragrant musk, is supposed to have acquired this peculiarity by browsing on grass wet with the same blood. It is also believed that at Avarair the nightingales all sing. "Vartan, Vartan!"

Geographically, Armenia is the bridge between Asia and Europe; and for centuries the Armenians acted the part of Horatius, and "kept the bridge," driving back wave after wave of invasion from Asia. Alone among the Asiatic peoples, they gave aid and comfort to the Crusaders, acting as their guides and supplying them with provisions. One of the most popular Armenian poets, Raphael Patkanian (born 1830, died 1892), recalls these services in his

Complaint to Europe

"Have you forgotten, Europe, how the dart
Of the fierce Persian pointed at your heart,
Until, on that dread field of Avarair,
Armenian blood quenched his fanatic fire?

"Have you forgot the fell and crushing blow
Prepared for you by Islam long ago?
We would not see your desolation the,
Burning of cities, massacre of men.

"Two hundred years Armenia, bathed in blood.
Europe was safe, our living wall behind,
Until the enemy's huge strength declined.

"Have you forgotten, Europe, how of yore
your heroes in the desert hungered sore?
What then could strength or force of arms avail,
Had we not fed your hosts, with famine pale?"

Armenia, am Asiatic Poland, was long since divided between Russia, Persia and Turkey. The Armenians have suffered oppression in all three, but the worst persecutions have been in Turkey. Protection was guaranteed to the Armenians by the principal European powers, under a treaty signed nearly forty years ago; but the mutual jealousy of the European nations has prevented the pledge from being kept, and the historic of the Armenians for many years past has been one long tragedy. The chronic condition in Turkey was well described by one of the best Armenian poets. Bedros Tourian, the son of a blacksmith of Scutari, who died of a blacksmith of Scutari, who died of consumption on 1872, at the age of twenty. At the time of his writing, the Christians were forbidden by law to possess any weapons, while their oppressors were fully armed:

New Dark Days

"The centuries of bloodshed
Are past, those cruel years;
But there is still one country
Whose mountains drip with tears,
Whose river banks are blood strained,
Whose mourning loads the breeze,--
A land of dreary ruins,
Ashes, and cypress trees.

"No more for the Armenian
A twinkling star appears;
His spirit's flowers have faded Beneath a rain of tears.
Ceased are the sounds of harmless mirth,
The dances hand in hand;
Only the weapon on the Koord
Shines freely through the land

"The peasant sows, but never reaps;
He hungers evermore.
He eats his bread in bitterness,
And tastes of anguish sore.
Lo! tears and blood together
drop from his pallid face;
And these are our own brothers,
Of our own blood and race!

"The forehead pure, the sacred veil
Of the Armenian maid,
Shall rude hands touch, and hell's hot breath
Her innocence invade?
They do it as men crush a flower,
With no compunction stirred;
They slaughter an Armenian
As they would kill a bird.

"O roots of vengeance, heroes' bones
Who fell of old in fight,
Have ye all crumbled into dust,
Nor sent one shoot to light?
Oh, of that eagle nation
Now trampled by the Koord,
Is nothing left but black-hued crows
And moles with eyes obscured?

"Give back our sister's roses,
Our brothers who have died.
The crosses of our churches,
Our nation's peace and pride!
O Sultan, we demand of thee
And with our hearts entreat--
Give us protection from the Koord.
Or arms his arms to meet!"

Many of the Armenian poems breathe high spirit and courage, like the lines to Liberty, by Michael Ghazarian Nalbandian, who was born in 1830 and died in 1866, of lung disease contracted in a Russian prison:


"When God, who is forever free,
Breathed life into my early frame--
From that first day, by His free will.
When I a living soul became--
A babe upon my mother's breast.
Ere power of speech was given to me.
Even then I stretched my feeble arms
Forth to embrace thee, Liberty!

"Wrapped round with many swaddling bands.
All night I did not cease to weep,
And in my cradle, restless still,
My cries disturbed my mother's sleep.
'O mother!' in my heart I prayed,
'Unbind my arms and leave me free!'
And even from that hour I vowed
To love thee ever, Liberty!

"When first my faltering tongue was freed,
And when my parents' hearts were stirred
With thrilling joy, to hear their son
Pronounce his first clear-spoken word,
'Papa, Mamma,' as children use,
Were not the names first said by me;
The first word on my childish lips
Was thy great name, O Liberty!

" 'Liberty!' from on high replied
The sovereign voice of Destiny:
'Wilt thou enroll thyself henceforth
A soldier true of Liberty?
The path is thorny all the way.
And many trials wait for thee;
Too strait and narrow is this world
For him who loved Liberty.'

" 'Freedom!' I answered, 'on my head
Let fire descend and thunders burst;
Let foes against my life conspire,
Let all who hate thee do their worst.
I will be true to thee till death:
Yea, even upon the gallows tree
The last breathe of a death of shame
Shall shout thy name, O Liberty!' "

In consequence of chronic persecution, Armenians are now to be found scattered all over the world. Hence Armenian poetry is full of the laments of exiles. Some are by distinguished men, like The Wandering Armenian to the Cloud, by the late Archbishop Khorene Nar Bey de Lusignan:

The Wandering Armenian to the Cloud

"Cloud, whither dost thou haste away
So swiftly through the air?
Dost thou to some far-distant land
An urgent message bear?

"With gloomy aspect, dark and sad,
Thou moves on through space.
Dost thou hide vengeance, or has grief
Overshadowed thy bright face?

"Did a wind come and exile thee
Far from thy heavenly home,
Like me, in homesickness and tears
Across the world to roam?

"Like me, who wander now, my grief's
sole comrades left to me,
While, yearning for my fatherland,
I pine on land and sea?

"Cloud, when thy heart is full of tears
Thou hast relief in rain;
When indignation brims thy breast.
Fierce lightning's tell thy pain.

"Though my heart too is full, my brow
With painful thoughts oppressed,
To whom can I pour forth the grieves
That fill an exile's breast?

"O cloud, thou hast no native land!
Far happier thou than I.
To north, to south thou floatest free.
At home in all the sky.

"But I, at every step, shed tears,
In sorrow and in gloom.
Each step away from mine own land
Is nearer to my tomb!"

Other popular songs of exile are by authors who are otherwise little known like C. A. Totochian's poem:

The Wandering Armenian to the Sallow
"O swallow, gentle swallow,
Thou lovely bird of spring!
Say, whither art thou flying
So swift on gleaming wing?

"Fly to my birthplace, Achdarag.
The spot I love the best;
Beneath my father's roof-tree,
O swallow, build thy nest.

"There dwells afar my father,
A mournful man and gray,
Who for his only son's return
Waits vainly, day by day.

"If thou should chance to see him,
Greet him with love from me;
Bid him sit down and mourn with tears
His son's sad destiny.

"In poverty and loneliness,
Tell him, my days are passed
My life is only half a life,
My tears are falling fast.

"To me, amid bright daylight,
The sun is dark at noon;
To my wet eyes at midnight
Sleep comes not, late or soon.

"Tell him that like a beauteous flower
Smith by a cruel doom,
Uprooted from my native soil,
I wither ere my bloom.

"Fly on swift wing, dear swallow
Across the quickening earth,
And seek in fair Armenia
The village of my birth!"

Some favorite songs are of unknown authorship, like

The Wanderer

"Oh, heavy hearted is the wanderer
In foreign lands, who hath his country left!
In gazing on the fever of his heart,
Even the rocks with sorrow would be cleft.
"When you on any man would call a curse.
Say, 'Be a wanderer from your native land!
And may your pillow be the mountain side.
And may you sleep at night upon the sand!
!'And, when you think upon your fatherland,
May you from head to foot be full of Pains!'
My heart is a cracked vase; in vain I pour
Water therein; unfilled it still remains.
"Each bird of heaven halth its companion found,
I am alone and solitary still;
Each stone is fixed and quiet in its place;
I roll forevermore by vale and hill."

Anonymous too is the song of the homesick Armenian girl:

The Song of the Homesick Armenian Girl

"I was a quince-bush growing on a rock.
A rocky cliff that rose above the dell.
They have uprooted and transplanted me
Unto a stranger's orchard, there to dwell
And in this orchard they have watered me
With sugar water, that full sweetly flows
O brothers, fear me back to my soil.
And water me with water of the snows!"

The grief of the exile's mother has been voiced, among others, by Siamanto and by Daniel Varoujan, two of the most distinguished of the modern Armenian poets. Both of them were lately deported to have perished. Varoujan wrote

The Longing Letter

"My mother writes: 'My son on pilgrimage
How long a time must pass ere your moon poor head
To my warm bosom I may press, at home
" 'Oh, long enough upon strange stairs have trod
Your feet, which in my palms I warmed one day--
Your heart, in which my breasts were emptied once,
Far from my empty heart has pined away!
" 'My arms are weary at the spinning wheel;
I weave my shroud, too, with my hair of snow.
Ah, would mine eyes could see you once again,
Then close forever, with my heart below.
" 'Always I sit in sadness at my door,
And tidings ask from every crane that flies.
That willow slip you planted long ago
Has grown till over me its shadow lies
" 'I wait in vain for your return at eve.
All the brave fellows of the village pass
The laborer goes by, the herdsman bold--
I with the moon am left alone, alas!
" 'My ruined house is left without a head.
Sometimes for death, and always for the cheer
Of my own hearth I yearn. A tortoise I,
Whose entrails to its broken shell adhere!
" 'Oh, come, my son, your ancient home restore!
They burst the door, they swept the larders bare.
Now all the swallows of the spring come in,
Through shattered windows, open to the air.
" 'Of all the glodly flocks of long ago
One brave ram only in our stable stands.
His mother once--remember, little son--
While yet a lamb, ate oats out of your hands.
" 'Rice, bran and clover fine I give him now,
To nourish his rich djak, of noble size;
I comb his soft wool with a wooden comb;
He is a dear and precious sacrifice.
" 'When you come back, his head with roses wreathed,
He shall be sacrificed to feast you, sweet;
And in his blood, my well-beloved son,
I then will wash my pilgrim's weary feet.' "

The Mother's Dream

"Let me write now and tell you of my dream.
It was upon the midnight of All Saints.
Sudden before me your four brothers knelt:
They wore no shrouds, no vestiges of flesh;
Groping in darkness, with abysmal eyes,
Weeping before their mother thus they came
TO tell their memories of other days.
" 'Mother, the dawning of the bygone days
We four together, from beneath the ground,
Today have sought once more your little door
TO tap on it, companioned by the storm
Mother, be not afraid, no strangers we!
And, lonely in your slumber, wait at least
And let us watch your face in death's dark night!'
" 'Mother, the holiness of bygone days!
Out of my heart, death our poor graveyard's earth,
Mother, a flower of love for you has grown!'
" 'Mother, the sweetness of the bygone days!
For you two jars with my salt tears are filled.'
" 'Mother, the happiness of bygone days!
For you have burning roses, flowers of hope,
Sprung into fiery blossom from my soul!'
" 'O mother, the heroic manliness
Of bygone day! Out of my breast-bones now
Two shields for your protection have been wrought.'
" 'Mother, your peerless beauty in the past!
How many furrows now have marked you brow!"
(Thus spake your eldest brother). 'All alone
Under your roof-tree, how can you endure?
These seven years, we seven times have tapped
Upon your little door, but till tonight
We never yet have found the door unclosed.
What traveler do you await tonight?
Behold, your fragile hut is tottering.
Like to a heap of moldering coffin-boards.
Se how the leaves, storm-rent, fall from the trees!
The guiltless doves are dying in the brook,
And still upon the threshold of your home,
Mother, the black snakes lick our dried-up blood.
The garden has no leaf, no fruit, no brier.
We four together have been through the hut,
And at the sight of us our broken swords
Gave out once more a single flash of light
Empty the larder was, and in the barn
A white lamb bleated, biting at its hoofs
Mother, the plenty of the bygone days!
The love and pity of the bygone days!
How can you live here in your empty hut,
Here in your empty hut how can you live?
"The four were mute; but when I spoke your name
And sobbed tempestuously in my dream,
They wildly, with bowed heads, began to weep.
But still,' I said, your brother is alive.
The little one, who did not see you die.
It is for him alone I live today.'
Then they burst forth, and poured upon mine eyes
The terrible black tear drops of the dead
A brother, oh, we have a brother yet.
A brother, oh, a brother in the world!
Mother, the misery of coming days!
Hereafter, how shall we to earth return
Now how, oh, how shall we to earth return?' "

The poetic nature of the Armenians is seen also in their prose. Eghiche, an Armenian bishop of the Fifth century has left us a graphic history of the Persian invasion of A. D. 451, of which he was an eye witness. In the eighth chapter he describes the fortitude shown by the Armenian women, After the princes and nobles had been killed or carried away captive, and the country reduced almost to a desert. Writing nine hundred years before Chaucer Eghiche says:

"But I cannot enumerate all the wives of the heroes, both of those who were in fetters and those who had fallen in battle for there are more whom I do not know than those whom I know. I know by name and by sight about five hundred; not only those who were the highest in rank, but many of low degree. All of them together being kindled by a holy emulation, put on the same virtue of fidelity. They forgot even the name of the luxury belonging to their hereditary freedom, and became like men who have suffered from the beginning after the manner of peasants, and who have passed their lives in this world amid hardships.

"The elder ones took upon themselves the greater endurance. They were comforted by the invisible force of the eternal hope, and accepted the heavy burden of bodily pain. For although each of them had had hereditary servants, there was now nothing to distinguish between mistress and maid. All wore the same dress, and all alike slept on the ground. Neither one made the other's bed. There was no distinction even in their food. All the mattresses were of the same dark color, and all the pillows were alike black. They had no special makers of spiced dishes, nor bread-markers set apart for service at table, but everything was in common. None poured water on the other's hands, neither did the younger ones offer towels to the elder. The delicate women had no soap, nor was oil offered to them for rejoicing. No costly platter was set before them, neither were cup-bearers found at their festivals. For none of them did an usher stand at the door, neither were the nobles called by them.

"The brutal chambers of the young brides became dusty and dusty and dim, and spiders webs were spun in their palaces were destroyed, and the vessels of their table service were in disorder. Their palaces fell, and the fortress of their refuge crashed down in ruin; their flower-gardens dried up and withered, and the wine-bearing vines of their vineyards were torn up. With their eyes they saw the spoiling of their goods, and with their ears they heard of the sufferings of their dear ones. Their treasures were confiscated, and nothing at all was left of the ornaments of their faces.

"The delicately reared women of the land of Armenian, who had been brought up in luxury and petted in costly clothing and on soft couches, went untiringly to the houses of prayer, on foot and barefooted, asking with vows that they might be enabled to endure their great affliction. Those who from childhood had been reared on oxen's brains and the choicest pieces of the deer, were now glad to eat vegetable food, like savages. The skins of their bodies, blackening, became dark, because by the day they were sunburned, and all night they slept on the ground. The everlasting psalms were the murmurs of their lips, and their complete comfort were in the reading of the prophets.

"The women paired off two by two, like the animals, as equal and harmonious, drawing strait the furrow of the kingdom, that they might reach the harbor of peace without fail. They forgot their womanly weakness, and became brave males in the spiritual warfare. Doing battle, they fought against the cardinal sins; they pulled up and threw away their deadly roots. With simplicity they conquered guilefulness, and with sacred love they washed away the dark coloring of envy. They cut off the roots of avarice, and the death-bearing fruits of its branches dried up. With humility they trampled upon arrogance, and with the same humility they reached the heavenly height. With prayers they opened the closed doors of heaven, and with holly petitions caused the angels of redemption to descend. They heard the good tidings from afar, and glorified God in the highest.

"The widows among them became again as virtuous brides, and put away from them the reproach of widowhood. And the wives of those who were in fetters willingly restrained the physical appetites, and became partakers of the sufferings of the imprisoned saints. In their lives they resembled the brave martyrs in their deaths, and from a distance they became teachers of consolation to the prisoners. With their fingers they worked and were fed, and the pensions granted them by the court they sent year by year to their husbands for their comfort. They became like the bloodless cricket, which lives without food, by the sweetness of its song.

"The snows of many winters melted, the spring arrived, the new birds came, life-loving men saw and rejoiced; but they could never see those for whom they longed. The spring flowers reminded them of their loving husbands, and their eyes longed in vain to see the desirable beauty of their faces. Their hounds died, and their hunting excursions were ended. No yearly festivals brought them from afar. The women looked on their dining places and wept; and they remembered them in all their assemblies. Many monuments were raised to them, and the names of each inscribed thereon.

"But while thus upon all sides their minds were storm-beaten, the women did not retreat, or weaken in heavenly virtue. To outsiders they appeared mourning and sorrowful widows, but in their own souls they were adorned with heavenly love. They ceased to ask anyone who had come from a distance. !When shall we see our dear ones?' The desires of their prayers to God were only that they moght finish their course with courage, filled with heavenly love, even as they had begun."

Armenian women are proverbial for their chastity, which makes the horrible treatment inflicted upon them in Turkey the more grievous.

Armenian poetry is not all sorrowful. There are many love poems, tender and passionate; many beautiful lullabies, often addressed to fatherless children; much patriotic poetry; and some fine poems upon general subjects. A good example of these last is The Bond, by Archag Tchobanian:


"All things are bound together by a tie
Finer and subtler than a ray of light.
Color and sound and fleeting fragrances,
The maiden's smile, the star-beam sparkling bright.
Are knit together by a secret bond
Finer and subtler than a ray of light.
"Sometimes an urn of memories is unsealed
Just by a simple tune, or sad or gay.
Part of the past with every quivering note
From its dark sleep awakens to the day.
Just through a simple tune, or sad or gay.
"Flowers call back men and women to our thoughts;
A well-known face smiles on us in their hue;
Their bright cups, moved by the capricious wind,
Can make us dream of eyes, black eyes or blue;
We in their fragrance feel a loved one's breath;
Flowers cal back men and women whom we knew."

But nothing can call back the 800,000 Armenian men, women and children who have been done to death since last March. It is now fully established, by abundant evidence from unimpeachable American sources, that the Armenians in Turkey are being systematically exterminated I would most earnestly urge the many able men and women of humanitarian sympathies who read THE SURVEY to use their utmost influence with persons in power to stop the slaughter, in whatever way seems to them individually the most hopeful; and to apply their best intelligence to the problem how to make such cruelties impossible for the future.

In the meantime, we can contribute to the relief fund; we can welcome such refugees as may escape to our shores; and we can give our warm sympathy to the many thousands of Armenians among us, who are heartbroken for the fate of their kindred at home.

The inscriptions and stone cannon-balls are commemorative of the Armenians' perpetual; fight for existence.

The city is 4,500 feet above sea level; the buildings of the flourishing school may be seen in the middle ground.


The Armenians, aided by the Russians, successfully repulsed the Turkish attack last spring; later were forced to flee, and now the ruined shell of the city is held by the Russian forces.

Left to right, A Chmichian (Harvard), when last heard from, a teacher at Aintab; R. Racoubian (Columbia)a teacher at Sivas, whose life is believed to have been forfeited; D. Loolejian (Yale), a teacher at Harpoot who has suffered extreme torture.

Refugees in the American mission compound at Van during the siege.

p. 105, REFUGEES
Pausing at the frontier town of Ikder on their way to Edgmiatsin, in the Caucasus.

Parts of it date back to the fourth century. It is the seat of the Katholikos, or head of the Christian Armenian faith. At the present day the only native institutions which has been preserved to the Armenian people is the church.

A hard copy of this article or hundreds of others from the time of the Armenian Genocide can be found in The Armenian Genocide: News Accounts From The American Press: 1915-1922