A Story about Escaping an Early 20th Century Execution

And how my great-grandfather lived to tell it

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images on Flickr

The early 20th century had lots of events happening simultaneously. It is no surprise that when it comes to thinking of the era of the First World War and the gradual introduction to electricity, the birth of modern civilization can be traced all the way back to its root. Yet, withstanding the fact that there was an impressive array of milestones on display, it does not go to say that there was an adequate means of reporting every happening which the ordinary layman crossed paths with throughout their lifetime. If the two consecutive World Wars have taught us anything, it should be about the journey one must take to uncover bits and bobs of an undiscovered treasure that was buried in silent hope. Hope pertained by people like my great-grandfather who happened to save his life regardless of having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • Chance Encounter

Four o’clock in the afternoon. My hand skims past a page of my notebook as I intently listen to the tape recorder blurting my great-grandfather’s rusty voice. He is speaking a language I can’t comprehend — Turkish — as my father who sits opposite of me partakes in translating what appears to be an interview he gave his grandfather about four decades ago. I am holding a pencil as it vigorously notes down instances highlighted by my father’s approximate translation of the words being spoken. The words teleport me to a time and place my mind could only fathom dreaming of.

The Ottoman Empire, 1915.

The occupied streets unfold before me as I navigate my way through the shattered pieces of marble and brick that kiss the ground. There is a general distaste arising from the faces observed around the neighborhood. They are screaming at me, or, the invisibility of me: “Leave… leave…”

No one has anything left here anymore.

I track a youthful representation of my great-grandfather which I have come to identify from his ancient photos, and begin to follow his fast-paced figure. He is headed to work. The walk feels like it is dragging almost an hour before he approaches his resting point. A maintenance shop that specializes in making and applying upholstery into carriages. I sit on a distant chair, observing his tending to a carriage that has been parked by the shop’s front porch. He completes his task of refurbishing its upholstery as a howl of horses is heard approaching our vicinity; the frantic tapping of their shoes being heard stronger by the second.

The customer has made his way. He attaches a horse to the carriage that has just completed its renovation and proceeds to salute my great-grandfather in satisfaction.

Two days later, I am sat at the same chair in the same dusty walled room. My great-grandfather is consumed in replacing the upholstery of a similar carriage before he expects a visitor knocking on his front door. It is the same man who had come up to fetch the carriage a few days ago. Only this time he has no carriage to fetch. It is my great-grandfather he is seeking after. Offering him an exchange of words, he lets him know that the owner of the carriage has been incredibly impressed by his work and would like to see him and thank him in person at his house. My great-grandfather is flattered; he blushes before complying with what appears to be like a decision comprising of little choice.

Photo by Andreea Ch on Unsplash

He makes it safe into the house of the mysterious owner. The only thing detectable about him so far is his wealth, indicated by his lavish exhibition of fortune-costing furniture and paintings. He has his assistant; the man who is responsible of picking up his carriage, to lead my great-grandfather around the mansion until they enter an office. A few minutes later, he is at the disposal of my honored great-grandfather. He enacts some small talk with him, praises him for a job well done, and thanks him for having saved him the trouble of purchasing a new carriage.

My great-grandfather is able to leave.

The office’s doors shut behind him as he begins to unsurely navigate himself outside of the mansion. The owner’s assistant figured he should have learned the way by now. Besides, he could use an extra word with him in private. Upon unconsciously committing a detour around the house, my great-grandfather finds himself back at the auspices of the office. He is eager to start the path towards the outside again, but a high utter of a conversation between the two men from within the room grabs his attention. He cannot help but take a listen. The owner of the carriage is speaking; a man whose identity would soon prove itself when sparing my great-grandfather’s life.

“Who would’ve thought that an Armenian could be so hardworking, so efficiently productive and so intelligent as to perform such a beautiful work?”

The words come out of the owner’s mouth as smooth as butter as my great-grandfather decides to abandon the premises with loaded confusion.

Events do not just happen, but arrive by appointment. — Epictetus

Photo by DarkmoonArt_de on Pixabay
  • The Execution

The clock strikes past six o’clock in the afternoon. My great-grandfather is just about done with his job for the day as he decides to head out of the shop. The silence that once coated our vicinity is now replaced with shutters and yelps giving birth from distant inhabitants. They don’t remain distant. Their heart wrenching yearns are heard traveling closer and closer. They are soon accompanied by a thrush of horses speeding their way across the square. They have decided to stop by the shop.

A brief entrance of three state soldiers and their conversation with my great-grandfather lasts no more than two minutes before they ask him to follow them outside. They claim there is an important arrangement to be made that would require his presence at a specific place. The four exit the space towards the moonlit landscape of demolished infrastructure as I am swept by the sight of the soldiers leading my great-grandfather onto the carriage. I follow them along as they embark on a journey towards the promised area of arranging the matter. After what felt like an eternity on the road, the carriage pulls off at the heart of a vacant plot of desert. The soldiers step out of the carriage, ordering my great-grandfather to jump off the carriage.

Their tones have changed, and their weapons have made their appearance in advance. My great-grandfather complies, being forced to stand alongside a queue of victims who had already been placed in the trap beforehand. Some of their faces possess a look of disappointment whilst others’ are filled with looks of contentment; eager to get the job done with. All of the men present are ordered to place their hands behind their heads as a line of soldiers stand meters apart from them. Their guns arch upwards as they stare at the collection of bodies prepared to surrender their livelihoods at the command of their wish.

“And, fire…” one of the guards proclaims. But the fire does not ignite yet.

Instead, it is brought to a halt by an incoming surge of a carriage. It is traveling at the speed of light. Before the soldiers are able to formulate an expression, it has reached our proximity and parked at the corner of the lined up executioners. A hyper soldier steps out of the carriage, holding a piece of paper in his hand as he chaotically uncovers the words written on it. His hand is raised to signal a will to intervene in the occasion.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! Hold on a second, there,” his dried out lips mutter. “If you hear your name, please step backwards.”

He proceeds to initiate a rundown of names, one of which happens to be my great-grandfather’s. In return, my great-grandfather shakenly withdraws his hands from the back of his head and steps backwards. The speaker approaches him and kindly asks him to join him in entering the carriage with him. He does as told, and as the carriage sets off, shots are heard being fired at the rest of the ill-fated men. Among the pool of blood sinking the golden sand, only two souls are fortunate enough to shelter themselves that evening. One belonging to my great-grandfather, and the other to an acquaintance of his who has been lucky in hiding beneath the pretence of a dead man.

The two were to reconcile in the coming days, before the small scale murders of minorities in the Ottoman suburbs turned into widespread genocides, among them being the Armenian Genocide. My great-grandfather was to realize that the sparer of his life was the same man who had owned the carriage and profoundly thanked him for his magnificent job in his own house. The man who also went by the role of the Marshal of the Ottoman Army. In other words, the same person who had perpetuated the genocide had also, peculiarly enough, chosen to avoid having my great-grandfather participate in his scheme; the only viable explanation being the incredibly positive impression that he had of him concerning the treatment of his carriage’s upholstery.

  • Meeting Fate in The Eye

I am back in the 21st century, marvelling at the tape recorder that has just finished broadcasting my great-grandfather’s voice.

I guess the saying that nothing happens by coincidence hits the nail on the ground when thinking of incidents with odd turnouts such as this one. I like to think that if it weren’t for this specific sequence of events, the chances of my existence would have probably been hindered, and so would millions of others’. That is the only certain conclusion to be made in a world that is based on inexplicable occurrences.

Author | Creative | Film Enthusiast. A 19 year old passionate about uplifting people and trying to make sense of a place we call the Universe.

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