By Vrej Saroukhanian
(Translated from Original text in Armenian)
The group gathered in the patient’s room of the old-age home in the German city of Heidelburg, was attempting to make the over ninety years old Estonian lady talk, somehow. Even if she has no last will, at least a few nice words she would say to those left behind. They asked questions in a few different languages, but the woman kept looking at them bewildered, disoriented, not knowing how to respond to the physician’s half smiles.
-She knows seven languages: Estonian, Russian, French, English, German, Turkish and Armenian hastened to inform the caretaker, it has been a few hours now, she has forgotten all of it, can’t talk, she does not understand us either.
In her bed, very near to her end, after her mute monologue the woman suddenly began to talk. Everyone was visibly shocked. She was talking to those present in an unknown language. Suddenly, the caretaker responded to the near death patient with a smile. Everyone’s attention was upon her now, and the dying woman with a faint smile called her closer and addressing everyone in the room she said: “My heart is Armenian!”
The Armenian caretaker translated. The German Doctor was confused for a moment. He said: ”In such instances the dying person speaks specially in the language of her childhood, isn’t a fact that in that moment of dying, at the end of reviewing of her life the childhood days come to the fore, the mother tongue, the parents, and those who are most dear to her. Why this lonely Estonian lady in Germany should speak specially Armenian? Are the Armenians most dear to her?”
In his practice as a doctor he had not experienced such an event but visibly startled, started to dig into his memory. The Armenian refugee understood the doctor and handed over an old diary which was faded through much readings and handling. On the cover was written: ”Anna Hedwig Büll, Estonian Missionary.” The doctor asked for the diary for a short time, otherwise he thought, his specialized experience will crack.
“Anna Hedwig Büll, I was born in 1887 on Jan. 23 in the city of Habsalou, Estonia to Lutheran Family. I was the sixth of the eight children. Up to age 15, I attended the public school of Estonia, then I studied at the pedagogical Institute of St. Petersburg, and then received training at the missionary school in Germany and have mastered seven languages.
I learned in 1909 about the horrific massacres of Armenians in Adana (Turkey). I decided to go this far off country of which I was completely unaware of, to participate in the rescue mission of Christian children who were orphaned. Naturally, for my parents, especially for my father who was the mayor and owned health spas and an aristocratic environment, it was not easy to reconcile with the decision of a 24 year old girl a candidate for marriage and all the sacrifices that entailed. But I insisted stubbornly.
The carriage that took us to Cilicia passed through a gorge through a narrow winding road, when like a highway robbers suddenly a few Turks wielding and cocking their big guns confronted us. I managed to hide among the bales of clothing and boxes of school supplies. I did not have a chance to realize what was happening, they tied the arms of the carriage driver while one of the ruffians with no scruples tore down my missionary’s dress and with lustful shining eyes said: “Glory be to Allah, who sent this one!”
– “Hyena! Don’t you dare to touch me!” I screamed with all the languages I knew!
-”Ahmet, you don’t have anything to do with her, you will bring headache upon us all, it is better not to loose time and carry the loot to its place. To avoid unnecessary headache, stay away! With all they controlled, the wild ones and departed with the loot!”
That was my first acquaintance with a Turk!
In 1911, I arrived at Cilicia and started to work at the Bethel orphanage founded by the German Evangelical preachers for the parentless children. As a teacher with the women physicians I set out to gather the orphans. It looked like as if I was in hell! In the village of Sareeyar I found a nine year old girl whom the officer had attempted to rape, but not being successful he had torn her belly with his gun’s bayonet! The blood had curdled and there were maggots in the wound. “Don’t get any closer!” I was warned by the orphanage’s doctor. “It is possible that she had contagious disease and may pass it onto the rest of the orphans.”
When teachers were gone a short distance, I wrapped her with a bed sheet and brought her to the orphanage and had her lay down in my bed. With great difficulty I made her to stand on her feet. That girl later became a missionary and carried out such a great work in the Near East efforts to gather the orphans and I wrote her biography in Armenian. I worked there until 1915 when the Young Turks opened up the incurable wounds of hellish massacres upon the conscience of and the morality of the entire humanity. I have seen how the soldiers were betting on tearing the Armenian women’s pregnant wombs with a sword to see if the fetus was a boy or a girl. The justice was being slaughtered but the world’s conscience was pretending to be deaf and blind!
For the summer vacations I had taken the children to the Red Monastery where St. Nersess the Graceful and St. Krikor Bahlavouni* studied and attained the title of “Wisdom Lover-Իմաստասէր.” Just then and there I received an urgent telegram from my sisters. “The mother is near her death and she is not capable to surrender her soul to God without you being present; if you are capable, please come!”
After a lengthy absence finally I entered my paternal home, my sisters, already wearing black, rebuked me very coldly. “You could have come earlier… you tortured mother. When she died, we took out your photo she kept in her bosom, and to spare her continuous heartache in the other world, we buried it with her.”
Our father had passed away long ago!! I understood that I was a stranger in our family. Time had pulverized many things. I entered the bedroom at least to let go off of my tears freely. I saw on the table a periodical of French Protestants. “Our brothers and sisters in the East are again being martyred for their faith. Our correspondent from Marash is reporting that fanatic Turkish mob, have gathered four thousand Armenians in the Mother church of Holy Mother of God, have firmly closed the doors and have set to fire.”
My stay there was impossible. Same night without bidding farewell to my sisters I arrived at the train station in the dark corridor of the wagon my tears were only thing that were consoling me. I will not see my fatherland again.”
The physician was confounded beyond description. He was pressing his eyes with his fingers rubbing his forehead. “Is it possible to be dedicated to a total stranger? Is the sympathy does not recognize any boundaries?”
“1916-1919 I worked with the same missionary organization at the Haroniye Village in the German orphanage. There, I forgot even the most natural feelings of first love and the love of being a mother! The sunset was bringing all the Turkish atrocities and filling them, stuffing them into the nightmares of the orphans.
And the mornings were bringing most dreadful emotional upheaval with the appearance of the Turkish Asgyar (Soldier). As I remember, I am trembling, shaking with my whole body when in 1918 a Turkish group came to the orphanage and …announced that. ‘We must, the entire orphanage must relocate the orphans to a more secure “safer” location in Syria!’
I understood, immediately that the ‘safe location’ was the product of “Turkish diplomacy” and the place was the desert of Der-el-Zor, I was shaken with fear but I maintained stubbornly that this is against the international laws…..
…. They laughed at me with utter cynicism. I insisted that I would appeal the German, English, French and other consulates of other countries, the international missions. They, with the same cynicism answered that those countries were the perpetual friends of Turkey. I picked up paper and in their presence I started my letter. The soldiers became more cautious from unnecessary noise and decided postpone the orphans’ relocation a few days. I did not sleep all night. I was walking through the beds of the orphans, rubbed their feet and hands and prayed so that God may give me strength enough to save at least these orphans from the desert of Der-el-Zor.
Every day, in different languages I was preparing letters and sending them to the consular offices of the European countries, to the missions and different Humanitarian Organizations. A few days later, three Turks surrounded me in the courtyard of the orphanage, they cursed and threatened me that they would along with their friends and German assistants’ cooperation they would relocate me to Der-el-Zor, if I persisted in the same manner. I revolted, ‘I have already sent letters where necessary. If something happens to me, you will give an account to the international organizations’- cursing in Turkish finally they left.
In 1919 the political status changed in Cilicia. According to the Treaty of Sévre Cilicia was to be transferred to the French Protectorate, but, France, in a secret agreement had the intention to surrender it to Turkey. During the war, the Armenian Legion fighting under the French flag was disbanded quickly and the Armenians of Cilicia were left defenseless. I was obliged to return to Estonia!
The Physician nervously made uncomfortable gestures and opened the window, the evening breeze made him more alert. The children were playing in the courtyard. The doctor did not listen to the melodies of Beethoven according to his prior pride, his disturbed soul spoiled it.
“Is my nation equally culpable with the Turks, how can I explain that to my university graduate son, who very soon will defend his dissertation on the German History?” As if talking to the diary as he leafed through it with his still strange disturbance. He continued his reading.
“In 1922 I registered as a member to the ‘Christian Mission in the East’ the evangelical humanitarian organization founded in Strasburg, and left for Aleppo. At that time there were 160 thousand Armenian refugees in Syria, primarily they were living in the section known as Souleymanieh and Ramadanieh suburbs where they had built the huts (“Armenian Camps”) they lived in utter poverty and misery. Hundreds of Armenians were dying every day from the epidemics. That was part of the Turkish plans to annihilate the Armenians. The epidemics was reaping like a “YATAGHAN””=Եաթաղան-Scimitar.
I understood that at the risk of my life, I would participate in the work of saving of the ill. With superhuman efforts, by asking and pleading I was able to open a hospital, where some of the Armenian doctors of Syria were working. To save the starving, labor was necessary. With my acquaintances from Marash we created weaving and needle point handcrafted laces workshops. The handwork of five hundred women and girls’ rugs and laces were being sold in the European countries and the proceeds as compensation were given to the women. My hard work finally gave results. For over 250 Armenian students who were enrolled in various schools in Aleppo started receiving scholarships.
There were too many orphans! I developed a unique form of adoption through which European benefactor families would adopt a child in a refugee family, established in Aleppo and send a gold piece to the family of the adopted child.”
For some time now the orphans and refugee Armenians called me “Mother Bũll”, even though I did not marry and had no children, but the Armenian orphans calling me Mother-(Mayrig-ՄԱՅՐԻԿ) the word was a consolation and thus I lived the joy of motherhood. Never did regret it, that I dedicated my life to the Armenian orphans.
“O Lord God! What was the sin of that people that all of Europe closed its eyes over the Armenian hell!” The doctor unwillingly spoke out loud and turning over and over in his bed.
“Are you talking with the patients again? You have not rested even at night!” Complained the wife, suggesting to her husband to take medication to sleep.
“No, no I am not talking with the patients. I was talking with the conscience of my people, something does not let me sleep for quite sometime now”, the doctor tried to explain to his wife!
“That is a daytime job”. The wife cut it short, having lost all hope for the caresses of love and half disturbed turned over to sleep.
Till morning light, the doctor was in struggle with his people’s conscience, made peace, fought again and made peace again! In the morning he put the diary in his briefcase to continue in his office.
“In 1947, All Armenians were dispersed all over, were given the possibility to repatriate to Soviet Armenia. Many Armenians from Syria arrived Armenia with tears in their eyes. I had decided to go to Armenia. I even saw in my dreams a few times how I was arriving to Hayasdan, I was watching Ararat from Yerevan. I sent in my application to the Committee of repatriation. When I received rejection, I was lamenting a few days and was feeling an orphan myself.
Is Armenia rejecting me as her child? I learned later that many of the repatriates were exiled to Siberia right off the boat as unreliable and as spies for foreign countries. Probably, they would have considered me as a spy for seven countries! I decided to go back to my own country but received no entry visa. Estonia was within the Soviet System. In 1951 departed from Aleppo, I had nothing! I settled in Europe. Every day I was writing letters to all Armenians that I knew, spread all over the world. I was already 64 years old and very late to form a family. I had forgotten about those 40 years ago!
In Europe I was missing my Armenians!”
In 1965 I went to Syria and Lebanon to participate in the 50th Anniversary of the Genocide programs in Aleppo and Beirut. O~ My God!! They had not forgotten me, for hours on end they embraced me in their bosom, those orphans, orphans of mine, by whose beds, for entire nights I used to whisper prayers. My heart was calmed! I returned to Germany but my heart stayed in the empty rooms of the Armenian orphanage.
My beloved Armenians, do you hear me? I have not regretted what I have dedicated my entire life to you all!… My Heart is Armenian!”
Late night ring of the telephone raised the alarm. “Deegin Anahid, I have a very big request, you have to teach me a little Armenian to speak, and that in a few weeks.” The doctor said hastily, forgetting even to say “Parev.”…
He did not know how to justify such an unusual request.
”Dear Doctor, I am glad to be helpful to you, immediately, in the morning I will come to your office,” with warmth responded Anahid, without being able to guess the German’s mysterious intent of the request.
The days of Miss Büll were numbered and the doctor was attempting to learn what he wanted to say in that short period of time. During daytime Anahid was teaching and in the evening the Doctor had the Armenian Language text book in his hand.
On a regular morning, the Doctor without as much hiding his proud smile, he entered the patient’s room without his white uniform. The nurse gave the signal to bring him in. The Doctor smiled mysteriously and said, ”At this moment I am not a physician.”
As he approached Miss Büll’s bed, he sat down, took her tired hands in his palm, looked into her flickering eyes and unexpectedly, he began in Armenian. ”Greetings, my dear Armenian Anna Hadwig Büll, I am talking to you through one of the seven languages that you know, the one that for you is your mother tongue, in Armenian!”
The half closed and fading eyes shined for a moment she did not understand what was happening with her she made a motion to have her seated.
”Dear beloved mother Büll, I see that even you cannot believe to your eyes, but I am speaking Armenian, with your mother tongue … I awe it all to you only! I learned from your diary that my people also were an accomplice to the crime….
The Germans even openly have assisted the Turks, have instructed and defended even have encouraged them. O, Lord, I am ashamed of it all. Of course same German intellectuals have criticized the government, but they were muted as the light of a candle against the raging storm. I got to know and loved the Armenians. In my heart also a little bit of an Armenian awakened. Do you know why I learned Armenian? Now I want to ask your pardon for the sins of my people!”
“The Armenians are big-hearted, they forgive fast”. From the wide open eyelids, in amazement, two drops of tears rolled slowly with pride over the shriveled cheeks and through the wrinkles to her lips. Miss Büll took the hands of the Doctor in her palms and having gathered her last energy and in Armenian whispered one word at a time!
”I am proud that my heart is Armenian, and I am dying as an Armenian…. Dear Doctor, you are your nation’s conscious and honor. I forgive and those like you on behalf of my Armenians. I am going to my slaughtered, and from famine and plague deceased Armenian orphans of mine…..”
Miss Büll’s weakened hands dropped slowly.. and through her lips her last breath came in Armenian.
Translated by Rev. Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian, Archpriest
(*Two of the prominent Catholicoi Cilicia)