"Every day there were awful atrocities The lightest of the punishments inflicted was hanging head downwards for hours and 50 lashes on the soles of the feet." Not the account of a Nazi prison camp, but just one of the many experiences that make the life of Haratune Tashjian, a rug-dealer on the Square, read like a book.
In 1915, although he was an American citizen, Haratune was seized with some 100,000 other Armenians during the great massacre by the Turks that aroused such intense feeling in the United States. After two months in the jail where punishments such as the one mentioned were the daily disciplinary action, Harautune was led away with 800 other prisoners, tied together in groups of ten to the "valley of death."
Would Be Slaughtered
"They took us to quite an extensive valley where 100,000 Armenians were killed before us. Seeing that immediate death awaited me, I took the blade of a pen knife which I had stuck to my hair with wax, and cut the rope which tied me to the other nine.
"I lifted up some of the corpses and crawled under them to hide myself. I stayed there for four days, among corpses. Most of them had a bag of catables, such as broad and choose. At night I took some of it to eat."
When he had precariously made his way back to his native town, Harpoot, Haratune found that his mother and sister had been slaughted and his home blown up when the Armenian church to which it was attached was dynamited.
Finding himself all alone in a country where he would be condemned to death immediately were he caught, Haratune sought the protection of his old friend in Harpoot, the wife of the Chief of Police. She not only gave him shelter in her own house, but positively refused to let him leave, thus imprisoning him as effectively as formerly.
"One night she said: 'If I had spent a thousand dollars for it, such an occasion would not have come to us, so let us enjoy ourselves.' Twenty-five days passed and I was still at the Turk's house, always thinking of ways and means of escaping."
Haratune finally escaped his beautiful gaoler, found his long-lost wife, and began a three-year trek across Russia and Siberia back to the United States.
When he reached Saradoff, the city where the Czar's summer palace had been before the Bolshevists came to power, Haratune found that American philanthropic agencies had their hands full keeping alive 30,000 people out of 5,000,000 who had died because of a famine.