“Killain” (A Memoir)

While writing my previous Monologue titled “Wall Between Kessab and Turkey”, many memories kept “popping up” in my mind. One of them was a meeting with a “mean” but legendary person by the name of Killain. (A nickname. Most Kessabtsis have nicknames, especially men).

As a young boy, I have heard that Killain was the head of the Mahdessian (Mooghdesigunts) family/clan. The name had no special meaning, but through some stories that I have heard about him, my perception of him was of a mean and fearful-looking larger-than-life person.

The Mahdessian clan was a tight knitted and the very large and rich dynasty that had dominated Kessab like feudal landlords up to the time when the Armenian revolutionary parties were established in Kessab in the early nineties.

A fierce and bloody confrontation especially between the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Tashnagtsootyun) and the Mahdessian clan headed by Sarko Agha, had resulted in many deaths on both sides, including that of Sarko Agha himself. He was succeeded by his older son Killain as head of the clan.

At the time although the animosity still lingered there were no clashes between the clan and Tashnagtsootyun. The clan was “isolated” from Kessab by their strategically built residential complex that was built high at a mountainside that dominated Kessab.

Killain lived a secluded life and had never been seen by Kessabtsis at public locations in Kessab. His other brothers were very obedient to their older brother and were active in every aspect of the village life. They had a general store close to our house that was managed by the youngest brother, Yessayi.

It was a known fact that they were engaged in illegal trade (qachaqchuh) with Turks. The location of their residential complex was very well positioned for that purpose. Although it was very visible from Kessab, the mountainside on which it was built was backed to the Turkish border and there were no other houses other than theirs on that mountainside.

We knew that they were selling school writing pads, pens, pencils, etc. very cheap. With a close friend Soghmonig Apelian, we decided to go and buy writing pads and pencils as a pretext and hoped to see Killain as well.

With some hesitation and without telling our parents we walked the uphill rocky road and arrived at a courtyard and could not see anybody. We walked to the stone-built fence at the edge of the courtyard. The view was spectacular. We were excited and started to identify our houses and other interesting places when a middle-aged lady approached us and inquired about our presence in their courtyard. (Havoush)

When she learned that we wanted to buy writing pads and pencils she asked us to follow her and keep asking questions about who we were when a voice from inside the house facing the courtyard called her name and asked what is happening. When she answered he said, “arach yos tugh qoon” (let them come here first).

From the courtyard, we entered a large room. An old man the age of our grandfathers that looked and dressed like them, was seating on the floor that was covered with area rugs “kilims”. He was smoking Nargilai. (Water pipe). He asked us how old we were and whose children we were. We gave our father’ names, both known and active members of Tashnagtsootyun. He told the lady to give us what we want free.

While walking to another building to enter a room that looked like a retail shop, the lady said “Killain baiboyuh shod jumart mort e” (Grandfather Killain is a very generous man). I and Soghmonig looked at each other with the wonderment, was that ordinary and “very generous grandfather” the mean and legendary Killain?. Despite his generosity, we were sort of disappointed in his personal appearances.

After that encounter, I saw Killain once again. It was at the time when the Syrian government had issued an order for Kessabtsis who owned rifles to bring them to the police station (karakol) and the ones who fail to do so will be jailed. Killain had defied the order and preferred to go to jail rather than hand over any rifle.

I was excited to be able to see him again and this time not as a sitting ordinary old man. In order to go to karakol, he had to pass in front of our house. From early morning I was out in our front yard (poyuh) waiting to see him again. My mother preferred to stay on the balcony.

He came alone, dressed in traditional shalvar (the baggy pant and traditional head gear). He looked tall and dignified person. When he came close to where I was standing, just with an impulse, I walked toward him shook his hand and told him who I was, and thanked him for the free pencil and the writing pads. He smiled and continued walking.

Later on “the talk of the town” was that, at karakol, and in jail, he had behaved in a very dignified manner and remained defiant. He also encouraged every on in jail to be brave and not give up and hand over any guns. After that event, this perceived legendary “mean” Killain, became a real and brave legend for me and many of my close friends.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.

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