Armenian Bible Church            

Հայ Աստուածաշունչի Եկեղեցի

Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 40322  Pasadena, CA 91114 USA

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By Thomas Cosmades


Chapter 23


             Aneta’s time in Aintab was drawing to a close. The city where she and Haralambos had started their flourishing ministry had unimaginably changed. Most of the Christians had been deported, the vast majority massacred. She was getting together daily with a small group of Christian girls for prayer. In this city where many churches had once flourished, there was now no church left for Christians to congregate in.  Aintab was no longer home, and now she had no husband. Even so, she sensed that her true Companion was continually upholding her. Each day He was making His reality known more intimately. Also her dear mother-in-law Anastasia was with her.

            It was unsafe for Aneta, a young widow, to stay in this half-deserted city. She and Anastasia had to leave for another place. But where?   Aneta couldn’t return to Zinjidere. The alarming conditions prevailing in Aintab and its surroundings had spread throughout Anatolia. It was completely unsafe and unwise to head back to her own town. The roads were too dangerous.  They couldn’t return to Anastasia’s town, Adana, either. The situation was appalling all over. The enemy was ferociously striking everywhere with expulsions and killings. Hardly any corner of the country could withstand the evil designs of those determined to root out the Christian population from Anatolia.

            After prayer and consultation with Anastasia, reminiscent of the Ruth-Naomi relationship, the women made up their minds to head for Aleppo in Syria. This city was still under Ottoman domination, but a lot safer than anywhere else as the Ottoman rule there was waning. The British troops forging ahead from the south were pressing hard toward Aleppo.  They received enthusiastic support from the Arab population who had revolted against the centuries-long harsh Ottoman rule, even though both were Muslim.  Furthermore, many Christians had already been deported to Aleppo and its surroundings. Others had fled there voluntarily. This was the place to go!  The “Where to go?” question turned into “How to go?” At a time when all means of public transport were in the hands of the military, obtaining a ride was impossible. Their only resort was finding a coach — if indeed they could procure one!  They tried to arrange this by paying precious gold coins to a Tartar coachman, who was also a mail carrier.

            There was another snag. They didn’t wish to make it public that they were leaving Aintab. So many people could not be trusted. It was decided that the coach was to meet Aneta and Anastasia out of the city after eight in the evening.


           Accompanied by three trusted sisters and an Armenian guide, they walked a long distance out of the city to where the appointment was to take place. It was bitterly cold, the wind was blowing and it was snowing.  In a cave along the way where they took refuge, they all pled for the Lord’s mercy and protection.  They sensed that their journey to Aleppo would be fraught with danger and unforeseen events.  When they started walking again, the guide who knew the lay of the land would occasionally put his ear to the ground to detect any movement of wheels.  It was a treacherous night.   At last the covered coach arrived at the appointed place.  They boarded it without knowing who else was in it.  They sat on a narrow bench behind the coachman and the guide.  The Tartar driver put their few possessions in the coach, and they took off into the night. After an hour’s journey someone struck a match to light his cigarette.  He was a Tartar passenger stretched out on top of the mail sacks.  Sensing Aneta’s apprehension, he said to her, “Fear not, my daughter; you are in good hands.”  Aneta had an upset stomach and she was shivering from the cold as they traveled through unknown territory.  Sometime during the night they reached Kilis, a town east of Aintab.  After thanking their Tartar driver, the Armenian friend procured a better coach which was more comfortable.  Although they had no idea of where they were, they weren’t afraid. At about four in the morning they reached Aleppo with thankfulness in their hearts for God’s evident protection.

            The city was teeming with Christians who had fled from every corner of Anatolia. There were many from Aintab, people who had left everything and run for dear life. The guide took them to his home where his young wife holding their ten-day-old baby boy was eagerly waiting for him.  Amazingly, twenty-six years later, Aneta met her once again, this time in Patterson, New Jersey, in the USA.  There she was converted to Christ in a house meeting led by Aneta.  In Aleppo, a few believers had heard of Aneta’s impending arrival and were waiting to greet her. Christians who had already found refuge there arranged a memorial service for Haralambos in the house of a local believer.

            They called Brother Mihran Balian to conduct the meeting.  Aneta was surprised to see him there.  He was from the church in Caesarea (Kayseri). He had been about to be deported but the head elder of the church hid him in a room in his house.  Then he succeeded in finding his way to Aleppo.  He was a close friend of Haralambos. His text was: “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?” (II Samuel 3:38). He opened his message by speaking with deep passion about the young giant who had once walked in the land.  During the touching meeting, Aneta’s mind was occupied with the familiar text, “Godly men buried Stephen, and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2). The whole room reminded one of the Valley of Weeping.

            The task fell on Aneta to read Haralambos’ prison letter written before his execution. The wound in her heart opened anew. The portion of the letter expressing confidence in God to raise others to follow in his path, and that he was calling his young wife to be one of those, stirred a fresh excitement in everyone to serve Christ.  A fervent period of prayer followed. The people, remnants of the massacre, surrendered their exhausted lives anew to the Master. They could now understand why the Lord was pleased to rescue them from the sword.

            As it looked, Aneta and Anastasia were going to be staying in Aleppo for a while. It was decided that day that this house gathering must turn into a regular meeting. The Reverend Balian asked Aneta if she could take charge of this new fellowship.  She welcomed the request. However, the realization of this immense responsibility to properly feed this flock filled her with apprehension.  What should she do?  Study God’s Word more diligently and read the writings of authors such as Andrew Murray and C.H. McIntosh.  The writings of the latter, especially on the Pentateuch were invaluable aids in her teaching.

            God opened a wide and effective door before her.  She wept with the bereaved, sought to bind the wounds of the afflicted and mend broken hearts. The fellowship grew beyond imagination. Soon they had to look for a regular meeting place. Their prayer was to find a spacious and centrally-located place.  In the meantime, Aneta was offered a good position as teacher in the local Greek Orthodox School, where she would be amply paid.  However, she preferred to teach private lessons in her own room in order to devote more time to the ministry. 

            It was 1917. The Ottoman armies were retreating on every front, including the southern one. One happy day the news spread everywhere that the British forces under General Allenby had captured Jerusalem without firing a shot. Exactly four hundred years of Ottoman domination of the Holy City had come to its end. This brought joy to many deeply bereaved hearts.  Aleppo was the headquarters of the German and Ottoman forces. The city was in a sad state of growing turmoil. Those who had gone through the deportation were governed by deep trepidation of a possible battle.  Others were happy that the Ottoman army was about to be pushed out of Aleppo. The news came that Damascus had fallen. The British forces were about to capture Aleppo.

            All of a sudden, they heard an earsplitting roar overhead. What could it be? Was it the coming of the Lord? How wonderful if that were the case!  They all gazed upward and saw a few strange machines flying!  They were making a lot of noise.  This was the first time that both locals and refugees were seeing an airplane, to say nothing of the fact that they had never even heard of the existence of a flying machine.  Truly, they were British planes, not bombing the city, but dropping leaflets commanding the garrison of Aleppo to surrender. After a whole series of tears and agonies this was a welcome respite.  Flames and smoke were rising in several locations. The Germans and the Ottomans were setting fire to a number of strategic buildings. The burning railroad station, which had been hub of military transportation, reflected the pitiful condition of the defeated forces. Soldiers and forced workers were hastily dismantling the railway lines to use as raw material for weaponry, as if they were still expecting to win the war.  The army was once again in the act of destruction. So it was, in advance and in retreat.

            Practically the whole city’s population was on the flat roofs of the houses.  In those times, all houses in Aleppo had flat roofs. People dried their clothes, wheat and other items there during the day. Summer nights they slept on the housetops.  No one could be seen on the roofs in the heat of the day. Those who put down their mattresses to sleep at night scrambled into the house quickly at the first rays of the rising sun. A simultaneous mobilization was visible on every roof. Men and women in their nightgowns hastily folded their mattresses and dashed into the house as if they were escaping from an invading army!

            But this was October 26, 1918, a pleasantly warm autumn afternoon. Even if it had been scorching summertime, people would have been on their rooftops to watch the flying machines and welcome the invading British forces.  The British were received as liberators by all segments of the populace, both Christians and Muslims.  Some Christian soldiers even started a Sunday school for children, which they named, ‘Sunshine Corner.’ The bright little chorus by the same name became the signature tune of their class. 

            The scene was exciting. The British forces were made up of Anzacs, Sikhs, Gurkhas from Nepal, and Arabs who had taken up arms against the Ottoman occupiers. Many soldiers were riding camels, a different style of cavalry than had ever been seen. Officers were riding in cars. The resplendent procession was headed by none other than General Allenby.

            Crowds who had seen so much agony and torment were now heralding Allenby as their savior. An Arab sheikh approached the general and presented him with the keys of this archaic city and a little salt on a silver tray.  Along with these, he also gave him an open white flag as a sign of surrender.  In Jerusalem’s surrender the same ritual had taken place.  The demise of the bloody Ottoman Empire was now final. Its armies were in full retreat. Another ferocious kingdom was being laid to rest in the graveyard of tyrannical nations.

             In closing this chapter, a few facts about Field Marshal Edmund Henry Allenby (1861-1936) will be apropos.  He was a true Christian, fully acquainted with the Bible and its prophecies.  When he reached Jerusalem, out of respect for the city into which Christ rode on the back of a donkey, he got down from his horse and walked in.  He and some of his high-ranking officers fell on their knees and prayed.  He gave special orders that there should be no shooting or bloodshed.  While they were praying, a sheikh came carrying a silver tray with the keys of the city and some salt, a symbol of surrender.  Then the general and his troops removed their hats and carried them.  They entered Jerusalem through the Dung Gate (cf. Nehemiah 3:14) with their hats in their hands.  This act won the respect of all the inhabitants of the biblical city.  Jerusalem was liberated following four centuries of Ottoman rule.