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That is what I told them. That’s how long it takes. Even with the big guys, it would never be more than eight minutes.
It would never have come up. If you would as any body, even soldiers or police how long it takes, they would not be able to tell you. Neither did I know. That is until I was forced to become very creative with the resources we had.
Even though they did not really know it, the actual events the Armenian Police wanted to inquire about, was what had happened in the year 1917.
Prior to those days, it was actually quite the romantic adventure.
A university friend of mine came to Armenia, to launch his career as a geologist. We were both from Manchester, both young and both up for any exploration life would throw our way.
I just came out of the army and decided to join him abroad one December break, digging rocks and doing surveys up in the majestic Caucasian mountains.
And as it almost always happens with young people who have the world in front of them, I met myself the most beautiful Armenian girl.
Yes, I had a healthy sense for an attractive woman, and there is no doubt that her magnificent features played a big role in asking Milena to marry me.
But it was more than that. She was an intellectual of note. She devoured huge amounts of British, French and Russian classic literature. Essentially, the best of wisdom the world could offer, she stored up in her colossal mental capacity as an arsenal for our conversations, anytime, night or day.
The value thereof had no limits. Her sense of humor was as dark and as sharp as anyone could which for, and her laughter was from deep within the heart.
Having writing as a tool for trade, I thought I had the means to portray the value I found in Milena, but I could not.
It was to rich. It was beautiful.
Our two gorgeous girls, Sofi and Ani came within the first three years of our marriage. I took over a pig farm on the border with Turkey and we wanted for nothing.
Then the reports started reaching our ears.
Armenians started to come back from Turkey into Armenia.
We have all heard about the killing of the intellectuals in Constantinople some time before, but we never heard about what was really going on.
That is until more and more families came in search for refuge in Armenia. They were the lucky ones.
Milena’s sister and family were in Turkey, but we decided that it was too dangerous to go and search for them, and agreed that for the moment, we should remain where we were.
We even contemplated the option of making our way to England for a while.
Like all people who face imminent death, we did not want to see the danger we were in. Because when you see and acknowledge it, it means you have to take responsibility. And few people ever disturb their comfort and false sense of security, with that kind of responsibility.
I rarely think back on those days. I found it much more comforting to prevent those memories from entering the prefrontal cortex of my brain. But now, now with the inquiry from the police, when I try to rationalize how things played out, I suppose the bond between family members, the force of relationship between loved ones, triumphs the rationale of intellect.
It was intellect that kept us safe in our home, waiting eagerly for her sister and family to come to us.
It was raw emotion that drew Milena into the conflict.
I was held up in town with Ani, our youngest daughter, when a family who fled the killings, told Milena about the people being burned in the towns. The village in which Milena’s sister lived, was one of those they described as being in danger of the killings.
They told me afterward that she waited for me. She didn’t want to take Sofi with, but with my delay, decided that she could not wait any longer. She left Sofi with the refugees in the house, telling her that she was to wait there until my coming home. She herself then set on the journey to find her sister.
She never reached her sister. Traumatized by the multitude of bodies lying next to the road, she was caught, and just like in those villages the refugees talked about, she was locked in a barn with the town’s residents, and burned alive.
Luckily, I never saw the people burning. My wife, the children, the old people, I do not think about it.
All I think about is eight minutes.
And that is what I told the police.
What I saw, lead me to what I know today.
Ani and I returned from town, when Turkish soldiers reached our farm.
I saw the house burning and immediately ordered Ani to lay flat on the ground. As was custom, I had my rifle with me, and lying next to her, I took aim over a tree stump, at what was going on about a hundred meters in front of me.
There were about three soldiers outside, killing the group of refugees one by one. Sofi must have hidden her self somewhere because while the flames kept rising from within the house, she came running in the direction where we were lying flat on the ground.
I saw her small, five year old body running over the field.
She cried severely as she ran. She ran in her little frock like children do when they don’t know where they are going, with her arms lose by her side. Her mouth wide open with a crying I still hear in my dreams.
“Don’t look my darling,” I said to Ani. “Close your ears, quickly.”
She obeyed me.
Just a bit to the left I thought, while being cautious of Sofi’s running.
One soldier was about to shoot another child when I pulled the trigger and killed him. Before his comrade realized what was happening, he dropped too. The third soldier was too quick and hid behind a wall.
Sofia suddenly stopped in the middle of the field, standing there, screaming and crying.
I wanted to shout to her to get down but knew I would give my position away.
Then I saw movement. At the side of the wall, by the gate. I saw him. I took the shot.
But it wasn’t him. It was a child. A little boy.
The soldier took aim over the wall. I reloaded and aimed for his head. He fired, and I killed him with one shot.
But his aim wasn’t meant for me.
The last shot he fired was a fatal shot into Sofi’s back.
She would never breath again.
Like I said. I don’t think about that day much.
When you lose a wife and child, you try to focus on the better times in the future. It is hard, but what does it help to hold on to the past. What does it help to hold resentment toward people who probably aren’t even alive any more.
What’s more is, I became a child killer that day.
These hands of mine, holding my little Ani’s face, killed an innocent child. How does one ever reconcile with that?
But now the inquiry. The Armenian police want to know about Ani.
Have I seen her lately?
Oh yes, often, in fact. She visits me frequently.
How old is she now?
She turned seventeen in February.
Does she speak about what she is doing?
She doesn’t have to. I know all about it.
Will I testify in court?
How can I? I haven’t seen a thing, and she’s not very talkative, you know.
The Police, they ask the wrong questions.
To know what she is doing, and how to catch her, you have to understand what happened to her back then.
There were three soldiers shot and killed that day. There were six refugees saved that day. But if the Turkish army found out, it would have been a death sentence for us.
The short term solution? Keep the bodies in the cooler room outside.
That gave us enough time to starve the pigs. Two days at most. You throw those soldiers to the pigs, and they chew them up like a Christmas pudding. Pigs are like that. They don’t care much, and there is nothing, I mean nothing that remains from the body apart from bones and clothing.
The bones we ground into a fine powder and mixed it into the rest of the pig feed. The clothing was a real problem.
Three soldiers’ uniforms can be dealt with. But Thirty? Sixty? A Hundred?
We bought heavy chests, forced as many uniforms into them and dumped them into the lake. Right in the deep end. They’ll never be found.
Nevertheless, it is safe to say, we did not eat much pork after that.
We did not keep count. It was rural Armenia those days, (now part of Turkey,) there weren’t big armies sent to the region. Small groups, just enough for us to kill them and make them disappear.
You may ask, how could I have involved Ani in this?
The answer is complicated one.
She was involved from the day her sister died in front of her eyes. But later, she accidentally came upon us while we were throwing the bodies to the pigs.
She voluntary contributed. I tried to shield her, but she saw it as a normal duty to do, like any man doing his job. Killing the bad guys, and getting rid of rubbish.
Yet, how could I teach my kid of right and wrong? Me, the child-killer?
The trouble is, the war stopped, but we didn’t. I did eventually, but I knew Ani still had it in her. And I can tell you, she did not stick with Turkish soldiers either.
But I know, I know it’s why the inquiry is here today, is it not? Why the Police want to know from me, what to do about Ani being a suspect with a couple of missing bodies.
Well, I can tell you this. You won’t catch her with evidence.
She’s been doing it since a very young age. She has been doing it for too long, you see. Either be extremely clever, or catch her in the act, but if there is one thing she does well, it is to make human bodies disappear.
She is lethal that way.
Do you want to know how long it takes for a bunch of hungry pigs to eat the whole of a human being?