Rojyar Jamal Ali

2021 / 7 / 15

**Like the contents of the graves the whole adventure was incredible, but: Any stranger who, like yourself, stumbles upon the knowledge of what we are doing is killed , the nameless Prince told the author.**


THERE was an odd-shaped packet addressed in an unfamiliar hand in the morning post. As I unfolded the paper my curiosity increased. The brief note from the Embassy in Baghdad informed me that the enclosure was forwarded to my home in England by special request.

Parting the soft skin which formed the inner wrapping I saw a finely wrought hunting knife. For a moment I stared uncomprehending at the gold inlaid handle, the slender, curved blade-;- and then it came to me that I was gazing not for the first time on this beautiful example of Kurdish craftsmanship.

My mind flew back to that wild frontier country that lies between the lakes and mountains of Persia and the dusty plains of Iraq-;- and in particular to that stretch of road which runs down towards Ruwanduz from Kazrik Pass.

* * *

I remember that stretch of road as I saw it on my last journey from Tabriz to Baghdad, through a windscreen building up with snow, and headlights throwing back a blinding glare from a swirling wall of lakes.

It was the autumn of 1939. The outbreak of war had forced upon me the decision to close down the grain business which I had built up in Tabriz, and in the winding up of my concerns I had delayed my return south perhaps longer than was prudent.

It Begun To Snow

On the day of which I write I had awoken to find that a great bank of snow clouds from the Caucasus was piling up against the whole of the northern skyline. I knew that in order to cross the passes before they became blocked with snow I must leave Tabriz immediately, and accordingly I packed my things, prepared my car for the long journey, and was on the road by noon.

In my haste, however, I omitted to make the customary notification to the consulate of my intended journey: it was owing to this omission that I was able to forego any explanation of what became of me during the period covered by this account. At the first I made good progress and it was not until night had fallen and I had begun to down from the Kazrik Pass to the Iraq frontier that it began to snow in earnest. Before long I decided it was too dangerous to prodceed farther, and finding a sheltered spot where road builders had quarried into the hillside bordering the route, I pulled upp and settled down to wait for daylight.

Donkey Caravan

BefoIt must have been in the early hours of the morning that an unusual sound startled me. At first I thought that I had been dreaming-;- then I saw what it was that had aroused me. Some 50 yards ahead of where the car was parked I could see faintly the dark shape of an animal sprawled in the snow on the road.

As I watched, another from which I recognised as a donkey, slithered down the bank, crossed the road past the first beast, and disappeared down the hillside beyond the track. After this several other animals crossed by the same route. Donkey caravans formed a normal means of transport in those mountainous regions, and I would have thought no more of it had not the fallen beast seemed in some pain.

I opened the door of the car and began to wolk along the road. But this, I now saw, was no ordinary donkey caravan of ten´-or-a dozen animals, for, as far as I could see, the column strectched from my right up the mountainside and to my left down towards the walley.

In the moment I had reached the fallen animal and stopped down to easy the weight of its load. To my astonishment I could not lift it. Using both hands now I haved again, and as the saddlebag slipped across the beast s back, it fell beside the other with a peculiar, but characteristic, clink.

For an instant it puzzled me, for that sound had a familiar ring. Then as I saw against the snow the dark corner of a wooden box which had at one point cut through the cloth, in a flash it came to me. This was a loaded ammunition box.

I had barely straightened up when down the streep hillside from the rear of the caravan galloped a horseman. From his untidy head-dress and baggy trousers I took him to be a Kurd, and rifle at the ready, to the Kurd reined up opposite me as if to intercept any move I might make to interfere with the donkey s load.

Who are you and what are you doing here? he demanded of me in halting Persian. In Persian I explained the events which had led to my taking shelter at this particular spot on the road.

You are not a Persian? he questioned.

No, I am English.

I fancied I heard a slight exclamation escape him, as if of relief. Then to my astonishment he addressed me in my own language.

May I know your name?

I told him.

I am glad you are an Englishman´-or-I would have killed you. Go back to your motor, please. It will be better if you forget this meeting . So saying, he dug his heels into the pony and forced me to step backwards. There was no alternative but to turn on my heel and start walking back down the road to the car.

Before down I must have fallen into a heavy , for when I awoke it was already daylight. The queer adventure of the night now fantastic, and as I passed the spot where the donkey had fallen I noticed that the wind and perhaps an additional light covering of snow had obliterated even the tracks across the road.

It was mid-way before the tedious formalities at the frontier were completed and I was making my way through a desolate valley of towering cliffs on the way to Ruwanduz. On rounding one of the many bends, I suddenly saw before me a huge rock in the middle of the roadway. There was no room for me to pass between the rock and the cliff, nor round the other side where the ground dropped sheer to the river 50 feet below. By forcing on my brakes to the full I was only able to stop as my bumpers took the shock of the impact.

Dragged From My Car

In a flash the doors of the car were wrenched open, and I was seized by my shoulders and dragged from the car. A cloth was thrown over my eyes and a rope wound my body, pinioning my arms to my sides. Unable to struggle, and gripped firmly on either side, I was propelled from the roadway up a steep rough path.

For what seemed an interminable distance we continued along this mountain track.I stumbled frequently, and the exertion of the climb with my arms bound and my breathing restricted was becoming almost more than I could endure. Then all at once we came to a halt. The cord binding my arms was freed, the cloth was removed from my face.

I could see we were on a narrow self on the mountainside two´-or-three hundred feet above the walley. The road was out of sight.I was surrounded by half a dozen Kurds, ruffinaly looking fellows armed with rifles, who now urged me to mout one of their horses.

I was near to exhoustion as we rode on. An icy wind swept down from the peaks, and it became so cold that I lost all feeling in my hands. I was surprised when the clatter of the horses hoofs on the stones was replaced by the soft crunching sound of frozen snow.It must have been nearly midnight when we reached our destination.

I found myself standing in a narrow courtyard enclosed on three sides by the bare mud-brick walls of a large dwelling. Behind me on the fourt and open side the mountain rose up steeply.

Friendly Smile

My captors assisted me to dismount, and led me up a narrow wooden stairway to an upper room. They bolted the doors and left me there.

It was a well-lit and richly carpeted room. Of forniture there was none except for a hot stove and some low divans along the walls. It was evidently the house of some montain sheik, and my conviction that I was in the hands of some kidnapping scoundrel strenghtened. I sank down on the cushions.

Almost immediately a door at the farther end of the room opened and a magnificent-looking man entered. He was well over six foot in height and, I estimated, not more than 40 years of age. Blue-eyed and black-haired, with a short, pointed beard, he wore the usual Kurdish costume, but he wore it rather as a prince than as a village chieftain, for in every detail was care and refinement. The hilt of the knife in his belt was of inlaid gold, while on his hand I noticed a heavy signet ring. Before reaching me, he stopped, and, folding his arm across his chest, looked me over from head to foot for a full minute. I have no doubt my anger showed in my eyes, for all at once I saw that he was smiling me, not in derision, but with genuine friendliness. At last he stepped towards me with outstreched hand and said in English without trace of accent:

I must apologise for any rough treatment you may have received. Allow me to welcome you as my guest.

In my amazement I forgot my anger and grasped his hand.

"Let us sit down" he said, "and tolk matters over. You are here because of what you saw on the road between the frontier and Rewanduz. Had you been other than an Englishman, my son - for that was the young man you met during the night - would have shot you dead on the mountainside. As it was, he came to me for instructions".

That deep cultured voice resounding through the simple, yet tasteful eastern room made me wonder if I were dreaming.

I want to grant you your life, he resumed. but in return I shal demand of you your oath of secrecy. Firstly, I should like to know what opinion you have formed about the caravan you encountered on the road last night .

A Strange Story

Deciding that evasion was useless, I said: I believe that you and your son are gun-running and that the saddlebags I saw were filled with ammunition.

I am glad you have spoken truthfully he said. My son acted wisely. Later I shall tell you a story that will make it eassier for you to give and keep your promise. Meanwhile, you must eat and rest .

I will not dwell on the reminder of that night. Still besumed by the strange happenings, I ate the Kurdish meal that was brought to me and then lay down on one of the divans to .

Soon after I had breakfasted the next morning my host entered the room, and after a few courteous enquiries as to my welfare, began to speak.

Both by birth and breeding, he told me, he was English. His name? No, he would not tell me that. It was enough to say that after the war, in 1919, there had been considerable fighting between the Red and White Russians up north in the Caucasus and in Georgia. He had found himself as a young officer commanding a company of a British force that was sent to intervene, and in the autumn of that year had been ordered to lead a small detachment of men on a misson which had involved passage through Kurdistan.

There, were no highways then, and owing to inaccurate maps, the party missed the route, entered tribal territory, and were ambushed. All were left for dead-;- and all, in fact, were badly injured, lay where he had fallen, unconsciı-;-ous for many hours.

Gift From Allah

Three doubtless, he too would have died had not a party of Kurdish horsemen found him alive and carried him home to their sheikh. But so serious were his wounds that a full year passed before he was -restore-d to health and strength.

During that year , my host continued, I found happiness and contentment that I had never known in my home in England. The sheikh was an old man. He had no son and looked upon me as a gift from Allah. I was treated by him and his family with a tenderness and affection that it is impossible to describe.

Even after that year I think I would have gone back but for one thing. I fell in love with the old sheı-;-kh s daughter, and in the following spring I married her, giving up all thought of return. A son was born to us - the boy you met on the mountain. I became a son myself to the old man.

And now he continued, I would like you to come out with me and I will tell you the end of my story.

Together we walked along the hillside below the village until we came to a strech of woodland lying in a fold in the mountianside, sheltered from the winds and frosts.

Among the moss-covered trunks of the old oaks, in a blaze of golden autmn crocuses lay the past generations of the village. Each grave was marked by a rough headstone, some new, some old, and some more ancient than the oaks wich had guarded them for five centuries´-or-more.

Pointing to where the croucuses grew thickest, my companion said: My wife is buried there. She was not 19 when she was murdered by the soldiers of one of those nations which rule over her race. Not long afterwards her father died, and on his deathbed commended his people to me.

There are ten million Kurds, fine people in themselves, but without unity, and therefore without consideration in world affairs. Their territories strech from Mediterranean along the mountain ranges to the Persian Guld, and from the Arabian desert to the shores of Black Sea. They form minorites under each of the four governing states from whom they would be freed.

For their ideals the Kurds will fight. To fight they must be armed. The tribesmen s rifles are old, their ammunition poor, and it is necessary for them to be equipped with modern weapons. Any stranger who, like yourself, strumbles upon the knowledge of what we are doing is killed, as you might have been killed by my son.

The secret has been kept and now we are alost ready. Throughhout the length and breadth of Kurdistan in every silent graveyard the tombs are filled with rifles and ammunition, and from graves of dead Kurds will spring the hope and power of the living.

And now , he said, I must ask you to take that oath of secrecy upon which your life depends.

I Give My Oath

Before I swear, I answered, will you tell me why you have taken me into your confidence. Why was it necessary to tell me so much and to risk betrayal?

Your name, which you gave to my son, is known to me, he replied, also your reputation as a writer. Until the day of freedom dawns I ask you to use your gift to influence worlds opinion in favour of our cause. That is the reason I have brought you here and seek to turn your discovery to my advantage.

Until that day I give my oath I said.

I rode back with his son that night. Our path wound in and out among the rugged valleys, and by the time we reached the road in the early hours of the morning. I had little idea as to where the village amongst the mountains lay. As I drove away my strange encounter with the Kurdish sheikh took on the unrealisty of a dream.

* * *

There was a slip of paper amongs the folds of leather round the knife which had me through the mail that day. In my preoccupation with the past I had not noticed it before. Now I took it up and scanned the brief lines in the sloping copybook hand.

My father has been killed, I read. Before he died he asked me to send you his knife in reminder of your promise. Soon shall the lie empty and the crocuses bloom in freedom.

I needed no reminder. Since my adventure in the frontier village I had pleaded the couse of Kurds in many journals, but of late, perhaps more for the sake of keeping my oath than with any real hope of furthering their aspirations. Now the message from that remote part of the worlds came as a spur. The Kurds, at any rate, had not lost heart.

Perhaps even yet this sturdy courageous people might throw off the yoke of their oppressors and become the rulers of their romantic land. I took up my pen and begun to write.

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Press stories:

The story was excerpted from the magazin " Everybody 1952- Dennis Moore " and quoted by the archive of press documents.

From the investigation and research of the press reviewer:

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