16 December 2006

1309) Armenian Terrorists as Villains in Old Crime Fiction


"Poor girl," said Astro. "I'm afraid there's something big back of all this. She's a Turk, or an Armenian, or a Syrian. See the Turkish flag that she has roughly drawn here..."

In the early 1900s in particular, extremist Armenians living in the United States could not refrain from operating in their terroristic ways, and the press paid note to the misdeeds and murders they would commit with disturbing regularity. The Hunchaks in particular became so recognized in their operations of extortion and grisly violence, they even started making their way into crime/mystery fiction. Here is one such example, excerpted from The Indianapolis Star, September 28, 1913.



"By The Master of Mysteries; NUMBER 13"

For hours after Valeska had left with her ward Astro walked up and down the length of the great dim studio. Occasionally he threw himself at full length on the big couch in concentrated thought. At intervals he stood erect, his eyes fixed in abstraction on some trophy of arm on the wall or in gazing into the lucent transparency of his crystal ball. Once or twice he sat down at the table and gazed long at the hieroglyphic marks made on the paper by the strange girl. At 3 in the morning, he partially undressed and lay down on the couch to sleep. He rose at 7, bathed and went outdoors for a walk.

When he returned an hour later, Valeska was in the studio alone, Her eyes were red; she seemed ashamed and self-reproachful.

"The girl has disappeared," she exclaimed the moment Astro appeared. "When I woke up she wasn't in the room. She must have risen and dressed while I was asleep. But I found this." She held out a short, curved dagger in a morocco sheath."

Astro, withdrawing the blade found it was engraved with an Arabic inscription. He read the motto aloud:

"For the heart of a dog, the tongue of a serpent."

"Ah," he commented "this may help some, Our little friend apparently isn't so timid as she appeared. But, somehow, this doesn't look like the property of a Babist In spite of their many persecutions, I believe they are usually nonresistants. Well, Valeska, we'll have to find the girl now. Come along with me immediately."

His green limousine was already at the door in waiting. Both jumped in, and as they drove to the southern end of the city Astro explained:

"There are two Syrian quarters in New York. One is in Brooklyn, the other down on Washington street, near the Battery, We'll go to that one first, and see what we can find there. The Turkish flag reminds me that it is often hung outside stores where they sell Turkish rugs. We'll try that clew afterward." [1]

Reaching Washington street, the two left the motor car and walked toward the Battery, past rows of squalid houses. At every corner Astro stopped and gazed about deliberately.

Finally he seized Valeska's arm with a quick gesture. "Look at that sign," he exclaimed.

On West street, facing the Hudson River, but with its rear abutting on a vacant lot on Washington Street, was a huge soap factory. Painted on the dead wall was a sign whose letters were eight or ten feet in height.

Valeska read it aloud: "Use Babrock's Brown Soap." She stopped and looked at Astro in bewilderment, "What about it?"

He drew the drawing from his pocket and pointed out the lettering. "Don't you see?" he cried, " 'BABP.' That's a part of the sign, surely. Look at those two buildings on each side of the sign. Now look at this row of houses. From some one of those windows the sign must present the appearance she has drawn. Making the drawing subconsciously, she has merely copied something with which she has been familiar?-seeing it, probably, every day. We must find the window from which the sign looks just like her drawing."

He looked at the sign again carefully, estimating its height and the relative position of the two buildings whose roofs would cut off the first and last groups of letters. A rough triangulation led him to a house in the lower part of which was a cobbler's shop. This he entered.

"Are there any rooms to let in this house?*' he asked of the man at the bench. The man nodded, "Go upstairs and ask at second floor," he implied, "You are Garbon Soumissin; he keeps the house."

"ALL RIGHT," HE SAID AT LAST. "YOU GO UP. DOOR OPEN."


Upstairs went Astro and Valeska and plunged into a dark, narrow hallway, A doorway opened part way and a whiskered man looked out. He had an evil face, blotched with-red spots, and wore a fez. He was smoking a Turkish cigarette.

"What you want here?"

"I'd like to look at your front room, third floor."

A murmur of voices came from inside the room. The man turned and growled some foreign oath. Then he turned and looked at Astro with a vicious inquisition.

"All right," he said at last; "you go up. Door open. Three dollars a week,"

Astro waited for no more; but ran up the stairs, followed by his assistant Once out of earshot, he stopped for a moment to pull out the paper again. and pointed to the first drawing on the sheet "Fez," he said, and looked at her meaningly.

"The old man with the cigarette?"

"Probably. Now we'll find out what they have been up to."

The hall bedroom was incredibly dirty, but contained nothing but a cot bed with vile coverings, a chair and a crazy washstand, over which hung a square cracked mirror. Astro first went to the grimy window and looked out. He pointed to the sign, and Valeska followed his eyes. One of the buildings across the street cut off the first word, "use," and the other, with a small dormer, obscured all after "bab" with the exception of the upper half of the R. It showed, in fact, precisely as the girl had drawn it.

"This is the room, all right. Now let's examine it."

He took up the chair first, and looked it over carefully. Then he pointed to marks on the sides of the back, where the paint was worn smooth. The marks were about an inch wide, and similar ones showed on the legs and on the side rails of the seat.

"This is where straps have chafed the paint," he commented. "She was undoubtedly fastened securely* Did you notice where the marks or bruises were on her?"


"Yes; they were bad enough for me to remember. There were red marks on her wrists and on her arms below her shoulders, and her arms were almost covered with bruises; but small ones,"

"Oh, they pinched her, no doubt. Undoubtedly she had a rough time of it, if one may judge the character of the villain with the fez. Well, we must find her. There's no use inquiring here. If they have used this for a torture chamber, we'll get nothing out ot them, and they'll grow suspicious."

They went downstairs, and, while Valeska waited in the street, Astro drove a bargain with Garbon Soumissin. Luckily the lower hall was dark, and the Turk could not perceive Astro's oriental countenance. But the Master of Mysteries had an important piece of news to tell when he rejoined Valeska. [2]

"They were talking Arabic, or rather Turkish. I heard one of them quote the motto we saw on the dagger. Now I know what they are. Have you heard of the Hunchakists?"

The papers had been so full of one of the recent murders of this dreaded Armenian society that Valeska knew roughly what the name implied. "Every country seems to have its guerrilla assassins," said Astro, as they drove uptown. "But the Armenian Hunchakists are more dangerous than any of the others, because they are better organised. Their object is usually extortion. Now we must visit the rug merchants. I'm afraid we're on the track of something serious this time." [3]

Their route led them directly into the heart of the mystery. On Eighteenth street, where, in front of a Turkish rug store, the crescent of Turkey hung out, there was a great crowd gathered, pressing about the entrance. It took Astro little time to discover the cause of the disturbance. The merchant, Marco Dyorian, had been found, when his shop was opened by his head bookkeeper, lying in a pool of blood in his office, shot in the back. He was not dead, though mortally wounded and unconscious, He was now at the hospital, at the point of death.

A policeman guarded the door, preventing any one from entering. Astro ands Valeska caught sight of his cap over the heads of the Bystanders, and when the crowd eddied they saw his face.

"Why, it's McGraw."

"So it is," said Astro. "What luck,"

They squirmed their way through the crowd, to find the burly police officer who, with Astro's assistance, had been able to gain considerable reputation in connection with the Macdougal street dynamite outrages. The two were now fast friends, Indeed, McGraw owed his lieutenant's cap to,the help of the Master of Mysteries. He, therefore welcomed them both with a grin.

"What is the straight of this, McGraw?" Astro asked.

"Hunchakist murder, sure," responded the lieutenant.

"I thought as much. Who did it?"

"Oh, we got 'em all right this time. No thanks to you, sir, for once, though I'd always be glad of your help. This one's a girl who done it."

Astro and Valeska looked at each other. "A girl?"

"Yes, sir. They'll be bringing her down presently. It's only fifteen minutes ago we got her. She was hiding in a back closet where nobody thought to look at first. She was in a dead faint,"

"What does she look like?"

"Faith, I don't know that myself. I've only just got here with the reserves. But if you stand here, you'll see her come down, There's the wagon already. Stand back there."

The crowd scattered, and the patrol wagon drove up with a clatter. Several officers jumped out and ran upstairs.

Astro turned to Valeska and spoke under his breath. "What time did you see her last?"

"I got up about midnight, and she was lying on the couch."

She put her hand on his arm. "Oh, it couldn't have been she," she exclaimed,

At that moment the officers brought their prisoner downstairs. It was indeed the girl who had been in the studio the night before and had gone home with Valeska. Just as the group passed Astro touched McGraw's shoulder.

"Let me speak to her a moment. I know this girl."

McGraw stared; but his faith in the occult power of the Seer was so great that he delayed the officers. They stopped for a moment, Astro addressed the girl in Turkish.

"Let me help you," he said.

She looked at him sulkily. But it was not with the blank expressionless face of yesterday. Her brows drew together.

"I don't know you," she said at last.

Valeska pushed forward and took her hand.

"Don't you know this lady?" Astro asked.

The girl stared. Some half-forgotten memory seemed to stir within her. "Her lips moved silently as she stared hard at Valeska's face. Then she shook her head, and said, "I don't know."

"I can't keep 'em waiting," McGraw whispered. "Let her go, and you call at the Tombs to see her again. I'll see that you get in, Go on, now."

The girl was escorted to the wagon and took her seat, facing the crowd stolidly, an officer on each side of her. Once, before they drove away, her eyes turned to where Valeska stood in the doorway, and the same puzzled expression crossed her face.

"McGraw," said Astro, after the wagon had gone, "how'd you like to get a captain's commission?"

McGraw hastily took him aside. "You don't mean to say that you know about this job already?" he asked excitedly.

"I know one thing. A man you want lives at 101 Washington street, and I think his name is Garbon Soumissin. At any rate, I'd advise you to get right down there immediately and run in every one you find in the house. Hurry up before they've gone."

McGraw's eyes gleamed. "And you'll coach me then what to do?" he asked.

"Yes."

"All right." Hastily summoning a police sergeant,...

(CONTINUED ON NEXT TO LAST PAGE.)

(Thanks to Gokalp; "Copyright 1912 The Bobbs-Merrill Company" accompanied the text when this story was published as well in The Racine Journal News, Oct. 6, 1913.)
Holdwater Notes


1. A little below, we'll also read: " in front of a Turkish rug store, the crescent of Turkey hung out." Since nearly all immigrants from the Ottoman Empire were Christians, the ones who operated these rug stores were composed of the Ottoman merchant class, the Armenians. Note how they used the exoticism of their Ottoman nation to good effect in the sale of their goods, as did other products of the period, like cigarettes. After WWI, most Armenian operators of such stores in the USA purposely did away with the word "Turkish"... even though everyone knows Oriental rugs were practically synonymous with the Turks. As with the food in Greek restaurants known throughout the West as "Greek food," all part of the grand scheme to eliminate Turkish cultural contributions.

2. Hrant "I am a Turkish citizen but I am no Turk" Dink may not enjoy this reminder that Armenians from the Ottoman Empire were also regarded as "Turks," but here is the irony. As far as the West was concerned, the alien culture of the Ottomans applied to all of the people from that part of the world, Armenians as well as Turks. In other words, Armenians got painted with the same broad stroke of prejudice, regardless of how much they reminded the West of how different and civilized they were, because they were Christians... and making sure to keep stressing the barbarism of the Turks (a propaganda campaign that would sometimes backfire on the Armenians.) In addition, note as well that even though it is the Armenians (at least the "Hunchakists") in this story who are the criminal ones, when we are offered the usual sinister Oriental description (whiskered, evil face, blotched complexion, fez), it's the Turkish part of the Armenians that is emphasized.

3. How astute of the author to have recognized that the Armenians (who had written the book on terrorism, particularly with the 1896 Ottoman Bank takeover; see comparison with today's Islamic terrorists) were "more dangerous than any of the" other "guerilla assassins." The world has yet to realize the depth of the inhumanity and criminality of the Armenian extremists, sometimes making the Mafia look like boy scouts, in comparison. While the exploits of the Hunchaks were getting most of the attention in the American press, the A. R. F. /Dashnak organization would frequently outdo their rivals in the immorality department.

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© Holdwater
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The source site of this article gets revised often, as better information comes along. For the most up-to-date version, and the related photos, the reader may consider reviewing the direct link as follows:

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