The Armenian and the Sultanah

envole toi chantal peguiron drawing

I met her for the first time in the street

I saw her eyes only since her face and her hair were covered by a veil

It was enough to see her eyes to recognize her though, so familiar were they to me, even if I had never met her

I saw her and there was instant recognition and I smiled to her and she smiled to me

The encounter of an instant before our lives continued following their separate paths

As our feet moved in the opposite direction and we each continued our market stroll

She was richly clothed and must have been some sort of noble women, accompanied by other women and servants

I was a mere Armenian craftsman who surely couldn’t mix with Ottoman aristocracy

But her laughing eyes and the familiarity of her expression remained engraved in my memory

Even when I was so young, even if she seemed older and from another social class


Several years again I met her again, when I had almost forgotten her

I was doing some woodwork in the imperial harem

And she was there

And she was the Sultanah, she had become the Sultanah

The principal wife of the Sultan

Again I shouldn’t even have seen her, but she wanted to supervise herself the woodwork since she’d paint them later

She was a gifted painter, but that I didn’t know yet

She gave me some indications without showing any sense of recognition at first

But as she came closer to me and I went down from the ladder where I had been working

Our eyes met and suddenly her expression softened

Even if she was a few years older than me, her face was still childish

Not childish in a bad way, childish in dreaminess and innocence

I could see the playful child within, beyond, the Sultanah

And she could see the playful child within me

Even if we had never met we were two children who had grown together, played together, learnt together

There was a familiarity between us that nothing could explain

She smiled to me with her eyes and I smiled to her in the same way

She asked me if I knew how to read Arabic characters

I told her I did, even if they were not my strong, I could write Armenian more fluently

She was surprised to hear I was lettered, it was rather unusual in the men of my conditions

But I had always had an interest toward letters, and when I was not carving the wood at night I enjoyed very much to sit quietly and read and read again the few books I owned

I even pushed it as far as writing a bit too, a few poems about fleeting feelings I could not have expressed otherwise

Books and writings chanted of a freedom I could not find around me

They sang a poetry that lacked in the people I worked with

And they were very precious to me


After a week of working in the Harem, a week of stolen smiles and eager expectation of nothing in particular as I did not allow myself to hope too much

A eunuch came toward me and gave me a little note

The Sultanah was inviting me to visit her at night if I was willing to take the risk of meeting her, of being caught

I wrote her I was

She replied the next day, using again the eunuch intermediary, explaining how I should introduce myself in the imperial palace, I’d have to climb on a wall, and enter her room from the window

That was the price of seeing her

She was waiting me the same night

I had no family in Istanbul, no one awaiting me in the small room I had for adobe

So after finishing my work, I went to wash my hands and my face in a fountain

Visited the souk to eat a small thing

And as the night shrouded the town and the imperial palace in darkness

I penetrated in the harem, arrived under her window that was shut because of the cold

I threw a couple of fir-cones against it as she had asked me to do, and she opened it herself throwing me a rope

I climbed without hesitating and entered one of her magnificent rooms

And suddenly I was submerged by shyness

I wasn’t in my place there

But as though she could read my thoughts she looked into my eyes and smiled

And I felt at ease with her, at home within her

She told me several eunuchs loved her and did whatever she asked them to do

That we were safe, that I didn’t have to worry

I asked her about the Sultan

Her face turned to disgust

The Sultan is old and wrinkled, and he abuses everyone and everything

Was her reply

I was surprised to see so much unruliness in a Sultanah

She invited me to sit in front of her on a low sofa with colorful drapery

And we spoke and spoke

And I felt closer and closer to her

She was not of Ottoman descent

She had grown somewhere in a hilly country of Macedonia she barely remembered

She used to run on the hills, hide in the woods, her parents were peasants

She was raised in the Christian faith as I was

Once her town had been raided by pirates and she was taken away by force

The fate of her parents and siblings she ignored, it was night and everyone was running in every direction, buildings were being ransacked, the ones already robbed were set on fire

It was a night of hell and she thought that she’d die that night

She didn’t remember much of it, but she remembered waking up on a ship, her feet chained

And she was sold as a slave to the Ottomans and since she was good looking they sent her to the harem

And she grew there and got an education and discovered her gift for painting

Because of her sensitive intelligence she was greatly admired, and as the former Sultanah died, the Sultan chose her

He admired her paintings which was a good thing, but apart from that he was irascible, continued to want to use and abuse of her body even when he was by thirty years her senior, and he treated people around him unfairly, sowing the discord between his children and in his empire

The Sultanah watched all that in suffering and growing abhorrence of this man she had to please every day

She was born free, and all what she dreamt about was becoming free again, free of going wherever it pleased her, of doing whatever she liked, of retrieving her siblings and her village in Macedonia

She didn’t hate the Ottomans, but didn’t like them either

And she behaved as a properly as a Sultanah in appearances only because she didn’t have other choice, while trying to improve the lives of the miserable people around her, something that gave meaning to her life

We spoke about that as our hands joined

And she suddenly took my hand in an impulse and kissed it tenderly

I have retrieved you, brother of mine

I came from distant Armenia, but somehow her words rang true in my heart

We were siblings, brothers and sisters

Not of blood, but of spirit

Brothers and sisters of spirit, playmates, companions

and lovers

She invited me in her large oversized velvety bed

And we started kissing as though we had parted on the eve

My body responded to hers, and hers to mine

And we kissed and kissed

And our bodies danced the dance of love and for a moment we felt full of warmth and tenderness

We had forgotten who we were, all the miseries we had gone through

The past had vanished from our mind

All what remained was the awareness of the present instant bubble of tenderness and love and acceptance and home coming


And so we met again and again

Almost every night we saw each other

And I read her poetry, the work of other authors, then my own poems as I grew in confidence

And she showed me her sketching book, her paintings and drawings

And we explored each other body and soul hungrily

Each dawn was a painful separation

Each night a retrieval

When we couldn’t meet because of the Sultan plans to visit her, it was unbearably painful


It went on for months, for a couple of years

Until the persecutions against Armenians started

Each occasion was good to beat Armenians in public, to humiliate them

And soon humiliations became slaughters

Ottoman soldiers or Kurdish militias were sent to the Armenian neighborhood of the city, and they would reclaim gold, invent a process, and kill whoever was not cooperative enough

The Sultan was losing his tempers in the last years of his life

The Empire was shaken by insurrections, news such as Mount Lebanon that had retaken the coastal cities of Taraboulous and Saida, that Berbers were in open rebellions, that the Pasha of Damascus was acting as though all his promise was his playground, threatening the Pashalik of Alexandretta, daily reached our ears

And people in Istanbul started to be angry and fearful, accusing the Sultan of laxness and weakness

If he didn’t change his politics all the Empire would end up crumbling from the inside and collapsing in case the Russians or the Austrians launched an attack

The situation was dangerous and something had to be done

And what happened? Armenians and other minorities started being slaughtered

The fault was thrown on these non Turkish or Muslim minorities that weakened the Empire from the inside

We Armenians were the first ones to pay

Soon not a day passed without seeing a man dragged in the street, beaten, killed, his corpse launched in meal to stray dogs

I started moving around the town with a little dagger hidden in a belt under my tunic, since we didn’t have the right to bear weapons


And every night I continued meeting the Sultanah

Her voluptuous body pressed against mine shrouded by darkness

It was so reassuring to be loved by someone

She was my lover, my sister but also my mother

As she was older and better settled in life

She offered me treats whenever she could, she always thought I was famished

She gave me a few garments whenever mine had too large holes that let pass the winter cold

She was here for me in a touching way that made me almost teary

But it was so natural between us, I did not think of her as a Sultanah, but as the young playful sensitive clever woman she was within her Sultanah disguise

And I had not told anyone about these visits in the imperial palace

No it was better to keep them for myself, and beyond, I didn’t feel the need of sharing them


Armenians continued to be slaughtered, and it wasn’t the first time it happened in history

People around me had all dark bags under their eyes, they couldn’t sleep so worried they were it’d soon be their turn to be molested, to die

Could we be massacred one after another without saying anything, doing anything?

A rebellion started to foment


But I did not time to witness and participate in this rebellion

We were caught before

One night as many others I had met the Sultanah and spent all the hours between nightfall to dawn in her room

And we had chatted and spoken and laughed

And we had kissed with hunger and passion, as though it were the first time, the last time, we loved one another

She was tender beyond words with me, and I was gentle too

And when dawn broke and I had to depart regretfully

The door suddenly opened and the Sultan appeared

And the Sultanah and me both screamed in surprise and horror

My first reflex was to run away, but what about the Sultanah

So I stayed even when she shouted me to escape

In all cases it’s probable I could never have escaped from the soldiers he had brought with him and who were already filling the normally peaceful courtyard of fountains and pomegranate and fir trees

I took out my knife and tried to resist

Better to die than being caught, but again what about the Sultanah

I was strong and lean but had no military training

She produced out a dagger and we started fighting for our life

Side by side for the last time, whatever turned out to be the outcome of the fight

But soon three spearmen were in me and even when I had slightly hurt one

I was losing blood from everywhere like a tank that has been pierced by bullets and starts emptying himself

My wounds were deep and hurt but they were nothing confronted to the wound of my heart, the wound of losing the Sultanah, the fear of seeing her dying at my feet

In the blur of the fight I saw that several soldiers had been necessary to control her

The Sultan had shouted at them repeatedly not to hurt her, not to wound her, they were holding her from the hair, from the ankle, from the neck, immobilized on the floor

The Sultan gloated he had watched us all night long to find our best respective punishments

I was already losing all by blood that was soaking the carpets on the floor

And the Sultanah screamed horrified at this sight

Deep down I felt very quiet now, like a man who is about to die, who knows he will die, and who’s suddenly found the strength to accept this thought

My throat was to be cut, I would be beheaded in a bit of time in front of all the palace

And the Sultanah would be dispossessed of her title and her prerogatives and would live a life of confinement dedicated to the good pleasure of her rightful master the Sultan

I heard that and nearly fainted and I would have killed the Sultanah with my own hands before killing myself to avoid her such a horrible fate

And the thrill of battle surged within my emptying veins and I jumped on my nearest assailer and took his spear in a moment of inattention and I pushed him on the floor and pierced his chest without a second thought at the horrible deed I had just committed

But my forces were already waning and they caught me again, inflicting me other wounds on the process, and I crumbled on the floor, nearly lifeless in a pool of blood

And soon they put me over the window I had so many times scaled and out of a jest between them they pushed me from there and I fell fell feeling all my limbs dislocating and I crashed on the ground and felt all my bones breaking, shattering, my head exploding

I was already a corpse, but it wasn’t nearly enough for them, and they came upon the broken rests of me and cut my neck, and my head went to join the pebbles and the rocks in the courtyard and I passed away

And the Sultanah remained in confinement like a ghost of herself, barely eating, barely sleeping, abused each time the Sultan had a craving to torture someone

He beat her and used her to fulfill all his depravity, taking her from behind, binding her, molesting her, according to his mood, always sugary and sarcastic when speaking to her

She tried to kill herself, several times, with a broken shard of glass opening the veins of her arms, with her paintbrush in her throat, with poison

But each time she was surprised by her careful jailors and saved from death, prevented from delivering herself from this life of torments

Over the months she grew weaker and weaker, so weak that she looked as an old woman when she was barely thirty-five

All this time my soul was still there, floating around her dungeon, trying to console her, to tell her to hope, to be strong

She listened to me through her heart but her grief and her sufferings were too great to bear

Until finally her body surrendered and collapsed, dying of a slow death of weakness and sickness

And the Armenian insurrection was at the same time drowned in blood

And thousands of my cousins of arm died and fled and left the Armenian neighborhood nearly devastated and empty

So goes life on Earth with its upheavals

And it’s not a surprise I hate the mere mention of Ottomans now


When I met her soul again we rejoiced

But we were both extremely tired and shakened by what had happened to us

By the violence we had witnessed on our body, on the very door of our soul

We embraced and remembered all the lives we had met, all the things we had done together

But this Ottoman life had left deep imprints within us, deep wounds in our soul that we’d need to someday heal

What if we lived several lives and bore in each life the traumas of former lives?

If you like my writing don’t hesitate to leave your impressions and perhaps subscribe! Good evening to you, fellow journeyer.

“Envole-toi” is a drawing by Chantal Peguiron.


About Erik Vincenti Zakhia

Dear all, I will share with you many of my poems, short stories, drawings and paintings telling of my journey of self-discovery and my reflections about life, love, art, spirituality, sexuality, kundalini rise, and twin flames. They all fall within the realm of Hazen. May you have an inspiring visit!

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