Hayk and his family live in a small town in the land of their ancestors. Hayk helps his grandmother in the bakery and his father, Sarkis, in the mountains. And, while nobody is watching, he sits on the roof of his house and admires his sixteen year old neighbor, Mane - his unrequited love.
On the day when Hayk’s life is split into “before” and “after”, Hayk is helping his father to collect honey at a far mountain apiary. From there they see clouds of black smoke rising over the town. Sarkis with his son rush back home. As they approach the town they come across their neighbor Vazgen, who is crawling along the road with his feet chopped off, and learn from him that Turkish soldiers and gendarmes drive the Armenians from their houses and kill those who try to oppose them.
All through the night Hayk hides at his Greek friend Miron’s place. In the morning he decides to go out. Unnoticed, he stealthily comes to the town square. The Turks have gathered there the remaining population of the town. They separate young girls from the rest of the crowd.
An officer orders the girls to strip. Mane refuses and the officer gives her to his soldiers to ravish. The rest of the people are marched out of town in columns. Among the refugees Hayk notices his father and mother with his little sister in their arms. Hayk and Miron hide at Miron’s aunt’s house. Her husband is a Turk and he wouldn’t be harmed. Yet armed gendarmes come to Osman’s house. In his courtyard, in a tandour they find a woman and a girl. Osman is arrested for harboring the war criminals. His wife tries to interfere for him and is killed. Miron attacks the gendarmes and is shot to death. Hayk barely manages to run away and goes to Surp Arakelots monastery where his grandfather Grigor is a priest.
The monastery is still being defended by militia, and people from various towns and villages seek shelter there. At the monastery Hayk finds his grandmother Araksi, his grandfather Grigor and his grandaunt Nane. Grigor decides that Nane and Araksi with Hayk have to leave for Aleksandropol (Gyumri) immediately. Among the church treasures Grigor finds the huge book Msho Charntir, the largest Armenian manuscript, which has been kept in the monastery for a long time. Nane and Araksi should save it by all means necessary and take it to Harichavank monastery in Aleksandropol. Nane and Araksi decide to go without guards so as not to attract attention.
Early morning next day they leave the monastery in a small carriage with Hayk. Grigor promises, he will join them later. However, this was not meant to be. Later Grigor refuses to tell Turkish officers where the monastery treasures have been hidden, and for this he is crucified on the monastery doors. And the Turks are now hunting for the book.
They need to go to the sea and get to Batum by sea. At night Hayk, Nane and Araksi are attacked by wolves. They lose their ox. Now they have to travel on foot. Nane and Araksi decide to separate the book into two halves. They tie the halves of the book to their backs and continue on their journey.
They find shelter for the night in an abandoned chapel. Here the women and Hayk meet Martun who pretends to be a mad man. The Turks took his wife and his child. Nane and Araksi take Martun with them.
In the next town Hayk and Martun cover themselves with dirt and, pretending to be penniless madmen, go scouting. They see Turkish soldiers drive a crowd of Armenians into a church and burn it. The soldiers notice Martun and Hayk. They are saved from a certain death by a detachment of Fidayi – Armenian militia. The Fidayi kill the Turks and free the people from the church.
Nane asks the Fidayi for help and to accompany them to the border, but the Fidayi commander has no resources for that. Nane, Araksi and Hayk leave. Martun decides to stay with the Fidayi and try to find his family.
In the morning they approach another town. In the wheat field at the outskirts of the town they meet women and old men hiding from Turks. But the Turks burn the field. Nane, Araksi and Hayk are captured. They are being taken to Erzurum, to their certain deaths, but at night the Armenians revolt. Many are killed. In the confusion Nane and Hayk pretend to be dead. They are left among the dead bodies. Araksi is taken away. She is carrying her half of the book with her. They will never see each other again.
Hayk and Nane keep on going to the sea. They find temporary shelter with a Red Cross mission. Hayk meets a girl named Anush. When the Turks came to her town she hid. And when she came back home she saw that her parents had been killed. And her unborn brother had been cut out of her mother’s belly. She was found by French volunteers and brought to the mission. Since then Anush never cries or laughs.
Under the protection of another Fidayi detachment, the French take the refugees to the sea. There the Greek smugglers would take them to Batum. Part of the people including Anush manage to get to the schooner, but suddenly a detachment of Turkish soldiers appears. The Fidayi fight back. Nane and Hayk have to run away.
Nane and Hayk walk through the mountains. They walk into small villages and see the signs of Turkish atrocities. This leaves an indelible mark on Hayk’s psyche. He stops believing in God and tries to burn the book blaming it for everything bad that happened to him and his family. They are almost exhausted and ready to give up when an Assirian smuggler finds them. He takes them across the border to Russian Cossacks. Hayk and Nane are safe.
At a refugee camp in the Russian town of Sarpi Hayk meets Anush and Veronique, a representative of the Red Cross, again. Veronique wants to take Anush to France. But Anush decides to go with Hayk and Nane. Martun also comes to the camp, he learned that his family had been killed. Anush, Hayk, Nane and Martun head for Aleksandropol.