Centennial of the Armenian Genocide is April 24, 2015

Armenian mother kneeling beside dead child.

As the granddaughter of Armenian genocide survivors, I’ve been paying close attention to this year’s one hundredth anniversary of the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.  Lately, I’ve been immersing myself in reading and writing about it.  It’s depressing to say the least.  And draining.

But as the philosopher George Santayana warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  And I see a reflection of the Armenian Genocide in the mass slaughter of Christians in today’s Middle East.  So we absolutely must not forget history.  We must respect the historical record and resist all corruption of the language in speaking about that record.

While studying the genocide, I strived to connect all of the dots – the conditions of World War I when it all took place, the actions of the Ottoman government of Turkey to exterminate the Armenian Christians, the political differences among the Armenians themselves, the role of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and so much more.

I am so grateful to my grandfather for giving all of his descendants an extraordinary gift by chronicling his experiences in writing.  I can feel the fear and confusion as he describes how the police arrived in his village in the summer of 1915 with orders for all Armenians to leave their homes before sunrise.  A chaotic caravan formed.  And it was “Bedlam all around! The whining of the dogs, the lowing of the oxen, the bleating of the cows and sheep!  The wailing cries of the women. . .”  The wife of one villager was in active labor during the chaos, and was placed on a cart where she gave birth to a stillborn baby.  On another cart a villager placed his disabled adult daughter who could neither speak nor walk.  Her wailing was loud and pitiful and ended when “a police guard split her skull with the butt of his rifle.”

There are plenty more horrors to add to that one.  But there are also stories of great kindness and miracles along the way. And I am amazed to be able to map out my grandfather’s deportation route from his village in the Kayseri region in central Turkey.  The many places he passed through included a strenuous journey through the Taurus Mountains, the ancient Armenian city of Sis, down to Hama in Syria, and then Aleppo where huge numbers of Armenians were concentrated in filthy camp conditions.  He would later go to Adana and then board a ship from Mersin to get to Smyrna.  There he and my grandmother survived the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922.  They managed to get to Greece, and then, finally America.

Through a great miracle my grandfather and his caravan avoided being deported to Der Zor, which was deep in the Syrian desert where much of the killing took place.

I will have a few pieces published soon on the genocide.  And I’ll post them on this blog.  In the meantime, a great resource to read up on it all is at http://www.armenian-genocide.org/online_exhibits.html

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