ARMENIAN GENOCIDE SURVIVORS' STORIES: 'MY DREAMS CANNOT MOURN'

To mark the centenary of the massacre, we asked readers to tell us
how a legacy of mass killings and deportations has affected the way
Armenians live now

Survivors of the Armenian genocide, in 1919. Today marks 100 years
since the atrocities began. Photograph: Maynard Owen Williams/National
Geographic Creative/Corbis

Maeve Shearlaw

@maeveshearlaw

Friday 24 April 2015 05.00 BSTLast modified on Friday 24 April
201512.43 BST

On a bright spring day a 12-year-old girl called Vartoughy was
cleaning her porch when she saw a bird's nest. Reaching up with her
broom handle, the young Armenian knocked it down and swept it away. A
neighbour was watching and chided her. "How would you feel if someone
pushed you out of your home?"

A few weeks later all of the Armenians in Everek - which was then
part of the Ottoman empire - would be told they had to leave.

Around the same time in a village not so far away, Ohanes
Babasoloukian's mother was talking to her five-year-old son: "You
are the most handsome, sweet and adorable boy in this whole entire
village."

Their extended family lived in the Turkish village of Kilis and grew
figs and olives. "It seemed like the perfect existence," Babasoloukian
said. But his life would change abruptly.

"We heard gunshots. Then we heard screaming. Then we smelled smoke. I
felt my mother squeeze me ... without even a moment [for us] to think
of what to do next, the soldiers kicked down the door and pulled
everyone out."

Centenary of the Armenian genocide: descendants tell their family's
stories

Read more

These are just two of the individual testimonies sent to the Guardian
to mark the centenary of what Pope Francis has called "the first
genocide of the 20th century".

Widely accepted historical accounts say that between 1 million and
1.5 million Armenians lost their lives at the hands of Ottoman forces
in what was then eastern Turkey.

Between 1915 and 1922 the Teskilat e-Mahsus (special organisation)
carried out a campaign of mass murder, deportation, pillage and rape
against the minority Christian Armenians.

Mass deportations: 'Slow walkers were shot'

Many were sent on convoys, commonly described as caravans, into the
Syrian desert. On Vartoughy's journey "anyone who walked too slow
was shot" and her sister was forced to give birth on a horse after
soldiers refused to let them stop moving.

FacebookTwitterPinterest Ohanes Babasoloukian with his wife,
Selma. Behind them are their children (left to right): Jerry, Alex,
Georgette, Edward, George and Karekin. Photograph: Armen Babasoloukian

The baby's chance of survival was slim but when Turkish villagers
offered to take her, her sister refused: "This baby came into this
world a Christian, and she is going to leave a Christian."

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Vartoughy and her brother were the only two members of her family to
survive the 600-mile journey to Deir Ezzor in the Syrian desert, where
they were abandoned. Their story was recorded by her family before she
died and was sent to the Guardian by her great-grandson Jeremy Badach.

What happened next is hazy, Badach says. "Like other survivors of
genocide, my great-grandma did not enjoy recounting her story." But
she and her brother would both eventually join their father in the US.

According to the memories collected by Babasoloukian's grandson Armen
Babasoloukian, by the third day of the march his mother was dead:
"They left her body for the sun. Blistered and eventually dried like
a prune," he said.

On the fourth day the soldiers abandoned them, leaving him and elderly
companions to find their way out of the desert alone. He talked of
quickly adopting a Turkish name to avoid being identified as Armenian:
"From that day on I became Ohanes Babasoloukian, the boy whose father
is dead."

'My dreams cannot mourn. They are deferred'

Lusya Araqelyan shared this picture of her grandmother Beso Gasparian,
who used to mourn, beat her by chest and say: 'Whatever we saw,
I don't want even my enemies to see and experience.' Photograph:
Lusya Araqelyan

The Guardian received more than 500 responses to a callout for
first-hand experiences of persecution. Some are based on transcripts
and audio recordings, others are stories recited through the
generations.

While it is impossible to independently verify every detail, the
stories contribute to an overwhelming narrative of death, loss and
destruction.

It was night-time in Dalvor when 12-year-old Beso Gasparian's family
were warned of the proximity of Ottoman soldiers. She fled with her
mother and her eight-year-old brother, Manuk, to a hill above the
village to hide their valuables and wait for the rest of their family
to join them.

But as dawn came a massacre erupted. They watched as the soldiers
beheaded her father and stabbed her two-year-old nephew before turning
on the boy's mother, Kveh. She was seven months' pregnant.

The three of them returned to the village the following night to
bury the dead. "The scene was hellish. We put the killed baby on my
sister's chest and covered them with stones. But we couldn't find my
father's corpse," wrote Lusya Araqelyan, recounting the story told
to her by her grandmother.

Many ancestors we heard from described the stoical sadness carried by
survivors for the rest of their lives. When asked about his mother,
Babasoloukian said: "My dreams cannot mourn her. They are deferred. I
did not have enough energy to mourn her."

Gasparian said she didn't shed a tear when her family were
slaughtered. Years, later, when asked why, she said: "Have you ever
seen a stone crying?"

FacebookTwitterPinterest The Ghazikian family on a picnic in Erzerum,
known to Armenians as Garin, in 1915. Photograph: Melissa Selverian

Melissa Selverian shared a picture of the Ghazikian family - three
sons, Garabed, Vartan and Avedis, and three daughters, Eliza, Nevart
and Meline - who lived a prosperous and happy life in Erzerum, known
to Armenians as Garin.

As the deportation began, the three sons and their father were
separated and murdered, their homes and property were seized, and
the girls and their mother, Hripsime, were sent on a "death march"
through the desert. They survived, eventually making it to the US.

Hripsime wore black every day for the rest of her life. Her story
was filmed by Selverian, her great-granddaughter, in 1988 as part of
a documentary project.

Living histories

There is added impetus now to document stories . As with the Holocaust
of Nazi Germany, living survivors are dying out. The campaign group
100 Lives says there are just 33 left in Armenia.

Some still live in diaspora pockets around the world. Lalai Manjikian
sent us the "living histories" of three women residing in care homes
near each other in Montreal: Keghetzik Hagopian-Zourikian, who is 104;
Knar Bohjelian-Yeminidjian, 106; and Armenouhie Tenkerian-Piliguian,
101.

FacebookTwitterPinterest They Fell, a commemorative artwork sent to
the Guardian by Liana Mkrtchian Photograph: Liana Mkrtchian

Hagopian-Zourikian was separated from her family and lived as an
orphaned refugee in Greece and Egypt. Years later she was reunited with
her mother. Bohjelian-Yeminidjian credits her family's survival to
(reluctantly) adopting a Turkish identity. And Tenkerian-Piliguian,
who moved to Montreal in 1963, talked of remaining dedicated to
Armenian poetry and literature while living abroad.

Collective mourning

A reader who gave his name as Ruben told us: "There is almost no
Armenian family in the world without a story about 1915." A number
of Armenian-led campaigns have made a concerted effort to collate
them this year.

Birthrights Armenia says it wants younger members of the Armenian
community "to experience their homeland". The programme coordinator,
Shant Meguerditchian, says chronicling painful stories can give people
a sense of where they come from: collective mourning to come to terms
with history.

FacebookTwitterPinterest Members of the Armenian community join a
demonstration in London ahead of the 90th anniversary. Photograph:
Edmond Terakopian/PA

Diaspora groups have long campaigned for global recognition of the
term genocide. Turkey's failure to recognise it was likened by the
pope to "allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it". On
Wednesday, President Barack Obama disappointed US-based campaigners
by stopping short of giving his official support.

Living survivor: 'I would like another childhood'

1918, Mosul. Sirvard was paid 1 Ottoman pound to pose with a British
soldier. Photograph: Araxie Altounian

Araxie Altounian's grandmother Sirvard Kurdian lives in Toronto. She
was born three years before the forced deportations began, when she
was forced with her siblings and grandfather to walk from Erzerum in
eastern Turkey to Mosul in Iraq. The journey took six months.

The family lived in Mosul for four years, carving out a small living
by making clothes with a sewing machine, which Kurdian still owns
today. From Mosul she moved to Aleppo, in Syria, and met her husband,
Khachig Kurdian, an orphan from the same town who had lost his
entire family.

Last year, on her 102nd birthday, Kurdian received a visit from her
local parish priest. He asked what she'd wish for if she were to live
life again. She replied: "I would like to have a childhood. I never
had one."

FacebookTwitterPinterest Sirvard Kurdian on her 102nd
birthday. Photograph: Araxie Altounian

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/24/armenian-genocide-survivors-stories-my-dreams-cannot-mourn



From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress