Sarasota Herald-Tribune, FL
Jan 6 2007


A heartfelt mother-daughter story

By SUSAN L. RIFE


Margaret Ajemian Ahnert had never heard of the Armenians when she was
first pushed around by bullies on the schoolyard who shouted that
they hated her.

Why did they hate her? Because their parents cited the "starving
Armenians" as a reason to make their children eat vegetables.

As it turns out, Ahnert's mother, Ester, was one of those "starving
Armenians." In 1915, when she was 15, Ester was separated from her
family as they were forced from their home in Amasi, Turkey, along
with hundreds of thousands of Armenian Christians. More than a
million Armenians perished.

Ahnert recounts her mother's story in "The Knock at the Door: A
Journey Through the Darkness of the Armenian Genocide" (Beaufort
Books, $24.95), a book that has had surprising repercussions in
Ahnert's life. A reading last May at a Barnes & Noble store in New
York City was disrupted by five Turkish men who started passing out
literature denying the Armenian genocide. One man was arrested after
he and the others refused to leave the store.

"Five men jumped up, shouting, 'Margaret Ahnert is a liar,'" she
recalled in a telephone interview from her home in Fort Lauderdale.
"I was scared to death."

Earlier appearances had generated no such controversy, she said, so
she was caught unaware. Her audience that evening included former New
York Gov. Hugh Carey and Manhattan District Attorney Robert
Morgenthau.

"The governor was sitting in the front row, and he's used to these
sorts of outbursts," she said. "He sort of focused me. We left there
and went to Elaine's, where all good authors go off to for dinner. I
couldn't even talk. I didn't anticipate this. I have children and
grandchildren."

Ahnert wrote "The Knock at the Door" as her master's thesis for her
degree from Goucher College. She combined her mother's memories with
extensive research.

Her mother spent her last years living at an Armenian home in New
York City. Ahnert would visit frequently, always taking flowers,
which often triggered memories in Ester. Once, Ahnert took a
phallic-shaped cactus plant, which Ester looked at and then remarked,
"He took me in as a daughter and then he raped me."

The comment shocked Ahnert, who later got the full story from Ester,
of how she was taken in as a refugee, only to be sexually assaulted
by her protector.

But Ahnert did not write the book as a detailed exploration of the
Armenian genocide.

"I meant this to be a mother-daughter story for my children and
grandchildren to know what their great-grandmother had lived
through," she said.

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