1st person narrative of the Armenian Genocide. Written by my 13 year old daughter.
Life Is An Adventure
Right. Left. Right. Left. As I put one foot in front of the other, I can’t help but think about before. Before the Turks came and forced us into the desert. Forced us to leave everything, our friends, our family, our home, all for the sake of their greedy selves. Up ahead of me, my mother hikes through the hot desert, thirsty, hungry, naked, and exhausted. For us, stopping isn’t an option, if we do, we’ll be beaten, or even shot.
I wonder how my Hayr (father) is doing. When the Turkish soldiers came and took over our village, they forced him to serve in their army; however, he was luckier than the men who were killed by Death Squads. I also worry for my younger brother Tevin, who was taken, forced to become a Muslim, and was given to a Turkish family.
Anna Dadian, my identity. The only thing that separated me from the all the other Hayery, or Armenians on that death march.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“Mayr!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, Anna?” my mother, at the tonir, a clay furnace, asked me.
Looking for my father I replied, “I’m home! Is Hayr home yet? I need to show him something.”
“Yes, and dinner will be ready soon, so go find your brother and get cleaned up”
Nodding, I started weaving my way through the cool house, with its thick walls and earth covered roof. My petite mother, only standing at 5’1”, has beautiful, long brown, curly hair. I inherited her light skin and dark brown eyes, but I got my father’s black hair. My father, at 5’8”, is taller than Mayr,. His skin is darkened from the sun, and he too has the common dark brown eyes. Our whole family has prominent noses, with large bridges. My younger brother, Tevin, looks a lot like me, but has short brown hair and thick eyebrows like Hayr.
I find Tevin, after I talk to Father, and we wash our hands to get ready for dinner. When we arrive at the table, Hayr and Mayr are already waiting for us to join them. On top of the old wooden table lies a cloth, and traditional foods that Mother made. Started last night, steaming beef khash (a soup made from beef or mutton legs), fills the room with heavenly smells. Beef shashlik (meat kabobs), are on a plate, covered in a thick sauce with wild herbs and spices. An assortment of colorful, just-picked fruit is also on display.
At the table we all pray, and ask God to bless our food and the hands that made it, and then eat until we are stuffed.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Those were simpler, easier times. We didn’t have to worry so much. My feet are burning from the hot sand, and I resist the urge to stop. Bang! Behind me a gun fires, and I know that someone got in trouble. Without looking back, I pray silently in my head for the soul of the victim. Before being forced on this fatal walk, we were told that we were going to be relocated to a non-military zone for our “safety”, and were instructed to pack a few things we wanted to keep. What we weren’t told was that the walk would be from our villages to Syria, hundreds of miles away. Given very little or no food and water, so many of us have perished in the desert. Their lifeless, malnourished bodies left atop the smooth beige sand, never to be buried.
Later, after months of walking, the Turkish gendarmes escorting us on horseback announced that a town was up ahead. We will be stopping there so they can stock up on food and water, though just for themselves. Once we arrive in town, all of us Armenians are left waiting in the town square for the soldiers to finish.
Mother and I finally find each other, after searching through the crowds of people, relieved to be alive after this long, and to be taking a much needed break. Our feet, cracked, dry, and bleeding finally are able to rest. Behind me, some Muslim Turkish children, peeking out from behind a shop door, are aghast at our thin, naked bodies. Mayr turned me around and pointed toward them. We wave at them, as we sit, off our feet and not using our sore, aching muscles. One of the small children disappears, followed by the others. After a few minutes, they reappear, this time, instead of staring, motioning with their small hands for us to come closer. I nod, and whisper to Mayr,
“I think they want us to come closer, should we?”
Noticing, the shade near the door, “Yes, let’s see what they want,” she replies to me.
We slowly inch over to the door, our muscles still sore and tired. As we arrive at the door, they slightly open the door farther and motion for us to come in. Hesitantly, we do, deciding that it would be better to go inside, than to stay with the rest of the caravan, out in the scorching sun, knowing that if we get caught, we would be killed, or tortured.
Our eyes take a few minutes to adjust to being in the dark shop, while our skin basks in the cool temperature of the room. Four children sit on the floor, just watching us, the youngest appearing to be only two or three years old, and the oldest was around ten. Behind them, is a bakery shelf, filled with sweets, breads, and other baked goods. The oldest stands up, and brings us something wrapped in a towel. Upon unwrapping it, two warm, round pieces of fresh flatbread are found. I give one to Mother, who like me consumes it quickly. A woman, who looks to be the children’s mother, offered us water and a place to sit at a nearby table. For the next hour, we are given food and drink, as we try to talk, but we are unsuccessful for the most part, seeing that we speak two different languages. The father of the children knows some Armenian, so he is able to translate for us once when he can.
Before we know it, the sun has set, and the caravan has left, leaving us behind. The woman calls to her children and asks them to do something in Turkish.
“Çocuklar, lütfen misafirlerimize yatağı gidebilir miyiz? Teşekkür ederiz.” she said.
“Evet, anne.” The oldest replied.
They all comply and leave the room. After a semi-successful attempt to start a conversation with the parents, the children return, and motion for us to follow. Mayr looks at me and nods, giving me permission to follow them. After leaving our muscles still for so long, we end up needing some assistance getting up. Leading us to a room in the back of the house, one of the middle children opens a door, and shows us a big bed, with blankets and pillows atop of it. Thanking them the best we can, we eagerly lay down, to sleep on the soft, fluffy mattress, which was much better than the sand that we sleep on at night in the desert. Silently, I kiss Mother goodnight, pray, thanking God for the kind family who is caring for us, and for everyone’s welfare, and I fall into a silent sleep.
Over the next few months, Mayr and I, start working in the bakery in order to repay the kind Turkish family who took us in. Each morning, before the sun rises, we would help Asil, the father, prepare the doughs and seasonings. After the bread and treats were in the clay ovens, we clean up the shop and get ready for customers. Throughout each day, we help anyone who needs food or drink, and sometimes I watch the, now a total of five, children so their mother can help out in the bakery. They have even taught us some Turkish, so we can speak to them and other villagers.
But now it is time for us to go. Mother and I have finally earned enough money to leave, and go to America, the land of Freedom, Hope, and Equality. The Turkish family, the Sadik’s, have given us shelter, and saved our lives. Once we booked passage to Syria by a train, we will packed our bags and prepared to leave. In tears, I say my final goodbyes, and promised to write. Mayr did the same, and lingers at the door, not quite ready to leave. After hugs, tears, thank yous, and goodbyes go around, Mother and I step outside. Knowing we would have to walk across town, we put on the simple shoes that we made with the children and their mother a few weeks ago. As we turn the corner, on our way to the train station, we wave goodbye to the children, who are watching us from behind the door, just like they did that first day, when we met them. After about 20 to 30 minutes, we finally arrive at the dusty train station, and show the tired woman our train tickets. Our plan to get to America is in effect, all we need to do now is get to Syria so we can take a boat to New York. There, we will live with relatives of ours, who left Armenia before the Genocide began. Once on our Syria-bound train, I remember everything my family has gone through in the past year. We went from being together, happy and whole, to being separated, whether going to the Turkish Army, becoming Muslim and forced into a new family and life, or, like Mayr and I, being marched through the desert for months, without food or water, and thankfully being rescued by a kind Turkish family. Going through all of this, and still being alive, has showed me that I am more powerful and strong than I thought.
Later, as an adult, I acquired the information we were never told. The Ottoman empire was crumbling, so the Young Turks seized power, fixed on strengthening, modernizing, and becoming a Turkish empire. Led by the Three Pashas, the Young Turks wanted a unified nation, that would start a new Turkish empire, called Turan, with one language and one religion, Islam. But, Armenia was in the way of their plans to expand eastward, and there were about two million Christian-Armenians on that land. When WWI started in 1914, they used war as an excuse for the massacre of the Armenians. Soon after, Armenians were forced to turn in all weapons, and those in the army were unarmed and forced into labor camps, where they either worked to death or were killed. To deprive us of leadership and a chance of resistance, 300 Armenian intellectuals were arrested and executed, signaling the beginning of my people’s genocide. Defenceless, men were either forced into the Turkish army like Hayr, or tied together and taken to be shot or bayoneted by Death Squads. Women, elders, and children were tortured, killed or forced on “relocation” marches through the desert, which covered hundreds of miles and could last for months. Apparently, the marches took so long because the gendarmes were avoiding Turkish villages, and wanted to prolong the walks hoping that the we would die on the marches, whether by hunger, dehydration, sickness, or from being beaten or murdered. Some children were forced into the Islamic faith and were adopted by Turkish families. If not for the Battle of Sardarabad in 1918, where Armenians were able to get weapons and fight back, the Ottoman empire would have taken over the rest of my country. This saved the remaining Armenian population from being exterminated. The Ottomans also surrendered that year, and the leaders of the Young Turks fled to Germany, who would not prosecute them for their ruthless actions, so the men behind the suffering, deaths, and near extinction of my people were not charged for what they did. Though from 1920-1922, a group of Armenians put a plan called Operation Nemesis into effect, and they assassinated a number of the people behind our genocide. Out of about 2 million Armenians, only about 880,000 survived the genocide. Even to this day, Turkey and other many other countries have denied that the horrendous actions done by the Young Turks was a genocide of the Armenian people.
Now, I remind myself that life is an adventure, no matter where it takes you.