Little Stories of a Big GenocideBy My Opinion @ 4:00 PM April 19, 2012
From Dr. Rosemary Hartounian Cohen
[Editor’s Note: Tuesday will mark the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a onesided murderous war that began on April 24, 1915 and ended in 1916. The memory of Armenian martyrs is observed worldwide on April 24 every year.]
First of two parts
Elie Weisel has declared: “Since I live, I must be faithful to memory…I must be the emissary of the dead, even though the role is painful.”
Since the publication of my book, The Survivor, many people have shared their memories with me. Hearing them is painful, writing and sharing them more painful.
But since I have made a choice, I have to live with the pain of memory only for one reason, “Zakhor.” The word that became famous after Holocaust means “remember.” Only by remembering the past, by repeating “Never Again” can we hope for a better future for coming generations.
Addressing a Unique Audience
I was invited to talk about The Survivor before the Mazandarani Group in Los Angeles, Iranian intellectuals who held important positions before the revolution in Iran. They were engineers, authors, painters and directors of organizations. At our event, former ministers of Labor and of Environment were present.
In the past, if a person needed to meet with one of these men, he/she had to ask the secretary and surmount many other obstacles for several days to obtain a short appointment.
Now they were sitting around a table at the Sizzler restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. Clearly they were tired and sad over being unable to apply their real knowledge and talent in their exiled country. These days, they live through their rich memories of what was and what is no more.
Every one knew each other in Iran.
For two hours every month they get back to their real selves. In the company of old friends, their spirits shine for a short time. They learn the fates of their old friends and they exchange new events of their beloved country.
After my talk, every one present participated in the discussion. Most knew about the Armenian Genocide. As usual, many did not know about the massacre that took place by Ottoman Turkish soldiers in Khoy and in most of the cities of the North West of Persia-Iran in 1918. Recently I have named it “The Silent Genocide of the Armenians of Persia-Iran by Ottoman Turks.”
An Anguishing Memory
Mr. Z., a famous Iranian artist and illustrator, told us the following:
“Your story took me back to my student years in Turkey, almost fifty years ago. As I finished high school, I was interested in becoming a dentist. After filling out many applications, I was accepted at the University of Istanbul.
“My parents were happy. They agreed to send me to Turkey to study to become a doctor. Like all the foreigners, loneliness in a new country and all the changes were a difficult process to pass at the beginning. Soon, though, I found three very good friends at the university. Life became more fun for all of us. We studied and we met each other often. We formed a four-brother gang.
“One of the boys was a Turk, born and raised in Istanbul. The other two were brothers of Armenian origin. They had changed their Armenian names to Turkish-sounding ones. (After the Genocide, many Armenians who stayed in Turkey, chose Turkish names to blend into Turkish society without discrimination). Of course our Turkish friend knew of their origins. He did not care. We four had made a good bond with each other. As a fresh young generation, religion and origins were not important for us. Peace and harmony ruled our minds and spirits. For us, the past history was already old and dépassé.
“One day our Turkish friend told us that his parents had invited all of us to their house for dinner. We were excited to finally eat a warm-cooked homemade meal. Especially when he later told us that his mother was a great cook.
“His parents were living in a nice home. They welcomed us warmly. They said their son has talked so much about our friendship that they were eager to know us. The smell of the real food filled our lungs. Now we were even hungrier. As we sat at the dinner table, we had to control our hands and our appetite. We needed to wait for the invitation to carve in and clean the contents of the multiple, colorful ceramic dishes beautifully set on the table. In a little brown basket, the freshly cooked bread was wrapped in a lacy white fabric. The heat and steam were pouring out of the fabric.
“As we were waiting for his mother to bring the rest of the food and sit down, his father who looked like a warm person with a sweet smile on his face, asked questions about our studies. Suddenly, without an introduction or any reason, he told us the following: “‘When I was in your age, I was serving in the Turkish Army. I was not sent to the war in Dardanelles but we were asked to kill the Armenians in villages and cities. We killed hundreds of them every day. At night, we bragged about the stories of the day, and we wanted to know which of us had killed more.
“‘Most nights we were asked to make rounds in the streets to keep them safe. One night my friend and I lazily were rounding through the streets. They were empty and quiet. The sun had already set, but it was not too dark. Suddenly a small shadow appeared in a narrow alley. We were not able to recognize if it was a man or a woman. But the shadow left something in the middle of the alley. A ghostlike form disappeared rapidly. “‘Our curiosity drove us to the alley. We walked towards the object to find out what it was. As we approached, we saw a little brown basket. Then we saw a baby bundled in a white blanket. We understood that a desperate Armenian mother had put her baby there (probably to be found by a kind neighbor in the hope of saving her baby’s life). As we approached the basket, the little baby started crying. As I was looking to the little hungry mouth of the baby, suddenly my friend pulled his gun off his shoulder and directed his bayonet toward the baby’s open mouth. He started turning the bayonet, as if he were stirring a pot of soup.
“‘While the blood was filling the baby’s little mouth, the baby cried harder. My friend became more excited. He turned his bayonet more deeply in the baby’s mouth. I was only watching him. I was not doing anything. He was doing it all by himself. After a while, I was not able to take it anymore because I heard the cries of the baby and saw his blood all over his little face. Finally I told my friend: ‘What are you doing? Just finish it.’
(“At these words, I looked at the two Armenian brothers who had Turkish names. I was afraid of how they were going to react. Then I was relieved. Their sad eyes were fixed far away from the presence of the evil. They were in such a shock and deep pain that all the members of their body were motionless. Their faces were so white that I thought they were not humans but angels listening to a painful story that they had already seen or heard. They probably needed, like all of us, an empty colorful Turkish ceramic bowl to vomit into instead of getting angry and reacting violently on this human looking man.” )
(To be concluded tomorrow)
Dr. Rosemary Hartounian Cohen, who lives in the Fairfax District, earned her Ph.D in sociology from the Sorbonne in Paris. She lived in two other countries before moving with her husband and children to Los Angeles in 1984. She has published four books in America. Since 1985, Dr. Cohen has operated Atelier de Paris, an international art business, on Robertson Boulevard. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org