One of many True Stories from the Armenian Genocide
Thank you for your encouraging words!! Few Emails I received were about my point of view on genocide!!! I am not a historian, I am not a writer, lot has been written, said, in books, newspapers, on the internet and YouTube!!!
As you all know, the most gruesome history of the 20th Century started with the Armenian Genocide. The following is a true story that happened to my paternal grandma, Néné (é as in negative).
I, Houry, never learned how to swim being afraid of water. My Néné used to tell us kids that it is very important for everybody to know how to. She used to say: “take me to the beach one day and I’ll teach you how”. We used to laugh and say, have your bikini ready Néné!!! Where did you learn how to swim, when in Armenian custom everything is NO specially for girls??!!
Here is the story of Genocide from my Néné to me to you:
My Grandparents (Néné and Dédé)
Cima and Krikor Sarkissian
- “Hundreds of us, thousands of us, anyway lots of us, we were walking for days. Fortunately, my younger sister Acabie, my son (not your dad!!) and my baby daughter were together. Our husbands were at the front fighting against enemy or were they and who was the enemy? We still didn’t know why we were pulled from our homes to a safer haven. My dad was also somewhere, I think fighting or was he? My mom? I don’t know what happened since I lived with my husband, but we were told by the turkish soldiers that we all were going to the same place and soon we will all be reunited. By the time we realized we have been lied to, days and weeks and months had passed. I was the daughter of a rich silk merchant, I had and my sister too, gold bracelets covering my arms, rings covering my fingers, gold coins on chains on my forehead some precious stones on some pieces. In order to have some dried bread as food and dirty water to drink for my kids, for my sister and for myself; my sister and I gave them away one by one to the soldiers. To a point that one day I ran out of my jewelry besides few coins and couple bracelets.
- While walking towards an unknown destiny and realizing the future was not bright and seeing and hearing things that would raise the hair on the back of your neck, my sister and I made a pact ( she was younger, no kids yet); I told her, just in case, only just in case we get separated take care of my son and I keep my daughter next to me since she is a baby. If we survive this ordeal, we’ll find each other, I am sure. We promised each other!! I had few coins left well hidden and she too. During our walk of exile we would see rows of trees with black and green little fruits, we didn’t know what they were, we were so hungry we would pick as much as we could while the turkish soldiers/guards were busy (we would ask: doing what, Néné? she would look at us and say, “sleeping”, and her eyes will lose contact with ours as if seeing images that nobody should witness and afraid that they will project out in the open). Inchvoré, (never mind that!!), we would devour those little bitter, o so bitter fruits as fast and as much as we could, afraid that if we’re caught we would be beaten (nice way to put it in words for us kids who wouldn’t know and understand the word rape!!!). Later we found out those little black or green fruits were olives. On our way we would see some women, children, men of different ages sleeping on the sides of the roads or in ditches; we were told to leave them alone if we wanted to continue walking.
- One day, we were told that if we wanted we could cross the Euphrates River by boat, unless we were happy to continue the walk. The number of boats that will take us to “safe haven house” was limited. At least on the boats we could seat and relax and some other guards will row the boats to the other side of the river.
- My sister and I we talked about this opportunity. Acabie, my sister, said she didn’t trust them, let’s continue walking. I said, we are tired already, the baby is hungry and I guess my breastfeeding is not enough anymore!!! The boy is tired. But, we were tired, didn’t want to argue and silently wishing the other or both with escape the ordeal, and, we had a pact. When the day came, I hid my baby under my long skirt and headed for the boat group and Acabie, holding my son’s hand continued her exile on foot with the other group. Hugs, kisses, tears, cries and embraces filled the air. We were torn; no one knew who was right and who was wrong. For the first time the turkish guards were happy and laughing and encouraging any decision, and leaving the women and children alone!!! Little we knew!! Acabie continued with on foot with my son and me with my baby girl hidden under my skirt on the boat promising each other once on the other side of the river we’ll make sure to find each other and not move from the promised safe haven without each other!!! We needed those words of encouragement to keep our sanity and something to look forward!!!
- There were quite few of us on the boat, mostly women and children. Let me tell you kids, Euphrates river is not like the river that your dad takes you on Sundays for Shish Kebob!!! Euphrates river is very dangerous, the currents very strong and treacherous. Our crossing area wasn’t very safe but better than most other areas that we had seen on our way.
- We were in the middle of the river, when suddenly the turkish guards stood up and started rocking the boat. We were screaming, panicking, pleading but they were laughing louder and louder. They threw us all overboard one by one. To save myself and my baby I was swimming frantically, without looking around, without thinking, fighting the currents, was my knowledge of swimming good enough for this river? I guess my skirt, like a parachute kept me from drowning!!! Couple more laps and my hands caught the side rail of the boat. Laughingly the guards started beating my knuckles with their oars!!! Their laughs were vicious!! Their face was vicious!!! Their eyes darting venom!!! I fell back and this happened three times!!!! I was tired, drained and couldn’t feel any more if I had hands!!! Finally I made it to the shore didn’t want the turks get the best of me!!! I am strong, I made it!!! I swam!!! My baby??!! Where is my baby!!! She wasn’t even wrapped on me!!!! She wasn’t on the boat!! Nobody had seen her!! Euphrates River had taken her in its arms and given her to the angels!! When did it happen, I don’t know!!!
- Few of us made the shore. Others had bigger loss. And the nightmare walk started back again. Looked for my son and my sister. No where around. Nobody knew about my husband. On this side of the river things were little better. Armenian soldiers were guarding their cities. Where was I? I don’t know!!! None of us knew.
- That’s when I met, Krikor (i=ee; translates to Gregory), your grandfather!!! A handsome Armenian young soldier on a white horse. He helped a lot of us and fell in love with me!!! I told him, young man, I am married, just lost my baby girl and I don’t know where my son and my sister are. He said where is your husband? I replied I don’t know we were taken away from home and they separated us. Krikor concluded that he must be dead. The bloodshed was bad in the north and we were way south. He and his friends helped a big number of us exiled from different cities.
- I told him the atrocities we had seen. Houses burned, people killed. Women raped. Families destroyed. Daughter drowned. Son and sister somewhere, anywhere. He promised me he would do his best to find my son and my sister.
- I, Cima Keshishian from Amasya, marry you Krikor Sarkissian from Doert Yol.
- He was from a prominent family your grandfather and so handsome. They were very well respected by the community, the clergies and delegates from other countries. Every time the city had the visit of a well know personality, political or religious they stayed in our guest room since we had the biggest and largest house of the corner of the city called Doert Yol (Cross Roads).
- Your granddaddy was a smart man, he knew from day one you kids will be our grand children, so he decided to move to Beirut Lebanon with me.
- The Genocide made the Euphrates bleed with Armenian blood. He was scared for me and for his future family. He was right. He kept his promise, we found my sister, she was leaving in Paris France, had 3 sons and a daughter and grand kids too. My son, raised by my sister, as one of her own, was married and lived in Toulon with his children. I did visit them. Your daddy arranged for me to take the big white ship that took me to France. This ride was a happy one. But I wanted to come back missed you kids!!”
And that’s how she learned how to swim!!
This was my grandma (Néné) Cima heartbreaking story of the Genocide. Thousands of similar stories and worse, us Armenians, we have. The older we got the better we understood her hidden words such as sleeping instead of rape or beating instead of killing or laying down instead of dead.
My Dad, Bedros Peter Sarkissian
We celebrate Armenian Martyrs Day on April 24.
Menk hayenk, gank yev meeshd bidi menank!!