The Armenian Genocide: A Story of A Survivor | Stories of Life

“Come, grab a chair and place yourself next to me,” said my daughter-in-law’s charming grandfather, as he sat by the window staring across the street.
The moment I sat down, Martiross Teshkhoyan – whom I’ll be calling Martik for short – gave out a deep sigh, and looked at me with sad eyes.
“Ah…” he interjected, “you know what day tomorrow is, don’t you?”
I nodded, thinking, which Armenian doesn’t? Naturally, being the 24th of April, it is the anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
Staring with respect at the deep lines hacked on his face, I asked, “You must be a survivor of the genocide; am I correct?”
Martik gaped out absently, as tears welled in his eyes. He swallowed, looked down and enquired, “If I tell you my story, will you promise to write it for me?”
I jumped from my chair, knelt upon the floor to face him, and uttered, “Yes; Sir, I promise. I’ll be honored to do so.”
He smiled, as a strand of wavy grey hair dangled casually on his broad forehead, and said, “Good, because I want my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren always remember what their ancestors have gone through.”
Martik stared far out beyond the buildings across the street absently, and began, “My father, mother, elder brother, six-year-old sister, and I lived in Agen – a town in Turkey, located within the region which until 1555 belonged to Armenia.”
He took a deep breath and continued, “On a rainy day, on April 24, 1915, a Turkish Soldier knocked on our door and announced that my father and elder brother were invited to an official dinner at the mayor’s mansion that night. Later we learned that similar official dinner invitations were delivered to all prominent and intellectual Armenian men across Turkey.”
I gasped, as I was well aware of this sad and cruel historical event. As, none of the Armenian men returned to their homes from that “dinner”. They were all murdered weren’t they? I asked him.
He looked at me nodded sadly and continued: “The next day, after waiting in vain for the return of my father and brother, a group of soldiers showed up at our doorstep with their guns slung over their shoulders and forced my mother, little sister, and myself out of our house. Out in the street, we were rejoined by hundreds of other Armenian families ranging between young and old; women and men; babies, children of all ages as well as teenaged boys and girls. Soldiers shoved us all forward and forced us to walk for miles. We walked but did not know where we were going.”
He went silent for a few minutes and continued. “In some satanic way we were perhaps lucky, hundreds and hundreds of others were ordered into Armenian churches, where the soldiers bolted the doors from outside and set them on fire”
I felt a painful lump forming in my throat with distress. To me, it felt like suffocating from inhaling smoke inside a burning church together with my people, as Martik continued with his story.
“That day, after miles and miles of walking, our group reached the outskirts of the city. The soldiers ordered us to lie down on the ground and sleep. My mother, my exhausted and hungry sister, and I cuddled up with one another and tried to warm ourselves up against the chill of the night. In the morning we were kicked cruelly, awakened and forced to march again.
Martik stopped asked me for a glass of water which he drank deliberately as if to quench a big thirst, and said “We marched on and on from one day to another. We were exhausted, hungry and thirsty, and as days went by the elderly and children gradually began to die.”
“Eventually, we arrived at the border of the Syrian Desert. Turkey’s weather is cool, and in winter, freezing cold. So, naturally we were not used to the extreme heat of a Desert. It was tough; especially, with not having access to food and water, except for a meager ration we were handed at night as we collapsed onto the sand. It helped neither with hydration, nor nutrition.”
“During the day, as my mother staggered alongside me”, recounted Martik.”I had to carry my little sister. Fortunately, I was fit and strong. Then, one day, my little sister developed a high fever. Sadly, or perhaps mercifully, she did not last long and passed away in my arms the next day. When that night, we arrived to our resting station, my mother and I said the Lord’s Prayer, and buried her under deep sand with aching hearts.”
“How sad…!” I retorted, with tears blurring my vision.
“Next morning right before our march, my mother and I went to my sister’s burial site to say good-bye to her. Oh, you don’t know what we found.”
Martik held his head and began to cry, as I placed a caring hand on his shoulder.
He said, “Hungry wild dogs had dug out my baby sister’s body and eaten her flesh, while her head was still attached to her skeleton.”
I jumped to my feet and threw my arms around his shoulders.
Martik, after a while composed himself and said, “Then, a week later, my mother died. In a way, I was happy for her. She did not have to suffer any more.”
Martik took a sigh of relief and continued, “Two days later, something lucky happened to me.”
“Do tell me about it please,” I cut in.
“One morning a horse riding Kurdish man showed up and began looking into the disheveled and devastated surviving bunch of Armenians. He was hoping to find a young boy whom he could use as a servant around his household. Fortunately, he chose me.”
“When we arrived at his house in a Kurdish village,” he added, “and entered a black stoned garden with no trees nor flowers; I dumped my tired body on the stairs leading to the living quarters. Suddenly, I noticed a young Armenian girl with her traditional outfit coming out to greet me. She handed me some fresh clothing and began speaking in Armenian to me.”
I told her, “So, you are an Armenian.”
“Yes, I am.”
“What are you doing here, with your expensive hairband covered with gold coins?” I enquired.
“Well,” she said, “I am our master’s fifth wife.”
“What…?” I almost yelled at her, “What is an Armenian Christian girl doing married to a Kurd?”
“I rather be the fifth wife of a nice Muslim man than to be raped by those disgusting bandits, who have no pity on our girls,” she answered.
“She was right. What’s more, she did not have to die of starvation like the others, aside being constantly raped and maltreated.” Martik said.
He added that after taking a bath, changing into fresh clean clothing, and resting, he began working and cleaning around the house. He recounted that from that day on, the first thing he did every morning, was to light the samovar and make tea. Afterwards, he went on with the rest of the household chores.
“One morning, when I got up to prepare tea, as I entered the room to set the breakfast table, I found the Armenian girl, lying on the sofa, burning with fever. Her husband had not come home the night before. He probably had spent the night with one of his other four wives,” Martik recounted. “As the Armenian young woman lay there suffering, she had her expensive gold coin-covered hairband on.”
He sighed and asked me, “Can you guess what I did?”
“No, I can’t.”
Martik bit his lower lip, and continued, “I pulled her hairband off her head and took off.” He added, looking embarrassed. “Can you imagine? Rather than helping her, I stole her expensive jewelry just because I decided to sell it and use the money to escape to a land, where I could be a free person.”
I told him, “You had to save yourself. I understand you. Besides, I am sure her husband came that morning and helped her.”
“Maybe… However, up to this day, I can’t forget what I did to free myself. What’s more, I can’t forgive myself for giving her no hand when she needed my help.” He said that with his head bent down as if in shame. Then he raised his head, and said “You must write this”. And, so I have.

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