My parents wanted their children to be raised with a love for their culture and ethnicity. I remember when I was growing up that if I spoke English with my siblings I would be punished by having to stand in a corner with one leg and one arm up in the air and I would also have to recite the Armenian alphabet. Sometimes if my dad was really upset with us he would make us write out what we said in English in Armenian until a whole page was filled up.
Although these punishments seem a little severe for a four-year old, I can still speak and write Armenian to this day. Another thing my father did that followed in our ancestor’s footsteps was that he bought a farm in Sanger when I was around eight years old. After writing this paper and thinking back about all the work and sweat I put in on that farm, I can’t help but compare myself to my 11 year-old great grandfather who was also raised on farmland in Yoghoun Olouk in the Mousa Ler region, but also went through a Genocide at that young age.
I remember how I would complain to my dad and ask why we couldn’t live in the city, and he would tell me about my ancestry and how we still own land in Yoghoun Olouk. I am glad I was raised on a farm because I never realized how much I had in common with my great grandfather until now. I thank my dad for all the things he went through to help me maintain my culture and I also thank him for infusing my Armenian identity in me at a young age.
My great grandpa Vahe Haig pulled out his kanon and began to play a few songs. His concentration was broken when he heard a tap tap tap at the door. He opened it to find a pair of Turkish soldiers standing on his porch. “Whose music is it that we hear from this house?” asked the soldiers. “That was my kanon playing.” At these words the soldiers grabbed Vahe and took him to their headquarters along with his kanon. He was forced to spend the night there. As the sun rose the next morning, Vahe was woken by the soldiers and dragged to the prison. Vahe heard Armenian men being dragged into cells and saw a few of them pass his, mostly intellectuals. The guards finally came for him and opened the gate to his cell. They dragged him out into the night along with the kanon and set him up outside the prison.
Vahe noticed that there were several other Turkish and Armenian musicians surrounding the jail. “Play!” the guard ordered them. The confused and tired musicians stared back at the guard in confusion. Vahe became carried away in his music when he began hearing screams shrieking from the prison. “Louder!” the guard yelled. The musicians cast weary glances at each other and Vahe began to realize their purpose. They were being used to cover the screams of the tortured prisoners so that the Turkish civilians nearby would not be bothered. Vahe stopped playing and began to vomit. The guards ignored him. The next few nights were much the same. On the third day, an American missionary who ran one of the hospitals came and after much arguing, was able to convince the Turkish guards that they needed help to run the hospital. The guards let Vahe go to volunteer at the hospital, but promised that they would come for him. That night, Vahe was awoken by one of the missionaries, who led him out the back door.
My great grandfather Harutyun Boyajyan was born in 1889 in a village called Tire. At the age of 24 he married my great grandmother Sima whom he knew since his childhood. Harutyun was a very wealthy man in Turkey, people called him Artin Agha. He had vegetable plantations and owned lots of land and a beautiful home. My great grandparents had six children together.
Although the Genocide affected my great grandparents, they continued to live in Turkey. After a while they decided to move to Armenia. Artin left everything behind because he was planning on going back and forth from Armenia to Turkey, little did he know that he was going to lose everything he had.
Garabed and Eskouhie lived three doors down from each other in Lebanon. She was 19 years old when they married. When she had her first child, Garabed was upset because he wanted to have a boy. Her second child was another girl. Garabed then took off to Syria for one week and didn’t come home because he was so upset it wasn’t a boy!
My great grandpa Garabed Atikian was born around 1904. His father was a lawyer and his uncle fought in General Antranig’s army.
I never really knew the details about how my family began or how much they sacrificed to live a better life. I used to get angry with my family when they wouldn’t tell me things that I wanted to know from their past experiences. The phrase that the Armenians use to say and what I’ve grown up listening to all my life is “Guh medznas, guh mornas,” which means that as you grow older, you will forget. The best part about this statement is that the older I get, the more I disagree with that statement.
What I came to realize is that when people don’t speak of something tragic that has happened in their life, it actually eats at them more. The reason they feel that it’s better to keep quiet is so that they don’t disrupt the peace in their life that they finally have now. For example, in my grandma’s mind, the best thing for her to do is to stay home and not speak, when in reality, it actually makes things worse.
Living a life of guilt is not an easy thing to deal with, and because of my grandmother’s traumatic experiences, having to flee from city to city, and having nothing, she needed to fix what she knows people right now in Armenia are going through. So she decided to help those in need in Armenia by distributing her clothing.