Art by Arpy Katrjian
I’ll never forget what happened on March 31st, 1915. The things I witnessed that day still haunt me. Even though I somehow survived, I don’t consider myself lucky. I would have rather died alongside my family. To this day, the people responsible for all I’ve endured remain indifferent, still relentlessly denying any culpability. My name is Haig Kalfayan, Armenian Genocide survivor, and this is my story.
I was just 11-years-old. I had wavy brown hair, brown eyes and a gap-toothed smile. I lived in the city of Zeitun, in western Armenia, with my family. Clearest in my memory is my beautiful mother, Anna Sahakyan. Her hair was ebony black and her eyes glistening brown, mirroring my own. She was a traditional rug weaver. A century ago, that was considered a noble profession for an Armenian woman. We had many rugs laid around our house, my mother had made them all with her own dexterous hands. My father, Ara Kalfayan, was a writer; he usually spent his time writing novels about the beauty of Armenia and poems about Mount Ararat. You could find him sitting around playing with his moustache at all times. He was a little too pleased with that pointy thing. We always felt safe when our father was around, he had a way of talking himself out of trouble. My eight-year-old sister, Maral, aspired to become a singer. She always irritated me by singing loudly – all day, everyday. Maral was the prettiest of the family; she had eyes as blue as the sky, and would let her gold-streaked hazel hair fall down and around her face, past her tiny, button-like nose. I secretly enjoyed her singing, but I only admitted it to her once while she was alive. My 10-year-old brother, Hagop, and I were best friends; we were trouble-makers both in and out of the house. Many people in my town thought we looked exactly alike because of our signature wavy brown hair. We used to play marbles, run around with little toy cars and fly homemade kites. No matter how mundane the games we played were, we always found ways to put our own spin on them and have so much fun. The last and newest member of our family was my two-year-old brother, Dikran. My mother was so attached to Dikran, and because she was sensible, she barely trusted me and Hagop with him.
It had been a quiet day so far in Zeitun and my family was sitting around our wooden dinner table. My mother had just cooked a traditional Armenian dish known as Ghapama – basically a pumpkin stew. The intangible, aromatic tendrils emanating from the pumpkin, and the accompanying lightly honeyed dried fruits, filled our house. It was the last meal I had before all hell broke loose.
After dinner, Hagop and I were playing with marbles, as usual, and throwing some at Maral because she was singing, again. My father didn’t budge, he was reading the paper, trying to keep himself updated on the feud between the Armenians and the Ottoman Turks. My mother was singing lullabies to Dikran, hoping he would fall asleep. It was an ordinary day in my household – until we heard a knock at the door. My father told us to go hide under our beds. We all obeyed, not knowing why. My mother, Hagop, Maral and I scurried into my parents’ room and dove under their bed.
We heard two men shouting at my father, peculiarly without any response yet from him. We were used to him dominating every conversation. When we finally heard our fathers voice, it was shaking and strained – I could sense his fear. We heard him yell: “WHO GAVE YOU THE ORDERS TO DISTURB MY HOME IN THIS MANNER?” My mother told us to stay hidden while she went to peek through the key hole. Right as my mother stood up, two soldiers smashed through the bedroom door, sending splinters in every direction.
That moment will always be with me, torn into the walls of my mind and seared into my memory by fiery talons of trauma. My mother had tears running down her cheeks. She knew what was to come. I vividly remember the Ottoman soldiers, red flag and the white crescent stitched to their chests, pulling my mother by her hair, dragging her outside while she screamed, screamed for her children, screamed for Dikran most of all. Dikran, who had fallen asleep in his cradle, precious Dikran who had lived no life, done no wrong. I remember them pulling me from under the bed and kicking me out of my own home alongside Maral, who was sobbing, and Hagop, who tried to remain stoic, but vibrated internally – ever so slightly – with terror.
Three more Ottoman soldiers were outside on our small front yard, one of them was tying up my father’s hands. The other two forced us to our knees, facing our father. My mother still screamed and pleaded for Dikran: “You forgot my infant son, he is all alone, he needs me. PLEASE, I BEG YOU!” They had a very mysterious smirk on their face, the memory of the smirk still vexes me because it looked and felt innocent; but they had no intention of acting innocently.
My father was beaten by two of the soldiers, he coughed and spluttered but still managed to keep his head high. His face was covered in blood, it was painful to even look at him. It looked like he was trying to say something, but his jaw barely moved. I now know why that was the end for my father, he was a writer, an intellectual, a prominent figure in Zeitun; first order of business for the Ottomans was to eradicate any Armenians who had the potential to lead. I did not know that then, I was clueless about why this was happening. Before my father could utter his last words to any of us, a bullet went right through his forehead. My father, monolith in my home, in my life, did not fall like a great statue being toppled, like I believed he would. He fell gently, like a leaf torn off a tree. There was silence after the gunshot. My father lay in an expanding puddle of his own blood, motionless.
For 10 minutes, I had watched my father get brutally beaten, spat on and humiliated before a bullet ripped through his skull. My body was a block of ice, my consciousness floated out me, rapidly ossifying with realisation, before dropping like a stone, and pulverising its way back into my skull. My father, my hero, the man who could talk himself out of anything … he couldn’t even say goodbye. I noticed the drops of his blood that had splattered onto my face; I struggled to move, but I couldn’t melt the ice. My mother resumed her screams and pleas for Dikran. The soldier who shot my father was not satisfied yet, he entered our house; a minute had passed, my mother remained silent. We all did. After three minutes, we heard the crackling noise of burning wood, then saw the smoke. Our home was on fire. My mother desperately cried for God, fresh tears flowed from her eyes following the watery trail left by their precedents. She felt forsaken. She felt helpless. She could not handle listening to the diminishing cries of Dikran, she looked at me, smiled hauntingly and collapsed. The rest of us were left there listening to our youngest sibling roast in the conflagration of the only home we had ever known.
My baby brother’s cries came to a halt, my father’s corpse became a playground for countless flies and my mother remained unconscious, on the ground.
Hagop, Maral and I were all terrified and crying. The soldiers walked towards us and ordered us to drag our mother away from the blaze. They untied us and indicated where we should go with the muzzles of their rifles. We dragged her on the rocky road until we arrived at the town square, where we saw hundreds of other families gathered around, all as horrified as we were. There were children, elders and women there, but not one man; the Ottoman soldiers had slain all the men in the village.
My mother regained consciousness, she looked at Hagop, Maral and me, hugged us tightly, pressing our slick faces together. She asked us where Dikran was. Our eyes turned to faucets and our throats gurgled as we tried to find the words. She understood.
My mother watched the Ottoman soldiers lining up the families at the front, and they were heading toward us, she looked at all of us and said: “We need to stick together and protect one another if we want to survive. No matter what happens, promise me you will never forget your family, your language and your heritage, PROMISE ME!”
We looked straight into her eyes and made our vows. Four soldiers on horses galloped toward us and told us to stand in line. They warned us to not even try running away. After a couple of minutes, when everyone had been lined up, the Ottomans commanded us to march forward. This journey turned out to be one of the bloodiest in history.
As we walked, Hagop and I endured whippings from the soldiers for treading an inch from the line. Anyone who slowed down, left the line, walked too fast, or disobeyed the Ottomans got whipped. Some children had no sandals on, and their feet were scraped, bruised, and burning from the warm rocky surface of the ground. Hagop looked at me, and I knew he was about to try to run away. I told him not to do it, I told him he would get killed. Right before he took his first stride, another boy who looked 13-years-old started sprinting; seven Ottoman soldiers pointed their guns right at him, and before his mother could react, he was shot seven times in the back. After that incident, Hagop decided to keep walking with us. We had been marching for around six to seven hours, we were exhausted and famished, but none of us complained. We reached the city of Marash, just south of Zeitun, where we were joined by thousands of other families from various other cities. Marash seemed like the meeting point for all southern Armenian cities, towns and villages. Each family we briefly overheard had a story, all of them petrifying.
A woman, sitting right next to her two sons, lived in Kayseri; she was telling us how Armenians in her village had decided to take refuge within their churches. The Ottomans noticed this, and set them all ablaze, burning the innocent Armenians sheltered inside. Some women were raped to death, we heard their stories from their children.
Even after hearing all these appalling stories, we still – inexplicably – thought that the Ottomans would have the decency to feed us. Instead, we were told to line up again. We weren’t even given a full hour to rest. My mother held Hagop’s hand, I grabbed Maral’s, and together we marched to our graves.
We walked for hours. It seemed like we were headed towards the city of Antep. A couple of children tried to run away again. This time their legs were shot. They still tried to crawl away, like bleeding snakes, but they didn’t get far. The soldiers collected them one by one, beat them, then whipped them severely in front of their families. Whoever physically reacted against the whippings was shot in the head. The children couldn’t have been older than nine – younger than me. They were pitilessly beaten to their deaths. Why not just shoot them? What has the nine-year-old done to deserve such a death?
We reached Antep at nightfall. The soldiers told us to sleep. They stayed awake to keep watch, and raped any woman they desired. We did not get much sleep that night, they had packed us up together to torture us physically and emotionally. We spent hours cuddled up, listening to other people yell, scream, cry – and die. We knew it was going to be our turn soon. Suddenly, two soldiers pulled my mother and Maral’s hair, and dragged them away from me and Hagop. My heart beat like a sledgehammer, I could feel it throughout my body. They forced my mother and Maral to the ground, tore off their clothing and began to rape them violently. My hand shot out to cover Hagop’s eyes. I felt like my fathers’ soul would haunt me forever if I did not do something about this –anything! My mother and sister, my eight-year-old sister, were being raped side by side while we were forced to watch. Hagop and I rushed at the soldiers, but before we could push them off our mother and little sister, they grabbed us and called other soldiers to come take us away.
They grabbed us by our necks, wrenching us away from our family as they cried and yelled in disturbing agony. They dragged us and tied us up alongside several other children close to us in age who had probably tried to defend their loved ones as well. We sat there for a while, listening to a chorus of excruciating cries made up of not just our mother and sister’s, but hundreds of other people enduring the same violation. More children were joining us for similar reasons, I imagined. One of the kids, who was already there when Hagop and I arrived, told all of us: “Tonight will be our last night, they won’t spare us.”
It was the longest night I have ever experienced. I was hungry, cold, helpless and hopeless, but the sun finally rose, even if some of the bodies on the ground didn’t. The morning was silent. I could still see my mother and Maral unconscious, next to each other. Hagop looked at me and asked: “Are you ready to die? They are going to kill us now.” I knew it too. I remember turning to my brother and saying: “At least we die together.”
A gun shot was fired to wake everyone up. Dozens of Ottoman soldiers gathered around us, untied us, grabbed us and, in front a crowd of women slowly regaining consciousness, they arranged us in a row. There were more than 20 children around our age lined up with us. My brother stood right next to me. We were somewhere in the middle of the lineup. A soldier walked past us and told us of the game we were going to play with them. One soldier was going to fire a bullet through the head of the child standing on the right side, another soldier would do the same, but for the child standing on the left side. They wanted to test how many heads their Russian rifles could blow off. They went on to say that whoever survives will continue marching with his family. My heart was beating fast, I held my brothers hand, looked at my mother who was completely distraught, next to my unconscious sister. I prepared myself for the imminent impact of the inevitable bullet.
The soldiers were counting down, I glanced at Hagop one last time and he smiled at me, I relived every memory I had with Hagop through his smile. I smiled back at him, tears running down my cheek, I closed my eyes.
Two loud claps. Then silence.
Two bullets were fired from both sides and I had not felt a thing, I opened my eyes and saw Hagop on the ground, half of his face disfigured. I could see the bullet in his skull, smile still fixed on what was left of his face. The earth pulled me like a magnet as I kneeled and caressed his hair. Over and over again I said goodbye to my loving, courageous, malcontent brother and best friend. Only three children, including me, had survived the monsters’ game. They piled up all the deceased together, making a small mountain out of them, and set them on fire. I smelled Hagop’s flesh as it bubbled and boiled before being reduced to ash.
A day had passed, both Hagop and Dikran were dead, my father was dead and my mother and Maral had been brutalised. I became very weak from having not slept or had anything to eat or drink. Before we knew it, Maral had regained consciousness, and we were back on the deadly road. Maral did not react to Hagops demise, she looked pale, it was like she had died as well. She was unable to walk properly, she limped along barefoot, her shoes lost during her assault. Because of her inability to walk normally, she was flogged multiple times; I took it upon my self to carry her on my back. We continued marching.
Every 10 minutes, a mother would lose her patience, or a child would just sprint, not to escape, but to die and be freed that way. The Ottoman soldiers noticed this, and decided to find new ways to torture those who tried to flee. We were all forced to watch – it was a nightmare. Severed heads on sharp wooden spikes, hangings, crucifixions, drownings, people set on fire, rape, starvation and the mutilation of limbs, ears, noses and eyes. The instruments used for the mutilations were blunted axes, daggers and spikes. Children, the elderly, mothers, even infants – no one was exempt from torture.
We walked for a very long time as we starved to near-death. My legs, my back, my stomach, every part of my body was in deep pain. But I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t die, I had to keep walking, walking and carrying Maral on my back.
She still hadn’t said a word about Hagop. We had been walking for more than 48 hours now. We were south of Urfa, approaching the Syrian border. My mother relieved me of Maral for the rest of the day, having seen how uneasily I had been walking for the last few kilometers. My legs and feet were in excruciating pain; I was trying my best not to make it salient, but my mother had noticed, thankfully. I was so hungry and thirsty, they wouldn’t let us drink water from the rivers we passed by; my bones felt as though they were about to disintegrate, they were poking through my skin, and it was unclear which would give way first. My stomach was unusually bloated and I could feel my vision getting darker, and blurrier.
The life I was living just two days ago was long gone. Never again will I have a compassionate family in a cozy home. I had to remain resilient but I didn’t know why, survival was not imaginable anymore and any reserves of hope I had had were depleted. We were almost at the Syrian border, but it was night time, so they halted our march next to a country shed. There was an empty cottage, but instead of letting us sleep in the cottage, they used it as a brothel. They took my mother and Maral again. I was left all alone as they barbarised them. I sat down and thought of Hagop, Dikran and my father, wondering where the were now, wondering what God would say to them, what sort of apology he would have to give. I waited for an hour for the return of my mother and Maral, when neither of them did, I succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep.
I woke up disoriented. My mother was back, she was holding my hand and shouting at the Ottomans: “You merciless dogs! You will rot in hell!” There was a truck which looked like it was designed to transport cattle, but instead of cattle, the truck was filled with young girls. Maral was in it. The truck started to drive away. Maral was not even looking at us. She was hunched over and expressionless. The truck was heading towards Syria, the girls – its cargo – looked to be as young as six, and no one in it older than 16. We were told that the girls were going to be sold as sex slaves in Syria, and that we will never hear from them again.
I left my mother and sprinted towards the truck, once I was close enough I yelled: “I loved your singing, Maral!” She turned to me with eyes wide open and watery, but before I could see her mouth her response, two Ottoman soldiers grabbed me by my scrawny arms and pushed me back to my mother. Maral, who endured more suffering than anyone at her age should ever have, was taken away in the back of a cattle truck, away from the only family she ever knew, to a lifetime of misery in Syria. Who knows what kind of malicious man bought her, and what kind of evil things he did to her? I will never know. I still don’t know where she is. I don’t know whether she lived a life of horror as an eight-year-old sex slave, whether she took her own life, or if she managed to escape and ended up with another family who took care of her. I don’t know and I will never know. All I know is that she had a beautiful voice that the world will never hear.
We started marching again. I didn’t think I’d survive anther day, but I did. The things we saw that day were as evil as the last. The shrieks, the blood, the whipping and death, they had all become normal to us. We passed through the Syrian border and arrived at a countryside in Raqqa called Tell Abiad. It was just my mother and me now, marching through this lonely, bloody road in Syria. It all still felt like a horrible dream.
I held my mothers hand and did my best to not collapse. My mother and I received the occasional whip on the back for slowing down, or getting slightly out of line. By then, both our backs were engraved with deep gashes. Finally, we stopped. As we sat, panting, a chorus of rumbles from our empty stomachs filled our ears. The Ottomans found some shade and enjoyed a good meal. They teased the Armenians by holding crumbs of bread in their hands and challenging us to snatch it from their hands. We were like dogs begging for a treat. They inhaled their meals and forced us into a line again, and, like cattle, we kept marching. People were fainting more and more frequently. The Ottomans shot any that fainted, and left their lifeless bodies behind. The hot desert sun and my hunger made me feel nauseous and dizzy, it was hard for me to continue walking. My mother scooped me up. I’ll never know how she found the energy and strength to carry me on her back, but she did. She carried me and talked to me – or herself, I wasn’t exactly sure. Her sweet voice kept us sane.
While we were marching, a pregnant woman four to five families behind us went into labor. The Ottoman soldiers halted the march and separated the pregnant woman from her kid, cut open her belly, dug a small hole in the ground and threw the newborn baby in it. They buried him alive, right next to his mutilated mother and made us all watch as she cried herself to her death. Her other child ran to her, but was shot in the heart by a soldier, and landed face-first into his mother's’ open belly. My mother and I continued walking in disbelief; everyday we witnessed a new atrocity.
I muster up enough energy to spare my mother the strain of carrying me. I grab her hand as firmly as I can in my current state and resume marching forward, to death. That night, near a Syrian town called Ayn Issa, they let us rest for a couple of hours. I was cuddled up with my mother. We tried to keep each other warm, but we were both so emaciated. We stayed up, shivering, shaking and talking for most of the night. I remember my mother trying to explain to me why all this happened, she herself wasn’t so sure.
"They don’t want us to stay alive, they don’t want us to exist. They never allowed us to have a voice, and once our government sided with the Russians, they burned our houses, our churches, our businesses and our literature. They erased everything our people have worked for,” I wanted to ask if we had any chance of surviving this but before I did she answered my question: “I might not survive, but I will make sure you do, you will survive and keep this story alive, let your strength inspire a generation, I will be watching you proudly from the heavens, I promise.” She told me she loves me, over and over, and we reminisced about our old cosy life in our old cosy house. We almost smiled through the tears. We were calmer now and finally able to sleep.
The next morning was routine. Again, we woke to the sound of a gunshot, ordered ourselves into a line and began the day’s march. I was sure I’d die if I didn’t get something to eat. I could feel my body eating itself alive. While we were walking, I realised how few of my people were left. We began with thousands of families in Marash, now there were no families, just one or two survivors from each to carry on their fathers’ names, if that.
It was even more humid than the day before; breathing had become difficult and my mouth was as dry as sand. We were on the east of Raqqa and approaching the Euphrates River. A body of water became visible on the horizon, and I could feel everyone’s pace increase. When we finally reached the river, the Ottomans told us that they will form groups, and we would be given a few minutes to drink water. My mother and I, along with the rest of our group, were handed the privilege of keeping ourselves alive first. My mother pulled me by my hand, and we followed the rest of our group to the river to drink and wash ourselves a bit. We looked like skeletons trying hopelessly to keep our balance, the current was far stronger than us, but at that moment I felt so alive, and I could sense the jubilation in all of us. All the people in our little group were side by side, enjoying fresh water, until, suddenly, we heard the now familiar sound of rifles clanging and clattering and being loaded en masse. My mother quickly wrapped me up in her arms and turned away from the soldiers. I heard gunshot after gunshot. My mother fell on top of me in the river. I wasn’t strong enough to push her off. I waited under the water and occasionally popped my nose out to breath, I knew that my mother had died, and that I had somehow survived. I consolidated my remaining strength and pushed my mother’s corpse, and the corpse of the others in our group, off of me. I lifted my head out of the water. I saw the rest of the Armenians walking away. They would not see me anymore.
I went back to my mother; she had four bullets lodged in her bare chest. She was lifeless. Tears fell down my angular, bony face. I stroked her hair and kissed her forehead. At least this time I was able to say goodbye. The water around me had turned a dark reddish hue. Other corpses were floating around me, their eyes still open, eternally surprised. I could not let go of my mother. I hugged her tightly, so tightly, and wept. I knew that if I let her go, I would be completely alone. I didn’t want to be alone.
I knew I had to leave that river, and my mother. I watched the line of Armenians disappear beyond the dunes. I kissed my mother again and stood up. I tore off my clothes, damp with blood and river water, and began a new journey, alone, naked and broken. I walked away from the horizon I saw the others disappear down. I remember thinking: will I ever find anything to eat? Will I die alone? Where is Maral? I didn’t know where I was or where I was going. Hours later, my eyes caught something; in the distance, I could see a body of some kind of animal. As I approached, I realised it was a carcass of a horse; countless flies were hovering and feasting and breeding in its peeling, decomposing, sun-baked skin. I hated the thought, but I knew what I had to do. I hadn’t touched food in four days, this was my only hope of living. I reluctantly knelt next to the animal. I bit the horse and pulled the meat with my teeth and chewed. It had a foul smell, it tasted likewise; the raw meat was soft and tender so I decided to just swallow. I devoured half of the horse’s buttocks, gagged and then spewed out most of what I had eaten. I laid there, next to a pile of vomit and a partially eaten horse; I laid on the sand, under the sun, completely naked. I could eat no more. Bile burned in the inside of my mouth and throat. I needed more water. I stood to walk again, toward nothing.
The sun had begun to set. A small shadow cast over the landscape appeared. As I edged closer I discovered it to be a well. The well meant two things: I would drink water again, and there would be a town or village nearby. I forced my body, nothing more then but a sack of eroding bones, tethered together by mashed tendons, encased in leathery, cracked skin to sprint toward salvation. My legs snapped. I heard a crack, and watched myself fall. I felt a sharp, unbearable pain, and noticed that my shin had snapped in half. My bones had weakened to the extent that I could not apply anymore force on them. I looked back at the well, and it had vanished, nothing but a mirage. I was completely alone, screaming my lungs out agonizingly; I looked at my disfigurement in disbelief. The skin of my leg had been pieced by jagged bone and blood was pouring out. At that moment, I knew I would die. I just wanted all this pain to come to an end, I was ready. I was losing so much blood; the pain was excruciating. I was still screaming uncontrollably; my vision began to blur and the nausea kicked in. I was just waiting now, I wasn’t afraid of death anymore, I was just waiting for it to get me, to relieve me from all this pain. I started thinking about my family again, I would have rather died with them than die alone like this. I was there all by myself, broken leg, broken spirit, naked on the warm sand of a Syrian desert. I raised my head for what I thought would be the last time. I saw a figure approaching me, another hallucination I figured, they looked to be hurrying. My vision blurred, colourful sparks ricocheted through my eyes, one final fireworks show before it all turned black.
The man was real. He assured me I would live, and carried me to his home as fast as he could. He placed me on a mattress and told his wife to keep an eye on me. He left his house to call a medic for insight into my condition. His wife was in complete shock when she saw me, her eyes wide open, jaw on the ground. She started praying. She prayed until her husband came back with the doctor. I can’t recall everything that happened after the doctor arrived, all I know was that I had lost a lot of blood and was nearly dead from exposure. I had passed out; when I woke up, I had a tray of fresh, warm food ready for me. Even though they fed me the night before, I devoured the food they had given me. I still couldn’t move my leg, I couldn’t walk for months; gradually my health got better, and in four months’ time I had completely recovered physically, save for a chronic limp that serves me as a reminder of those dark times to this day. Because of everything I had gone through, I had difficulty communicating with other people. It took them six months to get to know who I really was before they found me. All they knew was that I was one of the few lucky Armenians to have survived.
They were a family of three, the father, who found me while I was taking what I thought were my last breaths and saved my life was an astute Syrian man named Hafiz Murad. Mr. Murad had a moustache thicker than my father’s and worked as a carpenter. His wife, Sara Baghdan, took wonderful care of me when I first arrived as a horrifying, scrawny little boy at death’s door, and continued to do so until the day she died. They had a son, 13-year-old Rami Murad, who helped me come back to my feet, helped me regain my confidence; because of him, I learned once again to interact with people. His character reminded me of Hagop’s, he re-introduced fun in my life, something I never again thought possible. Without Rami, I would have never laughed again. In some way, Rami was my therapist, he was the first one to hear my story, he had a way of getting it all out of me.
A year had passed, and I was starting to get comfortable with my new family. I was sitting around a wooden table, with Hafiz and Rami as Sara prepared the food. Syrian food was very similar to Armenian food, Sara had cooked mujadara with a side of yogurt. Mujadara was a dry, but enjoyable dish, it’s a mixture of lentils and bulgur and to combat the lack of moisture, it ‘s often served with a side of salad or yogurt. When Sara placed the dishes on the wooden table that Hafiz had made, I felt a powerful déjà vu. A year ago, I sat around a wooden table with a different family, my real family, the family that I miss dearly, even now, as an old man, I miss them with all my heart. This gathering, with the amazing smell of the food reminded me so much of the last day I sat with my family in Zeitun. I was in a deep state of melancholy, and I didn’t expect anyone to understand my situation, because, how could they? How could the fortunate understand the sorrowful?
Unfortunately, I never called Sara “Mother,” or Hafiz “Father,” I just couldn’t find it in me. I am very grateful for everything the Murad family did for me, I owe them my life, my body and soul. But despite that, I spent my whole life unhappy. I could never have admitted this to the Murad family because it would break their hearts, I only once told Rami this, but I always wished I could have died alongside my mother in that river. No matter how much love I got, nothing could fill the deep, dark hole that the Ottomans drilled in my heart. I kept my promise to my mother, I never forgot my heritage, my family and the Armenian language. I never figured out what had happened to Maral after she was taken away from us, I think about her constantly, a never-ending, gushing stream in my consciousness. The Ottomans wiped my entire family from the face of the planet in the most grotesque of ways. I never knew why I have been given this long life. I always hoped it was because I would witness the day that the Turkish government would finally admit to the atrocities they had committed all those years ago.
I grew up and went to an Arabic school in Syria with Rami. I later became a writer, just like my late father. I wrote poems and novels about my home, my country, my suffering and my family. I later met an Armenian girl named Talin, fell in love and married her. She was also a survivor of the genocide from the city of Erzurum, and, just like me, she lost her family on the way. She died when I was 63 years old and she was 60, 22 years, three months and seven days after our wedding. Her death devastated me, I thought I could never feel fresh sorrow again after the trauma I endured. I stayed alive to spite the Turks. They didn’t seem to notice. It is 2005, I am 101-years-old, and I am convinced I will die tonight. These words will be my last. My soul was never at ease and never will be, I, along with the 1.5 million Armenians who died during the genocide, and the Armenians that still live, never got the justice we deserved. I am one of the last survivors of the Armenian genocide. Don’t you forget me, like you forgot my family, my wife and all my fellow Armenians. I lived a life full of torture and death, now I will die and fade away, and I am afraid no one will hear my story. There would have been no difference if I died 90 years ago. Nothing changed in the past nine decades, none of my family members came back, no recognition, NOTHING. I hope your government feels my eternal frustration as I slip from my corporeal form into infinity. Don’t forget the genocide. Don’t forget me.