FAMILY RECORD BECOMES CHRONICLE OF GENOCIDE
By Steve Arney
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MO
July 30 2007
BLOOMINGTON, ILL. – To record his father’s life, George Churukian
led a family effort to fill a volume with pictures and accomplishments.
But he couldn’t leave it there. Churukian, a retired Illinois Wesleyan
professor, felt it necessary to delve into the human tragedy witnessed
by his father, his mother and their people, the Armenians.
A weathered red notebook contains the scribbling of Giragos Churukian,
a physician known as Doc throughout the east-central Illinois town
of Paris, where he practiced medicine for more than five decades.
Now typed, edited and self-published, the contents tell of hardship
that defined Doc Churukian’s early life. Advertisement In doctor’s
scribble, Giragos wrote: "We begged them to let us rest, drink water,
and eat something – of no use. Old and weak ones could not tolerate
the trip and they were left behind. My grandmother, Martha, was left
behind and we never saw or heard of her anymore. She just died or
was killed and perhaps buried next to the road."
They were in what is today part of Syria. In those days, it was
Anatolia, within the Turkish-ruled Ottoman Empire, and the Armenian
population was being cleansed. The Turkish government acknowledges
trouble in those parts in the 1910s; it denies genocide occurred.
But Armenians were targeted, placed on death marches through the
desert and often massacred in groups, according to historians. The
word "genocide" isn’t avoided among academics, and the U.S. government
estimates 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered and forcefully exiled.
A recount of horrors is an awkward introduction for a life story of
a man who became a prominent citizen in a small Illinois town.
Said his son, George: "The major value, I think, is so that future
generations know what happened, where we came from, what his life
was like and partially what my mother’s life was like."
George’s mother, Helen Churukian, also was an Armenian immigrant. She
died in 1987. Giragos lived until 1994, to the age of 97.
Starting in 1989 at age 93, Giragos provided the first pages of his
story. The early chapters explore two waves of repression.
The genocide of the Armenians generally is dated to the early days
of World War I, until the end of the war. The Churukian family dates
the start to 1909.
Giragos’ family and most of those in the city of Kessab fled an attack
by Turkish soldiers, Giragos recorded. With the overthrow of the
Sultan the same year, the people returned to their pillaged village.
A removal under soldier escort occurred in late 1914. The family,
nearing starvation, was given work mining salt in a city called
Djaboul, according to Giragos’ pages. The family befriended Arabs who
warned them of a rebel attack in autumn 1918, enabling them to escape.