Grandfather lived through genocide

Glendale News Press, CA
April 18 2008

Grandfather lived through genocide

By Patrick Azadian
Published: Last Updated Friday, April 18, 2008 11:05 PM PDT

April is a special month. After an indecisive March, spring is finally
in full bloom. Maybe here in Southern California we don’t get much
of March’s madness, and April feels very much like any other month,
but it hasn’t always been that way for me.

I enjoyed experiencing the changes in distinct seasons throughout
my childhood. As a youngster I was always in awe of the big pile of
snow gathered at the end of our downhill, dead-end street. I could
not imagine it ever melting even beyond the winter months.

The big icy mass looked solid and permanent during winter. But every
year, it did melt, little, by little. And finally, the last layers
of snow disappeared from the surface of our narrow asphalt road.

It was a small miracle, and for me, it signaled the beginning of
spring. Within a few weeks from the meltdown, the dry tree branches
would begin to bloom. When I was about 8 years old, during class,
I had a habit of randomly turning my head around to see the green
leaves through the window. It probably annoyed my teachers, but they
tolerated me. Year after year, I had a hard time believing that spring
had finally arrived, and that summer — and freedom from school —
were just around the corner.

As a child, small things can fill you with joy. Whether it’s the change
in season, a cone of vanilla ice cream or a short trip out of town,
the small stuff can keep you happy for days.

I had a great childhood.

April is special in more ways than one.

My mom’s birthday is in April. And memories of my paternal grandfather,
Sahak, also occupy my thoughts during April.

Although he lived with us for a while, I did not spend much time with
him. He was a grim man, but never violent or loud.

Sahak came from another world, physically and spiritually. He was a
man of Old World traditions. He was also from a land that was truly
foreign to me.

He was born in Hayots Dzor (The Valley of the Armenians) in the
historic province of Vaspurakan (now eastern Turkey). He probably
spent his childhood observing the nature around him, just like I did
when I was 8.

I remember old family friends teasing him about the fact that his
village had only one apple tree. The villagers’ favorite pastime was
to admire this single tree in bloom during spring. He always remained
serious when teased. I don’t ever remember seeing a smile.

Sahak’s probable admiration of the apple tree came to an abrupt end at
age 8 when the news came that his entire village was being deported,
an act that ended up as a death sentence for many in 1915. I often
wonder what he was doing when the news came.

It’s hard to imagine: One minute, sitting under the shade of the apple
tree, enjoying the fresh breeze from Lake Van, and a few weeks later,
witnessing the death of your family members, one by one.

Sahak lost eight members of his family during the death march.

He had good reason to be grim, but sometimes he was less grim than
other times. Once he pulled me aside and whispered in my ear. He said:
"Dznoghnerit shat chem siroom, bayts kez shat em siroom." ("I don’t
like your parents much, but I do love you.")

That was his version of humor. I had mixed feelings about his show
of affection. At the time, his statement did not do much to endear
him to me.

I shared the story with my dad. He understood my disappointment. And
within a few days, he came home with a gift. It was a fountain pen.

He said: "This is a gift from your grandfather."

I was still skeptical. I wasn’t sure if the gesture was a kind ploy
from my dad in my grandfather’s name, or he was actually telling the
truth. I did not ask; in my mind the gift was from my dad.

Sahak passed away long ago. I understand him better now than I ever
did. I have inherited some of his grimness.

Being witness to so much suffering, Sahak would have probably liked
my generation to forgive and forget.

We can’t. We remember.

PATRICK AZADIAN is a writer and the creative director of a local
marketing and graphic design studio living in Glendale. He may be
reached at [email protected]

You may also like