Mannig’s Own Testimony! The Armenian Genocide 1915-1923

Newropeans Magazine
April 25 2009

Mannig’s Own Testimony! The Armenian Genocide 1915-1923

Written by Harry Hagopian
Saturday, 25 April 2009

I was six years old when we were deported from our lovely home in
Adapazar, near Istanbul. I remember twirling in our parlour in my
favourite yellow dress while my mother played the violin. It all ended
when the Turkish police ordered us to leave town.

The massacre of my family, of the Armenians, took place during a
three-year trek of 600 kilometres across the Anatolian Plateau and
into the MesopotamianDesert. I can’t wipe out the horrific images of
how my father and all the men in our foot caravan were shipped to
death. My cousin and all other males 12 years and older were shoved
off the cliffs into the raging EuphratesRiver. My grandmother and the
elderly were shot for slowing down the trekkers. Two of my siblings
died of starvation. My aunt died of disease, and my mother survived
the trek only to perish soon from an influenza epidemic.

Of my family, only my sister and I were still alive. The Turkish
soldiers forced us, along with 900 other starving children, into the
deepest part of the desert to perish in the scorching sun. Most did.

But God must have been watching over me. He placed me in the path of
the Bedouin Arabs who were on a search and rescue mission for Armenian
victims. They saved me. I lived under the Bedouin tents for several
months before they led me to an orphanage in Mosul. I was sad about
our separation, but the Bedouin assured me that the orphanage was
sponsored by good people.

To my delight, I was reunited with my sister at the orphanage. She,
too, was saved by the Bedouin Arabs. The happiest days in my life were
at the orphanage. We had soup and bread to eat every day and were
sheltered under white army tents donated by the British.

Above all, my sister and I were family again.

This is Mannig Dobajian-Kouyoumjian’s spine-tingling testimony of her
own experience as a survivor of the Armenian genocide. Last year, she
had asked her daughter Aïda Kouyoumjian from Seattle to write
her story for the US Holocaust Centre. It is a moving witness, a
powerful declaration and a sobering story of the pain and humiliation
of one victim of this genocide-driven mass campaign. Yet, it is also a
story of how our faith helps us when we are coerced to drink from the
bitter cup, a reminder of how the tenacity of hope overcomes deep
despair, and evidence of how the compassionate Arab and Muslim worlds
helped Armenian victims and welcomed them into their families and
hearths across the whole Middle East.

The Armenian Genocide: as historians have asserted on the basis of
ample archival evidence, this first genocide of the 20th century was
perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish government between 1915 and 1923
when it systematically and relentlessly targeted and killed Armenians
within its Empire. Ultimately, well over one million ethnic Armenians,
who incidentally were Ottoman and later Turkish citizens, lost their

As an Armenian born after this grisly period of our history, I often
wonder how our forbears managed to persevere in the face of such
immense suffering and adversity. Not only did they, their families or
friends undergo the most harrowing experiences, they also managed to
pick themselves up and rebound from the devastation of their orphaned
situations. It is their intrepid steadfastness and their belief in
their collective identity as Armenians, that we – the younger
generations – can now lead our lives more freely and with more

But what does this say about modern-day Turkey on the day when
Armenians commemorate the 94th anniversary of the genocide? Equally
importantly, what does it say of those across the world who still
resist tooth and nail the idea of genocide – any acts of genocide, be
they the Armenian one or other subsequent ones – with denial, and who
debase human life and dignity for spurious political and economic
considerations? How can we possibly claim to defend a political order
based on human rights and common decency on the one hand only to
stifle it on the other? Do denialists not recall George Santayana, a
principal figure in classical American philosophy, asserting that
`those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ (in
The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905).

As the American NPR broadcaster Scott Simon wrote in `Genocide’ is a
Matter of Opinion, there are times when one has to utter the word
`genocide’ in order to be accurate about mass murder that tries to
extinguish a whole group. That is why the slaughter of a million
Tutsis in Rwanda is not called merely mass murder. This is also why
any politician who goes to Germany, for instance, and describes the
Holocaust of European Jews merely as `terrible killings’ would be
reviled without mercy and even prosecuted without appeal.

After all, did President Obama not also assume the high moral ground
during the US presidential primaries by stating clearly that the
Armenian people deserved `a leader who speaks truthfully about the
Armenian genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides’? Mind you,
despite the high expectations and an air of suspense in the USA, this
American president prevaricated in his Armenian Remembrance Day on
24th April when his written statement from the White House referred
twice to the Armenian genocide as medz yeghern – translated literally
as `great catastrophe’ rather than `genocide’ – and thereby joined a
host of former US presidents who have relented from using the
`g-word’. Is there a sad moral in this unfortunate recurrence? Is it
that in a showdown between realpolitik and the truth, in other words
between contemporary political expediency and the burden of past
atrocities, the former seems to win most times? And if so, does this
not sadly alert us – believers and humanists alike – how the values of
our global world today often obviate words such as truth, conscience
and honour?

24 April 2009: six years shy of a century and denial – no matter
whether individual, collective or institutional – still contaminates
the truth. Is it therefore not high time to put the record straight?
Is it not time for Turkish officials to put jingoism, let alone
misplaced pride or fear aside by recognising this unfortunate chapter
of their Ottoman history during WWI? Is it not time for the Turkish
judicial system today to stop invoking Article 301 of the Turkish
Penal Code and charging reporters or writers, including the Nobel
laureate Orthan Pamuk, with the risible crime of `insulting Turkish
national identity’ simply because they refer to the massacres of
Armenians as genocide? Is it not time also for Turkish President
Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄ?an to
prove their EU-friendly credentials and reformist integrity by
mustering the political fortitude let alone moral rectitude to
acknowledge past aberrations? Moreover, is it not time for the world
community to embark upon a veritable phase of genocide education by
underlining the eight stages of genocide that culminate with denial –
as elaborated by Dr Gregory H Stanton in his Eight Stages of Genocide
in 1998 when he was president of Genocide Watch? Or as the chartered
clinical psychologist Aida Alayarian elucidated in her book
Consequences of Denial, does the denial of the Armenian genocide not
deprive its victims the opportunity to make sense of their experience,
as much as render Turkish society unable to come to terms with its
past, and therefore with itself?

Such recognition is not solely for the sake of Armenians. After all, I
consider this genocide a historically-recognised reality even if some
governments dither, equivocate and refuse to admit to it for reasons
that have more to do with political weakness than historical
truthfulness. Rather, it is also for the memory of all those righteous
Turks who assisted, harboured and supported Armenians during this
wounded chapter of history. But as a firm believer in forgiveness and
reconciliation, it is ultimately for the sake of both Armenians and
Turks alike so they can begin the painful but ineluctable journey
toward a just closure of this open sore.

Dr Harry Hagopian
ecumenical, legal & political consultant
London – UK