A Century Of Silence


Letter from Turkey

A family survives the Armenian genocide and its long aftermath.


The church of Sourp Giragos, in old Diyarbakir, fell into ruins after
1915. A few years ago, the town rebuilt it. “Our grandparents,”
the mayor said, “committed wrongs, but we, their grandchildren,


When I try to imagine my grandfather, the face that appears to me is
a variation of a pencil drawing that hangs in my parents’ house. The
drawing captures the earliest image of him that we have in our family.

He appears to be in his thirties, and he stares down from the wall
with a serious countenance, a sharply groomed mustache, a tall, stiff
collar, a tie pin. He seems like a self-possessed man, with an air
of formality: a formidable person.

I never had the chance to meet him. I was born in the
nineteen-seventies, on Long Island, and he was born in the
eighteen-eighties, in the Ottoman Empire, near the Euphrates
River. He died in 1959–the year that the first spacecraft reached
the moon, Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, and Philip Roth
published “Goodbye, Columbus,” though I suspect he would have known
nothing of those things. What he knew was privation, mass violence,
famine, deportation–and how to survive, even flourish, amid such

My grandfather spent most of his life in Diyarbakir, a garrison town
in southeastern Turkey. Magnificent old walls surround the city;
built of black volcanic rock, they were begun by the Romans and then
added to by Arabs and Ottomans. In 1915, the Ottomans turned the
city, the surrounding province, and much of modern-day Turkey into a
killing field, in a campaign of massacres and forced expulsions that
came to be known as the Armenian genocide. The plan was to eradicate
the empire’s Armenians–“a deadly illness whose cure called for grim
measures”–and it was largely successful. The Ottomans killed more
than a million people, but, somehow, not my grandfather.

He guided his family safely through the tumult, and he remained in
the city long afterward, enduring the decades of subtler persecution
that followed. There was no real reckoning for the perpetrators of
the genocide; many of them helped build the modern Turkish republic,
founded in 1923. The violence may have been over, but its animating
ideology persisted. As İsmet İnönu, the President of Turkey from
1938 to 1950, said, “Our duty is to make Turks out of all the non-Turks
within the Turkish country, no matter what. We will cut out and throw
away any element that will oppose Turks and Turkishness.” The state
cut away Armenians from its history. At the ruins of Ani, an ancient
Armenian city near the country’s northeastern border, there was no
mention of who built or inhabited it. In Istanbul, no mention of who
designed the Dolmabahce Palace, once home to sultans. This policy
of erasure was called “Turkification,” and its reach extended to
geography: my grandfather’s birthplace, known since the days of Timur
as Jabakhchour (“diffuse water”), was renamed Bingöl (“a thousand
lakes”). By a law enacted in 1934, his surname, Khatchadourian
(“given by the cross”), was changed to Ozakdemir (“pure white iron”).

Diyarbakir became a city of wounded cosmopolitanism, its
minorities–Christians, Jews, Yazidis–greatly diminished. Still,
my grandfather persisted, until 1952. My father, the twelfth of his
children, grew up in Diyarbakir, and I grew up listening to his
stories about it. At parties, over glasses of coffee or raki, he
described the place in mythic terms, as a kind of Anatolian Macondo,
populated by people with names like Haji Mama, Deli Weli, Apple Popo.

But my grandfather was always elusive in those stories, his path to
survival a mystery. For nearly a century, the Turkish state has denied
the Armenian genocide–until recently, you could be prosecuted even
for referring to it–and so any inquiry into such things would have
been fraught. But not long ago a curious thing happened. Diyarbakir,
breaking with the state policy, began to indicate that, once again,
its people wanted it to serve as a shared homeland. The centerpiece
of the city’s experiment in renewal is a cathedral that once touched
all the city’s Armenian inhabitants, my grandfather among them.

“The water for your fishbowl was approved, but it looks like for now
you’re not getting the fish.”BUY THE PRINT ”

The Church of Sts. Cyriacus and Julietta, named for an early-Christian
child martyr and his mother, is a wide, imposing structure, made of
carved volcanic rock, that stands at the center of old Diyarbakir. In
Italian, the child is San Quirico; in Armenian, Sourp Giragos. The
largest Armenian church in the Middle East, it was built in the
nineteenth century to a design of ecclesiastical minimalism, with a
basilica containing seven altars, and a flat wooden roof supported
by sixteen monolithic stone columns and rows of gracefully tapering
arches. The church has gone through many cycles of destruction. In
1880, it burned to ashes, and was rebuilt. In 1913, lightning destroyed
its bell tower. Its replacement, a semi-Gothic spire housing an
expensive eight-sided clock and a bell cast in Istanbul, was destroyed
during the genocide–struck down on May 28, 1915, by cannon fire,
because the spire surpassed the height of the city’s minarets.

Or so one account claims. I should mention a more authentic-sounding
story passed down in my family: One day, the spire’s architect turned
up at my grandfather’s door with his tools and treasured belongings,
urging him to keep them all, relaying a plan to disappear. Days
later, one of the spire’s builders turned up, too, full of conflict,
explaining that officials had ordered him to dismantle the spire so
that its carvings and contents could be repurposed or sold.

After the genocide, the church and the few remaining Armenians of
Diyarbakir became locked in a ruinous spiral, diminishing together.

For a time, Sourp Giragos served as a warehouse for a state-owned bank,
and as a provisional military facility. My father remembers, as a boy,
looking into the basilica and seeing recruits line up to be dipped
into barrels of insecticide. By the time my grandfather emigrated,
the church’s most active members could fit in one photo, which my
aunt keeps, carefully annotated, in one of her albums. As could be
expected, the great basilica fell into disuse, with the community
instead assembling in a small chapel, which my grandfather helped
finance. But even this modest chapel was not small enough.

People continued to leave. By 1985, there was no longer a priest:
Father Arsen suddenly absent, young Kurdish boys no longer teasing him
in the stone alleyways (“a monk, a monk, a glass in his rump”). Eight
years later, with snow accumulating on Sourp Giragos’s neglected roof,
the whole thing collapsed. Eventually, there was just Antranik Zor,
a strange old man, the guardian of the ruins, who told visitors,
“Everyone is gone, they have become part of the earth, only I am left.”

My sister visited Sourp Giragos at its nadir, about fifteen years ago,
and found Uncle Anto, as he was known, sitting on a rock, dishevelled:
loose shirt, cardigan tucked into sweatpants. Through a friend, she
spoke to him in Turkish, but he just sat there, mute, empty-sighted.

Later that afternoon, she returned and spoke to him in Armenian, and he
jolted into alertness: Who are you? Where did you come from? We haven’t
had a priest for so long. Do you know the Lord’s Prayer? She recited
it, and he wept, and then he led her into a shed behind the ruins, a
cluttered place illuminated by a single light bulb. He rummaged among
his things, telling my sister that he had been waiting for her so she
could protect a relic he had been guarding. He emerged with a Bible,
its cover torn away, and told her to take the book to where it might
be safe. He spoke with desperate urgency of what they would do if
it remained, if they found it. My sister took the Bible, of course,
and kept it at her house. Shortly afterward, I visited Diyarbakir,
too, and went looking for Uncle Anto, but people near Sourp Giragos
said he had been hospitalized–in fact, he would never leave his bed
again. In the church, Kurdish boys were playing soccer, their ball
arcing across the vandalized basilica, passing through the shadows
of columns and arches that by then held up only sky.

The news of the city’s changed atmosphere came quietly, five or six
years ago, with the unlikely talk that Sourp Giragos was going to
be rehabilitated as a functioning church–even though there was no
congregation for it anymore. Then, in 2011, an item in the Armenian
Weekly (which has arrived at my parents’ house for as long as I can
remember) made clear that the talk was real. “SOURP GIRAGOS OPENS TO
THE FAITHFUL,” it noted, adding that the structure “stood as defiant
as ever to the forces suppressing freedom in Turkey.” Several hundred
people turned up for the reconsecration, nearly all of them having
flown in, mostly from Istanbul, or from abroad. Diyarbakir’s mayor,
Osman Baydemir, told the Armenian visitors, “You are not our guests.

We are your guests.” Abdullah DemirbaÃ…~_, the mayor of the city’s old
district, where my family had lived, even made reference to the great
taboo–the genocide–saying, “Our grandparents, incited by others,
committed wrongs, but we, their grandchildren, will not repeat them.”

Hundreds of people began coming to Sourp Giragos every day, the visits
minor acts of curiosity, atonement, remembrance, a reckoning with a
distant Armenian identity. Some came trying to piece together family
history, lost stories of survival. Last April, I packed a bag (and
the old Bible) and made the journey, too–to solve the mystery of my
grandfather’s survival, if possible, and to learn how the cathedral
had been resurrected, how the city had so unexpectedly changed, and
how a century of contested history could finally appear to be resolved.

“He brought joy to tens.”BUY THE PRINT ”

Diyarbakir’s walls loom from a distance as you approach, but inside
them the old city feels small, almost cloistered. My father told me
that during his childhood the walls were ruins infested with snakes
and scorpions, and he wouldn’t have dreamed of going near them. Like
Sourp Giragos, the walls are now being renovated; new parks line
the fortifications, which people are free to climb. Throughout the
old city, historic buildings are being restored, the urban renewal
accompanied by deeper social and political changes. For more than ten
years, Diyarbakir was under “emergency rule”; ethnic tensions were
high, and the fears that Uncle Anto had felt–of what theywould do if
they came–were discernible. These days, if a stranger, a shopkeeper,
a person offering directions learns that you are Armenian and of
Diyarbakir ancestry, you will be ushered into a home, welcomed with
tea, treated like a long-lost relative deserving honor. You will be
hemÃ…~_erim: a person of this place.

When I met with Abdullah DemirbaÃ…~_, the old city’s mayor, he had just
completed his second term, and he was between political appointments.

DemirbaÃ…~_ is Kurdish, and it quickly became apparent that the story
of Sourp Giragos’s revival was inseparable from the interweaving
narratives of political violence that bound together Armenians, Kurds,
and Turks for more than a century. The municipality’s welcoming
atmosphere, and its willingness to challenge orthodoxies about the
genocide, is in many ways a Kurdish story.

In 1915, in Diyarbakir, Kurds were among the main executors of the
genocide; members of prominent Kurdish clans helped plan the massacres
for the Ottoman bureaucracy and grew rich by the seizure of property.

In the countryside, Kurdish tribal chieftains carried out the killings
with pitiless savagery. But then, not long after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
formed the modern Turkish republic, the Kurds themselves became
the objects of Turkification, as the state initiated a process to
eradicate their culture. The irony was not lost on foreign observers:
“It is a curious trick of fate that the Kurds, who were the principal
agent employed for the deportation of Armenians, should be in danger
of suffering the same fate as the Armenians only twelve years later,”
the British Ambassador in Ankara reported, in 1927.

Eventually, a pathological, contradictory view of Kurds gained
currency in Ankara, a view that denied that Kurds existed as a distinct
ethnicity while at the same time holding that they would be irrevocably
foreign unless they renounced all that made them distinct.

The state insisted that Kurds were merely “Mountain Turks,” a form
of Turkish peasantry. An armed nationalist movement, led by the
Kurdistan Workers’ Party–the P.K.K.–emerged, and with it came the
“emergency rule” in the region. The state’s agents razed villages,
clearing the countryside. Extrajudicial killings were rampant, and
Diyarbakir’s prison became notorious for torture and disappearances. As
a Kurdish politician recalled, “They hung me up by my arms, nude,
and attached electric wires to my genitals and anus. When they turned
on the current, my whole body would tremble; they call this ‘doing
the plane.’ ”

As the villagers fled to Diyarbakir from the surrounding areas, it
became a Kurdish city. In time, the Diyarbakir Kurds began to recognize
that their role in the genocide was a kind of original sin in their
modern political history. “I remember this one Armenian priest,”
DemirbaÃ…~_ told me. “A Kurd was insulting him, and this priest told
him, ‘We were the breakfast for them, you will be the lunch.

Don’t forget.’ And that was important for me.”

DemirbaÃ…~_, a big man with an easy smile, was born in 1966, in a
Kurdish village called Sise; his family moved to Diyarbakir when he
was one.

“When I first went to primary school, I wasn’t able to speak Turkish,”
he said. “The teacher asked me a question, and I didn’t understand,
and the next thing I remember she was holding my ears and bashing
my head against the wall. I didn’t go to school for a week.” The
school he attended was Suleyman Nazif Elementary, named for an
Ottoman notable. Thirty years earlier, my father had attended the
same school, and I recalled similar stories from him about everyday
aggression–about the insult gâvur, meaning “infidel,” the epithet
carrying echoes of 1915. For my father, the atmosphere was intolerable,
and he dropped out; my grandfather bought his diploma with bags
of rice.

DemirbaÃ…~_ had the opposite reaction: inspired by Socrates, he became a
teacher of philosophy. Between 1983 and 1991, the Kurdish language was
illegal, but he and his wife named their daughter Berfin, the Kurdish
name for a pale-colored flower–a decision that instantly triggered
prosecution. The legal battle went to Turkey’s Supreme Court, and by
the time DemirbaÃ…~_ won, his daughter was a year old. As a teacher,
he confronted the bureaucracy of Turkification with similarly mild
gestures, each time eliciting a severe legal reaction. The government
moved DemirbaÃ…~_ from school to school. In 2001, he was posted to
Sivas, a deeply conservative city, where he wrote a press release
stating that all people in Turkey had a right to education in their
native languages. He was fired. Destitute, he returned to Diyarbakir,
and was elected to lead a teachers’ union. From there, he entered
politics, and in 2004 he became mayor of Diyarbakir’s old city.

When a newspaper asked Abdullah DemirbaÃ…~_, the old town’s mayor,
for his message to Turkey’s uprooted Armenians, he said, “Return!”

At the time he lost his teaching job, he had been charged in as many
as a hundred cases. Some of them, owing to changes in the law, were
dropped; many others were added, and now he does not know how many
there are. His lawyer told him that if he lost every case his combined
prison term would be four hundred and eighty-three years. It seemed
strange that DemirbaÃ…~_ could not keep track of his legal affairs,
but as he spoke about his cases, I began to understand his confusion.

Shortly after he was elected, a twelve-year-old Kurdish boy was
fatally shot while police were gunning down his father, in front of
their house; DemirbaÃ…~_ erected a sculpture to mark the tragedy, with
thirteen holes carved into it, representing the boy’s gunshot wounds.

He was prosecuted: misuse of municipal office and resources. (Three
years.) The case went to the Supreme Court, which remanded it to a
terrorism court, which threw it out–though now, on appeal, it has
made its way back to the Supreme Court. In 2006, at a conference in
Vienna, he presented a paper, “Municipal Services and Local Governments
in Light of Multilingualism.” This time, the charge against him was
“propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” (Five years.) When he
issued a multilingual tourist brochure, in Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian,
and Assyrian, he was charged. He was charged for speaking Kurdish
while officiating at a wedding.

In 2007, the government forced DemirbaÃ…~_ out of office, and so he
phoned a friend who owned a house near the municipal headquarters
and set himself up there as shadow mayor. Journalists, dignitaries,
and assemblymen still sought his advice, as did his constituents,
who came by the hundreds, with offerings of tea and sugar. Members of
his former staff raised funds to cover a small budget and volunteered
during off hours. DemirbaÃ…~_’s teen-age children took jobs to support
the family. In this way, he continued his term. And the state continued
finding new ways to charge him.

In 2009, Diyarbakir Armenians–living, as many did, in Istanbul–came
to DemirbaÃ…~_ to discuss restoring the cathedral. DemirbaÃ…~_ had just
been reÔlected, by a wide margin, and the national attitude toward
the Armenian minority and toward the genocide was slowly beginning to
soften. The ascendancy of Recep Erdogan, of the Justice and Development
Party, to the office of Prime Minister, in 2003, initially signalled
a new willingness to confront Turkish political orthodoxies.

In Istanbul, the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink founded Agos,
a newspaper–and when Dink was assassinated, in 2007, a hundred
thousand people protested, many holding up signs that said, “We
are all Armenians!” Thirty thousand people also put their names to
a statement of apology, which read, “My conscience does not accept
the denial of, and the insensitivity toward, the Great Catastrophe
that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this
injustice and I share the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers
and sisters. I apologize to them.” The Ministry of Culture restored
an important Armenian cathedral on an island in Lake Van.

But the limits to these gestures were unmistakable. The state had
renovated the Lake Van cathedral, but as a museum; for three years,
it would not allow a Mass to be held there. Turkification had not
fully abated. As recently as 2005, the Environment and Forestry
Ministry announced plans to correct the “ill intent” of scientific
nomenclature that violated “Turkish unity”: thus, the species of
deer known as Capreolus capreolus armenus became Capreolus capreolus
capreolus. Even as people mourned Hrant Dink, death threats poured
into his former office. And when the Turkish President, Abdullah Gul,
responding to the apology campaign, offered a woolly statement about
the possibility of “dialogue,” a nationalist accused him of having
Armenian ancestry.

Gul, rushing to prove a genealogy of Turkishness “for centuries,”
sued for defamation–and won. In parliament, a legislator’s motion
to adopt the apology caused an uproar; the chairman cut him off,
accusing him of “insulting the society in which you live.” A new
campaign–“I do not apologize”–got far more signatories.

The Diyarbakir Armenians went to the Ministry of Culture, seeking
financial assistance to renovate the church. The ministry agreed to
pay the full cost, more than two million dollars, but only in exchange
for the deed, intending to convert the structure into a museum.

Vartkes Ergun Ayık, the head of the Sourp Giragos Foundation, which
led the restoration effort, told me that it took no time to decline:
better to let it remain in ruins than stand as an empty symbol.

Instead, he brought a delegation to see Diyarbakir’s mayor, Osman
Baydemir, whose jurisdiction spanned the entire city. Baydemir,
whose family had sheltered Armenians a century earlier, agreed to
help, but argued that a majority of the financing should come from
Armenians, so that they would be invested in the project. In the end,
Ayık secured most of the funding from private donors.

Ayık’s family had left Diyarbakir the same year that mine had, in
1952, and I learned that my grandparents had arranged for my father
to work a few summers in his father’s haberdashery, near the Great
Mosque. By the standards of the city, this practically made us family.

In the nineteen-fifties, Ayık’s father had campaigned to have Sourp
Giragos returned to Armenians from the state-owned bank, and Ayık
was in many ways following in his footsteps. One night at his home,
he showed me binders of notes that his father had made: survival
testimonies typed up on onionskin paper, folk poems, Ottoman deeds,
lists of Armenian villages, their old and new names–the basis of a
lost manuscript that he was trying to find. Although Ayık acknowledged
the Kurds’ regret, he seemed unwilling to relinquish his caution.

Already, academics had coined a new term, “Kurdification,” to describe
the Kurds’ effort to claim their place in the region’s culture. He
recalled one day asking DemirbaÃ…~_, “If Kurdish autonomy were granted,
then would your embrace of minority rights remain?” DemirbaÃ…~_
laughed and said yes.


In truth, the benevolent conspiracy to rebuild Sourp Giragos–Armenians
and Kurds working in an unlikely partnership–was fragile. Just as
reconstruction began, in 2009, both Diyarbakir mayors were indicted in
a dragnet, apparently designed to crush the region’s Kurdish political
leadership. DemirbaÃ…~_’s home was raided at 5:30 A.M. Police detained
him at gunpoint, and, at the station, he found himself being handcuffed
by a former student–with the student, eyes full, hesitating, and
DemirbaÃ…~_ assuring him that there was no point in delay. The charge
was grave–membership in an illegal affiliate of the P.K.K.–and
DemirbaÃ…~_ denied it. He stayed in the Diyarbakir prison until 2010,
when he was released for medical reasons. The case is ongoing.

Still, he kept at it. He set out to rename three streets for local
writers: a Kurd, an Armenian, and an Assyrian. He used municipal funds
to run Armenian-language courses and erected a signboard in Armenian
welcoming visitors. Within his jurisdiction, seventeen parcels of
land that had been taken from the church were returned. He told the
Armenian Weekly, “We want the people living in the city to realize
that, historically, Diyarbakir has always been a multicultural city.”

When the Weekly asked, “What is your message to the Armenians who
were uprooted from their ancestral lands?” DemirbaÃ…~_ said, “Return!”

My grandfather arrived in the city as a young child in dire
circumstances. His story begins in Jabakhchour, about a hundred miles
north of Diyarbakir, where his father, Khatchadour, was a prominent
landowner. Khatchadour had two stepsons, and, in the eighteen-eighties,
one of them shoved a Kurdish man in a fight, and the man fell to his
death. The stepson was imprisoned and sentenced to death by hanging,
but Khatchadour paid to have his life spared.

Outraged, the Kurdish man’s family burned his fields, stole
his livestock, and threatened murder. Khatchadour took his
family–including my grandfather, who was probably no more than
two years old–and fled toward Diyarbakir, where Sourp Giragos had
established itself as a haven for pilgrims. Along the way, they met
an Armenian tailor–a terzi, in Turkish–who lived in the city, and he
invited them to stay with him. Not long after, another disaster struck:
a cholera epidemic swept through Diyarbakir, killing Khatchadour
and two of his children. My grandfather and his mother were spared,
though, and the tailor looked after them.

Diyarbakir was in a state of upheaval. The empire was declining
precipitously, and Ottoman leaders, hoping to maintain a dominion
that extended from Tunis to Basra, had imposed reforms, meant to unify
peoples of different faiths and languages around an Ottoman identity.

The new measures augmented individual rights, upending an old
theocratic order that placed the empire’s Christians beneath its
Muslims, and they promised greater equality for Armenians. But the
reforms were fitfully enacted, and for the most part they only made
life worse. Many Kurds, feeling that their divinely ordained status
was threatened, lashed out violently at their neighbors.

The sense of popular resentment was compounded after Ottomans lost
territory in the Russo-Turkish War. In the Treaty of Berlin, the Great
Powers sought to dictate the fate of the empire, committing the sultan
to implementing reforms “in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and
to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds.” The
sultan, Abdulhamid II, saw the Armenians’ strengthening ties to the
West as evidence of treason. He formed a Kurdish militia, to bring
fiefs under tighter state control, and he used it to exact punishment,
massacring a hundred thousand Armenians.

In Diyarbakir, fears that the reforms would grant Armenians too much
autonomy erupted into a pogrom. (Suleyman Nazif wrote, “Like our
grandfathers before us, our principal task is to work for the glory
of the Caliphate and to augment its population. This is the road upon
which we will travel, to death.”) For three days in November, 1895,
the city was engulfed in ethnic violence. Gunfire broke out near
the Great Mosque, and Muslims pillaged Armenian shops and homes,
going door to door, killing hundreds. The market was set aflame,
and the smoke was visible for thirty-five miles.

No one in my family knows how my grandfather survived, but it is clear
that he was finding a place for himself. When he was about ten, the
tailor decided to teach him his trade. “What is your family name?” the
tailor asked. My grandfather didn’t know, nor did his mother. So the
tailor said, “Well, what was your father’s name?” My grandfather said
it was Khatchadour. “Then your name will be Khatchadourian.”

My grandfather’s given name was Hagop–Armenian for Jacob–but at
some point he also adopted a Muslim street name, Sait, and among
non-Armenians became known as Terzi Sait–Sait the tailor. Eventually,
he opened a store near the Great Mosque, in the center of the city,
and on Easter morning I went looking for the old storefront. Nothing
of it remained, but the area was still filled with tiny shops, lining
an avenue that bisects old Diyarbakir.

Easter Mass this year in Sourp Giragos. Because the church still has
no priest assigned to it, a priest flies in from Istanbul.

It was a short walk from there to Sourp Giragos, past tea stalls,
produce venders, and a five-hundred-year-old minaret precariously
balanced atop four small columns. Closer to the church, the shops
and street clutter fell away; the narrow stone alleys became more
uniform, the turns easier to confuse. In places, the reconstructed
bell tower loomed into view. The effect of entering the large church
courtyard–with its garden, its sycamore maples, and its wooden tea
tables–was similar to driving out of a tunnel and emerging into
the clear. Nothing of Sourp Giragos’s dilapidation remained. The
church had been built from “female basalt,” volcanic rock so porous
that it breathed. Because female basalt had been mined to depletion,
the porosity in many of the reconstructed stone blocks was ersatz;
still, one had the sense of entering a living structure.

That Sunday was the first Easter to be celebrated at the cathedral
since its reconstruction, and a gruff priest named Father Kevork had
flown in from Istanbul to conduct Mass. Although the church was open
every day, the patriarchy was slow to assign it a permanent priest.

Likewise, Armenians living overseas seemed hesitant about supporting
the church, in a place where there was no obvious community for it.

Ayık was still struggling to raise four hundred thousand dollars to
pay outstanding bills. His daughter asked me if I knew how to reach
Kim Kardashian.

Part of the apathy was surely rooted in a general suspicion about
investing in a country where “Armenian” is a form of slander. But Ayık
thought there might also be a deeper cultural pathology at work. To get
behind a functioning church would mean shedding the posture of enraged
victim, he argued. There was also a more obvious question: What was
the building’s purpose? DemirbaÃ…~_ said that the reconstruction was
an act of self-criticism, an apology, a symbol of harmony. Ayık said
the church served as a monument to those who had once been there.

Yet these things it could do just fine as a semi-dormant religious
structure, with Father Kevork now and again flying in.

It did not, however, take long, sitting in that courtyard on Easter
morning, to understand that the new Sourp Giragos needed to function as
a church to fulfill its particular purpose in the climate of residual
Turkification. Uncle Anto had said, “Only I am left,” but it turned out
that all around the ruins of Sourp Giragos there were people of mixed
Armenian heritage, people whose fathers or mothers or grandmothers
had been taken in by Turks or Kurds in 1915, married into Muslim
families, and assumed new names and identities. In villages, where
no one’s ancestry was ever very secret, they were often recognized,
and became known by the epithet “remnants of the sword.”

No one knows the true size of this hidden population across Turkey,
and estimates range from thirty thousand to three million; the secret
identities are only now starting to emerge. A few years ago, a group
of these people had come to Sourp Giragos to be baptized, their names
kept quiet for security reasons. But that they had stepped forward
was significant, and I could see how a working church would signal,
in ways a token one could not, that being Armenian in Turkey was
becoming acceptable.

On Easter morning, the two church caretakers, Aram Khatchigian and
Armen Demirjian, were rushing around with preparations, but they took
a few minutes to have tea with me in the courtyard. “If you really
dig deep, sixty per cent of the people in the city have some Armenian
background,” Khatchigian told me. “I’m basing this on the people who
come to the church. From my family, seven people survived 1915.

Actually, there were seven orphans who had come together and
supported each other–my grandfather was one of them–and by
supporting each other they ended up becoming a family. If you look
at their descendants, these people do accept that they are Armenian,
but nearly all of them are Muslims. From the day I was born, I have
known myself to be Armenian–unlike Armen, who did not learn about
it until he was twenty-five years old.” Both men, given Muslim names
at birth, renamed themselves in honor of Armenian ancestors.

At nine or so in the morning, Khatchigian walked to the entrance
of the church and rang the bell. Inside, pews were slowly filling,
the air thickening with incense. In my father’s childhood, Armenians
gathered for Easter at the Chaldean Catholic Church; they stayed
past midnight on Holy Thursday, and at the ceremony’s climax the
lights were extinguished and hymns resounded in the dark. Here the
ceremony was informal, almost formless, with people dropping in
and out of attentiveness. Wandering among the eight hundred people
at Sourp Giragos–many of them Muslim–I could see that what they
were celebrating was not Easter but the idea that Easter had been
resurrected. As the crowd dispersed, I introduced myself to an elderly
man in the front pew.

“Who’s your grandfather?” he asked.

“Hagop Khatchadourian.”

“I don’t know anyone by that name. Who’s your father?”

“Puzant Khatchadourian.”

“I don’t know him, either.” The old man gazed past me. “I did know
a Puzant, once,” he said. “A long time ago–Terzi Sait’s son.”

“But Terzi Sait was my grandfather,” I said.

“Yes, yes, Terzi Sait,” the man said. “I remember. A good man.”

It is unknown how many people in Turkey have hidden Armenian ancestry.

Estimates range from thirty thousand to three million.

My grandfather’s assumed name means “happy” in Arabic, and I thought
about this the next day, on my way to a part of the old city called the
Citadel. Built upon an embankment overlooking the Tigris, the Citadel
once contained a prison, official buildings, gardens, a church, and a
mosque. A later addition was an office for the special-intelligence
branch of the gendarmerie. Many Kurds, taken there in the nineties,
never returned. In recent years, more than forty-five Kurdish mass
graves had been identified in the region, and in 2012 a cache of bones
was discovered at the Citadel. They were delivered to the Forensic
Medicine Institute, in Istanbul, which concluded that “the bones were
lying in the earth for at least one hundred years.” A century ago,
the Citadel was a departure point for the deportations of Armenians:
forced marches, the vast majority ending in death. Mass violence was
buried in the city like strata of rock. My grandfather used to say that
in 1915 he heard screams from the Citadel; the dead, he had recalled,
were dumped onto blood-soaked earth below.


A century after the Armenian genocide, many details of its origins
remain obscure. The pervasive state denial has corrupted access
to official archives–with some closed, and others open in limited
ways–and forced upon the research the distortions of politics. Key
Ottoman records are missing or have been destroyed. Still, it is clear
that the violence of the genocide flowed from deep streams of political
insecurity. Hitler spoke of Germany being “broken and defenseless,
exposed to the kicks of all the world.” His Ottoman counterparts felt
a similar civilizational crisis.

In 1908, a group of reformers called the Young Turks emerged from
the empire’s periphery and began to wrest control from the sultan.

Pragmatic, fractious, and ideologically malleable, they came to
power promising greater freedoms and imperial unity; they named their
political party the Committee of Union and Progress (C.U.P.). But the
empire that they sought to unify was inexorably unravelling. Within
several years, they settled on a principle called Turkism, which
envisioned an ethnically unified state. The idea was to create “an
ideal homeland that gathers in all the Turks and excludes foreigners.”

A C.U.P. office was opened in Diyarbakir by one of the movement’s
central ideologues. There is this story in our family: Near my
grandfather’s shop, by the Great Mosque, there was a khan where a
mufti named Haji Ä°brahim–who belonged to the prominent Pirinccizade
clan–drank tea. My grandfather began joining him, and they grew close.

One day, as they sat together, a young man approached: the mufti’s
son, Ã…~^eref–handsome, full of revolutionary fervor, the author
of an article arguing that Armenians were “treacherous.” Ã…~^eref
spoke of joining the C.U.P., but his father expressed uneasiness
with the movement. “It smells of blood,” he said. Gesturing toward
my grandfather, he added, “No harm will come to him.”

In 1914, my grandfather was about thirty–a bachelor, still, unusually
for his age. By then, he had established a reputation for making
Western clothing, and he took trips to Lebanon and Syria to buy sewing
equipment and luxurious fabric. He bought a house by Diyarbakir’s
Gâvur Mahallesi, the Infidel District–a gracious building with a
large courtyard, a well, and an old tree.

One day, he met a coppersmith who shared his surname. Kevork
Khatchadourian had a thin face, a long nose, big eyes. He, too, had
survived the pogrom of 1895. When the violence began, and Armenian
shopkeepers debated what to do, Kevork made his way to Sourp Giragos,
brought his children home from the school, and fortified the door
with a stone. His shop was destroyed. For a time, to escape cholera,
the family fled to a village. After they returned to Diyarbakir, his
financial situation remained dire, and he was forced to sell his house.

Kevork and his family became tenants in my grandfather’s home. For
my grandfather’s mother, their arrival was fortuitous. She wanted
her aging son to marry–she said it, and said it, and said it,
enough to engrave it into time itself–and Kevork had a daughter,
Zevart, an intelligent, strong-willed girl with dark hair and dark
eyes. Kevork’s wife was protective of her: she was a schoolgirl,
and my grandfather was twice her age. But my grandfather’s mother was
driven, and on Zevart’s sixteenth birthday–February 14, 1914–they
married. The First World War had not yet begun, and perhaps the two
had reason for optimism.

Still, the empire was falling to pieces. Ethnic tensions were growing.

In the Balkan Wars, a series of mostly Christian rebel groups, abetted
by foreign allies, stripped the Ottomans of nearly all their European
territories. One military officer wrote, “Our anger is strengthening:
revenge, revenge, revenge.” A few months later, he became the Minister
of War. During the Armistice, the Great Powers again imposed reforms
to improve treatment of the Armenians, but they were never enacted. As
imperial unity became paramount, the C.U.P. began to enforce Turkism
through deportation. A system of quotas took shape, in which no
Ottoman territory should be more than ten per cent Armenian.

In January, 1915, the empire suffered another catastrophic loss,
this time on the Russian front: tens of thousands of Ottoman soldiers
lay dead, and a deep Russian incursion seemed imminent. The loss
was a result of the First World War, but the crisis of war also
offered an opportunity for even more drastic measures. In March,
a member of the C.U.P. noted, “It has been decided to wash our hands
of responsibility for this stain that has been smeared across Ottoman
history.” An élite security apparatus, the Special Organization,
insured that deportation meant annihilation; it helped mobilize bands
of irregulars, most prominent among them Kurds who knew the landscape
in detail. A new governor was dispatched to Diyarbakir. He had vowed
to take the “most decisive measures.”

At front, the author’s grandmother, his father, and his

On April 24th, in Istanbul, more than two hundred Armenian
intellectuals–poets, doctors, writers, members of parliament–were
arrested and, with a few exceptions, killed. The date marks the
official shackling of the empire’s salvation to genocide. Convoys
were directed into Diyarbakir Province or on into the Syrian Desert,
to camps where people were massacred or allowed to die from privation.

Eventually, the genocide became its own rationale. When the U.S.

Ambassador implored the Interior Minister to reverse course, he
was told, “The hatred between the Turks and the Armenians is now so
intense that we have got to finish with them. If we don’t, they will
plan their revenge.”

Like many Armenians outside Turkey, I grew up in an atmosphere where
the desire for revenge was not always easy to separate from the
desire for justice. In community centers, it was often possible to
find posters of Armenians who had murdered Turkish officials during a
spate of political assassinations in the seventies and eighties. They
were heroes–fedayeen–and children were encouraged to honor them, to
write to them if they were in prison. The idea of reconciliation was
unimaginable. Any distinction between Kurds and Turks was immaterial;
they were the same, worthy of the same suspicion, mockery, and hatred.

There was an attendee at Sourp Giragos on Easter who knew this sense
of vengeance as well as anyone: Ara Sarafian, an independent historian,
activist, and combatant in the war over Anatolian history.

Sarafian’s family had mostly survived the genocide and afterward had
moved to Cyprus, where he spent his childhood. But, in 1974, while
he and his parents were in London on a family vacation, the Turkish
Army invaded Cyprus, and they were suddenly refugees. Perhaps it was
inevitable that he would come to hate Turks, with a deep teen-age
hatred. As a graduate student, he vowed to learn Turkish to confront
the state’s official denials as a scholar. “I wanted to hurt Turks,”
he told me. He applied for a fellowship in Ankara, and when he was
turned down (his Armenian surname the deciding factor, he was certain)
he went anyway, paying his tuition by teaching English. Coming to
Turkey transformed him, in an unexpected way. The combined effect of
getting to know Turkish citizens, of higher education, of maturity, and
of changing Turkish politics eroded the teen-age hatred until he began
to seek out opportunities for reconciliation. In London, he founded
a small press, called the Gomidas Institute, with a straightforward
mission: unearthing and publishing firsthand accounts of 1915. But
in the past few years he has widened his portfolio, making trips
to Turkey to investigate how the genocide remains a part of lived
experience there, and how official denials are at odds with local
memory. Sarafian regards his new work as ambassadorial, engaging in
a cautious handshake with politicians like Abdullah DemirbaÃ…~_.

Recently, Sarafian went to Bitlis, the ancestral home of William
Saroyan, to encourage its mayor to name a street after the writer. A
friend there took him into the countryside. “We went to this one
village,” he told me. “And we met this Kurdish man who owned a fish
farm, and there was an old church, a very small church, and this guy
made us tea and said, ‘You know, I own this church.’ And I could have
said nothing, I could have let it go, but I asked him, ‘How can you
own a church?’ And he said, ‘It’s quite simple, really. In 1915, an
order came down to kill all the Armenians, and afterward we divided
up the property, and that is how our family got this church.’ As I
was leaving, he came to me and said, ‘You tell me what you want me
to do with this church, and I will do it.’ Now, how can I hate this
guy? I have to embrace him.”

Last year, Sarafian obtained permission from Diyarbakir’s leadership
to commemorate the genocide there–the first time such a thing had been
achieved. He organized a ceremony on a bridge spanning the Tigris, from
which mourners tossed rose petals into the river. A few months later,
DemirbaÃ…~_ urged the Turkish government to follow the city’s example:
“We Kurds, in the name of our ancestors, apologize for the massacres
and deportations of the Armenians and Assyrians in 1915. We will
continue our struggle to secure atonement and compensation for them.”

During his stay in Diyarbakir, Sarafian had ventured into the
countryside, to conduct interviews with villagers. In his research,
he stumbled on the descendants of a Kurdish tribe that had gone to
war in 1915 to protect Armenians. Since that visit, Sarafian had
wanted to plant rosebushes at the tribal leader’s grave. The gesture
was necessary, he said, to show reciprocity, to underscore that the
common Armenian biases against Kurds–as bloodthirsty savages–could
also be relinquished. “Kurds are very apologetic,” he told me. “They
know massacres took place, they know Kurds were involved. It is up
to us to say, ‘I appreciate your sincerity and the manner in which
you are dealing with this, that you are feeling guilty–but we are
in no way accusing Kurds as a nation of being somehow predisposed to
commit genocide.’ My criticism of Armenians is that we shouldn’t just
wallow in victimhood. It doesn’t help us, either.”

“It’s probably bad news if she refers to the second date as ‘mission
creep.’ “BUY THE PRINT ”

The day after Easter, I met Sarafian at his hotel to accompany him on
the trip. He has cropped graying hair and a perpetually furrowed brow.

In a rented car, we drove for about an hour and a half, and stopped
near a cluster of modest homes in isolated rock-strewn pastures.

Several men–gray suits, white shirts, open collars–approached.

Sarafian embraced one of them. The tribal leader in 1915 was Haji
Mehmet Mishte, and this was one of his grandsons, Recep Karabulut.

Before long, Sarafian was saying that Karabulut was like a brother,
and Karabulut was saying that Sarafian was kin. There were handshakes,
callused grips. Sarafian conversed quickly with the others:

“I brought two roses, so we can plant them.”

“Let us go, let us go together.”

“We must pray.”

“Of course we will pray.”

The village cemetery was just up the hill, one of the men said. We
climbed back into our car. “We have a common culture here,” Sarafian
said as he drove. “You can’t separate Armenians from Kurds.” When
we reached the graveyard, Sarafian took the rosebushes from the car
and, giving one to Karabulut, told him, “We have been separated by
a hundred years.” Karabulut said, “History has unified us now.” Then
the men walked to an Ottoman-era grave. The headstone had weathered,
rounded edges, and Arabic script carved on its face. A village cleric
read the inscription, a line of poetry about the impermanence of life,
and then read the date that concluded Mishte’s impermanence–which,
it was determined after much debate about the Ottoman calendar,
was probably 1917. Sarafian tied a strip of cloth to a nearby bush,
an ancient ritual marking a pilgrimage, and said a few words honoring
Mishte. At the foot of the grave, he began to dig. The shovel broke.

But he continued, knees in the soil, until the roses were firmly
anchored. Everyone prayed.

The tribe had slaughtered a lamb, and we headed to a house on a hill,
where it was served. While everyone ate, my eyes drifted to a muted
TV, to a news item about April 24th, the Armenian Day of Remembrance.

For the past several years, commemorations have been held in Istanbul.

April 24th was just days away, and the story included file footage of
a previous year’s event: people sitting on pavement, holding photos
of the Armenian intellectuals who had been rounded up in the capital
and murdered. No calls for justice, no demands, just sitting, holding
pictures–each portrait, from a century ago, capturing its subject
in a hopeful act, innocent of what was to come.

For Diyarbakir, the genocide came in the form of the newly assigned
vali, or regional governor, Dr. Mehmet ReÃ…~_id–an Ottoman middle
manager of startling effectiveness, responsible for the deaths of
more than a hundred thousand people. ReÃ…~_id was a Muslim Circassian
from the Russian-controlled Caucasus, where his family had survived an
earlier violent purge. Beginning in 1860, the Tsar forced hundreds of
thousands of Muslims from the region, pursuing them to the shores of
the Black Sea, from which they were delivered to the Ottoman Empire
on ships that became known as “floating graveyards.” ReÃ…~_id was born
in 1873, and his family moved to Istanbul a year later. He enrolled
in the Military School of Medicine and, preoccupied with the sultan’s
despotism, helped found the C.U.P. “I always desired law and justice,”
he wrote in his memoirs. “I always had the friendship and confidence of
all my companions; I never took part in certain villainous behavior.”

With the Ottoman state collapsing around him, ReÃ…~_id’s outlook began
to harden. He served in various official posts–the Aegean, Mosul,
Baghdad–growing increasingly concerned that the empire’s Christians
posed a grave internal threat. Ottoman Greeks, one C.U.P. member
had declared, “needed to be broken and destroyed,” and ReÃ…~_id came
to agree. On the Aegean, he aggressively deported them, hoping to
replace them with Turkish refugees. By the time he arrived in Baghdad,
he was a changed man. As Suleyman Nazif recalled, “Instead of the old
poised character and calm, there was an appalling arrogance and anger.”

In Diyarbakir, ReÃ…~_id confronted crumbling state authority. Corruption
was entrenched, and soldiers were deserting. Many deserters were
Armenian, and when they took to the city’s flattened rooftops they
became known as the Roof Battalion. ReÅ~_id saw in them an élite unit
to massacre Muslims; he arrested them and tried to extract information
by torture, but he discovered no plot. He imposed censorship, and
proclaimed the confiscation of all weapons. The Diyarbakir Armenians
gathered to discuss what to do; my grandfather later spoke of a
meeting where a man announced that he had stockpiled guns beyond the
city walls. But the community decided that militancy was too risky and
surrendered their weapons. ReÃ…~_id, believing that Sourp Giragos had
become a makeshift armory, had it searched, its prelate murdered. He
found nothing. In time, the cathedral was looted. “Some poured out of
the church clutching thuribles, chalices, and other sacred vessels,”
one observer recalled. “They roamed streets sounding the cymbals and
fly-flaps and treading on the pages torn from the Bible.”

In the countryside, Kurds have passed down memories of their part
in the killings. One said, “The Armenians taken away were saying,
‘We have animals up on the mountain, and if you don’t milk them the
animals will suffer.’ ”

Quickly, ReÃ…~_id created a strike force, designed to conduct “special
measures” and acts of “punishment” throughout the province. The unit
became known as the Butcher’s Battalion. Seeking to assemble Kurdish
irregulars, he pardoned exiled members of a tribe known for banditry.

He reached out to the tribe’s leaders and described a plan to put
Armenians onto rafts called keleks (branches piled atop inflated goat
skins) and send them down the Tigris. “I will give you convoy after
convoy of Armenians,” he said, according to an account by the grandson
of one tribal leader. “You will bring them by kelek across the Tigris.

When you arrive at a place where no one can see or hear, you will
kill them all.” ReÃ…~_id recommended that the bodies be filled with
rocks, in order to sink them. “Of the gold, money, and jewels, half
of it is yours, the other half you will bring to me to give to the
Red Crescent. But no one can hear or know about this secret.”

In Diyarbakir, ReÃ…~_id had imprisoned nearly two thousand prominent
Christians, mostly Armenians, and in May, 1915, they were called into
the prison courtyard, where mufti Ä°brahim read a document explaining
that they had been pardoned but would be deported to Mosul: “You may
return to your homes once the war is terminated. You are delivered
from a great responsibility.” Late that month, more than six hundred
Armenians were sent down the river and killed. ReÃ…~_id had notified
his counterpart in Mosul to expect the rafts, but they arrived empty,
followed by bloated corpses and decomposed body parts.

That summer, Fa’iz el-Ghusein, an Arab lawyer and a former Ottoman
official from Syria, travelled to Diyarbakir. In a book titled
“Martyred Armenia,” he wrote about the surrounding desolation. A
hundred miles north of Damascus, he encountered men and women huddled
under tents made from sheets and rugs. He picked up stories of the
death marches heading south. Then he began to witness convoys–from a
distance they looked like troops marching to battle, but up close he
could see that they were devastated crowds, mostly women, barefoot,
exhausted. “Whenever one of them lagged behind, a gendarme would beat
her with the butt of his rifle, throwing her on her face, till she
rose terrified and rejoined her companions,” he wrote. “If one lagged
from sickness, she was either abandoned, alone in the wilderness,
without help or comfort, to be a prey to wild beasts, or a gendarme
ended her life by a bullet.” At the city of Urfa, there were Ottoman
soldiers from Aleppo–an officer with a cannon had “turned the Armenian
quarters into a waste place.”

On the final approach to Diyarbakir, the landscape grew bleaker still.

“We went on amid the mangled forms of the slain,” Ghusein recalled.

“The same sight met our view on every side; a man lying, his breast
pierced by a bullet; a woman torn open by lead; a child sleeping
his last sleep beside his mother; a girl in the flower of her age,
in a posture which told its own story. Such was our journey until we
arrived at a canal, called Kara Pounâr, near Diyarbakir, and here we
found a change in the method of murder and savagery. We saw here bodies
burned to ashes. God, from whom no secrets are hid, knows how many
young men and fair girls, who should have led happy lives together,
had been consumed by fire in this ill-omened place. We had expected
not to find corpses of the killed near to the walls of Diyarbakir,
but we were mistaken, for we journeyed among the bodies until we
entered the city gate.”

Others had similar stories. Suleyman Nazif found that the “smell of
rotting corpses permeated the atmosphere.” Responding to a complaint
from an Ottoman official in Syria that the rivers were clogged with
the dead, ReÃ…~_id noted, “Those who were killed here are either being
thrown into deep deserted caves or, as has been the case for the most
part, are being burnt.” Eventually, the Interior Minister wrote with
an order: “Bury the deceased lying on the roads, throw their corpses
into brooks, lakes, and rivers, and burn their property left behind
on the roads.”

Within the city walls, my grandfather’s shop was destroyed, so he
worked from home, and people often turned up. There was an Armenian
photographer who had been engaged by the Turks to take propaganda
pictures; he came to share news, until one day he said he thought
that he had seen too much, and soon after he disappeared. There were
relatives from Jabakhchour, among them my grandfather’s remaining
sister, ill with tuberculosis, who left him a two-year-old girl. There
was a woman whose husband had been murdered, and an underfed Armenian
soldier–“a man, very nice, and pathetic, if you need him,” a priest
from Sourp Giragos said, my aunt, who knew the story, recalled. More
and more people came, perhaps as many as thirty, and hid in a charcoal
pit, behind piles of wood, in an underground tunnel.

The mufti’s son, Ã…~^eref, also came; people were bringing him orphaned
boys, my aunt recalled, and he told my grandfather, “Let me give one
or two to you.” He brought a teen-ager from Bitlis named Kapriel. “My
father began asking around, trying to find his father, looking in
the newspaper, even contacting the Armenian cathedral in Istanbul,”
my aunt said. “There was news of someone who met Kapriel’s father’s
description. Kapriel wanted to go, and my father arranged for his
travel. By the time Kapriel got there, his father was dead for
two days.”

“For someone who believes in personal responsibility, you spend a
lot of time blaming government.”BUY THE PRINT ”

My grandfather had created a sanctuary, but it was not invulnerable.

Once, my father told me, a high-ranking police officer came to visit
my grandfather. My grandmother brought food, and my grandfather, who
had a habit of quietly nudging plates in the direction of guests, sat
waiting. The officer ate and, when he was done, began to speak. He
had been walking on the riverbank when he saw an Armenian woman
my grandfather knew, who was about to be raped; to spare her from
misery, he had shot her. My grandfather, unable to control his anger,
kicked the officer out, and the officer vowed that by morning the
family would be put on the caravans: a death sentence. (In my uncle’s
version, the source of the argument differs, but not the outcome.) My
grandmother’s father, Kevork, said that he would bolt the door, douse
the house with gasoline, and destroy the family rather than surrender.

A sleepless night followed; at dawn, the muezzin at the mosque called
out. The streets were quiet. My grandfather turned to one of the
people in his house, an Armenian man who passed as a Kurd in public.

“Go to the mosque,” he said, “and tell us what is happening.” The
scout went, and found a funeral in progress. The police officer had
died shortly after leaving, of a heart attack. On the way back, the
scout broke cover, calling out in Armenian, “The man is dead!” My
grandfather went to see for himself, mixing among the mourners,
nodding, saying, “A good man.”

After planting the roses, Ara Sarafian wanted to travel south, to the
banks of the Tigris, where ReÃ…~_id had conspired with Kurds to attack
the keleks. In an old diplomatic report, he had found references
to the location, and on a previous visit he had gone looking for
it. The report was off by several miles, it turned out, but villagers
corrected him. “Kurds have an everyday memory of Armenians, whether
it is a particular house or a building or a field,” he said in the car.

“The memory is still there.”

Sarafian didn’t know the way, but at a courthouse we found someone
who could guide us: Ä°kram Sevim, a law clerk, tall and thin, in
a checkered blazer. As we drove past a village built on an Armenian
graveyard, Sevim spoke of 1915: “The Armenians taken away were saying,
‘We have animals up on the mountain, and if you don’t milk them then
the animals will suffer.’ We didn’t say anything. They were looking
after their animals, and we were not looking after them.”

Ten minutes later, we were in empty hills, the grass vibrant. A sign
marked a military outpost: “Special Security Zone–Entrance Forbidden.”

Sevim drove briskly past, turning right, then left, until the paved
road gave way to a network of rutted tracks. Stones on the road grew
larger and sharper. Fearing that they would puncture his tires,
Sevim did not want to proceed. But we went on in Sarafian’s car,
driving no faster than a stroll, while a few of us, in front of the
vehicle, chucked large rocks out of the way. Still, it was evident
that we wouldn’t reach the ravine before nightfall.

The sky faded to the color of slate. Looking at a jagged hilltop
before us–a scrim blocking the river–I thought of a moment in the
Armenian liturgy when the priests step behind a curtain to prepare the
Eucharist. On the other side, churchgoers can hear chants and singing,
but the ritual is obscured, in a symbol of faith. Had we made it to
the other side of the outcropping, what would we have seen? The Tigris
flowing, as always, with no hint of the violent history attached to
that spot.

As we carefully turned around, I decided that where we stood was
as good as anywhere. Then someone made a joke about the military
outpost and what we might say if we were stopped–the truth would
raise too many suspicions–and I realized that I was only concocting
a justification for failing to reach a place of real importance. There
is, perhaps, an element of contrivance in any pilgrimage–the idea that
arriving at a far-off destination will be personally transformative.

But we were not attempting a pilgrimage in the conventional sense. We
were hoping to transform our destination, to employ our presence as
witnesses, even if a century too late, to raise it out of officially
imposed obscurity.

In the car, Sarafian mentioned that he was planning an event in
Diyarbakir the following day, and then he had to rush to Paris for an
academic conference. But he intended to return. A dam was being built
downstream, he said, and by the time it was finished the site would
be flooded, its erasure complete. Local memory of the event was also
vanishing. During his earlier trip, he had met an eighty-three-year-old
village leader named Hussein KarakuÃ…~_, whose uncle had participated in
the slaughter at the ravine. The story of the keleks had been told and
retold in his family, and Sarafian, with his phone, recorded KarakuÃ…~_
as he relayed what he knew: the Armenians had been sent down the river
from Diyarbakir by keleks on the vali’sorder, and they “were all killed
and burned.” When Sarafian asked if there had been any Armenians in
the area, the man began to list dozens of villages–Keferzo, Bazboot,
Deri, Tmiz, Baraso–that had been emptied of inhabitants. “They
were all massacred,” he said, and added, “It was a sin.” Sarafian
promised to return, but KarakuÃ…~_ died shortly after their meeting,
taking with him whatever else he knew.

On the road back to Diyarbakir, I dozed, then awoke. Rain hit the
window in diagonals. My thoughts turned to my grandfather. The more
I learned about his survival, the more precarious it seemed. Most
of the survivor stories I had heard from Armenians in Diyarbakir
were of children–orphaned, or spared with their mothers–who were
taken in by Turks or Kurds. My grandfather had survived as an adult,
relatively openly, sheltering other Armenians in a way that doesn’t
seem to have been completely disguised.


Perhaps he was not prominent enough to be put on the keleks and robbed,
as the city’s wealthiest Armenians were. But he had not been deported
and killed on a roadside, either. Certainly, he had useful skills. In
a telegram, ReÃ…~_id reported that two hundred Armenian craftsmen had
been allowed to remain in the province, because they were valuable to
the military. My grandfather, as far as I was able to learn, never
made things for the Army. But my father and his siblings say that
he provided Western garments to members of the city’s Kurdish and
Turkish élite, even as they were planning the massacres. In essence,
he was bartering for his life.

There is a story that all my grandfather’s living children recall:
as the killings and deportations were winding down, he received an
unwanted invitation from the vali himself. He was brought before him,
and the vali asked, Why are you still alive? When my grandfather
explained that he was a master tailor, someone produced a bolt of
fabric. Make me a coat, the vali said. My grandfather saw that there
was not enough fabric, but, realizing that he could not refuse, he
took it home and proclaimed that the family would live or die by this
coat. He worked desperately. When the coat was finished, he brought
it to the vali, who tried it on and said that it was good–but then,
just as my grandfather was leaving, the vali called out, “Wait! I
would like these buttons to be covered in fabric, too.” My grandparents
struggled to cover the buttons, using whatever scraps were left. Then
my grandfather returned with the coat, and he was spared.

The story has the contours of a parable; some details may have been
burnished in the retelling. But on the whole it appears to match the
historical record. As a young revolutionary, ReÃ…~_id was arrested
by the sultan’s men, and in his memoirs he gave special attention
to the treatment of his clothes, bemoaning their confiscation and
mocking their replacements: “a fez on my head that was rather narrow
and too long” and “a pair of pants that still sagged even though I
had folded the waist three times (they must have been tailored for
one of the palace eunuchs).” ReÃ…~_id understood from experience how
small indignities could be used as an instrument of persecution.

A historian who spent years studying the extirpation of Diyarbakir’s
Armenians told me, “It is highly unlikely that anybody not entirely
reliable was ever allowed to get close to ReÃ…~_id and take his
measurements.” Ghusein, the author of “Martyred Armenia,” recalled
that ReÃ…~_id retained a few Armenian craftsmen in Diyarbakir, but he
suggested that there were other forms of patronage, too. “The last
family deported from Diyarbakir was that of Dunjian, about November,
1915,” he wrote. “This family was protected by certain Notables.” Our
family, it seems, was the same.

My grandfather knew mufti Ä°brahim and the members of his clan,
prominent local Kurds who belonged to ReÃ…~_id’s inner circle. In
particular, he associated with the mufti’s son, Ã…~^eref–a man one
diplomat listed as No. 12 under “Persons Responsible for the Armenian
Massacres in the Vilayet of Diyarbakir.” From conversations with
my father, I came to regard their relationship as a matter of cold
convenience. After the war, Ã…~^eref often visited the family home,
and my father told me that pleasantries were exchanged, that children
were expected to kiss his hand, and that my grandfather often muttered
a mild curse after he left. But not long ago my mother found an old
tape of my father’s eldest living sister, Ani, interviewed by my
parents, and she talked with my father about Ã…~^eref:

ANI: He was a kind man.

PUZANT: He was not that kind.

ANI: Yes, Father did say that from appearances he seemed kind, but
if the opportunity arose he was still a Turk.

PUZANT: He wasn’t that good. He was a very bad man, but among bad
men he was good.

ANI: He didn’t do anything bad to my father.

My aunt was the second daughter in the family to be named Ani. In
1915, at the height of the genocide, my grandmother gave birth to her
first child, and named her Ani, but she died young. The next child,
born in 1916, inherited her name. “I asked my father, ‘How did I
get my name?’ ” my aunt said on the tape. “And he told me it was
given by Ã…~^eref bey, who said, ‘You know, your people are fighting
at the front, and it’s possible that you might get the Kars-Ardahan
provinces back, and also the ancient city of Ani, so you should call
your daughter Ani.’ And so when Ani died the name was left for me.”

SEPTEMBER 21, 2009″I’m done–I only jog far enough to burn off the
cheesecake I had for breakfast.”BUY THE PRINT ”

This is not cold convenience. Perhaps it is impossible to fully grasp
the mixture of friendship and animosity, suspicion and mistrust between
my grandfather and the mufti’s son–the complexities of a relationship
that transcended not only communal and religious differences but
also the rift of genocide. In 1915, Ã…~^eref had a secret knock for
my grandfather’s door, and on at least one occasion warned him that
the house was under suspicion as a sanctuary. My grandfather sent
away the people who were hiding there, some of the men disguised
in women’s veils. Searchers came with dogs, but found nothing. Why
Ã…~^eref decided to help, risking his own life, is hard to know. Just
before leaving Diyarbakir, my grandfather asked him. Ã…~^eref said,
“The Russians were advancing. They had reached as far as Erzerum. Had
they made it to Diyarbakir, then I would have been like you. In that
case, you would have protected me.”

As it turned out, Ã…~^eref’s fears were misplaced. In Diyarbakir,
many people involved in the genocide remained prominent in local life.

Ã…~^eref became mayor. Another member of his clan, who had been key
to the genocidal program, entered parliament. And the vali? He was
unrepentant. The C.U.P. party secretary recalled saying to him later,
“You are a doctor. And, being a doctor, you are charged with saving
lives, so how is it that you let so many innocent people go to
their death?” ReÃ…~_id described a condition of existential threat:
“I saw that my country was going to be lost. So, eyes closed, I
pushed on ahead without fear, convinced it was for the good of my
nation.” A bit later, he added, “You asked me how, being a doctor,
I could have taken a life. Well, here is my answer: Those Armenian
bandits were a bunch of harmful microbes pestering the body of this
nation. A doctor’s duty is to kill microbes, isn’t it?”

ReÃ…~_id was ready to be judged, he boasted: “If, because of my actions,
my own country’s history holds me responsible, then so be it.” At
the war’s end, in 1918, he was arrested, and prosecuted by an Ottoman
tribunal, which operated briefly under foreign pressure. But he fled
detention, and while the authorities tried to hunt him down he wrote a
rambling letter to his wife. “The Armenian hounds have joined them,”
he said. Friends advised him to turn himself in, but he chastised
them. “I feel the result will be dark. I am thinking of committing
suicide.” He armed himself with a revolver, and in February, 1919, he
killed himself. His family was granted a state stipend–for “services
to the fatherland”–and, in time, Turkish society came to honor him:
a street in central Ankara still bears his name.

After the war, my grandfather strove to navigate a city that
remained in turmoil. In 1925, a Kurdish rebellion was crushed, its
leaders executed by hanging in the city center. Four years later,
my grandfather said, of his eldest daughters, “These girls have to
leave.” He smuggled them and one of his sons to Aleppo. He, too,
was desperate to go. At one point, he sold his house and all his
belongings, and moved the family into a small apartment, waiting for
permits that would allow them to leave. But the permits never came.

There were other attempts, also unsuccessful. My aunt told me that
a friend of his, a Turkish official, looked up his records and told
him that he would never get permission: “You are supposed to stay
here and work.” The city’s entrepreneurial class had been wiped out.

My grandfather went into business with one of the “notables,” a
prominent member of the clan that had helped protect him. He also
opened a sesame-oil factory, and he did well. In his quiet way,
he continued to help people; my Aunt Ani said he was an “anonymous
philanthropist,” adding, “Everyone called him dayi”–uncle. But,
outside his family, I sense, he kept himself at some remove. In his
home, he permitted only Armenian to be spoken, and yet he forbade
himself and his family to speak it on the streets. Though he liked
to wear expensive clothes, he always had his children trample on them
before he went out. Conspicuousness was still a risk. When he learned
that another of his sons was secretly planning to go, he helped him.

One of his daughters visited from Aleppo; he brought her a Ramadan
sweet wrapped in paper and told her that if she could guess what it
was he would give her anything. When she guessed correctly, she asked
to take one of her brothers with her, and he obliged.

Even as his family emigrated in waves, my grandfather prospered,
moving closer to the Great Mosque (and farther from the Infidel
District). By the time my father was born, in 1936, he had built
a grand house, with a stable facing the avenue, a courtyard, and a
flat roof in the Diyarbakir style. In those years, during the intense
Anatolian summer heat, just about the entire city would retreat to
the rooftops at night, to wooden daybeds open to the night sky. My
grandfather’s house had them, too. But my family’s stories of life in
that house give the sense that a century of modernity moved there at
an accelerated pace. My father recalls going from meals on a carpet,
in the Near Eastern style, to Western dining, with table, chairs,
and china; my grandmother returning from Aleppo with nylons. There
was a new camera, and a small darkroom to go with it.

MAY 1, 2006″Do you want a clean one?”BUY THE PRINT ”

In an old suitcase crammed with pictures, I found a photo taken
in that house; on the back, my mother had written, “circa 1950.” My
grandfather, near seventy, is at the center: hair short, neatly combed,
pure white; tie in a crisp knot. He is surrounded by thirty people,
pressed tightly together. Looking at that picture, it is possible to
see that the house was intended to accommodate generations, and yet,
only a year or two later, my grandfather would abandon it: a train
for Syria, forged papers, a ship for Beirut.

In exile, he succumbed to a medley of ailments: prostate surgery,
a leg lost to gangrene, gathering isolation. He lived to see one son
die in a car accident and another shot while standing on the balcony–a
stray bullet from one of Beirut’s warring factions proving fatal. My
grandfather spent his final years bedridden in his Beirut apartment.

The family’s money was nearly gone; his last words to my father,
who left for America in 1958, were a request for a wooden leg. Death
arrived before the request could be fulfilled. He was buried in an
unmarked grave.

My father had told me his childhood address, 2 Cicek Street, and before
leaving Diyarbakir I went to search for it. In a narrow cobblestoned
alley, I found the number sloppily painted on an apartment building
made of brick, crumbling mortar, and rebar. The street was about the
width of a man standing with arms stretched apart, and the buildings
were covered in graffiti honoring the P.K.K.

Kurdish children played unattended. Since 1990, countless villages
had been razed, and the villagers who came to Diyarbakir had put
up buildings rapidly to exploit legal loopholes. The buildings were
called gecekondu, DemirbaÃ…~_ told me, meaning “built in the night.” The
structure at 2 Cicek Street looked to me like a variant ofgecekondu,
and I imagined that in ten years it, too, would be torn down and
replaced. The only discernible remnant of our family house was a
heavy stone that once served as a threshold.


State-sponsored denial is not a void, a simple absence of truth;
it is a wounding instrument. And, after a hundred years of it, it is
hard to feel Armenian in a meaningful way without defining oneself in
opposition to it. But the centenary of the genocide, in 2015, may be
more than just an occasion for reflection. Some anniversaries offer
the promise of release, and the historical distance, combined with
the changes unfolding in liberal Turkish society, may be significant.

“This government has an unusual aspect to it,” DemirbaÃ…~_ told me,
sitting in Sourp Giragos’s courtyard. “It punishes us, but it also
implements our projects. I was dismissed as mayor for providing
multilingual municipal services, but then the state started
multilingual TV programming.” As we spoke, a reporter rushed over
to ask if anyone had heard about Erdogan’s “apology” for 1915. As
it turned out, Erdogan did not apologize. He offered a perplexing
statement–sympathetic in tone but in its substance still consistent
with the official denial. He said, “It is a duty of humanity to
acknowledge that Armenians remember the suffering of that period,
just like every other citizen of the Ottoman empire.” A week later,
he argued in an interview that the genocide never happened, echoing
a sentiment that he expressed before the reconstruction of the
cathedral: “If there is a crime, then those who committed it can
offer an apology. My nation, my country, has no such issue.”

On April 24th, the Day of Remembrance, I went to Sourp Giragos
early in the morning to see who would turn up. The church door was
padlocked, but a few people arrived and sat down for tea. There was
a man from Istanbul who spoke about his grandfather, who had owned
three-quarters of a village nearby. The man asked if the church
had kept land registers; it had, but most of them had long since
disappeared. Five or six years ago, he said, he had told a lawyer
friend that he wanted to sue the state to reclaim his family’s
land, but the lawyer advised against it: two families who sued had
disappeared. “Things are changing,” someone said. “Yes,” the man said.

“But if you have a hundred years’ worth of fear in you, it’s hard to
change from one day to the next.”

MAY 28, 2001″Now let’s see if we can’t scatter the trash all over
his desktop.”BUY THE PRINT ”

While he was talking, another man arrived and sat down, a man in
his forties or fifties, with dark hair, a thick mustache, a sad and
uncertain bearing. Later, someone told me that his name was Abbas
Ercan. In a deep voice, he poured out a flood of loosely consecutive
memories. His grandfather had survived the massacres, he began to say,
but just as he began to speak he had to stop, and, after a small gasp,
he wept. A woman at the table comforted him: Yes, yes, she said,
we have all cried over things like this. Ercan resumed his story,
about how his grandfather and great-aunt had been orphaned, how they
were taken in by neighbors, how they earned money cleaning wool,
working a loom, dyeing cloth. But, as he continued, it became clear
that the source of all that emotion was not so much the difficulty
of surviving 1915 but the difficulty of surviving the denial. Decades
later, he said, during the Second World War, his grandfather–a Muslim
convert named Ahmet–was bathing alone in a river when some people
stumbled upon him and asked, “What are you doing?” Ahmet explained
that he was performing Muslim ablutions, but the visitors took one
look at him and said, “No, no, we know who you are”–by which they
meant that they knew he was Armenian. Ahmet was overcome with terror,
thinking, Oh, God, they’re going to eliminate me right now.

Ercan began to choke up again, but he continued, explaining that
the people who had found Ahmet understood his fear. They told him,
“We are like you,” meaning they were also Armenian, and they all
promised to stay in touch, but they never did.

Ercan emphasized that he held no grudge against anyone, that he
simply had come that morning to do something he could not do for
most of his life: to speak about who he was and about his family’s
experience. I could see that for this man April 24th was not so much
about commemorating the past as it was about finding some release
from the present. He was likely Muslim, but for him Sourp Giragos
was an enclave beyond the denial. “Every morning, my grandfather,
without exception, would go and pray at the mosque, even if he was
the only person there,” Ercan said. “What he was probably doing was
saying to himself, ‘If something like this ever happens again, I want
the community to say, “No, no, no, Ahmet was a good Muslim–even if he
is a convert, he is a good Muslim, anyway.” ‘ So they wouldn’t hurt
him. I am not exactly sure how much he believed.” Someone said that
this was a common trait among converts, that they become zealous to
demonstrate their faith. “They figure something would happen to them
if they talked,” Ercan added. “But we don’t hold a grudge,” he said
again. “We only want one thing: when we meet someone who has been
through all this, we want to console one another.”

That evening, Ara Sarafian wanted to visit the ruins of another,
far older church, called Sourp Sarkis. It was a short walk, but we
got lost, taking one turn, then another, through narrow alleys where
old women sat on doorsteps.

“Do you know where the old church is?”

“The mosque?”

“No, the church. It’s a ruin.”

Eventually, we found the church compound. The gate was locked, so I
followed Sarafian through a hole in the outer wall. Inside, a family
had improvised a simple house beside the ruin. Across the entrance,
they had strung up a nylon rope for laundry. The scene reminded me of
what Sourp Giragos had looked like years ago. The roof had collapsed,
but a network of stone arches supported by pillars remained. Because
the church had been used to store rice, a third of it had been walled
off in cinder block. Dirt and grass filled the basilica, pretty much
wall to wall. The floor appeared to undulate like sea swells, with the
fallen basalt rocks floating among them. As we fanned out, a freckled
Kurdish woman emerged from the house with her children. Sarafian
spoke with her. She was in her twenties. Her husband was in prison.

Like Sourp Giragos, this church had endured cycles of collapse and
rebirth: in 1915, a treasured relic–a fragment of a nail, supposedly
among those hammered into Jesus’ Cross–went missing. “This is the
reality of the Armenian genocide,” Sarafian said. “Sourp Giragos
represents a future wish.” He studied the fallen architecture, and
then left, making his way back through the hole in the wall. I decided
to linger. Four generations ago–decades before my grandfather was
born–a member of my grandmother’s family, Sarkis Kazanjian, had been
at that church, helping to renovate it. He is the earliest identifiable
person in our family tree; beyond him, our ties to Diyarbakir vanish
into black earth.

As I walked across the ruins, it occurred to me that, though Kazanjian
had not lived to see 1915, he had been touched by it, too. This is
one of the strange features of genocide denial and of Turkification:
erasure, by design, works both forward and backward in time. My
grandfather had preserved the future for his family. But his past,
our past, whatever contributions we had made to Ottoman society, had
been effectively eradicated. I had been travelling with family photos,
showing them to people, and the photo of Kazanjian always evoked the
strongest reaction. The picture is of a broad-shouldered man with
intense eyes, wearing a fez, vest, coat, and embroidered caftan.

Kazanjian was a merchant, apparently also with a role in officialdom.

A Kurdish intellectual, a good friend of Hrant Dink, wept when she
saw it, and when I asked her why, she didn’t answer. I could speculate.

There was no way to look at such a man and believe that he belonged
to any other part of the world, and yet it was also obvious that in
Turkey, whatever progress had been made in the past century, this man,
and many others like him, could not be offered acceptance without
painful complications.

NOVEMBER 5, 2001″Look, I’m sorry your wife doesn’t understand you,
but this is a dry cleaner’s.”BUY THE PRINT ”

As a boy working to restore the church, Kazanjian had caught his hand
between two stones and lost a finger. If you knew the right piece
of basalt, you could reach out and touch it, but there was no way
to know. My aunt said the finger had been buried beneath one of the
altars: he had lost it in an act of piety, and it was given a pious
resting place. The story had its uncertainties, but memory–kept
alive now by only a few–was all that was left.

I went farther into the church, making a list of the things that the
people of Diyarbakir had left there. Dried scraps of bread. Automotive
carpeting. An old shoe. A fragment of a transistor radio. Corrugated
plastic, some of it burned. Where the main altar had been, there was a
fire pit; among the ashes, a wrapper for a candy called Coco Fino and
empty cans of Efes beer. A rusted wire. Coils of shit. In the inset of
a wall, someone had arranged several stones in a neat line. Hundreds
of daisies reached upward. And as the sun descended behind the high
city walls the smell of grilled meat drifted over from nearby homes,
and the sound of children playing began to fill the streets. A ball
was kicked and it hit the side of a building and bounced. Some boys
clambered over the wall that surrounded the church. Women left their
kitchens, and climbed to their roofs to collect carpets that had been
put out to air. TVs wired to satellite dishes came on, filling spare
rooms with their ethereal glow. All of Diyarbakir, it seemed, except
the church, drifted forward in time. Overhead, a flock of common swifts
darted and circled among the old stone arches. Their black wings arced
like boomerangs as they swooped through the ruins–above the piles
of earth, the weeds and the wildflowers, all the trash–and their
movements were ceaseless, careless, as if unweighted by anything. â~Y¦

Raffi Khatchadourian became a staff writer at The New Yorker in 2008.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress


Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS