Wife Training

The high point of the year for North Americans has passed with the celebration of Christmas on December 25th, 2016. The same is also true for Armenians with the Feast of the Theophany on January 6th, 2017. Along with special events at churches commemorating Jesus’ birth as described in God’s Word, the Bible, families gather in their homes to share time together and enjoy special foods.

In my own family, those seasonal treats include steamed pudding with brown sauce and fruitcake, standards for a family that immigrated to North America several generations ago from England and Scotland. As the only daughter in my immediate family, the baking fell to me. In recent years, my father and my brothers have consistently handed me their emptied loaf pan post-Christmas as a very broad hint that they would like a refill. I usually laugh, put the pans away, dig them out the following December, and stuff my electric mixer with the ingredients necessary for ten pounds of fruitcake. Of course, that much cake fills more than my father’s and brothers’ loaf pans. The extra cakes I give to friends and neighbors as Christmas gifts.

This year as I made my cakes, I thought about how I learned to make them. Most women in North America learn to cook from their mothers and grandmothers. I didn’t. My own mother became too ill during my early teens to teach me anything. My family lived too far away from my grandmothers for me to learn anything at their elbows. All of a sudden at the age of fourteen, I became my family’s ‘chief cook and bottle washer,’ as the saying goes. And I didn’t even know how to ‘boil water.’ Oh, boy. My brothers, poor souls, put up with a lot of burnt food before I mastered any amount of culinary skills. So, then, how did I learn? By reading and following written recipes. My mother had gobs of clippings in a drawer in the kitchen and a couple of cookbooks. My maternal grandmother also sent me recipes. In fact, the one I use to make fruitcake at Christmas is the same one grandma sent me decades ago.

Knowing the list of ingredients and specific quantities is one thing. Developing the best methodology is quite another. The latter I learned by trial and much error.

Armenian girls of the Ottoman Empire weren’t given such short shift in the area of training to be homemakers and the family’s cook. An Armenian girl received training from her mother on how to clean a house and take care of a husband. Some of that training came from direct instruction and some from demonstration and example.

In fact, when the girl reached marriageable age (usually twelve) and the men in her family had selected a groom for her, a woman from the prospective groom’s family came over to the girl’s home to inspect her housekeeping skills. A white glove test, if there ever was one.

The young lady, however, was not expected to know how to cook. That she was to learn from her mother-in-law after the girl had married the boy. The young couple usually lived with the groom’s parents the first year or two. That way the bride could learn from the groom’s mother just how he liked his food to be prepared (1977. The Bride’s Escape).

Hmm. Yes, that would provide plenty of guidance to a neophyte cook. And it probably resulted in a happier young husband. This method of wife training should have worked well enough, if mother-in-law and daughter-in-law got along well. At least, it would have been easier on the Armenian girl than the way it was with teenage me.

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Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #16)

In my previous entry “Chaotic Consequences: Now and Then,” posted on July 2, 2016, I referenced the aftermath of recent disastrous battlefronts–floods of desperate Syrian refugees trying to find safety.

I likened that scene to one that occurred in December and January in 1915. When the Russians decimated the Turkish army in the Caucasus Mountains, the Turks weren’t the only ones who suffered. Their commandeered Armenian porters did, too. There was no organized retreat for the fifteen percent of those who survived the battle. It was every man for himself. Escaping the battlefront and heading in the right direction toward home was only part of the challenge. The trek home had to be done in the dead of winter, across hundreds of miles, without adequate clothing or food, on foot, and often alone.

Annie and the rest of the Gregorian family have no knowledge of the battle pitched hundreds of miles away from their farm and town in central Ottoman Turkey. All Annie knows is that she hasn’t heard from her oldest brother, Mesrop, in months. He doesn’t even return home in time for one of the most important times of the year, early January’s Feast of the Theophany. Annie wonders. Mesrop is a student at an Armenian college. Surely the war with Russia has nothing to do with him. What has happened to him? Why haven’t we heard from him? Where is he?

Two weeks after the Feast of Theophany, Annie and her father go into town with a cart of farm products and set up a booth to sell them in the bazaar.

While I was measuring out a couple of kilograms of flour into a customer’s sack, a skeleton of a man staggered up to me. Looking up from the scale I held in my hand, I stared at the man’s matted hair scantily covered by a rabbit skin tied over his head. I ran my eyes down the rags he wore. Their faded hues reminded me of clothes I had helped make for… The man’s blue lips moved. A cracked voice whispered, “Annie!” The ragged frame collapsed at my feet.

Dropping my scale, I knelt next to the heap on the snow. Putting my hand under the man’s head, I gently turned it so I could see his face.

“Mesrop!” My scream brought Hyrig and other vendors running.

“A cloak! Someone get a cloak. Some hot tea. Quick. Where’s the doctor?” Voices around me called to each other.

I sat in the snow and dirt, cradling my brother’s head, weeping, calling his name.

Someone thrust a warm cup in my hand. “See if he can sip this,” a woman’s voice said. “My husband’s gone for the doctor.”

Lifting Mesrop’s head, I tipped the cup to wet his lips with a drop of the broth.His eyelids fluttered. His tongue licked the drop. Sip upon sip brought slight color to his face.

A rattle of cart wheels and clop of donkey hooves drew my gaze up. Hyrig stooped to gather his boy in his arms. Gently, he laid Mesrop in our donkey cart. A hand offered a cloak. It was from the coppersmith that Mayrig had defended months ago.

“Thank you,” Hyrig said as he tucked the warm garment around Mesrop. “Annie, pack up our stuff. We need to get him home.”

Sensing the urgency of the voices around him, the Gregorians’ donkey hustles back to their farm. Shortly after Hyrig carries Mesrop into the house, the doctor arrives.

Mesrop revived enough to answer the doctor’s questions. “Mesrop, you’ve made it home. We’re all relieved to see you. Where have you been?”

“The Russian front. With Turkey’s 3rd Army Corps. The army conscripted all of us male students from my college. We were porters.”

“What happened at the front?”

“Blizzard. Lieutenant Mahmoud killed. Ran out of food. Many dead. Frozen. Sick. Shot. Tried to help. Long walk back. Alone.”

“Are you sick?”

“Don’t think so. Just hungry. Very tired. Sooooo cold.”

Turning to my parents, the doctor said, “Your son needs warmth, food, and rest. Best start with cleaning him up. Do you have a wash tub and warm water?”

Mayrig took the hint. “Hyrig, let’s get him out of these filthy rags.”

“You should burn them outside,” the doctor instructed. “Shave his head. Burn the hair, too. May be infested with critters.”

Mesrop makes it home. Most of the Turkish soldiers and Armenian porters don’t. Nor is this scenario of missing persons the last to be set in motion by the government in Constantinople in 1915. A mere two months later, Annie’s hyrig goes missing. (See excerpt #13, posted April 23, 2015.)

Chaotic Consequences: Now & Then

Islamic State militias rampage through parts of Syria and Iraq in recent months, staking claims to this section of land or that town. The militias say they act in God’s name.

Chaos ensues. The refugees run or paddle to places where families can live without the constant threat of rape, starvation, or death. Hordes of Syrians and others caught in the conflict have attempted to flee through Turkey or across the Mediterranean Sea. Many have drowned in their attempt to escape. Meanwhile, smugglers squeeze profit off the desperate and destitute.

But remember all this suffering was caused in God’s name. Really? Does God have anything to do with the actions of the Islamic State? Maybe the chaos is the consequence of efforts to line the pockets of the proponents of a particular segment of the followers of Islam.

We, in North America, recognize this motivation. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with mankind’s prominent sin, greed.

Chaos as a consequence of misaligned motivations is nothing new. In the late fall of 1914, Enver Pasha, the Minister of War of the Ottoman Empire, chose to pick a fight with Russia in the Caucasus Mountains. Since the proposed line of battle was hundreds of miles from a rail line, adequate roads, or completed bridges, Enver conscripted thousands of Armenians from all over the Empire to function as porters, transporting supplies for his army (See my February 22, 2013 posting, Dreams of an Empire Lost in Snow: Armenians the Scape Goats.). Enver re-conscripted Armenian men who had previously served in the army. Enver stripped Armenian colleges and universities of their young men, effectively closing them.

Lugging huge loads, the Armenian ‘donkeys’ were treated worse than the Turkish officers’ mounts. Some never reached the ultimate destination, dying en route. Bivouacked in the open, without winter clothing or adequate food supplies, many of the Armenian porters froze, starved, or died from typhus.

In early December of 1914, snow buried the Caucasus Mountains. Yet Enver chose to engage the Russian army. He claimed that a victory would return the Ottoman Empire to its former glory. Hmm. Greed again? Misaligned nationalism? In any case the result was that Enver lost the battle and 85% of his army. Consequence? Chaos. It was every man, soldier, or porter, for himself. No organized retreat. One by one those who survived trickled home. For some, it took a month to get there.

Yet Enver survived–and who did he blame for the lost battle and ensuing chaos? Himself? Oh, no. His Armenian porters, insisting he and Talaat, the Minister of the Interior, had adequate excuse for the 1915 genocide of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire that he and Talaat had been planning for over a year.

 

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #15)

With exasperation in her voice, my niece blurted, “I wish they would stop trying to convert me. I am not interested!”

I grimaced and thought, If your Somali tutees care at all about you, this is exactly what they will try to do. But I didn’t say it.

My niece and I live in a country in North America that has been built and expanded by welcoming immigrants from all over the world. Both my parents and myself are immigrants from one North American country to another. And we are descendants of people who came from European countries that had governmental and societal belief systems based on Christianity. One of those deeply engrained beliefs is that each person has both the responsibility and right to choose one’s religion or lack there of. We hold dear freedom of choice.

People who choose to be Christians, however, are at risk if they live in a country or an area of a country that has Muslim rulers. (See my previous posting –Fatal Rationale). The situation for Christians today in Syria and Iraq is little different from the reality for Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915. Annie and Nazli, the two protagonists of my historical fiction, are caught in the middle of the jihad whipped up by the imam’s edict referenced in my previous posting. As the daughter of their town’s government-appointed mayor, Nazli is well aware of the danger growing against the Armenians in Kemahcelli.

When Annie objects to Nazli’s calling her a gavur, Nazli replies.

“It’s just that everybody in my family and all Turks in this town call every Armenian and Greek that awful name. They say anybody who isn’t a Muslim is a gavur, an infidel.” Nazli turned and looked me square in my face. “In fact, there are many times I’ve wished you and your family would become Muslims, claim Mohammed your prophet, and go to the mesjid with me.”

After Annie promises to talk to her father about converting, Nazli says, “Good. Since I am the mudur’s daughter, I hear things. The current gossip has me worried. You and your family would be safer if you all converted to the Muslim faith.”

Annie thinks about what her friend says.

Nazli’s words sent chills up and down my body, from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. Does she say that because she cares about me and my family? Or is her declaration a threat?

At home that evening, I asked my hyrig why Armenians and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire were almost always Christians even though we lived under a Muslim government.

Annie receives a lesson in history when her father explains that her people were Christians centuries before the Turks ever invaded and took over Armenia. After listening to her father’s reasoning and after thinking about what she already knows about her Christian faith from her reading of God’s Word, the Bible, Annie plans to stick with her faith, not really knowing what her decision will cost her and her family during 1915.

Fatal Rationale

Masses of people are fleeing the onslaught of the Islamic State. The news in Europe and North America reverberate with the plight of these hordes. People (who believe they are better Muslims than any other group) harass, attack, and murder (often in grizzly ways) people the Islamic State leaders view as unworthy.

In essence, the Islamic State is simply repeating the actions of the Ottoman Empire of a century ago.

As I continue to turn over numerous pebbles on the beach of history, I run across historical records that astound me with their similarity with current events. Mankind seems to learn little as the decades and centuries pass.

In a book I discovered last summer, I ran across the English translation of the “1915 Ottoman Fatwa” or Muslim cleric’s edict issued in early 1915. This Fatwa used the word “war” thirty-five times and  some version of “massacre/kill/slay/exterminate” twelve times. Followers of Islam were told to kill ‘unbelievers’ (anyone not Muslim).

What interested me most was the reason for doing so. “The slaying of one unbeliever [non-Muslim]…in public or private shall be called an additional life for Islamism, and will be well recompensed by God. Let every Mussulman know that his reward for so doing shall be doubled by our God who created heaven and earth. It will be accounted him as a great precept, and his recompense will be greater than fasting on ‘Ramadan’.” (p. 221, The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic holy war and the fate of non-Muslims.)

Hmm. The cleric appears to be promising one sinner (a Muslim), God’s forgiveness for sin if that sinner kills another sinner (a non-Muslim). How is that even logical? God is righteous and His heaven has no room for sin. This cleric’s promise sounds more like a rationale for war and plunder.

More to the point, the 1915 Ottoman Fatwa urged the Turks to conduct an all-out war against their Christian population, the Armenians. Armed Turks and Kurds descended on their unarmed neighbors the spring and summer of 1915, killing 1.5 million of them.

Since Muslim clerics have and still do demand the extermination of non-Muslims, how in the world can Muslims call their religion peaceful?

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #14)

The serious illness of a beloved family member will rearrange both priorities and the schedule of any caregiver. That was true for my entire summer. The only writings I did were lengthy emails as I struggled to drive between hospital and home or between rehabilitation center and home to help with the care of my husband and still maintain our home–without wearing myself out. My husband is a senior citizen and so am I. He wouldn’t have benefitted if I had gotten sick, too.

So plans and purposes had to be set aside–for a time.

The same would have been true for Anahid Gregorian in Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it when her elder brother, Mesrop, collapses at her feet in front of her family’s booth during a January bazaar day in Kemahcelli. Annie and her family hasn’t heard from Mesrop for months. Yet here he is, more dead than alive.

After the town’s doctor comes to their farm to assess her brother’s condition, warns the family about lice and the typhus those critters often carry, and gives directions for Mesrop’s care, Annie willingly responds to her mayrig’s plea.

“Annie,” Mayrig called me from the kitchen where she was washing her hands. When I stood next to her, she whispered, “I need you to take over Mesrop’s care. Winter’s hard enough on the baby. We can’t risk Mary getting sick, too.”

“Don’t worry, Mayrig,” I said with a smile. “First I was a school girl, then a carpet knotter, later a kilim weaver…now a nurse.”

She smiled back. “Good girl.”

After supper, I climbed the ladder to my bedroom. Kneeling for a moment on its kilim, I prayed, “Thank you, Lord God, for answering our prayers for Mesrop’s return. Please heal him; strengthen his body. In the name of the Christ Child. Amen.”

Throwing my rolled bedding over my shoulder, I returned to the main room. Before I crawled under my blanket next to Mesrop, I touched the inside of my wrist to his forehead. As a child growing up, I’d watched Mayrig do this so many times. For the first time, I understood why. Like her, I was checking for a fever. Warm. Not hot That’s good.

That night, the thrashing of my brother in his sleep interrupted my slumbers. I reached over to nudge his shoulder. “Mesrop, what’s the matter?”

“Huh! What? Who’s there?” He sat bolt upright, arms raised in front of his face, looking ready to defend himself.

“It’s me, Annie.”

“Annie? What are you doing here? This is no place for girls!”

“Mesrop, relax. You’re home.”

When he lay down again, I said, “You must have been having a nightmare.” I reached over to cover him carefully.

“Thanks, Annie.”

“You’re welcome, Mesrop.” I prayed silently, Father God, please heal my brother’s mind, his memory, too. He’s probably seen some awful things.

At dawn, I went to the hen-house for a few eggs.

Annie’s departure for America to join her husband – to – be has already been postponed. When Mayrig delivered Gregorian child number six, Mary, Annie was needed to help with the baby, the farm work, and the weaving.

Once again, Annie’s departure is pushed back for months while she is the main caregiver for her brother, Mesrop. Priorities and plans must yield to the urgent.

Nor will this be the last demand. It is January. The year of 1915 has hardly begun.

 

Integrity: Character Requirement for Leadership

“The ability to own mistakes is a key component of integrity” (from “The Least and the Greatest,” December,2014/January,2015, Thriving Family). One basic model for leadership, that has been rightly established, can be found at times in a family. When parents “keep up a front of perfection” because they think “admitting mistakes would diminish them” in the eyes of their family, those parents miss the opportunity to lead. “In reality, when we say to our kids, ‘I was wrong, please forgive me,’ their respect for us increases” (Dec.,2014/Jan.2015, Thriving Family).

Integrity is as necessary for leadership in a nation or for the leadership of a nation among nations. The governments of the countries of North America are aware of the need for integrity.

Among the national parks in the United States, for example, there are “places of historical significance like Sand Creek in Colorado, where U.S. troops massacred a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho” (“The National Park System,” May 31, 2015, Parade). (Cheyenne and Arapaho are two of the many First Nations that were in North America before Europeans came.)

The article about the national parks continues. “We [citizens of the U.S.] have been unafraid of not only sharing with the world the glories of our natural wonders and our inspiring past, but also culpability for some things which have not gone particularly well.” Burns says, “That’s how a great nation goes forward” (05/31/2015, Parade). Integrity requires a willingness to admit mistakes.

The opposite attitude, however, has been Turkey’s choice. Although Turkey had desired for centuries to be a leader among nations, that much-coveted position has eluded her because she lacks the necessary character quality for leadership–integrity.

A recent article in a local newspaper registered Turkey’s current prime minister’s objection to “descriptions of the Ottoman-era killings of Armenians as genocide” (04/16/2015, Associated Press).

The article further states that Turkey continues to insist that the Armenians killed “were victims of civil war and unrest, not genocide” (04/16/2015, Associated Press).

As I read the newspaper article, memories of photos I had seen flashed through my mind. It took me a while to revisit the sources of the research I did in 2010. When I viewed the photos again, those photos taken in 1915 and 1916 plainly told a very different story. They showed Armenian men being marched out-of-town under armed guard. Who had the guns? The Turks. What were the Armenians carrying? Shovels (2003, The Burning Tigris). What were the shovels for? Those men were never seen again. The photos showed Armenian men being hung from tripods in a public square of an Ottoman Empire town (2003, The Burning Tigris). Again, may I ask–who had the guns? Who had the power? The photos also showed numerous skeletal corpses of naked Armenian women and children and orphaned children dressed in rags and obviously starving to death (2003, The Burning Tigris). Who took these photos? A German on business in a central Ottoman Empire town, a second-lieutenant in the German Army stationed in the Ottoman Empire, and a number of Near East Relief workers. The photos testify that the Turks are denying the truth.

Modern day Turks continue to grip with all their might “… a brittle identity unable to risk questioning the story it clung to” (2014, There Was and there Was Not). When a people refuses to own up to a wrong they have done, their lack of integrity paints them with shame and sham. Without integrity, Turkey’s dream of being a leader among nations will remain in the dust.