For the past seventeen posts of this blog, I have published some aspects of the historical research for my historical fiction Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it.
What follows is an excerpt of the scene I have pulled from the middle of the book to serve as its prologue. In this portion of the central plot, one of the two young protagonists lets her friend in on the kind of disaster she and her family will face shortly.
Nazli is a fourteen year old Muslim, Turkish girl. She is the only daughter of a government-appointed mayor in a small town on the Anatolian Plain in Ottoman Turkey. When Nazli attends the town’s school for girls, the only classmate who willingly offers friendship is a girl called Annie.
Also fourteen years old, Annahit (Annie) Gregorian is a Christian Armenian, the oldest of daughter of six children whose family’s farm is a kilometer from town. When Annie attends the school for girls, she makes friends with Nazli because Annie empathizes with the recent arrival from Constantinople whose life experience is different from all the other small town girls in their class.
Add to the mix Nazli’s overpowering inclination to snoop. She always has to know what’s going on. When she discovers odd mounds of things in her father’s storage room next to his office, she and her Aunt Hatije decide Nazli must bring Annie to the mayor’s storage room to see for herself what the mayor is up to.
The following excerpt is told from Annie’s point of view. Once Nazli has let Annie into the storage room, Annie approaches one pile of odd things, squats, and picks up two items.
The small town of Kemahcelli, central Turkey, April, 1915
Trembling, I remembered my family’s night of stark terror. I stood up and faced my best friend. “Nazli, two nights ago, Turkish soldiers pounded on our door. One held my mother, brothers, and me against the wall. Others ransacked our home and outbuildings. Dumped out storage jars. Slashed apart cushions.” I held up the sheep shears and rifle. “Took these things from our stable and hen-house!”
Nazli fixed her eyes on the rifle in my hand. “Whose is that?”
I swallowed hard. The room felt suddenly as hot as our tonir, the lavash-baking pit on the farm. As much as I love her, Nazli’s quite a gossip. Can I trust her to keep this information to herself? “Taniel’s. He uses it to keep foxes out of our hen-house and vineyards. But … please don’t tell anyone.”
Hands flew to Nazli’s hips. Her lips set like stone. “I thought so. One rifle on an Armenian farm would only be for the protection of that farm. … But when the soldiers’ raid turned up no cache of real weapons, my baba was livid.”
My mouth dropped open. “Why?” My body stiffened. “Why did your father think we had any?”
“Guns in your houses would prove Talaat Bey right. He says you Armenians are plotting a rebellion.”
“A rebellion?” I felt the blood drain from my face. My knees and hands shook. Taniel’s rifle almost slipped from my grip. “Who’s Talaat?”
“Baba’s boss. In Constantinople. Baba talks about him all the time.” Nazli rolled her eyes and sighed. “Ever since Turkey took Germany’s side of the war in Europe, baba’s talked on no one else. He agrees with the man. Talaat Bey says Turkey is only for Turks.”
I swayed. Get a grip on yourself, Annie.
“Whose rifles are those?” I asked, pointing at the second mound.
“The Turkish soldiers’.”
I gasped. The room smelled of more that ground-in dirt on damp stone. My eyes lit on the box camera that stood on a tripod in the corner of the room. An odor like burnt matches wafted from the photographer’s hand-held, flash-powder pan that rested on the floor beside the tripod. The photographer’s equipment in such sinister surroundings gave me a premonition of evil intent. “What’s the camera for?”
“Baba photographed the soldiers’ rifles. Sent the photo to Talaat Bey. Told him the rifles in the photo came from your homes!”
“But that’s a bold-faced lie!” I felt as if a donkey had just kicked me in the chest.
“I know.” With tears in her eyes, Nazli gripped my shoulders. “Baba and the lieutenant are scheming with Talaat Bey to make trouble for your people, Annie. Aunt Hatije and I wanted to warn you.” …