Black April in Ottoman Empire

Among photos in a recent newspaper were two side-by-side snapshots that exhibited the demise of a tenth-century-old minaret of a mosque in Aleppo, Syria. In the first photo, the tower rises from a corner of the mosque above its central courtyard. In the second photo, no tower exists. Only a pile of rubble indicates where the minaret once had been. The collapse, the caption said, was due to the current conflict in Syria between the government and groups of its citizens.

While historians, archeologists, and followers of Islam might bemoan the destruction of such an ancient symbol, what I find interesting are both the location and the date of the tower’s crumbling. It was in Aleppo, near the final destination of the Armenians who somehow survived the 1915 deportation marches enforced by Talaat, Minister of the Interior of the Ottoman Empire. The tower’s demise occurred ninety-eight years after Black April in Constantinople.

Not that the Talaat-plotted event in April was the beginning of the Ottoman government’s campaign against their Armenian population. It wasn’t. As I wrote in the previous post The March Madness of 1915, Armenian conscripts for labor battalions on road construction crews were escorted out of towns and slaughtered en mass. But these killings had been done surreptitiously. Most Armenians only knew that their husbands and fathers had disappeared. The families had no idea what had happened to them.

The public arrests in Constantinople in April of 1915 changed all that. Talaat had the Armenian leadership rounded up, jailed, transported to the interior of the Ottoman Empire, and, for the most part, executed (Armenia and the Armenians, 1915; Shameful Act:… 2006). These arrests included the Catholicos of the Armenian Church, writers, and other intelligentsia of the Armenians (“Tell of Horrors” in The Armenian Genocide, 1980, reprint of a 1915 article). This summarial dispense of the Armenian leadership in April of 1915 is the event that Armenians worldwide commemorate as the beginning of the genocide of Armenians by the government of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.

Talaat didn’t stop with the Armenian leadership in Constantinople. He repeated this action all across Turkey by ordering governors and mayors of towns to arrest the local Armenian leadership. Militias formed from convicts, called Chetes, were put in charge of torturing the prisoners. The Armenian men were then publically hung from tripods of poles in town centrums (Shameful Act:.., 2006).

Within the two months of March and April of 1915, Talaat had effectively removed the majority of those who could lead or defend the Armenian families of Ottoman Turkey. Talaat’s future demands of his government-appointed underlings were made that much more possible by Black April.

Advertisements

Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it. (Excerpt #2)

An excerpt of chapter 1 from my historical fiction Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it.

 

Pasadena, California, 1982

“Grandma Annie, it’s almost time. Are you ready yet?” My sweet granddaughter Mary sticks her head in my bedroom doorway. Along the adjacent wall stands my vanity, but it’s too far away for me to see myself clearly in its mirror. From my seat on the side of my afghan-draped bed, I turn slightly toward her.

Despite my qualms about this afternoon’s visit, my heart smiles. This young woman gives me joy everyday and I’m so glad we live together. “Not quite,” I say. “Need a little help with my hair.”

Crossing the soft pile of the Armenian carpet, she stands in front of me. After tucking in the stray end of the braid I’d wrapped around my head, she scrutinizes the sides. Mary’s patience with my old-woman idiosyncrasies expresses love without words.

“There.” She gently pats all the strays in place. “You look nice. Like you’re wearing a silver crown.” We exchange smiles. Taking my hands, she pulls me to my feet. I wobble into the living room to sit in my floral brocade, easy chair. I’m ready, at least physically, for our visitor today, one of my granddaughter’s coworkers. I smooth my skirt with wrinkled hands and place them folded in my lap. A girl named Ella has some questions for me. What could a young one want from an old woman like me?

Ding, dong, dingle, dong. Mary has the door open before the chime finishes. “Hello, Ella. Do come in. My grandmother is expecting you. Please sit in the chair to her left. She can’t hear a thing out of her right ear.”

What a smart girl my granddaughter is! I touch the hair that covers the scar above my right ear. I’ve yet to tell her that story!

“Hello, Mrs. Hagopian, how are you today?” Ella takes my hand and squeezes it ever so gently. “My name is Ella.”

“Hello, Ella. I’m fine and glad to finally meet you.” I adjust my rimless glasses. Armenian courtesy prompts me. “Are your parents well?”

“Yes, Mrs. Hagopian, they’re doing just fine, thank you.”

“Call me Annie.” From what my Mary had already told me, I liked this young woman. Now I find myself appreciating her even more for her good manners. My arms and back relax against my chair. “Mary says you have a question for me.”

“I hope it won’t trouble you,” she says.

“I’m sure it’s okay.” I lean toward her. “Go ahead.” My breath catches. My thoughts tumble over each other, trying to anticipate what Ella’s going to ask.

“I’ve been teaching English to adults. Night classes.” Ella’s gaze locks onto mine. “Many of my students are Armenians. English isn’t their second language, either. Often it’s their fourth, in some cases fifth!”

I chuckle. My memory races through a childhood flush with people from different tongues. Ah, for those days! Learning phrases was as easy as rolling off my sleeping mat in the morning. “Did that surprise you, Ella?”

She nods. “What surprised me even more was when a young woman named Araxi said, ‘I speak Turkish. Teacher, why I speak Turkish?’ I asked her if she had ever lived in Turkey. She told me no!”

My mouth drops open. Unbelievable. Araxi’s parents apparently haven’t told her anything about where they came from. My brows crease together.

“The strangest thing happened next.” Ella’s hands twist in her lap. “Another student named Krikor revealed something so awful … horrendous.”

My gut tightens. I can easily guess what that student said. It’s still on the tongue of every older Armenian alive. But I choose to let this girl tell her story. I wait. After all, haven’t I waited almost seventy years? Tears rim my eyes as I think of my best friend.

Ella stumbles on. “He … he said, ‘They kill us for nothink — Teacher, for nothink!’ I had no idea how to respond. So I just listened. Annie, what did he mean? Can you tell me? When…”

From her place on the sofa to my right, I see Mary catch Ella’s attention and put a silencing finger to her lips. I glance at my granddaughter. My lips form ‘Thank you.’

Tears flow unchecked down my cheeks. Pushing on the arms of my chair, I stand and hobble to the front window. I struggle to collect myself. Brushing away the salty dribbles with shaking fingers, I gaze past the ruffles of my white curtains at the bus stop across the street. When my vision clears, I see two girls in their early teens sitting together on the bench. They’re giggling and probably sharing girlhood secrets while they wait for a trip to the mall. The girls remind me of Nazli, my best friend, in a world away, eons ago.

“Grandma?”

Stifling a quick response to my granddaughter now as I have stifled my past for almost seven decades, I realize for the first time that maintaining my silence has accomplished nothing. My numb tongue has neither soothed my traumatized soul nor given my granddaughter an enlightened understanding of the suffering of her people. Without that, how will she ever truly value her roots?

“I’m so sorry.” There is a sob in Ella’s voice.

Poor Ella. The answers to her questions would supply much that Mary doesn’t know. Maybe it’s time – even if doing so will open old wounds of deep grief. Am I strong enough now? I ask myself. Guess I won’t know ’til I tell our story, Nazli’s and mine. …..”