Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #3)

In this excerpt of the historical fiction book’s chapter 2, it is 1914, in the small town of Kemahcelli in central Turkey. A simple incident of receiving some unwanted attention scares the thirteen-year-old Armenian girl Annie and panicks her parents.

Later, while Annie makes the dough for her family’s daily lavash, she thinks about the encounter.

“The memory of his eyes still terrified me. Those brown eyes under the red fez had bored into mine before I could drop them as any proper girl should. Such an intense gaze by a Turkish soldier followed by a lip-curling smirk would chill the blood of any Armenian school girl. Lucky for me my best friend Nazli, the mudur’s daughter, was beside me when we stopped for a drink at our town’s fountain. Otherwise, God only knows what else the soldier would have done. …”

Annie’s parents react to the incident by keeping her home from school. Without telling Annie, they begin the process of an arranged marriage. Months later, Annie learns about the arrangements when a letter arrives from her mother’s cousin.

“Annahid, come look at him,” Hyrig [Father] called from the sitting room. When I stood next to the divan on which he sat, he handed me a photo. A pleasant-looking young man smiled in black and white.

Mayrig [Mother] came over to look, too. “That’s my cousin’s son. He’s fifteen, a little older than you. Handsome, isn’t he?” Smiling, she caressed my cheek and chin. “Taniel went to get Dikran?” she asked Hyrig.

My father nodded. With a smile, he said, “Daughter, no Armenian girl has to marry the young man her hyrig has chosen for her. She can refuse. But I suggest you think and pray about this young man before you make up your mind.”

Make a decision – about marrying a young man – in America? My heart almost stopped. “Hyrig, why have you chosen him?”

“He comes from a good Armenian family. Everything we’ve learned about him indicates he’s upright, a hard worker with a genuine Christian faith. His mother wrote that he’s doing well as a high school student, too.”

“His family must be very proud of him,” Mayrig added.

“We’ve waited in making arrangements for you,” Hyrig continued, “maybe a little too long, partly because your mayrig needs your help right now. We also wanted to make sure we arranged a Christian marriage for you.”

“Even if it means sending me to America?”

“Yes, daughter, even if … But that won’t be so bad, will it? America’s a country everybody wants to go to.” Hyrig took my hands. “Why not you?”

“America’s a long way from Turkey. I know. Our teacher showed us on the map at Armenian school. I’d never see you again.” Tears trickled to my quivering chin.

Hyrig lifted my face with the palm of his hand . Using a sleeve, he wiped my tears away. “Anahid, you don’t have to go anywhere, if you don’t want to. But take some time to think and pray about this decision. It will change your life, whatever you decide. Just know, Mayrig and I believe this marriage would be the best for you.”

Scared, not in the least convinced, I kissed my parents on their palms goodnight and climbed the ladder to my bedroom above the kitchen…..”

Annie has a tough choice. Even as young as she is, she understands that accepting this marriage proposal means traveling to a distant land with the likelihood of never seeing her family again. If you were Annie, what would you choose? Refuse the proposal, stay in Turkey, take a chance on being kidnapped by a much older Muslim man and being forced into his religion? Or accept the proposal and travel half way around the world to a land where people don’t speak your language?