Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #6)

In this historical fiction, two teenage girls Annie and Nazli are the main characters. At the age of thirteen, Annie, the eldest daughter of an Armenian family, has to make a difficult choice. Her parents have contacted one of her father’s cousins in America. That cousin’s son Petros has sent a proposal of marriage to Annie. As she holds the fifteen year old boy’s photo in her hand, she realizes that accepting his proposal will mean leaving Turkey and everything and everyone she knows. She will probably never see her family again. So she hesitates, then makes her decision.

“Before a week had passed, I said yes to Petros in America. One would think I’d said, “Gallop on,” to a bit-chomping horse, our family got so caught up in a flurry of activities.

First came the all important inspection of the potential bride’s home. Although every Armenian girl went through this, I was a bundle of nerves.

Shoshanna, Uncle Dikran’s wife, came on behalf of Petros’ mother. During an afternoon visit over tea and cakes, my aunt periodically got up and ran her white-gloved fingers over a centimeter here, and a centimeter there. She checked the furniture, the floor, the window sills, door frames, and kitchen utensils, pots, and jars. She even checked the rolled up sleeping mats, and the pile carpets, divan cushions, and the kilim wall hangings in the sitting room.

Of course, Aunt Shoshanna had warned my mayrig of the visit several days ahead of time. In preparation for my aunt’s coming, I had wiped, beat, and scrubbed everything spotless. To be considered marriageable, I didn’t have to know how to cook. But I was expected to know how to clean a house!

Much to my relief, Aunt Shoshanna’s gloves remained white. We had her approval for my marriage to Petros.”

Annie’s Turkish friend Nazli views the Armenian process of an arranged marriage as romantic. Nazli shares her belief with Annie that she is one lucky girl to get a proposal from a handsome boy from a wealthy family. (All Americans, especially Armenians in America, are of course rich, aren’t they?)

Annie’s parents have a more important reason for reaching across the seas. They are desperate to protect Annie from being  forced into a Muslim home. They have searched through family connections to find a young man who, among other criteria, is an evangelical Christian. What these Armenian parents would not be able to anticipate is how fortuitous their choice turns out to be. In less than a year, their family life in central Turkey comes apart at the seams due to edits from Talaat, Ottoman Turkey’s Minister of the Interior in 1915.