Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it (excerpt #8)

While the two groups lived side by side in the small town of Kemahcelli in central Ottoman Turkey, the Turks and the Armenians maintained separate lives–for the most part. The friendship between Annie and Nazli, the book’s two main characters, exposed these teenage girls to each other’s cultural and religious contexts. That exposure helped each girl to look a little more carefully at their own cultural and religious perspectives of the world. That is what was going on in the next excerpts from Nazli’s diary.

Jihad was the topic during one Friday that Nazli went with her mother to the mesjid in Kemahcelli.

Chapter 5

“Iyi arkadasim, 26th June, 1914

Mam and I joined the other women behind the partition in the mesjid today. Since Annie and her family were on their trip for that all-important photo for her Petros, I agreed to go with my mam for Friday prayers.

After prayer, our imam expounded on the righteousness of following Allah the way Mohammed did–with holy war against the infidels. Our holy man talked an eternity. I thought he’d never stop. My legs cramped. I was so relieved when we could finally stand up.

What do I have to do with any holy war? What infidels was the imam talking about? He can’t mean the Christians in our town, can he? Why should we war against them? I don’t see them harming anyone. They obey our laws and pay their taxes more than any of us Muslims pay. At least, that’s what Baba’s told my older brother Yunus and me.

I don’t understand the call to jihad. Who decided that? Against whom? And why?

16th July, 1914

I’ve been thinking about the jihad that the imam called for. I feel ashamed now that I called Annie a gavur. She may not be a Muslim, but she worships Allah, too. Only…she calls him God. She doesn’t bow toward Mecca or prostrate herself when she prays. Nor does she recite prayers. She says whatever she thinks to Allah. I know. I’ve heard her do it whenever it’s prayer time for us Muslims. But can that be right? To speak one’s mind to Allah? I’d better persuade her and her family to become Muslims.

Added note: Petros might object though. He’s Armenian and probably a Christian.”

At this point in the storyline, Nazli’s understanding of what was right and wrong was thoroughly anchored in the world view given her by her family’s Islamic beliefs. Her desire for Annie’s conversion to Islam was based partly on what Nazli believed was right and partly on her growing awareness that Annie’s Christianity might provide the Turkish authorities with a convenient excuse for a disastrous consequence.

By the spring of 1915, Nazli’s niggly feeling of possible danger had developed into an all-encompassing alarm over Constantinople-orchestrated events. Jihad was the drum that the Young Turks of the Ottoman government wielded to get the cooperation of Turks, Rumelians, and Kurds against their Christian neighbors, the Armenians.