It is now common knowledge that 80 percent of the world’s ethnic Armenians, somewhere between 1 and 1.5 million, were wiped out between 1915 and 1917 when their government, ruled by Ottoman Turks, decided to erase the Armenians. A wealth of research in the last decade has brought to light the extent and the severity of this organized “campaign of race extermination,” and thanks to the work of writers like Taner Akcam, Peter Balakian and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, the truth is slowly emerging. What has become clear is that the Ottoman Turks made an organized effort to erase not only the Armenians but every trace of Armenian culture from the face of the earth.
They Failed !
The surviving Armenians, known as the Armenian diaspora, scattered themselves around the globe. When my family, like many, arrived in their new homeland, photos, documents, and artifacts from the old country were scarce. So some of them got together and drew maps — as best they could from memory — showing the layout of our ancestral villages. Others put their memories into books, written mostly in Armenian, describing village life before the genocide.
After a lifetime of wondering where we came from, my father, Jim, and his sisters, Elaine, Marion and Georgiana, decided to make a journey back to historic Armenia, a few hundred miles from the Iraqi border in eastern Turkey.
Their trip coincided with a flare-up of international tensions over a U.S. bill that would formally acknowledge the mass killings as genocide. The government of Turkey strongly denounced the bill, calling the movement’s efforts to recognize the killings as genocide “a systematic campaign of defamation carried out by Armenian lobbying groups.”
In Turkey, there was legislation enacted to prevent people from talking about it, with the threat of prison to anyone who “publicly denigrates Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.” The Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk was subsequently charged for saying that 1 million Armenians had been killed in Turkey, though the charges were later dropped.
For my family, the situation only added to the expectation that the trip would be a tough one, on many levels. But as “A Family Erased” shows, what they found in the eyes of the Turkish children surprised them, on a journey that would change their lives forever.
— George Kachadorian