My grandmother did not really survive the Armenian Genocide -
By Joumana Haddad
“I love your sorrow, which is mine as well/My grief of grieves, all other woes above; I love your shattered breast, where still your love/sings on and on – a skylark wild with love.” – Daniel Varoujian
My grandmother survived the Armenian Genocide.
She was born in 1912 in Antep (also known as Aintab or Gaziantep), situated in southeastern Turkey, the fifth child of the Markarian family, one of many families forming the city’s large Armenian community back then.
On that ominous day of April 1915, Ottoman soldiers killed her father in front of her eyes. They forced her family and thousands of other Armenians to abandon their homes and go to Aleppo. They all marched through the deserts, without food or water, and were harassed, tortured, and massacred. Millions died. On the road, my grandmother also lost her own mother and three brothers.
She, her older sister Lucine, and a younger brother, born in 1913, were the only survivors, thanks to the help of a family who took them along, watched over them, shared with them whatever food they were managing to find, and carried the two babies most of the way.
They all grew up in an orphanage in Aleppo, where my grandmother later met my grandfather Efraim, who was a Syriac Catholic from Mardin. Efraim’s family had also been driven out of their hometown by the Turks during the massacres, which included Christian minorities alongside the Armenians. A few years after their marriage, they moved to Beirut.
Grandma never spoke to us about any of this. I understand why. So I often close my eyes and try to imagine what she went through on that gloomy day when the genocide started, when she was merely a three-year-old child. I put myself in her shoes, and start talking:
“I am afraid. I am afraid and hungry and thirsty. Why did we leave dad behind? Why is my mom not answering me and not moving? Is she asleep? Why are my brothers not teasing me or picking flowers for me like they used to?
I am walking on people, and I hate it. But they are everywhere; the road is made of motionless bodies. Is this a game they are playing? But if it’s a game, why is everybody else crying? Walking on people is not a fun game. Come on, stand up, all of you. Enough playing already.
I see soldiers with rifles. Everywhere. They are angry. They hate us. Why do they hate us? What did we do to them? Why are they shooting at us? Why are they ripping women’s clothes and asking them to lie down on the ground? The women are screaming, but the soldiers don’t seem to mind. Is this a game too? When are we going back home?
Today I ate grass. It’s not good. It was covered with dust and I think there was a dead insect too. I miss mom’s food. I miss mom’s kisses, mom’s lap, mom’s smile. Why did we leave her behind? Is it because of me? Did I do something bad? Is she with dad now?
It is so hot. I am tired. I am tired and afraid. I am hungry and thirsty. I think I will sleep a little.
Lucine, wake me up when mom comes back.”
My grandmother committed suicide in Beirut in 1978. She was sixty-six; I was seven. She drank rat poison. I saw her lying on the kitchen floor, white foam coming out of her mouth. Every time I think about her, that is how I see her: not holding me in her arms; not telling me a story; not stroking my hair or giving me a thousand kisses, the way a grandparent should be remembered. No, I just see her lying on the ground, dead, and screaming all her unsaid, painful words in my head.
So, you see, my grandmother did not really survive the Armenian Genocide. Like many other sufferers, she was killed, only with a bit of delay: a time bomb was planted in her heart and soul on that sinister day of April 1915, and it exploded decades afterwards.
Here I am, here we are – the innumerable children and grandchildren of the victims – 99 years later, still waiting for justice; still waiting for the murderer to say, “I am sorry”.
Let it be known we won’t quit waiting anytime soon. Whether we will forgive him or not when he apologizes is another story.
Joumana Haddad is a Lebanese poet, translator, journalist and women rights activist. She’s been selected as one of the world’s 100 most powerful Arab women in March 2014 by CEO magazine Middle East (position 62), for her cultural and social activism. She is the author of many books, among them “I Killed Scheherazade.” Her latest book, “Superman is an Arab – On God, marriage, macho men and other disastrous inventions” (Westbourne Press, London, 2012) is now available in Lebanese bookshops and on Amazon.