By Melissa Lake
Disclaimer: By no means is this my story, not even is it entirely my grandfather’s story, but in some way or another, it is every Armenian’s story. This telling of my grandfather’s past has been repeated through generations and parts where memories were either lost or forgotten have been cautiously filled in by me. This is not meant to be an entirely historically accurate piece but I can promise you that the emotions displayed within it are one hundred percent true. This is the story of my grandfather and his survival of the Armenian Genocide.
I had never met my grandfather. Dead long before I was born, all I’ve ever been told of him was that he was a stubborn man, steely in composition and in manor, cold and harsh. Much older than my grandmother, he was burly with a thick Sultan curled mustache that was his singular pride and joy. My mother told me that he never spoke, just yelled. “A man carved from stone” as my uncle always referred to him, his salt and pepper hair mimicking the speckling of the granite stone he so resembled in appearance and demeanor. A bitter man, hardened by the injustice that life had served him, he still had a deep-rooted compassion within him reserved exclusively for his dozen children and his considerably younger wife. A man who reasonably should have been filled with hatred and spite, his unique life experiences and the unexpected clemency of strangers freed him from the burden of a life contaminated with a vengeance complex and unfaltering enmity. A survivor since birth, hard work and sacrifice were the two things he knew best and I can imagine pride being his first response to seeing how far his children and their children have come.
My grandfather’s story begins with the last name he was born with- Marootian. It was a name both he and his family would have regarded with fierce pride, not only for the ancestors and history it represented, but for the home country it connected them to. My grandfather lived only 15 years with the name his family had worn for centuries, and perhaps his story begins on the day he earned his new one, Marash.
Anyone who has done any type of research into the Armenian Genocide would recognize the name of the place where some have said it all began. Turkey was in a state of turmoil, immersed in a war it did not have the funds or willpower to fight in, they were starting to realize they had chosen the losing side. Rage and resentment built up in the hearts of its population as fast as bodies piled up on battlefields. And in times of desperation, it is easier to blame those that are weaker than it is to blame those that are guilty. And here, on the precarious precipice between losing a war and losing all hope, is where my grandfather and his family met their fate. Residents of the large Armenian section in the city of Marash, for years they lived in peace and comfort. When the city was taken by Allied forces, Armenians- including residents and refugees- took sanctuary in their community; hospitals, churches- places where they felt safe, where they had always felt safe. But safety and sanctuary is never guaranteed in war.
My grandfather was 15 years old when he watched the cold gleam of sharpened steel flash across his mother’s neck and the blood poor out of her with more agonizing potency then the cry of anguish that left her lips. He was 15 when he heard the screams of his friends and neighbors as they were burned alive, trapped inside the church he had been christened in. He was 15 as he watched his people be massacred and tortured one by one with less mercy and humanity than is shown to animals being led to slaughter. At 15 years old my grandfather was orphaned, alone, and homeless- hiding in the rubble of a ruined city with nothing left to do but run.