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Varoujan: "Blood Never Forgets". Part II - Aghet

April 24. April 24. Varoujan kept repeating this date. He also repeated the word Aghet. Aghet, one of the Armenian terms for the Genocide. April 24. That is the day it all started. My 15th birthday was never celebrated. Nobody was there to celebrate it. April 24. That is the tragic day when the real annihilation of the Armenian population started. In my village there was no information about what was going on in Constantinople, but as days passed by there were lots of rumors from merchants passing by. Nobody believed what they heard, especially not the Turkish inhabitants of our village. People would tell us that lots of Armenians had been slaughtered, not because they were law-breakers, murderers or killers. No, 5000 had been hanged, shot, strangled to death due to the fact that they were Armenians. That was the only reason. I remember these stories scared us, and some of our fellow citizens were really worried. We comforted each other, convinced that these were rumors, and that this was not going to happen here in our peaceful village. But as it turned out, we were all dead wrong. It didn’t last long before 10 of the villagers were deported by Turkish troops. These men were enrolled in the Ottoman Army. One night they had been ordered to leave their homes and they were taken away. We had no idea what happened to them, but I was told they were enrolled in a project of building roads. Some weeks later our village was hit by Catastrophe. Ottoman men, I don’t think they were soldiers, entered our village and ordered all Armenians to leave. Everyone had to line up. They were told that they were taking them to a safe place. Nobody was allowed to carry anything in their hands. Some people who tried to escape were killed on the spot. For the first time in my life I saw a human being killing another human being. I felt empty inside, I looked for explanations. There were none to be found, and no one to ask. I was scared. The village was a mess. I could not find my parents, my siblings were nowhere and neither were my grandparents. The only one I saw was my aunt, and she ushered me away, saying run – go hide in your secret place and stay there for as long as you can.

My aunt was 75 years old, and was not very good at walking. I tried to take her along with me by putting her into a kind of wooden trolley that we had and pushing her down to the riverside. I ran like crazy – and all of a sudden Lutuf and Esmet came to help us. They helped push my aunt, and they told me to hide – they would help me, but I should try to get myself in safety as fast as possible. They would take care of my aunt. I did what I was told. But I regretted it, and I still regret it. I don’t know if God Almighty was trying to save me, and let my aunt go, but up until today I feel like I’ve betrayed the only family that was left. At the time I had no idea that my whole family, every last one had been sent on a death march, and had all died on their way. I never saw any of them again, but witnesses have told me that they were all sent walking towards the Syrian Desert. Only 5 villagers had survived – and they had all managed to flee to Greece. Right after I left my aunt in the hands of Esmet an Lutuf on my way from the pathway to the high grasslands of the riverbank, I heard shots and screams. I turned my head in fear, and I spotted the body of my aunt lying on the ground. Beside her Esmet and Lutuf screaming, surrounded by angry men, hitting them, screaming at them. I realized that the rumors were true. This was the end for us all. I was going to get killed because I was not Turkish. I got to the small hut, and lay down on the floor. I heard screaming, shouting and shots. I heard people crying and screaming in fear. I heard the typical sounds of whips hitting the skin of people. I could not move. My whole body lay there frozen all through the night. I stayed concealed in the hut for four days. I was relieved that the stacks of dried apricots and dried meat were in abundance, so I did fine. But of course, my whole body shivered at the thought of what I had seen and at the thought of what might have happened to the people of my village. My parents, my siblings, even my Turkish friends. Where were they? On the fifth day of hiding I heard steps coming toward my hideout. Shuffling feet, slowly treading the ground carefully as if not to reveal anything to anyone who might be close by. I heard my name whispered a couple of times before I realized it was Esmet. I whispered back at him, and he hurried himself into the small hut. He looked pale, and was he was bruised. Small droplets of blood tried to find its way through the remainder of his clothes. Esmet was always well-dressed, being the son of our village’s Mayor. Now he looked like a beaten dog, and he was scared and depressed. The Turkish men had beaten him with sticks, slashed him with whips for trying to save the life of an Armenian, my aunt. Lutuf had been grounded by his parents, actually locked up inside their farmhouse because he had done his uttermost to hide Armenians from the Turkish men. Twenty Armenians had been hidden in the basement. Lutuf had managed to keep them there for 3 days. When the Turkish men came to inspect the farm, they had found them. Elderly people, little kids. 14 of them were shot on the spot, 6 of them had managed to hide, and Lutuf’s father had sent them off towards the mountains, in the opposite direction of the desert. Nobody knew if they had managed to escape. Lutuf had tried to accompany them, but his father had decided that it was too unsafe. In order to make sure he didn’t go off on his own, Lutuf had been grounded. He was not allowed to leave the premises.

Esmet’s father had lost his position as Mayor of our town. He had refused to give out information to the Turks about the whereabouts of every Armenian in our village. He had burned all documents showing which houses were Armenian and which ones were Turkish. Up until now they had left him alone, but had threatened to arrest him for treason. Some of the Turks, our neighbors, had betrayed us and helped the men find Armenians. Reality slowly took a hold of my mind. I got it, we were actually going to get killed, every single one of us. Esmet promised me he’d help me. He hated suggesting what was now to come, but his father had told him that there was only one way to save me. I would have to pretend to be Turkish. My command of the Turkish language was fluent, so in that respect I’d have no problem. What was worse was that I had remove something that was actually the only way they could prove I was not a Turk. I had to let Esmet’s father remove my foreskin. I would have to get circumcised. I have never been so scared. I just couldn’t stop shivering, and I couldn’t stop crying. Esmet felt the same. He tried his best to comfort me, trying to convince me that my family was fine. He had not seen any of them among the dead bodies he had observed in and outside the village. If they had given in without resistance they may very well be alive. Then he showed me his circumcised penis. “See, it’s not that bad”, he said. He made me laugh, and for the first day since the Turkish men arrived in our village I felt a small relief and some hope. To be continued……..

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