Vahram Morookian describes an experience that in some ways was typical and in at least one way unusual for the Armenian Genocide. He was from Everek, a town in central Turkey near the well-known center of Kayseri. The Armenian population of his town was deported, which was the common form the genocide took in the months and years after the early 1915 extermination of the 250,000 Armenian men in the Ottoman army and the national Armenian political, cultural, and religious leadership beginning April 24, 1915. With most potential defenders and organizers removed, the deportations meant to destroy the remainder of the victim population proceeded, village by village, town by town across Turkey during the summer of 1915. Armenians were force-marched under dire conditions, for weeks and months, toward Der-Zor in the Syrian Desert, where most of those surviving the caravans were killed outright or died of starvation, thirst, or disease.
As in many cases, Armenians were given very little notice before they were deported, and had their possessions taken. An interesting difference is that Mr. Morookian’s father was also deported, because typically men and “military age” boys, that is, boys from about 12 up, were separated from the other Armenians prior to the march and killed, often out of sight so that their families would believe that they were being taken to be reunited with them and thus be more likely to accept being deported. That his father survived three months appears quite exceptional. Mr. Morookian’s other experiences also resonate with countless accounts by eyewitnesses and other survivors. Horrible physical and mental conditions were imposed through the deportation marches – lack of adequate food, water, clothing, and shelter, as well as great anxiety and trauma at witnessing murders and other deaths, rapes, and so on. Sexual violence against and kidnapping of girls and women was pervasive, and Mr. Morookian’s sister was one of tens of thousands of girls and women who suffered this fate. His narrative suggests he never saw her again, so we cannot be sure about what happened to her, but one of the following outcomes is likely: She was abused and killed in the months after being abducted, she was held by her captors or sold by them as a slave for domestic service or sexual exploitation, or she was forcibly Islamicized into the family of her captors or compelled to become a wife in the family.
Of special note is Mr. Morookian’s satisfaction that he has managed to build a good life for himself, with a family, despite the fact that the genocide perpetrators tried to prevent any Armenian victims ever again from having such a life. Not so much revenge, this is a kind of celebration of survival.
Author: Henry Theriault is Professor in and Chair of the Philosophy Department of Worcester State University, in Massachusetts. His research and teaching specialty is genocide and human rights, especially reparative justice for genocide, victim-perpetrator relations, genocide denial, and mass violence against women and girls.