This brief clip reveals a number of significant points about the early stage of the Armenian Genocide (spring-summer 1915) in many areas. The first is that although one reads in memoirs and accounts of Armenians who were expecting “something bad to happen,” many, if not most, Armenian villagers believed that they were going to be relocated in a peaceful manner. Consequently, they tended to submit and to believe what they were told—that they were being temporarily moved and that their goods and properties would be safeguarded until their return. The fact that almost all of the able-bodied men had been drafted into military service or otherwise separated from their families facilitated this process as women, children, and the elderly were left vulnerable.
The second point is that among the local Turks who were part of the process there was widespread awareness that what was presented as “merely” deportation was in fact genocidal. This is reflected in the Turkish muleteer’s remark to Haroutune Ayvazian’s mother that she and her children would be going to a “certain death.” What motivated this man to defy orders, to risk his own safety, and tell an Armenian woman what was likely to befall her and her family? A sense of honor, or altruism, or shame? One can never know, but it was thanks to such actions that many Armenians were able to escape the “certain death” that more than a million would meet during the Armenian Genocide.
Author: Marc A. Mamigonian is the Director of Academic Affairs of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).