Author, artist, and poet Tina Karagulian says it took 30 years to finally put into words the emotional scars and pain passed down from her grandmother, who endured hardships and witnessed atrocities as a survivor of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. More than 1.5 million Armenian lives were claimed by the Ottoman Turkish government.
Although Karagulian never met her grandmother, Zarman, she heard the stories of being forced to flee certain death from Ottoman Turkey across the desert to refuge in Baghdad. “As a young girl, I started asking my mom about my grandmother,” Karagulian said. “Every time, it would hurt my mom to tell these stories; yet she did so out of love for me and my longing to know more about my grandmother.”
Karagulian’s mother, Siran, painfully recounted the stories her own mother told her of harried and chaotic deportation. Zarman and her husband were olive growers in the mountainous village of Zeitoun, Turkey, when in 1915 they learned that Armenian intellectuals were being murdered along with other ethnic Armenians. They hastily packed what little they could and joined hundreds of other Armenians in an arduous journey across the desert to Iraq after being expelled by troops from their homes.
“They swallowed coins, so that they would have some money when they needed it,” Karagulian said. “There was a lot of hunger and thirst during that trip by foot. A lot of people didn’t make it. Young girls were being raped by Turkish soldiers, so families often would cut short their daughters’ hair to pass them off as boys, or at night bury their daughters with only their heads above ground to hide them.”
Early on the journey, Zarman gave her two-year-old daughter to another family to try and save the child’s life, only to learn the other family was also deported. Though the family miraculously reunited, both Zarman’s two-year-old daughter and infant failed to survive the trek to Baghdad.
Karagulian will be the guest speaker of the fourth Annual San Antonio Walk Against Genocide from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 12, at the Campus of the San Antonio Jewish Community, 12500 NW Military Highway. It is sponsored by the San Antonio Coalition Against Genocide (SACAG).
During the event, there will be information about peace building, conflict resolution, and genocide awareness and prevention. “The goal of the walk is to inform the community about the long-term impact genocide and mass atrocities have on those impacted and give walk participants the tools and information needed to take action in support of those being targeted,” said Susan Smylie, SACAG advocacy coordinator and Carl Wilkens Fellow.
According to the Armenian National Institute, the Armenian Genocide consisted of deportations, massacres, and concentration camps. From as far north as the Black Sea and as far west as European Turkey, Armenians were forcibly removed to the Syrian desert. The deportations were marked by atrocities afflicted on men, women and children. At select sites, large scale massacres were carried out. The survivors were dispersed across Syria, Iraq, and as far south as Palestine. Starvation, thirst, and epidemic diseases wiped out vast numbers of those confined to these areas. The deportees in many concentration camps were eventually killed through further massacres.
After being in Baghdad for several years, in 1922, Zarman and her husband, Khatchig, had heard that it was safe to return to Zeitoun and set out with others to go back. Once they returned to Zeitoun, Armenians were deported once again, and the couple was separated. He was imprisoned for three years.
During her talk titled, “Compassion and Reconciliation: Stories from the Armenian Genocide and Today,” Karagulian will share two reconciliation stories that began the author’s healing journey: one her grandmother told of a miraculous reunion after the second wave of deportation marches in the early 1920s, and the second story of Karagulian’s meeting and transformative experience with a Turkish woman in San Antonio.
“When we write down painful stories, we no longer need to carry their suffering in our hearts,” Karagulian said. “It creates room within to see reconciliation moments and to be able to offer the same for others. One Turkish man chose to save my grandfather’s life. If it weren’t for him, my mother and I would not have been born. One person’s kindness can change the course of a family’s history.”
In her 2011 memoir, “It Is Time,” (Black Rose Arts & Press, $15.95) she shares stories of gender discrimination, the Armenian Genocide from her family history, awareness of the shadow within us all, and reconciliation through creativity, dialogue, and contemplative prayer. Her book will be sold at the San Antonio Walk Against Genocide or can be ordered through www.tinakaragulian.com.
SACAG is committed to educating and encouraging people in San Antonio to advocate for and offer humanitarian aid to victims of genocide and mass atrocities. Its hope is that people throughout the globe will appeal to and pressure international governments to end genocide. It also strives to encourage people to take action in addressing these world crises. Click here for more information.
*Featured/top image: The Meguerditchian family in 1946. Courtesy of Tina Karagulian.