Survivors Wary of Rapprochement

Armenians, recalling killings, oppose peace talks with Turkey.

Survivors Wary of Rapprochement

Armenians, recalling killings, oppose peace talks with Turkey.

Thursday, 3 September, 2009
Movses Hameshian is one of the few Armenian who can still remember the mass killings of 1915 but he insists all his countrymen should heed its lessons and never trust the Turks.

“They are pressuring our president to go there for a peace deal with the Turks. Those who did not see the carnage, the genocide, can speak out for opening the borders, but I do not want this. It was us who were slaughtered and killed. Where now are those million and a half Armenians? I was a witness to that sorrow and savagery, how they killed people, and threw their bodies in the Euphrates,” he told IWPR, his hands raised to the skies.

Turkey denies genocide took place, saying that deaths occurred on both sides during wartime, but Armenians say they were systematically driven from their homes into the desert, where between a million and a million and a half people were starved or killed.

Hameshian was born in the village of Kaboussieh in Turkey’s Hatay province, where Armenian partisans resisted Turkish forces until their ammunition ran out. The province was ruled by France until 1939, when Turkey took control of it, and many of the surviving Armenians fled a second time. Hameshian eventually ended up in Soviet Armenia.

The genocide question is still a factor in any peace deal with Turkey, and those like Hameshian who survived it say they only lived because of a miracle. He said an Arab acquaintance of his father rescued them by bribing the Turkish officers driving them into the desert.

“Those whose legs refused to go any further were just killed, hit in the head with a rifle butt. The pregnant were killed too. No one else would act this way, but the Turks did. They are fascists. They slaughtered defenceless, unarmed people,” he said.

“I am an old man, and the experience of my life shows me that opening the border will bring no good. Our country can develop without this.”

His view was echoed by Mari Vandanian who, at 105, must be one of the oldest survivors of the genocide left alive. Some 7,500 Armenians were killed in her home town of Malatya, where her father used to work in the city council. Although she was saved by Turks’ kindness, she also does not want Armenia to sign a peace deal.

“They took my father away with the other men and killed them a few days before the start of the genocide. My mother and grandmother and I lived only thanks to our Turkish friends, who hid us in their house,” she said.

She cried as she described how an orchard became a cemetery, and how refugees were killed as they fled the town, where she and her mother herself stayed until 1937 “with fear in our hearts”, when she moved to Syria. She was also one of the hundreds of Armenians who came to Soviet Armenia in 1946, following a propaganda campaign to lure them from the Middle East.

“Our president should not go there. They will force him to sign some document, under which we will have to give up Artsakh (Nagorny-Karabakh), they will refrain from recognising the genocide and only then will they open the border. Turks are from hell, you just don’t know them very well. As soon as the border is opened, Armenia will be full of Turks, it is better not to even open the road to them,” she said.

She did not believe that the opening of the border would end Armenia’s troubles, even though it might help the economy diversify away from its reliance on Georgia and Russia.

“At first it will be good, and what then? Do you know why they killed us? They said killing an Armenian would get you to heaven. And how can I want the border to be opened after that?”

Gayane Mkrtchian is a reporter with and a member of IWPR’s EU-funded Cross Caucasus Journalism Network.
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