One family’s heartbreaking experience during the 1915 Armenian genocide.
In a small Anatolian hill town, Turks and Armenians live together in relative harmony for generations. But when, in 1915, the Ottoman Empire allies itself with Germany in the brewing world war, Turkish citizens are forced to take sides. Sempad Arslanian, however, remains oblivious to political change. Head of his large, wealthy clan and benefactor to his neighbors—Turk, Greek and Armenian alike—he spends the Spring of 1915 joyfully preparing for a reunion with his brother Yerwant, who, at 13, left Skylark Farm, the family’s country estate, to study in Italy. Preparations by both brothers rival ceremonial planning for royal visits: Sempad orders stained glass windows from England and levels a pasture for a tennis court; Yerwant outfits a red Isotta Fraschini for his road trip south, his monogram in silver on the doors, and stocks it with a great number of small gold and silver gifts to give away on his arrival. On May 24, days before Yerwant is to leave, Italy closes its borders and joins the War. And in Sempad’s village, as throughout the Empire, all Armenian heads of household are arrested. Sempad flees from his house in town to Skylark Farm. What happens there—later that night the freshly dug tennis court is used as a mass grave for all the Arslanian men—is only the first of countless horrors the Arslanian women (and one boy disguised as a girl) endure on their forced death-march across the Syrian desert, where they are raided periodically by the Kurds, raped by their Young Turk “guides” and starved. The story of survival that follows is the unexpected solace of this fearless tale.
An Armenian Schindler’s List.