An account of tragic years in Armenian history.
In 1915, Haigaz (1900-1986), born Aram Chekenian, his mother and sisters became victims of Armenian persecution by Ottoman Turks, forced from their homes to march across the Syrian Desert. Starving and destitute, they came to a village where they discovered that other Armenian boys, after converting to Islam, found work as servants in Turkish households. Acceding to his mother’s pleas, the young Haigaz became a willing convert. For the next four years, he lived among Kurdish tribes, tending sheep, reaping crops, feeding chickens and serving as a trusted messenger. Living in intimate proximity to the families, he learned their customs, secrets and, with astute cunning, vulnerabilities. After immigrating to America when he was 21, Haigaz began to write and publish his memories of the massacre that killed his father and brothers, and he mined his experiences in short stories that were published in The Armenian Review. The author adapted some of those stories for a memoir, published in Armenian in 1972 and now translated, condensed and edited by his daughter. Haigaz tells a harrowing story of barbaric cruelty by Turks against the people they considered infidels. Nevertheless, after he converted to Islam—a simple matter of declaration—he was treated humanely. When his first master died, Haigaz moved to the household of his younger brother, a “sensible, modest, and godly” man who had not taken part in the Armenian massacres and, in fact, “could not kill a chicken or watch a sheep being slaughtered.” His only vice seemed to be a great love of alcohol, though forbidden by the Quran. Haigaz reveals intertribal struggles and betrayals as world war raged in the background. In the spring of 1919, with the Ottoman Empire defeated, he saw his chance to escape.
A richly detailed testimony to a young man’s courage in the face of unspeakable horror.