BY MATTHEW KARANIAN
The village of Chunkush was home to about 10,000 Armenians, and hardly anyone else, until 1915.
That’s when the Armenians were driven out, and were marched for two hours to a ravine known as the Dudan Gorge. Once they arrived at the ravine, they were herded by the force of batons and bayonets into its depths. Here they died, if they hadn’t already perished before entering the abyss.
One young Armenian girl, not more than ten years of age, stood at the edge of death. She was part of a group that had been marched to the ravine on one of the killing days—the day on which her Chunkush neighborhood had been selected for this “deportation.”
This girl was pretty, and she must have captured the attention of one of the Turkish soldiers who were herding the Armenians to their deaths. Her life was spared. At the age of ten, she became the soldier’s bride.
Five years later, in 1920, a baby was born from their union. This baby, named Asiya, was raised in Chunkush by her mother, a genocide survivor who had been able to remain in the home of her husband as one of the village’s hidden Armenians.
When I met Asiya in 2014, she was the oldest surviving Armenian, and indeed, the only Armenian, of Chunkush. Speaking through a translator, Asiya told me her story.
Her father, the Turkish soldier, had died when Asiya was three or four years old. While Asiya was growing up, Asiya’s mother had taught her that she was an Armenian child. Her mother also taught her that her identity as an Armenian was information that they could not share with the neighbors. Their identity had to remain hidden.
Asiya was married off to a much older man when she was 11 years old. There was no right to pick your own husband, she told me. “They gave me to whoever they thought was appropriate.” She and her husband stayed in Chunkush, and raised two daughters and a son.
I asked Asiya about the massacres of 1915. Her mother must have explained to her what had happened. But Asiya refused to talk about it. She did talk a bit about the old days.
“Chunkush was once very beautiful. The churches were so beautiful in the past,” she told me. But now “nothing remains from the old times. They even destroyed all the [Armenian] cemeteries.”
Asiya must have been about 95 years old when I met her in 2014. Her life has been swept along in a torrent of sadness. I asked her how she feels when, as the only Armenian of Chunkush, she meets Armenian visitors from the Diaspora.
“I get happy as much as a mountain,” she told me.
Adapted from ‘Historic Armenia After 100 Years,’ (Stone Garden Press, $39.95, Pub. Feb. 2015) by Matthew Karanian. Pre-order now for $35 postpaid in the US from: Stone Garden Productions; PO Box 7758; Northridge, CA 91327 or pay with credit card by requesting an invoice from [email protected]