Saturday, 25 April 2015

Armenian Odyssey, 1915

At St Lukes, Exeter, my mathematics tutor Dick Tahta was an Armenian, whose father had decided to leave the country with his family and go to England before the massacre of the Armenians, probably seeing the way the wind was blowing. Some of his other relatives remained. They died.

Yesterday (24th April 2015) marks the 100th anniversary of the day the Ottoman Turkey authorities arrested several hundred Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople, today's Istanbul, most of whom were later killed.

Armenians regard this as the beginning of the Ottoman policy of mass extermination of Christian Armenians suspected of supporting Russia, the Ottoman Empire's World War One enemy. The total number of people killed has been estimated at between 800,000 to 1.5 million

Turkey still denies that it was genocide, but even the Pope Francis has used the term. Turkey promptly recalled its envoy to the Vatican. It is illegal to call it genocide in Turkey. Turkey needs to come to terms with its past.

This poem was originally written by me in 2006, after seeing the film Atom Egoyan's move Ararat, and reading Dick's book reflecting on the film and his own family's past.

It is about one of the ways in which the killing was carried out: the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on forced marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre

Armenian Odyssey, 1915
Journey's end, the weary traveller's hope:
But for now resettlement, a trial to cope
Along the desert path, a dry and arid land,
Towards the heat and dust, desert sand;
This was the year of exile, year of lying,
Because Turkey's leaders wanted dying,
And sent us into a wilderness, a death
Without shelter or provision, the breath
Of life cannot be sustained; but memory
Of those who escaped, who could see
The parched pilgrimage to destruction,
Because we were in the way, obstruction;
And we still are, Turkey lives in denial
Without justice, and with no fair trial,
To hear the voices of innocent abused,
But the graves ring out to the accused;
An Armenian odyssey, time to mourn,
For families, and children yet unborn,
Bearing witness for them, and for all,
Who trod that road, and came to fall,
Trampled by officialdom, by decree;
Pray that the world may someday see
Ravaged orchards, the houses in ashes,
And a people taken, a terror that lashes
Out, destroying. Agony remains still
In our blood, a testament, a living will,
To all whom we lost, of love and hope,
And future robbed. Perhaps time heals
The blooded history, the scars that feel
Old and sore. And let our God be there,
In the wounded story, in all our fear,
And feel the pain, the deaths, the hate,
And destroy the strands of cursed fate:
That at last forgiveness may be given,
That be our destiny for so long striven.

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