One hundred year ago started what will become the first documented systemic large-scale human genocide, the Armenian Genocide by the arrest, deportation and execution of 250 Armenian intellectuals in the Ottoman Empire.
It was just the beginning of World War I stalemate. The Ottoman Empire, once feared all around Europe (the Turk, strong as a Turk) became the shadow of itself, crumbling from inside. 50 years before, it was described as “le vieil homme malade” (the old sick man) by the European monarchies and republics. As UK and France colonized half of the world, the Ottoman Empire was just crumbling into pieces. Greece, Albania, Egypt were slowly but surely seceding from the Empire.
Driven by the Nationalist wave that blazed across Europe for the last 50 years, Turkish opposants to the Ottoman Empire created the movement of the “Young Turks” as some of a reactionary movement to oust the impotent Sultan and insufflate a Modern Turkey that will be further concretized by Kamal Mustapha also known as “Ataturk” (or the father of Turks).
During the Ottoman Empire, minorities were secluded into what we can call “states whitin a state” or Milliyets. Christian, Jews, Armenians, Greek were self-governing everydays life and had some designed leaders that will serve as liaison officer with the ruling Sultan.
Then began the spark of what we call today the Armenian Genocide. One hundred year ago, 250 Armenian intellectuals were arrested in Istanbul following an executive order from the Sultan, deported to Ayas and Cankiri. It will lead to a systematic deportation of at least 500’000 Armenians and Christians from the Ottoman Empire towards the Desert of Syria with the final point of Deir-Ez-Zor (Syria), a city located on the Southeastern side of Syria, 50 miles from the Iraqi border and the Anbar province. It is an arid and desertic place to live. Hot during summer, freezing during Winter. This deportation was clearly aimed with an idea of genocide as many deportees died from starvation, fatigue or from infectious diseases such as typhus, cholera and dysenteria.
This is where some of my DNA takes its origin through my paternal lineage. This is where the story of one of my great-great-great grandmother starts, the story of “Hababa Khatoun” (grandma Khatoun) starts. I still try to build pieces and scrap of this story but these are some information I have:
From my understanding, Hababa Khatoun was coming from a middle-class family or from a petit-bourgeois family as she had refined skills and luxury. Then came the mass deportation. According to my sources, she had some siblings with her, maybe a brother and a sister as it was told that she lost them during the march. Khatoun finally reached the town of Der-Ez-Zor in which my great-great-great grandfather met her. According to the storytelling, my great-great-great grandfather was a notable of the town and a custom is if you are wealthy enough you can allow yourself to engage into polygamy and marry two, three or four wives. He would have been encouraged by others to choose her and marry her, as she was from an extreme beauty and refined manners. He decided to marry her and became the second wife of my elder.
Another piece of the story tells that she had children and some times after the genocidial march, the Red Cross or apparently an American Charity Organization came in Der-Ez-Zor and made a public call to all Armenian refugees willing to leave the country and obtain the refugee status. From the saying, she was ready to leave her and her children and following a long discussion with my great-great-grandfather she decided to stay with him. This is where some of my DNA came from, from my paternal grandfather.
Another piece of DNA may came from my maternal grandmother. Her name was Yanasma Bedriye, her parents were both Turk and Armenian. The reason of her moving to Der-Ez-Zor remains unknown but this is were she met my paternal grandfather. It is told that Hababa Khatoun was so happy to meet her as they shared Turkish and Armenian roots and apparently had this unique mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship for this region. Usually such relationship is harsh and challenging for any future bride, but this one was blessed.
Here I am now, half French/half Syrian. Syrian with Turkish/Armenian DNA in me, sharing the tragedy of the first genocide. It is not easy to share pride in being from Turkish descendent and Armenian descendent, taking two sides of fratricide divide. But it showed that such divide was non-existant at first place. It is also important to learn to accept that everyone shared a dark past and the only way that a person and a nation can move forward is to accept the facts (as this genocide is highly documented) and start the healing process.
One hundred year ago, French and German were arch-enemies and fought them for over 70 years until the end of World War II. Look now, France and Germany are the powerhouse of the EU and was symbolized by two presidents: Francois Mitterand and Helmut Schmidt, holding hands to commemorate the tomb of the unknown soldier.
I hope that one day, Turks and Armenians settle their differences, admit the horrible genocide that happened by a dying tyranny to legitimate his hold on power. Maybe one day, I will be able to talk about this part of history at ease with both my Armenian and Turk fellows.