For the third time in less than a year, I traveled to the land of my ancestors. Each time I return, people ask how things went and I struggle to find the appropriate word to describe these pilgrimages. I have settled on the word “productive.” These are not vacations, nor are they taken with an expectation of pleasure.
These explorations offer many extraordinary moments. Oftentimes it is difficult to express the emotions of such moments, but I would like to write about one.
My grandmother, Margaret Der Manouelian, was born in the village of Uzunova mezre in the district of Palu. Prior to the genocide, it was a small village with only around 100 Armenians in 10-15 households and the Surp Sarkis Church. Approximately twice as many Armenians lived in the nearby village of Uzunova along the Aradzani (Murad or eastern Euphrates) River.
In 1990, with my wife expecting our first child, I recorded my grandmother’s story of surviving the genocide and her six years as a slave in Uzunova. In 1996, I traveled to Palu hoping to visit Uzunova, but was unfortunately unable to get there.
So, it was with much anticipation that I expected to finally visit the village that was the origin of so much of my family history, even more so because traveling with me on this journey were my daughter Sarah and cousin Steve Mesrobian.
As we approached the village, the incredible beauty of the location struck me. The village sits along the Keban reservoir with magnificent mountains in the background. In some ways, unknowingly, I have recreated the landscape through my own home in Massachusetts.
The old village of Uzunova is now under water. The current village of Uzunova contains only 10-15 houses and borders the old village of Uzunova mezre. The remoteness of Uzunova has trapped it in time. Life continues to center on fishing, farming, and animal husbandry.
Upon entering the village, I was naturally drawn to the water while my daughter was drawn to an elderly woman walking to the fields for work. The woman spoke generally about the village and I moved on–drawn further along the water. Was this the place where my grandmother found her father beheaded with other men of the village? So many thoughts… It was overwhelming.
After watching some young boys fishing and skipping stones, we walked back to the road and happened on a beautiful stork. As we were taking pictures of the stork and the many smaller birds also nesting there, a man came out on his roof and invited us to take pictures from there.
After some initial pleasantries, the man invited us in for tea while he was having his breakfast. As we sat around the table sipping tea, we talked. He spoke of the history of the villages. I spoke of my grandmother being from the village and the history of the Armenians of the villages. He spoke of both of his grandmothers being Armenian. And I understood.
This man and I are two sides of the same coin. My grandmother escaped, his grandmothers did not. Many were killed outright. I am descended from one, he is descended from another. And across the countryside there are hundreds of thousands that are also descended.
At this point, I indicated that the geographic distance between us had separated the history I knew of the village and the history of the village he knew, and it was good that we could come together to share stories of the village.
At this point he became very animated in talking to his wife. He explained to her that we had come from half way around the world to see Uzunova. That they could not begin to understand our attachment to the village, until they understood the magnitude of the crime they committed against us.
We then walked around the village. I found the gully my grandmother and her family hid in when the killings began. We walked around the remnants of the vineyard where my great-grandfather hid unbeknownst to my grandmother. We saw the Armenian cemetery…a bone exposed here…fragments of rocks there. We received shade of the trees that marked the spot where Surp Sarkis Church once stood.
As we walked away, my thoughts drifted to my daughter. My family’s history was just extended two generations. One day, her children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews will come to her and ask … she has been there and will have the answers. A crime silenced and forgotten is a crime that never occurred.