Astarjian: Tales of Winter

Finally it snowed! And finally, I used freshly split logs to start a long-awaited fire with dried kindling in the fireplace. It was the seventh of the month, and it had not yet snowed until now. That was a change from yesteryears, when Thanksgiving came in the middle of snowstorms stranding air and land travelers. The Greens attribute all this change to global warming, which, if persists, will melt the Antarctic snow and raise the sea levels to surpass that of the Great Flood, which prompted Noah to build his arc. Waves and wind had directed the arc towards Armenia, and when the waters receded, the arc had settled on our very own Mount Ararat—unlike the British Navy, which couldn’t (rather wouldn’t) climb our mountain as Gostan Zarian had portrayed in his novel Nave Lerran Vrah (The Ship on the Mountain).

I sat in my recliner watching the wood crackle. Since I don’t drink liquor, my wife fixed me a cup of Turkish coffee. Oops! I mean Armenian coffee. (The faux pas reminded me of Hassan Cemal’s dolma story, which he told in a forum at the ACEC in Watertown recently to highlight the cultural similarities that existed between the Turks and the Armenians. Now, aside from dolma, we also have coffee in common.) And I lit my pipe, no not the peace pipe or the one filled with weed.

The fire was going in earnest! The flames dancing in Arabesque created a very peaceful atmosphere. I must have cat-napped several times, always maintaining a certain degree of wakefulness. People, places, and events exchanged venue in my mind. I thought if my grandchildren were here I would have told them a few stories, which they would remember in my absence.

—Remember Grandpa, smoking his pipe in front of the fireplace telling us stories?

One story came to mind and I burst into laughter; I remembered the one with the shoeshine Turk in Athens. My friend Vatche and I had stopped in Athens on our way to Cairo as guests of the Egyptian government, arranged by Egypt’s ambassador to Armenia, Dr. Ahmed F. Raslan.

Vatche was looking for blue stones, the kind that repels the evil eye. We spotted a jeweler in Omonia who had them. The jeweler turned out to be an Armenian; we knew it immediately since he had a painting of Mount Ararat on the wall. As Vatche was entertaining the possibilities, I spotted a shoeshine man. The jeweler told me he was a Turk. I asked him if he would shine my shoes. He said it would cost me 500 drachmas. I agreed! In the middle of his work I asked him, in Turkish, if he is a Turkish Turk or a Turkish Kurd. He swore that he is a Turkish Turk. I said, “All right, in that case, if you stand up and curse Turkey I will give you 500 more drachmas.” He stood up, and in profane language, cursed Turkey. I gave him the extra money, and said helal olsun! (May it be helal).

I have told this story numerous times, and each time laughed heartily, but then I realized that it was a spontaneous theater portraying the cowardice of the Turk outside of his country, and the desperation of an Armenian to get even with his executioner, the Turk, psychologically.

Then I thought of Zeynep and Ibrahim. I felt something warm trickling down my cheeks when I recalled the story. They were in their early old age when I met them. He was a diabetologist educated in Switzerland. Coming from Istanbul where they were born they had lived in Switzerland for 20 or so years. We spoke Turkish with each other, trying to find a common language other than the dolma, coffee, manti, and suli kufta. He told me that he was orphaned at age four. His father had been a very wealthy industrialist, whose right hand man was Dickran Effendi. “He managed our business when my father was alive, as if it was his. Upon my father’s death, the entire business was faithfully managed by Dickran Effendi. For my stipend, I used to go to him and make a case for getting a little more pocket money before he gave it to me. Arguments that it was my father’s money fell on deaf ears. This is how Dickran Effendi protected our wealth, and sent me to Europe for education. He guided me, and shaped my behavior.” I could see his chin quiver with emotion.

His story was not uncommon in Istanbul of the time. Famous Armenians like Krikor Zohrab, a professor of law, had educated a generation of Turkish youth who were to become lawyers. Judges used to consult with him about the intricacies of jurisprudence, yet he was the first of 150 Armenian intellectuals to be murdered on April 24, 1915. The Ittihad ve Terraki (CUP), with German engineering, had planned to behead the Armenian nation and then terminate the masses. And that’s what they did!

Doctor Ibrahim’s wife Zeynep was a gem. She refused to be addressed Zeynep Hanim, since hanim was used by the Ottoman rulers as a sign of respect for a lady who was the subordinate of man. She preferred to be called just Zeynep. She was every bit European in demeanor. She was kind and smart, She became my mother’s close friend, though she always addressed her Madame Astarjian. And when my mother was hospitalized in a semi-comatose state, then coma, Zeynep never left her bedside. She comforted my mother, held her hand. She held vigil until her final breath. This was Zeynep, a decent human being. One could not help but remember Dickran Effendi’s influence.

By accident I met Mohammed Amin, a tailor in Milford. He made some clothes for me, the old-fashioned way. He was a true gentleman and deeply religious Muslim. We talked about the old days, when Armenians lived on the same land with the Turks. He was aware of the killings and deportation of the Armenians, but he was unaware of the magnitude of the atrocities amounting to genocide. He was grateful for being in a “free country, like America,” and he was grateful for having a trade, like tailoring. He said, “I learned it all from my Usta (Master) Garabed, who made me his khalfa (senior apprentice) for many years before I became an usta.” He sighed, “I owe it all to him, he was a good man, Allah rahmet etsin (May God be merciful to him).”

I thought these were the bridges that traversed the gorges that existed between the two peoples of Anatolia, until the Turks planned and executed the genocide.

I had many more tales to tell my grandchildren on this wintery night, but my wife was calling me to dinner. It was dolma.

Dr. Henry Astarjian

Dr. Henry Astarjian

Dr. Henry Astarjian was born in Kirkuk, Iraq. In 1958, he graduated from the Royal College of Medicine and went on to serve as an army medical officer in Iraqi Kurdistan. He continued his medical education in Scotland and England. In 1966, he emigrated to the U.S. In 1992, he served as a New Hampshire delegate to the Republication National Convention in Houston, Texas. For three years Astarjian addressed the Kurdish Parliament in Exile in Brussels, defending Armenian rights to Western Armenia. For three consecutive years, he addressed the American Kurds in California and Maryland. He is the author of The Struggle for Kirkuk, published by Preager and Preager International Securities.
Dr. Henry Astarjian

Latest posts by Dr. Henry Astarjian (see all)


  1. FYI: Gostan Zarian didn’t portray the British ships which couldn’t climb Mt. Ararat. His novel deals with two completely different ships.

  2. This guy’s job is to insult the Turkish people by making up false stories. I guess it is the only way to consolation. Go on living in a dream world, Mr. Astarci. For the readers : don’t believe a word he says if you want to stay in the real world.

  3. Dear Mr. Astarjian; these are all very nice and I am sure they are all very truthful stories; but unfortunately it wasn’t just the Turk’s who annihilated us; but other entities headed by Talaat Pasha and their accomplices, the German generals who were also guiding and consulting with Talaat, Enver and Gemal.  The fact that those outside entities took complete control of Turkey and made them to and directed them to do their dirty job for them is really a very sad fact.  It is also sad for the Turkish people, but unfortunately they weren’t able to control their country and their land and both the Turks and the Kurds were in the act together against the most civilized nation in the world; “The Armenians” and their horrible faith.  However Turkey is the one who is responsible for their heinous act.

    I will tell you another story myself and this from my own father who was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.  His father such was the thing to do at those times, has gone to Fresno for seven years along with his cousin.  His own mother was constantly urging him to come home as he had his beautiful wife, my grandmother, my own father and the rest of his family in the homeland that were missing him something terrible.  Letter after letter from his own mother, then he finally came home just about six or eight months before June of 1915; on the way going back to Palu, my grandfather bought one or two rifles from Germany and when he came home he buried it in their backyard, which is probably still in there if one goes back to Palu, Turkey.  Now his grandfather in their town in Palou was a very known and a respected man.  Someday in June of 1915, the mayor’s office asked him to go and see him with both his sons because he had something of importance to convey it to him.  My grandfather at the time was only 36 years old.  Only a few hours later the gendarmes brought three corpses and threw them in-front of their house so that the women will bury them.  It was my great grandfather who was 80 years old, my grandfather and my granduncle.  The women of the house right after that went to hide in their Kurdish servant’s house, until of course a little while later a “herovardag” a decree was announced by the government that if any Turk or a Kurd happen to hide Armenians in their homes, they will set their homes on fire.

    This is only a part of my family’s story from the Armenian Genocide of 1915.  As sad and as unfortunate as it was.  

  4. Hye,
    Selcuk, sadly it is you who is lacking in truths… your leadership has lied to you and your countrymen of your Turkish history – lied so much that they are today unable to face these truths – even to themselves… Turkey is today a nation in great difficulties.  Turkey is is decayed and decaying within
    all its leaderships.  Turkey is today using many ploys, over and over to distract the world from noticing the sad state of affairs of  the Turkish leaders, Turkish nation and  Turkish citizens. Turkey, as they continue to appear ‘worldly’ – today,  all of a sudden – after hundreds of years of the Ottoman policies – but sadly  – today – still  continues in the Ottoman mode.  Turkey is desparately pursuing many avenues – many venues, to appear to ‘glitter’ in so many ways  before the nations of the world .  But yet, only the truths shall set your nation and your citizens freed from their continued  pursuit of the Ottomans’ modes, Ottoman  decadence.   
    May it be soon, for your own sake.  May it be soon for those 1,500,000 Armenians slaughtered, and more, whose bones lie – unburied – lying in waiting on the soils of their own Armenian homeland.   And, only when the Turkish leaderships admit to their guilt for the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation, so too,  shall these  bones that linger in Turkey – all these nearly 100 years – yet unburied – remain  in watch of the unashamed, unrepentent Turks.  For only when  justice is served – and only then, shall these bones perish, in peace.  Too this is a covenant these bones passed on to their survivors, and all those who follow, and to all humanity.  This then shall be the beginnings of the end of the cycle of Genocides… by all humanity.   Manooshag


  5. Hello Armenians.
    As a Turk, I believe with all my heart that the Genocide happened. I know my Turkish friends here might be offended, but the truth is out there for all to see.
    But, please refrain from attacking common Turkish people, remember if you antagonize Turks, then they will never accept the Genocide, even though we all know that it happened. No need to belittle Turks, your attacks shoud be directed against our government. I also believe that befriending us will make things easier for all. No need insulting each other, it is useless and serves no one here.
    I too did not like Astarjians bravado-ish attitude. I do understand his mentality  of “revenge,” but against a Turk, a poor Turk, shining shoes in a foreign capital? I would suggest that Mr. Astarjian direct his “revenge” against our government, and not pick on an individual Turk.
    I hope that our government will finally realize that “covering up” an old wound like the Genocide is not the right thing to do. We need to bridge the gap that has appeared between our two peoples since 1915.
    I ask my Turkish friends not to insult Armenians, and from my Armenian friends not to insult Turks here and everywhere.
    Wish all my Armenian friends Merry Christmas.

  6. Deniz, your comments suggest that you are an honorable person….not because we agree on the injustices commited against the Armenians, but because you have the attitude to accept the truth
    and the courage to move on to a brighter future. One of the tragedies of the Turkish government’s denial policy, is that it makes it impossible for the decendants of the survivors to end their grief.
    A crime unpunished is frustrating,but a crime unpunished and unrecognized is unbearable. One form of closure is apathy which,in a sense, is a continuation of genocide… a cultural assimilation that leads to the complete loss of identity. Another reaction to this lack of closure is the constant use of stereotypes towards Turks. You are correct, Deniz. Our energy needs to be focused towards the government, not the people.  We are stuck in negative generalizations. In fact, building relationships based on a common desire to reconcile can help our position. It is quite possible to be passionate about the recognition of the Genocide and to build relationships with Turks. To not is to be limited to a frustrating culture of ethnocentric stereotyping. Sounds great when you are with other Armenians, but does nothing for the cause that we profess to embrace. 

  7. There are more things binding Turks and Armenians together than most people on either side care to admit.  We have a shared history of 800 years, many shared cultural traits and shared human interactions.  We even have shared familial ties resulting from the events of the Genocide, though most of us don’t know it or will not accept it.  Now if only we can get past the Genocide issue we may be able to restore our severed relations.

    It is pointless for the Turkish government and for so many Turks to keep denying the Genocide and defending the Young Turk regime’s decision to destroy the whole of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire when that regime was an utter failure for the the Turkish people!  What glory did they bring to the Turkish nation that they deserve to be defended?  They brought only defeat and shame.  So, why defend them and their actions?  It’s pointless.  We don’t see modern Germany defending the actions of the Third Reich or barring criticism of their actions.  Yet, that’s what successive Turkish governments from 1923 to now have done with the subject of the Armenian Genocide by denying the Genocide.  Denial of the Genocide is de facto protection of the Young Turk regime and its failed policies. 

    A more constructive approach would be for modern Turks to say “There was a genocide against the Armenians, it was committed by a rogue organization within the Turkish government of 1915, and we distance ourselves from their actions.  We are not like them and we don’t approve of what they did in our name.  The Turkish people do not approve of genocide.  Period.”  This would go a long way toward healing old wounds and setting the Turkish nation on record as affirming history and the principles of justice.   

  8. As a Turk I am not upset because some of us choose to believe what the Turkish government kept saying us at home, and some of us choose to believe there was genocide because of the heavy propaganda abroad. Both sides prefer not to investigate the matter and find it comfortable to decide without thinking based on historical evidence. (It is none of my business to relate these propositions to the comfort that the Armenians found in believing what their grandparents told them, or what their religious leaders used it as a dogmatic thought to keep the nation united).
    Read both sides of the story before accepting or rejecting. Leave your prejudices behind – he is a man of Turkish government, he is a Turkish scholar – or – on the other side, he is a sexual harasser, he used to be a communist.
    Think about the evidence only; look if it is forgery or real; but more important than all,  read both sides and be fair. Than if you found both sides have made terrible things, don’t ignore one side and don’t put the blame on the other.
    Read, read, read and think.

  9. Stepan, Actually I  agree with you about the Genocide and other injustices committed against the Armenians.  I understand the frustration of all Armenians worldwide.  Remember, the more Turks that are exposed to the truth of the Genocide, the more Turks can pressure our government to recognize the Genocide.  Most Turks are ignorant when the issue of Genocide is discussed. For the last century, our history books lacked the “killings of 1.5 million Armenians.”  The current Turkish population who grew up knowing absolutely nothing about the Genocide, are suddenly slammed by the idea that their great great fathers committed this heinous crime.  So, most Turks become defensive.  But remember, there are thousands upon thousands of good Turks, who want nothing but the recognition of the Genocide. You have Dr Akcam, Nobel Peace prize poet Orhan Pamuk and thousands of other Turks, who are sick and tired by the continuation of this injustice to the 1.5 million killed Armenians. We want their sould to rest in peace. And so, we need the help of all Armenians to contact every single Turk, and in a civilized way, without throwing accusations and asking for this and that. Always remember, most Turks did not know that the Genocide happened. They grew up knowing nothing about the Genocide. I grew up thinking how good these Armenian jewelers were in Istanbul. How interesting their churches were. How good their doctors were. Minas, my Armenian friend in college never mentioned anything about the Genocide.  We went to movies, restaurants, we married, he attended my wedding, I his, but now I know why he did not mention the Genocide, because he had to keep the pain a secret from me. Now looking back, I realize why on April 24 he always missed school and was home sick.  I always thought that Armenians in Turkey resided only in Istanbul.  Never did I know that these Armenians were the remnants of a 2-3 million strong Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire. My shock was great when I first heard about the Genocide. How painful must have been for these poor souls being driven to the deserts. The pictures of tiny Armenian orphans broke my heart. The pictures of the thousands of dead Armenians on the roads just brought me pain and shame. I am sorry for this horrendous injustice committed against your people. If great Turks like Orhan Pamuk and Dr Akcam recognized the Genocide, who am I not to? 
    The day will come, when we will be friends again.
    I consider all Armenians my friends.
    Your Turkish friend, deniz

  10. Deniz really put things in perspective. My wife is Bolsahay and can attest to what Deniz has said. Many Turks don’t know anything whatsoever about Armenians so when they hear about the Genocide, they become very defensive, it is something very alien to them. The truth is being realized in Turkey, albeit slowly.
    Anyway, thank you Deniz.

  11. I just wanted to point out that I thought this was a well-written, witty article overall. It’s great reading your opinion pieces again, doc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.