The Eastern Diocese’s Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center hosted a book presentation by Adrienne Alexanian, editor of her late father’s newly published memoir, Forced into Genocide: Memoirs of an Armenian Soldier in the Ottoman Turkish Army, on Thursday, April 6.
Ms. Alexanian’s father, Yervant Alexanian, was conscripted into the Ottoman Army in 1915. Unlike many fellow Armenian conscripts, he survived the Armenian Genocide and documented its atrocities in his journals.
Ms. Alexanian, an educator by profession and recipient of the Ellis Island Medal in 2010, found his writings when she was organizing her father’s papers, as president of several Armenian organizations, to be archived. She worked closely with a translator to render the original Armenian text and then edited the book. Forced into Genocide was released globally this month by Transaction Publishers.
At the April 6 event, Ms. Alexanian gave an overview of her father’s upbringing in Sepastia (Sivas) in historic Armenia, showed one-of-a-kind photographs, and Armenian and Ottoman Turkish documents from his personal collection, all of which are translated into English. She also read passages from his memoir, which details his childhood, his life in the Ottoman Army during the years of the Armenian Genocide, and his subsequent immigration to the United States in 1920.
The youngest of eight children, Mr. Alexanian was raised by his widowed mother in Sepastia, where more than 100,000 Armenians lived prior to the events of 1915. He attended the city’s Jesuit college, but when war broke out six months before his graduation as valedictorian the young man was conscripted into the Ottoman Army.
In July 1915, he witnessed 51 of his family members, including his mother, forced on a death march into the Syrian dessert. He never learned of their whereabouts. “The entire Armenian population of Sivas was deported within weeks,” he wrote. “Every night, I saw caravans of deportees leave town, making their way to their deaths across the valleys that surrounded the city.”
In addition to the horrors he witnessed and described in his writings, Ms. Alexanian said her father also captured the humanity of Turks who helped save Armenian lives.
At the conclusion of the talk, the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, director of the Diocese’s Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, read a touching passage Mr. Alexanian wrote on Mother’s Day in 1953, in which he lovingly remembered his mother and expressed his years of yearning following their painful separation in the summer of 1915. A question-and-answer session closed the evening.
Forced into Genocide includes an introduction by Sergio La Porta, professor of Armenian Studies at California State University, Fresno, and a foreword by Israel W. Charny, executive director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem.
The memoir has received positive reviews from scholars and writers, including Clark University Professor Taner Akcam, and Dr. Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation, who called it “moving, uplifting, and richly detailed.”
“The story of Yervant Alexanian provides significant insight into not only the tragedy of the Armenians who lost their lives during the Genocide but also, importantly, it tells us the forgotten stories of Armenians who served in the World War I Ottoman Army as there are hardly any books in Armenian literature on this aspect of the Genocide,” wrote Eric Bogosian, actor and author of Operation Nemesis. “As disturbing as Alexanian’s story is, it gives us a rare glimpse of another facet of the Genocide.”
The April 6 event was attended by some 80 community members and leaders, including Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, and Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s representative to the United Nations.