Armenian Pilgrimages: A Journey to the Homeland

A father and daughter journey to their ancestral homeland, looking to track down the place their family had lived before being forced to flee the Armenian genocide.

They’re among hundreds of Armenian families who, over the last three decades, have returned to their ancestors’ home on a search for answers, in a country that that still denies the genocide ever took place.

This episode was produced by Alex Atack and Deena Sabry, and edited by Dana Ballout. Fact checking was by Deena Sabry and sound design by Monzer El Hachem. Our team also includes Nadeen Shaker, Zeina Dowidar and Finbar Anderson.

A special thank you to Syuzanna Petrosyan and Salpi Ghazarian at the University of Southern California’s Institute of Armenian Studies.

Find out more about Nubar’s upcoming documentary here: scarsofsilence.com.

Carel’s book is called A House in the Homeland, and you can find it at Stanford University Press

Find out more about Annie’s tours and see pictures and videos of previous trips at her Facebook page, @historicarmenia.

Find a transcript for this episode at our website.

Support this podcast on patreon.com/kerningcultures for as little as $2 a month.

Transcript

Note: our transcripts are made with a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may not reflect the audio with 100% accuracy.

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STING

DANA BALLOUT: A quick warning before we start: this episode contains a couple of references to violence.

I’m Dana Ballout, and this is Kerning Cultures.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: Well for me it was totally unexpected. Every time I stepped out of the van, I would get choked up. And there were times when I was so overwhelmed emotionally that my daughter Abby would stand between me and everyone else who was getting off the van to just give me some room. Because I was turning around because I was crying. I had no idea why I was crying. I don’t think it’s overstating it if I say I’m a different person because of this trip.

DANA BALLOUT: Nubar Alexanian grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. His family is Armenian all the way back generations. His first language was Armenian, and he remembers Armenian food and music as a constant background to his childhood. But there was also a hole in his family’s history, one that he really didn’t know how to fill.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I did not feel connected to the homeland, but that was really because my parents never talked about it. My parents were really serious about being American. My grandparents never spoke about the Armenian genocide. You know, denial is a powerful thing.

DANA BALLOUT: The Armenian genocide began in 1915. Under the cover of World War 1, the Turkish military murdered over one million ethnic Armenians, Greeks and other minorities. Many were killed in death marches; they were forced to walk in these long lines through the desert towards concentration camps.

And growing up, Nubar knew the genocide as this awful event that some of his ancestors had been subjected to. But it was distant.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I knew a rough story that my maternal grandmother had to go on a death march with her brother, but she survived by eating desert grass. She saw her entire family massacred except for her three daughters and her brother.

DANA BALLOUT: The genocide became one of those foundational events leading up to the creation of the Turkish state. Today, almost all of historic Armenia is part of the Republic of Turkey. And the Turkish government has a different narrative of what was inflicted upon Armenians in those years. 

What they say are things like; it was an unfortunate tragedy that was just part of world war one. Or, Armenians left of their own volition. Or, that thousands of Turks died too – they were the real victims.

This deliberate distortion of history has had its intended effect. Today, only 33 countries officially recognise the Armenian genocide.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: If you think about that, so as a people, we have been traumatised by this event which nobody believes, basically. So as a people, where do we belong? Who are we? How do you figure out what your identity is, if your brutal past is denied, basically?

DANA BALLOUT: Nubar is a photographer and a filmmaker. His entire life, he’s travelled the world, taking pictures for magazines and newspapers like LIFE magazine and the New York Times. He’s worked in more than 30 countries.

But he’d never been to Armenia. And the idea to go never really crossed his mind. Until he retired and started thinking more about the Armenian part of his identity. And a sense of belonging, that he felt he was missing.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I live in a really nice fishing village here in Massachusetts, it’s a great place, I’ve lived here for 50 years. This is home to me but there’s another home and if you’re an immigrant, there has to be another home.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: My dad talks a lot about how he sort of tried to escape this sense of Armenian identity. And so you know, that showed up a lot in what he didn’t bring to my childhood.

DANA BALLOUT: This is Nubar’s daughter – Abby Alexanian.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: I would still see it and feel it during holidays – my grandparents, the little comments that they would make and my dad’s stories from his childhood. And so there’s just such a concept of a container that had not been filled. And I know the container was called Armenian-ness or being Armenian, but I didn’t know what was supposed to go in it. So I think that was so much a driving force for me when I was graduating from college, which led me to asking my dad if he would go with me on a trip to Armenia.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I was like, absolutely. I would go anywhere with her, but to Armenia? Sure. So yeah, my response was, yeah, absolutely. Yes.

DANA BALLOUT: In our episode today, Nubar and Abby go on that trip, looking for answers to questions that they both knew they had, but didn’t know the right way to ask them. The answers, they thought, might be back at the very beginning. In their family’s ancestral homeland. Producer Alex Atack takes the story from here.

ALEX ATACK: When Nubar first got this idea in his head – to go with his daughter Abby to visit their ancestral homeland – at first, he started looking up flights to Yerevan, which is the capital of modern-day Armenia. The plan was – fly into Yerevan, book a hotel, and make day trips out to different parts of the country. Learn about their heritage that way.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I was talking to a colleague of mine who is Armenian, and she asked me what we were gonna do. And, I said, well, we’re gonna go to Yerevan. I have a nice hotel and we’re gonna find some guides and stuff. And she stopped me and said, what does Yerevan have to do with you? Nothing. And I’m like nothing? And she said, no, your families come from western Armenia – eastern Turkey, Anatolia. That’s the place. And of course, she was right.

ALEX ATACK: The republic of Armenia today is just a small corner of what used to be considered Armenia. Now, about 90% of Armenians in America trace their roots back to what is today an entirely different country.

Nubar knew the names of his grandparents’ villages – where they lived before fleeing the genocide. And so, after this conversation with his colleague, he completely upended his plans, changed his plans entirely – and decided to instead book a trip to eastern Turkey instead – and visit his grandmother’s village there.

But they needed a guide. Nubar and Abby don’t speak Turkish, and when you go to these historic Armenian areas today, a lot of the Armenian history – like the houses, the gravestones – they’re just gone, or at least you wouldn’t find them unless you knew what to look for. If they wanted to find the exact place where Nubar’s grandparents had lived, they were going to need an expert.

CAREL BERTRAM: Armen Aroyan is like a gift to the Armenian community that just descended from the heavens.

ALEX ATACK: This is Carel Bertram, she’s the author of a book called A House in the Homeland – and she’s been writing about Armenians visiting their ancestral home towns for years. Its her book that got us set off on this story in the first place.

She’s been on around a dozen trips to eastern Turkey with groups of Armenian pilgrims – as she calls them. Each time with the same guide: Mr. Armen Aroyan.

CAREL BERTRAM: He had a family who had also been survivors of the genocide, but they had moved to Egypt, not to the United States. And then he came to the United States and became an engineer, decided, oh, why don’t I go see my village? And he did. 

ARMEN AROYAN [ORAL HISTORY]: Well, it was an opportunity. I was in Germany and working for a German company for a month. And there was a long weekend coming up. 

ALEX ATACK: This is Armen Aroyan speaking in an oral history interview in 2018 for the Institute of Armenian Studies at the University of Southern California. Thanks, by the way, to the people there for letting us use this audio.

ARMEN AROYAN [ORAL HISTORY]: So I told my work partner, I said, you guys can go to Turkey? I saw a big ad that says Visit Turkey. So I told him, is it easy to go to Turkey? He said, yeah, we can go for a weekend. He said, why don’t you go this weekend? So I went and bought the ticket.

ALEX ATACK: And he went into that first trip with caution. Growing up, he’d always been taught that Turkey was, in some way, dangerous for Armenians.

ARMEN AROYAN [ORAL HISTORY]: Well, Turkey was very bad. Yeah. We just had a negative image. The teachers in high school or primary school always talked about the massacres. I knew it was forbidden territory though. And I was very scared on the aeroplane and I told the hostess – who was a man. I said, is it really okay? He said yes. He brought me a bar of candy, he said, eat this candy. You feel okay? So he babysat me.

ALEX ATACK: But when he landed and went through airport security and out into Istanbul, he was surprised. Everything here felt familiar; the food, the way people looked, the music.

ARMEN AROYAN [ORAL HISTORY]: It was very illuminating and interesting and it was not – the image was different than we had before going. So that gave me the encouragement that I should go back and go deeper.

ALEX ATACK: That first trip was pretty short – just three or four days. But once he’d realised how easy it was to travel to Turkey, he wanted to go again, and he wanted to go back with a more specific objective.

INTERVIEWER [ORAL HISTORY]: What was the goal of that trip for you? 

ARMEN AROYAN [ORAL HISTORY]: To go to my grandfather’s birth place which is Jibin.

INTERVIEWER [ORAL HISTORY]: Jibin. Did you find it?

ARMEN AROYAN [ORAL HISTORY]: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER [ORAL HISTORY]: What was that reaction like? Or what was that experience like for you?

ARMEN AROYAN [ORAL HISTORY]: It was tremendous. It lacks any words – an experience you never see again. I even cried, on the spot.

ALEX ATACK: When he got back to America, he started telling other Armenians in his community in Pasadena about his trip, and how he’d actually managed to find his grandfather’s village. He had photos and video clips, and he started showing them in these little presentations at his local church.

ARMEN AROYAN [ORAL HISTORY]: People wanted to join. I mean, instead of showing these videos after the show, they were come and says, why don’t you take us?

CAREL BERTRAM: And, just sparked such longing in the Armenian community that everyone wanted to go. So he slowly started doing that.

ALEX ATACK: So, in October 1992, Armen got on a PanAm flight to Turkey again, this time with six Armenian Americans from California, in search of their ancestral villages. In one case, they found the actual house – near what is today called Gaziantep.

ARMEN AROYAN [ARCHIVE]: So we went to his house, three-story house. Big house. He stood in the middle, in the courtyard. He says, My god, they really had a big house. Four families are living with one family lived before. He was so proud of it. 

CAREL BERTRAM: And that became his life’s work. He stopped being an engineer. Didn’t have a company. This was all word of mouth and his desire, his dedication, to giving people the kind of experience that he had of his past.

ALEX ATACK: Over 30 years, Armen Aroyan took nearly 1,500 pilgrims to visit their ancestral homeland, over nearly 100 trips. He had to stop in 2017 because of health issues, and he passed the torch onto Annie Kahkejian.

ANNIE KAHKEJIAN: With his blessings, I took over the tours and started doing and guiding, organising, and doing all aspects of the tour on my own. I can’t fill up his shoes, but I promised I can do my best.

ALEX ATACK: Annie met Armen as a pilgrim herself, looking for her own ancestral village.

ANNIE KAHKEJIAN: I was born in Lebanon. And then when I was two years old, moved to Damascus, Syria, and then I grew up there and that’s why we went back and forth to Lebanon during the summer. And then in 1982, we moved to the United States. Myself and my whole family.

ALEX ATACK: Her ancestors are Armenian, from a small village called Vakifli in what is today southern Turkey – just a stone’s throw from the Syrian border. Her parents and grandparents had talked about it growing up – but nobody from her family had actually been back since the genocide, until Annie went for herself.

ANNIE KAHKEJIAN: The minute I stepped out of the van, I looked around and I felt I really belong there. I don’t know. It was very weird. It was an amazing feeling. I looked at the nature. I looked at the people, especially the people. The same features, same eye colours. For a minute, I would look and I say, where am I? It was very emotional, very emotional. And I started remembering all the stories that my father used to tell me, growing up. Sorry. Sometimes I get emotional.

I mean, I travelled a lot. I even travelled so many times to Armenia. But I never felt I belong there. You know? But I don’t know. What’s the deal with that when I’m in historic Armenia. I automatically feel I’m one of them – this is my homeland.

ALEX ATACK: Some of the people who make this pilgrimage go into it knowing a lot about their family’s story. But that wasn’t the case for Abby and Nubar.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: I heard just little bits and pieces. I don’t think I knew very much and in fact I think my dad didn’t know everything. And so we started by interviewing my grandparents to find out more about what the stories were.

I think there were a lot of feelings that came up in that experience because I’d never talked with my grandparents in that way before and so I felt a sense of almost intrusiveness into something they maybe didn’t wanna share, but it turns out they were very happy to.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: My father could not understand why his granddaughter wants to go back to the old country, he just couldn’t believe – he didn’t understand why. And I get that, I mean, for a second generation, or actually for first generation, the past is the past. That’s how they view it.

ALEX ATACK: But in those interviews with Abby’s grandparents – Nubar’s parents – they learned in more detail about what had happened to their family during the genocide. And how Nubar’s grandmother had escaped her village in historic Armenia, and made it to America. 

And it was that village, which is called Husseing, that they decided was going to be their endpoint of their pilgrimage. The place they would pin their whole trip around.

They had no idea what was there today, what would find, or even what they wanted to do when they arrived. The plan was just to get there, to see it and feel it for themselves.

Often, before going on these trips, pilgrims won’t have an exact idea of where their grandparents’ or their great grandparents’ house is, or was. They might have clues – like a street name or a land deed, or a drawing, or even sometimes just the name of a town that’s usually since been changed to a Turkish name.

But this is where Armen – and now Annie – will help them. Pilgrims will bring whatever they have to them – and like detectives, they’ll start narrowing it down, until they’ve got a rough location.

ANNIE KAHKEJIAN: A lot of people come with like – not photos, but drawn pictures from their grandma that is like a map. They would say this was the church. There’s the creek and this was the house. And then we try, we try to find the from the drawing where the houses used to be.

ALEX ATACK: So literally just like hand drawn maps? 

ANNIE KAHKEJIAN: Yeah. 

ALEX ATACK: Wow, wow.

ANNIE KAHKEJIAN: Yes, yes. 

ALEX ATACK: And these have been passed down in the family?

ANNIE KAHKEJIAN: Yes, yes.

ALEX ATACK: But they don’t always know the exact spot they’re looking for from memory. Usually Annie will narrow it down to a town or a village.

ANNIE KAHKEJIAN: And then once we are there, we ask around a lot. We talk to old people, we ask around and a lot of the elderly people of the village, they remember more. So we talk to them, we give time, and then one thing leads to another. And then here we are at the location that we’re looking for.

ALEX ATACK: Sometimes that might be a house – in the distinctive Armenian style, made of wood. Sometimes it might just be an empty plot of land, or there might be a new building on top of that plot of land.

In Nubar and Abby’s case, they’d brought with them a hand drawn map of the village, Hussenig, that they’d found in a book.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: An impeccable map of who lived there, where they lived, who lived next to each other, where the mosque was, where the Armenian churches were, the schools, you know, the cafes, all of it is on this map.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: And so we had that as a guide and there was, all the streets had, the street names were the names of the people who lived – the families who lived on them. So my grandmother’s family name was Goshdigian. And so we just were able to see Goshdigian street on the map. And so that gave us a much closer, more detailed connection to the place.

ALEX ATACK: Before they left the US, they started getting these threatening messages. Nubar had made a facebook page to record his trip. And somebody – they don’t know who – sent a message to the page, claiming they were a Turkish police officer. It’s in broken English, but the message is clear: We’ll be following you from the moment you leave the airport. And you won’t be safe in Turkey.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: It wasn’t specific in a sense that made me feel like that was, there was a true risk that that single person was going to do something but it made me – it was unnerving. But it also kind of made me understand in a different way, why this feels really important.

ALEX ATACK: Armen had been dealing with this sort of thing for years. They’ve never had any serious safety issues on the trips. But it’s uncomfortable. A group of Armenians showing up in Turkish villages, looking for their ancestors’ homes. In Turkey, the government’s official position, more or less, is that the genocide didn’t happen. And that doctrine trickles down. Usually, pilgrims aren’t greeted with hostility – just a total misunderstanding of what really happened. Author Carel Bertram again.

CAREL BERTRAM: Well, it’s a strategic misunderstanding that is taught in the curriculum in Turkish schools, which is many layered, but one of the stories is that the Armenians were sent away during the war period for their protection. That’s what they were told. We’re protecting you, you’re gonna be able to come back, but of course they – the men were killed immediately. The women and children were sent on death marches and died.

ALEX ATACK: But Carel told me that despite the threatening messages the Alexanians got, on all the trips she’s been on, when Armenians arrive in their villages looking for fragments of their family’s past, people are very welcoming.

CAREL BERTRAM: In general, people had a warm memory of Armenians and they knew about neighbours, they knew who had owned what. The hard part was when they – not all of them, but many of them – would say, oh, we’re so glad to see you. Why did you leave? That was a big gulp for Armenians. Do you really wanna know why we left?

ALEX ATACK: And so, in 2012, Nubar and Abby packed their bags and got on a plane to Istanbul. Then got on another flight to Elazig, which is the Turkish name. Its Armenian names are Mezire or Kharberd.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: So when we got there, I mean, immediately everything seemed like it was Armenian. I mean, the look of a Turkish man or woman is very much like an Armenian man or woman. The food is very similar or the same you know, the music is almost the same.

ALEX ATACK: Everybody on the trip would pack into one or two small mini busses, with Armen at the front. They have to get around to everybody’s villages – and they’re not always near to each other. So it can be miles and miles of driving a day. But they pass the time – singing, or chatting, or playing games.

CAREL BERTRAM: You can imagine Armen at the front of our busses with his wonderful Kurdish driver, we’re in a small little bus and he’s on the phone all the time, figuring things out and where we’re going. He and Armen would be back and forth trying to find the villages, which was difficult even if you had been there before. Very difficult roads. We’d start at about 8 in the morning and get home about 9 or 10 at night.

Armen, occasionally, would talk about the villages, but this was really not a history trip at all. He would be more likely to point out and say, oh, your friend so-and-so from [Rassin] have family in this village.

ALEX ATACK: At one point on Abby and Nubar’s trip, Armen pulled the van over to the side of the road. Everybody stepped out and found themselves overlooking a deep gorge, with the Euphrates river flowing slowly through the bottom of it. Armen told them its name: It’s called the Kemah Gorge.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I didn’t know about the Kemah Gorge, we had no idea what was happening and so I’m shooting it, everybody’s out of the van.

ALEX ATACK: Nubar had been filming everything on this trip so far. He thought he might make a short documentary one day, or it just sent important to record for his family’s sake.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: The gorge itself is beautiful. I mean, the rock structure is red. I mean the colour, the Euphrates river is like a biblical river, you know?

ABBY ALEXANIAN: And it looks like there’s a small memorial for Turkish soldiers that had died there. And so it sort of looks like there’s a spot to pull over to kind of like pay respects to that memorial. And so that’s what we did. And I didn’t know what it was. And Armen started to explain it to us that it was this big landmark in the history of the genocide and that groups of Armenians had been marched there and many jumped off the cliff into the river rather than continue.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: Women and children were forced up to the top of the gorge to jump into the gorge to their death. And it was a way of – you know, it is just horrific.

ALEX ATACK: As the group were standing there, looking down at this gorge, and at the memorial plaque next to it – not for their ancestors, but for Turkish soldiers, Nubar looked around and realised he didn’t see his daughter, Abby.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I don’t see her anywhere. And the driver comes up and says to me, Abby’s in the van. So I go into the van, and she’s in tears.

ABBY ALEXANIAN [ARCHIVE]: They made them jump. And their blood turned the river red. And their bodies clogged the river. And there’s a memorial here for 12 Turkish soldiers who were killed because they drove off the bridge.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: I couldn’t process it, it was so – this sort of contrast and the juxtaposition of this sort of very like militaristic memorial, and the sort of roughness and like natural landscape of tragedy and death that was so visible and yet completely erased.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I mean, Armenians don’t have a Birkenau or an Auschwitz to visit. It makes the story about what happened to Armenians difficult because there’s not one place where all of this happened. It happened everywhere. So this was a place where we could go where we knew what happened to Armenians there.

ALEX ATACK: After the break, Nubar and Abby go looking for their family’s ancestral home.

MIDROLL

ALEX ATACK: A few days later, it was time to visit Nubar’s grandmother’s village. The place they had come all this way to see. Their bus pulled into this small hamlet called Hussenig. It’s just a handful of buildings, set at the bottom of a steep cliff.

When they arrive in a pilgrim’s town, Armen would make sure they’re the ones sitting at the front of the bus.

ARMEN AROYAN [ORAL HISTORY]: As we are approaching their village, I say – the feelings you’re having right now, you’ll never have it before or after. Just enjoy this feeling. As you are approaching the village, it’s a different feeling. Never will happen again.

ALEX ATACK: And – everyone else will be made to wait, so that whoever’s village it is is the first person to step foot off of the bus.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN [ARCHIVE]: So Ab, we’re in Hussenig, right now. What we’re looking for is a place called [Bornazian] street, which is here. And then we walk right up there.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: So I’m following my daughter, she’s got the map of the village.

ABBY ALEXANIAN [ARCHIVE]: So it’s amazing, these streets are the same streets that my great grandmother walked on.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: And I’m following her and she’s navigating us toward her land, and we found the exact place. 

ABBY ALEXANIAN [ARCHIVE]: So, this is it.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: And there was no question. It was so cool. And, I mean, I found it overwhelming. My daughter brought a picture, a wedding picture, of my paternal grandmother and her husband.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: Yeah, so it’s like, old-timey sepia toned, and it’s my great-grandmother with her hair up in a very high necked white gown and my great grandfather sort of standing stiffly in this dark suit.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: And out of the blue, when we found my grandmother’s piece of land. I said, I wanna bury this picture here.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: I think my dad and I were just like, oh, we’re just going to bury it in the land, like in the dirt.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I had no idea I was going to do that. I don’t even know why I did that.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: It was just this sort of, oh, I just gotta put her here because she was here and now I wanna put her here so that she can be back here again somehow. And so, it was very spontaneous. Sort of realised that this was this opportunity to return something or give her like this little tiny piece of Armenia back. And in that way, also give us a sense of belonging to this little piece of land.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: I kept getting choked up and then when my daughter and I started to bury the picture we made a cross on top of – after we buried it – we made a using little stones, and there’s a thing called – a Armenian cross is called a khachkar. And there were all those stones that look like that. So it, you know, in the movie you see that it looks like a khachkar. I sort of brought her home in a way.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: It was very touching. My dad cried. Part of what it meant so much to me about it was how watching him feel what he was feeling, especially knowing how much he had not felt in the course of his life about this type of thing, which in turn felt like a connection, like felt like I was connecting with him in a way that we hadn’t connected in our in the course of my life.

ALEX ATACK: In her book, Carel wrote a lot about rituals; the ways pilgrims respond to finally reconnecting with a place that their family had been taken away from for so long. There’s something sacred about the house itself, she told me.

CAREL BERTRAM: And I found many who hid their – either buried or hid photographs of family in places that either actually were the family house or stood for the family house. And other rituals, I’ll just mention a couple, one is digging earth, which everyone did and bringing some home from their village and another. And another one that is also personal to them, is invocation what I call invocation. And that is speaking, calling forth to the ancestors. And I don’t mean these way distant ancestors that they didn’t know, but their parents or grandparents, and saying, here I am mom, and I’m calling for you. I want you to meet my son. I want tell you things I want to thank you. And it was that sense of finding that place to call for those ancestors that made so clear to me that this was really holy land, that this was a place, this home, the house and the home were a conduit to something transcendent and healing.

ARMEN AROYAN [ARCHIVE]: It’s a bittersweet type of feeling, because people come here for closure. They get closure. Things were a question mark for them all their lives, but by coming here, by communing with their ancestors, they feel very relived and I guess, psychologically, there’s closure.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: We sort of walked through history together. It wasn’t just a trip, it wasn’t just – I mean, the journey as a journey was a journey through the history of what happened to Armenians. And even though she has read about it and I had read about it, being there is very different. And having that bond with my daughter is just phenomenal. It’s still there. I mean, every time I see her.

ABBY ALEXANIAN: I think for me it helped me connect to a sense of belonging. There’s no changing the history that we share and the identity, and there’s no pretending that that’s not there. And so I think it had been sort of unexplored or uncharted and now we can map it together and refer to it together and sort of have that shared experience that wasn’t there before.

NUBAR ALEXANIAN: It changed me. I mean, my life is not so heavy. I don’t carry as much weight with me. Trauma’s a powerful emotion, jeez, I had no idea. Telling this story was the key that unlocked the door that I didn’t know existed. And now it’s open.

DANA BALLOUT: This episode was produced by Alex Atack and Deena Sabry, and edited by me, Dana Ballout. Fact checking was by Deena Sabry, and sound design by Monzer El Hachem. Our team also includes Nadeen Shaker, Zeina Dowidar and Finbar Anderson.

ALEX ATACK: As a quick postscript to this – Nubar ended up going back, on a second trip to historic Armenia. This time with a camera crew and a fixer. 

[CLIP FROM SCARS OF SILENCE]

ALEX ATACK: He wanted to see if he could buy his grandmother’s plot of land.

[CLIP FROM SCARS OF SILENCE]

ALEX ATACK: The film’s not out yet, but we’ll post updates on our social media when it is. We’re @kerningcultures on instagram and twitter. You can watch the trailer at scarsofsilence.com.

A very special thank you to Syuzanna Petrosyan and Salpi Ghazarian at the University of Southern California’s Institute of Armenian Studies – they’re the ones who gave us their permission to use the oral history interview with Armen Aroyan.

And thank you to Abby and Nubar Alexanian, Carel Bertram and Annie Kahkejian, for speaking with us for this episode.

Carel’s book is called A House in the Homeland, and you can find it at Stanford University Press. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about Annie’s tours – or, going on one yourself – you can find her on Facebook – search “Historic Armenia”.

We’re taking a break over the holiday period, but we’ll be back with a new episode on January 12th.

BLEEP

ANNIE KAHKEJIAN: Even my friends were teasing me last night. They were – after like we’re gonna line up, they want my autograph after this episode, I said, okay, you guys line up so it’s like, you’re becoming famous. And I said, no, no, no!

BLEEP

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