Se­niors re­call the tragic tales of Ar­me­nia

At Glen­dale cen­ter, geno­cide’s cen­ten­nial evokes rec­ol­lec­tions and hopes for of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Es­mer­alda Ber­mudez

Dap­per men f lock here by the dozens al­most ev­ery day.

They ar­rive in sweater vests and fe­do­ras, to play pool, backgam­mon and chess — un­til their wives call them home for lunch or din­ner.

It would seem to be a sweet life they live in Glen­dale, home to the largest pop­u­la­tion of Ar­me­ni­ans out­side of Ar­me­nia.

Un­til the days lead­ing up to April 24, the date mark­ing the 1915 Ar­me­nian geno­cide, when about 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple in their home­land were mas­sa­cred at the hands of Ot­toman Turks.

“Ev­ery April, my heart beats faster,” said Vacha­gan Hovsepyan, 64, whose great­grand­par­ents died dur­ing the geno­cide. “I won­der: Will this be the year we fi­nally have jus­tice?”

“The next day,” he said. “I’m al­ways left empty.”

The atroc­i­ties hap­pened so long ago — be­fore the in­ven­tion of tele­vi­sion or peni­cillin — that some won­der why Ar­me­ni­ans, now dis­persed across the world, can’t sim­ply just let go.

But mov­ing on is im­pos­si­ble with­out recog­ni­tion, Hovsepyan said.

This year, on the 100th an­niver­sary of the slaugh­ter, the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to deny that the killings were in­tended to ex­ter­mi­nate a pop­u­la­tion and as­serts that the num­bers are ex­ag­ger­ated. And for the sev­enth con­sec­u­tive year, Pres­i­dent Obama de­clined to call the deaths a “geno­cide” — a term that Turkey, a strate­gi­cally im­por­tant ally, ag­gres­sively lob­bies world lead­ers to re­ject.

The pa­piks of Glen­dale are grand­fa­thers in their 60s, 70s and 80s who were not yet born when Ot­toman lead­ers did the killing, sus­pect­ing

Ar­me­ni­ans of col­lab­o­rat­ing with their en­emy, Rus­sia. But their minds are full of sto­ries, and at the Adult Recre­ation Cen­ter, where Ar­me­nian se­nior cit­i­zens have gath­ered for years, April brings those sto­ries to the sur­face.

On Fri­day, most of the men could not par­tic­i­pate in the six-mile march from Hol­ly­wood to the Turk­ish Con­sulate that tied up traf­fic along Wil­shire Boule­vard in the af­ter­noon. Their legs ached, and backs were not strong enough. They planned to light a can­dle at home or at church in­stead.

On Thurs­day, the day be­fore the an­niver­sary, the cen­ter buzzed with the sound of Ar­me­nian. Old friends fired bil­liard balls into cor­ner pock­ets; oth­ers hunched in groups of four over backgam­mon boards.

Some were born in Ar­me­nia, oth­ers in Le­banon, Iraq or Syria. To­day, many wore a for­get-me-not f lower pin, the em­blem of the cen­ten­nial.

News of the an­niver­sary was in­escapable, though some men said they would rather not dis­cuss the sub­ject. Images of rel­a­tives marched to star­va­tion or thrown off cliffs were too much to bear, they said.

“Ev­ery­one has dif­fer­ent emo­tions,” said Ge­orge Keushkar­ian, 87, who said his great-un­cle and greataunt, chil­dren at the time, were burned alive when their vil­lage was set ablaze. “But for many of us, the pain lives in your skin and there’s noth­ing we can do about it.”

Some worry that amends will not come dur­ing their time and that younger Ar­me­ni­ans, who did not hear the nar­ra­tives di­rectly from sur­vivors, may not guard the tales of atroc­ity so closely.

Oth­ers know lit­tle be­cause of the si­lence of their par­ents, so they strug­gle to find an­swers. Some turn to his­tory books at the Glen­dale li­brary next door.

On Thurs­day, Yer­vant Mel­conyan, 87, sat qui­etly chat­ting with a friend in the cen­ter’s lobby.

Mel­conyan will tell the story of his fa­ther, who sur­vived, to any­one who will lis­ten. He wrote each de­tail in a note­book that he keeps in a drawer in his bed­room.

He said that in 1915, Se­trak Mel­conyan was marched by Turks to the desert, along with scores of other Ar­me­ni­ans. His wife and Yer­vant Mel­conyan’s three older broth­ers, ages 10, 8 and 6, were by his side.

“They gath­ered them in the mid­dle,” Mel­conyan said. “And shot them all.”

Se­trak hid be­neath the corpses and man­aged to es­cape. He em­barked, Mel­conyan said, on a months-long odyssey, starv­ing and at times naked and beaten by mobs of Turk­ish vil­lagers un­til he even­tu­ally found refuge in Iraq.

Later, when he re­turned to his vil­lage in eastern Turkey, he found that only one rel­a­tive — a brother — had sur­vived.

Mel­conyan, born from a sec­ond mar­riage and named af­ter one of his older broth­ers who did not sur­vive, said that the de­tails haunt him, but that his life is peace­ful now. He’s sur­rounded by his peo­ple, by Ar­me­nian gro­cery stores, bak­eries and ban­quet halls.

One day he will pass along the note­book to his grand­chil­dren. He has five of them, he said, proudly list­ing each of their names: “Yer­vant, Acin, Talin, Se­van and Narek.”

Pho­to­graphs by Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

AN AR­ME­NIAN

f lag is mounted on a car at the recre­ation cen­ter in Glen­dale where Ar­me­nian se­nior cit­i­zens gather.

SARKIS OHANES­SIAN, 87, shoots pool at the cen­ter, where se­niors meet to play chess and backgam­mon and to talk.

HOUHANES TCHAPRAZIAN, 88, fore­ground, sits with Yer­vant Mel­conyan, 87, whose fa­ther sur­vived the Ar­me­nian geno­cide.

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