Vartan Ohanian on the story of his grandmother

From Humans of London facebook page, which also featured Vartan’s story: Every day this week we’ve featured stories about love-against-the-odds, survival, promises kept or broken, and the Armenians’ need for recognition, justice and reconciliation, ahead of Friday’s UK opening of The Promise, a love story set during the still-to-be-universally-acknowledgedvArmenian genocide of 1915.

My grandmother was on the Death March. She told me ‘It was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, my mother was out shopping, and the soldiers came and told us ‘There is going to be a war here, we’re going to take you to a safe place, your mother will join you, don’t worry, don’t worry,’ then they marched us out into the desert – just women and children because all the men had already been taken away and killed. For 3 days there was no water, no food.’ She said ‘I’m not going to tell you about the rapes because I’m ashamed to talk about that. The Chechens were helping the Turks, but they weren’t on horses.

They were walking alongside the column with planks of wood with nails sticking out, and when people fell down because they were starving, they would hit them with those planks to make sure they were dead.’ They hit her too but she didn’t die. I asked her ‘How did you survive?’ and she said ‘You won’t believe this, but I ate some of the bum of someone who had died. There were big pits full of bodies, covered with lime so that they wouldn’t smell. I hid under the dead, and then a Turkish family came and they took me as a maid. They used to beat me and rape me too but at least I was alive, so I wasn’t complaining. Then I was rescued by a Catholic missionary and taken to France.’

20 years later we found out her sister was still alive, and then she came to our home in Lebanon. Everyone was dressed up, everyone was crying. It was so emotional. I was only 10 but I still remember it very well. Suddenly I had all these beautiful cousins.