AVAG: GENOCIDE TOOK EVERYTHING EXCEPT LIFE
By Gayane Abrahamyan
"Every day he waited for death. Every morning when the sun rose, we did not know whether it would get dark or not."
The words are written by the now-trembling hand of 94-year old Avag Harutyunyan.
In a thick notebook the old man has written the story of his life, beginning not on the day of his birth but on a notorious day in the spring of 1915, when Avag's life would forevermore impose upon him the title: "Survivor".
The Genocide deprived him of everything but life. Like the wicked devil in the tale of his childhood the massacres took his father, his mother and his sister, and by the time he was six he was alone with his memories, that he now shares from his home in Ararat.
"The Turk wanted to kill everyone to the last Armenian." Like his hands, the voice trembles, and his brown eyes fill with tears. He tells of the road to refuge, on which Turkish soldiers made bets about pregnant women - about whether the child inside the belly was a boy or a girl. Then slicing the woman's belly open to see who won the bet.
Then his face brightens like that of a child and he says: "But we fought heroically, even the women had taken guns, otherwise we couldn't pass the road of refuge, every day the soldiers came across and we fought to death."
Grandpa Avag remembers the escape from Western Armenia had not begun yet when the men of their village where drawn to the Turkish Amy, including his father. His mother was alone with two children. She tied Avag to the back of an ox, his sister to the back of a calf, and they took the dark way of refuge.
"We were hungry, my poor mother found something to eat from here and there, but she wouldn't eat, she was exhausted and sick. When we reached the city of Baquba in Iraq, the English people took my mother to the hospital."
But the mother did not return from the hospital. Avag believes she was poisoned by a Muslim doctor.
"Those Turks had frightened their own as well, bribed them not to help us. My poor mother suffered so long, crossed the way of refuge for three years and was killed when we were already saved," Avag remembers with bitterness.
After their mother's death, 6-year old Avag and his 4-year old sister, Sanam, were cared for by an English soldier, then turned over to Avag's uncle.
"My uncle was young and couldn't take two children. He took me with him and asked my aunt to take my sister. But my aunt was heartless enough to say she can't take an orphan, she didn't want to care for a girl. And my sister stayed in a foreign city full of refugees.
"I still do not know did she survive or not, what happened to her? And God punished my aunt. She never could give birth to a child despite the treatments she took, she never became a mother."
The three year long escape led to the village of Khalisa in Ararat marz, where in those years (1919-1920) 70 percents of the inhabitants were ethnic Azeris.
"When we were brought there, we thought we got rid of those Turks, now we came to these Turks," jokes Avag, remembering days of his orphan childhood.
Longing for maternal love, the 8 year old boy was forced to work for an Azeri as a serf, and then when he learned to read and write a bit he was sent to the town of Ararat to work in a shop.
"In the shop I worked everybody had stolen something and had served in prison. But when after the three years of my work nothing was stolen there everybody was amazed. In the end they presented me a bicycle," tells Avag.
Along with working in the shop he studied at a 7 year school, then entered an agricultural college and started his work in the world of books.
"I did not know Armenia properly. I spoke all the languages at once. I knew the language of those people whom I dealt with - Kurdish, Turkish, Azerbaijani, but I began learning Armenian alone and was the best."
Longing for learning the 17 year old young man came to Yerevan and entered the Agricultural Institute, where he earned the Tairov scholarship for excellence in studies.
"He was alone in this life and reached everything with his industriousness and stamina, his grandchildren have inherited this feature from him - they like learning," says Avag's daughter Hasmik Harutyunyan.
Now, the Doctor of Agriculture carefully takes his awards and certificates out of the drawer, and tells proudly about the devotion and hardships he worked with to deserve them, when he has passed the road from an orphan and a refugee to the Doctor of Philosophy and Hero of Labor titles.
His grandson says that Avag works still, and that he is now studying English.
But today the most important thing in Avag's life is the book about his life. He has finished it. But now, he makes copies, writing each one over.
"He does not tell us why he copies by hand," says Hasmik. "He says he makes some corrections. But I think he wants to keep a copy for each of his grandchildren."
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