Sarah Baronian

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The Boston Herald
October 29, 2005 Saturday

Genocide forced mother into lifetime of anguish

By Joe Fitzgerald

John Baronian just returned from a trip to Fresno for a cousin's funeral, which explained his heightened desire to share a story that's defined his life.

``Her name was Sarah, he said. ``She was the matriarch of the family. Now I'm the oldest one remaining, the patriarch of the Baronians.

As such, he embraces his role as the keeper of a flame he knows must never be extinguished.

Long retired from a successful career in insurance, Baronian's well-known around town as Tufts' most irrepressible tub-thumper, the uncrowned king of the Jumbos.

But behind that friendly facade and beneath that gregarious nature lies a haunting, painful memory time has not diminished.

``I can still see my mother crying, he said. ``She would try to hide it, but we'd catch her crying all the time, and whenever she'd try to talk about it she'd break down and cry again, unable to continue. She could still hear the voices of those little kids, the sisters and brother I never knew, pleading for something to eat or drink as they died in her arms out there in the desert.

He refers to a carnage known to history as the Armenian Genocide, the wanton slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians by Turks whose descendants still wash their hands of all responsibility.

It happened in 1915, making this a significant year because it's the 90th anniversary.

``My mother and father lived in the Ottoman Empire in a place called Harput, Baronian said. ``He was a farmer. Most everyone there was a farmer. Armenians lived there for centuries. It was like a kingdom with its own symbol, Mount Ararat.

``When the genocide began, the Turks were immediately brutal. Women were beaten and raped by Turkish soldiers while men were hanged in the square or shot in the woods.

``My father's brother had moved to Worcester, where he worked in the old steel mill. But he got homesick, so he returned, and two weeks later he and my grandfather were taken to those woods and shot to death for no reason at all, just for being Armenians. That was all the reason the Turks needed.

``Then came the death march. That's what we call it, though the Turks called it a relocation march, which was ridiculous, because thousands were forced into the Der El Zor desert with no water, no food, no anything.

``My mother was among them with her three little children, all under 5. She had my sisters, Helen and Azadouhi, and my brother, Sirak. All around her, decent-living people were dying needlessly, while her own children kept crying from hunger and thirst until they died, too. My poor mother would hear those cries every day for the rest of her life.

The Baronians survived, eventually making their way to Worcester, where they started a new life and family.

``I was their firstborn here, John said. ``Three sisters followed. We later moved to Medford, where I still live. I served in the Pacific Theater in World War II, then entered Tufts when I was discharged. Near the end of my freshman year, 1946, my mother died at 58. I thank God I had her for that one last year. But she never got over the loss of those siblings I never knew.

He shared that story not as a raconteur, but as a faithful son.

``Just before he began slaughtering Jews, Hitler asked, `Who remembers what happened to the Armenians?' Baronian said. ``In other words, people will eventually forget whatever you do. What a devastating comment. I can assure you, all around the world, Armenians have never forgotten what happened 90 years ago.

``And that's why I tell the story. God forbid anyone forgets.

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