April 24, 2021
Source: Wiener Holocaust Library
By Alan WhitehornMy grandmother (metzmama) was an orphan of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Eastern Turkey. Her entire family was killed, and this young homeless child was found wandering the streets, not knowing her name or age. Somehow amidst the death and destruction she survived. Those who found her named her Sirhoun (English: beautiful). The Red Cross and Church groups provided food and shelter for her and hundreds of thousands of others for a number of agonizing years. As a child, Sirhoun spent ten long and lonely years in various refugee camps and orphanages in one country after another. Eventually, she was to be shipped with other refugees to America, but en route disembarked in Egypt. Adopted by an Armenian family in the diaspora, she worked as a young domestic. A marriage was arranged with another survivor of the genocide, a man much older than she was. Soon one child was born — Vartouie (Rose). Grandfather, however, could not cope with the horrific memory of the genocide and committed suicide while his young bride, my grandmother, was bearing her second child. My grandmother, now a young, impoverished widow, tried to abort the fetus but failed. Her young son survived and many years later went on to win a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. However, long before that joyous day, she endured the difficult times of the 1930s economic Great Depression, witnessed the Second World War, and Rommel’s approaching German army in the desert of Egypt. During the War, millions died, and many lives were disrupted, yet amidst the conflict, a young Englishman and Armenian woman met in Alexandria, Egypt. It was West meets East. The two fell in love and married. When the war ended, Mom and Dad went to England and post-war rationing, while metzmama and her two other children succumbed to Stalinist propaganda and relocated to Armenia in the totalitarian Soviet Union.
Alan Whitehorn is an emeritus professor of political science at the Royal Military College of Canada. In the mid-1990s, he was the first holder of the JS Woodsworth Chair in Humanities at Simon Fraser University. As an academic, he writes on the topics of genocide, human rights, political parties, and elections. As a poet, he explores the issue of genocide and its impact on Armenian-Canadian identity. His books include ‘The Armenian Genocide: The Essential Reference Guide’; ‘The Armenian Genocide: Resisting the Inertia of Indifference’ (coauthor); ‘Ancestral Voices: Identity, Ethnic Roots and A Genocide Remembered’; ‘Just Poems: Reflections on the Armenian Genocide’; and ‘Return to Armenia/Veradardz depi Hayastan’. He is an Aurora Forum Goodwill Ambassador.