Goodbye, Antoura: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide

Goodbye, Antoura: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide

by Karnig Panian

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When World War I began, Karnig Panian was only five years old, living among his fellow Armenians in the Anatolian village of Gurin. Four years later, American aid workers found him at an orphanage in Antoura, Lebanon. He was among nearly 1,000 Armenian and 400 Kurdish children who had been abandoned by the Turkish administrators, left to survive at the orphanage without adult care. This memoir offers the extraordinary story of what he endured in those years—as his people were deported from their Armenian community, as his family died in a refugee camp in the deserts of Syria, as he survived hunger and mistreatment in the orphanage. The Antoura orphanage was another project of the Armenian genocide: its administrators, some benign and some cruel, sought to transform the children into Turks by changing their Armenian names, forcing them to speak Turkish, and erasing their history. Panian's memoir is a full-throated story of loss, resistance, and survival, but told without bitterness or sentimentality. His story shows us how even young children recognize injustice and can organize against it, how they can form a sense of identity that they will fight to maintain. He paints a painfully rich and detailed picture of the lives and agency of Armenian orphans during the darkest days of World War I. Ultimately, Karnig Panian survived the Armenian genocide and the deprivations that followed. Goodbye, Antoura assures us of how humanity, once denied, can be again reclaimed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780804796347
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 04/08/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 970,286
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Karnig Panian was a longtime educator and vice principal at Djemaran, the Armenian Lyceum, based in Beirut, Lebanon.

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Goodbye, Antoura

A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide

By Karnig Panian, Simon Beugekian, Aram Goudsouzian


Copyright © 2015 Karnig Panian
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8047-9634-7



IT SEEMED TO ME that God had placed the Panians under his personal protection.

In our village of Gurin, my grandfather had a vast, densely cultivated cherry orchard—an expanse of four thousand cherry trees! At least, they said four thousand, but who knew? Nobody had ever counted. Only my grandfather knew for sure. When asked about it, he would smile contentedly and say "Four thousand? More, much more!" For him, cultivating these trees was like an act of religious devotion. On a separate plot of land he had rows of apple, pear, peach, and apricot trees, and even more cherry trees.

On workdays, right after stepping out of the house, he would cast a fatherly glance toward the orchards before walking on. On Sundays, after Mass, he would go straight to his trees, even before stepping inside the house. He would gaze at the leaves, pick up the pebbles and rocks from the soil, and gather broken twigs. He would inspect the trunks to make sure that worms hadn't gotten into them. He would then cast a final glance over his dominion. Sighing contentedly, he would make his way back home, walking with his eyes looking at the ground. When he finally came in through the door, the lunch table would be ready for him, and we would all be sitting around it, awaiting his arrival.

During harvest, donkeys would carry our produce to the markets. The fruit pickers, who were usually Turks, would work from dawn to dusk. In the evenings, they would return to their homes with a basket of assorted fruit in their hands—the perk of their job, an extra privilege granted by my grandfather. The orchards produced enough to reward everyone with plenty.

My grandfather's gardens belonged to the entire extended family. Almost every day, this or that group of relatives would take a stroll through one of them. They would pick the ripened fruits and chat while their happy children played. My friends and I would compete to see who could collect the most tree sap, which seeped out of the trunks. We would eat it, and it would stick to our tongues and the roofs of our mouths. I remember the taste exactly—I liked it more than anything else in the world.

We also had a vegetable garden where we grew cucumbers and tomatoes, pumpkins and eggplants, lettuce and potatoes, onions and garlic, mint and beans. In another corner of our lands was a vast field of flowers, with rows of roses, lilies, carnations, daisies, and basil plants that intoxicated the air with their fragrance.

"It's an empty world, an empty world," Manug Emmi would say to my grandfather. "It's up to us to fill it with homes, with fields, with beauty, and show God that we can create something out of nothingness."

"That's how it's been since the beginning," my grandfather would reply. "We build our homes, we plant our trees, we fill the Earth, but there are still those who struggle in misery, there are still beggars and thieves."

"When God created man, he created him to live in the Garden of Eden," mused Kevork Emmi from off to the side, "but beggars, thieves, and criminals have always existed, and will always exist. Such is the world, and it will never change. Cain and Abel, I tell you."

* * *

My grandfather had always been God-fearing and pious. With his own hands he had built homes and a church, and he never missed a Sunday Mass at the local church. For decades he had sung the glory of God. He often participated in official rites, and when he toiled in the fields, he always murmured his hymns and prayers. He would sing in such wistful tones, with such a sweet voice. Sometimes I would try to sing along—mostly with the tune, as I didn't know the words. At night, right before going to sleep, I would once again hear the soft music coming from my grandfather, and I would doze off in my grandmother's arms.

I don't remember much about my father. I had very little awareness of being his son. He would leave early in the morning and return late at night. During our meals, he would talk sparingly of daily events, of the goings-on in town, and of neighbors and acquaintances. He rarely spoke of business. By trade, my father was a cobbler. He owned a shop in town and produced high-quality, expensive shoes. He even made Yemeni boots, preferred by Turks and Kurds. Several times during the year he would fill a bag with his shoes, and he would tour the nearby villages, sell his wares, and return with sacks of grain, rice, lentils, and beans, as well as jars of jam and honey.

My mother was the personification of love and joy. It seemed as if a gentle, kind star shone out of each of her eyes, and her expression conveyed a virtuous serenity. Her smile was like the shining sun, and it generously graced me, my sister, and my brother. She knew by heart every single one of the prayers recited at our church, and when she was working I often heard her sing hymns, too. She also knew all of the popular songs of the time, and she often sang them in her melodious voice. She was still young, and extremely beautiful, and she was always the talk of the neighborhood women. "There has never been a woman like her in our town, nor will there ever be one again," they would say.

My maternal grandmother lived with us. My father invited her after the death of her other daughter and the emigration of her son to distant lands. She helped around the house, mostly taking care of the children, satisfying some of her longing for her dead daughter and her distant son. At nights, we scarcely left her alone. My sister and my brother would sleep on her lap, and I would sleep leaning against her back. It seemed to me that she never slept. She spent the hours covering us with blankets and murmuring prayers over us. She was an old woman, exhausted by life, but her prayers gave her strength. She was our guardian angel, completely dedicated to her family.

My grandfather's wife, by contrast, was a disagreeable woman. She had appeared on the scene about a year after the death of my grandmother, and she had married my grandfather. She was already quite mature and there was no talk of her having any children. She seemed jealous of my mother and her three healthy, happy children. She refused to mend my grandfather's pants and socks, and she didn't set up a good table like the other women of the family. She never had a smile on her face, never had a kind word for us like everybody else. She barely ever left the house or had any visitors, instead remaining ensconced in her room like an owl, whiling away the days.

* * *

It was Sunday—a clear, bright, beautiful day. Birds sang above the flower-speckled field. We could almost feel the soil breathing, the trees growing. From the distance, we heard the tolling of the church bells. The ceremonies inside the church had started long ago. It seemed like the pealing bell was admonishing latecomers and rushing them toward the church doors.

That day, our entire extended family went to church. Nobody was left at home. My grandfather led our procession, alongside the other men of the family, followed by the women and children. My sister sat on the shoulders of my cousin Krikor, and my brother and I held my mother's and grandmother's hands. We observed this tradition every Sunday, both in the heat of summer and the frosts of winter, according to the wishes of my grandfather.

Naturally, we children understood little of the church ceremony. Whenever people crossed themselves, my mother would squeeze my hand and I would imitate the grown-ups. The adult men gathered right before the altar, comfortable on divans and plush rugs, where they would occasionally fall to their knees, bow toward the floor, then stand back up and cross themselves. The women and children crammed into the balcony of the church, where they prayed and sang their subdued hymns. There was something melancholic in the words of the priest. I'm not sure anybody in town understood his elaborate sermons, but there was no mistaking the almost hopeless tone in his voice. When he spoke, sadness inexplicably enveloped my soul. I would begin suffocating, and I would pray that the ceremony would end soon. At such times, my mother would nudge me, admonishing me to keep quiet.

My eyes darted about. I sometimes looked toward the altar, sometimes up into the steeple, and other times toward the colorful tinted windows that threw shards of hues upon the congregation below.

When the ceremony ended, we formed a long line to kiss the priest's Bible. Aping my parents and grandparents, I, too, kissed the Bible, without understanding what I was doing. Finally, we left the church and headed back home. The adults exchanged blessings, laughed, and chatted joyfully.

The entire extended family gathered back at our house. Today, all the Panians were going to the spring beyond my grandfather's orchard.

My mother and my uncle's wife, Hnazant, had spent the whole previous day cooking. They had affixed flattened balls of dough against the red-hot walls of the smoking earthen tonir, and then, a few minutes later, extracted baked loaves of bread and arranged them on large trays, filling the air with the smell of baked dough. Then they brought out a huge cauldron of herisa, lowered it into the tonir, and shut the lid of the cauldron tight, so that no steam escaped. That night, they kept uncovering the tonir and extracting the huge cauldron, stirring the boiling stew with a ladle.

A large stick was put through two notches of the cauldron. Two young men lifted it out of the tonir and carried it up on their shoulders. Other food and drinks were packed into baskets, and then we headed out again. It was like a wedding procession, led by the two young men carrying the herisa. On our right side was a thin stream that gurgled along the orchards. To our left was a steep cliff, and at the bottom of it was the running river. The procession advanced along this thin path—one wrong step would send us rolling down the cliff. But we joked and talked, and it seemed like a festival. The children filled the air with giggles.

Occasionally, our procession would halt, and the young men carrying the cauldron would be replaced. The children ran ahead, fell behind, rolled down the hill, and even fell into the water, their joyful shrieks splitting the air.

The adults' conversations revolved around the children, who would soon be the pillars of their family—masters of the homes, orchards, and fields. More attention was paid to the boys. After all, the girls would someday be married off and become part of another family, another household.

"They've had a good start to life. We'll see what fate has in store for them," mused Kevork Emmi. He philosophically puffed his tobacco smoke, and through its folds he glared at the children in the vale.

The stream ran through the valley, lined by lush carpets of green grass dotted with colorful flowers, sucking up the rays of the sun. This corner of our town was called Tsakh Tsor, or, in the jargon of our neighborhood, Jakh Chor. It was a corner of paradise, a unique natural treasure. The valley gradually narrowed toward a small spring fed by two streams of water cascading from the icy, snow-clad mountains above. At the head of the spring was a huge pool, made of flat stone, with water as clear as the sky and surrounded by giant, bending willows. The water rushed into the valley, creating rainbows in the hovering mist.

Near the pool was a large, empty field. We settled ourselves in the cool shadows, sitting on small rugs, the stream's mist caressing our cheeks. Men and women alike headed for the pool, where they splashed and drank the icy water until their stomachs almost burst. Children ran about the pool and sprayed each other with water. All this created the sense of a surreal dream, into which I slipped comfortably.

While we played with abandon, our grandfathers sat in a tight circle, having a very serious discussion. The main speaker was my grandfather—his voice was the loudest. His brothers, Sahag and Manug, listened without saying a word, like marble statues.

"This spring is too small. We've got to enlarge it. We need to buy more of the land around it. We'll take some soil from the mountain, and then make a bridge linking this side of the stream to the other. There, we'll plant another orchard. As for this area—there are a hundred and twenty-five of us and we can barely all sit together at the same time. We need to enlarge the field, too—it needs to fit at least five hundred people." My grandfather would have continued, had he not been interrupted by Kevork Emmi.

"How many years will it take to do all this? Ten? Twenty?"

"I'll start. Those who survive me can finish it."

"When will the Panian dynasty reach five hundred people?" asked a skeptical Vartan Emmi.

"This is our land. It was left to us by our ancestors, and it's our duty to multiply the wealth they bequeathed to us, so that the next generations can enjoy it," replied my grandfather. "I believe in this mission, and I want you all to believe in it, too. And don't you forget—the Armenian nation will prosper again, thanks to those who always strive for more, not those who are content with what they were given. Let me finish this government seray. After that, I'm not taking on anything new. I'll hire a few Turkish workers and we'll get to work. This day next year, when we all gather here again, much will be different."

"Well, first we've got to find out if they'll even let us do it. The Turks have their eyes on these lands," said Serop Emmi, who had been smoking silently this entire time.

"If we believe everything those bastards say, we'll never get anything done," retorted my grandfather. "Our ancestors came from Akoulis two or three hundred years ago and settled on this land. We built our homes, our churches, and we tended to our fields. My own orchards took thirty-five, forty years out of my life. I made my money, I bought my lands, I grew my crops. My cherry orchard didn't spring out of the soil. I had to buy it piece by piece, then work like a slave for each acre of it. Tree by tree, bush by bush, I finally got where I am." He was inspired. He was overwhelmed with emotion.

As the women unpacked food, a squad of young men competed to see who could best beat the still-intact grains of wheat in the herisa until they were all melted away. Hareh! Hareh! Herisa! they sang as they went about their work. Beside them was a large sack of butter, which would be melted atop the herisa.

The rugs were arranged in a circle around the pool. Each family had brought its own cushions and pillows, as well as large packages of delicacies. The buttery herisa was now ready. Wives from each household used deep ladles to fill their vats with the stew, and then they scooped up a healthy amount of butter. The vats were placed in the center of each household's group. Everyone was to eat from the same vat. The young brides of the family hovered around the groups, filling glasses with wine. But before emptying them, everyone waited for my grandfather's words.

He stood up, took his fez off his head, and handed it to the closest woman in his circle. He then raised his eyes to the sky and asked God to bless the entire Panian clan—the young and the old, the healthy and the sick. He implored God to always keep watch over the family, as he had done for so many years, and to lead all Panians down the path of virtue and piety. He then crossed himself and raised his glass of wine to his mouth, emptying it in one gulp. All the rest followed, and soon the only sound in the valley was the clinking of the spoons and glasses. With the warm wine coursing through their veins, the revelers began singing. As some played the saz and kamancheh, popular songs succeeded one another in quick succession.

The plates of herisa were refilled, and bottles of wine and oghi were emptied. Though each family was gathered in its own space, each was a unit in the intricate pattern that was our clan. Good wishes and blessings were shouted across large distances, and joy dominated the valley.

Some of our neighbors arrived on the scene. "Welcome, welcome! Be our guests!" rang out from every corner, as every family made room for the newcomers. The newcomers offered songs, jokes, and graceful dances accompanied by the saz. I had never witnessed such a joyful feast.

The vats of herisa disappeared, replaced by trays of pastries and fruit. Those who still had room in their stomach ate a few pieces. The sun was already slanting toward the horizon. The young brides jumped to their feet and began gathering the leftovers in their baskets, but the music, dancing, jokes, and children's games continued until darkness fell.

We finally started back to our homes. From beyond the summit of the hill facing us, the moon's half-helmet appeared, like a lantern suspended in the sky, guiding the revelers back home through the darkness.

* * *

"My dear! You will go to school, and you will become a man!" my mother used to tell me. "If you study well, if you learn how to read and write, you'll never have to bend before anyone in life. Soon you'll learn to read the Nareg. Soon you'll be reading the Bible! And not next year, but the year after, your little brother will be five years old and he'll be going to school, too! You've got to make sure you set a good example for him."

My father had become literate, and he attributed his success in life to that fact. On Sundays, after church and lunch, when we kids played, my father would pick up one of the huge, thick books from the top of his closet shelf, open it on his lap, and then, for a long time, lose himself in its pages. Sometimes, he would end up falling asleep with the book still open on his lap.

My mother, too, had a small prayer book, and at nights, right before putting out the lamp, she'd read a few pages of it, then kiss it reverently, hold it against her breast, and sleep with it under her pillow.

I started school when I was five years old. They gave us a notebook, a pencil, and a small, thin primer that was supposed to teach us how to read. Every morning, I would go to school convinced that I would learn how to read very soon. Every evening, I would return home and sit and stare at the pictures in my primer.


Excerpted from Goodbye, Antoura by Karnig Panian, Simon Beugekian, Aram Goudsouzian. Copyright © 2015 Karnig Panian. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword Vartan Gregorian,
Introduction Keith David Watenpaugh,
Chapter 1. Childhood,
Chapter 2. Deportation,
Chapter 3. The Desert,
Chapter 4. The Orphanage at Hama,
Chapter 5. The Orphanage at Antoura,
Chapter 6. The Raids,
Chapter 7. The Caves,
Chapter 8. Goodbye, Antoura,
Chapter 9. Sons of a Great Nation,
Afterword Keith David Watenpaugh,
Acknowledgments Houry Panian Boyamian,

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