July 25, 2021

some leaves, witnesses of the Armenian genocide

“Only the earth will come to our aid. Diary of a deportee from the Armenian genocide ”, by Serpouhi Hovaghian, edited by Maximilien Girard and Raymond Kévorkian, BNF Editions, 144 p., € 19.

Seventy-nine leaves of uncertain writing on a small notebook: this is how the precarious and precious testimony of Serpouhi Hovaghian, published under the title Only the earth will come to our rescue. At the time of writing, between 1916 and 1918, this Armenian native of Trebizond (now Trabzon, Turkey), a Black Sea port located in the northeast of the Ottoman Empire, lives in hiding to escape the searches of assassins and their relays in the administration.

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She lost everything at 22, in the terrible genocidal machinery set in motion in 1915: her husband, Kardig, taken to be drowned off with the other Armenian notables of the city, at the end of June; her daughter Aïda, a few months old, from whom she was separated during her arrest in early July, and no doubt died of poisoning shortly after; her 4-year-old son, Jiraïr, kept with her during the first days of her deportation by forced march, but which she hands over to a Turkish peasant woman by the side of the road, a heartbreaking choice dictated by exhaustion and the certainty of her put to death if he could not follow. At the end of the journey, the same outcome certainly awaited him too, as for a million Armenian victims of the Young Turkish leaders and their henchmen.

The extremes of the event and the ordinary of individuals

If we have today her text, rather than an anonymous mass grave, somewhere in eastern Anatolia, it is by a rare combination of circumstances: the author’s escape during one of these marches, in the summer of 1915, his survival with villagers, then with acquaintances, such as a Greek family who welcomed him for several months, the Ottoman defeat of 1918, finally, which allowed him to come out of hiding. She was even able to miraculously search and find her son, spotted by an uncle in an orphanage in Georgia, and with whom she eventually emigrated to France. It is there that his granddaughter Anny Romand decided to entrust the fragile manuscript to the National Library of France, which publishes it today in an edition of exemplary rigor. Flattened in this way, this survivor’s trajectory tells both the extremes of the event and the ordinary people who tried to survive it. But the personal and family drama does not exhaust the profound singularity of this text.

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