She was a child of the Great War, born on a faraway killing field of which we know little, one of the very last witnesses to the last century’s first genocide, sitting in her wheelchair, smiling at us, talking of Jesus and the Armenian children whipped by the Turkish police whom she saw through the cracks in her wooden front door. It’s not every day you get to meet so finite an observer of human history, and soon, alas, we will not see her like again in our lifetime.
They took me to meet Yevnigue Salibian last week up in the Mission Hills of California, whose warm breezes and palm trees are not unlike the town of Aintab in which she was born more than a hundred years ago. She is an old lady now in a home for the elderly but with a still impeccable memory and an equally sharp and brutal scar on her thigh – which she displays without embarrassment – where a horse’s reins suspended her above a ravine until she almost bled to death in her final flight from her Armenian homeland. “Hushhhhhh,” she says. “That’s how the blood sounded when it poured out of me. “I still remember it: ‘hushhhhhh’, ‘hushhhhhh’.”
The facts of the Armenian Holocaust are as clear and real as those of the later Jewish Holocaust. But they must be repeated because the state of Turkey remains a holocaust denier, still insisting that the Ottoman government did not indulge in the genocide which destroyed a million and a half of its Armenian Christian population almost a century ago. The Armenians were axed and knifed and shot in their tens of thousands, the women and children sent on death marches into the deserts of northern Syria where they were starved and raped and slaughtered. The Turks used trains and a primitive gas chamber, a lesson the Germans learned well. Very soon, there will be no more Yevnigues to tell their story.
She was born on 14 January 1914, the daughter of Aposh Aposhian, an Aintab copper merchant who taught his five children the story of Jesus from a large Bible which he held on his lap as he sat with them on a carpet on the floor of their home. They were – like so many Armenians – a middle-class family, and Aposh had Turkish friends and, although Yevnigue does not say so, it appears he traded with the Ottoman army; which probably saved their lives. When the first deportations began, the Salibians were left in their home, but the genocide lasted till the very last months of the Great War – it had begun within weeks of the Allied landings at Gallipoli – and in 1917, the Turks were still emptying Aintab of its Armenians. That’s when the sound of crying led three-year-old Yevnigue to the front door of her home.
READ MORE HERE: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-extraordinary-story-of-100yearold-yevnigue-salibian-one-of-the-last-people-alive-who-can-recall-the-horror-of-the-armenian-genocide-9224585.html