A couple of months ago my 14-year-old son asked me about the Armenian genocide that took place during the first World War. He was interested because of the band System of a Down, a really good thrash-metal outfit that often uses Middle Eastern musical themes and sings some songs about the Armenian people and their history (it’s amazing what a kid can learn from a good metal band).
I tried to find a good book, and I ended up ordering a first-person memoir called “Vergeen“. This story of a young teenage girl living through the total destruction of her family and community is in many ways a “Diary of Anne Frank” of the Armenian holocaust, the main difference being that Vergeen Meghrouni lived to tell the tale.
As in the Nazi massacre of the Jews and the Rwandan massacre of the Tutsis, the Armenians were systematically segregated, dehumanized, humiliated and finally destroyed by their own government, the Ottomans of Turkey. Vergeen (the name is translated as Virginia) is 13 years old when her entire village is ordered to give up everything they own and walk across the desert to Syria. Vergeen watches as every member of her family is killed. The last to die is her brave mother, who put Vergeen’s needs first and is the real hero of this story.
Vergeen survives by attaching herself to a Bedouin family, but she is brutally raped by the head of the family. The author is not a professional writer, and when she describes the rape with an aching and inarticulate “Oh GOD” her pain and anger are easy to feel.
Why isn’t this book better known? The Armenian holocaust took at least 1.5 million lives, but it’s somehow remained a quiet holocaust. I respect the band System of a Down for spreading awareness of this forgotten piece of world history.
It’s weird how some historical periods are well-represented by books, while others aren’t. I think there are about 1,473,629 World War II books published each year, and approximately 12 about World War I. Why is this? I guess it’s the same reason there are 2,337,810 books published each year about the Civil War and 3 about the American Revolution. And there has never been a book published about the Spanish-American War.
Okay, I’m exaggerating, and I made up these numbers. But I think my point stands: there are big incidents in world history that the publishing industry doesn’t cover. I don’t think there’s any censorship going on here; the major publishers simply follow successful formulas. The Civil War sells, and so do D-Day, Anne Frank and Iwo Jima. Armenia? Not a proven formula.
“Vergeen” is published by a small company called Atmus Press, and you’re not likely to find it in your local bookstore unless you specifically order it. I recommend doing so, or buying it on Amazon. “Vergeen” offers a unique first-person story you won’t forget.