45 Years After A Journey to Western Armenia—A Reflection

The author with Hachig Hovanessian the only Armenian survivor in Bingol Province standing in front of the Bingol Gazette


In 1969 I went to Turkish-occupied western Armenia to confirm a U.S. State Department report that my Aunt Parancim, who initially had been reported to have been killed during the genocide, had died just six years earlier.

With the help of a then friendly state department my assigned guide was a young Turkish law student graduate, and my driver-bodyguard was Kurdish.

For two weeks we drove through the heartland of historic Armenia, starting in Sepastia, crossing through the Pontic Manzur mountains, then on to Erzurum, cross the Mourad River to Moush, Lake Van, Bitlis, Koops, Keghi, and Kharpet, In that time span the three of us developed a bond of friendship: an Armenian, a Turk, and a Kurd. At the end Mehmet expressed sadness that the Armenian lands were barren of my people. Nur remained curious on what really happened in 1915.

When I left Ankara for my flight home, Nur and Mehmet took me to the airport and in a parting gesture expressed hope our three peoples could find justice and friendship in the future. But we still wait for so-called modern Turkey to acknowledge the 1915 genocide. They still occupy western Armenia – and deny self-rule for Memhet’s Kurdish people.

On my return to Detroit, I then visited Armenian communities throughout the United States and Canada to show my slides of the devastated Armenian villages and cities. For the older generation the the scenes were flashbacks to when they fled for their lives to never see their families again.

In the years that followed I was urged by my cousin, the late Rev. Vartan Kassabian to publish a memoir of my journey into historic Armenia, a pilgrimage that took place just 54 years after the massacre of 1.5 million of our people. Shortly after I embarked on my assignment, Rev. Kassabian died. I dedicated the memoir to his legacy for inspiring me to write the 162-page book. I titled it “Giants of the Earth.”

When the memoir came out in late 1969, requests for a showing of the original slide program came from the younger generation in search for linkage to the ancestral homeland of their grandparents.

Thankfully longtime friend Hrayr Toukhanian, film director and producer of the movie “Assignment Berlin,” a docudrama of Soghomon Tehlirian’s assassination of Talaat Pasha offered his professional help.

Hrayr developed a 32-minute abridged video of the journey by utilizing color slides that had been stored for at least 40 years. In doing so, we completed what I thought was an impossible task.

Interested persons can view the abridged video by going to Google search on the Internet and type in “Giants of the Earth Slide Show.”

Mitch Kehetian is a retired editor of The Macomb Daily and former board trustee at Central Michigan University.

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