Unlikely Dreams and Nightmare Memories: A recollection of escape and longing

Andranik Matevosyan holds a secret wish in his soul, which he knows will not come true.

He wants, just once more, to see Kars. But, now 93, and shut out by age and a closed border, he knows he’s likely to leave this world with the yearning unrealized.

“Of course, child, of course I have dreams,” the old man says. “As long as I live, my dreams will live with me.”

Andranik was 6 when in 1918 his family escaped Kars during the middle of the Armenian Genocide. Of course he was small, but he remembers the sufferings he underwent as if they were today.

“There was not one or two of us, we were hundreds of people running away. With shock and terror in our hearts we would go. We did not know where we would end up or what would be. The thing that mattered was to escape. Otherwise, Turks would kill us. But people were exhausted and died of hunger,” remembers Andranik.

People were forced to leave the things they took with them on the way, unable to carry their belongings anymore. And when, exhausted, they fell along the way, they would look for ways to save their children.

“As soon as I speak I remember newborn children thrown into the river by their own parents, when they felt unable to go on. They thought if they died, their children could fall to the lot of the Turks, while the water might carry them onto the shore and they could survive that way,” Andranik recalls and, emotional, keeps silent for a few minutes.

Along the way Armenians would pretend they were Kurds and did not speak Armenian, in hopes of confusing the Turks they met, and that way maybe escape. Andranik remembers how his father distorted Andranik’s mother’s face by scratching it, putting soot on her and messing her hair in order to save her from being kidnapped by Turkish men.

The refugees often went without sleep. Only once in a few days they would have a rest under trees.

“I never forget the eyes of my parents, when one morning we started out and my mother suddenly remembered that we had left my young sister under the tree. My mother beat her hands on her knees, cried, until my father fetched the child. They could not be blamed either: they seemed like they had already lost their consciousness. They couldn’t understand any more what was going on, and they were running. That’s it,” tells Andranik.

On the way the Matevosyans lost dozens of relatives and neighbors. Going for a month, resting in many places, they reached Batumi.

“We were thrown into barracks like sheep are thrown into a barn, in order to accommodate us. Those who wished were sent to England, those who did not go, remained in Batumi. We also stayed. There were only few of us alive and my Grandma Shushan decided we should not be separated,” tells Andranik. “So we remained in Batumi. The war ended, Lenin came and there was no threat any more.”

In 1928 the Matevosyan family moved to Russia. There Andranik made a family with his compatriot Siranush, from Kars. During their joint life they had 7 children and 25 grand and great grandchildren.

In 1936, they moved to Armenia.

“My parents were common peasants. They cultivated soil, kept animals. I continued their honest work; I became a worker. I made a house with my own hands in one of the old districts of Yerevan called Sari Tagh. I worked and raised my children with my old Siran.

“But Siran went ahead of me. She died a year ago. Now nothing is left for me any more, I will go myself and will take my memories with me,” says the survivor, and carefully wipes the dust on his wife’s picture.