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    The following is a scene from the chapter entitled "Dovey's Story." After reading Ambassador Morgenthau's memoir and other eye-witness accounts of the genocide, I had come to learn, for the first time, the facts about what the Turkish government did to the Armenians. Shortly thereafter, members of my family began opening up to me about the past. This represented a real breakthrough in our family, because previously no one was able to discuss the trauma of 1915. This is what I learned from my Aunt Gladys about what happened to my grandmother's cousin, Dovey, who lived in Diarbekir, my grandmother's home city.  
 
Black Dog of Fate (Peter Balakian)


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  In Diarbekir in July the wind hardly ruffled a scarf. The sky was blue and cloudless, and the high massif to the north seemed closer than it was--a misshapen pyramid, treeless and brown. South toward Edessa and Nineveh the ridges were gullied and gray-white like polished granite. From up on the flat roof of the house, you could tell the vultures from the hawks, and when the vultures swoop, their thick necks unscroll, and the late sun glares on the obsidian houses. Beyond the iron gates and the black stone walls of the city, irrigation ditches crossed terraced fields, and the vineyards and the melon fields fanned out. The mulberry orchards were like green islands beyond which the desert spread, and only the shadows of rocks darkened the clay. The Tigris was blue and then brown, blue and then green, and the watermelons that grew along the banks were giant. Between the olive trees, black partridges ruffled, and sometimes their blunt spurs caught on the wire loosely wound around the stakes and they made a horrible cry.

After dinner we used to come up to the roof. In the summer we enclosed the roof with white sheets and at night we slept there. For miles the closed courtyards of sheets on the rooftops sparkle in the evening light like the sails of the dhows on the river. The roof dust is like sifted flour on the mud-brick dirt up there. In July we would winnow and wash the bulghur and hadig, hull and beat and grind it up there, and we'd lug baskets of Mairazdvadzadzni-gorgod (Mother-of-God pods) up to the roof to hull. Hulling on the roof in the evening when the sun was gone, but the clear evening light lingered on us, and we sang and told stories.

In the summer of 1915 in Diarbekir, every day you heard about Armenians disappearing. Shopkeepers disappearing from their shops in the middle of the day. Children not returning from school. Men not coming back from the melon fields. Women, especially young ones, disappearing as they returned from the bath. Shops had been looted by Turks more frequently that year. The pastry shop on Albak Street had been robbed and burned. The carpet store near the mosque had been broken into and cleaned out. Farms in the outlying valley had been stripped of their goats and sheep by Kurdish bandits, and everyone knew this had been sanctioned by the Vali. In the middle of the day a teacher at the Armenian school, Kanjian, was shot to death by the son of the mudir. No reasons given. No action taken. Mr. Kanjian's body was thrown in a wagon by the zaptieh and driven around the market square.

People were using the word deportation now. It was a word I kept hearing in the streets, in church, at the souk. We heard that in the cities east of us, in Harpert, in Aintab, in Sivas, Kasieri, Yozgut, the town crier had come through the streets in the morning and the Armenian men were ordered to appear at the city hall. They were led out of the city, not to be heard from again. We heard stories of Armenian soldiers being shot by their officers in training camp and at the front. There were stories of men, of the most prominent men--physicians, teachers, priests, and merchants--being hung in the gallows of the town squares of Van, Bitlis, Moush and Erzeroum, and Harpert, and Sivas, and Malataya, in Tokat, and Angora, and in Constantinople. They were called traitors and they were strung up in front of crowds in the middle of day. We heard that Armenians were being arrested and rounded up and sent out into the countryside under armed supervision of the zaptiehs or the gendarmes, and we were told that they would return when conditions got better. This was what we heard. These were stories, rumors of the unbelievable, of the things we said could not happen to us here in Diarbekir. We did not want to think about it or talk about it.

Every time someone squatted to relieve themselves, a gendarme came over with his bayonet and sometimes with his hand inspected the feces to make sure there were no coins in it, because many people began swallowing their last coins for safekeeping. Sometimes the gendarmes would threaten us with a bayonet and say "shit," and we were forced to squat so they could see if there were any coins to be had.

Whenever we passed near a eucalyptus tree I gathered some leaves so that at night I could suck on them to get water in my mouth. I lay on the desert ground at night, sucking a eucalyptus leaf and staring at the moon. The moon is terribly bright in August in the desert around the Euphrates. All that month it grew each night. It followed us. It was a wolf's eye. It was the opal charm of a Turkish sorceress. Some nights it was a damask seal and some it was a Persian charger stripped of its blue. It was scouring and harsh on the weeds and rocks, and the few animals that darted through looked like unreal silvery creatures. I lay on my back and felt the grooves of my cuts made by the Turkish whips ease onto the hard ground, and I stared at the moon. Often I unfolded the piece of the kilim. It was the piece I used under the lamp on my nightstand in my bedroom. I held it up to the moonlight and looked at the colors and thought of my bedroom windows, one looking out to the street and the other into the fruit trees of our courtyard. It was just a simple kilim of aubergine and saffron medallions. In one latch-hook medallion there was a green scorpion, in the other a red scarab. In the moonlight the colors were eerie, and after a while they seemed to float in the black air and then drip like roman candles.

One night as I sucked on a eucalyptus leaf and stared at my kilim in the moonlight, I felt the boot of a gendarme against the side of my neck. I rolled over so as to hide my face in the ground. But the boot continued to kick me and then to step on my head. As I buried my head more fiercely in the ground, the boot hooked me under the chin and pried me up, and the next thing I knew I was looking up at a man whose mustache looked silver in the moonlight. I watched him unbuckle his pants and I shut my eyes and the next thing I knew a stream of hot piss shot into my nose and over my face. The cuts on my neck and cheeks began to sting and my eyes burned. Soon my hair was like a sticky mess of rancid flax. When he finished he kicked some dirt onto my face, and I lay there squeezing my kilim, which was also wet, and I felt a small breeze blow over my face. For a long time I did not open my eyes.

When I did, I took a eucalyptus leaf I had saved and wiped my eyes. When I looked up, the moonlight had turned the sky white and I could see my mother's face as if it floated on the white lace of our dining table. She was saying to me: Let them take you, let them take you, we will bring you back at Easter. Then the moon turned red as my taffeta dress, and my love had come in green velvet gloves and the scarf that hung in the walnut tree.

Run, run run the little chicken said. Your cheeks are like apples, and the wind takes your golden hair and sends it to the mountains.

From seven stores, I gathered silver and made a ring and put it on pearl's finger.


The moon stared at me all night. In the morning I woke inside the piss-gummed web of my hair, and I sucked on the eucalyptus leaf to make some saliva to clean off my face. Later I found some weeds, and I ground them up and spread them in the wounds enflamed by the piss.

One night I was raped. I prayed every night to the Virgin Mary and to Jesus and to God. And they answered my prayers. After this I felt some mindless will to survive.


One day in the spring of 1925 I was shopping at Saks. I was at the cash register in the lingerie department, and as I stood in line to pay I heard a voice with a Dickranagertsi accent at the next cash register. When I finished paying, I walked out in front of the register, so I could see who was in line. I stared for a while at the woman who had been speaking and looked right into her big eyes. She stared back at me with my hands full of packages, and then she said "Aghavni?" And I said "Nafina!" And we fell into each other's arms crying.

Of my life with the Kurdish nomad all I can say is this. I escaped. I had a good mare, and when we came to the mountains, I squeezed her sides so tight that the milk of my mother came out of her nostrils, and the two mountains parted.

 
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Excerpted from Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian. Copyright © 1997 by Peter Balakian. Excerpted by permission of Basic Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Broadway trade paper edition published April 1998.