Orhan’s Inheritance, Aline Ohanesian, author, Assaf Cohen, narrator
Based on the author’s background and actual history, this book tells the story of the Armenian genocide that has for so long been denied by the Turks. It tells the story from all vantage points, illustrating the abuses and suffering on all sides of the tragedy as WWI raged. Nothing I have read in the past, or now, makes me believe that this did not happen or that it was not the atrocity the Armenians claimed, but I am sure there are Turks who will still deny it.
The brutality and violence inflicted upon an innocent group of people, aimed at wiping out their population because of their heritage, cannot be excused away by saying it was them or me. Its memory cannot be put on the garbage heap of history as if it never occurred. The forced exile of these people was carried out with a cold cruelty that brooked no compromise. Although the men and women of Christian and Armenian descent had done nothing to indicate that they were enemies of the Turks, the Turkish government wanted them out of their country, and the Turkish citizenry convinced themselves that the Armenians would do just the same to them if they had had the opportunity to expel the Turks first. The deed itself was heinous, but they made it worse by stealing their businesses and homes and possessions, justifying their own improved status as the consequences of war. Couple that greed and jealousy with religious bigotry and war, add in the thugs that were willing to carry out the willful extermination of a people, and you had all the ingredients needed to set the scene for the Armenian genocide. With guards, few in number but high in their ability to be vicious and sadistic, thousands of Armenians were suddenly forced to march out of Turkey without time for adequate preparation and with few belongings, to their deaths. Unable to defend themselves, and with no possibility of outside help, they had no choice but to obey the edicts. The scope of this criminal act, at this time, had no comparison. It was before Hitler. The Turks have tried to purge the event from memory, but the Armenians, like the Jews who suffered through the Holocaust, are keeping the memory alive, hoping to prevent such an occurrence from repeating itself. This is a novel, not an actual historic presentation, but it illustrates that time of horror, hopelessness and helplessness, because it did occur.
The story is told in two time frames. One begins in 1915, when all the able-bodied Armenian men and women were rounded up and arrested and most were murdered in cold blood. Then each remaining family was given an oxcart and forced to quickly evacuate, although there were not enough oxcarts to go around. The only men remaining were infirm or too young to help. The women gathered their children, what they determined were bare necessities and treasures, and prepared to leave. They were given little food and water and marched in all weather, until they dropped from exhaustion, thirst or starvation. The women and children were brutally raped and beaten, and sometimes they were taken pretty much as slaves. Anyone who came to their defense was beaten mercilessly and/or murdered.
The other time frame begins in 1990 when the dead body of Kemal, a man in his 90’s, is found immersed in a vat of blue die. His will leaves his business to his grandson Orhan Turkoglu and the home his father and his aunt Fatma live in to a stranger, a woman named Seda in California. Orhan’s father, Mustafa, is enraged. He threatens to take action knowing the courts and laws of inheritance will support him. He sues his own son, Orhan, for his own father’s property. Orhan sets out for the United States to try and get the house back from the mystery woman. This still does not make his father a happy man. His father is not a happy man, in general.
The back history about Kemal is that as a young illiterate man, he worked for the well-to-do Melkonian family that ran a successful Kilim business in Sivas Province and lived on the highest plot of land in the town, which was forbidden to Christians, but had been overlooked. His boss had two beautiful daughters, one of whom had touched his heart. Lucine was only 15 at the time, but she was forbidden, as an Armenian Christian to have any romantic relationship with a Muslim Turk, especially one that was beneath her, uneducated and poor. However they were friends and she was going to teach him how to read. Kemal’s family was also in the kilim business, they were weavers, but they were not as successful.
After Turkey expelled the Armenians, and they were separated, each of them, unbeknownst to each other, carried something the other had given them, as a talisman. He carried her handkerchief and she carried his drawing of herself that he had made. The artistic Kemal became a photographer. Using his grandfather’s camera he was able to see “more of the world” than with his own naked eye. However, he was arrested, beaten and tortured because of a photo he took, quite innocently. He was accused of being an enemy of the state and exiled to Germany. Eventually he was released and pardoned, and back in Turkey, he was conscripted. When the war ended, he found himself at an inn run by his Aunt Fatma. Fatma had rescued Lucine Melkonian, the woman Kemal had loved when they were children. When they were being forced to leave, he had actually offered to marry her and keep her safe. Kemal was a Muslim Turk and was not forced to leave. Lucine would not abandon her Armenian Christian family.
After some time, during the forced march out of Germany, Lucine wound up alone. Near death, she was rescued by Fatma, Kemal’s aunt, who was the whore at the local inn, servicing the servicemen. To survive, she did what she had to do. She renames Lucine Seda, which is a Turkish name. Fatma is pregnant and gives birth to a child. The father’s identity is unknown.
Kemal had asked Lucine to wait for his return. He went off to set up his future, but when he did not return or write in a timely fashion, when her uncle showed up, she left with him to search for her brother, Bedros. Eventually, Lucine leaves everything behind and travels to the United States, settling in California. Her thoughts of Kemal, and the pain associated with him, are buried deep within her, and she never speaks of her experiences in Turkey again.
In the present time, in California, 90 year old Lucine, now only using the name Seda, is living in the Ararat Home. Her niece Ani, is planning to run a show of remembrance for the victims of the genocide. The show will be held in the home where there are several survivors who did not succumb to the genocide. Ani wants to keep the memory alive and to get closure from the Turks who have never taken responsibility for the tragedy and their abysmal behavior. As Kemal watches these elderly Armenian victims bear witness, he begins to realize that what he always believed about that time of history, was not quite true. With Seda’s revelations, his world is turned upside down. He must process and reconcile this new information Seda has given him. What Orhan finds out proves that his father’s court case will fail. As Kemal’s family heritage is unwound by Seda, his history becomes clearer and so does his responsibility to the Armenians. He is determined to set the record straight, even though the newfound reality will be traumatic for some people close to him. Making it right, he believes, is the far better choice and is his greater responsibility. He realizes this is also what his grandfather must have wanted him to do and he does it for him, as well.
I had an audio and a print copy of this book, but I preferred the print copy because of the unusual names and foreign terms.