Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker:
When I try to imagine my grandfather, the face that appears to me is a variation of a pencil drawing that hangs in my parents’ house. The drawing captures the earliest image of him that we have in our family. He appears to be in his thirties, and he stares down from the wall with a serious countenance, a sharply groomed mustache, a tall, stiff collar, a tie pin. He seems like a self-possessed man, with an air of formality: a formidable person.
I never had the chance to meet him. I was born in the nineteen-seventies, on Long Island, and he was born in the eighteen-eighties, in the Ottoman Empire, near the Euphrates River. He died in 1959—the year that the first spacecraft reached the moon, Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, and Philip Roth published “Goodbye, Columbus,” though I suspect he would have known nothing of those things. What he knew was privation, mass violence, famine, deportation—and how to survive, even flourish, amid such circumstances.
My grandfather spent most of his life in Diyarbakir, a garrison town in southeastern Turkey. Magnificent old walls surround the city; built of black volcanic rock, they were begun by the Romans and then added to by Arabs and Ottomans. In 1915, the Ottomans turned the city, the surrounding province, and much of modern-day Turkey into a killing field, in a campaign of massacres and forced expulsions that came to be known as the Armenian genocide. The plan was to eradicate the empire’s Armenians—“a deadly illness whose cure called for grim measures”—and it was largely successful. The Ottomans killed more than a million people, but, somehow, not my grandfather.