World Civ II

Grieve of Genocide

The Armenian Genocide was the Ottoman government's organized extermination of
its minority, Armenian residents, from their homeland. Vergeen: A Survivor of the Armenian
Genocide, written by Mae M. Derdarian, is an autobiography about a young girl, Vergeen
Keshishian, and her hardships throughout the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian Genocide
took place between the years 1915 and 1917. During these years of immense horror, nearly
1.5 million Armenians were gruesomely killed. Few people are aware of the details of the
Armenian Genocide, however many people are aware of Hitler’s genocide that occurred
just a generation later. Throughout the book it is evident that during a time of hardship,
hope and family are the only two driving factors to sustain the will to live.
Vergeen: A Survivor of the Armenian Genocide takes an in-depth look at the personal
horrors that all Armenians were forced through. The book opens by describing Vergeen’s
family, and then immediately jumps into the hostilities between the Armenians and the
Turks. Vergeen, being only 13 years old, had already tragically loss several close family
members before the deportation began. In May of 1915 the Temporary Law of
Expropriation and Confiscation was enacted and all Armenians were forced to turn over all
property, land, livestock, and homes. They were promised the return of their items;
however this was the least of their worries at the time. The book goes on to explain how the
genocide began with the killing of all the able-bodied Armenian men, in an attempt to
prevent Armenian retaliation. The remaining Armenians were then sent on a death march
across the Syrian Desert to and from concentration camps. This was the time period where
the harsh realities of genocide were exposed. Food was scarce to say the least, and only the
wealthy were able to buy their way through the death march. Luckily for Vergeen and her
mother, who accompanied her, they were able to avoid thieves at night and hide their
money from the Turkish military by cleverly stashing money. Vergeen witnessed her
people being slaughtered and feared she and her mother would be next. Diseases engulfed
the refugee camps and brought early death to thousands of victims, however Vergeen and
her mother lived through the sickness. Vergeen and her mother were then forced into a life
or death situation and an Arab man agrees to take Vergeen and her mother with him, and
purchases them from the Turks. This is a pivotal moment during the death march because
Vergeen loses her mother and is raped. Vergeen questions life and religion when this
dagger struck her. Vereen then comes to her senses and realizes that she must escape. She
runs away from the Arabs and finds refuge working with other Armenians. She then falls in
love with a man named joseph who worked for the railroad company, however he was
forced to return to work and Vergeen got a job at a hospital where she remained to work
until leaving for America. Once in America Vergeen met the man she planned to marry
before the genocide began. Soon thereafter, they became married and lived in peace in
Vergeens’s will to live is often tested throughout the genocide and the years
following the massacre. While Vergeen was with her mother, she had unconditional love
and guidance to motivate her to continue to live. Vergeen’s mother was a wise woman and
nurtures her daughter. This is shown when Vergeen’s mother orders Vergeen to cover her
face in dirt to prevent a rape, and when Vergeen’s mother strategically sews money into
her clothes to give Vergeen a lifeline if they were to become separated. While Vergeen is
with her mother, she never questions suicide. However, the moment Vergeen loses her
mother, her will to live is shattered. Vergeen shows her hopelessness when she ponders, “I
wanted to die, but I couldn’t find a weapon to do the job. At first, I’d sit all day long, not
speaking, not eating. Then I lost myself in sleep, sleep, solacing sleep. It was my only
liberation from grief” (91). Vergeen grieves while thinking about her mother, “I
remembered the many times she told me to have faith, how she protected me, how she
loved me” (93). This was a moment of despair for Vergeen. Her mother was gone; her
entire immediate family has now perished. Vergeen cries, “I resented having to go on with
life without Mama” (95). Vergeen’s loss of hope sends her spiraling into deep depression
and she refuses to work for her Arab owners. Without family Vergeen is nothing. Soon after
running away, Vergeen regains the will to live when she falls in love with joseph. For
Vergeen, simply having someone to love is enough for her to fight to survive. Although she
never carried through marrying Joseph, he was enough of an inspiration on Vergeen’s life
to encourage her to learn, work, and live on her own. It is unmistakably apparent that
Vergeen’s family life has a direct impact on her willingness to survive the genocide.
I thought that the book Vergeen: A Survivor of the Armenian Genocide was an
excellent representation of the firsthand experience to the tragic realities of genocide. At
times I found the realities of the genocide so appalling that I found myself taking a break
from the book, all the while telling my peers about the specific occurrences that Vergeen
was forced to live through. I was appalled by the brutality of the Turkish military, as well as
the Arabs, towards the Armenians. After reading the book, I find it hard to believe that I
have not learned about this tragic historical event until college. The extent of pain that
Armenians suffered through is simply unfathomable. In fact, I believe that Vergeen’s life
before moving to the United States could rival the storyline from a modern-day Hollywood
horror film. All things considered, I thought this book was extremely informational and
would recommend it to everyone worldwide.