Armen Khorenyan was born in the city of Van in 1956. Taking advantage of the opportunity given by his education, Khorenyan received the rank of sergeant of the Turkish army.
Together with twelve other Armenians who received the same rank, he was sent to the barracks of Erzurum. In Erzurum, a Turkish general tore off the shoulder straps from each of them, shouting:
“You are just giaours! No matter how long you live, you will never be honored to wear shoulder straps of the Turkish army!”
Since then, insults and humiliations would reach such proportions that the military service of these Armenians in Erzurum and then in Kars would turn into hell.
In his spare time throughout the service, Armen Khorenyan would search for compatriots in Erzurum and Kars. He later said: “I noticed that many Armenians in the areas of Kars and Erzurum were hiding their nationality. In 1978, strolling around Kars, I noticed a little boy playing outside. He was very dirty, all in rags. A girl ran up to him and called: ‘Arshak, mother is calling!’
I approached the girl and asked: ‘Are you Armenian?’ She replied in Turkish that she did not understand what I said and ran away, frightened.
I noticed her mother watching us. I went up to her and asked the same question. She replied that she was not an Armenian.
I said in Armenian: ‘But your daughter just spoke Armenian.’ The woman replied in Turkish that her daughter did not speak Armenian, thus proving that she was Armenian.
‘Why are you hiding your nationality? Do not be afraid, I am also an Armenian, from Van. My name is Armen.’
After making sure that no one was watching us, the woman invited me into her house. For about half an hour, we chatted in our native language until her husband came home. When the woman said that I was an Armenian, he became frightened.
After we exchanged a few words, I realized that he began to trust me. Then, I asked why he and his family stayed here [in Kars] and did not move to the big city. The man pointed at graves without crosses outside and answered:
‘Do you know what this is? My parents and grandfathers are buried here. Look at the mountains and the sky… Do they tell you anything?’”
Source: Arno Hamelin, Jean Michel Bron, “Reconstructed Memory”
Pictured: Ani, Surb Prkich Church (Անիի Սուրբ Փրկիչ եկեղեցին)