Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan: An Armenian Boy’s Memoir of Survival

Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan: An Armenian Boy’s Memoir of Survival –

Book Review:

Aram Haigaz (Aram Chekenian), Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan, 1915-1919, translated and edited by Iris Haigaz-Chekenian (New York: Maiden Lane Press, 2014)

Reviewed by: Dr. Garabet K Moumdjian, Historian

Those of us who were born to displaced Armenian parents in the diasporic communities of Lebanon, Syria, and other Middle Eastern locals in the late 1950s and early 1960s are familiar with Aram Haigaz’s short stories depicting American-Armenian immigrant life in the United States of America. We read these short stories—always written in Armenian—when we were in primary school. Haygaz’s simple language captivated us. Then, when we were about 15 years of age, we read his monumental work about the history, self defense, and eventual demise of his hometown, Shabin Karahisar, in 1915. We also read the lengthy—almost 600 page long—saga of his adventures in “Kurdistan.” We learned how he was able to escape death by converting to Islam in order to save his life…

Aram Haigaz

Now, his daughter, Iris offers us the English translation in an abridged version. It is indeed a labor of love. The Armenian original was published in 1972. It took Aram and Iris more than 40 years in order to bring the project to fruition. I am glad they both did it!

The book encapsulates the essence of the Armenian original. However, special care has been given to create a crisp and idiomatic English translation that would captivate Armenian and non Armenian readers as well.

The autobiographical tome gives us many insights about several important issues regarding the historical paradigm of the Armenian Genocide; these include the issues pertaining to conversion to Islam of boys but especially girls. The latter were hurriedly married to Turkish and Kurdish husbands and represent the origins of what today is known as the Islamized Armenians of Turkey.

Moreover, Haigaz, the ever optimist, shows us how there is life after the great catastrophe that befell his people. Although when reading the manuscript one becomes privy to the abhorrent evil that was unleashed upon the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, but, at the same time, Haigaz, tries to minimize the “deluge” by bringing forth characters such as “Good Samaritan” Turks and Kurds who helped orphaned Armenian boys and girls and gave them a safe haven in the mountains of Kurdistan throughout the general war. It was, after all, through the actions of such people—who were acting against the will of their government and, thus, putting their own lives and the lives of their family members at risk, that many Armenian orphans were able to escape certain death only to later become able to resume life and the continuity of their people after the war.

Going deeper into the issue of Islamized Armenians in Aram Haygaz’s narrative, if we are to juxtapose Aram’s story on the issue of Islamized Armenians some interesting information can be deduced: it is clear that males 15 and over who had converted for the sake of preserving their lives had a better chance to go back to their own people. Haygaz himself was able to accomplish such a feat. It seems that many were able to do exactly that. On the other hand, however, the situation was not the same for younger males who, because of their age group, were somehow incorporated into the new ethnicity and religion. Although seeming forever lost, it is this core that most probably had and their successors today demonstrate an important role in the shaping of what today in Turkey is known as the Islamized Armenian community.

It must be underlined, however, that the situation was more stringent for Armenian women both young and old. Aram’s account is full of such instances where the females were forever lost to their original ethnicity. These women too had an important role. It is no wonder that many Turks and Kurds are discovering today that they are the offspring of such Armenian women…

Four Years in the Mountains of Kurdistan is a saga that appeals to young and old. If you have a child or a grandchild of 15 and over, please gift them a volume and let them explore this extra ordinary story. You would indeed do a great favor to the development of a young mind…

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