Two Earthquakes and Three Babies

By Seta Haig, Glendale, Sunday morning, October 23, 2011

Like any other morning, the first thing I do when I get up is to turn on the morning news and walk over to the stove to heat the water for my morning coffee.

The big news early today is a 7.2 magnitude devastating earthquake in the region of Van, Eastern Turkey. The TV broadcasts the tragic news. The screen exhibits heartbreaking images of large residential areas with huge piles of debris from hundreds of collapsed, crumbled houses and apartment buildings.

By Seta Haig, Glendale, Sunday morning, October 23, 2011

Like any other morning, the first thing I do when I get up is to turn on the morning news and walk over to the stove to heat the water for my morning coffee.

The big news early today is a 7.2 magnitude devastating earthquake in the region of Van, Eastern Turkey. The TV broadcasts the tragic news. The screen exhibits heartbreaking images of large residential areas with huge piles of debris from hundreds of collapsed, crumbled houses and apartment buildings.

My first reaction is: “But that’s our land! That land belongs to us Armenians, many of whom still live, scattered through almost every country in the world that constitute what we call the Diaspora!”

But wherever and whoever the victims, human tragedy of people all over the world has a way of touching fellow human beings. As I watch the rescue and relief efforts deployed and the gradual rise of the casualty count, a wave of mixed emotions ripple through my memories. My thoughts fly back to the days of the Northridge Earthquake.

I remember waking up that early Monday morning just after 04:31 Pacific Standard Time on January 17, 1994 in my home in Tarzana, California.

Our house was rumbling, pieces from it were breaking apart and tumbling down, and everything loose was falling and littering the floor. In my first few moments of anguish and desperation, all I could do was yell: “My baby! O my baby!” In my shock and trauma I could not recall the name of my first-born daughter Arlene, barely five months old at that time. Soon afterward, as I was told later, I fainted altogether. My husband had to shake me back to consciousness. He then took our daughter in his arms, and the three of us somehow made it to the exit. During all this time there was not a sound from our baby girl Arlene. I could not expel my gut feeling that most probably she was injured, or…wait a minute…Oh my God, please don’t make it worse!

When we had already reached the main gateway and the deafening tremors had at last subsided, I resumed my frantic questions on Arlene’s safety. My husband had to literally wake her up. Only at that moment did I finally understand what had really happened to Arlene: she had slept like an angel through the whole earthquake!

Two days have passed since this latest earthquake hit the Van region in Turkey. Right now I am watching the astounding survival story of a two-week old Turk baby girl called Azra that was miraculously rescued from under the rubbles. I am almost in tears. My joy is compounded at learning that Azra’s mother and grandmother have survived as well! And I feel a strange bond of fate with Azra’s mother, since I know how it feels to fear the loss of a child in the blind chaos of a natural disaster that is an earthquake.

And my thoughts make a painful flashback to another baby, the eldest brother of my father, who perished in another chaos of a – this one man-made – disaster (real name: Genocide) almost a century ago. My grandmother gave birth to him on the burning sands of the Syrian Desert during the “deportation” of Armenians from their homeland by the Ottoman Turkish authorities. Under the glassy stare of Turk gendarmes prodding and compelling her with their bayonets to move along, my grandmother was forced to abandon her baby the same day he was born. She sprinkled some sand on his quivering tiny body to “protect” it from the scorching sun, and moved on. I will not attempt here the impossible by trying to give expression to her inner tragedy then and there – and thereafter throughout her long life. My father confides his grief to me, however, that he cannot remember his mother ever laughing like any normal human being. With all the good will she harbored toward her fellowmen, she could not even smile to her last day.

Despite our painful history and the inhuman crimes perpetrated by the Turkish Ottomans against Armenians, my bond of empathy with baby Azra’s mother remains overwhelming. I only hope – and I am inclined to be almost sure – that the feelings are mutual by the mothers of all Turkish Azras toward thousands and thousands of Armenian babies like my late uncle of one day who had to close their eyes forever the same day they were born.

  1. Two earthquakes and three babies

    It is a heartwarming and distressing article. I wish all mothers felt and conveyed the same message.  Unfortunately because human nature differ, numerous mothers during the deportation made the unbearable decision to throw their newborn infant or child into a river, down the cliff or leave behind knowing that they would suffer an agonizing death.

    Looking at the “bright side your grandmother was somewhat lucky that she survived,” because there are eyewitness reports that gendarmes bet on the sex of a pregnant woman’s fetus and to find out who won they would split open the abdomen, thus killing both mother and child.

    If there were more compassionate Turkish/Kurdish or other mothers and gendarmes more Armenian children would have survived and such atrocious acts would not have taken place.
    Bedros H. Kojian
  2. A minute of silence

    A minute of silence for all Armenian women and their babies, savagely assassinated, some before and others after their birth, as Bedros describes in his comments, atrocities made by the grand parents of these Kurdish-Turkish women, victims of this recent earthquake.
    My mother, as a child, survived the Kurdish-Turkish atrocities and could not forget all through her life. She would say today:
    Աստուծոյ պատիժն է այս.
    But, still, Armenia wants to come for help to the descendants of the criminals.
  3. My father, born in Adana

    My father, born in Adana during the Genocide lost his mother. A kind hearted man he was. Despite the tragic personal history of the family he never harbored ill feelings towards individual Turks or Kurds. Until his last breath he remembered his parents and hoped justice would prevail some day.

    If he had been alive today and had read Seta Haig’s piece, I think he would have much appreciated the humanistic pathos that permeates throughout the article, an attitude that transcends the limitations of ethnicity and geographic boundaries.

    1. Was it Stockholm Syndrome?

      My maternal grandmother, Karoun (nee Chelebian), in Keurkune, Kessab, Syria was 15-years-old when she along her family was forced out of their home on that fateful day in July 1915. She survived along with her nephew, James, who is the father of George Apelian of Anjar. The rest succumbed.
      Every so often she would scream in agony and fear in her sleep. We would wake her up to find her completely oblivious of the trauma that surely had taken hold of her subconscious. She would then go back to sleep.
      She also never harbored any ill feelings towards Turks. On the contrary, at times, she would point that the gendarmes that accompanied the marching caravan were sympathetic to their situation and would let them know that "these days will pass." As a teenager, I wondered how could she harbor such humanitarian feelings towards them.
      Fast forward, I was accepted to the American University of Beirut and one of the elective courses I took in my freshman year was psychology. There I came to find out what the psychologists call Stockholm Syndrome. One can Google and read about the syndrome. In essence, as I understand it, the syndrome is a manifestation of a psychological anomaly or paradox where the victim sympathizes with the tormentor and sorts of identifies herself or himself with the tormentor’s cause.
      Once I explained to a family member that grandmother Karoun, one of the gentlest women I have known, suffered from the Stockholm Syndrome. I was argued that it was rather her Christian faith. I am not sure which is true. However, I know very well how scarred she was, and thank God that had buried her scar deep into her subconscious mind. 

      My grandmother died of massive hemorrhage the night of the day I came to take leave of her as I was on my way to America. We departed each other very much like we used to do whenever I took leave of her. However, both of us deep down knew that we would not see each other or for a long time. My uncle told me that my departure had saddened her greatly. I was her first-born grandchild. May she continue to rest in peace.  

  4. I can understand the feelings

    I can understand the feelings of all those who wrote these comments, even the "badij" one because my own grand-mother would have said that. But was the 1988 earthquake in Armenia also a badij, then, and for what? As for the victims of the Van earthquake, they may be not only the descendants of Kurds who saved Armenian lives – not just criminals – , but also of Armenians converted to Islam. We hear that a pretty large number of the Muslims in the Van area actually descend from Armenian surivors. Does it make them more valuable? 

    In any case, unless "death penalty by earthquake for being Turkish in 2011" is an option, whatever the history of these people, despite our own terrible history we should try to feel only compassion, shouldn’t we?

  5. To Shant:

    And after all these Turkish-Kurdish atrocities, unforgivable, the Armenian poets said: (in Armenian):
    One gave the message:
    -Այսքան չարիք թէ մոռանան մեր որդիք,
    Ամբողջ աշխարհ նրանց կարդայ նախատինք.
    And the second exclaimed:
    -Ծով, ծով, խուժէ երկրիս վրայ եւ քանդէ զայն իսպառ
    Եւ այս աշխարհը զազիր վերընկղմի թող քաոսին մէջ խաւար.
    The son of human is not the son of God, to say:
    Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they do.
    They did, in the name of God, following the message of their religious leaders that each Muslim should kill at least two Christians to deserve the paradise.

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