“From a young age I heard horrible, ghastly stories. I grew up with this unresolved issue and with the feeling that something had been snatched from us. This instilled a deep love of my own blood in me,” says Diego Baloian, a young architect whose life is a bridge connecting Chile with Armenia over three generations.
A leap of faith
His great-grandfather, Antranig Baloian, was born in Palu (now east Turkey), where his family owned extensive vineyards. He escaped death because the Turkish officer in charge of arranging the killings in the region took him on as a slave with the view of turning him into a Turk, and even gave him the name of Ali. He was later forced on the “death march,” together with his three brothers, through the Der ez-Zor desert. Antranig and the older brothers managed to escape, but their little brother, who was only three years old, could not keep up. The three brothers crossed the desert and arrived in Aleppo.
“My father survived by eating grass,” recalls Nacho, Antranig’s son and Diego’s grandfather. “He saw the killings, the rapes and other atrocities. He would tell us how bloodthirsty the Turks were, how they were capable of so much evil and how the Armenians were victims of Genocide on their own land. Even in his final days, he still wondered what had happened to his little brother.”
An uncle of Antranig, who had escaped to Syria during the first wave of the Hamidian massacres, helped the brothers settle in Aleppo, where they remained for two years. The uncle’s family had then moved to Chile, and the brothers decided to take a leap of faith. After a long journey, which included the crossing of the Andes mountain range, emulating General San Martin’s prowess, the Baloians arrived in Puerto Montt. Five years later, they settled in the capital city, Santiago.