My father’s grandfather Ghevond lived a simple life with his parents and two younger siblings in Khach, a quaint village of 700 inhabitants in the Erzrum province of Western Armenia in the Ottoman Empire that their ancestors, the Lazaryan brothers, had founded. All was well until the seemingly unremarkable spring of 1915, when his father and uncle bid farewell to their families under the weeping blossoms of apple trees and left for the Ottoman Army, never to return home again. Soon, whispers of looming carnage silenced the hum of awakening nature.
In a matter of months, the 400-year-old Lazaryan family tree was obliterated, with a mere 18 out of 114 surviving. By the time word of their slain kinsmen reached them, Ghevond’s mother gathered her three children and in the darkest hour of the night, abandoned their home, their village, their memories of a life that was most happy in its ordinariness, and fled east.
They saw it all on their 700 kilometer-long escape that claimed the life of Ghevond’s youngest sister: death lurching behind every cave where they slept; fear leaping from all eyes they met; hunger devouring their remaining will to survive.
But there was also kindness from strangers who gave them bread and shelter.
There was also grace that somehow watched over them until one day, after countless exasperating months, they found themselves on top of a mountain in front of a church.
Century-old silence echoed all around them by Shushi’s Ghazanchetsots cathedral. A smile finally stretched on Ghevond’s mother’s wind-battered, sun-dried face. As Karabakh’s mountains gleamed with a soft luster of the rising sun, she knelt by the church’s doorstep, released her taut grip on her sons’ hands, and died.