October 14, 2012
October 25, 2012

Tracing an exodus from a forgotten land.

"Mercy does not exist east of the Hellespont."

Venezuelan soldier of fortune Rafael de Nogales Mendez in his Four Years Beneath the Crescent, a book describing his service as an officer in the Ottoman Army during World War I.

In 2012 Dorie and I toured Turkey with National Geographic, seeing all the sites tourists typically see—Istanbul, Cappadocia, Ephesus and Bodrum, among others.

The Golden Horn, Istanbul

We were pampered travelers as you would expect from the Geographic, everything sweetness and light.


When the tour came to an end at the Istanbul airport and our group headed for the international section, Dorie and I boarded a domestic flight to where tourists seldom go—Kars, Van, Bitlis, Erzurum and Ani. In that part of eastern Turkey along the border with Iran and Armenia, we found light, but there was no sweetness.

Near Kars
Araxas River along the Turkish-Armenian border at Bagaran

In this high mountainous region where winters are bitterly cold, life is farming and herding as it has been for thousands of years. It is also where my mother's parents, the fortunate ones, emigrated from in the early 1900's. A few years after they had settled in California, this area was riven by the Armenian Genocide during which millions were slaughtered and nearly every vestige of a culture created over 16 centuries eradicated.

Ruins at Ani

Our brief time in the Armenian Highlands was one of the most moving experiences of my life. I had a vague sense of where my ancestors had come from and the life they had led there from stories my family had told and books read about the end of the Ottoman Empire. Walking the same streets they had walked, streets on which my less fortunate relatives and their neighbors had bled to death, brought this part of my heritage into much sharper focus.

On Aghtamar Island

When I first began to build this site, I posted a few photographs from the trip with a little explanation thrown in, but that turned into the first drafts of a book which I hope to post here one day.

In it, I'm struggling to answer several questions. What drives us to leave the familiar and travel thousands of miles to a distant place, never to return? How have the experiences of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents flowed from one generation to the next, influencing who we are today? Are calamitous events endured by previous generations still shaping how their descendants live their lives decades, even centuries, later? Do we, and more importantly can we, ever really exercise free will?

I don’t yet have a title for the book nor more than a rough outline. All I can do is continue opening doors and entering unfamiliar rooms, fortunate to have the time to conduct this search and try to make sense of everything discovered along the way.

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