By Baydzig Kalaydjian

CHUNKUSH — Recai Altay was married to the grandaugther of Asya, an Armenian who had escaped from the Armenian Genocide. Recai was a Kurd that was murdered in November in a jail cell in Diyarbakir where he had been kept in police custody as a result of unrest in the southeastern portion of Turkey.

It was not the first time Recai had been arrested because of his Kurdish ethnicity. In the 1980s, he spent a decade at Diyarbakir’s notorious prison where he was tortured and his teeth were brutally extracted. Recai was not only fighting against human injustice, but was also sparing no effort to bring to light the identity of hidden Armenians.

In a commendable way, Armenian professors and young intellectuals from American universities have made it a tradition to travel to historic Western Armenia (Eastern Turkey) during the summer holidays. During their visits, these people would also come across Recai in the village of Chunkush; he was even filmed for Bared Maronian’s “Women of 1915” documentary. Herein, they managed to unlock the sorrowful stories concealed in the depths of his soul on Chunkush village, built on huge rocks, between historical Kharbert and Severak.

Chunkush has its special place in the history of the Armenian Genocide. The community was home to 10,000 before 1915. Chunkush’s population was mostly composed of Armenians. The only Turkish area was built in the 18th century and was separated from the Armenian districts by a gorge. Just like other Armenian cities, Chunkush was also forced into displacement and residents experienced horrible acts of violence.

Leather production and the leather industry were the main areas of work of the Chunkush people, going beyond the borders of Western Armenia, Mesopotamia and reaching countries in Far Asia – India, China, Myanmar, Mongolia, etc. The post-genocide history attests that in the aftermath of 1915, one could rarely meet Chunkush-Armenians among migrants in Deir ez-Zor, Aleppo or Damascus and other migrant stations. This is because the bloodthirsty Turkish soldiers that had been dispatched to Chunkush did not let the displaced Armenians join the deadly caravans of people being marched to the scaffolds, and forced all Chunkush people to throw themselves into the Dudan ravine.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Recai had heard of these tragedies from his wife’s grandmother — Asya — who was the only Armenian living in present-day Chunkush. She would tell all Armenians visiting her about the mournful ordeals her parents had described to her. She would express herself strongly, noting the human injustices that are still being exercised against Armenians hiding/revealing their identities, residing in the territory of historical Armenia and Turkey.

Responding to local events, Garo Paylan, member of the Turkish Parliament, has said, “What we have is the April 24 of 1915. But we will not let the fascists set our country and our young generation on fire once again.”

Asya’s mother was barely 10 when the expulsions of the Armenian people began. She was among Armenians that were being marched to the scaffold — to Dudan’s death chasm — from where the sound of the water could be hardly heard outside the ravine. She was beautiful and her beauty would capture the attention of the bloodthirsty beasts. She was “lucky” to escape death… And at the age of 10 she already was married to a Kurdish officer. In 1920, she had a sweet baby — Asya — who thus came to be the only Armenian in Chunkush. Even though kurdified and with concealed Armenian identity, until the end of her life, the Armenian blood flowing in her veins was sparkling. She spared no effort to tell everyone visiting her about what she had learnt from her mother and the history of her nation’s fate. Every time a Diaspora Armenian would step on the land of Tigranakert, Chunkush would come to life and awaken from its death sleep.