Sikh soldiers serving in the British army during World War I

Sikh Soldiers Reveal Secrets of Armenian Genocide

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“…. Here, you can have this doll. It is my daughter’s. You can keep it.”

One hundred years ago, these were probably the last words that a British soldier said to an Armenian orphan lost in the endlessness of the Mesopotamian desert handing her the precious memory of his once peaceful civilian life.

However, this is not an excerpt from a novel, but a real story obtained from a descendant of a Sikh soldier who once served in the British army during World War I.

Arjan Manhas, a young community historian, had as classmates two Armenian brothers. He remembers one day he was invited to their house for a party. It was a typical Armenian party with an immense quantity of food and lots of guests. Arjan noticed an old man, a grandfather, sitting away from the crowd, browsing through the pages of an old photo album.

“He told me that they were his ancestors in these photos, survivors of the genocide that happened a century ago,” he recalled.

Arjan is sharing with me his memories on the other side of the computer screen during our online interview from Canada, home to nearly half a million Sikhs.

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Arjan started to dig deeper through history’s lesser known pages of his own nation’s losses and triumphs. He soon discovered that both his paternal and maternal great-grandfathers used to serve in the British Indian Army from 1916 to 1919. Among his findings was a journal of a soldier who served with his great-grandfather. The journal included material about the deportation camps in the present-day Iraqi desert, where tents were sheltering Armenian women and children.

“The women had a ring. But no husband was there. There were two boys and two girls inside the tent,” reveled the journal. Sikh soldiers shared their food with the starving children, play with them letting them play with their beards and turbans.

Arjan remembers that the journal included some dark pages; both the mothers and children were sexually assaulted, traumatized. Arjan doesn’t like to talk about these horrible details; perhaps they remind him of the suffering of his own nation.

In 1984, according to independent sources, about 8,000 to 17,000 Sikhs were killed in India as a result of a series of organized pogroms. These events are also known as the Sikh Massacre.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion, that originated in Punjab in 15th century and is the fifth largest religion in the world.

During World War I, Sikh soldiers as well as the British were prisoners of war and had been placed in the camps with the deported Armenians. In fact, the Ottoman army separated British and Muslim prisoners from Hindus and Sikhs, sending them in to the “worst camps” in Ras al-Ain to work on the rail line.

“The Turkish soldiers bullied the Sikh soldiers, forced them to eat meat, cut off their hair, take of the turbans…”, Arjan Manhas continues his stories.

During the march to their final destination, these prisoners witnessed the entire horrific picture of the atrocities perpetrated by the Ottomans in a small Armenian village.

“When we went to look into a well a swarm of insects flew out. It was not advisable to drink from these wells; there were Armenian corpses rotting in many of them.”

These are the memories of another Indian Prisoner of war, Sisir Sarbadhikari, shared in his self-published book, Abhi Le Baghdad [On to Baghdad].

Arjan Manhas has only one picture of one of his great-grandfathers, Tara Singh, and his application to join the British-Indian Army. Another great-grandfather, Dummas Singh, was suffering from PTSD after the war and no records, nor stories about him Arjan is able to add to his precious collection.

— Ani Duzdabanyan-Manoukian

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