Ellen Sarkisian Chesnut has published a new memoir based on her father’s eyewitness account of the Armenian Genocide entitled “Deli Sarkis: The Scars He Carried: A Daughter Confronts the Armenian Genocide and Tells Her Father’s Story,” San Jose Mercury News.
A book launch for the memoir will be held Tuesday at the Alameda Museum. The author was born in Iraq and came to the United States with her father, mother and brother when she was 2 years old – to also escape threats in Iraq.
The author said that, to this day, the Turkish government denies the Armenian Genocide and has basically written it out of textbooks and history books.
“From 1915 to 1923, 1.5 million Armenians died as a result of outright massacre or deportation. The killings went on for eight years,” said Chesnut, whose father was only 10 years old when his family was forced to leave their home in Turkey — or face death. “I wrote my book because I don’t want this to be a hidden genocide anymore.”
She said that what followed the forced departure from their home for the 10-year-old Deli Sarkis and his family – along with millions of other Armenians — was a horrific journey marked by cruelty, dangers and atrocities. They were first loaded into cattle trains — with little food and train cars filled with hay for toilets – then forced to walk through the Syrian desert, where many died from massacre, exhaustion or starvation.
“The intent was for our people to die, whether at home or on the death march,” said Chesnut, whose grandfather died en route, saying he couldn’t make it anymore. Chesnut said her then-10-year-old father witnessed many atrocities along the way, including watching dead bodies being thrown into a pit and covered with lime to make them decompose faster and a massacre at Raqqa in Syria, where the Armenians were attacked by a group of Arabs, who killed the able-bodied men and stole the young girls.
Her father survived and reached Mosul, Iraq, with his mother and brothers. Later, he met and married his wife, a fellow survivor of the Armenian genocide. The young family, including then-2-year-old Chesnut and her baby brother, subsequently moved to San Francisco, where Deli Sarkis lived and worked for the rest of his life, including a stint in the shipyards during World War II. Chesnut, who taught 42 years with the San Francisco Unified School District, has carefully documented this history in her 186-page book, which contains 111 photographs. She said it’s been a labor of love over the past 26 years through interviews with her father, who died in 1995, and her own intensive research on the subject.
“One day my father, who always talked to me about what had happened, looked at me with a serious expression and said, ‘Tell my story,’ ” Chesnut said.”That was my inspiration – it’s a miracle he ever made it.”
Three years ago, working closely with longtime Alameda resident and graphic designer Valerie Turpin, Chesnut began writing her father’s story.
“We worked in unison together for three years; it was a big project,” Chesnut said. “Valerie designed the front cover and worked on maps with me while I wrote all the captions for the photos – I wanted it to be very historically accurate.”