When I was the Director of the Zohrab Center in NYC, I came across a remarkable interview -- Hayr Krikor Maksoudian had interviewed Dolores Zohrab Liebmann (the daughter of the Armenian author and Ottoman MP Krikor Zohrab), the founder of the Center.
This interview was recorded on a cassette tape. I found it in the drawer of the desk I slowly eased into. And I listened to it, with Sylvie and with Taleen. So many things struck me -- us -- about that interview. This interview of hers that we listened to over and over again.
We listened to that interview so much that I felt I knew her. And, of course, others at the Diocese told us stories about her. Digin Jacqueline, the warm and huggable and philosophical Beirut Armenian mother of the Diocese who made coffee for every patriarch and archbishop...
and bishop and priest and deacon that ever came through New York City, loved her. Our beloved Jacqueline had taken care of Dolores. And her eyes welled with tears when her name was mentioned.
I became so fond of Dolores Zohrab Liebmann that I stole a copy of one of her passport photos and placed it in my jewelry box. She became like a surrogate saint or an auntie I had never known. She became an angel that followed me. In the interview, she talks about her life.
Her long and fascinating life. And so much of it was beautiful. And so much of it was so very hard. She had grown up in Istanbul, with her siblings and her parents... and had an active family life that included regular visits from Talaat Pasha.
He and her father were close friends, who played tavloo (tavli) together regularly. Talaat Pasha loved her father so much that he made sure he wasn't arrested on April 24, with everyone else. He was arrested just about a month later. While the family was finishing dinner.
And eating cherries. She says in the interview that she never ate cherries again, after that night when the gendarmes came in and took her father away from her, from them. After the gendarmes came in and changed all of their lives, forever.
In the interview -- that we listened to on an old-school cassette player, a little chilled thanks to the low heat settings of the Diocese, huddled, as we drank what people call Armenian or Turkish or Arabic coffee... but what people in Armenia call "sovorakan" (or, the usual )...
She mentions calling Talaat after her father was taken away. She asked him, "Uncle, what will you do for my father?" And, she said, that he responded, "Don't worry, my child..I will take care of him like I would my own brother."
Well, Krikor Zohrab, master of at least three tongues, educated, thoughtful, a true Istanbulite, a dedicated Ottoman, an Armenian friend of Talaat Pasha ... was killed with a rock to his head outside of Diyarbakir. Brother.
Later on in the interview, she mentions seeing Talaat Pasha on the street in Istanbul -- I imagine it was somewhere in Beyoğlu -- and Fr. Krikor asks her, "What did you do when you saw him?" And her response was, "I turned my head. What else could I do?"
I never understood this part of the interview. Somehow, it always sat wrong with me. This man was at your house once a week. This man told you he would take care of your father like a brother. Your father was killed by blunt force in the hinterlands of the empire.
And you just turn your head away? I always wondered, didn't she want to ask him something? Didn't she want to get angry with him? Didn't she just want to cry? I suppose when you realize how complicit and indifferent people are to the existence of your loved ones...
you understand that none of the above would actually make any difference. Realizing their complicity and their well-meaning indifference just changes you, I suppose.
Brother, they said. Kardeş, they called out.
p.s. since I left the Diocese, it would seem that people were eager to remove the contents of the desk I had inherited and now no one knows where the recording of this interview is. I left it in the place I found it and now wish so much that I had stolen it. #culturalheritage
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