|NOT EVEN MY NAME|
REVIEW by Willard
The Turkish genocide against the Armenians in the early part of the 20th century has been well documented, most recently in two novels, Micheline Marcom's Three Apples Fell From Heaven and Ross Bagderian's Forgottten Fires. Overlooked by most scholars and writers, though, was the similar uprooting and persecution suffered by the Pontic Greeks and the Assyrians living in Turkey. Even though they had roots that went back three thousand years, Mustafa Kemal (later known as Kemal Ataturk) in 1921 ordered all Greek and Assyrian males between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to be sent to military prisons and work camps. The remaining women, children and old folks were ordered to march out of the country, in eight months' time.
The march was from northern Turkey's Black Sea region across the Anatolian plains and mountains to the Syrian border, a distance of some three hundred miles. Lashed by Turkish guards, pummeled by bad weather, subjected to starvation and disease, the marchers endured a living hell that claimed many a victim. Between the camps and the 8-month-long march approximately 360,000 people died. The 1 1/2 million who survived this holocaust went into permanent exile, never to be allowed to return to their homes or farms.
Mustafa Kemal had "cleansed" his new Turkey of most of its Christians. This murderous violation of human and civil rights was only feebly opposed by the world powers. In the USA, President Warren G. Harding not only supported the Turkish genocide (because he wanted Turkey's oil and trade) but pressured the State Department and the media to suppress news reports that told the truth about the Pontic/Assyrian genocide. A shameful silence followed, one that lasted right up until the publication this year of Thea Halo's NOT EVEN MY NAME (St. Martin's/Picador).
Halo's book is a personal account of the tragedy that befell her family. It opens in 1989 when she and her 80-year-old mother Sano traveled from New York City to Ankara, to embark from there on a journey to Sano's hometown of Iondone (Ayios Antonios, originally). Sano had not seen Iondone since she was nine, the age at which she took part in the Aleppo death march. During the march she lost her mother and two sisters, surviving herself only because an Assyrian family in the south of Turkey took her in as a virtual slave. The family not only changed her name from Themia to Sano but later, when she was fifteen, married her off to an Assyrian-American stranger three times her age.
The return to Turkey (where most of the people they meet are kind, hospitable and completely unaware of the massacre committed by their ancestors) frames the book's central chapters, which bring to life Sano's Pontic childhood, an idyll shattered forever by man's inhumanity to man, the long march, her life as a household slave, her marriage and relocation to New York, where she learned English (and relearned Greek), gave birth to ten children and survives today, a figure of profound female strength, courage and humanity, a true earth mother.
Sano's first-hand account of the Turkish holocaust is both powerful and sad, vivid and heart-rending. It also pays homage to its victims and can stand as a memorial to their courage and spirit, as well as a reminder of the crimes committed by the Turks, crimes they still deny.
Above all, the book is a tribute to Sano, a woman who looked evil in the face but never became evil herself. As she said, "Even in my darkest hours, I need only to watch a flower lift its lovely face to drink the rain, or hear my children laughing, to know that life is good. Breath is God's gift. Life is our reward. The rest is up to us."