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Surviving the Armenian Genocide: My Grandfather’s Story

Surviving the Armenian Genocide: My Grandfather’s Story

April 24th marks the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Armenians mark this date in 1915, when several hundred Armenian leaders were rounded up, arrested and later executed as the start of the Armenian genocide and it is generally said to have extended to 1917. In total, over 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Turks in what is known as the Armenian Genocide. It was the first Holocaust of the 20th century. This, the world knows for sure. Turkey still denies this and whenever another country — as so many have — stands up and recognizes what happened to the Armenians as a genocide, they flex their political muscle and governments cave.

The reasons for their denial are simple. They want to be members of the European Union. The reasons governments such as the U.S. always promise the Armenians they will do something and never do is equally political. They are a key NATO ally, they are in a strategic geographic location for the U.S. and we have a military base there.

The thing is, Turkey can deny what they did over and over again but there are men and women who survived the reprehensible atrocities they inflicted on the Armenian people. They’ve told their stories.

We know them and we know what you did.

One such person was my grandfather, whom I knew as Marcel Cachat. Let me tell you about his life as it was told to me by him.

I can’t tell you when he was born, because when he lost his entire family in the infamous death marches. He was just a little boy. After all, who else could survive countless days without food or water marching into the Syrian desert? Only young, strong children. He was rescued by Greek missionaries who raised him in an orphanage in Greece. As a young man, he made his way on a boat and went to the South of France where many Armenians had gone. There, he went to work for a farm family because that is what he knew how to do. He needed to learn the language. As a a kid, I visited that farm family with him and my father. Soon after his arrival, local authorities got wind of his presence and he was called down to the local office. The French naturalized him, but suggested he change his name, as to assimilate into French society a little easier.

His name was changed from Missak Kachadurian to Marcel Cachat. Date of birth: unknown.

Eventually, through the Armenian community in Marseille, he met my grandmother Ardemis Tashjian. They married, started a little business and had my father, Marc.

During World War II, my grandfather fought for the French army and was captured right away without ever firing his gun. He was kept a German prisoner of war for several years while my grandmother raised my father back in France. Till the day he died, the very little English he spoke was with a heavy German accent. Not only did he speak fluent German, but he spoke fluent Turkish, Armenian, Greek, French and enough English later in life to hold a job in New York.

My father came to New York as a young man and started his life here in America. After my grandmother passed away in 1969, he followed him to New York, as well. He never knew his birthday and he had no known blood relatives besides us. He told me he remembered lots of people in his home growing up, but the memories were sketchy, at best.

I remember him as kind man who possessed a level of intelligence that was mind boggling, given his obvious lack of formal education. He was generous, too. He would buy us frivolous gifts and cook us wonderful dinners on Sundays. My mother told me he used to send donations in to PBS because he appreciated the educational shows they aired. He was a painter and had a garden that would make people stop their cars and ask him who his gardener was. He was humble, hard-working and very funny.

Pepe Marcel eventually went back to Marseille after several years in New York. He was happiest there, I believe. After all, it was practically his country. He raised his family there and most of my cousins still live there today. He remained active, walking four miles a day on the Corniche, one of the most beautiful streets in Marseille. He ended every day with a glass of red wine, how very French. He was very French, but he was always an Armenian man. With no roots, very little memories of a childhood and no place to go back home. Nevertheless, he married an Armenian woman, remained active in the Armenian community and raised his family in the Armenian Church. My husband is also Armenian and we will raise our children with the same values instilled in most Armenians. We work hard, we value family, education and are widely considered as high achievers in business. And no matter what happens to us, we will endure as my grandfather did.

A famous quote comes to mind today:

I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia. — William Saroyan 

So to anyone who denies the Armenian Genocide ever happened I say only this. We know you did it and the world does, too. It will always be the stain you cannot remove from your history, no matter how hard you try to silence the truth.

More importantly, the survivors like Missak Kachadurian know you did it.

À la mémoire de mon Grand-Père Missak “Marcel” Cachat.

We will always remember.