Centenarian Antranig Matevosyan is among the last living survivors of the deportations and mass killings of Ottoman Armenians. Born in 1912, he was three years old when the deportations began in 1915, and six when he fled his native village in Kars with his family in 1917.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the 1915 killings, Matevosyan spoke with Al Jazeera about their ordeal.
Al Jazeera: How did you and your family escape?
Antranig Matevosyan: My father was a soldier for Tsar Nicholas II. There was one good man in the army, a man with a good conscience. He told my father to escape, that things were going to be bad. So my father picked up his rations, fetched my mother and me, and we ran.
You know, whoever was in the area of [Lake] Sevan and Arax [River], they managed to escape.
Al Jazeera: Did you lose any loved ones in the deportations or massacres?
Matevosyan: [My] grandfather, grandmother, uncle, children, they were all killed. There’s no one. My brothers weren’t born in our village. Only me. They killed my grandmother, but my mother escaped. We were villagers… [We kept] cows, ox, sheep. [We lost our] home, [our] belongings. We put on our clothing and escaped.
Al Jazeera: How did you and your family avoid getting caught?
Matevosyan: My mother’s face had to be covered with soot, and she dressed as a Kurd. She put on a headscarf so they wouldn’t know she was Armenian.
There’s a photo of my father; you see, he’s a man with a moustache. They asked him what nationality are you, and he told them he was a Kurd. My father knew how to speak Kurdish. If they found out he was Armenian, he would’ve been killed. They would’ve killed us too, if they knew we were Armenian.
That’s how we escaped. We returned to [the holy see] Echmiadzin [in Armenia]. Years passed. We moved on. No one from mother’s side of the family survived.
Al Jazeera: What else do you remember about the escape?
Matevosyan: It was bad. There’s nothing good to tell. The stories, their faces, I still see them in my dreams. When the women got tired, and they couldn’t carry their infants any more, they would throw them in the river. Throwing them in the river was better than leaving them on the ground, where wild animals would eat them.
Al Jazeera: Can you forgive and forget?
Matevosyan: No, wrong is wrong. It’s true, there are good Turks among them with a good conscience, but a Turk is a Turk.
I pray that there is world peace, that the young people of today don’t see what we saw, that they stay well and live with their own will and hard work. I pray that one day they give our lands back, and that we can go and see them. I have to hold back my tears because I want to see my native soil. Is it even real? But I’m already nearly dead. If I go there and die, who is going to bring me back?