< SWITCH ME >

Taline sounds French. Like Geraldine, Céline or Pauline. This makes foreigners believe that Taline is the typical representation of the French stereotype. She stresses the last syllable of each sentence and in winter she wears a hat that resembles a French beret, or one inspired by Coco Chanel's 50's style. But those who know how to look see something in Taline that is not so French.

Taline
Image: Taline
Taline wearing her French beret.

The owner of "Larry's ice cream" in Washington DC knew how to look. Everytime Taline went in his shop during her study abroad year in the city, he made the same comment: "What will the Middle-Eastern eyed girl order?" And then he asked Taline where she was from.

"From Paris."

"Paris? But you MUST have ancestors from the Middle East..."

"Well, my mother was born in Lebanon."

This made Larry happy, and he began to talk about his Turkish origins in front of Picasso's Guernica, which decorated the cosy shop. Once, he explained he was also Jewish and that he related the masterpiece's symbolism to the Holocaust. Taline has a story that could easily be linked to Guernica too. A story that is hinted at in her last name, which doesn't sound so French: Aprikian.

Taline's mother was born in Lebanon, yes. But Taline's Middle Eastern eyes are not Lebanese. That was just a transitional country, since Taline's ancestors, both from her mother's and her father's side, all come from Armenia. Or better said, they were Armenians but were born in today's Turkey. Taline's ancestors were there in 1915, when her family's Guernica story began.

There wasn't a specific moment in Taline's life in which she learned about it. She always knew. But the story became more precise when her father started planning a documentary and involved the family in his findings. He rescued some old tapes and listened to an old interview he'd made with the family's La Tante (The Aunt).

La Tante

Her name was Arghavnie Ter Atamian and she came from the area around Erzurum, in Eastern Turkey. Her village used to be called Bakaritch, but at some point the name was changed to Beğendikç. Taline and her father found it in Google Maps in their research to fill the gaps of the documentary. "Today, it is a ghost village," she says. From the satellite, you can't see more than the foundations of the houses. "All the families were deported and the place was never repopulated."

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Image: Google Maps
Aerial view of abandoned Bakaritch or Beğendikç, where Taline's aunt was born.

Arghavnie got married at the age of 15 - her mother had arranged a marriage with a friend's son before she was even born. This was common practice since the Armenian families feared that the Kurds would take away any young girl who was still a virgin. Armenians were Christians, while Kurds, like Turks, were Sunni Muslims.

Prior to becoming part of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians first established their own Kingdom in the 6th century BC and were also under Byzantine and Persian rule. Unlike them, Kurds never established their own nation. They were spread between Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, in the Kurdistan region which they never ruled. Both communities shared the land together with the Turks, the main ethnic group of the Ottoman empire.

"I didn't want to [get married], I was scared, I shivered... What did he want from me?" she says in the recording. But contrary to her initial beliefs, it all went well. Her husband was a smart and well respected 18-year-old who sold fabric to make clothes.

"I loved him a lot," Arghavnie says, "but when the army came, he had to leave."

The beginning of the end 

It was 1914, the First World War had erupted and the young men from the Ottoman Empire were drafted to join the army. In December that year, the battle of Sarıkamış took place. Russia defeated Turkey and Tsar Nicholas II met the head of the Armenian Church to try to find allies against the Ottomans. The relations between Armenians and Ottomans were already troubled over Eastern Anatolia because of the massacres carried out by Sultan Hamid II 30 years before, as part of his efforts to establish an Islamist regime. The ties between the two ethnic groups worsened when the Ottoman government interpreted the loss of the war as a sign of disloyalty from the Armenian minority. They blamed the uprising on the minorities, and a few months after the Ottoman defeat, deportations began.

Some of the Armenian soldiers began to revolt after this, and April 1915 marked the beginning of the Siege of Van. That was the main centre for Armenian culture -the spot where the first Armenian nationalist party was created - and also one of the places that had suffered from Sultan Hamid's cleansings. The revolt in Van was the first official uprising from the minority. Five days after the siege began, the Ottoman government arrested 250 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople, on a date that is today commemorated as the beginning of the Armenian genocide: 24th April 1915.

On that date, the apocalypse arrived for Arghavnie as well. In Taline's father's words: "the end of her world."

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Image: Taline
La Tante recalling her story to her descendants.
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