In November 2003 when I went to Paris to do research for my third novel, I interviewed a number of elderly Armenian who had lived through the Occupation. One of them was Nazareth Peshdikian, a Genocide survivor who was born in Zeitoun in 1909. Orphaned in 1915, he wandered from Aleppo to Baghdad to Jerusalem before immigrating to France when he was twenty-five years old. In Paris, he had worked as a shoemaker and a cobbler. He was also an amateur actor in the Armenian theater. He told me that he had performed in plays and theatricals with the Aznavourians (the family of Charles Aznavour).
The interview was conducted in French, although he frequently slipped into Armenian. At age 93, his memory was a little foggy and when he forgot a name he was looking for, it stopped him in his narrative. Nazareth brought out his photo album, as well as an array of identity and membership cards. He told me he was “a Marxist and a humanist,” and a proud member of the Armenian Hunchakian Social Democratic Party. During the war his resistance work entailed delivering clandestine letters and putting anti-Nazi tracts in mailboxes.
In 1943, he said, the American had bombed the 15th Arrondissement of Paris where he was living. His home was destroyed. His rabbit hutch was upended, but the rabbits survived. His first wife was wounded and transported to the hospital where she died. He repeated in French and Armenian several times, almost in wonder all those decades later, “Les lapins, nabasdagnereh…the rabbits lived, but my wife died.”
For those who can read French, here is an interview with Nazareth Peshdikian (1909-2007) that was published in 2002. It includes a detailed account of his experiences during the Genocide.
February 1, 2013