A large body of literature has grown up around the Jewish Holocaust of World War II, but relatively little fiction has been written about the Armenian Genocide of 1915-18. Originally identified as a “diaspora,” defined as “historical mass dispersions of an involuntary nature” (Wikipedia)(Rogers Brubaker), the atrocities committed against the Armenian people during World War I are now recognized as genocide, the organized killing of a people for the express purpose of putting an end to their collective existence (Armenian National Institute). An estimated one and a half million people, out of an estimated two million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire at this time, died. For most Americans, little or nothing is known about this period in history.
Aline Ohanesian has helped to fill this void with her new novel, Orhan’s Inheritance. This gripping story frames the series of events that precipitated and comprised the Armenian Genocide with a current day family drama that sends a young Turk, Orhan Türkoğlu, in search of the past.
When Orhan’s grandfather, Kemal, dies in 1990, the family is shocked to learn that Kemal has willed the family home in the Turkish village of Karod to “one Ms. Seda Melkonian.” No one in the family recognizes the name, but the attorney who reads the will provides her address, an Armenian assisted living facility in California. Determined to meet this stranger and convince her to sign away her rights to the home, Orhan flies to California.
Following Orhan and Seda’s initial meeting, the story moves back and forth between 1990, when Orhan attempts to learn the connection between Kemal and Seda, and Seda’s own experience in 1915, when her family was forcibly deported to the eastern provinces.
I don’t want to give away any of this fascinating – not to mention heart-breaking and beautiful – story. Ms. Ohanesian has woven a tapestry of both the historic and the personal price that was paid during this shameful period, peopling it with characters about whom we care and come not only to love but to respect. It isn’t always a pretty story, but it is an important one.