One of the most horrific tragedies of WWI was the deportation, starvation, and killing of over 1.5 million Armenians by the Turks during 1915 and 1916 in what was then the Ottoman Empire. The Hundred Year Walk; An Armenian Odyssey by Dawn Anahid MacKeen recounts these horrors primarily through the first-hand accounts of MacKeen’s grandfather, Stepan, related in his diaries that he wrote after the war. Mackeen, a journalist, includes her own visit to Turkey and Syria in 2007 as she follows the route made by her grandfather almost 100 years earlier and the meeting with the descendants of the Sheikh who helped her grandfather. She also includes historical information from other sources as she weaves together his story within the overall tragedy of the Armenian Genocide.
The Christian Armenians within the primarily Muslim Ottoman Empire had at various times throughout history been the target of persecution, but never on the scale seen in 1915/16. The new regime of the Ottoman Empire called the Young Turks sided with the Central Powers in 1914. Within months of the start of the war, the Young Turks disarmed all the Armenians in the country, even those men who served in the army. They executed numerous Armenian intellectuals and leaders, and started mass deportations of Armenians from their historical homeland. Then the real horrors began; forced marches southward to Syria, rape, starvation, and mass murder. MacKeen’s grandfather, Stepan, managed to escape from a caravan that was forced into the desert and then massacred. During his harrowing journey, he is helped by some of the Arabs living in the area. After three years of separation from his mother, brother and sisters, he is reunited at the end of WWI. However, this was not the end of their suffering and persecution, and eventually, he and his family emigrated to the U.S.
This was a tough book to read because of the subject matter even though the author did a wonderful job telling her grandfather’s story and interweaving her own within it. But it was also tough because of what’s happening today. The killing and suffering continue in Syria, in many of the same places where so many Armenians died one hundred years before.