Forgotten Fire People take their lives for granted too easily today. We do not know when something could happen to us or a loved one. Unexpected events take place to people all the time. In the book Forgotten Fire Adam Bagdasarian tells the real life story of how his uncle survived the Armenian Genocide in 1915. Vahan Kenderian, Adam’s uncle, was only twelve when many events started occurring. These events were unexpected and tragic in many ways to not only Vahan and his family, but also all of the Armenians.
In a short time, Vahan lost his home and family and, to survive he was forced to live a life he could never have dreamed of. He went through many struggles and saw many horrors that a boy of that age should not have to go through or should have seen. Though, most of these events were very traumatic and life altering, Vahan was able to learn important life lessons as a result of the events. He was a strong and confident young boy and even through all of the hard times he still remained strong and was able to grow not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.
The three most crucial events that helped him learn life lessons were when he witnessed his two older brothers’ murders, meeting a girl named Seranoush who became his friend, and how he had to work hard and fight for a place to live and survive. Vahan, a twelve year old Armenian boy at the time, did not know the significance of the first events. The Turkish started by taking out the intelligence of the Armenians first. This consisted of any people working for the government. Vahan’s father, a lawyer, was included in this group.
Vahan’s father was told that he was wanted at a government building for official business and was led away by two gendarmes one morning. His father was expected to be brought back in a few days, but he never returned. Vahan believed his father was shot and killed; along with many others that were taken. They then took away all of the men and older boys. Vahan stated one day, “I did not know that when I opened my eyes the next morning that it was the last day of my childhood. The day seemed no more ominous than the one before; my heart was no heavier, my fears no greater.
As I walked down the stairs to the kitchen, I had no premonition that my family and I were about to share our last meal together” (23). Later that day his family’s home would be invaded by seven gendarmes. His two older brothers, Tavel and Diran, were questioned about their ages. They were then put in front of the wall of their garden and shot to death. Vahan said during this event, “I had read books about soldiers, adventurers, and kings, men who faced death with a smile and even managed to say something memorable before they died.
Secretly, I had always thought that I was one of them, that given the opportunity, I too, could face death with a wink or shrug or a smile. And now I knew that I was not brave, that my fear of death was so strong that I could not control my own body” (25). The only Armenians left to fight the Turkish after the intelligence, men, and older boys were the women, children, and the elderly. Though, he was scared himself and did not want to die, Vahan wanted to protect the rest of his family from the gendarmes. He did not know how to support his grieving mother and family because he too was grieving from the loss of his brothers and father.
In this event Vahan was able to mature quickly into a young man and learn how to support his family. He also learned how to grieve and know what it meant to not have his father or older brothers in his life any longer. Following these events and many more Vahan was sent to live with the governor of Van, Selim Bey, who was the person to blame for the killings of his people. Reluctantly Vahan went to stay with Selim Bey and was grateful for having survived that long during the genocide. He was told to stay in a barn and not to come out for any reason. He was to take care of the horses and that was it.
During his stay with Selim Bey, Vahan became very lonely due to the fact that he had no one to talk to. One day, a girl named Seranoush was brought to the barn. He thought that she was brought to be his friend. When she first arrived Vahan tried to talk to her, but she was very timid and skittish. She was younger than Vahan and had also seen many horrendous scenes that had scarred her. She began to talk to Vahan after a few days, but then a soldier came back. Vahan had said, “I was still awake when the door opened and the soldier came in. I was awake when the soldier held the lamp over my face, then Seranoush’s.
And I was awake when the soldier pulled the blanket off Seranoush’s body and she screamed and he hit her across the face and pulled down his trousers” (135-1365). Vahan knew what was going to happen to Seranoush. He had tried to help her, but he got hurt too. He heard her cries while the soldier had raped her. Seranoush did not talk again after that horrific incident. Later, three more soldiers had come. He stated, “Three soldiers came to the stable that night, and the third soldier did not have to slap Seranoush or cover her face because she did not make a sound” (136).
Seranoush knew there was nothing she could do to stop the soldiers of their ugly mission, so she gave up, and did not fight back. Vahan then said, “And every night for seven nights, the soldiers took her outside and raped her. On the morning of the eighth day, I called softly to her, but she did not answer. I leaned close to her and touched her face. Two soldiers carried her body out of the stable” (136-137). Vahan had lost his friend not only to death, but in a horrific way. He had to witness and hear Seranoush’s cry every single time it happened to her. The soldiers had not only damaged Seranoush they had also damaged Vahan.
After Seranoush’s death, Selim Bey comes to talk to Vahan. Vahan confronts Selim Bey about Seranoush’s presence and what the soldiers had done to her. Selim Bey did not care. He simply stated, “Pick your friends carefully and protect them if you can, leave the rest to their fate” (138). Vahan had then realized at that moment that he could not always protect his loved ones. He needed to be careful who he became friends with, and who he trusted. Selim Bey obviously could not be trusted. Vahan was later sent to go stay at Selim Bey’s father’s home in Andreas. He eventually escaped there to join a Turkish village.
After one village member found out he was Armenian and witnessing another Armenian’s murder, Vahan left there too. He started a long journey to a town named Sivas. There he met a man named Ara Sarkisian. Ara helped him get into an orphanage run by a lady called Eugenia Fauld. Mrs. Fauld then found a possible home for Vahan with a Doctor and his wife. Dr. and Mrs. Tashian wanted a boy to help around the house with heavy lifting and household chores. Dr. Tashian had said he thought they needed a boy of an older age. Vahan’s response was, “Don’t look at my size, I can do any work you want me to do, and I can work as long as you want me to work.
I am very strong Dr. Tashian. I can harness a wagon and drive it into town and take care of your cow and your horses. I am fourteen years old, but I’m not a boy, and I’ve been through things harder than this, harder than any work you have for me” (200). Vahan had stood up for himself. As a result of saying what he thought was right, he was given the chance to live with Dr. and Mrs. Tashian. That next morning, Dr. Tashian and Vahan drove a wagon into town and bought supplies for the house. Vahan had refused Dr. Tashian’s offer for him to help Vahan carry wood and coal into the storage shed.
Vahan had wanted Dr. Tashian to see how strong and useful he could be. Later, Vahan had cleaned around the house. This included, cleaning the kitchen floor and shelves. Vahan stated then, “I watched my own servants do this kind of work for many years. At the time, I had thought that there would always be servants for me, and horses to ride, and huge rooms to play in, and crystal glasses to drink from. I had thought that servants were born servants and that they were different from me. Now I knew that they were no different at all” (201). Vahan had thought that if you were a servant you were always a servant.
You had been born a servant and that is all you would ever live up to be. Due to his way of thinking, he thought that if you were born one way you would always be that way. Through these events Vahan had learned to stand up for himself. He realized why his father had wanted him to be mature and self-reliant. He learned that your circumstances change throughout life, your destiny is not given to you when you are born. Nothing is guaranteed in life, anything can happen at any given moment. Vahan had gone through multiple life altering events throughout his life. Due to having gone through these events he had learned multiple lessons too.
The three most life changing events would be witnessing his brothers’ murders, meeting a girl named Seranoush, and having to fight for a place to stay and call home. As a result of going through these events, Vahan had learned to become more mature, found a strength that he never knew he had, and learned that he had to work to become who he wanted to be. Vahan had missed three years of schooling in the years of the genocide. By working hard and staying strong, Vahan was able to complete, in four months, the entire curriculum for the year. This book teaches the importance of believing in yourself, staying strong, and to never give up.