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Diyarbakir became a city of wounded cosmopolitanism, its minorities—Christians, Jews, Yazidis—greatly diminished. My father, the twelfth of his children, grew up in Diyarbakir, and I grew up listening to his stories about it.At parties, over glasses of coffee or raki, he described the place in mythic terms, as a kind of Anatolian Macondo, populated by people with names like Haji Mama, Deli Weli, Apple Popo.As could be expected, the great basilica fell into disuse, with the community instead assembling in a small chapel, which my grandfather helped finance. Eight years later, with snow accumulating on Sourp Giragos’s neglected roof, the whole thing collapsed.Eventually, there was just Antranik Zor, a strange old man, the guardian of the ruins, who told visitors, “Everyone is gone, they have become part of the earth, only I am left.”My sister visited Sourp Giragos at its nadir, about fifteen years ago, and found Uncle Anto, as he was known, sitting on a rock, dishevelled: loose shirt, cardigan tucked into sweatpants.The church of Sourp Giragos, in old Diyarbakir, fell into ruins after 1915. “Our grandparents,” the mayor said, “committed wrongs, but we, their grandchildren, will not repeat them.”When I try to imagine my grandfather, the face that appears to me is a variation of a pencil drawing that hangs in my parents’ house.The drawing captures the earliest image of him that we have in our family.
What he knew was privation, mass violence, famine, deportation—and how to survive, even flourish, amid such circumstances.
She recited it, and he wept, and then he led her into a shed behind the ruins, a cluttered place illuminated by a single light bulb.