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Critical Book Review: "Forgotten Fire" By Adam Bagdasarian

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In his book Forgotten Fire, author Adam Bagdasarian investigates the Armenian Genocide through the eyes of a twelve year old Armenian boy named Vahan Kenderian. Through Vahan, the reader experiences the atrocities committed during the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Turkey. The Turks, who were Muslim, viewed the Christian Armenians as inferiors and treated them as such; under Turkish law, Armenians had nearly no rights, no fair justice in Turkish courts, could not bear arms, and were taxed far higher than Turks, which led to many families losing their possessions and homes. But unlike many other Armenian families of the time, Vahan's family, consisting of two girls, four boys (including Vahan), Vahan's Uncle Mumpreh, grandmother Toumia, and mother and father, was wealthy and respected by the Turks in their town of Bitlis. Before the Turkish gendarmes (police officers), took Vahan's father and uncle away, Vahan had never had to work a day in his life. But his life is soon shaken and turned upside down by the Turks. Soon after his father and uncle were taken away, more Turkish gendarmes come to the home and kill Vahan's two oldest brothers. The family is taken to the Goryann Inn, where they are imprisoned with dozens of other Armenians. Fearing the worst, Vahan's older sister kills herself here, and the family is reduced further. The Turks order the Armenians to be transported to another location, and begin marching them. During this march, Vahan's grandmother is killed by the gendarmes, and Vahan and his brother, Sisak escape and separate from each other. Not knowing where else to go, Vahan goes to his best friend's house, Patoo. However, Patoo's mother refuses to hide Vahan and throws him out. Vahan eventually finds his brother Sisak extremely sick and about to die in the street. With nothing he can do, Vahan watches his brother die. Struck with grief, he returns to his former home which is now in the possession of the feared Turkish governor, Selim Bey, known as the "Butcher of Bitlis". Selim Bey allows Vahan to be the stable boy and stay in the barn with the horses that he takes care of. When a little Armenian girl comes to stay with Vahan in the stable, he is ecstatic that he is no longer alone. But this excitement is short lived when Vahan learns that Selim Bey sent the girl there for the soldiers' entertainment and Vahan can no longer trust Selim Bey. Eventually he is sent to stay with Selim Bey's father, who can be trusted even less than Selim Bey himself. Again, Vahan escapes and travels with a group of Turkish refugees, pretending that his is a deaf mute. He stays with the group, who travel to a small Turkish village for some time. But decides it's time to leave when an Armenian found in the mountains is murdered in cold blood and Vahan realizes that no one in the village is affected by it. He travels to the town Sivas, where he comes across an elderly Armenian man named Ara Sarkisian, and a young crippled boy named Serop. Ara Sarkisian hides Vahan until he finds an Armenian orphanage for girls that has agreed to hide and take care of Vahan, who now has to dress like a girl so as t to be caught. Vahan is then taken in by an Armenian doctor working for the German consul as a servant to help his wife. After several months of this, Vahan again decides it's time to move on and is hired by the German consul to drive a wagon of supplies. Vahan's real goal is to travel to Constantinople, where it's rumored that Armenians are safe from the Turks. After being abandoned by the German officers and the other wagon drivers, Vahan comes across a Greek man by the name of Spiros Koulouris, who has agreed to introduce Vahan to a man that can help him get to Constantinople. The man Vahan is introduced to allows him to ride to Constantinople on a ship in exchange for eight lira. Once on the ship, the man orders Vahan not to leave the room he is confined to. Soon another Armenian boy, roughly the same age as Vahan, is also confined to the room. After days of being terribly seasick, Vahan finally reaches his destination. Once in Constantinople, Vahan comes across an Armenian man who knew Vahan's father and helps him and the other boy by taking them to an Armenian newspaper company, where the man in charge fed, clothed them and set up so that the boys would go to St. Gregory's Orphanage. During this time, Vahan went back to school. In the epilogue of the book, Vahan is reunited with his sister Oskina, and learns that the remaining members of his family, his mother and uncle, died not long after Vahan had escaped.

In this book, the author identifies several themes including loneliness, loss of faith, and identity. The theme of loneliness can be seen throughout the book, when Vahan gets close to a particular person, they're viciously ripped away, usually in death. An example of this can be seen in the scene in which Vahan is staying in the stable of Selim Bey's father and a young girl is sent to stay with him. Because he had been alone for so long, Vahan is extremely excited that he has someone to confide in. But the young girl is not willing to trust Vahan as easily as he trusts her, and with good reason. Vahan soon discovers why the girl is really there when several gendarmes come to the stable during the night and rape the young girl, and Vahan is powerless to stop them. At one point, Vahan remarks, "The problem with loneliness is that, unlike other forms of human suffering, it teaches us nothing, leads us nowhere, and generally devalues us in our own eyes and in the eyes of othersÐ'....It simply comes, sits in the center of the heart where it cannot be overlooked, and abides. I did not know what loneliness was until I came to Kars" (Bagdasarian 130).

Another theme prevalent in the book is identity. Throughout the book, several characters are introduced as "so-and-so, son of so-and-so", meaning that at the time, what your name was and who you were



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