Friday, October 25, 2013

Cat got your tongue?

Continuing to read  Sherman Alexie's INDIAN KILLER, Marash Girl was caught short by the following (page 29): the main character, John Smith, "knew that priests had cut out the tongues of Indians who continued to speak their tribal language."

Confirmation of a parallel circumstance among Armenians in the Ottoman Empire comes from the unexpected source of "Yahoo Answers". "The most confusing and curious names are those based on some trait of an ancestor. Typical examples are Topalian 'son of the cripple', Dilsizian 'son of the tongueless one' . . . Many of the origins of these names are unclear unless one understands the original context. As an example, Dilsizian indicates that an ancestor had his tongue cut out by the Turks for using the Armenian language."  

Marash Girl's father, Peter, was haunted by the memory of the tongueless man he would see walking through the marketplace in Marash -- his tongue had been cut out for speaking Armenian (rather than Turkish). Peter's mother, Grandma Yepros, would never allow Peter to speak Armenian in the streets of Marash -- her children had to speak only Turkish outside of the home.  The family spoke Armenian inside their home only.  [Somewhat related is the fact that Peter's brother, Paul, often told of having to hide his Armenian books by sitting on them whenever the Turkish gendarmes entered his classroom to make sure the teacher was teaching the class in Turkish.]

Marash Girl knows from her oral history interviews, particularly an interview with Miss G. who was born in Marash and orphaned during the genocide (the audiotaped interview stored  at the Armenian Library and Museum of America, Watertown, Massachusetts,) that the missionaries in the Armenian orphanages punished the children for speaking Armenian --  the Armenian children were told that they must speak only Turkish, as that was their new language -- they needed to forget Armenian!

Asking an Armenian historian friend, Marash Girl was scolded and told that the historian had never seen evidence that such tongue-cutting had ever occurred.  Marash Boy, as well, refused to believe tongue-cutting ever happened.

Myth? Legend? History? Reality?

Did the Turks ever cut out Armenians' tongues for speaking Armenian? Asking that question of Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University elicited the following response:  Why, yes, I have seen numerous historical citings of such behaviors.

Que lastima!  Marash Girl had hoped that it was all a bad societal nightmare.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of years ago, on my Western Armenian pilgrimage, I had the pleasure of meeting a learned elderly Armenian gentleman whom I vividly remember saying: The Armenians of Ainteb (amongst others) became Turkish speakers mainly because of this tongue-cutting practices by the Sultan's Janissaries.