The Words

The Words


‘The waters of the Dardanelles are a serene cobalt blue under a mild spring sun and cliffs that rise from their rocky base. This relatively narrow strip of sand at Ariburnu could be any ordinary beach off the beaten track back home if it were not for that brand spanking new monument. As I gaze above me all seems blurred with a kind of haze as if the ghosts are out today to haunt the heights. The Turks actually renamed this place Anzac Cove last year. They built that big wall and inscribed the consoling words to Anzac mothers on it. They insist the words came from Kemal Atatürk, although there is no evidence that he thought them, said them, or wrote them down.’

Avo Smith, May 1987.

All the way to Deputy Principal Bower’s office - following my abrupt summons from Year Twelve study hall - that final paragraph in my diary from Mama’s and my previous September holiday in Greece and Turkey burns in my mind. I search fruitlessly for an inspired opening line for my defence. Standing before Bower, who sits at his desk, all I have is: ‘I was trying to tell the truth.’

Bower strokes his greying beard, extends his angular, bony frame and rises to close his office door behind me with a metallic clunk. The sterile air in the closed-off space smells faintly chemical, like Bower himself. Originally a Chemistry teacher, his career remains stalled for a decade on the greasy promotion pole. His well-worn white lab coat hangs behind the door, next to where the cane-box once sat, if the tales are correct. It is no secret that Bower’s favoured method of maintaining a punitive, steely grip on discipline in the school is to whip the rear ends of boys who fail to obey orders. But for the past seven years, schools are effectively in a ‘no-caning’ situation. In Study Hall, there is an anonymous cartoon, dated 1980, pinned to the wall, depicting Bower’s itchy caning hand.

            ‘Mr Jaensch is unlikely to agree with your assessment of the truth.’ Bower contends, seated again, his black eyes inscrutable.

‘I was trying to be heard, trying to make a point,’ I continue, ‘one that maybe people don’t want to hear.’

‘You had your chance to be heard in class, young man,’ Bower cuts across me. ‘Mr Jaensch let you have your say, until you started getting your facts wrong.’

‘But he is wrong,’ I blurt out, knowing I am walking into a brick wall.

‘So, you, the boy in Mr Jaensch’s Modern History class, knows better than the experienced history teacher,’ Bower says, his thick black eyebrows arched.

‘I researched it,’ I insist. ‘Last summer holidays. In the State Library.’

Bower looks bored. He glances at the place where the canes once sat. There is a knock at the door.

‘Come in,’ Bower says. The door opens. Jaensch and his orange teacher resource box stuffed with papers stand framed in it. He is about forty, a large, beefy man with short, cropped red hair that is beginning to grey. He eyes me, a cockroach to be stepped upon. He is twice my size, but I’m barely bigger than a jockey. Bower fixes me in his gaze. ‘Now… Alvin… ‘

“Sir, it’s Avo,’ I correct him. I am used to it. Who else in Adelaide is called Avo? Avo Angelos Smith, a mix of my Armenian grandfather’s original and assumed names and my Australian father’s surname. ‘Spelt A…V…O.’

‘Avo,’ Bower says deliberately. ‘This need not take long. I need you to apologise to Mr Jaensch for arguing with him in front of his class.’

‘I wasn’t arguing,’ I say.

‘Arguing,’ Bower talks over me, ‘and showing dissent.’

‘But he is wrong,’ I insist.

‘Wrong about a subject I have studied not just at Uni but all my teaching career?’ Jaensch challenges.

‘I believe it is safe to say that Mr Jaensch knows the history of the Dardanelles and the first Anzac campaign better than you,’ Bower states. ‘He has the qualifications, the experience…’

‘But I believe he is wrong about Mustafa Kemal,’ I insist.

‘Mustafa Kemal Atatürk,’ Jaensch maintains. ‘Father of the modern Turkish state. A great man.’

‘I may be still in school,’ I say, knowing I am doing this the hard way, ‘but we live in a democracy with free speech and I have a right to be heard.’

            ‘And no one is denying you being heard,’ Bower allows, his beetling brows visually contradicting his words. ‘But you have had your hearing. Now, accept that you’re wrong, apologise to Mr Jaensch, and we can all move on.’

            ‘But, sir,’ I persist. This is about when Bower would be reaching for the cane in the “good” old days, perhaps the thin, whippy one. ‘Mr Jaensch. How can I apologise when I feel certain I am not wrong? You are concerned with my reaction to Kemal’s words to the Anzac mothers, right?’

            ‘Of course I am,’ Jaensch responds. ‘That essay draft you submitted – late - is speculative and unsourced. It is unacceptable.’

            ‘I haven’t added my sources to the draft,’ I counter. ‘I am waiting on the State Library to call me back with the info I need, the names I couldn’t decipher from the microfiche. My essay proves that reconciliation is based on a lie. And it forces us in Australia to accept other, worse lies…’

‘You’re getting ahead of yourself, Avo,’ Jaensch cuts in. ‘I can overlook the lateness of the draft this time. You have put in a big effort, going to the State Library and all, I’ll give you that, but you’re on the wrong track. Our topic is on how diplomacy in the aftermath of the Great War created reconciliation. The essay is about the central role Atatürk’s words to the Anzac mothers play in diplomacy between Australia and the Republic of Turkey. It is not about your interest in challenging the veracity of the words themselves, which are now carved into monument walls in Turkey, Canberra, and Wellington.’

            ‘Diplomacy,’ Bower adds. ‘You would do well to practise it yourself, young Avo. Arguing and answering back instead of listening.’ He turns to Jaensch. ‘What was the context exactly? I know the Anzac story, of course. One of my great-uncles died there in 1915. What is the issue with Kemal? Why don’t we clear it up now, then we can all go to recess with the matter sorted.’

‘In 1934, a ship called Duchess of Richmond carrying a British, Australian and New Zealand delegation came to Ariburnu at Gallipoli,’ Jaensch explains, passing Bower a sheet of paper from a sheaf he removes from his orange teacher resources box. ‘Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who was founder of the Republic of Turkey and the officer who commanded the defence against the Anzacs at Gallipoli was not there to greet the visitors, but his loyal comrade Sükrü Kaya was, and he passed on Kemal’s message to Australian and New Zealander mothers.’

Bower studies the sheet while Jaensch recites the message, word-perfect.

‘Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly Country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours…
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land
They have become our sons as well.’

‘I will admit,’ Bower says, ‘I had not heard of this. Beautiful words, beautiful sentiments…’

‘And none of it is true,’ I chime in. Jaensch looks at me as if I am some kind

of traitor.

‘What makes you so sure?” Bower questions me, his eyes narrowing.

I pause to gather my thoughts and it seems to me - having read everything current on it, some on microfiche in the State Library, and researched even more - that everyone from Prime Minister Bob Hawke down is sold on the sentiment and nobility of content from a set of words that my research tells me has little or no basis in reality.

‘There is no clear evidence that Kemal ever thought, spoke, or wrote those words,’ I insist. ‘I think we are making a bad mistake to accept that the consoling words to the Anzac mothers were direct from the mouth of Mustafa Kemal. He was not there that day in 1934, when the British, Australian and New Zealand delegation came ashore at Gallipoli from the Duchess of Richmond, and were greeted by Turkish government reps. No one ever heard him speak the words. No written records suggest he wrote them. Only Sükrü Kaya says he did. Unproven.’

The bell for recess goes.

‘I am calling your mother, Avo,’ Bower says. ‘We might need more time to sort this out.’

Jaensch nails me with a hard stare on his way out. No one likes being told they are wrong, I suppose. The thought stays with me back to the cramped back corner of Year Twelve Common Room, the flocking point for me and my nerdish companions.

There are old Primary School mates Caleb and Bradley, as usual, but unexpectedly, Carli is there as well. Carli began high school life with us as a nerd, but in Year Ten she lost the braces and the rest of her curved out pleasingly, advancing her from nerd-dom into cooler company, albeit without denying she ever knew us.

            ‘What happened?’ Caleb and Bradley demand as one.

            ‘Look at you,’ Carli smiles. ‘Answering back to Jaensch. No idea what you were on about.’

I sum up the encounter in Bower’s office. ‘I haven’t heard the last of it.’

            ‘I don’t get it,’ Carli says. ‘You were arguing about something Kemal Whatsaname said. ‘And you got so fired up. Why?’

            ‘Yeah,’ Caleb echoes, glancing sideways and blinking nervously through his nerdy glasses, lest Carli notice he was ogling her breasts. ‘Why?’ They genuinely want to know. I never talk about family because it’s complicated.

‘OK,’ I begin. ‘You guys off next lesson?’

‘Yep,’ Bradley confirms, glancing at his printed timetable.

‘My Phys Ed class is on a bike ride excursion,’ Carli says. ‘But I got out of it.’

‘I have Biol,’ Caleb intones mournfully. ‘But I have done the prac work.’

‘It is to do with family,’ I admit. They nod as one.

Tati Anoush?’ Carli ventures. ‘She still alive?’

‘She is,’ I confirm. They all know the basics. My Armenian-born great-grandma, Tati Anoush, who still lives in her own home on the Esplanade near us at Henley Beach, was born into a family of Armenian farmers in Anatolia and was its only survivor of the Armenian Genocide, the mass killing of Armenians throughout the Ottoman Empire during and after World War One, almost completely unknown to most ordinary Australians.

            Tati Anoush is cool,’ Carli says. ‘I remember her blue eyes and beautiful smile. She seemed to see right inside me. I felt her love. And the cakes she made us in Primary School... Soooo yummy.’

Ironically, given my objection to Kemal as depicted by Jaensch, my Aussie family background is full of soldiers and even includes an original Anzac, Tom Mills, who was at Gallipoli, in the trenches of France and later took part in the famous Light Horse charge at Beersheba in 1917. Tom Mills met Tati Anoush at the end of the war. There was also Uncle Bert, who was taken as a prisoner-of-war at Gallipoli and saw what the Turks did to the Armenians from 1915 in the Ottoman Empire. Mama fell in love with and married a career soldier, my dad, who survived Long Tan but never made it back from Vietnam. All I have of my dad are his medals.

‘It’s about the Armenian Genocide,’ Caleb says.

‘It is,’ I say. ‘And Tati Anoush. She lived through it. She knows.’

‘I never saw you like that before, Avo,’ Carli says. ‘You really got to Jaensch.’

‘Jaensch is an arsehole,’ Bradley says. ‘But there is more. Isn’t there?’

‘There is,’ I say, and take a deep breath. ‘I haven’t told you guys any of this because I haven’t worked it out for myself until recently. You see, the Anzac legacy that I have looks nothing like the official mythology, the stuff that Jaensch loves.’

‘They make the Anzacs into heroes, like in Homer’s Iliad,’ Carli says. ‘Ancient Troy is not far from Gallipoli. You see? I was actually paying attention in Classical Studies.’

‘Gallipoli was a military defeat,’ I say. ‘My problem is: I see the truth of it. My understanding of the Anzacs comes from soldier stories, not the legend stuff that comes from the media. One of my dad’s surviving mates told me stuff about my dad. He was brave at Long Tan under Viet Cong fire. He helped get the ammunition dropped by helicopter to troops pinned down in the bush. But there was no glory. His death happened because our leaders backed the Americans in their holy crusade against communism. The Vietnamese were really only fighting a civil war. I lost my dad because of it.’

‘You never told me about your dad,’ Carli says. My world lurches on its axis when she smiles, but I have started talking and now I need to get it out.

‘Bower is dragging Mama into it,’ I say. ‘She will become emotional and I do not want that. Tati Anoush spent decades getting over her losses. If Mama is upset, Tati Anoush will re-live the things she saw that no one should have to see.’

Tati Anoush is cool,’ Carli says.

‘I respect his bravery,’ I insist, ‘but I would rather have had my dad. I question the circumstances that put his life on the line.’

‘There vill be no qvestions,’ Caleb interrupts, in his questionable Colonel Klink mode.  

‘Vietnam is a whole new thing,’ I say. ‘Let’s not go there. Jaensch is on record as being one hundred and ten percent behind Uncle Sam.’

‘Jaensch is a fascist,’ Bradley intones.

‘He worships the military,’ Caleb says. ‘That’s for sure. Remember when he showed us his service medals?’

‘Yeah,’ Bradley adds. ‘He was in Vietnam for five minutes before Whitlam got in and withdrew us.’

‘He never fired a shot in anger,’ Caleb muses. ‘I think that’s why he is angry now.’

‘I can believe that,’ I say. ‘It is about the test of manhood, or something. Courage under fire. Uncle Bert told me what he knew about Great-granddad Tom and his own tales of POW life in central Anatolia. And poor old Uncle Kev was a prisoner of the Japanese at Changi, never fired a shot and came home a stranger, alone, bitter, and angry.’

‘Should introduce Uncle Kev to Jaensch,’ Bradley laughs.

‘Shut up, idiots,’ Carli says companionably, punching Bradley’s shoulder. ‘This is Avo’s story. Continue.’ She smiles at me again. My heart does a double backwards flip with a half-pike.

‘It’s about the Genocide and its connection to us in Australia,’ I say, dragging my thoughts together with some effort. ‘Tom Mills died long before I was born, but Uncle Bert knew Tom White, a fellow POW who survived the war and later became a minister in the Menzies government. He wrote a book called Guests of the Unspeakable. Both Bert and Tom White saw the Turks marching Armenian men off to be shot in a village in Central Anatolia called Afionkarahisar...’

‘Afi…what?’ Bradley asks.

‘It’s a village,’ Carli repeats. ‘Whatever. Continue.’

‘They were locked up,’ I continue, ‘in a house where an Armenian family had been kicked out. They both saw the Turks force crying women and children into the street at gunpoint. They - and Tom Mills - knew the Turks were doing this sort of thing on a large scale, right through the First World War.’

            ‘Why?’ Carli asks.

            ‘Cleansing the empire, they called it,’ I explain. ‘Eliminating the infidel. They hanged and shot the Armenian men. And Greeks. And Syrians. And they kicked the families out, into the street and forced them to walk south to the desert, to Aleppo and beyond. Tati Anoush lived through it, Turks whipping Armenian women and shooting their men in cold blood, in the streets. Tati Anoush told me that Kemal kept murdering Armenians long after the armistice in 1918. She lived through the mass murders of Armenians from 1915 through to 1918 and looked after orphans of murdered Armenians until 1925 at the Australasian Orphanage at Antilyas, near Beirut.’

            ‘You never told us that,’ Bradley says.

            Tati Anoush told me stories,’ I say, ‘but she also said that the past was over and she preferred to live in the present. She likes peace.’

            ‘I’m with Tati Anoush,’ Carli says. ‘But continue. You’ve started now.’

‘Hitler got the idea of mass killing a race of people from the Ottoman Turks,’ I say. ‘The Turks murdered one-and-a-half million Armenians between 1915 and 1922. No one remembers that. It took a Jew born in Poland called Raphael Lemkin to make up the term Genocide at the end of World War Two.’

‘I don’t get what this has to do with Kemal,’ Caleb says.

Tati Anoush told me Kemal’s orders led to ten thousand Armenians being massacred – after the war - in Marash,’ I continue. ‘Her birthplace in Anatolia. It is part of Turkey. These people were Genocide survivors who had made their way back to ancestral lands familiar to them, hoping things would go back to normal, now the war was finished. But even though the so-called ‘Young Turks’, Talaat, Enver and Djemal had disappeared and the Ottoman Empire had surrendered to the allies, the urge to continue murdering the Empire’s Christian minorities remained. The British, French, Italians and Greeks were there, ready to split up the empire. By all rights, the killings should be over. But they weren’t. Kemal had succeeded in rallying surviving Ottoman troops, to resist being administered by their conquerors. He got the French to leave the Cilicia region. His troops set fire to Izmir on the Mediterranean coast, killing 120,000 Greeks and Armenians. After Marash, he slaughtered more innocent people in towns called Hadjen, Killis, Aintab, and Adana. And they are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.’

‘What are you people doing here?’ It is Jaensch, standing in the doorway to Year Twelve study. He is the rostered staff member for supervision. ‘Do you have class, or study?’

‘Study, sir,’ Caleb says.

‘Study,’ Bradley says.

Carli smiles at Jaensch and moves to her locker. ‘I was just getting ready to start my history assignment, sir.’

Jaensch regards me inscrutably for a moment. ‘Report to Mr Bower,’ he says. ‘Now.’

            Bower is studying a photocopy of my essay as I enter his office. He continues to skim over the text, while I stand silently, unacknowledged.

Bower begins reading aloud. I recognise my opening paragraph: ‘“The so-called Special Relationship between Australia and Turkey is based on a lie. Although the Anzac invaders and Turkish troops came to respect each other as soldiers, the sudden outpouring of friendly sentiment a half century later stems from a statement, attributed to Mustafa Kemal, addressed to grieving Anzac mothers, words that Kemal is very unlikely ever to have articulated out loud and almost certainly did not pass on to a British delegation to Gallipoli in 1934.” Mr Jaensch obviously has a major problem with this statement. He has already advised that you do not address the essay topic. You will need to rewrite your opening paragraph completely.’

            ‘But sir…’

            ‘No room to negotiate,’ Bauer barks. ‘If you’re wrong, you are wrong and since that is the case, you’re getting the chance to fix it. Now, pay attention…’

            ‘Sir,’ I begin.

Bower cuts me off. ‘You write here: “A more meaningful contact from the war years and immediately after them was the first Australian overseas humanitarian drive that raised money and supplies for the relief of Armenian survivors of the Ottomans’ attempts to purge them completely from their empire.” Mr Jaensch advises that this does not address the question. Then you refer to “the continued efforts of the Turks from 1919-1922 to complete the grisly ambition of exterminating the Armenian race, at the command of Mustafa Kemal…” Why are you on about the killing of Armenians? They’re not even a proper country. Look at the map. They are part of Soviet Russia, last time I looked…’

            ‘Because I am Armenian,’ I say. Now I am really angry. I know it because my general dread at being anywhere near Bower has evaporated.

Bower looks at me like I am mad. ‘You are an Australian citizen. Your name is Smith.’ He shakes his head as if to clear it and reads: “The founder of the Turkish republic may have been a successful general and a clever politician, but he was also an unconvicted war criminal.” This is unfounded hearsay, at best, as Mr Jaensch has noted in the margin, but there are no officially recorded statistics and documentation to support it.’

            ‘Sir, this is unfair,’ I protest. ‘I disagree with the whole premise of Mr Jaensch’s topic, which concerns conciliation that comes from a statement that was made up by someone else, many years later and accepted as truth, without historical verification…’

            ‘How are you so certain this statement by Atatürk was the furphy you say it is?’ Bower demands, throwing down the pages onto his desk.

‘It is in my essay.’ I pick up the relevant page. No teacher remarks are jotted anywhere in the latter half of my work. I begin reading: “There is no hard historical evidence that Kemal ever uttered the affectionate words to the Anzac mothers that are the foundation of the Special Relationship between Turkey and Australia. In 1953, one of Kemal’s fellow war criminals from 1919-22, one Sükrü Kaya, alleged to a state Turkish newspaper that he relayed a version of these words on to a British delegation to Gallipoli, three years before Kemal’s death in 1937. No evidence of that exchange has ever emerged. In 1968, a retired Turkish teacher passed on the words as reported by Kaya to an unnamed old soldier from Brisbane. They found their way to Alan Campbell, an RSL official, who made his own version, with his own added words ‘the Johnnies and the Mehmets’ lying ‘side by side’. He had them inscribed in a Brisbane RSL, about ten years later. No serious attempt at fact-checking their historical veracity had ever been undertaken. There is only Kaya’s 1953 claim that they are true.”

‘How do you know that?’ Bower is looking like he has itchy caning hand.

‘Because I spent quite a few days in the State Library on North Terrace,’ I say. ‘I have copies of actual Kemal statements that praise Australian soldiers as good fighting men and also one that refers to the terrible loss of life in the defence of the peninsula. We lost eight thousand men in 1915, sir, but the Turks lost something close to eighty thousand. But there is nothing in the archives that proves Kemal spoke those words. It got more complicated when Bob Hawke took a personal interest. Our Prime Minister and his people engaged with the Turks on the basis of these unproven words. The Turks offered to rename Ariburnu as “Anzac Cove”, provided we acknowledge Kemal in our War Memorial. The bas-relief of Kemal and memorial with the unproven words to the Anzac mothers on Anzac Parade were unveiled less than two years ago, in 1985.’

Bower’s office phone rings. He answers, and says: ‘Send her in.’ Then I hear something I know well, the sound of a stick, tapping the floor at regular intervals. There is a tap at the door. Bower stands, moves to the door, and opens it. Standing there is a small, elderly lady all in black, white hair framing an old face with the same stunning ocean-blue eyes as Mama, a wise and kind face that retains faint traces of her youthful beauty. It is Tati Anoush. For once, Bower is lost for words.

            Tati,’ I say, and give her a hug and kiss, as I always do. There would be hell to pay if I did not. She holds my hand and gives it a squeeze. She looks at me fondly through the same eyes that she passed on to Mama.

            ‘Avo,’ she says. ‘Your Mama is upset… she has telephone call from this gentleman. She say, you in trouble. She start to say why.’

            Tati, you did not have to come,’ I say.

            ‘No, I must come,’ she says. ‘Is… my fault. I am too much want to… not think about Tseghaspanutzyun. But you must know.’

Bower clears his throat. ‘Avo…?’

            ‘Sorry, sir. Mr Bower, this is my great-grandmother, Mrs Anoush Mills.’

Bower is flustered. He deliberately keeps no second chair in his office. ‘Er, nice to meet you, Mrs Mills. Excuse me…’ He darts outside and returns with a chair, which he places before his desk. ‘Please, have a seat.’

            ‘Thank you, Mr Bower, But what about Avo?’ Tati Anoush asks, settling into the chair. ‘Where is seat for my boy?’

Bower is a study in misery, as he disappears down the corridor and returns with a second chair. ‘Now, Mrs Mills,’ Bower begins. ‘It seems you are acquainted with the problem…’

            ‘Is no problem for me,’ Tati Anoush says. ‘Maybe problem for you.’

            ‘I beg your pardon…’

            ‘Avo read for me his essay. I tell him: is very good. Is A-plus, how you say. You have read it? Last part, is very nice. It say… truth about Gen-o-cide.’

Bower has slumped forward in his seat. He glances down at the pages as if he is afraid they will give him cancer. ‘I have just been reading it,’ he says.

            ‘Avo, read for Mr Bower last part.’

I find the last three paragraphs and address him. ‘Sir, this part sums up the problem.

“Anzac Day is intrinsic to Australian culture and Gallipoli is sacrosanct, but not many people know Armenia exists, let alone the unacknowledged 1915 Genocide, the slaughter of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire that was initially smoke-screened by the Dardanelles campaign. Kemal was determined that the fledgling Turkish Republic in 1923 would not emerge with the stink of war crimes all over it. From Day One, a curtain was drawn over the continued slaughter, post-surrender, of Armenians by Ottoman forces commanded by Kemal. The 'Young Turk' obsession with eliminating the Empire's Christian minorities would continue under Kemal in his single-minded drive to create a new Turkish republic out of the ruins of the old, defeated Empire, and, in doing so, resist the efforts of its conquerors to split it up.

“The omission of our Armenian connection is political in Australia, given how the Turks cynically bought us with Ariburnu in 1985 as a price for never admitting the truth of the Armenian Genocide, despite Australia being a signatory to the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. By buying into a construct that featured these words and embracing Kemal as a noble foe with memorial walls in Canberra, Wellington, and Anzac Cove, successive Australian (and NZ) governments have become complicit in the Turkish lie that Kemal began. Any official acknowledgement of the Genocide would end the so-called ‘Special Relationship’. Imagine the patriotic outcry should that happen.

“By not acknowledging the Armenian Genocide, Australia remains complicit in the Turkish official narrative founded in 1923: the refusal to countenance and acknowledge the crimes committed all through the collapsed Ottoman Empire. By buying into the Special Relationship, we, in Australia, have 'bought' Anzac Cove in name and annual event, but paid the price in truth.”

I look up. Bower’s head is in his hands.

‘All of this,’ Tati Anoush says, ‘…is history. Kemal show no mercy… keep Turkey united. He is president of new Turkish republic. He make his new land over dead bodies… more than a million Armenians. And when they ask him, Kemal say: Bad things happen in war. There were… uprisings here and there … have to put down as part of war. No civilians. Just soldiers. Tell that to survivors in Aleppo in 1922. When I am nurse, 1922, Aleppo, I speak with dying woman from Sivas. She say, before war there are three hundred thousand people, hundred thousand children. After war, couple thousand. Where the rest of them? Holiday camp, maybe? Kemal give order. Soldiers obey. This, I know. This, I do not think about. Many years now. But my boy Avo is from my people. He must learn. He must know truth. I speak truth. I was there. You, sir… You were there also?’

Bower unravels. ‘Thank you, Mrs Mills. If you will excuse me, I have other appointments. Avo must return to class. I have the information I need.’

‘And thank you, Mr Bower,’ Tati Anoush says. ‘I have the information I need as well.’

I get a C for the essay. Life’s normal rhythms resume.


But in 2022, the words remain, a monument to lies. This story is a short sequel to my novel Angel of Aleppo, which can be found on this site at


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