“Then what happened?”

I want to share with you an e-mail I received from my friend, Ilana Cone Kennedy, who is the Director of Education for Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center. Ilana asks questions that I have heard from many of my readers, so I think it is worthwhile to answer them here. As to the details, you will have to wait for my next book!

“[Your book] was a fascinating read—you did an excellent job! It’s always especially interesting to me to learn about what the situation was like immediately after the genocide.  So often the stories seem to end at liberation (in the case of the Holocaust) or when the killing has ended … but life afterwards and the difficulties involved in making one’s way in a new world often go untold.”

Thanks for the compliment. Your comment about “what happened after the event,” is provocative. I thank my mom for telling me and the rest of our family how it was, and how important it is to remember as accurately as possible, without dwelling too much on the painful tragedies.

“Out of curiosity, how many children did your parents have? And were all of the children born in Iraq? I assume your mother did complete schooling since that was definitely a passion of hers … did she go on to become a teacher as she had hoped? And Adrine?”

My parents, Mardiros and Mannig Kouyoumdjian, had three surviving children; I’m the oldest, my sister, Maro Kouyoumjian Rogers, is three years younger than I, and my brother (deceased recently) Setrak Kouyoumjian, was five years younger than I.

Yes, all of us were born in Iraq; my sister and I were born in Felloujah, my brother, in Baghdad.

Never assume anything. My mom’s hopes for education never materialized, not in the way she dreamed they might.

My mother never attended a formal school. But because my father promised to provide for her schooling at the time he proposed, he kept his promise by hiring teachers who came to their home, the Qasr, both in Baghdad and Felloujah and tutored her in most subjects taught in regular schools— reading/writing/’rithmetic. In addition, he tutored her in English and French. She valued piano lessons most of all. She played, and sang, at many venues in Lexington, South Carolina, and in Seattle, Mercer Island and King County.

Although she was never formally educated, Mannig was fluent in languages. She was hired by the UW Language Laboratories to tutor language students in Turkish, Arabic and Armenian. Her office was at Denny Hall. She made many life-long friends during her tenure at the U.

Actually, she was a teacher—my first teacher, as she was for my sister and brother. For the first eleven years of my life, we lived wherever my father was appointed as the resident engineer for the Government Irrigation Department. There were no formal schools in the vicinity of our home. So my mom taught us, the three children, every morning, reading/writing/arithmetic in Armenian, and English (like ESL); she couldn’t teach us written Arabic because she didn’t know how to read in that language, although she was fluent in speech.

One of my dad’s clerks took time off his responsibilities and taught me Arabic—I don’t think my sister or brother got involved in learning formal Arabic until we were all enrolled in regular schools in Baghdad.

As far as I know, Adrine didn’t go to formal school either. Unlike my mom, Adrine gave birth to her first child, Heranoush, now in Rome, very soon after her marriage.

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