Dr. Walrath shares perspective on her book, Like Water on Stone
Fresno is a city often recognized for its large community of Armenians. During the genocide in the early 1900s, many Armenians found refuge in Fresno and other places in the US because of the similar climate and agriculture. The large population of Armenians in Fresno is among the many reasons for Dr. Dana Walrath‘s visit to the Armenian Museum of Fresno, April. 6. Dr. Walrath spoke to a group of Armenians in Fresno about the story and motivation behind her book, Like Water on Stone.
Walrath is an Armenian American author who has a passion for her heritage. Growing up she knew very little about her family’s involvement in the genocide. In fact, her knowledge of her grandmother’s childhood consisted of one sentence that eventually led to her inspiration for the book.
“This book comes from a single sentence that I knew about my grandmother’s life,” Walrath said. “She was a ten year old girl in the Armenian Genocide and when I was about that age I asked my mother, the way kids do, ‘tell me about your mother’s childhood.’ And she said after their parents were killed, she and her younger brother and younger sister, Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice, hid during the day and ran at night from Palu to Aleppo.”
When Walrath heard this information from her mother she did not know what to do with it. She was a young girl in New York city who did not know she would eventually be a writer someday. Walrath just tucked away the knowledge she had of her grandmother and eventualy processed it into the story she wrote in Like Water on Stone. After talking to her mother, all she was motivated to do at that point was to look on an atlas and see just how far her grandmother and siblings had to travel. The distance turned out to be about 320 miles that they had to travel on foot.
Years later in 1984, Walrath and her husband traveled to Palu, her grandmother’s hometown, in search of her roots and more information about who she was as an Armenian American. As they toured around Palu, they noticed many Armenian buildings and churches in ruins and denied ownership due to official denial policy by the Turkish government. Due to all of the anti-Armenian movements going on, Walrath was careful to reveal the truth of who she was. On one occasion she did reveal her identity at a mill that was previously owned by Armenians.
“When I got to Palu I shared the truth of who I was because I found a mill and I knew my family were millers,” Walrath said. “I was sitting on the rooftop of that mill asking the lady of the house who had invited us to have tea with her about the history of the mill she told me it had been in her family for 60 years but before that it had belonged to Armenians. I felt like one truth deserves another so I told her I was Armenian. We sat there in silence together and for that moment the genocide denial had disappeared.”
Again Walrath took this piece of information and tucked it away. When she eventually became a writer she used it to her advantage. As she sat down to write her book she set the story at that mill where she sat and had tea with the woman. She knew how to walk in and out of the mill and to the town and church, which helped her tie the story all together later.
The entire point of the story, Like Water on Stone, is to tell a story of victims of the Armenian genocide that are based off of Walrath’s family. Walrath has done quite a bit of learning and research about the genocide and her Armenian heritage, so much so that it has shaped the way she looks at some world events happening today. She believes that the Armenian genocide needs to stay prevalents and wants it to make a point for global social justice.
“I kind of grew up more American than I did Armenian so I always put the genocide together with global social justice,” Walrath said. “When I first started stepping out as an Armenian, I wanted other Armenians to think of it that way. In the late 70s the Armenian genocide was very unrecognized. It taught me that history ends up being written according to political exigencies. For me, the genocide matters in terms of ‘Black lives matter’, rights for American indians, and its connected to genocides that are happening today.”
All in all, Walrath feels that it is important to keep the history of genocides alive and present so we can recognize the issues and prevent them from happening. The Armenian genocide denial in Turkey is still present but Armenians have not lost hope. It is important for them to never forget their heritage and the wrong that was done to them.
To visit Walrath’s website to buy her books or read more about her, click here.
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