Armenian author speaks on book, value of remembering the past

Armenian author speaks on book, value of remembering the past

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Dr. Dana Walrath’s ancestors traveled from Palu to Aleppo during the Armenian Genocide.

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.

20160411-armenian-walrath002 | The Feather Online

Like Water on Stone is set in the very mill that Walrath visited with her husband in Palu.

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.

This writer can be reached via Twitter: @Phillip11499 and via email: Phillip Christopher.

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By |2017-03-27T08:13:05+00:00April 12th, 2016|Features|3 Comments

About the Author:

Phillip Christopher
“Christopher, listen! Where there is a will, there is a way.” - Greg Stobbe Throughout the first two years of high school, Adviser Greg Stobbe preached this proverb, whenever I made an excuse for not joining The Feather. Junior year journalism snuck its way onto my plate. The journey in publications under the notorious Adviser continually pushed me to advance my writing skills. Now, with the arrival of senior year, a sense of ownership and excitement motivate for great things. Outside of publications, the majority of my time belongs to basketball. Just as “practice makes perfect” on the court, the same holds true in the journalism lab. Throughout senior year, I am confident that this will continue to translate into my growth as a writer. In the final year of high school, the opportunity to take over as Editor-in-Chief presents itself. Over the past year, I traveled with The Feather to New York to compete for the CSPA’s Gold Crown and to Los Angeles to compete for NSPA’s Pacemaker. Now beginning preparation to take over and lead this team of Feather Staffers, I am driven to continue the tradition of winning that previous Feather staffs started. This writer can be reached via Twitter; @Phillip11499 This author can also be reached at Phillip.christopher.2017@fresnochristian.com

3 Comments

  1. Silva Emerian
    Silva Emerian April 13, 2016 at 9:01 am - Reply

    Phillip, thanks for this article – wish I’d gone to the event! When Hitler was planning the Holocaust, he said, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” We have to acknowledge our past and learn from it or we’re doomed to repeat it – and we’re seeing just that happen all over the world today. I’ll have to pick up Dr. Walrath’s book!

  2. harjot April 14, 2016 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    This was an amazing article good job on it. I didn’t know Fresno was a large community for Armenians. I will have to look up Dr. Walrath’s book it seems like an interesting and good book to read!

  3. Laurie Olvera April 15, 2016 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Having grown up with many Armenian friends, I never knew what their history was. They quietly assimilated into American society, but are a proud ethnic group, proud of what they endured. It seems that our history classes in the 1960s skipped over what was done to the Armenians. I am so glad that this generation is learning about the whole story, sad as it is. It gives all of us a better understanding of the preciousness of life. Kudos to this writer for a great article! And yes, you will do well in college!

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