Karnig Panian was five years old in 1915, living blissfully with his family in an Armenian community in the Anatolian village of Gurin, when the Great War erupted and his world fell apart. Karnig's childhood ended abruptly when his father and other men from the community were abducted and murdered and the remaining villagers, women, children, and the elderly, were sent to concentration camps and on death marches in the Syrian desert. Karnig is eventually sent to a series of orphanages where he, and hundreds of other Armenian children, are forced to undergo a brutal and ultimately unsuccessful process of "Turkification." The children are physically and emotionally abused, given Turkish names, and severely punished for speaking their native language.
Panian's narrative is layered, or double-voiced, in that we can discern the perspective of a traumatized child as well as that of an adult survivor who, with other children, had bravely resisted the dehumanization and cultural stripping of the Turkish genocidal project and emerged from this historical wasteland with his soul more or less intact. Another aspect of doubleness in Goodbye, Antoura is its ancient, Biblical quality (in setting, tone, and scene) placed, as it is, within a stark, modern geopolitical context. At one point in the narrative--the existential climax of the story--1,000 Armenian and 400 Kurdish children are abandoned by their Turkish administrators at the orphanage in Antoura, Lebanon, and the boys are forced to govern themselves until friendly relief workers from the missionary community and American NGOs arrive to assist. Although this is a personal history of devasting trauma, it is, more significantly, a universal story about survival, resistance, faith, and regeneration. Karnig Panian's intelligence, moral clarity, and sheer will to survive give his words a shimmering transcendent quality, describing a world in which apocalyptic realism and dreamlike lyricism are strangely mixed. "Nature was kind to us," he reflects while wandering in the wilderness. "Even when we didn't find proper fields or orchards, we could always count on wild carob trees, which provided us with plenty of nutrition. We were like birds, satisfying ourselves with the bounty of nature and nothing more" (130).
This Stanford University Press volume, illustrated with touching black-and-white photographs, includes an eloquent forward by Vartan Gregorian, an impactful introduction and conclusion by human rights expert Keith David Watenpaugh, and a heartfelt acknowledgment by Panian's daughter, Houry Panian Boyamian, who was instrumental in bringing this translation to fruition. Goodbye, Antoura is, in sum, is an archetypal story of exodus, of unshakable faith, of the astounding resilience of children, of the long shadows cast by World War I, and of the ongoing struggle for basic human rights in the face of human frailty--one is tempted to say, evil.