Alameda woman tells father's story of Armenian Genocide of 1915

ALAMEDA, Calif. (KTVU) - This Friday marks 100 years since the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

One Alameda woman, whose father lived through it, wanted to tell his story - but so much of it was locked away in a language relatively few people know.

Ellen Sarkis Chestnut wrote a book about her father, called "Deli Sarkis: The Scars He Carried."

The book is about her father's experience as a young Armenian boy, living in an Armenian village in Keramet, Turkey in 1915.

She says he and so many others were forced into cattle cars and sent away to Syria -- saying they had no choice but to leave everything behind.

"Our women were in a state of panic, they were handing their babies to Arab and Kurdish women to save them," said Chestnut.

One and a half million Armenians were killed -- many more were driven from their homeland at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

There were death marches along with starvation, rape, robbery and massacre.

Turkey to this day denies the killings constitute genocide, saying there was no organized campaign to wipe out Armenians.

But as a 10-year-old boy, Sarkis was a witness and survivor.

"So many of our men and boys died, and the girls were taken," said Chestnut, "this was a very bad, bad episode for him to remember."

Chestnut had her father's story, but after his death in 1995, she was left with photographs with Armenian handwriting on the back - writing... she couldn't read.

"I needed to unlock the mystery of who these people were," said Chestnut, "what was said, what were they saying and what were the emotions of their message."

Chestnut turned to a professor, who teaches Armenian at U.C. Berkeley. On a side note, that professor is KTVU FOX 2 anchor Gasia Mikaelian's mother, Santoukht Mikaelian.

Professor Mikaelian translated the Armenian writing for Chestnut, and at last, she was able to fully understand all that her father left behind for her.

With the "secrets" unlocked, Chestnut began to write her father's story. "Now they're not just shadows on a piece of paper, but they're real people," said Chestnut.

Chestnut says she is so thankful that others were taught, and are continuing" to teach, the Western Armenian dialect, which she "heard" as a child, but was never encouraged to speak.

"They spoke to us in Armenian and we answered them in English!" said Chestnut, "can you believe it?"

Chestnut says before 1915, some seven million people spoke Western Armenian-- now, that figure is just one million.

"It's just a gift to know the Armenian language," said Chestnut.

As the world pauses on April 24th to mark the Armenian Genocide, Chestnut says she is grateful to be able to tell her father's story, and keep his memory alive.