Not Even My Name: A True Story

Not Even My Name: A True Story

by Thea Halo

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Overview

Not Even My Name: A True Story by Thea Halo

Not Even My Name is a rare eyewitness account of the horrors of a little-known, often denied genocide, in which hundreds of thousands of Armenian and Pontic Greek minorities in Turkey were killed during and after World War I. As told by Sano Halo to her daughter, Thea, this is the story of her survival of the death march at age ten that annihilated her family, and the mother-daughter pilgrimage to Turkey in search of Sano's home seventy years after her exile. Sano, a Pontic Greek from a small village near the Black Sea, also recounts the end of her ancient, pastoral way of life in the Pontic Mountains.

In the spring of 1920, Turkish soldiers arrived in the village and shouted the proclamation issued by General Kemal Attatürk: "You are to leave this place. You are to take with you only what you can carry . . . " After surviving the march, Sano was sold into marriage at age fifteen to a man three times her age who brought her to America. Not Even My Name follows Sano's marriage, the raising of her ten children, and her transformation from an innocent girl who lived an ancient way of life in a remote place to a woman in twentieth-century New York City.

Although Turkey actively suppresses the truth about the murder of almost three million of its Christian minorities—Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian—during and after World War I, and the exile of millions of others, here is a first-hand account of the horrors of that genocide.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312277017
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 06/02/2001
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 546,582
Product dimensions: 5.59(w) x 8.28(h) x 0.92(d)

About the Author

Thea Halo is a writer and painter who has won awards for her poetry and essays, and has exhibited her paintings in galleries in New York City and elsewhere. She lives in New York City.

Sano "Themia" Halo is a recipient of the New York State Governor's Award for Excellence in Honor of Women's History Month, "Celebrating Women of Courage and Wisdom."

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THE RIVER OF DREAMS

New York City — August 1997 Tourists line the railing of the ferry. I take my place among them and watch the river dance toward the ocean in shimmering, jagged peaks the color of steel. Above Ellis Island a single white cloud hangs in a clear blue sky. August is warm on my shoulders. The ferry rumbles, then cuts a slow arc around the great green lady holding her torch high above her head. Does she have a bad side? None I can detect from here.

The Great Hall of Ellis Island is grand as I enter, but too pristine. I know it was not so when my parents passed through seventy-two years before. The rows of benches are gone now, but I imagine the clamor of thousands of voices and babies crying as they wait for word. So this was the last leg of my mother's journey, where doctors felt for telltale lumps and searched for sickly eyes, weary from the long ocean crossing. I could almost hear the doctor's voice and see his fingers gently touch the scars on my mother's leg as she raised her skirt for the examination.

"What's this?" the doctor asks my mother of the two small scars.

"All that's left," my mother answers.

"Hurry!" my father says, grabbing her hand, "before they change their minds."

In the photo gallery the faces of hundreds of immigrants stare at me from the walls, bearing the same expression my mother wears in the photo of her at fifteen on the day of her wedding. There is no grimace of pain, no knitted brows; only an unmistakable sorrow that seems to say, my flame is almost out.

"You've got dimples on your leg, Mommy," I once said when my mother's scars first caught my eye as a child. I pulled down my trousers and looked for dimples on my own leg.

"They're not dimples," my mother said. "You won't find them on your leg, sweetheart."

"Then what are they?" I said.

And for just one moment I saw that look in my mother's eyes as she drifted away from me. "All that's left," she said and closed her eyes. "All that's left."

In the courtyard of Ellis Island, row upon row of silver placards testify to those admitted. I find my parents' names and kneel before them. Sano Themía Halo. Abraham A. Halo. My sister Harty had included my mother's real name on the entry.

"Were you excited when your ship pulled into port and you saw Manhattan across the river sparkling in the August sun?" I once asked my mother.

"Not at first," she said. "I had already learned not to wish for things I couldn't have and along with that went my expectations."

I glide my fingertips over the grooves that spell out their names on the placards and feel the great emotion denied my mother on that day welling up in me.

There had always been only us: my mother, my father, my five sisters and four brothers, one uncle, an Armenian aunt — probably with her own sad story to tell — and their daughter who married and moved away too soon. Then a void.

We lived on West One hundred second Street in New York City, but it was very different from the way it is now. In the '40s and '50s it was like a page out of West Side Story. We lived in a five-room railroad flat; each room led into the other like boxcars. It was a five-flight walk-up above a half-flight brownstone stoop. For the twenty years that my family lived there, my mother carried bikes and babies, sometimes one on each hip, and groceries and toys, and all the other things one carries up and down, up and down those five flights of stairs.

We grew up among the Irish mostly, although there were other races and nationalities in the surrounding neighborhoods and in our schools. But our heritage had been a mystery to us as children. We came from two lost civilizations. Both my parents came from Turkey, and their people had been there for thousands of years, but they were not Turks. No one had ever heard of my mother's people — the Pontic Greeks of Asia Minor (Turkey) — and my father's people, the Assyrians, were believed to have lived only in ancient times but were no more. As a child I never mentioned my mother's heritage, and the few times I responded to questions of my father's heritage I was corrected with great authority.

"No, dear. You mean you're Syrian. The Assyrians are an ancient people. They don't exist anymore." Even my teachers told me that.

How could I be something that doesn't exist?

"They called us Rum," my mother would say about her own people, pronouncing the word "room." And that was even more confusing. What was Rum? Even my mother's language was lost to her because she had no one with whom she could speak her ancient Greek. Without even the sound of her Greek language to help me identify with her culture as a child, I was left with nothing but her few stories.

But Rüm or Pontic Greek, as a child of the '40s and '50s, I had just assumed that all mothers were more or less like mine. Or rather, I would have assumed it had I given it any thought. She had the kind of figure you might expect on a mother in 1950s America; kind of plump but not fat; perfect for those short-sleeved housedresses that buttoned down the front. They were usually full of flowers. She had a sweet, wistful smile and those innocent black eyes — with just a trace of sadness about the brow — that smiled out at you from beneath the rolled wreath of black hair that framed her lovely face.

As to her birthday, my mother had never known the real date of her birth, so someone somewhere along the line had chosen May 10. It usually coincided with Mother's Day appropriately enough. With ten kids — I was the eighth — I don't remember her ever just sitting without doing something. There was always so much that had to be done. She was always cooking or cleaning, baking, making clothes, crocheting. And she was always singing. I could recite her favorite songs: "Blue Skies," "Little Man You're Crying," "Oh, Johnny," "Paper Moon," and a hundred more like those, all as American as the proverbial apple pie, which she also baked to perfection.

Her musical ear gave her an easy grasp of languages so I never really noticed an accent. But there were a few words that made us all laugh, like the way she pronounced "wheat" with a heavy emphasis on the H. Haweet. And her attempts at the American slang of the '50s could have you rolling in the aisles. Each time we laughed at her, all she could do was cover her face with her hands and laugh with embarrassment.

"Oooooooh sugar!" she'd say.

Since my mother rarely talked about her childhood there wasn't too much to remind us that she wasn't born in America. Considering her circumstances when my father happened upon her, some might say he rescued her from oblivion, but sometimes I wonder who rescued whom.

She cooked all of America's traditional fare, and for Christmas there was turkey with rice and chestnut stuffing; sweet potatoes, topped with pineapple and marshmallows; fresh cranberry and walnut sauce; mashed potatoes and gravy; apple and pumpkin pies. But there was also the stuffed grape leaves on holidays, and the meat pies my mother called chamborak, which she fried in a pan, and her special rolls with black seeds. All those exotic scents would mingle to fill the air. My father bought sweets from the Middle Eastern markets: Turkish delight; the pressed sheets of apricot we called garmardine; a sweet made of strung walnuts or pistachios surrounded by a thick grape coating and sprinkled with powdered sugar; and the tins of halvah, and baklava that he'd spread out on the table.

It was those little things like the words mispronounced, a foreign word thrown in, the stories and songs, and the Turkish delight and stuffed grape leaves that reminded us our parents came from someplace else; that there was something unknown about them; that they were separate from us in some unfathomable way.

CHAPTER 2

THE LONG JOURNEY HOME

As a child I couldn't imagine my mother being able to protect herself in the outside world even though she took care of us to perfection. The image of her as an innocent, as a pure being unable to cope with the complexities and cunning in the world persisted in my mind. She was without guile; so full of love and song when I was a child that somewhere along the way I appointed myself her protector. It wasn't a conscious decision. In fact, only later, when I began to reflect on my childhood, did I realize the decision had been made. And only then did I realize that some of my siblings had also appointed themselves her protector. Perhaps there were other reasons for our protectiveness besides her artlessness and seeming innocence, but I had never defined those reasons as a child. I hadn't completely understood what had happened to her except that her family had been driven from their homes at gunpoint by the Turks. She made only passing reference to the loss of her family, never dwelling on it for too long. But when we didn't behave, on rare occasions she'd say, "Don't wait until I'm gone before you realize how much you love me." On rarer occasions she'd say, "I loved my mother more than life." Then she'd close her eyes to hold back the tears.

It was on one of those occasions, when I was still quite young, that I promised to take her back to Turkey one day to search for her home. I promised her a lot of things when I was a child. I promised she would live forever, and that I would buy her a big, beautiful house one day too, because even then I wanted to pay her back for my childhood. But taking my mother to Turkey to find her home was one of those magnanimous, well-intentioned promises kids make that somehow sit in the same slot in the distant future no matter how many years pass. Many years did pass before I realized it was one promise I wanted to keep.

But by the summer of 1989, we had still not found her village on a map. Over the years, even before I was old enough to help with the search, the efforts of my older sisters had ended in failure, as if my mother's memories had been a dream. My own trips to the New York Public Library to look at maps of Turkey revealed nothing, even when they were pre-World War I maps from countries such as France and Britain. On each map I carefully searched the Pontic mountain range below the Black Sea where my mother's villages had been, but still found no mention of my mother's villages: the three Greek villages she called Iondone.

We knew some of the Greek names for towns and villages had been changed after the end of World War I, when General Mustafa Kemal — later known as Atatürk, literally, "father of the Turks"— successfully defeated his rivals to rule Turkey. In his effort to nationalize and modernize Turkey, Atatürk set various programs in place. He changed the name of the famous city of Constantinople — previously known as Byzantium — to Istanbul, and many other Greek names took on a Turkish form. The black veils covering the faces of Muslim women were banned, along with the Arabic script the Turks once used for their writing. In its place Roman letters were used to simplify the Turkish language and make it more accessible to other nations. Educational programs were also initiated to raise the literacy rate, and monogamous marriages replaced the earlier acceptance of multiple wives — all in an effort to realign Turkey with the West.

But the most dramatic change in Turkey was the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, 750,000 Assyrians, and 353,000 Pontic Greeks, and the cruel death marches to exile of 1.5 million more Greeks of Turkey; death marches on which countless other Pontians lost their lives, all between 1915 and 1923. This genocide, euphemistically termed "ethnic cleansing," and "relocation," eliminated most, if not all, of the Christian minorities in Turkey, and brought to a tragic end the 3,000 year history of the Pontic Greeks in Asia Minor.

So much had changed, both in Turkey and in my mother's life since 1920, when, at age ten, my mother and all the people of her villages were sent on their own devastating death march to exile. It was certainly possible she wasn't remembering the name of her village clearly — seventy years had come and gone — but I never doubted her memory for a moment.

On one of my visits to her in the summer of 1989, when she was seventy-nine years old, I suggested we start on her quest to find her home as soon as possible, still not knowing where our search would lead, or what we would find if, by chance, we arrived at our desired destination. We had heard all the usual horror stories about Turkey, and my mother knew firsthand of Turkey's capacity for brutality.

After an almost imperceptible hesitation, my mother smiled.

"I've waited a lifetime," she said. "My bags are packed."

CHAPTER 3

RECROSSING

Ankara, Turkey — August 1989 After a brief stop in London, our plane landed in Ankara — Turkey's capital city — on the afternoon of the second day. We had chosen Ankara instead of the famed Istanbul because Ankara was in the center of the country, much closer to the area my mother once called home.

At the hotel, the room we were shown, though somewhat drab with its brown bedspreads and beige walls, was clean and comfortable. It was early evening by the time we got settled in the hotel. We took a short walk, but it didn't take long before we were ready for that horizontal position we had been deprived of during the last two days of travel. I bought some Turkish sandwiches, which we ate in our room. Then we showered and got ready for bed.

The traffic in the street roared, sending plumes of exhaust up the six stories to waft through the door to the balcony.

"Maybe we should close the door," I said.

My mother nodded and climbed under the covers of her bed.

"Do you want the lights out?"

"That's a good idea," she said. "Good night, sweetheart."

"Good night, honey," I said, using a term that had become comfortable for me. I don't know when I stopped using the word mom, or mother, or other terms that connote motherhood, but at some point in time those words simply fell away.

I pulled the balcony door shut and climbed into my bed. I could still hear the trucks below rumbling down the street. I turned out the lights and lay there staring at the ceiling. Would we really come to a village that had once been my mother's and stand on the threshold of her home? The thought of it was rather eerie. There was a whole lifetime of references to a family I would never know. Her world had always sounded so ancient, more like stories from the Bible than a time in which my mother could have lived. I tried to imagine my mother with her family as a child, to imagine her villages and her people tucked away in those mountains for hundreds, maybe thousands of years without major contact with the outside world, but I drifted off to sleep instead.

We rose early the next morning, anxious to get started with our search for my mother's home, but we thought it best to stay over for a day in Ankara to give my mother a rest before starting on our journey. After the traditional Turkish breakfast of tomatoes, feta cheese, bread, olives, and tea, we ventured out.

We visited an old stone ruin of ancient Roman baths, then walked up a narrow stone street. Two women sat on the ground sorting wool of various colors while a third woman worked at a small loom weaving a brightly colored rug. We walked past them and up the hill until we came upon the low, broad structure of the archeological museum squatting on a long row of steps.

The museum was too hot inside for my mother, so I brought her outside to sit on a bench in its garden under an umbrella of trees. Two young Turks immediately made room for her and invited her to join them. Both spoke English well. One was just a boy of fourteen. The other was somewhat older, but still quite young. He was an architecture student, twenty-one years old, he later told us. Both were well dressed and obviously educated.

After determining my mother was safe with them, I left her in the garden and went back into the sweltering museum to look at some of Turkey's treasures. Remnants of my mother's people stared at me, scattered among the remains of other inhabitants of that strange and beautiful land.

When I came out again, I found my mother talking with the two young men. She rose to leave and they asked if they could show us some points of interest. The fourteen-year-old walked with me while the architecture student walked behind us with my mother.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Not Even My Name"
by .
Copyright © 2001 Thea Halo.
Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Book 1The Long Journey Home
1.The River of Dreams3
2.The Long Journey Home7
3.Recrossing10
4.In the Blink of an Eye14
5.Step by Step24
6.On the Road to Iondone32
Book 2Not Even My Name
Historical Notation39
7.Not Even My Name41
8.A Caravan of Cows46
9.Battles and Bells56
10.The Year of the Snake64
11.The Taking of Father69
12.The Year of Famine77
13.Winter Tales82
14.The Drowned Man91
15.From the Beginning of Time98
16.Orders of Exile102
17.Wait for Me107
Book 3The Exile
Historical Notation117
18.The Long Road to Hell132
19.Babies and Buzzards137
20.Holding Death in My Arms141
21.The Great Escape147
22.The Great Giveaway153
23.Raven, Raven158
24.Touching the Hand of God166
25.And Then There Were None171
26.Little Loaves181
27.Don't Look Back189
28.Diyarbakir195
29.On the Road to Aleppo203
30.Say I Do208
31.The Mysterious Little Blanket214
32.The Big Bet219
33.The Kidnapping226
34.Crossing the Great Waters230
Book 4America, America
35.America, America241
36.The Old and the New248
37.Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker261
38.Another Place Called Home266
39.Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief274
40.Abraham, Abraham278
41.Mrs.293
42.Go with God306
Book 5Journey's End
43.Abraham, My Own311
44.Journey's End316
45.A Diamond in the Ash323
Notes327

Reading Group Guide

Question: Growing up in New York City, the author found that no one had ever heard of the Pontic Greeks, and the Assyrians were thought to be an ancient people who no longer existed. How did this effect the author and her siblings? How did they compensate? Do you have similar experiences with your own culture? What are they?

Question: To what do you attribute Sano's survival? To what does Sano attribute her survival?

Question: Discuss the qualities Sano displayed in Turkey and in America that you most admire. Have any of those qualities changed the way you look at the world or how you feel about your own life?

Question: On some level Not Even My Name is about mothers and daughters. Discuss the relationships between the mothers and daughters depicted, including those between Sano and her surrogate mothers.

Why did the author choose Not Even My Name for the title of the book? Is there more than one possibility for the meaning of the title? What other meanings can be attributed to the title?

Question: The author uses nature imagery extensively in Not Even My Name. What impact does this imagery have on the telling of Sano's story?

Question: How does the use of love counterbalance the violence and death in Not Even My Name? How does it effect you as a reader?

Question: Why can't Themia cry when she is told her mother has died? Have you had similar feelings of loss that left you unable to express your emotions? Discuss the impact of Sano's losses on how she lived her life.

Question: When the author stands on her mother's ancient land, she feels connected to her heritage and people for the first time in her life. Why had she not felt connected before? How did this scene effect you as the reader? What elements help you feel connected to or distanced from your heritage.

Question: What do you come away with when you finish reading Not Even My Name? Has Not Even My Name changed the way you see the world or your own life?

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