Between the Two Rivers, by Aida Kouyoumjian
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Between the Two Rivers (342 pages) is the real-life saga of Aida Kouyoumjian’s mother Mannig, who as a young girl was one of a small minority of Armenians who survived the massacre and deportation from the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I. Historians estimate that 1.5 to 2 million Armenians perished.
“It is the stuff of oral history,” Aida says. “My work is ‘creative nonfiction.’ Every scene in the book is a story she told us. Every single one has a line or paragraph that I remember word for word. At the beginning, she sing-songed the loss of her family members into lullabies at bedtime. As we grew up, she incorporated the details that haunted her throughout her life. I heard the stories so many times in so many different ways. All that remained was to make it flow—the smells, the sights, how it came about.”
Mannig and her sister Adrine endured the murders of their parents and siblings, a torturous journey through the desert, and life on the streets of famine-stricken Mosul, soon after the end of World War I. When the sisters were finally reunited in an orphanage, their new bond was challenged by Mannig’s love for a wealthy benefactor.
Aida Kouyoumjian was born in Felloujah and raised and educated in Baghdad, Iraq. In 1952 she came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington on a Fulbright Scholarship. Aida married an American and eventually settled in Mercer Island.
After her father died in 1965, Aida was finally able to bring her mother Mannig to this country. At the age of 69 Mannig was hired by the UW to tutor graduate students in Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic. She retired after seven years, dying at the age of 79. Just before her death in 1985, Mannig was one of 90 survivors who attended the 70th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in Washington, D.C.