Arda Melkonian

Genocide Narratives of Separation, Reunion and Recovery


During the Armenian Genocide, thousands of children were violently separated from their families. Unaware of the fate of their parents and siblings, they lived with ambiguous loss “a situation of unclear loss resulting from not knowing whether a loved one is dead or alive” (Boss, 2004). Many continued their lives, never reconnecting with their loved ones. Others searched for families members and were successful in finding them.

The purpose of this paper is to better understand the Armenian Genocide survivors’ experiences of separation and ambiguous loss, their efforts to reunite with surviving family members, and the unexpected ways in which they reconnected.

Using oral history testimonies of genocide survivors, this paper will give voice to the experiences of children who were abruptly separated from their loved ones. It will analyze the ways in which children were separated from their loved ones. It will highlight the emotional impact separations had on the children as well as on the mothers, and their everyday struggles as they coped with separation, displacement, and abandonment. It will examine the length of separation, the adversities experienced during the separation, the establishment of relationships with other caring adults, and the challenges faced when reconnecting following a long period of separation. The paper will conclude with rare cases of serendipitous reunions with long-lost family members. For those who were reunited with loved ones, the memory of their excruciating separation continues to haunt them. Decades after the Genocide, survivors still suffer from the trauma of separation. Those who are unable to determine the fate of family members are forced to live with ambiguous loss, never reconnecting with their loved ones.