Talking Trauma

Children play soccer near the abandoned Armenian church ruins of Tadum near Elazig in Eastern Turkey

Talking Trauma

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“Look, this is your book,” my four-year-old nephew tells me, brandishing a copy of Journey through Genocide I’d gifted to my sister.

“Right, now give it back to mom,” I say, waiting for the moment he would ask me what it was about, somewhat dreading it.

I was just about his age when I saw my dad reading a big, black book, its cover decorated with skulls. Neither of us remember exactly what he answered when I asked him about its contents, but he did explain the concept of the Armenian genocide to me, as much as an adult can to a little kid. It triggered a life-long curiosity with that genocide and others. Some of my own ancestors had been killed, others exiled, in the events of 1915.

But … confronted with my nephew’s innocent enthusiasm at telling me he was holding a copy of my book, it dawned on me that I was nowhere near ready to have a conversation with him about this traumatic shared history.

How do you explain what a crime against humanity is to a kid whose life consists of Paw Patrol, bugging his big brother, and play time?

A selfish question I suppose. The Darfuri refugees I met in UNHCR camps in Chad, or the Tutsis in Rwanda now building a normalized society side-by-side with some of the perpetrators of their country’s 1994 genocide, may not have the luxury of carefully planning their talk with their kids or relatives.

The former may find themselves having to explain fairly quickly why, as refugees from Sudan, they have to reside in separate areas from Chadian citizens who may live right next door in a village, which would no doubt lead to more questions about why they were displaced in the first place.

Rwandan parents may find themselves fielding questions about why relationships with some neighbours are more difficult than others.

No doubt my nephews will one day have questions too. It may start with something as simple as, “If we’re Armenian, then why are we born in Canada?” And there is only one place to go from there.

But, mercifully, I still won’t have to think about that today. The little guy’s mom, my sister, shows up and makes it perfectly clear he’s to immediately return the book where he found it on her night-table.