Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) and his family were victims of the 20th century'sfirst major genocide, the systematic slaughter of Armenians by the Turks thatbegan in 1915. During the siege of his hometown, the ancient Armenian cityof Van, 11-year-old Gorky helped with the city's defense by bringing waterand food to the men fighting in the barricades.1(p62) Those who were not slaughtered were sent on a death march, whichhe, his mother, his sister Vartoosh, and 2 half-sisters survived after walking150 miles to Yerevan in Russian Armenia. His half-sisters went to the UnitedStates in 1916, but he stayed behind with his mother and Vartoosh. In 1919,after the Civil War in Russia, his mother died in his arms of starvation andwas buried in an unmarked grave. In 1920, Gorky and Vartoosh sailed to Americaon the SS Presidente Wilson to join his father andhalf-sisters. The letter required for his exit was signed by Clarence Ussher,MD, the missionary physician who chronicled the Turkish assault on Van.2
Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), Armenian. The Artist and His Mother, ca 1926-1934. Oil on canvas; 60 × 50 in. Courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Gift of Julien Levy for Maro and Natasha Gorky in memory of their father. Copyright 2004, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
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