Call it anything you like. It won't make it any easier to bear. I am writing from the town of Shazand, 20 miles southwest of the city of Arak, about 200 miles southwest of Tehran. Years ago when I was growing up here, this town was basically made up of four villages, a railroad station and a sugar mill. Two of the villages, Kelaveh and Abbasabad, were mainly populated by Armenians.
The total population of Shahzand at that time was probably 3,000, with about 20% to 30% Armenians, who since the early 1700 had gradually settled here, possibly because Shazand was along their rout from Isfahan to Armenia, before modern roads were built.
Most of them were farmers. Some worked in the sugar mill. Others grew grapes and made wine. They also owned the only tavern in town. They were part of the solid fabric of our community, although they very much kept to themselves. We knew them not as Armenians but as Mr. so and so, Mrs. so and so, fellow farmers, owner of so and so farm or vineyard.
I left here when I was 15 to go to high school in Tehran. I had planned to come back here, and become a schoolteacher, but I never did.
After more than 30 years, I am back for a brief visit. Shazand is a much bigger town now, almost a small city of 15,000 people. All 4 villages, the sugar mill and the train station are clumped together to make up this not-so-attractive town with absolutely no character.
The old sugar mill looks rustier than ever. There is little sign of the vineyards and the surrounding miles and miles of farmland. There is an oil refinery, a petrochemical plant, a 1,300 megawatts thermal power station, and a paint manufacturing plant, all built over the past two decades, which have replaced the vineyards, and wheat and alfalfa fields.
The air that used to be filled with the fragrance of wild roses (gol-e mohammadi) and the freshly cut clovers is now filled with yellow smoke, and the smell of gases and chemicals.
The other night, in my sister's house, while in bed, trying to go to sleep, I reached and picked up the telephone directory of Shazand. Like Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Rain Man”, I started glancing through it, looking for familiar names, old classmates and other folks I used to know here.
I didn't see the name of any of my Armenian classmates or their families. The more I looked the less I found. There were around 3,500 names in there. I spent over an hour and looked at every name. I was amazed to find out that there was not a single Armenian name in the entire directory. I realized that after almost four centuries of history in this part of the world, Armenians of Shazand were no longer here, finished, gone, vanished, didn't exist anymore.
They had left behind, their farms, their homes, their churches, their cemetery, the headstone of their ancestors, and gone away, as if they had never been here, as if this place meant nothing to them.
That night, I felt strangely depressed. I didn't know what was bothering me. I had left this place too, so did many of my other friends and relatives. For some reason those didn't bother me. But just the thought that a whole group of people had collectively decided to call it quits made me despair. It was as if a universal law had been broken. I felt as if these people had betrayed this land, or perhaps it was the other way around, this land had betrayed these people.
Now I am standing here on the slope of Mount Rasvand on the southwestern edge of the town. The Ahvaz-Tehran passenger train is leaving the station heading north to Tehran. The chimneys of the oil refinery and the power station are sending yellow and blue smoke up into the sky. The sun is shining majestically overhead. I look at the town and think to myself: “All gone, the wheat and alfalfa fields, the vineyards, the Armenians, and the small tavern where I had my first glass of wine.”