“A Group of Young Armenians Sentenced to Death Was Taken by a Turk to Work for Him“
Tells Sargis Suvaryan
My Father Avetis Suvaryan was born in 1901 in the town of Arabkir. When the rampage began his father – my Grandfather – was recruited and taken away like many others to serve in the army. That is how my Grandfather was killed. Father remained alone with his younger brother who was sent to an American orphanage sometime later.
Father told that people were brought together on the banks of the Euphrates. Their hands and feet were tied; they were seated in boats, brought to the middle of the river and then the boats were drowned together with the people in them.
My father was in one of these groups “waiting for death”. At that moment a not very rich Turk approached the group on the bank and said he wanted a few teenagers and youngsters to work for him, to help in cattle breeding. My Father, who was 14-15 years old then, appeared among the selected young people. Thus, the Turk took 4-5 boys who worked for him for a few weeks and soon decided to break out.
Father remembered they walked at night and moved to the south. In the daytime, they hid in cemeteries. Sometimes they were noticed by Turkish peers with whom they occasionally had arguments. So, overcoming a lot of various hardships, they arrived in Aleppo, Syria where the situation was comparatively calmer.
From Syria Father moved to Lebanon. He started to work in Beirut and sometime later he found his brother who had also got to Beirut along with the pupils of the orphanage. Father collected his brother from the orphanage and took care of him.
My mother was also from an orphanage, again from Arabkir, and had appeared in Beirut the same way. Mother’s family used to have a big leather processing factory in Arabkir. My Mother’s father Karapet was a rich and influential person and his brothers were tortured to make them disclose his hiding place. That is how my Grandfather and his brothers were killed and my Mother remained alone at home with her 3-4-year-old brother and forty-day-old sister.
The children’s mother – my Grandmother got ill and died because there wasn’t a doctor available. Some of their relatives even wanted to bury the baby with the mother but my Grandmother’s sister didn’t allow that. Mother used to tell that they remained hungry for days although later they heard from their relatives who survived that in the walls of the first floor there was gold hidden about which the children had no idea. Trying to survive the children cooked soup with peas and, without realizing the danger, fed also their two-month-old baby sister. The latter, unfortunately, got choked and died…
I was born on February 6, 1937, in Beirut. In 1946 we came to Armenia with the sixth caravan and settled in Kirovakan. Later we moved to Yerevan with certain difficulties. We started to live in the house of my Father’s uncle’s son. After living there for a year we got some land and started to build a house. We moved there when it wasn’t ready yet. Father was a constructor and a good professional. He managed to build up his house and raise his three children.
“My Mother Used to Say It Was Thanks to a Turk She Had Mother and Father“
Tells Elizabeth Katrjyan
Our family both suffered and was rescued by the Turks.
My Father, Khachik Katrjyan was from the village of Chirakh. He was an orphan; his parents were exterminated during the Genocide and his sister, Elizabeth, whose name I have, was kidnapped. My Father was taken care of by his mother’s brother and his other sister was taken care of by his father’s brother.
His childhood had left a heavy impact on my Father’s memory: he didn’t want to have anything during his lifetime.
When were had grown up he used to say, “My girl, we need nothing. We just need a pit to sleep in because Turks will come… and we’ll run away again.”
Later, when we were older, we found out that his family used to be quite wealthy. When we had to cook something at home he said, “My girl, such things were done by servants at our home.” He told them they had a beautiful, large house in their Motherland… And we got surprised.
When there was some talk at our place Father always said, “Those Turks…” and my Mother said, “It was thanks to a Turk that I had a mother and father.”
My Mother’s family was from Khazkal. They were called Khazkaltsiner [Khazkal residents, tr.]. My Grandfather and Grandmother – Harutyun and Satenik – were Dodozyans: Dodozyan is not a surname, but the name of the neighborhood Dodozlar. Once they were registered in that way and became Dodozyans.
My Mother, Haikanush was born in 1914. During the carnages of 1915, they were constantly exiled from one village to another.
In one of such villages, the Khoja’s sixteen-year-old son was stabbed and my Grandfather’s name was given as if he had done that. When the boy’s relatives came with fire and swords to exterminate my Grandfather’s whole family their Turkish neighbor, who was one of the rich people of the village, came up and said, “No, Harutyun was here at that time.” This is how my Mother’s family had a narrow escape.
Covering the roads of exile they appeared in Salonika. My Grandfather used to tell me that the road of exile was so hard they even thought of leaving their child – my Mother – under a tree and going away. However, they decided to carry her till the end. So, in 1915-1916 they ran to Greece. In Salonika, my Mother studied at the school established by Gyulbenkyan and in 1932 they moved to Armenia.
My mother was able to be brought up by her parents thanks to that Turk and always remembered this.
My Father also migrated to Athens, Greece. His family moved to Armenia later. My parents met here, in Armenia.
”My Father Lived 13 Years in the Turk’s house Who Saved Him”
Tells Ohannes Kulak Avetikyan
My Father’s name is Manuk, Manuk Grigor Avetikyan: he was a respectable person in Cesaria in modern Yozghat province. There was an Armenian school, a church, and a college in the village of Hyurnej, currently Konuklar (Turkish – the Hospitable people).
My Father’s ancestors came from Ani. But when in 1021 King Senekerim moved to Sebastia, my ancestors migrated with everybody.
My Father’s village was called Hyurnej meaning “the guest descended in the forest”. A meadow opened in that place and a village was built in that meadow. There is still a forest in those places until now. Mount Akta stands nearby, where Armenian Fedayeens from both my Mother’s and Father’s dynasties fought.
My Father’s dynasty was Avetikyan, Grand Father’s name was Avetik. Avetik was “a daredevil” person, just like the daredevils of Sassoun. Once tax collectors came to my Grand Father for tithe and he paid. But when they came again to collect taxes, he didn’t pay saying he had already paid once. The tax collector said he had to pay again; Grandfather got angry and beat the bailiff.
The incident was reconciled as my Grandfather knew some people. However, sometime later the same bailiff again came to Grand Father, now under Pasha’s auspices. Avetik refused to pay again and beat the tax collector. Grandfather was punished: his ear was cut as he refused to obey. From then our family nickname was Kulaksyzyan, meaning without an ear.
In 1915 my Father was only 12 when his Father, Mother, sister, and elder brother were killed before his eyes.
… Father had nightmares every night with scenes of his family’s assassination.
A Turk called Sherket, wishing to save the children, took my Father, Manuk, and his younger sister, Dalita. That man, however, said the children could live in his family only if they were Turkified. Manuk had to change his name and become Sherket. That Turk kept my Father and his sister for some time. Then Father gave Dalita to an orphanage. But he didn’t go there himself.
He thought the lands left by his Father belonged to him and wanted to own them. His sister was moved to Beirut along with other children where she grew up and married a Russian soldier.
My Father, Manuk lived 13 years with the Turk who sheltered him. He spent summers in the fields, winters in the stable. He said the Turk had a daughter of his age with whom he grew up. That Turk also advised him to take care of his Father’s land.
One day Manuk went to his paternal house where he met a stranger who insisted those were his lands. The Turk who brought Manuk up talked to that stranger and said the child’s whole family was killed and asked if it was possible to leave the land to him.
They agreed and Manuk went to get the certificate of the owner of the land. There he was told as his Father hadn’t obeyed the authorities those lands no longer belonged to him but were already state property. So my Father burnt the papers with his own hands saying that as everything was taken away from him, then they could have that just as well…
Manuk’s other sister called Tsiatsan [Rainbow, tr.] had married a Turkish cleric but they often met. One day my Aunt’s Turkish husband told my Father that there was a converted Armenian girl who offered to marry him. That girl was my Mother – Armanush, who was “a daredevil” Melkonyan. As part of the Turkish army, her father took part in the Chanakale war which is why he was exiled later.
My Mother Armanush was saved by Circassians who spoke in the Ivonese language. I know the Ivons are a part of Circassians but they were Turkified. When my Grandfather returned from the war, he found the village empty. My mother Armanush was renamed Anishe and Grandmother Hripsime was renamed Gyulsima.
So my Grandfather joined them under the name Yakub. Later their two younger daughters were born. After her husband’s death, Hripsime returned to the village of Hyurnej, where my Father, Manuk Avetikyan – Sherket married Anishé.
My Father cautioned me never to go to Hyurnej as he had witnessed such painful events there.
Then Father moved to Cesaria with his family. Some years later they migrated to the USA where I was born. Our village Hyurnej is called Konuklar today and is included within the province of Yozgat.
After he had told me the story O. Avetkyan tried to find their village on the Internet to show me. While doing that he and his son found a video telling about Hyurnej. Father and son began to watch the video with excitement and, to my surprise, recognized their paternal house and the meadow they had heard about so many times but had never visited. At the end of our conversation, my interlocutor sang touching songs smoothly passing from Armenian to Turkish: both languages are native to him.
“The Story of How My Mother Survived the Genocide Reminds of a Miracle”
Tells Donara Tarjumanyan
The story of how my Mother survived the Genocide reminds me of a miracle, a real miracle…
It was certainly a miracle to stay alive, to survive in those almost inhuman circumstances, to avoid the yataghan, and later to set up a family, to live happily…
I don’t even know if my Mother’s life could be called a happy one. The disaster she went through during her childhood, and the violence she witnessed were always in her eyes… My mother was a survivor of the Genocide…
My Mother Siranush Hakobyan was born in 1912 in Kars. She didn’t remember the date of her birth, she told only that it was the day of the Vardavar festival [festival, when people drench each other with water, tr.] in July. She was still a young child when Yeghern [Genocide, tr.] started in Western Armenia. Turkish massacres reached Kars a little later. As you know until 1918 Kars was a Russian subject and in 1918 the most inaccessible city-fortress was handed to Turks… It was handed and the nightmare that was in my Mother’s eyes until the end of her life began.
A vast majority of the Armenians in Kars became victims of the carnage, others took the road of migration. Mother and her two brothers Mnatsakan and Hambartzum were among the numerous Armenian refugees. She told that they were all taken into a mews. Mother was very young but every detail was printed into her memory. She told me there was no room to move in the mews, no air to breathe…
She remembered that everyday soldier came, read out the names of some people, and took them away… Everybody knew they were taken to be killed. One day the soldiers came and asked who were Siranuish, Mnatsakan, and Hambartzum… “We looked at each other and realized our turn had come,” Mother told.
All the three of them were taken away but they didn’t know where. It was only sometime later that the orphans realized they had been saved. Finding themselves in a large palace they met their uncle’s daughter Aghavní.
Agahvní’s story is also interesting. A Turkish Pasha had seen her during the massacre years and fallen in love. Agahvní had married that Turk and moved to his fortress. However, the girl was always sad… The Turkish Pasha wanted to do something for her to feel happy. So Agahvní asked to save her cousins from the carnage. The Turk Pasha, as you see, fulfilled his wife’s wish and saved the Armenian orphans.
My mother and uncles were received very well in that Turk’s house; they were given new clothes and fed. Mother couldn’t remember definitely but she said they stayed quiet long there, about a year they lived in that house until Turks learned about Pasha’s action and started persecuting him. Pasha took his wife Agahvní and left the place, thus leaving the orphans alone again.
I don’t remember where my mother and her brothers went from there but in the end, they found their uncle’s [father’s brother, tr.] wife – Agahvní’s mother. With her help, they moved to Gyumri.
Mother told that after living in Gyumri for some time the news spread that Turks had left Kars and all refugees could return (perhaps it happened in 1919 when the Armenian army liberated Kars for a short period).
Hearing the news about the liberation of Kars, a large number of refugees who had found asylum in Armenia, and my mother and her brothers among them, headed for their native town. This time they stayed in Kars for a very short time.
Soon, when the town finally passed to Turkey according to the Russian-Turkish agreement, they again headed for Armenia. This time the orphans remained alone as their uncle’s wife died on the way. On the way, my mother also lost her younger brother who caught some unknown illness and died.
My mother and her elder brother were brought to Yerevan. In Yerevan they were given to an orphanage; at that time an orphanage functioned nearby where Sudukyan Theatre is now. A new life began for them there…
“My Great Grandfather Had Two Hours to Leave Van”
Tells Alik Sargsyan
I have heard this story from my Mother. However, it was only recently that I learned more details about the life of her Grandfather’s family in Van and how they were miraculously saved from the massacres. My ancestors migrated from the city of Van during the years of the Genocide. Some of them have settled in Eastern Armenia.
This story is about my Mother’s Grandfather, who was born and lived in Van till the carnage of 1915.
Nikoghos Grigor Charkhchyan was born in 1884. After finishing school, he became a barber. He had one daughter. Although he was fond of his profession, he was also engaged in many other business activities. Due to his hard work and great will, he became the owner of big hotels, hair salons, and teahouses.
He had very tight connections with many Turks because of the nature of his work and was in very good relations with many of them. Grandfather Nikoghos and his family were in very close relations with the Turks in their neighborhood. Nevertheless, even these relations changed when the massacres by Turks began.
In April 1915 Nikoghos was in one of his hotels when a Turk officer in military clothing approached him and warned that he had 20 minutes to leave his house and 2 hours to leave Van. My mother told me, that it was very strange, that a stranger, whom my great Grandfather did not know at all, warned him about this.
However, this kind of news terrified my Grand-grandfather and he hurried to leave Van with his family as soon as possible. Grandfather Nikoghos took with him what he was able to take in 20 minutes – some first necessity things and gold. Nikoghos with his wife, his 2-year-old child, and his parents escaped leaving all his property to the Turks.
Unfortunately, they were not lucky enough to escape without loss. On their way, the Charkhchyan family was not only robbed but were also persecuted and Nikoghos’ parents died of cholera. My Great Grandfather was able to get to Eastern Armenia with his family, settle and continue his life here.
Later on, it turned out, that the Turk neighbors, who had always been warmly received by Nokoghos’ family, had long been aware of the Turks’ plans. However, they had kept that information secret. Despite a lot of difficulties and sufferings that Nikoghos had come across during his lifetime, he lived long enough, 96 years, and died in 1980.
“Turkish Friends Accompanied My Aunt’s Family to Armenia’s Border…”
Tells Hamestuhy Qendikyan
My parents used to live in the city of Arabkir, Western Armenia. In 1896, during the first wave of the massacres my Grandmother’s uncle [father’s brother, tr.] was killed and hanged on the tree before her eyes. That caused my Grandmother a serious mental disorder and she got a long treatment. However, she had some mental problems all her life. Then my Grandfather, my two uncles, and my uncle’s relatives were taken away. Only my very young Father remained. He was born in 1904 and was named after his dead brother Gevorg.
My grandmother used to tell me that after the war was over all Armenians from Arabkir went to Aleppo, and then moved to Beirut.
My father used to tell me about the circle of his friends. He said he had several Turkish friends who, as he used to say, always gave a hand when needed; they didn’t let anyone harm us. I can still remember the name of one of his friends Mstatevik. I asked him: “What name is that?” and he used to answer, “A Turk’s name”.
And my aunt [Father’s sister, tr.] Tigranuhy’s husband Sargis Suryan said that during the massacres their family were in the mountains and made horseshoes. Among all that turmoil they were forgotten and weren’t exiled. They returned to Arabkir when the situation eased in 1924, then they migrated to Armenia.
Some Turks helped them run away. My Aunt’s husband used to remember how their Turkish friends took all the jewelry they had, hid it in their pockets, tied their carpets and belongings to the mules, and accompanied them to the border with Eastern Armenia.
These Turks kept the jewelry and said, “If there is an attack it will be taken away from you, it will be safer with us.” Thus, these Turks brought our relatives to the border, gave back their jewelry and belongings, and saw them off to Armenia.
In Yerevan, they bought a big house near the Cinema House and lived there with all their big family – 14 people.
My Aunt’s husband always remembered these Turks with gratitude. He said they had very good Turkish neighbors who “took care, didn’t allow marauding”. But some cruel people took advantage to assassinate and rob. In any case, I have often heard that among Turks there were so many helpful people.
“When the Great Massacre Began a Turk Neighbor Sheltered my Grandmother’s Family”
Tells Suren Avetisyan
My Grandmother Siranush Hambartzumyan was born in 1905. She was from the village of Artamet, Van. When the Great Armenian Massacre began their Turkish neighbor sheltered their family for some time.
Grandmother used to say, “Certainly, they were Turks but they were very nice people. Our families were so close. They were people of bread and salt [this expression means “hospitable”, tr.].”
However, their Turkish neighbors couldn’t hide their Grandmother’s family for too long. Thus, like thousands of other Armenians, they also had to leave Artamet.
On the road of exile, two soldiers approached my Grandmother’s younger sister and tried to take the silver ring off her finger. As it was tight and wouldn’t come out one of them raised his dagger and wanted to cut off the finger. At that very moment, another Turkish soldier came up and didn’t allow it. In the end, they put some water on the ring and were able to take it off the finger.
But later, getting too exhausted from hunger and tiredness Grandmother’s sister and mother died on the way of migration.
Grandmother told that walking on the road some people fell exhausted and everyone knew that the fallen one would never get up again.
The group of Armenian refugees, and my Grandmother among them, was able to cross the Araks River and get to what is now the village of Sharar, Armavir. After staying there for some time Grandmother was sent to an American orphanage in Ejmiatsin. Some years later Grandmother met my Grandfather who came from Mush. They had moved to the village of Kuchak, Aparan long before. In 1929 they moved to Yerevan together.
I can still remember when our family came together and Grandmother started to speak about her childhood she always told about their lost house and village with a feeling of yearning. She would talk about the apples of Artamet with special admiration. She said that young women in Artamet always kept apples in their chests: when they opened the chest the scent of apples would spread around the room…
She wanted so much to visit her native Artamt at least once. She had left that place when she was only nine but she looked confident when she would say, “If my feet get to our village again I will instantly find our house.” Unfortunately, that big wish of my Grandmother never came true.
People from Van are usually considered greedy but Grandmother was very generous. Everyone who knew her used to ask, “You come from Van, how can you be so hospitable?” in answer to which she would say, “People from Van are not greedy, simply they always have their stock for tomorrow.”
“My Grandmother’s Father Was Saved by His Commander”
Tells Grigor Avetisyan
My Grandmother Aghavný Martirosyan, born in 1907, was one of those who miraculously survived the Armenian Genocide. Grandmother and her family lived in the village of Charakh, Bursa. It was about 100 kilometers away from Bursa and was famous for its warm and cool baths. Villagers were mainly involved in silk manufacturing. In 1915 my grandmother’s father was recruited to the army and only women remained in the family.
Grandmother told that during the deportation the Turkish government gave them a family who had given a soldier, carts to transport their belongings, while other families didn’t have such “an advantage”. During the transportation, along with others, they came to the railway leading to the Der Zor Desert, put up tents, and started waiting for their turn. Grandmother said it seemed salvage to them: no one knew that in those trains they would be taken to be assassinated.
Soon their turn came. The four women – Grandmother, her mother, grandmother, and aunt – took their seats on the train. Grandmother told them they put ash on their faces to look ugly as beautiful girls were taken away by Turks. When Grandmother and her family were already in the train a young man got on the train and asked if there was anybody from Bursa.
My Grandmother’s grandmother replied saying they came from Charakh. The young man advised them to get off the train immediately. At first, the old woman could not understand why they should get off: their turn had finally arrived. But, fortunately, that young man managed somehow to take them off the train and, perhaps, they were the only survivors of the people on that train…
They started to work at the market. They did trivial jobs to earn at least some living. And it was at the market they came across my Grandmother’s father Grigor. They met absolutely by chance as everyone knew that Turks killed Armenian men recruited to the army. But it turned out grandmother’s father was rescued by his Turkish commander. The latter, knowing well that Grigor was a professional farmer, took him to his estate to work as a gardener.
My great-grandfather’s salvation became possible thanks to a Turk. After the reunion, the family moved to live in their native Charakh. They lived there for about two years and in 1922 during the retreat of the Greek army moved to Bursa. From there they went to Bulgaria by ship and escaped from the second wave of the Genocide. In Bulgaria, Grandmother met her Grandfather and in 1933 they moved to Armenia with their two sons.
“Run, Go, Keep My Light Burning”
Tells Anahit Ghazaryan
When I learned about the project “100 Years… Real Stories” one of my ex-students, Susanna Stepanyan, was at my place. During the conversation, I told her about the project and found out that Turks had saved her Grandfather during the Genocide. She told me the story of her paternal Grandfather.
They came from Shatakhy. Her Grandfather was 13-14 years old during the Genocide years. Turks gathered all residents of Shatakhy and locked them in the church intending to burn them. As Susanna said her Grandfather’s family was quite large. Her Grand-grandfather Stepan, feeling what destiny his family, including his son Hakob, would have, tried to find a way out. But what could he do when everybody’s hands were tied behind?
Suddenly he noted that one of the church walls had a crack and the stone could be removed. Hakob’s father started hitting the wall with his back and hands. Even at that moment he didn’t forget his religion and didn’t hit with his legs: it is a sin to hit a church wall with one’s leg. His wife was crying asking him to do something and save their son, Hakob.
In the end, he managed to remove a stone from that church that had been standing for centuries and told his son, “Run, go, keep my light burning.” [in Armenian that expression means to continue the family, tr.] Hakob was a thin boy, and, prowling through that hole in the church wall, he began running. Suddenly he heard a Turk yelling, “The giaour’s son ran away.” Then a shot followed… Hakob felt his hands tied behind his back get warmer but he kept running frantically. He ran without knowing where he had got. Then he suddenly fell unconscious.
Waking up Hakob found himself in a Turk’s house. A pregnant Turkish woman stood beside him and his hands were tied with some rags. At that moment he realized he was wounded but the first thought he had was that he was free, that he had run away. The Turkish woman fed him and made him hide as the boy was searched for everywhere.
The woman offered Hakob to lie under the bedding. Soon he could hear Turks yelling and the woman’s answer who assured them the boy wasn’t in her house. In the end, the soldiers went away. Then the Turkish woman gave the boy some food and showed him a safe way to take it.
This is how Hakob, the son of Stepan from Shatakhy survived and years later told his grandchildren, “When I was going away I smelt something burning. I turned back… The church was burning…”
He ran and got to the village of Afshar, Ararat region, got married, and had children. As his granddaughter said he always wished to cross the Araz River and go and see his native house again…
“Two Offshoot Survivors of Exterminated Dynasties Vowed to Weave Together and Become a Thick Oak”
Tells Elizabeth Baltayan
My Mother Azniv Baltayan was from the city of Tavrik, Sebastia. She was the only survivor of the dynasty that was exterminated during the Genocide.
The mother told them they had a Turkish neighbor who was very close to them. One evening, when the men were away, Turk Pasha visited them. Mother used to say he was like a family member. That Pasha’s mother had died during childbirth and Azniv’s grandmother Nazik had taken care of and brought him up like her own son. The Turk used to call Nazik “Great Mom”.
My Mother Azniv was six then. She and her two sisters went out to meet the guest and heard the conversation. When the Turk came in and seated himself by the table he told “Great Mom” Nazik that “the Turkish government had decided to displace the Armenian population, to assassinate and exterminate the Armenian nation”. He offered Nazik shelter in his house and even promised a corner for icons where Nazik’s Mom could pray.
He said he would be able to protect all their family as he had certain advantages. Everybody was anxiously waiting for Nazik’s response. And she refused to say her dynasty and family would be wherever the Armenian nation was; if Armenians were to be exterminated let their family be killed out either. Upon hearing this, the Turkish Pasha went away and never returned; and a few days later happened what he had spoken about.
In April Baltayan dynasty set off on the road of exile in line with other Armenian families. As my mother was too young she was carried. She easily got tired and asked her Grandmother to stop eating or drinking water. During an incident on the road, one of her sisters was killed right before her eyes: she was beheaded and thrown into the water, which was awful for my Mother.
At some point, the caravan of migrants stopped. Everybody noticed a certain change in the Turkish soldiers’ attitude towards them: they did nothing violent, just, on the contrary, urged Armenians to walk slowly and without haste as they had a long way to cover.
However, everybody understood the reason for the Turks’ cunning steps when they saw employees of an American orphanage.
The Americans collected children under age and my Mother Azniv appeared among them. After seeing her sister’s death with her own eyes, Mother could hardly depart with her grandmother and another sister. “Set your own family and never forget your dynasty,” said Grandmother Nazik hugging Azniv dearly. “Always keep in mind the road of your sufferings.”
From the truck moving away my Mother was watching the long-long caravan trying to find her sister and grandmother.
Mother married Azaria Patrakchyan who was also from Sebastia, from the village of Patrin. They met at the orphanage. After living in Salonika, Greece for twenty years, they moved to Armenia in 1946. Dynasties of both of them went through that tragedy. They used to say, “We were two offshoot survivors of exterminated dynasties and had vowed to weave together and become a thick oak”…
This story was published also in The Khariskh [Anchor, tr.] magazine, March/April 2005, under the title “The Fresh Oak Offshoot”.