Martiros Ashikyan was born in Aleppo in 1927, a few years after the Armenian Genocide. He once told how he had accidentally met a Bedouin Arab at his workplace who would lead him to the Armenian Cave. The Bedouin told how the Turks, passing through Deir ez-Zor, gathered and incinerated about 40 thousand Armenians in that cave.
“I, Martiros Ashikyan, was born in 1927 in the Zeytunkhan camp in Aleppo. The people who had survived the Armenian Genocide on foot reached Aleppo and settled there.
In 1948, I worked at the Syrian Petroleum Company. There, in the desert near Palmyra, we were digging an oil well.
While we were working in this camp, a local Arab watchman came there to fetch water. I and a Zeytunian Garnik Norasharyan, the son of Yerjanik, always saw in these places little girls with blue eyes and golden hair dressed in Arab clothes. They came and watched us work.
One day, this Arab watchman told these girls in Arabic:
“Do not hesitate, come closer, they are your uncles.”
We asked them, “Where are your mothers?”
The next day, they brought their mother. A thin woman with a beautiful face, golden hair, and blue eyes, not older than 40 years. We asked in Arabic: “How do you remember yourself as an Armenian?”
“I only remember that they said “khbzin” (Arabic), “khoch” (“bread” in Zeytun dialect), “Yilmae” (Arabic), “Jeor” (“water” in Zeytun dialect).”
Her dialect made us realize that she was from Zeytun. We asked:
“Where did you live?”
“In Zeytun, we had a sea, an embankment, there was water.”
“Do you remember the names of your parents?”
We knew exactly that she was an Armenian from Zeytun.
Then, our company sent us to the right of Dacca on the way to Ttmor. There was a field there in which we were tasked to dig a pit. Then, we set off towards Desiree.
In 1950, the British built a camp to the east of the Khabur River, 45-50 km from the Iraqi border. We would be transferred there. Our new camp was called “Gunaguazi.” Every day, we went there to dig pits to find petrol.
The British company “SBC” brought us lunch. One day when we were eating, we invited some Bedouin shepherds to eat with us. They were Roma Arabs. Their particular tribe was called “Jabburi”.
We called them in their language: “Eauel enen go go” (“Come here”).
“Where are your sheep?”
“They’re very close by,” said one of them, “My sheep are from Uara Nugrt El Arman (“the Cave of Armenians” is Arabic).”
We became interested and asked him to show us the cave.
We followed the Arab. The cave was about one mile away from our workplace. We, armed with flashlights, soon approached the dark cave. I had a bag on me.
The Arab said: “We go into this cave and always find gold bracelets, gold teeth, and other jewelry.”
We proceeded forward for about 50-60 meters and came across a pit with a diameter of 10-15 meters. To the side, there was a cave that stretched towards the river Khabur.
The Arab told us: “About 40 thousand Armenians who had miraculously survived in Deir ez-Zor would be cruelly raced for 70-80 miles on foot across the hot sands of the desert and brought to this place.
At the end of Deir ez-Zor, 50-60 miles to the northeast, there is a desert with no water or vegetation. On foot, the unfortunate, raw-boned Armenians were driven to the Jisir Sheddadiye pit near the Khabur river adjacent to the cave from the southeast.”
This pit was actually 7-8 miles long cave. The Turks had filled it with the barely alive Armenians. Our Bedouin companion said:
“I am now 65 years old, and I remember well how the Turkish soldiers brought bushes, branches, and put on fire the “arbayin elf nafar” (“40 thousand Armenians”).”
We covered approximately 200 feet. Under our feet were bones and skulls. We collected some of the bones in my bag. Our flashlights soon died, so we could not go further. Eventually, we got lost in the dark. Luckily, we gropingly managed to escape the darkness of the cave.
We were delighted that God showed us the way out and brought us to the bright world. I pronounced the Lord’s Prayer and crossed over the cave’s entrance.
I would hide the bag with the bones under my bed. I had to carry this bag to the church, but I was young and didn’t know what to do. So I buried them in the grave of my deceased sister.
Finally, having returned to Aleppo, I told the story in Zeytunkhan. Everyone listened. One of the listeners said:
“I have escaped from the pit of that cave, got out from under the corpses as it started to rain. The pit filled up with water which would pour into the Khabur River.
We were underage children. Starved, we barely survived without food and water on the route of deportation, and the Turks threw us into this pit and put us on fire.”
“Armenian Genocide: Testimonies of surviving eyewitnesses”, Verzhine Svazlyan, NAS RA, “Gituitun”, Yerevan, 2011, certificate 383, pages 563-564.