Karen Jeppe – Danish friends of Armenians

Karen Jeppe - Danish friends of ArmeniansKaren Jeppe was born in 1876 in the Danish city of Gilling. Like her contemporaries, Jeppe learned about the massacre of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire committed in 1894-1896 from the European media. She first heard about the oppression of Armenians in 1902.

After attending the lectures of a Danish scholar and humanist Aage Meyer Benedictsen, Karen Jeppe became a member of his organization “Danish Friends of the Armenians.” She would also meet the founder and chairman of the “German Orient Mission” Johannes Lepsius to join in the organization.

Jeppe was not a missionary. She and Benedictsen were convinced that in order to help the Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire and to stimulate their development, it is necessary to respect their religion and culture.

Jeppe and the leaders of the organization “Danish Friends of the Armenians” also realized that in order to cooperate with the German and American missionary organizations, as well as local authorities, it was necessary to have support in the Ottoman Empire.

In 1903, arriving in Urfa located in the southern areas of the Ottoman Empire, 27-year-old Karen Jeppe became the only field worker of the “Danish Friends of the Armenians.” She immediately claimed responsibility for more than 300 Armenian orphans in the German refugee camp in Urfa.

In 1915, during the days of the Armenian Genocide, Jeppe spared no efforts to help Armenians and provide them with shelter in her home. Ottoman gendarmes repeatedly searched her house but did not find any Armenians hiding in the basement and in her flower garden.

Diseases and stress experienced from the scenes of the death of her beloved people and the feeling of constant danger would exhaust her.

“How good it would be not to see this path of death that stretches from the gates of Urfa to the distant yellow endless plains burned under the sun. The plain was full not with fresh green shady trees but with corpses of people at various levels of decay. Some lay right at the gates of the city. Patients who could still take a few hundred more steps were driven out of their beds and beaten up with sticks,” wrote Jeppe.

In 1917, due to her poor health condition, Jeppe returned to her homeland. With her testimonies about the massacre of Armenians, she tried to inform the world about the crimes being committed in the Ottoman Empire.

In 1920, Karen Jeppe arrived in Aleppo to continue providing humanitarian assistance to the Armenians. In 1921, Jeppe was appointed an authorized commissioner of the commission created by the League of Nations to free abducted Armenian women and children from captivity.

During the first three months of the commission’s activity, a hundred Armenian women and girls were saved from Islamic captivity. The search center established in Aleppo by Karen Jeppe was the key contributor to the results of the mission. Over time, when the number of women and children increased, it became necessary to create a special shelter.

Those who had been freed from Islamic captivity received the necessary medical care, clothing, and food. To help them find their relatives, personal lists with attached photos were sent to newspapers, churches, and Armenian organizations. For women who did not find their relatives, “single houses” were opened. The “lonely” were supposed to adopt orphans.

Jeppe’s foster-son Misak Melkonian was involved in the searches for orphans as well, and Jeppe herself took care of them. Everywhere in the desert was heard the slogan “one Armenian – one gold.”

Karen Jeppe considered that the Armenian church and active cooperation with the clergy played a key role in the raising of Armenian orphans. Jeppe believed that the Armenian Church through its rituals and ceremonies could contribute to the reviving of the past and to the returning of the national identity to Armenians who had for years lived with other nations and departed away from their roots, values, and religion.

Jeppe was awarded the Danish Order of the “Knight of the Legion of Honor” of the first degree. As a plenipotentiary of the League of Nations, Jeppe was also awarded a special medal by the French government for her service in Syria under the French mandate.

Karen Jeppe died on July 7, 1935. At the request of Jeppe, her funeral was held according to the rituals of the Armenian Apostolic Church. She was buried in the Armenian National Cemetery in Aleppo. The orphanage founded by Karen Jeppe in 1947 became the national college of her name and is still functioning.

Armenian orphans with a daily ration of bread in their hands. “In order to help the plight that prevails in the large Ram camp at least a little, it was decided to give hot food to 400 boys and girls every day.” Jeppe’s letter addressed to the Head of the Diocese of Aleppo Artavazd Surmeian, January 13, 1926.
A group wedding ceremony of Armenian orphans organized by Jeppe in the newly built village of Tina in Syria. Eight couples got married at the same time. The wedding ceremony was performed by priest Mkrtich Muradian along with two other priests. Second from the left is the assistant of K. Jeppe Jeni Jensen. This photo was taken in the late 1920s.
“A wedding in the desert… Once, in the desert, eight couples got married. Brought into the desert, the graceful girls with their heads covered with white fabrics turned into brides and young men wearing Arab headscarves became bridegrooms… Everything is great at Armenian weddings.” Simon Simonian, “Wedding in the Desert”, the newspaper “Hayrenik” (“Motherland”), Boston, June 28-29, 1958.
The appointed authorized Commissioner of the League of Nations Karen Jeppe during a tour on the Euphrates River. Karen Jeppe traveled thousands of kilometers across the deserts of Mesopotamia while rescuing Armenian women and children from captivity. An indispensable service in this matter was served to her by the car “Anna” of the Ford brand, which many times got into accidents and failed during this mission. Later on in her activities, Karen Jeppe used another car shown in the photograph. “A program was sent to her from the League of Nations with a difficult mission – she was tasked to collect Armenian orphans left by Arabs from the area of exile. It was a hard case for a weak woman, and she told me: “I can’t do it,” but I replied, “Mother, don’t you refuse it, I will also do the work, I will do everything no matter how difficult the liberation of the children of my people may be. ” Misak Melkonian, the foster-son son Karen Jeppe, an orphan collector. Unpublished memories.
Karen Jeppe with students.
Karen Jeppe with one of her students, the 1920s.
From Karen Jeppe’s album, the 1920s.
Biographical brochures about Karen Jeppe and her book written in German about the fate of Armenian orphans freed from captivity.
Postage stamps issued for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 2015.

Read also: Erivan 1917 – Photo of Armenian Orphans – Commentary by James BryceWilliam Morris Gilbert Jr. – A Witness to the Genocide and a Savior of Thousands of OrphansPhoto of a Line of Orphans in Front of an Orphanage – Early 20th CenturyForty Armenian Orphans in the Imperial Orchestra of Ethiopia – 1925Sara Corning – Savior of 5,000 Armenian Orphans – 1922 Smyrna MassacreThe Testimony of Bedouin Batra – Deir Ez-Zor 1915


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