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