In 2005, worker Murad Uchaner was dismantling an old house for reconstruction in the city of Gaziantep (in Armenian – Aintab), Turkey. He found this postcard inside the wall, between the boards.
It depicts Egine, the widow of the fedayee leader Gevorg Chaush. Her gaze is clear and stern: in her right hand, she holds a “Mauser” pistol, and in her left – a Mosin rifle. She is dressed in a black dress, a cartridge pouch bound with a cross on her chest, also serving as her belt.
At the bottom of the postcard on the left side is the imprint of the Armenian owner of the photo studio where the photograph was taken – M.N. Alladzhyan, and on the right – the location. The photograph was taken in the city of Aintab, Asia Minor. On the back of the postcard is a handwritten note: to the widow of the late hero Gevorg Chaush, Mrs. Egine. A memento from Mr. Ovannes and Mrs. Pirumyan.
The date is given: July 24, 1910. And further are three treasured letters, signifying the code: the Armenian national movement. At the very bottom, it is signed – the city of Aintab.
Murad Uchaner (Uçaner) – is an electrical engineer who was born and raised in Aintab. In 2005, he was involved in the reconstruction of an old house in the Kayacik area, located in the historical center of the city. When removing the boards that covered the walls in one of the rooms, he found this very photograph. Murad could not recognize the language, assuming it could be Arabic. All he could discern were the numbers “21” and “1910”.
When our hero shared his find with his friends, they suggested that the inscription was not in Arabic or Old Turkish. Someone noted that it might be Armenian.
After some time, Murad met a group of tourists speaking in a language he didn’t understand. He approached them and asked what was written on the back of the photo. They deciphered the name of the widow. Since then, Uchaner started his own research, as a result of which he learned that Gevorg Chaush was born near Sasun and was an Armenian partisan. He took part in the Sasun uprising in 1894, after which he was arrested and imprisoned, from where he managed to escape. Then Gevorg joined the Armenian national movement and participated in the second Sasun uprising in 1904. In 1907, he was wounded in a clash with soldiers of the Ottoman army and subsequently died.
The story of the photograph astounded Murad. He did not know that Armenians lived in his city and realized that many facts about Armenian settlements have been erased or distorted. His obsessive idea became to uncover the true history of his city.
Uchaner named his cat Gevorg Chaush. Progress in this story was helped by another group of Armenian tourists – one of them turned around, hearing how Murad’s colleague shouted after the pet, “Gevorg Chaush, come back!” Tourist Armen Aroyan asked whose cat it was and who named it. The man answered that the owner had left and would return soon.
Armen Aroyan is a Californian Armenian who has been organizing tourist trips to the lands of Western Armenia for many years. He had deep knowledge about the history and culture of Armenia. When he met with Murad, they had a lot to talk about. As a farewell gift, the tourist gave the new acquaintance a copy of K. Safaryan’s book “A Brief History of Aintab” in Armenian.
Our hero decided to investigate the history of the very house. He learned that one of the wealthiest Armenian families in Aintab – the Danielians – lived in it. Murad believes that Egine visited Aintab and stayed with Ovannes Danielian, as there were traditions in this region of receiving Armenian migrants from Sasun. In the book, he writes: “Now the house belongs to the current city elder Ahmet Dai. He is not interested in the history of the house and knows nothing about it. Most of the wealthy people in this city are not interested in the history of our city because they are afraid to discover the true face of their grandfathers.”
Now Murad is working on a book in which he reconstructs the life of Armenians in Aintab in the nineteenth century. He is known to have met with a journalist and historian from Geneva, Vigen Cheterian. They visited the Church of the Holy Virgin in Aintab, now known as the Kurtuluş Camii mosque, together, noticing the Turkish authorities’ desire to erase the memory of the Armenians in street names and toponyms.
The journalist’s most vivid impression was a subsequent dinner meeting with Erol Akcay, a cheerful forty-year-old man who had previously served in the Turkish army. Upon introduction, Vigen noted his Armenian origin, to which Erol suddenly started to apologize. He then explained that he does this every time he meets with Armenians because he considers it his moral duty. He was born in a house located directly near the Church of the Holy Virgin, often wondering why the houses in his district differed significantly from the buildings in other parts of the city. The terrorist group “ASALA” sparked even more interest. Erol wanted to know why Armenians wanted to attack Turks. This is how he became acquainted with Mkrtich Margosyan’s book “Infidel Quarter” about the Armenians of Diyarbakir. After reading it, he studied the history of the Armenians, their fate, and decided for himself forever: every time he meets an Armenian, he will hug him and apologize.
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan