Hakob Mutafyan told the story of his grandfather Hakob who lived in the village of Kamurj in the Urfa Province. During the years of the Armenian Genocide, his granddad and his parents were deported from their homeland.
“Exhausted, hungry, and thirsty, he walked to Deir ez-Zor where the Turks were beheading Armenians and throwing their heads into the Euphrates River. Eyewitnesses would tell that the waters of the Euphrates turned red from the blood of Armenians.
My grandfather Hakob miraculously escaped the massacre. Some Bedouin took him to his home so he herded his sheep.
After years, Hakob married an Armenian woman who had become an orphan just like him. They had three boys and two girls. In honor of their father, Hakob’s sons would name each of their three sons Hakob in honor of their grandfather. So I bear the name of my grandfather, Hakob.
My Mutafyan family to this day lives in Deir ez-Zor and is known for its well-being. If we count, then from the youngest to the oldest, there are 25 people in my family now.
There are 10-15 Armenian or semi-Armenian families living in Deir ez-Zor. Kind and hospitable people, they are on good terms with the local Arabs. Arab tribal leaders from the desert often come to visit us.
The Armenians of Deir ez-Zor remember the stories of Armenian exiles well. Their elders have told them how the Turkish gendarmes were taking the Armenian martyrs in groups to the Deir ez-Zor desert, killing them, and throwing their bodies into the Euphrates.
In 1991, in the very center of the city of Deir ez-Zor, local Armenians founded the Church of the Martyrs in memory of the 1.5 million innocent Armenians killed during the Genocide.
In a two-hour drive from Deir ez-Zor is the Marcade Hill. The hill was named so by the Arabs who had become witnesses to the massacres of Armenians. In Arabic, “Marcade” derives from the word “rakkadde” and basically means “a pile of countless corpses.”
It is said that this hill had been formed from the corpses of Armenians. This is true because even now, if you try to dig into the hill with your hand, you’ll find the bones of our martyrs.
In this place, on the ashes of our martyrs, the chapel of St. Harutyun was built in 1996. The glass floors of the chapel now reveal the bones of the innocent victims beneath.
Further away is the so-called Sheddadiye Cave. This name, according to the Bedouins, derives from the Arabic word “sheddai”, i.e. “terrible tragedy.” Elderly Bedouins say that the Turkish gendarmes filled this huge cave with Armenian exiles, immured its entrance, and burned them. Of the Armenians, only their bones would be left…
Whoever comes to Deir ez-Zor does not leave without visiting these places. But recently, oil was discovered near Sheddadiye. Due to this, the government of Syria has banned any visits to these places.
Back in those times, many Armenian girls and young men managed to free themselves from the Turks in various ways. The naked and the hungry took refuge in the desert with the Bedouin Arabs. According to the Bedouin traditions, the faces of most Armenian girls were tattooed. They would also be Islamized and would live for many years with the Bedouins.
These Armenians grew up, forgot their native language, and were assimilated by foreign cultures. But there are also those who still remember that their ancestors were Armenians. I will confirm my words with an example.
About two years ago, two Arab youngsters aged 20-22 knocked on our door. Upon opening the door, I saw two young Arab villagers. Their appearance clearly showed that they were from the villages of Deir ez-Zor.
I invited them in. They sat down and began to talk excitedly. It turned out that the grandfather of one of them was an Armenian who had miraculously escaped from the massacre, and his name was Karapet.
The grandmother of the other was also an Armenian named Mariam. The names of these youngsters were Arabic, but they said that they still were addressed by their nicknames-second names – Karapet and Mariam.
These two young fellows began to ask me whether or not Armenians now have a country called “Armenia” – as they heard from others – or whether or not Karabakh was liberated from the hands of the Azeri Turks.
They also asked if there were any opportunities to go and live in Karabakh, if the Karabakh government would provide them with land so that they could cultivate it, and if the government would finance them so that they build their own home. And besides, who did they need to address to move and settle in Karabakh?
I showed them the way and told them that I have two brothers, and that we were already studying at various universities in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. I said that they should address the consul of Armenia in Aleppo, and that he was the one who could help them with their case.
Thus, in the Syrian deserts, there are many assimilated, alienated, and forcibly Islamized Armenians who have not yet been identified. However, I consider the organization of their resettlement to Armenia and Karabakh as a sacred duty of our domestic government.”
“Armenian Genocide: Testimonies of surviving eyewitnesses”, Verzhine Svazlyan, Yerevan, NAS RA, “Gitutyun”, 2011, certificate 384, pages 564-565.