(Rev. April 24, 2014) Today marks the 91st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which took place from 1915 up until 1923. On April 24, 1915 a brutal campaign designed to eradicate all presence of the Armenian people in Eastern Anatolia erupted, organized by the Ottoman “Young Turk” regime. Mass arrests took place in Constantinople and other cities of the Armenian intelligentsia and organizational leadership, who were presumed to have been killed while in captivity. Soon thereafter, mass deportations ensued from Armenian settlements in an area then referred to as Western Armenia, now comprising all of Eastern Turkey. Millions were uprooted from their centuries old homes, herded out to the deserts of Syria, driven into forced hard labor, or fell under the sword, all the while enduring torture and rape in many instances--men, women, and children alike. The details and time frame of the events as well as the number of recorded deaths have been debated for decades by both Armenian scholars and non-Armenian, including Western historians financially sponsored by the Turkish government to write revisionist documentation discounting the killings as constituting genocide. But the widely accepted number of Armenians killed is 1.5 million. About 18 countries around the world, most of them European, have officially recognized the Armenian Genocide as a crime against humanity. Both world politics and the relentless efforts of Armenian lobbying groups, led by the Armenian National Committee of America and sister organizations working in Europe and the Middle East, especially take credit for international acknowledgement.
I am the sub-offspring of survivors from the Genocide era. Members of both my mother’s and father’s families managed to escape the horrors of those times as well as those lesser known during the years leading up to 1915. My mother, Linda, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and was raised in neighboring Arlington. Both her parents were born near the city of Kharpert, now called Elazig
. Her father, born Hagop Russian—later nicknamed Jack—was from the village of Sousoury, inhabited mostly by Armenians where an ancient monastery was situated. As their name suggests, the Russian clan migrated to Sousoury from Russia, but I have no information about what their previous family name was or why they chose to return to Anatolia. Many clan members eventually found their way to the United States and even Buenos Aries, Argentina over the course of the 20th century. My grandfather was under the age of 10 when the massacres began in and around Kharpert. His father was apparently killed by Turkish militia, while his mother died of pneumonia at one point before or after 1915. It is presumed that several brothers, uncles, and cousins—the exact number is unknown as he refused to reveal details about the events—also fell victim. One younger sister, named Sarah (who was considered a young beauty along with many other green-eyed Russians, including my mother) was whisked away by Arab travelers on horseback and never seen again. Hagop and his sister Arshaluys (later renamed Louise) managed to survive, she finding her way to an orphanage in Marseilles, France, while my grandfather earned money by collecting bits of metal by the roadside and selling them for insignificant sums of money. They eventually reunited in France then separated again, and Hagop made his way to Cuba, where he lived for about six years, saving money by shining shoes and working other odd jobs before finally sailing to the US. He finally arrived in the Boston area where his father’s brother, Peter, had already settled and operated a grocery store.
Hagop worked there, and several years later he managed to save enough money to open a grocery store of his own, called Cedar Market in Somerville, Massachusetts. And I still retain many fond memories of that place, eating Hoodsie ice cream cups, drinking Yoo-hoo and hanging with my grandpa, the butcher Paul Nahabedian, Trixie the cat and all the others on staff I looked up to.
My grandmother, Clara, was born in the village of Yegheki, located in close proximity to Sousoury as the map above shows. Her father, Nishan Guetchudian, moved to the United States where he worked for a few years to save money before return to his village to marry. Her mother, Haigouhi Echmalian, worked as an English-language teacher at a local college that had been operating in Kharpert—many of which incidentally were opened by American missionaries around the turn of the century. In 1915, Nishan was eventually taken away by the Turkish militia and was never seen again. Thus, my grandmother and her mother assumed the last name Movsesyan as a way to disguise themselves as converted Armenian Muslims, then began roaming, eventually finding their way to Aleppo, later on to Cuba. As a young girl Clara contracted typhoid fever and was very close to death. Both of them finally made their way to the US and settled in Providence, Rhode Island, where my great-grandmother’s sister, Terez, had already made a home with her husband and small children. My grandmother lived there for over a decade before she was introduced to my grandfather by mutual friends. They married and settled in Arlington, Massachusetts, then had two children, my mother and her older brother, Arsen. Both Hagop and Clara worked in their grocery store located in neighboring Somerville until my grandfather’s sudden death in 1978. My grandmother is now 91 and still lives in her home in Arlington.
There is less to tell about my father’s family. My grandfather, Garabed, was born in Aleppo and never saw the Genocide. The Adanalians also have roots in Kharpert, and several generations ago they changed their last name from Kurkjian. As one interesting tidbit—apparently the reason for the name change has to do with the fact that the first born son of each subsequent generation was named Khosrof Garabed or Garabed Khosrof. One of them went to Adana at some point to get married and was then known as “Adana” Khosrof (or Garabed—can’t remember which) since there were so many Khosrofs and Garabeds running around. My grandmother, Lucine Mahakian was from the town of Urfa
, now called Sanliurfa, located in lower Eastern Turkey. Her father, Krikor, was hanged by the Turks. From what I have been told, she and her several brothers and sisters as well as mother were hiding out in a shelter for quite some time before finally being able to escape. Later they all ended up in Aleppo. She married my grandfather, 14 years his junior, and they had three children—Khosrof—my father, Meline, and Jacques. In the late 1950s they resettled in Beirut, Lebanon. Dad moved to the US in 1969, then married my mother in 1970. They settled just outside of Boston and operate a retail jewelry business. My father was the one who finally broke the chain by naming me Christian Garbis Adanalian, which apparently caused an uproar back in Beirut. My grandfather died in 1997 at the age of 95, but my grandmother, now about 90 years old, lives in a nursing home.
My aim is to do extensive research into the backgrounds of my families and to properly document their histories, which has not been done in this blog post.
I moved to Armenia mainly because I felt a duty to live in the homeland of my ancestors—Western Armenia or Eastern being insignificant to me as it doesn’t really matter. Despite facing daily frustrations as well as elations, I’m associating myself more and more with the lessor-known history and culture (not to mention genetic personality traits) of my people. It is difficult work staying Armenian—assimilation is very tempting in the US and I am sure in other countries such as those throughout Europe or South America where many Armenians settled. Tens of thousands have succumbed to the cultures of their native homes. In Armenia, many people strive to be anything but Armenian, for by instance refraining from speaking the language cleanly without mixing in foreign jargon, or by simply moving out of the country, mainly to Russia, for a new non-Armenian life in many cases. There are only a few of us repatriates here, but we are doing something that very few in the Armenian Diaspora dare think about.
Calling for Turkey’s recognition of the Armenian Genocide is something that must continue by all means. But refraining from understanding what trials and tribulations the Armenian nation will encounter tomorrow is irresponsible. Armenians living in their Diaspora need to rally around the homeland, the one that exists today. Quite simply, they need to repatriate in large numbers, keeping in mind their own roots, despite the countless associated challenges that they will undoubtedly face. And it has to start happening very soon....
Labels: Armenian Genocide, Personal Experiences, Politics, Social and Cultural