In commemoration of the 100th centennial of the Armenian Genocide, COAF felt compelled to identify children living in our supported villages in the Armavir and Aragatsotn regions of Armenia who are direct descendants of Genocide survivors who reestablished lives in present-day Armenia.
The new generation is the link between the past and present and initiating an oral history project to document the stories of their grandparents and great-grandparents was essential in preserving the rich history of the region’s inhabitants, a lot of whom hail from Alashkert, Kars, Moush and Sasoun.
Although the overwhelming majority of the Armenian Diaspora was created from the ashes of the Genocide, we often overlook the thousands who managed to cross the Arax River separating present-day Armenia and Turkey and their stories of survival. COAF hopes these handful of stories will inspire others to chronicle their family stories from 1915.
By Karen and Noya KarapetyanKarakert, Armenia (a COAF-supported village)
Like many others, our family has also experienced the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide. Our great-grandfather Karapet was 10 years old when the massacres started in Western Armenia. Our family was quite large and lived in the Ghabljoz village which today is a neighborhood of Sasoun.
All the adults in our family were killed during the Genocide. Our great-grandfather survived and his 6-month old brother were the only ones to survive. They were orphaned and subject to famine along with so many from their generation.
Both brothers became beggars who would sleep in cemeteries every night. This tough life took its toll on the younger brother who died. Our great-grandfather who lived until age 95 never coped with the loss of his younger brother who was the only member of his family to have survived the Genocide. He eventually married our great-grandmother Khanum and they formed a family and lived in various villages throughout the Sasoun-Bsherik region. In 1943, they fled to Syria with their two children Abraham and Araksi. That’s where our grandfather Zaven and additional children were born.
Our great-grandfather and his entire family repatriated to Soviet Armenia in 1965 and settled in the village of Karakert, which is where we were born. Our grandfather Zaven would always tell us that his father was unwilling and unable to talk about his painful childhood. Our great-grandmother was also very quiet when the subject of the massacres was raised. Their memories from that era was marked with only pain and suffering.
By Sona Matikyan Hatsik, Armenia (a COAF-supported village)
My mother would always tell me how her grandfather Khachatour would always recall his haunting past by with his worry beads (tzbekh) he had made himself with olive pits. The tzbekh had 22 beads symbolic of the number of relatives he lost during the Genocide, each having the painful story of each individual relative.
According to my mother, my forefathers were originally from Adiyaman in present-day Turkey, and at some point relocated to the village of Mazra where they had vast lands and were financially well off from their business of sheep rearing.
In 1915, my great-grandfather Khachatour was rounded up with all the men of his village and taken to a local forest where they were stripped of their clothes and slain with swords in an effort to conserve bullets. Khachatour survived by hiding under a heap of corpses and soon found himself on the road to exile.
On his journey, Khachatour came across a Turkish man who took advantage of him and attempted to kill him. Khachatour managed to steal the Turk’s horse and rode to a neighboring village where his Turkish friend lived. His friend provided him a safe haven and kept him hidden from harm in his home for eight months. Khachatour suffered a lot since he did not have any news from his family throughout those months.
Witnessing his friend’s torment, his Turkish friend decided to travel to Mazra to learn about Khachatour’s relatives. He was told that all the men in Kachatour’s family were killed and the women and children taken to the Euphrates River where my great-grandmother Khatoun (Khachatour’s wife) and her children were murdered. My only relatives who survived were my 6-year-old grandfather Karapet and his younger brother Gevorg (Khachatour’s and Khatoun’s sons). They were living in the home of Khachatour’s blind Kurdish neighbor.
He also learned about two of Kachatour’s uncle’s grandchildren, Iskouhi and Hakob, who also survived the massacres and were living in the home of a Kurd. However, by the time they reached the home of this Kurd, it was too late. The Kurd’s son became irritated with little Hakob’s constant crying and took him to a nearby river where he bashed the boy’s head with a stone.
Khachatour eventually found Iskouhi and had her marry his son Karapet so that she would not remain a single orphan Armenian girl susceptible to terror by Turks. They had three children, one of whom is my mother Sara. Karapet eventually relocated to Syria and repatriated to Soviet Armenia in 1965.
Today, the larger portion of my great grandfather Khachatour’s family lives abroad, yet each time they visit Armenia, they gather around a painting that hangs in the living room of my grandfather Karapet’s home which symbolized our family’s and nation’s painful past. The painting portrays a heap of corpses with a priest praying next to it and under the painting is written “to he who forgets all of this, may he lose sight in both eyes.”
By Fritz Harutyunyan Getashen, Armenia (a COAF-supported village)
The collection of stories below are of my paternal and maternal ancestors who survived the horrors of 1915 and shared with future generations of our family all that they experienced. They eventually ended up in my village of Getashen located on the eastern bank of the Arax River, which became a safe haven for many Genocide survivors who settled here from Alashkert, Igdir, Kars and Moush and other regions of Western Armenia. It is unfortunate that the modern-day Turkish government continues the crime of its Ottoman ancestors by denying the Armenian Genocide and desperately erasing historical records of this atrocity. The Turks may be able to convince some that the Genocide never occurred, but we Armenians and many people around the world know it did and we will continue to remember it and demand justice.
My 61-year-old grandmother Gohar remembers her mother-in-law Tiranouhi telling her stories about the massacres and deportations. It is unfortunate I never had the chance to meet my great-grandmother Tiranouhi, yet I will write the story of my family and my people as it has been passed down to me from one generation to another.
Tiranouhi’s mother-in law was known as Telo who came from the Patnos village of the Alashkert region. In 1912, her husband was called in for military service in the Ottoman Army, which had always been prohibited for Armenians. It is for this reason that the couple named their firstborn son Saldat which translates to ‘soldier’ in Russian. They had two more sons named Gharib and Kajik. In February 1915, Telo’s husband was shot and killed while serving in the army, causing her to flee with her three sons to Eastern Armenia. While crossing the Arax River, her son Saldat drowned after helping his mother and younger brothers make it to the other side. Losing her firstborn son was too much to bear for Telo, who never found solace until the day she passed.
Telo went to present-day Gyumri where she left her two boys at an American orphanage. As she headed toward the Ararat Valley, she felt guilty and returned to the orphanage only to find out that the boys were already on a train out of the city. She left Gyumri and settled in the present-day village of Getashen, waiting for the day when she would reunite with her children and return to her village of Patnos located on the other side of the Arax River.
Telo never saw her sons again and eventually married a man named Khurshud Asatryan with whom she had three children - Ginouhi, Souren and Garnik. Their oldest son later named his two children Gharib and Kajik in memory of his stepbrothers who disappeared after being admitted to the orphanage.
My grandmother Gohar also recalls the story of her grandmother Yeranouhi who came from a wealthy merchant family in Igdir. She was the eldest of four children and remembered the most from that period in time when her father was killed. Yeranouhi’s father had worried about the increasing violence toward Armenians and told his daughter that he buried two pots of gold for them in case something were to happen to him. One pot was under a large apricot tree and the other beneath the oven. After losing their father, Yeranouhi and her siblings found themselves on the road to exile and made their way to present-day Gyumri where they sought refuge at an orphanage. Her father’s hope was for his children to one day find their way back to their home in Igdir and live off the gold, which never happened.
Yeranouhi eventually married a man named Yerem from the village of Getashen and had three girls. Her husband went off to war in 1941 and never returned, leaving her with three daughters to raise and memories of Igdir.
From 1914-1917, the American orphanages of Gyumri were full of children who had survived the Genocide. The tendency was for healthy boys to be sent off to the U.S., while girls and weaker children would stay. Most of the kids taken to the U.S. would have their names changed, making it impossible for relatives to locate them. Many children in these orphanages formed new sibling relationships although they were not related by blood. My great-grandmother Haykanoush (Hayko) was born in 1912 and had six siblings, all of whom ended up at different orphanages and were never reunited. Hayko was one of these orphans who formed a sibling group with three other children at her orphanage - Anahit, Telo and Khachik. All four of these children were born in different regions of Western Armenia. One day, when the time came for Khachik to be sent to the U.S., Hayko and Anahit decided to dress their new brother as a girl so that he wouldn’t be taken from them. Soon after, they escaped from the orphanage and found their way to Getashen. For the rest of their lives, their children would refer to Hayko, Anahit and Khachik as their aunts and uncles.
The family of my other grandmother, 65-year-old Sona, also experienced the massacres. Her grandmother Marine (Mara) was married to a man name Gevorg in Kars and the couple had three daughters and two sons: Vergine, Vardouhi, Yeghsabet, Gagik and Ayvaz. In 1915 when they fled to Eastern Armenia, their first child Vergine was a newborn.
Marine would always tell my grandmothers about how they were subject to vandalism by the Turks and how many Armenian families were brutally killed on the other side of the Arax River as they attempted to cross over. She had witnessed men being shot, children being butchered in front of their mothers, the elderly beaten to death with clubs, and teenage boys being subjected to the most brutal killings. As far as I know, her family had been spared from the killings and separations of so many refugees, yet the horrors witnessed during the deportations haunted her for the rest of her life.
By Rosa TadevosyanArteni, Armenia (a COAF-supported village in the Aragatsotn region of Armenia)Pride…Have you ever asked yourselves what makes you feel proud? Have you ever done anything in life that makes both you and your loved ones proud? Ever since I was a child, I have been asking myself these questions. My grandfather Ashot was a humble and direct man whose willpower was unbreakable – he was, after all, the son of a Sasountsi who had survived the Armenian Genocide. As a child when I would ask him what he is most proud of, he would always tell me that we have so many values to be proud of. His reply triggered much to ponder and paved the way for self-discovery in my teenage years.
Both my paternal and maternal sides come from Sasoun, making me 100% Sasountsi, and according to my family, a 100% “crazy” and hot-blooded Sasountsi. I was always questioning why I was labeled “crazy” and my father’s and grandfather’s explanation made me tremendously proud. My forefathers were from the Unkuznak village of Sasoun. My great-grandfather was Karapet Tadevosian whose father Tadevos Tadevosian (aka Hail Karkout Tadeh) was brutally killed in the 1915 massacres. The 11 members of his family were also killed, with the only survivors being my great-grandfather Karapet who was 15 years-old at the time, and his younger brother Azat at age 6. Karapet carried his younger brother on his back all the way to the town of Artik located in present-day Armenia. My grandfather would always tell me of the hardship his father experienced on the road of exile to Artik – hunger, frostbite and no refuge.
It was undoubtedly difficult for a teenager to undergo this level of suffering. He witnessed the murder of his family and became the protector and guardian of his younger brother. The destruction he saw on the deportation route were images that always haunted him. Unfortunately Karapet’s efforts could not overcome the famine and spread of cholera which took their toll on little Azat who died shortly after arriving in Artik. My great-grandfather would always tell my grandfather how little Azat was in the gentle arms of the sleeping willow tree he was buried under.
After losing Azat, Karapet joined other refugees in seeking a new life in Etchmiadzin. There they met Andranik Ozanian who advised them to move to Goris where he would provide them with shelter. The danger of war looming in on Goris forced Karapet to return to Etchmiadzin for a short while, after which he settled in the Ashnak village of the Talin region, and eventually in my hometown of Arteni.
You are probably wondering what makes me proud. Hearing these stories and feeling my grandfather’s sadness and pride when telling me about my roots, gives me a genuine reason for being proud of my heritage. My forefathers were able to withstand this atrocity as a result of their strong will and resilient spirit. They took their last breaths, fighting to stay alive, struggling against death. The tall and proud walnut tree in our garden in Arteni was originally planted with a seedling brought by great-grandfather from his home village of Unkuznak. Many furniture makers have offered us considerable sums for the precious walnut wood of our tree. However, this is the only priceless relic from our native homeland and is not for sale.
I have long known my duty as a Sasountsi – to demand my home in the ancestral land of my forefathers and to keep the struggle alive, the same struggle of my great-grandfather Karapet and grandfather Ashot. This is our duty and responsibility…to continue demanding proudly.
My Grandmother Gyulvard’s Life in the Aftermath of the Genocide
By Laura AleksanyanGetashen, Armenia (a COAF-supported village in the Armavir region of Armenia)
Gyulvard Galoyan was born in the city of Kars (present-day Turkey) in 1885. During the 1915 massacres, she had one child. During the deportations, Gyulvard along with her husband and child were held captive by the Turks at a camp where they were kept hungry and thirsty. My grandmother would always tell us the story of how one day when the Turks decided to distribute tiny scraps of bread to the prisoners, one of the children at the camp began crying for more bread. The child’s crying enraged the guard who took out his anger by killing a few of the prisoners at the camp, including Gyulvard’s husband. Gyulvard hid under the corpses and tightly shut her newborn infant’s mouth.
When the camp was abandoned, Gyulvard grabbed her baby and sought refuge. On the deportation route, Gyulvard’s sole child died of starvation in her arms. Hopeless with a heart filled with pain, Gyulvard crossed the Arax River and settled in Yerevan. She was provided special lodging upon arrival and received assistance from a gentleman by the name of Hovhannes. After a short while, Gyulvard ended up marrying Hovhannes, however, she was unable to get pregnant.
Shortly after getting married, Gyulvard heard of the dreadful fate of her relatives who had remained in Western Armenia…they had all been killed. She had four brothers, each with families of their own, none of whom survived. The only person to have lived through the atrocities was her older brother Bagrat’s daughter Oskleen. Her niece had ended up at an orphanage in Gyumri along with countless orphans from Western Armenia. Gyulvard and her husband Hovhannes found Oskleen and adopted her.
Gyulvard’s next tragedy was the death of her second husband Hovhannes, whose dying wish was for Gyulvard to raise the grandchildren of his uncle. These four children (Araxi, Seda, Sasha and Zhora) had lost both their father (Rouben) and mother (Khanum) at an early age. With great difficulty, Gyulvard mothered all four orphaned children along with her niece Oskleen. She and the children wandered from place to place until settling in the village of Gusana (formerly Ghaplu). They were soon forcefully relocated from there and settled in present-day Getashen in 1950 where they began a new life.
People always knew the five children as Gyulvard’s own. My grandmother kept one item belonging to each of her family members as a constant reminder of her past. In her last years, she was always recounting her tragic experiences and asked her grandchildren to bury with her those personal items belonging to her relatives. She died at age 95 and it was quite traumatic of a loss for her five adopted children who regarded her as their mother. She took her final breath with the image of her only child who perished during the Genocide.
Be informed, sign up for email updates:
©2016 Children of Armenia Fund. All rights reserved.