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Armenian Culture, Science and Education Development Foundation

Remembering the Armenian Genocide

Culture.AM Family

 

As Nytimes.com reviews, descendants of survivors — Turks and Armenians — share their families’ stories.

‘I Wish I Could Speak for Her’: My grandmother’s name was Pailadzou Tutunjian. She was born in Ada Bazar, Turkey, in 1894. She grew up on a farm and quit school to work. A wealthy Turkish family in Constantinople employed her before she secured passage on a ship called the King Alexander in 1920.

My mother, Roxanne (Araxie), was born in the United States and grew up in the Bronx, surrounded by extended family who trickled into the neighborhood. Armenian was her first language. Her father, Haroutoun Sanossian, lost most of his family in the massacre, and she told me she hated hearing him talk about it. He would get so angry.

My mother and grandmother raised me, but I’m only half-Armenian. I understand Armenian but I can barely speak the language.

My grandmother’s sister Aghavny buried a daughter on the death march. I learned that only recently from a cousin over email. I don’t even know if my grandmother was on the march. Her silence troubles me to this day.

My grandmother had kind, sparkling eyes. Even well into her 80s, she prepared dolma, tended our garden, and I can’t remember a day when she wasn’t cheerful, energetic and loving. I understand my grandmother’s silence as a way of ensuring a sense of stability and normalcy. Keeping her mouth shut came at a price I can only guess at.

She died in April 1984. There is so much I will never know about the woman who raised me. I wish that I could speak for her.

 

‘They Buried Themselves Under the Corpses of Dead’: My grandfather Avedis was born around 1902 in Van, in eastern Turkey, and my grandmother Serboohee was born in Khoy, which is now part of western Iran, in 1910.

My family history has been told by my grandparents. My grandfather, at the age of 13, witnessed the atrocities and brutal killings of his family. Only he and his brother survived. They buried themselves under the corpses of dead or dying people.

Avedis was crying when he told us his memories of how he took up arms as a fedayeen fighter with a group of people, and they escaped to Iran.

My grandmother Serboohee and her twin brother were 5 years old when they were orphans of the Armenian genocide in 1915. Her father was a priest in Khoy and he paid a Muslim man in gold for a getaway to a safe place. That man took the children to a market to sell. An Armenian merchant by the name of Galoustian paid to rescue Serboohee and her brother.

As a child, I spent many treasured moments with Avedis, a silversmith, and Serboohee, a housewife. My love for them was huge and unconditional.

Avedis died in Tehran in 1977, and Serboohee in 2001.

‘We Could Not Save Him’: My Muslim family lived in Kilis, Turkey, a town near the border with Syria, during World War I. Many Armenians passed through Kilis to find refuge in Aleppo. My great-grandmother Samiye Sanlı, born in 1899, was a young teen at the time.

She lived to the age of 99. The first half of her life was spent in Kilis, but she then traveled back and forth between the United States and Turkey before settling in New Jersey in the 1980s. She was in her late 90s when the discussion of Armenians came up at our dinner table.

Her eyesight and hearing were weak, but her long-term memories were intact. My parents had always upheld the narrative taught to them in school. It was a sensitive issue for them. Growing up as a Turkish-American immigrant, I found the conflicting historical accounts confusing. I wanted to believe my parent’s version, but the Armenian accounts were too strong to ignore.

My great-grandmother began the conversation by speaking in high praise of the craftsmanship of the Armenian tradesmen. “They were the best in their fields,” she said. “We lost all that when they were driven out.”

She told us her father, Nafiz, hid a doctor and his family in their home until they could escape safely across the border. She teared up when she recalled another beloved elderly doctor and said, “We could not save him.”

My parents listened with a nod of acknowledgment, but I had finally received the confirmation I was looking for. That my family tried to help those in peril is small consolation. The heartache for all the lives tragically lost is still unbearable.

‘She Requested She Not Be Buried With a Turkish Bullet': My great-grandmother Aguline Tatoulian was born in 1900 in the village of Hadjin, which is now known as Saimbeyli, in southern Turkey. During the Armenian genocide, she shaved off her hair and dressed herself up in her dead fiancé’s uniform and dressed like a man in order to protect herself and defend her city from the Turks. She was shot in her left rib cage and lived with that bullet for 67 years. She was one of nine women who survived the massacres of Hadjin in 1918.

After the war, she settled in Greece, then Syria, lived in Lebanon for 30 years and emigrated to the United States in 1969.

Before she died in 1986, she requested that she not be buried with a Turkish bullet. It sits in a museum in Armenia.

I learned this story from her two sons, my grandfather and my great-uncle. Her story was also included in the Armenian Oral History Project. She was honored in Washington, D.C., IN 1985  by President Ronald Reagan.

‘They Always Had Hope for Better Days': My grandparents, Armenians from Erzurum, which is now part of eastern Turkey, were deported in 1915. Many members of their family died along the way, and the rest made it to Ukraine.

My grandmother Artemiss Khaloogolian was a highly educated 27-year-old woman with three children. They were forced to leave their homeland in 1915 and, along the way, many Kurds helped them to hide in exchange for gold and jewelry, until she made it to Ukraine. She lost her three children, her father and her husband. Her mother and three siblings survived.

She married a man in Ukraine, Ghoulst, who had lost his wife and children in Khud u Jur, a village near Erzurum. They married and my mother, Katerina, was born on May 31, 1925, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and the family later moved to Kiev.

Ghoulst, my grandfather, passed away in 1939, and my grandmother and mother moved to Tabriz, in Iran. Later, they settled in Tehran, where my grandmother passed away in 1970.

I grew up with many relatives and family friends who survived the Armenian genocide and could write a book about all the horror and tragedies they endured and how they survived. They had amazing faith, strength, courage, moral values and perseverance. They always had hope for better days.

‘His Story Is One of Survival': My paternal grandfather, Kourken Khanjian, was born in 1908 or 1909, we don’t know exactly, and he died in September 2006. His story is one of survival.

He was about 5 or 6 years old during World War I, living in Van, which is now part of Turkey, and was one of the few cities that were able to defend themselves with a resistance movement during the Armenian genocide. My grandfather and other children from the village would run toward the bombs thrown by Turkish soldiers and would pour water on the fuses so that they wouldn’t go off. They would then deliver these bombs to the Armenians who used them as self-defense against the Turks.

My great-grandfather Karekin Khandjian decided his family should escape Van. He, his wife, my grandfather and his brother walked hundreds of miles to the border of Armenia. All four survived and relocated to eastern Armenia in 1916. After a few years, they moved to Iran for a few months and then Beirut in the early 1920s, where my grandfather’s sister was born, where he met my grandmother, Hermine Tavitian, and where my dad, Karekin Khanjian, was born.

I learned my family’s story at a young age from my father, who moved to Los Angeles in 1972, before the civil war in Lebanon, and my grandfather, who along with my grandmother joined my father in Los Angeles when the war in Lebanon started. Every April 24, my grandfather would have us gather around him to listen to the story of how his family survived the atrocities of 1915.

My grandfather saw his story as a story of survival, and one that was very different from the stories of other Armenians during this time. So he was much more willing to talk openly about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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