Survivors: Ohannes Mardirossian

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Erzurum // 1910-2005

Ohannes Mardirossian was born in 1910 in Erzurum to Ghazar and Nano Mardirossian.  He was one of five children; Makroohi, Yeghsapet, Megerdich, and Garabed.  His family owned a wheat farm and a vast amount of land where gold was often excavated.  This wealth was lost as soon as the Armenian Genocide commenced.  Five-year-old Ohannes watched as his father gasped for his last breath as Turkish gendarmes hung him in front of his family.  The sight of his father’s last moments and the sound of his mother’s screams and desperate pleas were never forgotten.  His two older sisters, both stunningly beautiful with blonde hair and light eyes, were kidnapped by Turks and never seen again.

Megerdich, Ohannes, and Garabed, ages ten, five, and two, and their mother were sent on the march of death to Deir Zor.  Their mother died during the death march from dehydration, leaving the three young boys all alone on a march that had no end.  Sadly, the three brothers lost each other during the march.

An Arab man saved Ohannes; not out of goodwill, but for selfish reasons. He was taken to Kirkuk, Iraq where he was worked as a slave despite being a mere child.  In the years that he spent with this Arab family, he became fluent in Kurdish and Arabic but completely forgot how to speak Armenian. However, he never forgot the fact that he was an Armenian.

Ten years later, his fate finally changed.  A local man started coming to this Arab family to purchase fresh milk every morning.  Everyday, he would watch as Ohannes worked tirelessly on the farm while the rest of the family spent their mornings together indoors.  The man quickly noticed that Ohannes was treated differently and decided to approach him in the fields one day.

Ohannes took a chance and admitted to the man that he was an Armenian and not a blood relative of the Arabs.  The man, an Armenian himself, immediately offered his help to Ohannes.  They devised a plan to escape and executed this plan successfully the following morning.

At fifteen years old, Ohannes was finally free from the Arabs and in the hands of a fellow Armenian who was willing to help him create a new life and find his family.  The Armenian man found him a job at a bakery, where Ohannes not only worked but also lived.  Lonely and orphaned, Ohannes longed for his brothers.

One day, a customer named Dikran entered the bakery and introduced himself to Ohannes, who had only recently been employed there.  After discovering that they are both Armenian, they begin speaking about the Genocide.  Ohannes tells Dikran that he is from Erzurum and is looking for his brothers Megerdich and Garabed.  Dikran is immediately taken aback and tells Ohannes, “I know a Megerdich from Erzurum who survived the genocide.” Overwhelmed with the possibility of reuniting two lost brothers, Dikran immediately leaves the bakery in search of Megerdich.

Upon finding him, Dikran explains to Megerdich that he may have found his little brother. However, Dikran did not receive the reaction he was expecting. There was no joy or excitement in his eyes; Megerdich was doubtful.  After all, what were the chances of two brothers ending up in the same village in Iraq after being separated a decade ago in the Syrian Desert? Nonetheless, he agreed to accompany Dikran back to the bakery.

In the meantime, Ohaness was impatiently waiting at the bakery, consumed by the prospect of once again having a family. He had been alone for so long but remained hopeful, wishing so desperately to find his older brother.

As the two men walked in, Ohannes looked into Megerdich’s eyes and found tears in his own, as if he knew at that moment that he was staring at his older brother.

“We have the same eyes,” said Ohannes, but Megerdich was not yet convinced.

“My brother Ohannes fell when he was very little and he had a large scar on his right knee.  The only way I’ll know that you’re my brother is if I see that scar.”

Ohannes lifted his pant leg, revealing a scar that proved that he was, in fact, Megerdich’s brother. Megerdich’s expression immediately shifted, the doubt emptying from his eyes and suddenly being replaced with longing. The brothers embraced one another in a way that words could never express. Megerdich, who had recently married, took his brother home and never left him out of sight. Ohannes lived with Megerdich and his wife, and began to learn how to speak Armenian once again.

Megerdich found Ohannes a job at the Iraqi Petroleum Company where he established a stable and successful career.  In 1940, while attending the local Armenian church, he met and fell in love with Takouhi Mekhtarian, an orphan who was the daughter of genocide survivors from Ourfa.  They married and had six children; Mako, Ara, Yeghso, Alice, Raffi, and Sossi.  His two eldest daughters were named after his two sisters who had been kidnapped and whose fate he never learned.  He sent all six of his children to a private Armenian school, ensuring that the Armenian language would never be lost again.

Years later Ohannes and Megerdich found their youngest brother Garabed, who was only two years old during the Genocide.  It was with heavy hearts that Ohannes and Megerdich learned that their brother was raised by a Muslim family and considered himself to be a Muslim, rejecting his Armenian identity.

In 1975, Ohannes and his family moved to the United States, but brought with him memories of his past.  He would tell his grandchildren about the Armenian Genocide often, always with tears in his eyes.  Although he had never experienced love and affection during his childhood after the Genocide, he was a man full of love and laughter.  He spent much of his time playing cards and dominos with his grandchildren and always had pockets full of candy for them.

Other than his family, Ohannes had two other loves in life; the Lakers and Vegas.  He was a die-hard Lakers fan who never missed a game, and a frequent Las Vegas visitor.  Ohannes and his son would often plan 6 am road trips to Las Vegas but Ohannes would be up bright and early, dressed in his suit at 4:30 a.m., impatiently waiting for his son’s arrival.  He is remembered as being an adventurous, hard-working, kind-hearted, and loving man.

During his last years, his granddaughter visited Erzurum and surprised him by bringing back soil from his birthplace.  Ohannes was moved to tears upon touching this soil, as it brought back pained memories of loss and heartbreak.  He treasured it more than anything and kept it on top of his dresser.

Ohannes passed away in December 2005 in Los Angeles, where that cherished soil was poured onto his casket.  He is survived by his six children, thirteen grandchildren, and thirteen great-grandchildren.

Honored by Elizabeth Cholakian, Mary Manoukian, and Ara Mardirossian

4 thoughts on “Survivors: Ohannes Mardirossian

  1. Again I commend you for keeping alive the memories of those who suffered so much at the hands of wicked men. As long as they are remembered, they have survived, and their persecutors have failed in their objective. Thanks again.

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