Finding Mayram

Story by Mayram Tikoyan Artinian
Translation by Emma Artinian Soghomonian
Edited by Missak Artinian
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Of the eight children my parents had during their marriage, I was the first born, named Mayram in memory of my father’s mother, who he lost contact with at eight years old during the Armenian Genocide.  All eight of us kids were born in Aleppo, Syria in a community full of Armenians who were mostly survivors. My father, Setrak Tikoyan, was one of them. He once told me his story of survival. This is what he said, as I remember it:

“My daughter, I was only eight years old when the genocide was perpetrated on our people. I remember my extended family all lived in the Palu region of Western Armenia. When we sat down for dinner, there were 40 spoons scooping up food at our table. There were four brothers, their wives and children and grandchildren.

When the genocide began, we were driven out of our homes. My brother and I started walking with our mom to an unknown destination. I can hardly remember how long we walked when I realized I was separated from my mother. 

I managed to sneak away from the masses by walking through an alley and into a small village. At one point, I met a man who proceeded to take me to his home. He gave me bread and said I could stay with them and work as a shepherd to herd his sheep. I stayed there as long as I could manage. But I was determined to leave.

One day, I took some bread and escaped to another village. It certainly is a long story how I travelled from village to village, begging for bread or food.  I guess I had life in me strong enough to survive. It pains me to remember or talk about that period in my life. I just can’t bear reminiscing about those tragic times.

After several years I ended up in an orphanage. After some time, the orphanage was visited by American missionaries who gathered the orphans and transported them to Aleppo, Syria.  I was part of the group of orphans who travelled with them.  When I was there, I searched for my mother and younger brother, Marsoub, who was in my mother’s arms when we separated.  But regrettably I had no luck.”

Tears streamed down his face as he told this story, as painful memories flooded back into his consciousness. After wiping his tears, he took me into his arms, and said, “You’re just like my mother.” He spoke of her often, sharing memories he had of her from his childhood. “I remember one day, my father was building a house for us in Palu, and she worked right alongside him and the construction workers. Then through some freak accident, one of the walls that was built collapsed on top of her, but she came out of the rubble unscathed. From that day on, I knew my mother was invincible.”

“I will find her,” he once told me. “My heart tells me I will find her. She appears in my dreams so often. I don’t know where she is, or whether she is alive. But I will never give up.”

One summer in Aleppo, Syria, my father and I were sitting on our porch when our neighbor Lusig Nene was returning home from church.

“God bless you, Setrak,” she greeted my father.  “Today at church we were surprised by a visit of an elderly lady who was dressed in Kurdish attire. I asked her what she was doing at our church, and to our surprise, she started speaking Armenian. So I asked her where she came from. And you’ll never believe it. She said she was married in Palu and moved to Kharpert with her husband, who was the son of a priest.”

“Did she say her name?” My father asked.

“Yes. Her name is Anna.”

My father was stunned for a moment. He realized the description fit his long lost cousin from his father’s side. Excitedly, my parents got dressed. Lusig Nene said Anna was staying with a local family called Haroutioun.  A few hours passed, and my parents returned with an elderly woman accompanying them.

My father called all of us kids and introduced us one by one to the visitor. “This is my eldest daughter, Mayram, named after my mother. This is my eldest son, Thomas, named after my father.”

We each took turns greeting the elderly lady and kissing her hand in a welcoming gesture and called her grandmother, but my father corrected us by saying, “No, children, she is not your grandmother. You can call her aunt.”

After the introductions and initial discussions, my Aunt Anna, as we started calling her, delivered stunning news to my father. She said, “Setrak, your mother is alive! I saw her about a year ago in a village called Aslan Dashi.”  My father was beside himself with joy. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  He asked her for any details she could remember.

The very next morning, when I woke up, my father was gone. He had gone off in the early hours of dawn to track down his mother. Probably a week’s time passed as we were waiting for his return, when we saw a taxi pull up in front of our residence. We ran out to see our father helping an elderly woman out of the car.

I noticed that she was wearing a white head scarf and was dressed in Kurdish attire. My mother tried helping the lady, but my father informed her that her legs were broken and that she could not walk. Then my father picked her up gently from the car and brought her into our home where he sat her down.

For the following weeks, I remember our home became a revolving door of visitors wanting to see her and extol in the union of a mother and her son after 32 years. Friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances alike filled our home. The visitors had many questions for my father.

“How did you find your mother? How did you know for sure she was truly your mother after 32 years?”

My father would recount the events as they had transpired:

“When I got on the road that morning, I rented a car and drove straight down to Arab Punar, a small Kurdish village around 35 kilometers east of the Euphrates where I had some relatives. Before I continued on my journey I wanted to have security in case of any trouble. I asked around to find out who the village magistrate was. My relatives took me to the magistrate. I asked him if he would accompany me on my trip to Aslan Dashi to help me find my mother. He agreed.

Together we set off for Aslan Dashi via boat.  On the way there, I told him my story: ’When I survived the genocide, I was eight years old and was separated from my mother during the deportation. All these years I have searched for her to no avail. But recently I was tipped off that my mother may be residing in Aslan Dashi so I am going there to find her. My full name is Setrak Tikoyan, my father’s name is Thomas and I have a younger brother who my mom was carrying in her arms during the deportation. He was two years old, and named Marsoub. We are from the village of Palu. And my mother’s name is Mayram.’

The magistrate listened to me closely, and he said, ‘When we reach the village and find the woman named Mayram, I advise that you not enter her home. I will go in and ask her questions to determine if she is your mother. That way if she is not your mother, you are not involved.’

We arrived in Aslan Dashi and went around town asking the names of any elderly lady we came across. We asked if they knew anyone by the name of Mayram. For days we asked, but no luck. One day, the magistrate came across an elderly woman named Mayram. He brought her to me and asked if she was my mother. I took one look and immediately knew she wasn’t the one. I started feeling very depressed and disillusioned.  But nevertheless we proceeded with our search, asking passersby if there was a Mayram in town.

Finally, one villager we came across said she knew a woman by the name of Mayram who lives in a tent not far from where we were. We followed his directions and came upon the tent. The magistrate advised me to stay outside the tent. He went in and I heard him greeting a woman and asking her name. She answered, ‘Mayram.’ The magistrate then asked her where she was from. ‘I’m a Kurd’, she answered. He asked for her original ethnicity. She said sadly, ‘What does it matter?’

After persisting with more questions, finally she gave in. ‘I’m Armenian. A long time ago I had a husband from Palu. His name was Thomas.’

‘Did you have any children?’ the magistrate asked her.

‘Yes, I had two children. The oldest was Setrak. The youngest was named Marsoub. I lost my Setrak during the genocide. I was never able to find him. My youngest grew ill and died when he was a teenager here with me. I am now married to a Kurd. I can no longer walk anymore because four years ago I heard from a villager that there was a man named Setrak in a nearby village. I hurriedly got on a horse and raced to that village to find him. But in that town the horse got spooked when we came across cars and started jumping violently. I was thrown off the horse, fell and broke my legs. I was brought back home but nobody helped me. I remain in this tent because I cannot take care of myself or leave. This Kurd husband gives me a piece of bread every day to survive.’

‘If you were to see your son Setrak, would you recognize him?’ the magistrate asked her.

‘Yes.’

‘How?’

‘He has a mark on his wrist from an accident when he hurt his arm as a child.’

The magistrate finally called me into the tent. I was expecting to see my young mother as I remembered her 32 years ago, maybe somewhat aged. But I was shocked and heartbroken to see her handicapped and in such a dire situation. I went over to her, held her hand, and looked into her eyes.

She didn’t have to look at my wrist to recognize me. I kneeled down and scooped her into my arms, both of us weeping together, overjoyed at this unexpected and long-awaited reunion.

The magistrate finally interjected and asked my mother, ‘Do you want to come with us to live with your son? Do you want to see your grandchildren?’

‘With all my heart,’ she answered.”

Mayram Tikoyan only lived nine months at our house in Aleppo before resting in peace.  Before she died, she would randomly start singing a religious hymn, “Soorp Garabed volor molor.”  The visitors from all over Aleppo would leave our house weeping with sadness and heartache and cathartic joy for the reunion. Many thought she held onto her life only long enough to see her beloved son and his family and to bless them with her love and longing. I believed that too, but I also thought something different. I thought she lived long enough so she could finally rest in peace in an Armenian cemetery, where she belonged.

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Mayram Kassabian Tikoyan, circa 1947

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Setrak and Mary Tikoyan with Mayram Tikoyan Artinian and her four brothers.

 

Survivors: Ohan Akaragian

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Kharpert // 1898-1980

Ohan Akaragian was born in Agn on June 12, 1898 to Baghdasar and Haiganoush Akaragian.  He was the youngest of six; Serpouhi, Melkon, Makrouhi, Pilibos, and Varvar.  The Akaragians were well known in the region. They owned farmland, as well as a store in Romania. The profit that generated from this business was used to create an irrigation system to support farmland in Agn.

Before the Armenian Genocide was orchestrated, the Akaragians lived in peace.  The Armenian population in Kharpert was educated, hardworking, and extremely close with one another.  Every morning the entire village would attend badarak at the local church before heading to work or school.

Ohan’s two older sisters, Serpouhi and Makrouhi, were married and lived in Bolis, Turkey.  Melkon was married with three children and worked in the financial district before opening a jewelry store. Pilibos studied in Romania and in 1912, at 21 years old, he died from an illness.  In the meantime, their youngest sister, Varvar, had been asked for her hand in marriage at the tender age of fourteen.  The Akaragians agreed to the marriage with one ultimatum, that she would continue her education, and she did before giving birth to three children.

As soon as orders to begin the mass killings of Armenians were given in 1915, the entire region was devastated.  Ohan’s grandfather and brother, Melkon, were hung.  Melkon’s wife and children were killed, along with Varvar and her entire family.

Ohan’s grandmother was approached by a group of Muslims who informed her that if she were to abandon Christianity and convert to Islam, they would allow her and her family to live. Without hesitation, she responded, “I will give up my life, but I will not give up my religion.”  And so her entire family, including Ohan, was put on the death march.

They managed to purchase a horse with gold to carry Ohan’s grandmother since her old age kept her from walking. The remaining members of the Akaragian family walked while witnessing the most horrifying sights.  Ohan saw a group of young girls, holding hands, jumping into the Yeprad Ked. Corpses lay everywhere they went; along the roads, in the rivers, scattered all over the region like fallen leaves in the wintertime.  Ohan and his mother quickly realized that surviving was nearly impossible.  Ohan’s mother, determined to save the only man left in the Akaragian family, bribed the surrounding Turkish soldiers.  She offered them a quilt that she had sewn gold into and in return, the soldiers would allow Ohan to slowly fall behind the march so that upon reaching the end of the long line of people, he could run.  But once he was at the end of the line, he would be on his own.  The soldiers would not help him escape, simply, give him a chance to get away.

Following their agreement, Ohan started walking slower, slowly separating from his family and falling back within the line of people.  And each time that he would almost be out of sight, his mother would call for him with unstoppable tears in her eyes.  And he would quickly come back to her towards the front of the line.  His mother would hold him in her arms, refusing to let go because she knew that they would forever be apart.  And so she called back for him three times and he came back to her every time.  As she finally let go of him the third time, she had one last request.

“Don’t come back.  Even if I call you again and again, don’t come back.”

These were the last words she spoke to Ohan.  Once again, Ohan slowed down his pace, leaving his family ahead.  And it was only a matter of minutes before he heard his mother’s voice, screaming for him, again.  Each scream louder than the one before, her cries intensifying with every passing second.  And he honored his mother’s last words with tears in his eyes and longing in his heart.  He kept his eye on his family from a distance until they were too far to be seen.

Upon reaching the end of the line, the Turkish soldiers held their part of the bargain and turned a blind eye to Ohan while he ran.  He headed back to Agn, only to find that Turks now occupied his family’s home. Having nowhere to go, 17 year-old Ohan knocked on his neighbor’s door. His Muslim neighbor took him in and kept him in hiding for several months.

Knowing that there was no life left for him in Kharpert, Ohan took off once again, this time to Bolis to search for his sisters and their families.  He hid during the day and traveled by foot in the nighttime and every time he came across a farm, he would study the people, and the possible work that needed to be done.  If he felt comfortable enough, he would seek work for several days, weeks, or months at a time, before continuing on his journey.

It took Ohan two years to arrive in Bolis and to be reunited with the only family he had left.  Serpouhi, Makrouhi, and Ohan had lost sixteen members of their close family during the genocide; their grandparents, parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. Ohan stayed with his sisters for a year until he finally decided to move to Romania.

In Romania, Ohan met his future wife, Elisabeth Tevanian, and had two children, Baghdasar and Haiganoush, naming them after his parents.  Despite being in a new country and creating a new life, Ohan was often consumed by dark memories of the past.  He did not talk about the genocide often, as it was too painful of an experience to share. However, he consistently had nightmares, causing him to frantically wake up during the late hours of the night.  And it was in these moments that he would confess to his wife the inhumanity he fell victim to in 1915.  Knowing that Ohan could not speak about the genocide without emotions taking over, Elisabeth would tell Ohan’s stories to their children, ensuring that they were aware of their father’s past.

In 1963, Ohan and his family relocated to Los Angeles, California.  Although he didn’t speak a word of English and had no experience in the shoe business, he purchased a shoe store that was for sale near their home. While his family wondered how he would start a new business in a new country, Ohan took a piece of paper and drew a line through the center of the sheet.  On the left side he wrote down shoe sizes, parts of a shoe, and days of the week in Armenian; gosheeg, guroong, yergooshapti, yerekshapti… He handed the sheet to his daughter who listed the English equivalents of these words on the right side.  And it was with this one piece of paper that Ohan provided for his family and went on to create a successful business.

Ohan passed away in 1980.  He is survived by his two children, three grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. He is remembered as an honest and respected man, who loved abundantly.   He loved his family, his church, his people, and his community.

Honored by Haiganoush Akaragian, Ara Akaragian, and Jeannette Akaragian

 

Survivors: Helen and John Demerjian

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Aintab // Helen Demerjian 1889-1975 // John Demerjian 1910-1978

Emanuel Demerjian lived in Aintab with his wife, Lussia Minassian, and their five children; Helen, John, George, Garabed, and Artin.  Helen was born on June 23, 1889 and John was born on April 15, 1910.  The Demerjians were a wealthy and well-known family in the region, as their grandfather, Manouk Demerjian, was the Turkish ambassador to Persia. They owned a vineyard and a factory located near the Copper Bazaar, where pots were made.  Helen managed the Congregational Orphanage of Aintab. The orphanage was once an American college but was turned into an orphanage after the Hamidian massacres of 1894-1896.  It has been estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 Armenians were killed during this time, leaving many children orphaned.  When the deportation orders were announced in 1915, John immediately ran to the orphanage to be with Helen and her two young daughters, Lucine and Agnes.

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Helen with the orphans of Aintab.  (center, plaid dress)

The rest of the family was deported to a concentration camp where they lived miserably. Lussia died at the camp, and Emanuel, along with his sons, found their way to Aleppo.

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The Demerjian’s (the family members Helen and John left behind). 

John, Helen, Lucine, and Agnes were deported to Deir Zor along with three hundred orphans.  They lived in dire conditions during this time, having nothing to eat but grass and drinking their own urine to survive. Helen dressed John in women’s clothing so that the Turks would not kill him. With the help of the French and the Near East Foundation, they managed to escape and survive, finding their way to Syria and later to Lebanon. From Lebanon they moved to Algeria, then France, until they finally found their way to the United States.

Helen resided in Washington D.C. and eventually married John Kazanjian. John lived in New Jersey for some time before moving to Montebello, California where he served on the city council and successfully operated a dry cleaning business, providing a comfortable lifestyle for his wife, Arax Arjanian, and their four children: Joan, Carole, John, and Gary.

Ironically, the Demerjian residence in Aintab, which was seized during the bloodbath of 1915, now serves as a bed and breakfast, advertised as a resting place for vacationers.  Although Helen and John lost their home, wealth, and family members, they persevered against all odds and successfully created new lives for themselves and their families.

Helen Demerjian passed away on March 31, 1975 and was survived by her two daughters and four grandchildren.  John Demerjian passed away on February 18, 1978.  He is survived by his four children, nine grandchildren, fourteen great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.

Honored by Joan Ainilian McClendon, Carole Ainilian Crone, Gary Ainilian, and John Ainilian

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

Survivors: Boghos Merdjanian

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Tarsus // 1906-1974

Boghos Merdjanian, formerly Mouradjanian, was six years old when he first came face to face with the terror of the Armenian Genocide.

Once a wealthy family, the Merdjanians enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. Boghos’s father, Minas, was a renowned checkers champion and competed all around the region. The police, or “CheChes” as Minas called them, falsely accused him of being a cheat simply because he was Armenian and thus, the family’s fortune was seized.

When a friend of the family, a Turkish general, heard of their misfortune, he protected them from further prosecution and deportation by hiding them in a safe-house. The family, however, never recovered their wealth, so all members of the family were required to work for their survival.

One day, Boghos was sent to deliver food and water to his sisters who were working in a nearby field. He set off on the family donkey and suddenly became entrapped by a group of Turkish gendarmes. One of the higher ranking officials threw a daggar at Boghos but missed and the dagger landed on the ground. He exclaimed “We are killing and killing but you are not dying!” Another realized the inhumanity of his comrade’s actions and asked his superior to spare the boy. He told Boghos to get down from his donkey, retrieve the dagger and hand it back to the official. The gendarmes left Boghos with no way to get back on the donkey. Little Boghos walked the rest of the way to meet his sisters on foot.

In 1919, the family deemed it was time to escape Turkey and immigrate to Lebanon. Under the cover of night, part of the family trudged the rough terrain and rivers to find refuge at one of the many camps erected for Genocide survivors. When they arrived, the customs agents at the border changed the family’s name to Merdjanian because they couldn’t properly translate Mouradjanian.

Boghos forwent education and was immediately put to work as a cobbler’s assistant, often working long and arduous hours.

In the mid 1940’s, Boghos married Armenouhi Tshikian and had five sons. They were very poor but rich in honor and love towards one another. The boys did what they could, at very young ages to help support their family, despite the raging civil war in Lebanon.

Having lived in Turkey most of his life, Boghos never learned Armenian. His wife taught him how to speak and read Armenian by reading him the daily newspaper. Their sons, however, were taught their mother language at home and in school.

When his family found out that Boghos was dying of liver cancer in the 1970’s they did not tell him because they wanted him to be happy during his last days. They took their father to a hospice in the mountains so he could pass away comfortably by receiving the care he needed and deserved. Boghos passed away in 1974.  Soon after his death, his family escaped war-torn Lebanon and immigrated to the United States. They went on to create their own families and establish a successful jewelry business.

Boghos is survived by his five children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Honored by Merdjanian Family

Survivors: Krikor Shirozian

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Shira // 1910-1995

Krikor Shirozian was five years old when he and his mother were deported from their home in Shira, Turkey.  Although he was a young boy during the Armenian Genocide, he vividly remembered the last moment he shared with his mother.  One night, as the procession of Armenians was resting, Krikor asked his mother if she would always be with him. “Of course sonnow rest your head on my lap so you know I am with you.”

In the morning, when Krikor woke up, his head was resting on the ground and his mother was gone. He ran along the caravan, crying, asking if anyone knew where his mother was. They all stared at him with blank expressions, for they too had lost their loved ones.

Completely alone and helpless, Krikor found himself surrounded by three Turkish soldiers on horses.  One aimed to shoot him but a sympathetic gendarme reasoned with his comrade that he was only a child and should be spared. The soldier with a gun backed away and the gendarme lifted Krikor and rode with him to the Euphrates River, where he was delivered to an orphanage.  The orphanage named him Shirozian, after the town he was from because his last name was unknown.

Some time later, he was taken to a Kurdish farmer’s family, where he was treated like a slave and lived in the stable with the animals.  He was forced to carry out back-breaking duties, hardly fed, and often beaten.

When he grew old enough to escape, he fled to Syria, where he met his wife, Vergeen, who was also an Armenian Genocide survivor.  They had four children and moved to the United States in the 1970s.

Krikor passed away in 1995 in Philadelphia.  He is survived by his four children, seven grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

Honored by Melineh Merdjanian and Shirozian Family 

Survivors: Verkin and Flora Munushian

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Hadjin // Verkin Munushian 1900-1973 // Flora Munushian 1902-1989

Sisters, Verkin and Flora Munushian, were the only two in their immediate family who survived the Armenian Genocide. They and their family were deported from their home in Hadjin, Turkey on May 24, 1915.  Their 70 year-old grandmother died from exhaustion as she tried to keep up with the Hadjin caravan, and their 18 year-old brother Levon who stayed with their grandmother was taken away by Turkish soldiers and never seen again.

Soon after this heartbreaking loss Verkin and Flora were nearly kidnapped by two Turkish soldiers. From that time on they never left their father’s side.  Their father, Hagop Munushian, was their protector and he knew things would become worse before decency came their way. He decided it best to leave his beautiful Verkin and his feisty daughter Flora in Aleppo and begged a stranger to save both girls from the Turks. That stranger, an Armenian, took the girls to Reverend Eskijian.  Reverend Eskijian found work for the girls in different homes. While the family that gave refuge to Verkin was kind, it was quite the opposite for Flora. That nasty family worked Flora as a slave, barely gave her enough food to eat and six months later they sold her to a Turk for his harem.

When Verkin learned of her sister’s plight, she struggled to find a way to rescue her sister.  How would she find her way to the harem? As the hours passed her choices grew into incredible fear. She had never left the house fearing being picked up by Turkish soldiers who would either send her to join a caravan to Deir Zor or take her to a Turkish soldier’s brothel…and most probably the latter because of her striking beauty. With supreme courage and the help of a young street savvy cousin, she found her way to the harem after dark, managed to steal Flora away and helped find a kind Syrian home for her sister.

When the war was over an uncle found both of them in Aleppo, brought them back to Turkey and would not answer questions about their family. When they arrived in Adana, Turkey they were taken to a relative, a recovering eyewitness of the blood bath that took 13,000 lives including all of the Munushian family. The girls were devastated. What would happen to them?  Months later their uncle forced Verkin to marry a man she would never have chosen for herself. Flora, determined not to let the same thing happen to her, was given an opportunity to marry a man in America. Having only a picture of him, she agreed to travel with the man’s mother, my grandmother, and met her husband to be in Ellis Island.  They were married the following day.  Flora had four children with my father and lived in Boston, Massachusetts. Verkin and her family had to flee Turkey when Kemal Pasha with his irregular army drove the surviving Armenians out of Turkey. Settling in Lebanon Verkin also gave birth to four children. Thirty-five years would pass before Flora and Verkin saw one another again.

Verkin Munushian passed away in 1973 in Beirut, Lebanon.  She is survived by three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.  Flora Munushian passed away in 1989.  She is survived by her daughter and three grandchildren.

Honored by Dr. Kay Mouradian

Survivors: Atanas Demirdjian

Atanas

Kemah // 1904-1987

Atanas Demirdjian was born in Kemah in 1904. His family owned a store where Atanas and his older brother would help deliver products. In 1915, he traveled to Istanbul with his older brother. Atanas later learned that during his time in Istanbul, the Turks had set up slaughterhouses into the Kemah gorge, in which some 25,000 people were killed in a single day. Atanas’ immediate family, friends, and relatives were among those killed in Kemah. In Istanbul, the two brothers were taken in by strangers and hidden in an attic. Since Atanas was the younger of the two brothers, he would slip out of the attic to gather information of what was happening to the Armenian population, while his brother remained confined to the attic to avoid capture. One day, a Turkish officer realized that there were two Armenian boys hiding in the attic of a local resident. Instead of turning them over to Turkish officials and causing harm to the two young boys, the officer helped them flee the region. During their escape, Atanas and his brother were separated due to unforeseen circumstances. Atanas eventually made it to France with a group of other Armenians who managed to escape. It was among this group of genocide survivors in France where Atanas met his future wife, Anahid. Atanas and Anahid had three sons. Years later, they decided to leave their stable and comfortable lives in France, moving back to Armenia so that their three sons could marry Armenians and continue their Armenian bloodline.

Atanas passed away on June 6, 1987 in the city of Yerevan. He is survived by his three children, six grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.

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Honored by Arthur Demirdjian