Armen Chakmakjian

Archive for April, 2015|Monthly archive page

The Story of Armenian Genocide survivors rebuilding their lives in the Middle East

In Random on April 25, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Below the dotted line you will find the story of my father from birth to 1956 when he came to the US.  My father, Joseph, died of lung cancer in 2000. While his health was declining, I sat with him over several occasions and typed out his recollections of his life as he dictated them to me.  This is a hodgepodge of recollections and I did not work hard to undo the immediate verbal order of the story to make it linear.  The first half of his life my father’s life was intertwined and inseparable from his father and major historical events of the middle part of the last century. My father himself was not a genocide survivor, but his father was.

His father, Pascal Armenag Chakmakjian, was born Armenag Chakmakjian in Adana, Turkey in 1900.  He took the name Pascal “little lamb” that was the nickname the friars from the Silesian orphanage and seminary he was in in Lebanon used to call him.  Pascal was an orphan caused by the genocide and he and his brothers and sister survived marching out of Adana into Lebanon.

Somewhere and sometime Pascal met Eugenie Boghosian and they married.  They had 5 children. Hovsep, Stepan, Mari, Ohaness, and Verjin.  Hovsep is the Armenian version of Joseph. My grandfather, a survivor in the midst of survivors always displayed pluck, an ability to see the common areas of opposing viewpoints and a gift of gab. My grandfather and my father (and my father’s siblings) had his gift of languages. Arabic, French, Italian, Turkish, Armenian, probably others like Hebrew and Aramaic were all being spoken by someone, and they Chakmakjian’s knew some combination of all of those.  I leave that thought with you as you read this, and you’ll see why all my grandfather’s gifts were important.  Eugenie died in 1964 a couple of months before I was born and therefore I never met her. Pascal died in 1970 in Bridgeport, CT and I do remember him.

My father was a bit of a different temperament than my grandfather, and as you will see that as the story progresses that my father begins to carve out his own life and his ways to do things.

As you read this, “I” “my” “me” generally refers to my father Joseph speaking in the first person.  “He” “his” “him” for a lot of the early part of the story is how he refers to his father, Pascal.  In a couple of cases I added parenthetical phrases in which I refer to “he” and in those cases, that is me talking about my father.

Let me say that this is a story of building a life, after the genocide.  My grandfather should have grown up in a Vineyard called Depebagh in Adana, where his father was a community leader.  He should have married there and had a particular life.  Then came ethnic cleansing and the tragedy of the genocide that started 100 years ago.  He ended up someplace else as an orphan and built a new life like all orphaned Armenian survivors of the genocide did.  Orphans.  Hundreds of orphans.  Thousands of orphans. I tell part of that story in another post. This is the story of how that survivor and his family made their circuitous journey through the middle east and eventually to the United States.  #TurkeyFailed #ArmeniaLives


Joseph Chakmakjian’s Story In his own words

As dictated to his son Armen over the summer of 2000

Covers his birth in 1926 to his arrival in the US in 1956

After graduating from school and because he knew some English, my father worked as a customs agent between Lebanon and Palestine. He had the kind of job where he was armed with a cane that had a silver cap and a silver tip.   While he had that job he got married to Eugenie Boghosian. He was so proud of his uniform, he would go to the market and buy a bunch of parsley and give it to a porter and ask that it be delivered to his “house”. Things went bad, so he got a job in the hospital in Bethlehem, but I don’t recollect the type of work. My father and mother were living in Bethlehem, and I was born in Jerusalem since they went to a hospital in Jerusalem to deliver me.  We stayed in Bethlehem for a while. My father changed many jobs.

There happened to be a patriarchate across from where my father had graduated from school, and there was a bishop he knew over there, and he finagled his way into a job offer. They promised him a job, some sort of agricultural work. He quit his job in Bethlehem and went to the job at the patriarchate.   He moved his wife and baby(me), and then they informed him that he didn’t have a job. He turned around in anger, he went and bought a revolver and threatened to kill the bishop. The people in the Silesian Orphanage that he grew up in called him back and said that rather than be an assassin, he could work teaching agriculture. (This was in Beit Jamal, otherwise known as the House of Camels, where they found St. Stephen’s mosaics and his tomb where he was buried)

I was there for 6 months and became ill and was sent back to Beit Jamal. Stepan was born in this time as well as Mary (first Brother and first sister). Stepan had the notoriety of being the first Christian ever born in Beit Jamal.

He worked this way until I was about 5 years old, and then he put me into a Dominican orphanage (with a bunch of French priests) to go to school in Nazareth.

An anecdote. Stepan was young, maybe 3 or 4, and a Silesian priest had a habit of handing out 5 mills (British currency) to the kids to go to spend on candy.   There was a meeting for all the teachers, and the priest informed my father that Stepan had gotten in line with the boys from the orphanage when they were getting their coins.

When I was about age 6, 3 of my father’s Armenian school graduates were in Jerusalem and they met with a lawyer (from a big family). This lawyer said that he had land in the vicinity of Nazareth (but way out), and told them that they can make an orchard there on the mountain and loan them an amount of money to buy equipment and a cow and cultivate the land. And whatever profit they made they kept and after 5 years he was going to bring a Jewish merchant to buy an acre or so and deduct what he loaned them and the rest of the money is theirs.   The reason for this generous deal was that if the land remained uncultivated, Bedouins or villagers would squat there. This land was very valuable since there were 7 springs there.   The landowner had already built a gate around it. The three graduates came to my father to have him inspect the deal. He went and talked to the lawyer and got into the deal himself, but got an extra portion for himself due to the fact that he was with a family. He figured that if he didn’t make it rich here with this opportunity, he couldn’t even make it in America.

Unfortunately, the Arab uprising started against the Jews and the British by the Arabs in 1936.   This dashed his dreams of a successful business.

Another anecdote. The living arrangements were that there were 5 barns. One end barn housed our family, and on the other side the 3 graduates. At one point the Bedouin revolutionaries came near the land to get a bribe.   The three graduates filled the roof with rocks and my father met the Bedouins and offered them any grain from the 3 real barns. They demurred and demanded that he get money for them when they returned the next day. My father put on his britches, got on a horse, and rode off to find the chief of the revolutionaries (yes he used the word chief). I was on the horse with him. He came to the village and began to ask for the chief.   When he was asking around, someone confronted him and asked him who he was to ask for the chief. He responded that he owned the land and wanted to talk to Chief. The took us to the him.

He explained his story to the Chief. He told them that his family is on the land with the 3 graduates and they were trying to make some money from the land. On one side there the kibbutz towns and he would sell all the vegetables to the Jews. The Arabs however would prevent him from selling to the Jews every once in a while because of obvious reasons. When the men came, my father explained, they were offered whatever he had in the barns. But the men wanted money. My father finished by saying that he came there under the mercy of the chief. He then presented the summation,

“If you prevent me from selling to the Jews (our source of income) where am I supposed to get the money to pay off your guys?”

The chief was reasonable and saw the dilemma.   He found out which group was browsing in that area and they brought so-and-so back to the chief’s place.

“Is it true you were in that area last night. You asked for money?”


“What did he offer you?”

“Grain, but we needed money for ammo.”

“Who authorized you to ask for a specific thing and not just to take whatever they offered?”

“No one.”

“You are supposed to take whatever you can, and not harass they people.   You are ordered not to go near there again, and if you cause trouble again, I’ll shoot you myself.”

Back to the main story. During this time John (Youngest Brother) was born. Eventually the land was so fertile my father grew onions and tomatoes, in really large bunches. But business was difficult since he was trying to sneak the food to sell to the Jews, and this could get someone killed. One of the graduates who played the accordion went to the kibbutz and stayed there.   The other two graduates went back to Jerusalem to talk to the lawyer.   It turned out that the lawyer political party was on the side of the British government. My father told him we had to run away and that we couldn’t grow anything without protection. The deal debt still needed to be settled. So my father told them there are orchards growing so you have to free us of that burden. He agreed.

On the way to Jerusalem, we stopped at Ramleh (Where Levon’s branch of the family live now). We stayed there because my father knew people there. During this time Virginia (younger sister) was born. Up to this point Mary (older sister) was the princess…but now there was a new princess.

My father got someone to lend him a home and a cow and then eventually a second cow.   My mother milked and fed the cows and made yogurt and sold the yogurt.   For a while a Jewish person came with small bottles, and offered to do business with her. Since it was the beginning of the revolution no contracts could be signed.   My father found a connection and got a job delivering crushed stone to where they were trying to build an airport. So the stone-crusher rental guy said they could split it 50/50 no contract. But when business got really good, the guy reneged.   My father went back and found his contacts and they loaned him money to rent his own stone-crusher. He thought he was going to strike it rich. Business was booming and he even bought more equipment and trucks. The revolution got tougher and tougher. Trucks were traveling 20 or 30 miles between quarry and airport and eventually the airport ran out of need for rocks. He couldn’t make payment on the equipment and eventually it was all repossessed. My father sold the cows to the bus company contacts to pay off the loan.

At this point we moved back to Jerusalem.   My father met up with 2 British attachés that frequented the convent when he was teaching there. These two guys had set up the convent with telegraph so that the convent could inform them if there was a problem. These men loved to hunt and were informed that “Mr Pascal” could show them the best places to hunt.   These guys and my father wound up being friends (Pringle and Parker were their names).   These were the guys who had given him his double-barreled shotgun.

When he was looking for work, he looked them up and got a job. There was a public works department (rollers and stuff) where he was pushing paperwork. Then rebels tried to invade Jerusalem. There were curfew hours and all the gates of the old city would be locked up. One day early in the morning, an airplane flew over and dropped leaflets that said everyone should stay locked in their homes and avoid even coming near the doorways or windows…the army was coming.   My father couldn’t go to work safely, so he was escorted to a hole in the great wall of Jerusalem. He suddenly found himself on the outside of the wall with his family stuck inside. At every intersection British Sharpshooters were positioned. We had a balcony that was on the street. Everyone had shutters, but the house we were staying in had louvered shutters on the balcony. The houses over there had multiple apartments where several families could reside.   One of those families was an old lady and her son.   Those two said that they smelled gunpowder and were talking to my mother and my grandmother and saying that we had a balcony where you can see what is going on on the street. So the old lady goes to the balcony and moved the louvre. She saw soldiers, called her son over, and they looked outside.   That time, a shot was fired from the street, using a bullet called dume-dume that breaks up into flakes.   The old lady gets it right in the skull, and the guy gets it in his left eye.   The lady dies and bleeds all over the house. The soldiers came up the house and talked to us:  “Didn’t you read the leaflet???”

The following day the soldiers moved out but there was still a curfew. They allowed 1 hour to go buy food and stuff. So we went to a Franciscan convent (I was about 10 years old at this point) where we got bread and money to rent homes. While we were there we talked to somebody…there is blood all over the place and a dead body. We can’t go back there.   So we moved into a convent house until my father came back.

We couldn’t stay too long in that house. So we rented an upper floor of another house. I was about 14 or 15 at this point. We stayed there until we left for Jordan in 1948. The place was in sight of the Dome of the Rock, and the Franciscan Tower with the Windsor Chimes. Greeks had 1 bell. This was the Christian quarter. We were ½ block from the Holy Sepulcher.   At five in the morning Stepan and I would start walking by candlelight to serve mass at the Holy Sepulcher through Golgotha about 25 or 30 stone steps. (Joseph begins describing all the different chapels and churches where he and Uncle Stepan served as altar boys, it was too much to record). In the center of Holy Sepulcher, I really needed to bend down to get in. We didn’t mind working there because we could stay in the sacristy where we would sneak hosts and wine.   Couldn’t do that upstairs in Golgotha because it was out in the open.

I finished 8th grade in school. I then learned a trade, namely repairing radiators. Anecdote: Some guy came in with a cigarette lighter. I soldered in a new piece and handed it to the boss. Boss looks it over and then hands it to the customer. Customer drops it again and breaks it because it is so hot.

My mother got me a job in the labor department. She was doing work (laundry and maid stuff) for the assistant “president” of the labor department.   It was a messenger job. What we had to do was to move the files from one place to another. They mark on the files where the file needs to go. We also had to use teletype equipment. We had to take messages to the main office or department.   In the winter we had to light the gas stoves to warm up the building. Some guy was showing me how to light them. And I saw that he kept lighting the paper. I was just out of the radiator job. I showed the guy how to wet the paper with kerosene. The guy was afraid that he was going to burn himself.

Without the possibility of promotion, I got bored of the job. I talked to my supervisor about it to no avail. So I talked to one of the Inspectors (3 Jewish and 1 Arab Inspectors). I explained that I could type 45 wpm, and that would pay a little more.   That was in the main office. A kind of position was created for me where I kept control of the files moving from the main office. At my insistence I got all files to come through me. This was just after WWII.

Another guy with a radiator shop told me that he was going to sell his shop. I told my father that since I knew the trade that this was a good deal. My father came and spoke with the guy and explained that without the cliental this was not going to be a thriving business.   So the guy agreed to work for a month as a partner.   There was a problem with one of the customers and it went before the mayor. Dede (this is Joseph using a word meaning my grandfather) explained that the guy was threatened and that is why he is selling the business. The mayor said “I like peacemakers”. So they solved the problem. Within a couple of days they guy was not so willing to give up the business. So the family was out 100 pounds again. Now I was out of my clean job and also couldn’t take working with the guy.

At this point I got a job working for the public works department with Uncle Stepan. It was some sort of job fixing batteries.   The foreman did business on the side installing electricity in the houses. Since the houses were all stone you had to use lead wire. So I gained another skill. The basic thing was a connection box.

When business slowed down Stepan found another job in the public works department. An electrician had one special gift, when bobby pins were short, extra wire was a treat to flirt with the girls in the office.

Then the British Government was ready to leave. No work again. Stepan got a job running electricity for a Franciscan priest. John acquired a small pistol. He used to play with it in abandoned buildings. I took it away. Then we decided to move to Jordan.

There were 3 families and they put all their stuff on a truck and went to Jordan except for Stepan, the lone blond Armenian and me. We crossed the Jordan river on a boat and there was a lady who did have a passport. When they asked her who were her kids she said all 12 (which included myself and Stepan). On the way we were crossing a valley and we stopped to let the car cool off since it was overheating. Some guy with a gun came by and started talking to the blond guy (who had a Jordanian passport but couldn’t speak Arabic well). They thought he was a Jew. So I started talking in Arabic to the guy and said that look he has a Jordanian passport. So the guy asked me if I had any identification. We had Palestinian/British passports…So they guy thought that we were Palestinian travelling with a Jew so we had to go to the closest town to a police department.   Somehow the chief recognized the blond guy and let him go but Stepan and I were put behind bars (under a staircase). We started talking to the other prisoners and found out that they were real criminals. Each of us had 100 pounds. We stayed up all night to protect ourselves and our money. The police said that if we wanted food they could order it and that it would cost 10 piasters. 3 or 4 loaves of pita and some roasted meat. Next morning they got some more food. The police recognized that we weren’t criminals so they let us sleep in the courtyard. The rest of the family found out what happened and a friend of my uncle (a schoolmate) called the judge in the town and they eventually let us go.Before we were let go, we were brought before the judge –

Judge: What did you do?

Joseph: We were waiting for the car to cool off. The bedoiun spoke to the blond guy who couldn’t speak Arabic. So we got arrested.

Judge: Okay you are free to go.

Somebody was waiting outside for us. We got on a bus to Amman. We also bought the Arabic headdress so that people would think we were Jordanians.

On the bus on the way to Amman people on the bus were complaining about those “traitorous” Palestinians who sold their land to the Jews and now “we” (Jordanians) have to fight for them. I kept saying “yes, yes, you are correct.” I had to listen to the difference in the accents between the Jordanian Arabic and the Palestinian Arab dialect, and respond to them in that way. Uncle Stepan was built like a tank and with his general silent nature, looked very intimidating anyway, so nobody even would even make eye contact with him on the bus.

We finally reached Amman and arrived at the house of “Doctor” Hagop’s, the friend that called the Judge, we were reunited with the rest of our family. At that place we met the Sheik who eventually helped my father get some land to work.

The Sheik offered us some corrugated tin and some land and said “do whatever you can do with this”, and we did.   We flattened the land and we put up a tin shack that was about 35 feet long and about 25 feet wide with a set of curtains to divide it into 2 rooms.

There was a long couch on one end make of wood slats and down pads. My father was famous for building these long soft couches.

My mother was like a saint. She worked all day for a couple of shillings and at one point bought a 10 liter bottle of raki so that they could save a buck refilling his bottle. Normally she would send John to the store to buy the raki in small quantities, with 50mills or a shilling and an empty fifth. She figured she could fill the fifth as needed and save some money. Much to her chagrin my father increased his intake. She worked very hard washing affluent peoples clothes. She’d get all their laundry, wash it, and hang it and iron it if necessary. She’d be on her feet all day long. The only upside was that they would provide her with meals.

At the time I’m not sure where we were working. Over there were a lot of people who extended pipes to their homes, exposed to the elements. In the winter these pipes would freeze and burst. We made some money fixing these pipes.

One day it happened that a contractor that I worked with when I did some furnace and air conditioning got me a job. We added the piping to a house in Jerusalem that was a spider web of a job. I was always amazed that it worked. When he came to Amman he found me and I started to work for him again. Work was great and he got a partner and got a job doing a hotel. I got work that I liked on the outside of the building and got ticked that I couldn’t also do some work on the inside.   He said the next job. The next job was on a mountain next to stream. I had to climb 144 step to get to the job. The whole walk from house up stairs would take me an hour. Had trouble with my boss on the first day because I cut up all the pieces first layed them out and then went to lunch. The boss came by at lunch and apparently was angry that nothing was attached yet so I quit.

Then, about the same time, there was a neighbor across the street that was an Armenian from Greece who had 2 children. He was a mason. So he asked my father one day to go with him to see if he could make the measurements for some of his work.   This proved to be very easy for my father. The guy was arguing with a customer about the size of a job. My father went and measured it and from the outside (of course the inside measurement was smaller) and gave his estimate.   When he convinced the other guy of the measurements. It was a happy ending for both sides and once again, Abu Yusuf, (arabic for father of Joseph, meaning Pascal) was the peacemaker.

During this time we tried to find steady work but it was hard because we weren’t Arabs and any business needed an Arab partner to be incorporated. We even attempted to get work as tinsmiths for the Army. But even that had an arbitrary test. They made me fashion a funnel out of tin, and even though I had been working on the radiators and whatnot, and did make an correctly shaped funnel, but it wasn’t “up to specification.”

The Greek-Armenian suggested to my father that together they could buy some wood and since most of the houses were on the small size, they could make forms for the roofs that were poured concrete. When a roof went up it was like a holiday, people gathering and having a cookout.

About this time my father took a contract to do some roofing on the side. So we hired a carpenter, we got what we have of the wood and rented some of the forms. We hired a carpenter who was pretty inept. I told my father that this guy didn’t know anything. Over at the coffee house my father met another carpenter and they decided on a partnership. He would buy some of the wood. I never liked his system. The walls wouldn’t be straight and plum and it was driving me crazy. Nothing would ever be square. The guy started complaining that he was doing all the work. Finally we came across these guys who were working with their uncle and he was gipping them. So they decided to go into business with my father. It was about a 50/50 deal. These guys were really good. They could set a straight wall 25 or 30 feet (which given they general level of skill seen up to this point was amazing). I told my father that these guys were really good. We did pretty good work. Stepan bent the steel by hand to make the trusses. The guy would make his calculations and designs on cigarette packs. He’d hand them to Stepan and he would bend the steel to that specification BY HAND. One day I asked him how he did his calculations. He told me that it was essentially his secret.   I kept watching him smoking his cigarettes.   I used to wait for him to throw away his cigarette packs and pick them up.   I figured out his system mathematically and it was very simple. So we worked for a while. His brother also worked for him. Eventually this guy made some excuses for about needing more business and the partnership broke up. My father said we needed a new engineer.   I declared that I was now the new engineer. We did lots of small jobs and things got pretty good.

Eventually my father started yelling at us that we needed to get up early in the morning to oversee the work, and because he needed to make the orders for the materials early and be there to meet the delivery. But he would never actually be where he was supposed to be. He was going off to the coffee houses and gambling. Sometimes he would play with the money that was needed to pay the workers. Stepan got fed up and quit. I stayed because it was my business but even then a point came where I couldn’t take it anymore. Since I was the one on-site they would complain to me when they wanted to get paid. In that day, people got paid daily. One day I went searching for him and found him in a coffee shop. I yelled like hell at him that he yelled at us to be with the workers and he would put in the orders for the deliveries and not be there so I was doing the brunt of the work. There was no way that I could run the workers and run the business and he would have to be there on-site.   No one at home knew that there was this blow up. Even the customers started to notice his absences and were complaining to me. He just would up and disappear.

At some point we got a sub-contract to do a job to build a 5 3-story mess hall/barracks. We were the first people to start digging the holes and the last people to erect any columns. My father would be asking for money from the british engineering firm and never have money to pay for the workers. The contractor called my father and payed him to let his workers go because the work his people were doing was too slow. So we lost that job. I told my father that I wouldn’t work with him anymore due to his behavior.

I met a British contractors engineer. Because I knew both English and Arabic and because I knew how to convert from British measurements to metric I stayed and worked in that office. I sent out the orders and measurements in the morning, and waited for them to come back with their next needs. There was a British inspector who had been watching me like a hawk. One day I was late for work due to a bus problem and the British Engineer was left on his own to send out the work for the day and he was overwhelmed without me around. The British inspector noticed that the engineer couldn’t do the conversions and whatnot.   When I finally came in I started working in earnest. One of the smart contractors asked the engineer to come and look at something and he went to the inspector to ask something. The inspector told the engineer to stay in his office and that Joseph was going to do the rounds with him.

At the end of the month we began to put concrete in the roof and you are only supposed to use a certain percentage of water.   The workers started complaining that the stuff was too thick. I told him that you are in a dry climate and you need more water. He trusted me and allowed them to put in more water. It worked out well. The engineer promised me good money. At the end of the month he tried to pay me 20 pounds for the month. I blew my stack. I even told the contractors and the inspector. I quit. They finished the job and they finished late.

I went back to where my father was working. My father had hired a mason from Beit Jamal who had been trained by another mason that had 1 eye and 1 arm (can you imagine?) but he was really good. When I saw the worksite it was a shambles. I asked one of the workers who had been with my father for a while why the area was so disorganized. He said that they had a carpenter that would use the big pieces to cut down for the small pieces. I talked with the mason and he said that my father was never around. I was out 1 month all the wood was destroyed. I cornered my father and told him that he was to tell me how much money was coming in so that I could keep track of how much we owed the workers. My father asked me how we were going to put on the roof. I told him that renting the wood from a guy who had special rules about the return of the wood was bankrupting the business and at a minimum was not leaving any money to pay the workers. The roofers would come for a day and you had to pay them then. So I told all the customers that when they paid my father that they were to inform me how much.   Some of them would actually call me over during the transaction, much to my father’s chagrin, and I would immediately demand the payment for the workers. I told him that at that point he was free to spend his cash any way he could. We used to sell old cement bags to make money to buy cigarettes. The old cement bags were used for groceries.

Notwithstanding my best efforts, the finances and the business did not improve. With all that rented wood cut and the cost of paying off the rental, there was nothing left. About this time @1954, we had been in correspondence with friends who had moved to the US. These friends knew somebody who was either a state or federal representative. This rep counseled the friend to tell my family to apply to move to the US. The reason was because UNICEF is going to pay off all the refugees either by give them money for business or giving them homes that they building (apartments) or pay their way to whatever country that the wished to move to. We took that advice and applied. There was a little problem in my case. They wanted to send the families separate from the young people. We thought that I could lose my chance to come. I mostly didn’t take care of the paperwork since I was busy with my work. I almost lost my chance to go.

There was an American friar who from their mountain could see the work being done at night to build a new marble altar on their mountain. This friar said that since they worked for free on their churches like Americans he would help too. Around this time Cardinal Agajanian came to bless the altar of our new church. The problem was that this church was on the highest mountain in Amman and the cross was higher than their minarets. The muslims got really mad. The king got involved much to the chagrin of the muslims and said that if you want your minaret to be higher, you can change the mountain height, or you can build on the mountain. This was just before Abdullah was assassinated in Jerusalem.

Once my paperwork got cleared up by Fr. Gamsaragan, who was a part of the Dashnak party, I was able to leave. In order to get to the US we went to Beirut where an Egyptian ship was waiting for us. We had 3 days before it left, and we visited all of our relatives in Beirut. Parties every night. The ship was a 15000 ton ship. It was a very good trip. We went by Cyprus, Corsica, Marseilles, Monaco, Genoa. In Monaco, we were stopped by the French Coast guard. The captain of our ship was a 2 war captain and was training 5 mates for the Egyptian navy. They recognized him and they let him pass. After Genoa, Livorno, and then they saw the leaning tower of Pisa. All of us were on this boat except for Stepan who was leaving on a new ship two weeks after us. When we passed through Gibraltar it was a very tight move because it was low tide.   We went through the Azores where the captain led the ship through an area with 2 rocks. The mates were afraid.

After the Azores we got caught in the Gulf Stream. The boat was swaying all around. The captain’s wife was really sick. 4 of the mates were sick. One of the mates who wasn’t sick explained to us how to balance standing up with the boat swaying all around. My father and the head of another family played tavloo, and didn’t get sick. I didn’t get sick. The rest of the passenger on the ship included a black woman in first class, a detective from Palestine, and the other family from Egypt. I took many pictures. One one particular day I asked the mate if he could show me the bridge. Since I was one of the only people who wasn’t seasick he obliged. He showed me all the equipment. I had to leave soon because he could get into trouble if he brought anybody on to the bridge.

One morning I went to the front of the ship (a la titanic) and it was a beautiful sight. Later I went to the stern and helped a mate bring in a rope.   I almost lost my grip on the rope. That was the last adventure. We saw the statue of liberty. They would not admit us to New York, so we disembarked in Hoboken, NJ.   There was nothing special about the ports compared to anything else we saw. Our sponsor, Hovanissian, greeted us there, and drove immediately in Bridgeport, CT. The first thing we noticed was that the music on the radio was all rock music. We thought people in America listened to Latin music and so we prepared ourselves for that. Rock and Roll was not that interesting.


My father Joseph died several weeks after we reached this point in the story.

Do you know why there is an Armenian Diaspora?

In Random on April 21, 2015 at 4:05 am

At the end of a documentary on Armenians a few years ago on PBS, Elie Wiesel told a brief anecdote about how he had asked Turkish leadership about the Armenian question. He ended this 5 or 6 sentence recollection with his opinion on their reaction.  It was something to the effect of “Their reaction was curious, it made no sense.”

As you can see from the news over the last few days, the Turkish government has had reactions that ranged from dismissive, to angry, to nationalistic, to threatening, to apoplectic — but completely devoid of reason.

Today it was simultaneously reported that Germany would vote on a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide and that the Turkish Prime Minister “apologized” to the survivors of Ottoman Armenians about their fate. It seemed rather insincere, and ended with a somewhat ridiculous request for comity between our peoples.

The basic problem here is that an act of ethnic cleansing that results in the mass death of a race of people is a “crime against humanity,” as the Pope eloquently put it.  But that’s a long sentence.  It takes 18 words and Rafael Lemkin gave us a word to describe it. Genocide. Could you imagine us talking about the Jewish Holocaust but have to talk around it without the word Holocaust. What if Germany only spoke of it afterwards as “The death of thousands of people of Jewish descent and religion in various despicable evil ways including gassing, starvation and similar deprivations and crimes.”  No, it was a Holocaust.  And the folks that did it, that ordered it, that supported it were hunted down and tried. Further the nation in which it happened has spent 70 years atoning for it publicly.

That atonement has not happened with respect to the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government.  And in fact we Armenians recognize that others suffered along with us.  Greeks, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Arabs, and Aramaic peoples.  Kurds, who were erstwhile allies of the Turks in the crime, had the Turkish government turn on them also.  The Assyrians in particular were even closer to completely disappearing than we Armenians.  Can you imagine?  Focus your western mind for a minute.  The crime against the Assyrians remains another open wound, since there was no large diaspora and there were no Assyrians already in Europe and Asia outside of the reach of the Ottoman Turks. We worry about the disappearance of the Snowy Owl or the Bald Eagle, but a whole race of people, well that’s just politics.

The crime in this case was actually not about Christianity except to the extent that in the middle east, people’s religion and their ethnicity tended to be bonded to very ancient cultural histories. Consider for example the Copts in Egypt. The incentive or model that justified the crime here was to purge the nation of these other cultures and peoples and nationalize the dominant culture.  The multi-cultural Ottoman Turkey was to become the Turkified State.  It was nationalism run amok. Their strategy started by cutting off the head of the Armenian community on April 24, 1915, by arresting and killing hundreds of Armenian politicians, leaders, intellectuals, and artists.  Then once the head had been silenced, the body could be dismembered. It was classic. It was not innovative.

After WWI, Turkification of the nation under Atatürk, İnönü and subsequent leadership included educating the Turkish people that the Armenians had been punished for their treason in siding with the Russians in WWI in pursuit of their dreaded revolutionary goals.  The Turkish state has, since 1920, demonized the Armenians in their textbooks and press. And since few Armenians were left in Turkey, those who were there were fearful to speak in their own defense, thus there was no internal contradiction or dissent.  Further, since nationalism is a fertile field for the myth of foreign oppression to grow, any foreign power that brought up the Armenian question was viewed as meddling and anti-Turk.  Admitting to the crime would be questioning the pillars upon which the modern Turkish state was formed. Their whole secularist hagiography would be a set of criminals.

However, the İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti butchers and their successors forgot something. Armenians had been living in Phrygia, the Anatolian Plain and the Caucuses for 3000 years.  They were a people of historical significance and knew that history deep in their souls. When I was in Rome last summer I came upon an obelisk to Marcus Aurelius, which stated in Latin “Conqueror of the Germans, Persians and Armenians”. I laughed (I knew that Latin at my Jesuit high school would come in handy one day). Armenian culture had survived centuries of conquest and suffering within successive empires: Persian, Greek, Roman, Parthian, Byzantine, Mongol, Marmalukes, Crusaders, Turkish, Russian and Persian (and sometimes all of the last 3 at the same time).

The thing that the successive Turkish leadership didn’t figure on was that those pathetic Armenian orphans that survived would one day rebuild their culture outside of their ancestral homeland. They would relearn their language, teach their children how to communicate, educate their children in trades and professions in the diaspora on every continent. They’d master speaking in their mother tongue and the languages of their adopted nations. That Diaspora would not forget, it would perpetuate the concept of the land lost and historical nationality dispersed. That Diaspora produced doctors, lawyers, engineers, shopkeepers, scientists, jewelers, farmers, movie directors, entertainers as well as ambassadors, governors, senators and representatives in the American nation. That Diaspora would come in contact with a Jesuit in Argentina who would one day be the Pope who would have the public bravery to call out the crime so that it was heard and replayed on every continent at the same time.

That diaspora would spread to Europe and build schools and churches and speak multiple languages. They would be in every capitol and industrial center in every nation on earth and turn back around and point the finger of justice back at Turkey every year on April 24th.  And this year, the 100th year, the nations of the world have now has joined the chorus for justice into a worldwide demand for Condemnation, Recognition, and Reparation for the most heinous crime against humanity, Genocide, that was inflicted by Turkey on the Armenian people.

That is why there is an Armenian diaspora. #TurkeyFailed #ArmeniaLives

Reports of the Armenian Exodus from Harpoot in 1915

In Random on April 19, 2015 at 12:50 am

I found a 4th page and added it to the original blog post.

Reports of the Armenian Exodus from Harpoot in 1915.

Reports of the Armenian Exodus from Harpoot in 1915

In Random on April 18, 2015 at 2:23 pm

I came across this document. I have little commentary to add; what is written here is so horrific it needs little qualification.




Harpoot Report 1

Harpoot Report 2

Harpoot Report 3

Report from Harpoot 1915 - 4

1.5 Million

In Random on April 17, 2015 at 12:07 am

I wrote this 51 weeks ago on the occasion of the 99th commemoration of the Armenian genocide. Justice is a relentless force.

The Urtaru Chronicles

Today, April 24, 2014, Armenians all over the world remember a tragedy that befell our Ottoman Armenian ancestors 99 years ago. That tragedy was so horrific to the world that a new word, genocide, was created to describe what the Young Turk regime perpetrated. The Ottoman Armenian population was decimated by killings and deportations into the Syrian desert. It was not uncommon that mostof those who survived were orphans. Sometimes they were saved by Turks. Many of them were saved by Near East Relief.

In the next few lines I’m going to describe how an American of Armenian descent happened to come into the world:

My maternal great-grandfather had come to America in the early part of the 1900’s as many did, working in the factories in Worcester. When the bad reports started coming back from his village, he went back to his family only to be killed on…

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