Avedis’ Story: An Armenian Boy’s Journey

By Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

These memoirs are an edited transcribed version of a recorded narration made in 1969 by a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. Avedis Albert Abrahamian, the survivor, had spent decades pondering the events he and his people endured. Finally, after much time elapsed his daughter, Dr. Carolann Najarian, made the effort to prepare and publish her father’s account with the help of other family members and in-laws. Najarian was motivated also to travel with tour guide Armen Aroyan to her father’s native village of Sheykh Hadji (today named Yukaribag) in Kharpert (Harput) province, part of the historically Armenian territory ruled by the Ottoman Empire in the past and Turkey at present.

Abrahamian’s story in its broad outlines is similar to that of many other Genocide survivors, while the details are useful to add to our understanding of village life and Genocide in the context of other contemporary sources. It also is another example of the thoughts and reactions of a man who went through horrific events but managed to come out alive.

The volume, published in 2014, is a brief work of 111 pages, including the editor’s introduction and acknowledgments, and an appendix with a family tree and notes on the fate of each family described in the memoir. There are a number of family pictures and documents reproduced. The volume reads well, with interesting anecdotes about daily life and Abrahamian’s family.

Abrahamian was born in 1906. He recalls his childhood as happy, and describes various aspects of village life. There were two separate quarters in the village, one Armenian and the other Turkish. The Armenians spoke Armenian and had their own Armenian and Armenian Protestant schools and churches. In all, they were some 150 families. The men worked primarily as craftsmen, and also kept bees to make honey. Each family also grew fruits and vegetables for its own use. The males in Abrahamian’s family interestingly were thought to have inherited the power of faith healing.

Little information is given on the daily life of Turkish neighbors in Sheykh Hadji, who enter the story primarily with the description of the Genocide. Many terrible events are related, until the author and surviving members of his family escape via the Kurdish-populated mountainous area of Dersim to the zone occupied by Russian troops who had controlled some of the eastern territories of the Ottoman Empire by 1916. The family goes from Erzingan (Erzincan) to Trebizond and then to Tiflis (Tbilisi), Georgia, via Batumi. The author describes the chaos of those days due to rapidly changing political circumstances. Meanwhile, the Armenian refugees had to scramble to earn their livings. After the Russian Revolution the author and many other Armenians fled on foot toward Russia, fearing what would happen in Tiflis without the Russian army as protection.

Abrahamian felt that it was the Turks forcing the Armenians into exile, and wrote, evidently with hindsight that “for the generation that was to follow them, their offspring would be forced into distant lands and eventually to be assimilated and forever lost to the Armenian nation” (p. 57). He feels that the Armenians, or at least he himself, survived out of sheer stubbornness to thwart an enemy who wanted to exterminate them, and were inspired by pride in their resistance fighters like General Antranig, Sebouh and Mourad.

By the end of 1920, the family made it to Constantinople as the start of their journey to the United States, where Abrahamian’s father had come prior to the war for employment. When his father learned they were alive and in Constantinople, he sent money through the Near East Relief organization to help them come. By June 1921 Abrahamian and his mother reached Providence, RI, and finally reunited with his father moved to New York, joining other members of the family already in the US. The book ends with a brief description of the rejuvenated life of the survivors, which according to Abrahamian seems to have generally been happy again despite the recent period of traumas. Abrahamian and his circle also began to take an interest in the broader world politically, and was sensitive to social injustice against others.

When the author reflects on his acts during the Genocide and immediate post-war period, he regrets two incidents in which he beat up Turks when he had a chance. He found these to be “blind acts of hatred.” As a boy, he also fantasized about wiping out the Turks entirely from the earth, or at least entire cities, but as a mature man “I realized that it would be a very cruel act because many innocent people would suffer who had absolutely nothing to do with the real guilty persons. Cruelty breeds cruelty and therefore it has to stop at some point.” In other words, Armenians must not seek vengeance. They need to ask for justice for past misdeeds not just for Armenians but as “the cause of the human race” (p. 77).

Abrahamian aptly summarizes the vicissitudes of his life at the book’s conclusion: “the joy of those years helped bury the sadness we had all experienced. The past was buried but could not be forgotten” (p. 100).

With so many memoirs and published histories of villages in the Kharpert plain, it would be interesting for newly published works to cross-reference the older ones and provide some comparative analysis in a forward or afterward. This would require the involvement of a specialist.

(Avedis’ Story: An Armenian Boy’s Journey

By Avedis Albert Abrahamian

Edited by Dr. Carolann Najarian

Gomidas Institute, London

ISBN 978-1-909382-13-8)