By Anne Runkle
LIVONIA, Mich. (The Oakland Press) — At 102 years old, former Pontiac resident Ramela Carman is believed to be the only survivor in Michigan of the Armenian Genocide that began in 1915.
She’s one of only about 30 survivors around the world of the event that resulted in the deaths of as many as 2 million people.
Her family and friends gathered at the Manoogian Manor assisted living center in Livonia Thursday for her birthday.
They admire her strength in light of all she has lived through.
The genocide is regarded by historians as the first mass ethnic cleansing of the 20th century. On April 24, 1915, Ottoman Turks rounded up several hundred Armenians who were considered “intellectuals” or people in positions of leadership and slaughtered them, said Father Aren Jebejian, pastor of St. John Armenian Church in Southfield, where Carman worshipped for decades.
Over the next three years, the Turks, who were mostly Muslim, forced Armenians, who were predominantly Christian, into “death marches” to the Syrian desert. Other Armenians were beaten or tortured, and as many as 1.5 million died, he said. Other ethnic groups that were largely Christian, such as Greeks, were also targeted. When their numbers are added, the total deaths are estimated as high as 2 million, he said.
Carman was too young during the genocide to have horrific memories of it, but relatives told her that her father was one of the people whom the government forced to march off one day.
“He turned back,” she said, explaining that he wore disguises, changed his name, went into hiding — did whatever was necessary to stay alive. He later reunited with his family but died of kidney disease after just a short time.
Carman recalled that even after the genocide “ended” in 1918, there was often different treatment for Armenians, who couldn’t ever predict how they would be received.
“One day was good, the next day bad,” she said.
She remembers that many families carried their belongings with them at all times in case they were forced out of their homes.
Not all Turks participated in the atrocities, Jebejian said. Historians are finding more evidence recently of Turks who hid Armenians and helped them in other ways during the genocide, he said.
Carman remembers that a Turkish woman helped her once when she injured her face as a child.
With her mother and grandmother, Carman relocated from their small village to Istanbul. Her mother worked in a factory and her grandmother worked as a cook. By the time she was 16, both her mother and grandmother became too ill to work and Carman took responsibility for supporting them.
She worked in a factory and later bought a sewing machine and assembled men’s shirts.
In 1960, she came to the United States, leaving her mother in the care of a cousin. She hoped to bring her to America but her mother died before the necessary paperwork was approved.
Just a few months after arriving, she married Masa Carman. She taught herself English and was later hired by Hagopian to repair their Oriental rugs. She retired in 1976 and she and her husband enjoyed travel together.
After her husband died in 1995, she traveled to France and Turkey to visit relatives. She visited Turkey again in 2001.
Relatives say she remains fiercely independent, living on her own until about three years ago. Even now, as the oldest resident at Manoogian Manor, they say she looks after others, making sure they eat properly and are getting around well.