BY NAYIRI DAGHLIAN
In 1915 – 1918, Armenian orphans, who had survived the Armenian Genocide, arrived at St. Joseph College in Aintoura Village, District of Kesserwan – Lebanon. At the time, the College of the French Lazarist Fathers was under Turkish occupation. Jemal Pasha had changed the College into an orphanage and assigned Halide Edib Adivar as principal in order to accomplish the policy of turcification of the orphans. As a first step, the names of the orphans were changed to Turkish names and the 1,200 young orphans, most of whom were Armenians, were exposed to brutal torture and “falakha”, (beating the soles of the feet with iron rode). Some were even killed just because they had spoken in Armenian or called each other with their real Armenian names. 300 children died of starvation and the Cholera at the orphanage.
In 1993, during construction work of additional classrooms at the Aintoura College, skeletons were discovered near the Chapel area. They were the remains of the young Armenian orphans…
The administrating clergies of the College placed the remains of the orphans in a corner of the cemetery for their High Ranking Priests.
Five years had passed since Mr. Missak Keleshian, an amateur researcher of historical archives, brought this forgotten part of the Armenian Genocide to the public eye. By various means, he called upon many representatives and leading members of the Armenian Community to honor the memory of the orphans. However, only Mr. Harout Khatchadourian responded in a letter offering his full services to accomplish this national and sacred duty.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010. There was no need to wait anymore… The time had come for our Martyred Orphans to finally rest in peace.
On that day, at 5:00 P.M., by the initiative of the benefactor Mr. Harout Khatchadourian, the founder and patron of Great Family of KOHAR, a Monument, a Khatchkar, was presented by Mrs. Kohar Khatchadourian. The Monument summarizes Armenian Culture and History. On top of the Khatchkar is a replica in stone of King Levon’s Crown, the King of Cilicia. On the Cross Monument is carved the Flag of the Kingdom of Cilicia and the picture of five orphans; on its Shield, the Armenian A.B.C. and the lyre, the symbol of communication; and on the pedestal, the following is engraved in four languages (Armenian, English, French and Arabic): “In Commemoration of The Martyrs of The Genocide Perpetrated Against The Armenians By The Ottoman Authorities”. In addition, at the foot of the Khatchkar sits a bronze-cast statue of a young orphan holding a golden Globe in his hand. He symbolizes the Armenian People who continue to prosper despite being tortured and deported, because they conquered LIFE. The real-life size statue of the young orphan seems to be gazing at the world and asking: Where were you…?
Proper speeches were made by Mr. Missak Keleshian; Mr. Sebouh Mekhjian; Father Antoine Nakad, the Administrator of St. Joseph College; Mr. Shahe Khatchadourian, in the name of Khatchadourian Family; and Mr. Sebouh Apkarian, the Artistic Conductor of KOHAR. Bishop Nareg Alyemezian, Archimandrite Nareg Ayvazian and Rev. Hrayr Tcholakian blessed with prayers the souls of the orphans who were buried in Aintoura so that they can finally rest in peace.
“The Mortal Remains of Armenian Orphans” is written on their collective tombstone. An Armenian Cross is set at the head of the grave as a witness of their eternal peace. KOHAR Philharmonic Choir, accompanied with the brass ensemble, sang “GILIGIA”. The atmosphere felt as though the souls of the Young Orphans flew, for the last time, to their fatherland Cilicia and returned to their final resting sanctuary. A group of Armenians came on this day to pay their respects, to pray, to light a candle and place wreaths at the Khatchkar and the grave. KOHAR, with the participation of hundreds of Armenians, chanted the Lord’s Prayer “HAYR MER”.
At that moment, was it us praying for the eternal souls of those Young Orphans, or were they the ones calling upon us to be alert?