BY JULIEN G. DOTY
The Armenian Genocide, commemorated as starting April 24th, 1915, was a tragic time of history. The Genocide and the massacres leading up to it took the lives of over 2.5 million Armenians.
Conducted by the nation of Turkey, the Armenian Genocide did not end until 1923. Ottoman Turk soldiers would march into the villages of Turkey and Armenia, and exterminate any Armenian in sight, showing no mercy. Appearing unexpectedly, the soldiers would invade villages and would massacre all the people who lived there.
During the Hamidian Massacres (occurring 1892-1896 and later), my Great-Great-Grandmother Takouhy (Ta-koo-hee) Musserian (Mangerian), was living in the village of Palu, Historical Armenia. Sadly, her family and village were slaughtered by Turkish Soldiers, changing her life completely.
Tensions with Turkey
At this time, Armenia was a part of the Ottoman Empire, ruled by the Turks. Armenia was prosperous, had a well-balanced government, and people who were well-educated, prosperous and some even wealthy.
However, when the Turks heard about Armenia’s growing prosperity, they grew envious. They believed that they should be the most powerful and wealthy in the Empire, and no others should challenge their authority.
In order to solve this, the Turks made plans and decided to carry out numerous massacres on the Armenians. These massacres grew spreading throughout the country and ended up being what is known today as the “Armenian Genocide”, when an estimated 1.5 million or more Armenians were slaughtered throughout 1915-1923.
Many villages and towns in Armenia were raided. The Turkish soldiers would break into people’s homes, killing the families living in them and stealing anything of value.
Sadly, Takouhy’s family and village became victims of the Hamidian Massacres. The soldiers were sent to her village of Palu to murder everyone living there. No one in the village was expecting the attack, and unprepared to fight back, the entire village was destroyed.
The soldiers wreaked havoc on the village. They showed absolutely no mercy on anybody who lived there, and all the villagers (Armenians, Greeks, Kurds, Jews, etc.) were slaughtered brutally.
When the Turkish soldiers showed up at 4-year-old Takouhy’s house, her parents immediately became terrified of the uninvited guests.
When my Grandmother was 7 years old, she learned from my Great-Great Grandmother Takouhy about the horrifying memory:
“My parents ran right up to the door. My father struggled with the soldiers, trying to overpower them, and my mother pleaded to them, ‘Please! Not the children! Oh, they’re only kids. Please, have Mercy!’ Their efforts proved to be ineffective though, and all of a sudden, I saw a bright flash of light. Then came two wailing screams. There, my parents lay on the floor, still. There was a pool of blood, and their heads were missing.”
“I ran upstairs, horrified! I rushed into my favorite Uncle’s library and hid behind his big chair in the center. I couldn’t believe that I had seen the soldiers cutting off the heads of my mother and father. I was so scared, crying, and praying to God that the soldiers wouldn’t come looking for me.”
“Slowly, I heard more crying and screams come from below, from my sisters, my older brothers, and my other relatives. It was the same every time. A soldier would find one of them, and then there would be a terrifying, petrifying scream, followed by silence. Though they came upstairs and looked for me, my Uncle’s chair hid me.”
Takouhy hid behind the big chair for three days and nights. She was so frozen with anguish and grief that she could not move.
Takouhy would have never thought that something this horrible could happen to her. “Why did this happen?” she thought. “What did I do to deserve this? Was I a bad girl” All she could think of those three days and nights was the image of her parents being decapitated by the Turks, and the sounds of her loved ones’ screams, right before they were murdered; the haunting sounds filled her with terror.
Takouhy crouched and hid, with no food and water. She was broken. There was nowhere she could go, and nothing she could do.
Later, however, someone found her.
The Priest of the village, who had survived the massacre, found Takouhy! He was going from house to house, searching for any survivors left in the village, and he found Takouhy hiding behind the big chair. Instantly, he saw her crumpled in pain with sorrow.
“Come with me,” he said gently. “I won’t hurt you. Everything will be ok.”
At first Takouhy was reluctant to come, but the Priest soothed and convinced her to come with him to safety.
She stayed in the priest’s house with his family. The priest’s wife fed and washed her. For three days the priest’s wife scrubbed and combed Takouhy’s long, black, curly hair. Unable to smooth the snarls and tangles, the priest’s wife told her husband, “I cannot clear out the tangles so I must cut her hair.” The Priest, knowing that cutting a girl’s hair was evidence of punishing shameful behavior, urged his wife, “Please try harder. She does not deserve to be shamed.”
The priest’s wife responded, “I will explain to her what I must do and cut as little as possible.” So Takouhy accepted that she was not being punished and she had her first haircut.”
Though nurtured and safe, everyday little Takouhy mourned the loss of her own family. The Priest tried reassuring her and comforting her, but nothing would ease the immense pain that was in Takouhy’s heart.
Escorted to Safety
A couple of weeks later, a man pulling a wagon full of children showed up at the village. He was headed towards Beirut, Lebanon, and was travelling to villages that were raided, trying to gather and safely escort any surviving children out of the uproar of massacres. At first, Takouhy did not want to get in the wagon. She did not understand what was going on, and wanted to stay in her village.
She had grown up in Palu her entire life, and she belonged there. But the priest told her that she had to go with the man because it was the only way for her to be in a safe place. Takouhy finally agreed, and went into the wagon to safety.
The voyage took nearly a month, but even though the children were constantly hungry and thirsty, they tried not to complain and made it to Beirut safely. The children were left at an orphanage, the place where their new life would begin.
Takouhy did not like living in the orphanage. Everyday she worked hard. She had to cook, clean, sew to make clothes for new orphans, and take care of younger children. Her life was repetitive, very dull. She wished life could go back to her lively and joyful life in Palu; she missed her family all the time, especially with her favorite big brother who led her riding on a donkey up the mountain to pick sweet apricots.
Takouhy was depressed. “Why must I stay in this wretched place,” she thought. “Why won’t they let me go back to Palu?”
But gradually, as she became a teen-ager, Takouhy realized that things would never go back to the way they were. She would never again get to see her family, friends or her village.
However, she also realized that eventually she would leave the orphanage, and that would be the day when she would have to decide what she wanted to make of her future.
Suddenly, Takouhy had hope. She became strong and instead of thinking, “Why has this happened to me?” she started thinking, “I will make the best I can out of my future.”
These thoughts changed her attitude, and she finally saw the horizon of her destiny. She worked harder to do well learning to read, write, and do math, common things one would learn in school. She became very smart, and was admired by the other orphans for her knowledge.
Takouhy became confident. When she turned 19, she was finally ready to start a new life. The time was coming for her to leave the orphanage and go out into the world.
A New Life
After an Aunt and Uncle in New Jersey located her through the Armenian Church, they sent her a ticket for ship passage to America. From Beirut, Takouhy boarded a ship destined to New York City and prayed that she would find a good life. Maybe she would find a kind man to spend the rest of her life with and hopefully have a family that would bring her great joy and satisfaction, thus ending her sorrow and despair.
Continued Denial of History
When the massacres and the Armenian Genocide ended, probably more than 2.5 million Armenians were killed. Men were captured and forced into labor, and women and children were tortured and slaughtered ruthlessly. So many lost their families and loved ones. They definitely experienced the same immense loss and pain that young Takouhy felt.
To this day, Turkey denies the doings of the massacres and especially the Armenian Genocide. It is absolutely unforgivable to deny the Armenian Genocide, especially since Turkey is at fault for all the people murdered, and all the lives ruined.
I, Takouhy’s Great-Great-Grandson, am incredibly inspired by her bravery, ambition and accomplishments. She had everything taken away from her at such a young age, and could have just given up and crumbled. Her future in Palu, her precious family, and her home, were all taken away from her. She became deeply sorrowful, her heart filled with such pain and despair, but as time came, she learned skills and worked hard to overcome her sadness. She turned her life around and made it better.
Her changed thinking helped her to find hope in her future. She controlled the way she felt through the way she thought and strived every day.
I hope the reader will understand the bravery and courage my Great-Great Grandmother Takouhy had and I hope the reader will learn, as I have learned, from her life how to be brave and overcome difficult and emotionally challenging situations.