BY HEGHINAR MELKOM MELKOMIAN
Lousadzin was looking out of the window when she noticed that one of their neighbors was trying to steal water from their well. While she leaned over the window and began shouting at him, she fell out of the window, face down. She received a deep cut on her jaw. There was one doctor in their village: her father, Artin and one nursing assistant, her mother, Mariam. Artin stitched the wound, which was later replaced by a bumpy scar on Lousadzin’s fragile face.
Back then who could have guessed one day a specific type of doctor – the plastic surgeon – would earn hundreds of thousand of dollars annually for making cuts which can be stitched back without leaving any traces? Who could have guessed that her fall was destined from above? Who could have guessed that that very scar, which would decorate her face for the rest of her life, would be her ticket to her past, the ticket to the only member of her family left? Who could have guessed what would happen in 1915? Could you guess that this story isn’t just about Lousadzin; this story is as much about him – he was called Srabion…
Srabion was born in 1905 and was 5 years older than Lousadzin. They lived in Kilis, in Western Armenia, where the “native” language was Turkish. He was the son of respected Artin and Mariam and the brother of Lousadzin, Ohannes, Ghevond and Haik. The Der Haroutounian family was not an ordinary family because they lived in Kilis, in Western Armenia in the beginning of the 20th century, because one day the wheel of their lives would take an unprecedented turn and their family tree would break irreversibly, because one day the home that belonged to them would be snatched from their hands, literally over their dead bodies by the Young Turks.
During 1914-1915 the Der Haroutounian family was deported and brought to Aleppo by the Young Turks. Here they stayed with their cousins, after which they rented their own place. The Aleppo authorities had passed a decree according to which the local Armenian community in Aleppo had papers which exempted them from being deported. Since the Der Haroutounian family did not have the corresponding papers, during the day they stayed with their cousins and only returned to their rented accommodation at night, in order to avoid getting caught by the authorities.
One day Srabion was feeling sick and he was left at their cousin’s home to recover, while the rest of the family members went home, where Lousadzin and her grandmother awaited them. They were caught by the Turkish Police in front of the house. Artin said that his daughter and mother-in-law were waiting for them in the house, but his words were ignored. Since he lacked the necessary papers, together with thousands of other Armenians, the Der Haroutounians were put on a train and deported from Aleppo. From this moment the life of one family was divided into three: Srabion on the one hand, Lousadzin and her grandmother on the second and Artin, Mariam, Ohannes, Ghevond and Haik on the third.
Lousadzin and her grandmother were taken out of the house and taken to the Jdeidieh Police Station. The train carrying the remaining Der Haroutounians dropped them off in lands belonging to the Cherkez. After returning to the rented house the next day, Srabion found the house abandoned and was told by the neighbors that his family was taken in an unknown direction while his sister and grandmother were taken to Jdeidieh. Srabion decided to go to Jdeidieh.
After reaching the Police station Srabion saw his grandmother and sister from the window. He tried to help them escape but the police noticed him and fortunately sent him away. Srabion returned to his cousin’s place to tell them what had happened and he decided to return that night to help them to escape. But how would a ten year old boy know that upon his return they would no longer be there? His grandmother and Lousadzin, together with other Armenians caught by the Turks were sent on the march to Der el Zor. For three days Lousadzin’s 75 year old grandmother tried to beg for a piece of bread and on the night of the fourth day her old body gave up and in the morning Lousadzin found her grandmother dead in the middle of the desert. With no one to turn to, with thousands of other Armenians battling between life and death, her cries were ignored. She stayed behind, crying over the body of her dead grandmother, her only relative left.
Srabion – Not knowing what to do, Srabion decided to return to Kilis, to their family home. His uncle, who had managed to escape and return to his home, took Srabion in. You would think he was a lucky boy to find family, but his uncle forced him to work in a factory, his earnings – one “barghut” (money) and one libra of flour – were taken by his uncle, who almost did not even feed him. He was nothing more, and nothing less, than an undernourished slave.
Lousadzin – While crying alone in the desert an Arab woman heard Lousadzin’s voice. She took pity on her and decided to keep her, giving her the Arabic name Khatun and decorating her upper lip and her nose with symbolic tribal tattoos. You would think she was a lucky child to be saved instead of dying from hunger in the desert, but Lousadzin later found out that she had been taken by a beggar who beat her to steal food from a rich Agha’s gardens and to beg.
The other Der Haroutunians – Several months after landing in Cherkez lands, the order to slaughter all Armenians came overnight, and that is where the story of Artin, Mariam, Ohannes, Ghevond and Haik ends. Srabion and Lousadzin were left orphans at the age of 10 and 5 respectively, without being aware of each other’s existence.
One day a very hungry Srabion asked a woman at work to make her something with his flour to satisfy his hunger. After bringing home the remaining flour his uncle noticed that the bag was lighter and kicked Srabion out of the house; he headed towards Aleppo. To cut a long story short, years passed while Srabion lived in different places, worked as a servant boy for Arabs and one day, once again decided to return to Kilis. Before his return, as a result of a meeting in the Kilis church, it was decided to gather all Armenian orphans and send them to an orphanage. Srabion returned to Kilis and together with the other orphans was sent to the Armenian orphanage in Beirut. There he studied for three years and on the last year of his study he wrote an excellent essay entitled “Struggle” and won a patronage from an American benefactor and a pen. Upon graduation he once again returned to Aleppo in an effort to find his family and relatives.
In Aleppo, Srabion found one of his relatives and started living there. After a year he applied and got accepted in the “Frere Maurisse” boarding school in Jounie, in Lebanon, the expenses of which was paid by the same above-mentioned American patron. He graduated and received his baccalaureate. He once again returned to Aleppo and began teaching French and worked at various companies. He then decided to go live in the Motherland, which was Soviet at that time. He went to Iran and from there he tried to enter the motherland. His first attempt failed and while living in Iran and awaiting the right opportunity to move out, he found friends with whom he shared a room. One day one of his roommates passed away and during his funeral Srabion read the Eulogy, during which he praised the motherland; he was deported from Iran by the infamous Iranian Savak in 24 hours and he once again returned to Aleppo.
He began teaching in an Armen
ian school for poor Armenian children and was later called to work as the headmaster of the Der el Zor School. During all this time Khatun grew up in the village of Debsi al faraj, where many other “adopted” Armenian orphans eventually ended up and they were all continually reminded that they were Armenians. There the Agha of the village, a compassionate and educated man, married Khatun to another Armenian orphan from Urfa – Bedros Boyajian, who had been brought to the village at the age of 10 and worked as a shepherd in the Agha’s household and had been renamed Ahmad El Abed. Khatun and Ahmad El Abed had four children: three daughters and a son.
One day Srabion went to Aleppo on a visit. He had the habit of playing backgammon with several of his friends in a café. One of his friends was also an Armenian from Kilis who worked as a driver. During their game the driver relates to Srabion that about a year ago, about 120 km from Aleppo he had noticed an Arab carrying water. He had asked for some water and judging from the man’s features he had guessed he was Armenian. It so turned out that the man was indeed an Armenian from Urfa and his wife was an Armenian woman from Kilis. Srabion’s world collapsed and he began wondering if his sister was alive amongst the Arabs. Was it possible that his small and fragile sister had survived the Genocide? He decided to go and find out.
To date, the Arabs are well known for their friendliness and their warm hospitality. In Debsi al faraj, Srabion was welcomed by the Agha, who invited him to his house. After Srabion told his story and his suspicion that the woman living in the village might be his sister, the Agha ordered 5-6 women with their children, including Khatun, to be brought in and lined them up in front of Srabion. Srabion had not seen his sister in more than 25 years and all the women looked the same: tattoos covered their faces and the hardships of living and working in a village had left their faces burned and skin dried from the merciless Syrian sun.
In this life sometimes some things happen with a certain purpose. Some people call that destiny. When it comes to this story and many other true stories of Genocide survivors, I believe in destiny and so will you. I wonder if at that moment my grandfather’s life flashed before his eyes – his years as an orphan in boarding schools, his job at the factory, as a servant boy, his failure to move to the motherland, his searches for his family, Kilis, his village, his father Artin, his mother Mariam, his grandmother, Ohannes, Ghevon, Haik and little Lousadzin and suddenly everything made sense to him and he realized that his journey might have been harsh, but had been destined from above.
In Srabion’s and Lousadzin’s lives many things had been destined from above, just like that day when Lousadzin tried to stop the neighbor from stealing their water and fell from the window, as a result of which she was left to live with a scar on her jaw. Srabion saw Lousadzin’s scar and fainted, for, besides her resemblance to him, there was also that proof. Later Srabion asked permission from the Agha of the village to take his sister and her family with him and his wish was granted, for the Agha told the rest of the Arab villagers that Khatun had lived amongst them for many years and the time had come for her and her family to live amongst their own kind.
During the 1915 genocide it is said that 1.5 million Armenians were killed. I personally think this number is an understatement. I wonder what happened to the rest of the Armenian orphans on whom destiny did not smile and who were never found by their brothers or sisters or parents or grandparents. I have personally met many Armenians in Syria who know that their grandparents or great grandparents were Armenians and survived the Armenian Genocide but since they were never reunited with their families they were raised as Arabs and the same can be said about many in Turkey. I wonder if we were to count the number of these Armenians and add it to the 1.5 million, how many more million Armenians were “killed” as a result of the Armenian Genocide, because once we lose our language, our traditions and our links to our ancestors, we lose our Armenianness.