By Adrianne Der Sarkissian Brown
Sept. 28, 2008 marked the end of an era in Hartford, Conn., with Sona Der Sarkissian peacefully closing her eyes to slip away. Arriving in Hartford in 1932, she had the company of previously settled diasporan Armenians who, like herself, had escaped the challenges and Turkish atrocities of their past.
Sona joined the ARS and, with her husband Mardiros (Martin) and their children, Lillian (Shooshanig) and Adrianne, attended many ARF, ARS, and social events at the Armenian Club with its club-baba Baron Mesrob, at 688 Park St. in Hartford, the gathering place for the locals.
Like so many orphans of the genocide, her pre-destined travels and soulful stories were many and varied. Orphaned at the age of three in Ordou, she was taken in by a Turkish family who “named” her Ayse, a Turkish name, in order to avoid their condemnation had they used her given name, originally thought to be Tomom and later thought to be Tamar/Tamare.
By 1916, she, along with other area Armenian orphans, were “gathered” away by boat and placed in an orphanage in Corfu, Greece. The exact dates of these moves are unclear; however, it is clear that these moves and the care given were the result of Great Britain’s Lord Mayor’s Fund. In the 1920’s, Sona, again by boat, was taken from Corfu to Marseilles, France, a seaport town, where she took residence in an Armenian girl’s boarding school, the Ecole des Dames, which was eventually moved to Le Raincy, a suburb of Paris.
At this school, she apprenticed as a seamstress and, after marrying and having children, sewed many fine matching outfits for her two daughters. Also at this school, she learned the art of Armenian needlework, making several hundreds of doilies, many of which were given away as a gesture of love and friendship. She loved her French “home,” forming bonds with several of her kooyrigs (sisters), with whom she maintained contact through letters and visits after establishing residence in the United States. She loved her teachers and administrators and was very fond of visiting Paris and riding its public transportation system.
In 1931, a pre-arranged marriage brought her to Cuba, where she met and married Mardiros (Martin) Der Sarkissian on Dec. 30. Her presumed given name of Tamar/Tamare was changed to Sona, as that was preferred by her adoptive family. Together, Martin and Sona spent 60 years in Connecticut from 1932 on. When they arrived in New York in June 1932, she saw flags waving and hoped they were welcoming her to the promised land; however, she soon discovered they were there in celebration of Flag Day. She quickly became employed, and remained so until her retirement at age 65, enabling her to supplement the support of the family with her husband.
Sona was able to celebrate her 100th birthday in 2008, one day before her birthday, which was June 30, with friends from her Armenian church and others as well. She sustained the Armenian survival spirit with her long life and by giving life each year to her garden of vegetables, which she lovingly shared with her family and friends.
Her hospitality was the expression of creating a family, which she had known for only the first three years of her life. She was a superb cook. Mardiros and Sona enjoyed their times barbecuing shish kebab outdoors and making pilaf. In addition to her ARS membership, she was also a member of the St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church and its Ladies’ Guild in New Britain.