Dirtad Dirtadian’s ‘Haght and the Haghtetsis’ (in English)

(This article is about a genocide survivor who so loved his village in historic Armenia’s Sepastia that he painstakingly documented every aspect of village life for future generations. Haghtetsis had suffered 600 years of Turkish humiliation, oppression, the Hamidian massacres, and ultimately the 1915 exile to the desert of Der Zor and genocide. The author was not about to let it be forgotten.)

Just when you think you could not possibly have more admiration for the Armenian survivor generation of 1915, you are introduced to a book by an exceptional gentleman, Baron Dirtad Dirtadian (deceased) of Utica, N.Y. who by virtue of his book created a permanent historic document of life in the yergir (old country) Armenia and in particular the village of his birth, his beloved mountainous Haght.

Equal admiration must be given to Dirtadian’s daughter, Marian Dirtadian Amiraian, who soon had the support of Dearborn Heights, Mich. residents Araxy and Ned Apigian; they recognized the importance of translating the 1959 book into English. Araxy’s father, Hagop Madoian, of Providence, R.I. was also from Haght. Fellow Haghtetsis Araxy and Marian became friends, with Araxy giving support to Amiraian to pursue the translation.

The Apigians contacted friend Dickran Toomajan, a teacher in the Armenian Studies Program at Detroit’s Wayne State University. It was a perfect match. Toomajan’s father, Nishan, had relocated to the city of Sepastia after the Hamidian massacres. Toomajan like Dirtadian, describes the translation as a labor of love. Together with his wife Anahit and daughter Ani, their excellent English translation was completed.

Dirtadian’s book is a display of his Armenian language skill and memory. “A wonderful scene opened up before your eyes from the faraway fields to the shores of the Alis River,” he wrote. “One could see the half-gathered piles of wheat and how the unharvested fields were undulating like the waves of the sea.”

The book was printed by the Hairenik Press in Boston in 1959, the organ to which Dirtadian was also a literary contributor. It is the publication of the Central Board of the Patriotic Society of the village of Haght, Sepastia.

Although Dirtadian’s foresighted book is his legacy to the villagers of Haght and their descendents, its contents could be applicable to the lives of all Armenian villagers.

Why would you not want to know the customs followed by your people for engagements, marriages, birth, and burials? The many proverbs and sayings, riddles, customs, holidays, and superstitions? The educational and farming conditions of the village? The revolutionary involvement of Haght and its destruction? Dirtadian even compiled a list of village residents and those who survived the genocide, those who came to various cities in America and their addresses.

Often as American-born Hyes we bemoan a book is written only in Armenian. This book is an opportunity to avail yourself of something very tangakin (special). You may never “go home again,” but you will have a permanent connection to the Haght village.

Photos in the book include one of Mourad of Sepastia; men who fought with General Antranik; volunteers on various Armenian war fronts; and a 1930 photo of the Patriotic Society of the Village of Haght Providence Chapter.

Photos of the serene village show it to be nestled in a mountainous gorge with a river and small streams flowing through and stretching toward the Alis Valley, hence the popularity of the feminine name “Alice.” On the slopes of the mountain was built the famous St. Hreshdagabed (Archangel) Monastery.

He writes, “The endless Turkish suppression, brutality, injustices, terror, and unbridled looting of the once obedient and subservient Armenian people became the reason why rebellious, virile, and heroic figures emerged from the bosom of an enslaved community to wage a struggle against captivity giving rise to revolutionary ideas.”

It began in the fall of 1914: “The Turkish government ordered Armenians to surrender their weapons immediately and took the men away forever. A repeat of the Hamidian massacres of 1895 filled their hearts. Wisely the villagers buried what armaments they had left. Then Turkish policeman entered the village, took away 150 elderly and teenagers to a field and under the pretest of an attempted escape, shot them all, leaving the women and children to harvest the crops…

“The joyful but unfortunate Armenian people were superior in their creativity, morals, character, and culture, to the cannibalistic monsters and cursed tribe that has established a despotic rule which had tarnished the history of humankind with its name, Turk, and by bestial acts carried out under that name.”

No where will you find a more descriptive, uplifting, and then tragic chronicle of Armenian village life than in Dirtadian’s book. It is your witness to your ownership of homes in an ancient land called historic Armenia that lives in all Armenian hearts.

Appreciation to the Patriotic Society of Haght, Baron Dirtadian, his daughter Marian and granddaughter Arpi Amiraian, Araxy and Ned Apigian, the Toomajan translators, Armenag Topouzian for guidance, and Melkon Yessailian for getting the original manuscript published by the Hairenik Press.

In Armenian, haght means “to win,” and this book about this village in historic Armenia is truly a winner. If you “get it” you will get it.

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”


  1. where can we get this book from?
    “Haght and the Haghtetsis”
    i looked in hairenik . com and could not find it in order to buy one.

    • David Amiraian’s address has changed to: 14115 Magnolia Cove Road
      Jacksonville, FL 32224

  2. Hi Ara,
    You may order a copy of the book by sending $35 to:
    David Amiraian
    2 Rudder Lane
    Latham, New York 12110
    Please make your check or money order payable to:
    Marian N. Amiraian

  3. I look forward to reading the history of the village of Haght.  While my family does not hail from that village, one of the most incredible survival stories I have ever heard was that of Mr. Vartan Anooshian, who was born there.  As a baby, Anooshian’s mother was forced to leave little Vartan in a tree – to ensure that the child would not give away the position of the villagers during the many Turkish onslaughts in the 1890’s.  She would return several days later to see that Vartan had braved the elements (and the Turks) and survived.  He would later survive the Armenian Genocide and eventually come to the United States, where he devoted his life to community building and education.

    I first heard Mr. Anooshian’s story of survival, when he and his family generously donated gifts in honor of his 100th birthday to the ANCA back in the mid-90’s.  It has served to inspire me ever since. 

    • Yeghisapet: do you know how I can contact the Anooshian family? I would like to trade Mourad of Sepastia stories with them.

  4. I am such a proud grandson to be able to read my Grandfathers’ book.  He was a very special human being. Wise, generous, honest ,amoung many other endearing qualities.  Imiss him so much yet I feel he is still with me because of his book.  As I get older I appreciate his advice and words of wisdom even more today than ever .  Thankyou Aunt Marian for making the publishing of  Haght and the Haghtetsis into English possible.  Love always,  Armen

  5. Dear Betty
    We all try try our best to read the book
    You should put the book with ISBN
    to appear on other sites…it very easy to do…
    It will go to Amazon…B&N…etc
    for everyone to read and order…
    I do encourage every Armenian…
    if Thee knows any story about our
    unhealed pains to write to write …

    I never thought one day i can write
    I forced my self to write …
    Because of my grandmother…
    Till now i can feel her tears…
    Her pain…
    I will never forget…
    I encourage every one to write …
    “The language is not a problem…
    if you put ‘Your Soul’ in it …
    It will be magic ”


  6. My grandmother came from Sepastia.. Her story of the horrors suffered brought me to search the Internet for information. While she was alive there was no internet. Her father was a lawyer there and was herded up and killed. She and her brother and an aunt were taken on a trek through the desert. Her aunt shaved my grandmothers head and eyebrows to make her unattractive to their captors, saving her from rape. She was 11. She was lucky and survived the trek but her brother disappeared. She lived in Constantinople for 4 years with a Turkish family. Then my grandfather sent for her from Boston and she came here at age 15 , married and had my father at 16.
    I hope I can find this book.
    Thank you so much.

    • “Haght and the Haghtetsis” is still available for purchase. Please send a check for $35 to:

      Marian Amiraian
      14115 Magnolia Cove Road
      Jacksonville, FL 32224

      Please make sure to include your return address, an email address and telephone number.

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