Four Stories Are First Contributions to Armenian Genocide Congressional Record Project
WASHINGTON—Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on May 19 submitted four stories from survivors of the Armenian Genocide to be included in the Congressional Record—the first four of many submissions the Congressman has received as part of the new Armenian Genocide Congressional Record Project.
“It is difficult if not impossible to find an Armenian family not touched by the genocide, and this is an opportunity to make their experiences part of the national record,” Schiff said. “Through the Armenian Genocide Congressional Record Project, I hope to document the harrowing stories of the survivors in an effort to preserve their accounts and to help educate the Members of Congress now and in the future on the necessity of recognizing the Armenian Genocide.”
The Armenian Genocide Congressional Record Project, pioneered by Schiff, is part of an ongoing effort to parallel H.Res.252, the Congressional resolution he sponsored to recognize and commemorate the genocide carried out against Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915-23. Schiff continues to encourage survivors of the genocide and their families from throughout the country to participate in the project.
Send your family’s story to Mary Hovagimian in Schiff’s Pasadena office by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are the stories submitted on May 19, as well as the format that will be used when submitting these accounts into the Congressional Record.
Mr. Schiff. Madame Speaker, I rise today to memorialize and record a courageous story of survival of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children. As the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau documented at the time, it was a campaign of “race extermination.”
The campaign to annihilate the Armenian people failed, as illustrated by the proud Armenian nation and prosperous diaspora. It is difficult if not impossible to find an Armenian family not touched by the genocide, and while there are some survivors still with us, it is imperative that we record their stories. Through the Armenian Genocide Congressional Record Project, I hope to document the harrowing stories of the survivors in an effort to preserve their accounts and to help educate the Members of Congress now and in the future of the necessity of recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
Below are a few of those stories.
Varsenik Demirjian, a genocide survivor, eventually made her way to Yerevan, Armenia, where she lived in a comfortable, two-story home with her two sons, their wives, and six grandchildren.
According to her family, she did not discuss what transpired during the genocide for most of her life. However, in her final years, she found the strength and will to tell her children and grandchildren what happened. Edward Djrbashian, her great grandson, translated her experiences that took place in Adabazar, Turkey, in 1915: “I had no idea what the future had in store for me. Yet, my father and mother had heard of what happened to the Armenians in neighboring villages, so they asked our Arabic neighbors to take care of me, just in case something happened. On April 24 of 1915, when I was only five years old, the bloodthirsty Turks invaded our village. Just as my parents predicted, my mother quickly told me to run to the closet and to stay there.
“Panic-stricken, I curled up in the dark closet and in a blink of an eye I heard loud screaming and a loud bang! Out of fear, I dropped the bag of gold coins my mother had given me. The clinking sound alerted the soldier because I heard the clicking of his boots on the hardwood floor coming closer and closer. Thankfully, as he was approaching the closet, one of his superiors called him down and he left the house without finding me. As my eyes closed, I slowly fell asleep.
“After a very long time it seemed, I heard a voice calling, ‘Varsenik, Varsenik!’
“The familiar voice comforted me and gave me courage to rush out of the closet.
“My heart sunk when I saw the tears in Hassan’s and his wife’s eyes.
“’I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your parents have been murdered,’” Hassan told me.
“Since that day, my life had never been the same. I lived with Hassan and his wife for a few months. They gave me my own room and fed me well. I didn’t mind living with them, but the thought of my parents being dead hurt me greatly. One morning as my eyes just opened, Hassan came running to my room and told me to wear my clothes and quickly hide in the closet. As I did what he said, I heard a knock on the door. It was an American’s voice. As I closed the closet door, flashbacks of my mother screaming went through my head. It seemed like only a few moments had passed by, and before I knew it, the closet door swung open. There were two men. One seemed to be an American, and the other was an Armenian. I couldn’t resist not answering the questions the Armenian man asked me, and eventually he nicely asked me to pack my belongings because he was going to take me to a Red Cross orphanage in Jerusalem. That was the last time I saw Hassan.
“In the orphanage, I learned to read and write English and Armenian, cook and knit. I made a couple of friends, but none were ever close to me.
“After living in the orphanage for 12 years, my teacher gave me a reason to smile again. She called me up and said, ‘You are nearing the age of 18 and I have very good news for you, Varsenik. Your uncle from Greece has somehow contacted our orphanage and we have agreed to let you decide if you want to leave.’
“Of course, I was grateful for receiving news that would spark a ray of hope in my melancholic life.
“The remaining weeks at the Red Cross orphanage were very delightful, because I knew that in a week or so I would be in a beautiful country, Greece, with people I can call family. As the time approached for me to leave, I thanked everyone in the orphanage house and the teachers for all they had done for me.
“What I found in Athens was my future husband, Hakop, whom I married a few years later. We had three children and our family survived during the harsh times of the World War II era, when the Nazis occupied Greece. Finally after the war, we decided that it is time to return to our real homeland, Armenia. In 1947, we boarded another ship which took us to Yerevan.
“I knew that this was my very last destination.”
Nora Hovsepian, the granddaughter of Vergine Djihanian, a genocide survivor, expressed a story on her grandmother’s behalf: “Vergine Djihanian was an Armenian girl who lived with her parents and eight brothers and sisters in the city of Erzinga, Turkey.
“In the summer of 1915, Vergine witnessed her father and uncle being beaten and axed to death in front of her eyes by Turkish gendarmes. Her mother and aunt frantically gathered up all of their children, took them to the nearby banks of the Euphrates River, said their prayers, and holding hands together at the river’s edge, threw themselves into the raging waters, choosing to die by their own hands rather than falling victim to the barbarity of the Turkish soldiers surrounding them.
“All of them drowned, except nine-year-old Vergine, who clung to the branch of a weeping willow tree overhanging the river, instinctively wanting to survive. Vergine was too young to understand why her family way dying around her. She was too young to understand the fear of being raped or enslaved by Turkish soldiers, but she was old enough to know that if she could just hold on a little longer to the hanging branch, then maybe she could be saved. She hung on for what seemed an eternity. However, she felt hopeful again when a compassionate Kurdish family came to the river’s edge, saw her desperation, and rescued her. She was the only one who survived the ordeal, saving her from an agonizing death.
“She worked as a maid in the house of her rescuers for a few years. Then American missionaries had come to the region trying to find lost souls. Vergine was taken to an American orphanage, and at the age of 14, she was reunited with her two older brothers who had been in America for several years and who were frantically trying to find any surviving members of their large family.
“Vergine came to New York on a ship through Ellis Island in 1921 and built her life there. She met and married Missak Kalebdjian, another survivor of the Armenian massacres, in Adana in 1909, and she never told her only son or anyone else about the unspeakable horrors she had witnessed.
“Vergine Djihanian Kalebdjian was my grandmother. She told me her story when I was 10 years old, sitting me down with a serious and sad look, preparing me for what I was about to hear. As I listened, I could not even fathom what she had gone through at the same age, and until now, and for the rest of my life, I will never forget her story.
“Nearly 60 years after her nightmare, the memory remained fresh within my grandmother’s mind. She wept uncontrollably as she told me the story of her family’s fate. I tried to comfort her, telling her I did not want her to cry, but she wanted to get it out, as it had been festering inside her for all those years. She could not bring herself to tell my father, her only son, about her childhood as he was growing up, because she wanted to spare him the pain she had endured. She wanted to give him a better life and happy memories.
“My grandmother said that she had to pass down the legacy of what happened to her and her family to my generation, so that we could tell the world and seek justice for the unspeakable crime against our people.
“I will forever cherish her words and her memory.”
From Simon Sako Simonian, an Armenian man, on behalf of his father, Nerses, and grandparents, Johnny and Golanbar: “My grandfather, Johnny, and my grandmother, Golanbar, lived in Orumieh, a city in Iran close to the Turkish border. They had been blessed with four children (one of them named Nerses, my father). My grandfather was a well-educated and knowledgeable person. He was fluent in more than 12 languages, as well as one of the few people at that time who was able to properly and accurately translate and describe the Bible. He was a respected man—a religious man devoted to God. He was so highly respected that whenever the consul of the U.S. would go there, he would always request to meet with my grandfather.
“During the Armenian Genocide, the Shah of Iran was a very weak person; therefore the Turks were able to enter Iran and do the mass killing and elimination of Armenians and Christians in that area.
“One day, during the dark years of the Armenian Genocide, a group of Turkish soldiers knocked my grandfather’s door. One of the Turkish soldiers told my grandfather that they were going to kill him and that he should speak now or never if he had any requests. My grandfather said that his only wish is for them to let him pray just one more time. He was allowed to step forward to the courtyard for his prayer. As soon as he raised his hands towards the sky to God to start his prayer, he was shot and killed from behind.
“He was shot and killed from behind, without a single word of prayer being spoken from his lips. They also killed my grandmother.
“The four children, one of them being Nerses, were hiding. When this occurred, they fled out and joined the crowd in the street running away as fast as they could. All four children ranged anywhere from 10 to 16 years old. During this time, my father, Nerses, caught a severe cold since he was out in the cold for 20 to 25 days. Orumieh is cold, especially during the time of this occurrence. However, my father was soon taken in and cared for by the Presbyterian Church in Iran, where he was cared for for a few years.
“Sadly, he was still not feeling well, and soon developed a kidney malfunction. In 1929, regardless of his fragile state, he married Sophia, the love of his life in Masjed Suleiman, which is a city located in the southwest region of Iran.
“My father passed away at the young age of 38, when I was only two years old. He left behind his written testimony—his terrifying and heartbreaking memories of the Armenian Genocide. This is why I can share all this with you today.”
Mary Samanlian Poladian’s grandmother, Mary Hasesian, married Artin (Haroutyoun) Samanlian when she was 16 years old. It was Artin’s second marriage and Mary’s first marriage. They were from the city of Marash. From Mary Samanlian Poladian on behalf of her grandmother, grandfather and ancestors: “My grandfather’s first wife had died and left behind an eight-year-old daughter named Siranoush, and a seven-year-old son named Panos. After a year of marriage, my grandmother was already expecting a child.
“One evening, when the French army left the city, the Turkish army armed with knives and axes attacked the city before sunrise. The Armenian people were still asleep. My grandfather and grandmother were awakened by the noises and realized that they should run to safety. They immediately took the children and got out their home to go to the nearby church. On their way, the Turkish soldiers fired at them from far away. Panos cried in pain when one of the bullets struck his leg. His father carried him, and they all continued walking towards the church. Not long after, my grandmother began to feel pain, and she knew she was ready to deliver her baby.
“When they reached the church, my grandmother gave birth to a baby girl who she named Zarouhi. The church was full of people, and sadly my grandmother and grandfather lost each other. During this time, she also found out that Lutfia and Gulen, two of the nine sisters, had been burned alive in the furnace with their husbands and children. With no sign of her husband, she carried her baby and asked her husband’s son and daughter to hold her skirt as they walked out of the church with the rest of the people.
“Now, they had to walk from Marash to Aleppo (Syria). The weather was cold and it began to snow. They ate snow when they felt hungry. It was a long way and they were exhausted. Panos’s pain was not subsiding as well. Eventually, they all made it to Aleppo, where they joined other Armenian refugees. An Armenian priest sent them, as well as three other Armenian women and their children, to Damascus by train. In Damascus, they lived together in an old house.
“One day, some Armenians and Americans came and took the children to the orphanage. My grandmother was devastated. As time passed by, good news sparked a ray of hope in her life. Three years later, there was a knock on her door, and guess who it was? My grandmother fell on the ground unconscious when she saw her husband standing in front of the home. After she absorbed what had happened, he told her that he had been looking for them for a long time, and was told by some relatives that they had heard of them coming to Aleppo. He immediately brought back his children from the orphanage, and they went to Beirut where my father Georgie was born. Years later, they were also blessed with two daughters.
“They named their two daughters Lutfia and Gulen in memory of my grandmother’s sisters who lost their lives during the Armenian Genocide.”