Apigian: Canadian Author Skyrpuch Researches Interned Turks of 1914

Marsha Skyrpuch is an award-winning Canadian of Ukrainian descent living in Brantford, Ontario, who knows a lot about genocide. Her ancestors were victims of Holodomor (“extermination by famine,” in Ukrainian), when 6-10 million Ukrainians perished from 1932-33 as a result of a collectivization resolution issued by Joseph Stalin controlling the state production of grains.

Skyrpuch recently traveled to Kapuskasing for more research. On this visit she says she discovered various artifacts, documents, and photographs from the era, adding pieces to the puzzle. In the photograph, she is seen reading a plaque in the cemetery that bears the names of all the people interned during World War I.

I met the Brantford native several years ago when I attended a book signing for her recently written book Aram’s Choice at the Armenian Community Center of Cambridge, Ontario. It is about one of a group of young Armenian boys brought to Canada as a result of the Armenian Genocide to work on a farm—and they became known as the “Georgetown Boys.”

Earlier this year, I wrote about Brantford historical researcher William Darfler who was seeking information pertaining to the 100 Turkish men from Brantford who were rounded up by police in November 1914 and interned at that time in extremely remote Kapuskasing, Ontario. Some had lived in Brantford for 10 years and had become naturalized Canadian citizens, which was stripped from them because it was believed they were planning on blowing up the Brantford Post Office.

These Turks lived in Armenian-owned boarding houses and had come from their homeland with Armenians to work in area foundries. Darfler describes them as “shadowy creatures” in a Brantford Expositor article written by Heather Ibbotson, with most of their names being unavailable.

He is a researcher for the Ontario Visual Heritage Project with a grant from the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund.

Now Skyrpuch and Darfler are working closely together sharing unearthed information as they discover more on this mystery of the Turkish internment. He is writing a paper and she is writing a novel.

Skyrpuch recently traveled to Kapuskasing for more research. On this visit she says she discovered various artifacts, documents, and photographs from the era, adding pieces to the puzzle. In the photograph, she is seen reading a plaque in the cemetery that bears the names of all the people interned during World War I.

I asked Skyrpuch if the Turkish government had raised a ruckus about this internment, and she said they had said nothing about the situation. (Wait till the book comes out to see if there is a reaction.)

I also asked if perhaps, since the Armenians who arrived in Brantford were mainly from Keghi and were Turkish citizens, it was possible that some of the interned were Armenians, to which she said, “No, all of them were Turks and I can tell that from their names.”

She also described the event as “trumped- up charges” and said the men arrived at the Model Town in December 1914. “Once you start digging it’s amazing how information about this situation starts coming to the surface,” she added.

For someone who could not read until the fourth grade, Skyrpuch has come a long way. Showing her Canadian spunk when she finally did learn to read, she picked the thickest book in the Brantford Public Library—Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist—which became a turning point in her life, leading to her decision to become a writer.

She received an Honors BA in English from the University of Western Ontario, followed by a masters of library science degree, when she developed her passion for children’s literature.

Skyrpuch has a passion for writing about historical situations that have had little acknowledgement. This is how she met fellow Brantford resident Carl Georgian, whose father was a Georgetown Boy, and how she began writing about the Armenian Genocide. She has become a friend to the Armenian community and was an important guest at the events in Toronto honoring the Georgetown Boys.

Her books with the Armenian Genocide in the background include The Hunger, Nobody’s Child, Daughter of War, Aram’s Choice, and Call Me Aram.

Remember the names Marsha Skyrpuch and Willian Darfler. Together their research should develop into an interesting read about a time in history of special interest to Armenians and all people who have been victims of genocide. We laud their efforts, thank them for bringing factual history to light, and welcome their new books enthusiastically.

For a list of Skyrpuch’s books and availability, visit www.calla.com and click on Books.

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. Dear Betty,
    Thanks so much for the lovely article. A clarification: none of my ancestors were victims of the Holodomor. My grandfather and a great uncle did survive WWI internment in Canada. As to the Turks who were interned. It is not just their names, but their dietary habits, their prayer rugs and their burial rituals that assure me they were not Armenian. Even though Armenians came from the Ottoman Empire and Canada was at war with the Ottoman Empire, it was known that Armenians were not sympathetic to the Ottoman Empire and none were interned. As well, Brantford Armenians started up a Home Guard to work with local Canadian soldiers and were not considered in any way a threat to security.

  2. Dear Ms. Skrypuch,

    I read Ms. Kessel’s article with great interest. When I saw the name of your friend/colleague Carl Georgian mentioned in the article, a thought immediately crossed my mind. A few decades ago a man by the name of George Georgian from Canada contacted my mother in search of relatives he had never known. I believe he was one of the Georgetown Boys. George came all the way from Canada to Watertown, Massachusetts in the U.S. to visit us. We had just immigrated to the US and I was a teenager at the time. The encounter and the story behind it shook us to the core. George, we discovered, was my mother’s long lost first cousin. George’s mother and my mother’s father were siblings. As a young boy, George was lost and separated from his mother during the violent and chaotic slaughters perpetrated by the Turks in 1915-23. I know his mother never stopped searching for him. It was a miracle when they ultimately found each other before she passed away. I believe George went down to see her in Montevideo, Uruguay where she had established residence after escaping the genocide. George was already an older gentleman. We never saw George since. I wonder if Carl is George’s son. If you can find out please let me know as I have no way of asking him directly. Thank you for your efforts and for your valuable genocide research and intellectual contribution.

  3. Dear Ara,
    Like so many Armenians of that generation, George has a story that would make a wonderful feature film. Too bad the Armenians have no clout in that area, and even worse, so many obstacles to overcome to get something on the silver screen.

  4. Dear Ara, I am thrilled you have been brought together with Carl Georgian, my friend from Brantford, Ontario. This is just too marvelous for words. I met Carl when I went to Brantford to a book talk for Marsha, his good friend. I am so thrilled my column has brought all of us together. I hope you contact me soon. Do you know Sonny Gavoor previously from Watertown, and Libby Amerian Miller (Azadouhie) also previosuly from Watertown and now of California?  Betty from Keghi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.