Mouradian Speaks at First Genocide Commemoration in Aintab (Full Text)

The Story of Two Armenian Midwives

Below is the text of a lecture delivered by scholar and former Armenian Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian at the first commemoration of the Armenian Genocide in Aintab, held on March 21. The talk was delivered in Turkish. The commemoration was organized by the Greens and the Left Party of the Future. Party spokesperson Sevil Turan, writer Attila Tuygan from Istanbul, and translator Murat Uçanar also spoke. Celal Deniz delivered the opening remarks.

(L-R) Sevil Turan, Khatchig Mouradian, Attila Tuygan, and Murat Ucanar
(L-R) Sevil Turan, Khatchig Mouradian, Attila Tuygan, and Murat Ucanar (Photo: George Aghjayan)

I want to tell you a story.

Siphora, an Armenian woman, worked as a midwife in Aintab from the late 1800’s to 1922. She kept a notebook detailing information on the babies she delivered beginning in 1890. By the time she left this city, she had helped deliver 4,274 children.

Four thousand. Two hundred. Seventy-four.

Siphora’s sister Nuritsa began practicing midwifery, also here in Aintab, in 1905. She, too, kept a detailed notebook.

Initially, many of the families they served were Armenians in the city. Siphora helped deliver a child for Rapael’s wife Zaruhie (January 1892, then March 1893), kuchuk (small) Nerses’s daughter Ovsanna of Nizib (October 1895), saddle-maker Avak’s child (March 1897), pilavji Nerses’s child (April 1897), deli (crazy) Gullu’s child (February 1898), carpenter Minas’s bride Khanum (June 1899), goldsmith Harutyun’s child (October 1899), and hundreds of other Aintab Armenians.

Then, after 1915, we encounter fewer and fewer Armenians in the notebook.

You know why.

Their clients were now primarily Muslims and Jews: gendarmes commander Kemal bey’s child (1916), Salonica refugee Mahmut effendi’s child (1916), Cabra’s wife Sara’s child (March 1918), and others.

A page from Sifora's notebook
A page from Siphora’s notebook

Almost abruptly, in 1922, Siphora’s notebook has a simple entry: Antep’te işimiz bitti (We are done/our work is over in Aintab). Nuritsa writes in her notebook that on Nov. 29, they rushed to the train station with a number of orphans and escaped to Aleppo.

There, Siphora and Nuritsa continued their work, helping deliver children of survivors of the massacres.

A simple note at the end of Siphora’s notebook informs us that she passed away on May 28, 1940. Her sister continued working as a midwife for another decade and a half.

People of Aintab:

It is symbolic that the first time these notebooks are ever being publicly shown is in Aintab. Through these notebooks, today, the two sisters return to Aintab.

As I stand here today and look at you, I can’t help but think that there are many among you who are grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those Nuritsa and Siphora delivered a century ago.

Recall that number: 4,274 babies—Siphora’s alone.

It is likely that Nuritsa and Siphora were the first to hold your grandparents and great-grandparents.

Those two women, who served this town for decades, left with pain in their hearts and with three words on their tongue: Antep’te işimiz bitti.

You know why.

Like Nuritsa and Siphora, thousands upon thousands of Armenians left this town, never to be able to return again. But they took a piece of Aintab with them. How could they not? They lived with longing for their town until they died.

The few who had the opportunity to visit after they were forced to leave had a bittersweet experience rediscovering their ancestral home. George Haig was one of them. He left Aintab in December 1919 “for the United States to study agriculture and return to improve our properties: pistachio, olive, fig groves and vineyards and grain crops.” He wouldn’t return again.

You know why.

Only after 40 years, as a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, was George Haig able to visit Aintab. He wrote:

“… I was standing in front of our house. What a thrill, what a feeling, what ecstasy to be back home after so many years. Still, I did not yet realize fully that I was in front of someone else’s house. When I knocked at the door I was still under the impression that the door would be opened for me by one of my brothers or sisters. You can dream, can’t you? But when the door was opened by a 12-year-old girl, I woke up to the realization that I was now an outsider.”

Today, those who committed the massacres against Armenians in 1895, 1909, and then 1915 are long gone. Gone are also those who survived those massacres. Siphora, Nuritza, and Haig are all dead. But they did not take their memories with them. Through their accounts, their stories, and their notebooks, they passed their memories on to generations of Armenians growing up far from Aintab.

The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Siphora and Nuritza are alive. They gave me the notebooks, which I am currently using in my research.

And the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the people of Aintab whom Siphora and Nuritza delivered are also alive.

Some may be sitting right here in this hall. Look around. They may be right here.

A hundred years after the Armenian Genocide, it is time for their memories to also be your memories.

It is time for you to tell the grandchildren of George Haig, Siphora, and Nuritsa that you are committed to truth and justice.

And that the time has come for us to change those three words ringing in our ears today, and say, instead: Antep’te işimiz başlıyor! Our work in Aintab is beginning anew.

A scene from the event
A scene from the event (Photo: George Aghjayan)
Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

Khatchig Mouradian is the Armenian and Georgian Area Specialist at the Library of Congress and a lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. He also serves as Co-Principal Investigator of the project on Armenian Genocide Denial at the Global Institute for Advanced Studies, New York University. Mouradian is the author of The Resistance Network: The Armenian Genocide and Humanitarianism in Ottoman Syria, 1915-1918, published in 2021. The book has received the Syrian Studies Association “Honourable Mention 2021.” In 2020, Mouradian was awarded a Humanities War & Peace Initiative Grant from Columbia University. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming book on late-Ottoman history, and the editor of the peer-reviewed journal The Armenian Review.
Dr. Khatchig Mouradian

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  1. I’m glad that we are talking to the Turkish people, and the Kurdish people in Turkey (Western Armenia ) today. But we have a greater duty to reach the 80 million in Turkey, I believe we can do it!

  2. Thank you for researching Aintab (Aintabtsis stories).. Both my parents were survivors of Aintab massacres. My father’s father was killed/ burned in his ovens. He was a baker. This was in 1895. My father was born six months later. My mom was ohaned at the age of seven.

    Keep up your researchs. I’ll keep,up reading the armenian weekly.

  3. Such a beautiful, moving piece! Thank you so much, Khatchig. My grandmother was born in Aintab between 1889 and 1892. She and her six siblings (only four of whom survived their first year) could easily have been born with the help of this midwife. Eliza lived in their ancestral home with a large courtyard, but in 1894-95 Eliza and her family had to leave in the dark of night, never to return. I wonder who now lives in their family home.

  4. What a beautifully written and touching tribute to these midwives, and to those Armenians who once lived in Aintab. Some sitting in the audience might well be descendants of babies delivered by the sisters; how did audience members react to this presentation?

  5. A searing account of a palpable and indisputable reality: an account that can’t be brushed aside by any of the listeners who possess a smidgen of humanity and compassion for the suffering of fellow human beings.
    I hope this turns out to be a mere prelude to broader and more fertile venues, by Khatchig Mouradian and other scholars, especially on the occasion of the Centennial Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, in order to strike a chord for remorse, repentance (silent and introspective perhaps) and popular recognition–and possibly healing–for the common folk.

  6. My Mother-in-Law was born in Aintab. She died at the age of 102 yrs. old in 2007. We took her to Aintab in 1966 when few Armenians dared to go. Her only wish was to visit her birthplace. She found her home, her friends and relatives homes, St. Mary Church where she was baptized, her family vineyards and the American University where her Uncle Jesse was a Professor. She entered the home where she was born by the help of a kind Turkish neighbor who remembered her family name. It was an emotional visit for her but one that she was grateful for. Many guides who have taken tourist to Aintab interviewed her to obtain information about the sites that they would take their tourist to. She was 15 yrs. old when she left Aintab and remembered every detail of her life there….Thank you for this article. It brought back memories of our trip to Aintab.

    • Dear Anush Dekmejian.I have been living in aintab.I was born and grown in old armenian quarter of aintab eyupoğlu and kasthelbaşı.I wonder which house was your mother-in-law born in?Did she tell you or show you her neighbour’s home and their names?

  7. Khatchig Mouradian reaches the readers’s hearts. He presents two human interest stories that any audience can relate to. His message is very powerful.

    Thank you, Weekly for making Mouradian’s speech accessible so soon after his delivery.

  8. Is there the name of my father Leon Leylekian on that list ?He was born in Aintab His mother was Nectar Sahagian Leylekian.My grandparents had to leave my father who was forty days to a Turkish family because they were forced to leave their home and walk in the desert to Aleppo Months later my father Leon Sarkis was brought to my grandparents by a Turkish Postman to whom my grandparents had Paid some gold coins .
    Would love to know if my fathers name was on that list ,
    Thank you ,People who went to Aintab say
    that our ancestral home the Leylekians house is now a school
    Thank you in advance
    Nectar Leylekian

    • Yes Nectar.Leylekian house is a school once upon a time.İts restoration office of goverment.I had studied primary class at that school 5 years.

  9. Հարգելի Խաչիկ։ Ես՝ հնաարվորության սահմաններում, հետևում եմ Ձեր հրապարակումներին։ Այս մեկը ևս բացառություն չէր՝ հրաշալի ելույթ էր։ Անձամբ ես հուզվեցի։ Վստահ եմ, որ հուզմունք են ապրել նաև ներկաները՝ հայեր, թուրքեր։ Խնդիրը նստվածքի մեջ է։ Ու դրանից բխող գործողությունների։ Որոնք կամ չեն լինում, կամ մնում են որպես հետաքրքիր հուշ։ Ու այն, որ դիտարկումների հեղինակները միայն հայեր են՝ դրա ցուցիչներից է։ Հուսամ, տեքստը թուրքերենով դրված է համապատասխան թուրքալեզու կայքում ու ինձ, որպես հետազոտողի, շատ հետաքրքիր է ՆՐԱՆՑ արձագանքը։

  10. Thank you for this important story. My father, Samuel Varjabedian, was born in Aintab around 1910. He was a genocide survivor who lived in Palestine and was a violinist and math teacher.

  11. yes, a very sad but moving story… I want to believe that one day we , Turks, will learn how to face the history. That day i will be very proud of being one.

    • Be proud now for that beautiful statement you have made touched my heart Banu Yalcin Thank-You

  12. Beautiful story about the two midwives, Siphora’s sister Nuritsa.
    I was wondering if the names of Boghos Hagop Kalemkiarian’s Family (wife Khanem) are in the list.
    Thank you for the very unique story.

  13. When I met Armen Aroyan in 1987,in Sabah Newspaper’s office Gaziantep, I never thought that after 28 years such a meeting would occur in Antep. Armen and my family who printed Sabah for almost 70 years had dreamed peace between the two nations. We all worked for it, Armen started to bring tours in 1990 and still… I helped him by all means. Not only reserving hotels and making menus but also found the home villages of Armen’s clients. I used to spent months to find a village which does not being called with the same name as in 1915. I learned so much as I was researching. I used to invite the Armenian group members to my house for dinner when they were visiting Antep.
    I’ve read the speech, I knew Mr. Haig, who’s original name was Camishyan. I was introduced him in America when I was an exchange student. Later he came to visit us in Antep and my family invited him for dinner and I took him around. He told us about his first trip to Antep, as you wrote he knocked the door and a girl opened the door, the house was Incioglu family house then. They invited him inside and Mr Incioglu said, Mr. Haig should not stay in a hotel but in his house. So Mr. Haig stayed in the house for a few days and was very well welcomed. He returned with good impressions. Sometime in late 1990’s Mr. Haig’s nephew came with Armen’s group. I invited them for dinner, as they were leaving he told me that he was Mr. Haig’s nephew. I called Incioglu family’s son -who was my class mate- and told him that Mr. Haig’s nephew is in Gaziantep.Enes Incioglu invited all the group to a feast in his farm/village. I also went, the family members cooked for the nephew. I remember how much he appreciated.
    My friend Murad has taped the meeting,I will listen and write an article for Sabah.
    Thank you for coming Khatchig. I hope there will be more meetings on the subject which will help Turkish people to understand what happened in the past.

  14. Ayfer hanim, what a nice story. Thank you for sharing with us.I always hope, one day things will be different, and we all be around one big table, just like you had in that village with your guest.Thanks for the good memories you had and shared with us.

    • Will there be any empty chairs around that one big table to signify our missing ancestors whom Turks murdered ?
      About 2 million (1894-1923) ?
      What about all the empty chairs of Armenians that were not born and would be here today because the 2 million did not have the chance to live and procreate ?

      Do Turks just say “sorry” and that’s it ?


  16. Both my paternal grandparents were born in Aintab. My father who was born in Aleppo Syria had never been to Aintab, but grew up listening to stories his father told him when he was a child. Years later when the opportunity presented itself he took it. It came when he was working in an import/export business. He’d import men’s & women’s wear from Europe and sell them locally. Among his clients there were also Turks who came to Syria to purchase merchandise to sell them in Turkey. One day a group of these Turkish merchants snuck my father into Turkey, of course not through the legal border. When my father arrived in Aintab the first thing he did was go the Armenian church. He stood in the courtyard of the church noticing that it was converted to a mosque he decided not to enter it. I don’t know the thoughts that raced in his head – and unfortunately I no longer can ask him, he passed away years ago – so he fainted and fell down right there in the courtyard of the church. The people who snuck him in, got scared, what if he got discovered by the authorities, he had no personal id on him. Very quickly they got him out of Aintab and Turkey the same way they had snuck him in. Many long hours after this experience he was happy to be back into the safety of his home.

    • it is amazing how powerful how yearning is, it is in the the soul your story is very interesting, thank you for sharing it. My grandfather Kevork was in the turkish army when the order came to kill all Armenian soldiers,his turkish army friend saved him when he was about to be killed by firing squad,he was captured and imprisoned and fled again, after the war he returned with his family to Aintab then they had to leave Aintab again and never to return, he settled with his family in Palestine, building a beautiful stone house, he had a good job as a horse shouer (nalbant).unfortunately because of the arab israeli war, he lost his house and property and was forced to relocate to amman, jordan, where he started from scratch, had a thriving business as a horse shoer, he built a nice stone house and raised seven children, i remember my Grand father talking to his brother about his experiences about his escape from turkey, they would speak in turkish, i remember words, chetan(bandit) goortelmeech (saved,rescued) gashtik(escaped) oelmuch(died)he was a very kind, loving and caring Grandfather,i have never seen him sad he used to get very early in the morning to go to work, he wrote his memoirs in turkish, but used Armenian letters, unfortunately my Uncle can not locate them.he is very much missed

  17. it’s a very touching story I read all the comments and stories. I personaly know Sifora’s and Nourita’s family members they were Mr. Mihran Snorhokian and his other brother very reverent Badveli Snorhokian my mother delivered by her.
    Thank you Mr Mouradian for refreshing memories for all Ainteb people wether Armenian or Turks because every each of us carry a part of Ainteb in our hearts. I have never been to Ainteb but, I am 100% Aintebzi.

  18. Just reading your article, so very fascinating. Thank you much, as it is so difficult to find much information about my grandparents history in Aintab. I was wondering how to see a copy of the sisters Notebook? is there any version available? My great grandfather was Hagop Abajian born 1863, but have heard that the name was different 2 generations prior. (Haroutune or Hartunian) He had my grandfather Artin in 1906. I would appreciate any information or advice as to how to find anything more as that is a far back as our family has information. Thank You

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