Aghjayan: A New Source for Armenian Roots

I wish to thank Vural Genç, Cihangir Gündoğdu, George Leylegian, Khatchig Mouradian, and the staff at the Ottoman archives (Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi). Each was instrumental in assisting me in gathering and transcribing the data. In addition, I wish to thank Margaret Papazian for her encouragement as well as for bringing to light new information on my family I never imagined existed. All errors are, of course, my own.

 

A few months ago, I was visiting my parents in Rhode Island when my mother’s cousin Margaret Papazian called from New Jersey. I happened to pick up the phone and, as my mother had stepped out, we chatted a bit. The conversation touched on my numerous travels in Western Armenia and other research interests.

Sakrat, in the district of Palu, was a small village with an Armenian population of 650 in 75 households on the eve of the genocide. Margaret’s family was from the same village as my grandfather. In truth, we were not even sure how we were related other than my great-grandmother, Khachkatoun Yazujian, shared the same surname as Margaret’s ancestors from Sakrat.

Aghjayan (in blue) with his aunt and an Armenian Genocide survivor in Sakrat in 1996.
Aghjayan (in blue) with his aunt and an Armenian Genocide survivor in Sakrat in 1996.

Eventually, our conversation came around to the family roots. In a previous article, I had detailed finding my grandfather’s family in the 1840 Ottoman census of Sakrat and I mentioned to Margaret that, if she knew family members alive in 1840, I could check the census.

I was amazed to learn from Margaret that a native of the village of Sakrat, Khachig Yazujian, had written a book about the village and the Yazujian clan. Khachig was the brother of Margaret’s grandfather. Hishadagaran was published in 1951 by Asbarez Press and it included details on the Yazujian family tree dating back to the early 19th century.

Khachig was born in 1878 in Sakrat, the youngest of five children born to Ohan and Gulvart Yazujian. The book details a fascinating life and the experiences of one family in one small village throughout the catastrophes that befell the Armenian people over a 30-year period. Khachig’s father and grandfather were killed during the 1894-96 massacres, and three of his siblings and countless other relatives were killed during the genocide. Further tragedy struck when he lost both of his sons in battle during World War II. The book was dedicated to the memory of his sons, Hovhannes and Garabed (Garo).

As Margaret read off the names of those mentioned in the book, I was quickly checking ancestry.com and found that someone had posted a portion of the family tree from the book.

The story begins with Nerses, who in the late 18th century migrates from Kharpert to Sakrat. After establishing himself in farming, three sons are born to Nerses and his wife. The first born son, Antreas, remains in the village and marries. The second son, Asadour, goes to work in Constantinople and, while there, learns to read and write. He returns to Sakrat an educated man and marries. The youngest son, Hairabed, also travels to Constantinople in search of work, but leads a much more colorful, if unsavory, life.

The Ottoman census does not contain last names per se, most often the family identifier is simply the name of the father. Thus, it can be challenging to identify a family definitively. In this case, though, only 23 Armenian families were recorded in Sakrat in the 1840 (1256) census. I had already identified one family as the Der Manouelian family of priests. Of the remaining 22 families, only one contained the same names as recorded in Khachig’s book—voila, the Yazujians!

Aghjayan2

The household (the 9th listed) was recorded as follows; note that only males were included:

Nerses, son of Ohan, middle income, tall height, white beard, farmer, age 68

Astour, son of Nerses, middle income, tall height, black mustache, age 24

Hairabed, son of Nerses, age 9

Ohan, grandson of Nerses, son of Astour, age 4

Simo, brother of Nerses, middle income, medium height, white beard, age 67

Abryaz, son of Simo, middle income, tall height, black mustache, age 36, away in Constantinople

The census is consistent with Khachig’s book on a number of points. The name of the patriarch of the family was Nerses and he had sons named Astour (Asadour) and Hairabed. In addition, Asadour had a son named Ohan.

However, Khachig had not mentioned Simo (Simon), brother of Nerses. Nor did Khachig mention a person named Abryaz, an unusual spelling, In addition, Antreas, the third son of Nerses, is missing from the census. I have records from one other census for Palu from 1847 (1263).

Aghjayan3

The 1847 census contains much less detail; only the name of the person and the guarantor of his tax obligation are listed. By this time both Simon and Nerses had passed away. Asadour was now the head of the household.

Even though the 1847 census does not contain the same level of detail as the 1840 census, it is still apparent that Abryaz was a misspelling of Antreas. Yet, Khachig states that Antreas was a son of Nerses. The 1847 census references Antreas both as a son of Simon and a brother to Hairabed. My inclination is to consider Antreas as the son of Simon. Since Antreas left no offspring, after the death of his father he was possibly treated as an elder brother to Hairabed and Asadour. However, since Antreas was away in Constantinople during the census taking in 1840, it could be that the relationship was recorded in error by the census taker along with the spelling of the name.

There is also the matter of dating the census. Even though the census book was dated 1840, it is most likely not the date the information was gathered. If we are to take the dates in Khachig’s book literally, then we have some inconsistencies to address. Khachig states that his father, Ohan, was born in 1838, which means he would have been only 2 years old in 1840 (not 4 years old as recorded in the census). Khachig also states that the patriarch of the family, Nerses, passed away in 1837. Yet, Nerses was recorded as still alive in the 1840 census.

Finally, Hairabed was much younger in the census than indicated by Khachig. My first thought was that his age was possibly recorded incorrectly in the census. However, Hairabed was not given a tax classification that is consistent with his recorded age. Thus, I am apt to retain the age as recorded in the census.

It is impossible to reconcile all of the inconsistencies in dates. However, I think it reasonable to assume that the 1840 census was recorded sometime between 1836 and 1838 and probably on the later side of that time period. Asadour was said to have married in 1833 and if Ohan was born soon thereafter, then he would have been 4 years old in 1838.

In short, I have been able to identify another part of my family as recorded in the Ottoman records. A crude family tree can be written as follows with year of approximate birth:

1 Ohan (b. prior to 1750)

2 Nerses (b. 1770)

3 Asadour (b. 1814)

4 Ohan (b. 1834)

5 Nerses (b. 1860)

5 Manoug (b. 1863)

5 Garabed (b. 1866)

5 Khachkatoun (b. 1875)

5 Khachig (b. 1878)

3 Hairabed (b. 1829)

4 Simon

5 Khachkatoun

4 Avedis

2 Simon (b.1771)

3 Antreas (b. 1802)

I do not have the complete tree for Hairabed’s branch of the family, but I am descended from his son Simon.

Khachig, in his book, related another interesting story. The family had been known as Nersesian, clearly just an indication that the patriarch had been Nerses. But sometime after Asadour had returned from Constantinople, the village had grown to 15 households and the government wanted to have a representative there. Asadour was chosen because of his ability to read and write. Yazuji is a scribe or clerk, and from then on the family was known as Yazujian.

As I indicated, the 1840 census shows 23 households. Oral history often contains facts masked by vague traditions confused over time. However, I cannot help but wonder if it was for the purpose of census taking that the government needed a scribe or representative in the village.

With equal parts luck and tenaciousness, I have been fortunate to be able to recreate so much of my family’s history. I consider the rupture with one’s past to be one of the least talked about components of the crime of genocide. I suppose that is why I have been so unwilling to relinquish mine.

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George Aghjayan

George Aghjayan is the Director of the Armenian Historical Archives and the chair of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Central Committee of the Eastern United States. Aghjayan graduated with honors from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Actuarial Mathematics. He achieved Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries in 1996. After a career in both insurance and structured finance, Aghjayan retired in 2014 to concentrate on Armenian related research and projects. His primary area of focus is the demographics and geography of western Armenia as well as a keen interest in the hidden Armenians living there today. Other topics he has written and lectured on include Armenian genealogy and genocide denial. He is a board member of the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), a frequent contributor to the Armenian Weekly and Houshamadyan.org, and the creator and curator westernarmenia.weebly.com, a website dedicated to the preservation of Armenian culture in Western Armenia.

12 Comments

    • My grandparents were from Palu, Almas Arpajian and Kharpert,Avedis Manasian who narrowly escaped the Genocide of 1915, but left their families behind never to see them again. I’ve lost respect for U.S. foreign policy. They’ve cozy-ed up with Turk foreign policy and barely admit to the murder of Armenia. My blood boils when I recall the story’s my grandparents related to me as a child. Honestly, I hate the Turks to this day.

  1. How wonderful that these roots have been reclaimed! Whenever any of our people are able to do this, it brings consolation to the rest of us. Thank you for a wonderful article.

  2. Kudos to George Aghjayan for his tenacious work in gathering his family’s ancestry. I had no idea there was a census done by the Turks that could be the only surviving record of our people in Turkey. I wonder how one accesses this information and interprets the old Turkish writing. Such a shame no women were mentioned, as that’s half of everyone’s legacy.

  3. The Ancestor of the Armenian People !.

    Vers 3 belowe – Togarma !.

    Genesis 1021st Century King James Version (KJ21)

    10 Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth; and unto them were sons born after the flood.
    2 The sons of Japheth: Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras.
    3 And the sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz and Riphath and Togarmah.
    4 And the sons of Javan: Elishah and Tarshish, Kittim and Dodanim.
    5 By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided into their lands, every one after his own tongue, according to their families, into their nations.

    The Armenians spread Eastward to Buchara,
    which is another verson of Togarma.
    Here they founded the Nation of Carmania.

    They moved further Northeast to Bulun-Tokai in Nordwestern Todays China/Sinkiang,
    thet where here Called “Tocharer”.

    They dissapeared for more than 2000 years ago.
    From Here they Moved Westvard and was called Sarmatians,
    the name of todays Serbians.

    The Slavic people of Todays Central Europe are descendants of Armenia.
    Observe that the Russians/Mesek(Moskovites) above is not Armenians or Slavs althoug Mixt a bit with them.

    Arn.Sweden.

  4. Congratulations George in locating your family’s ancestry on a census the Turks have kept to this day. I too wonder if you could get info. on my father & mothers background through the same census you found. They came from small villages in the Provence of Shabin Karahissar, called Sis, now changed to Chatal Olukh & my mother came from the Provence of Erzerum in the Village of Goteh, now called Keutur. Anyway, well done on your family tree. Stephan

  5. Dear Moderator,
    Your web site does not let Turks to publish their comments on your articles and counter comments . We, Turks, carefully take into account your discussion policy while some Armenians and their supporters frequently insulting my nation by violating your policy. Acording to the principles of law if some one or a community is accused then they have the right to defend themselves. On the other hand, contemporary communities have to respect their counterparts’ freedom of speech. Otherwise your discussions platform would be a monologue environment. Therefore, I kindly request you let Turkish readers publish their view points on your article.
    Best regards,
    Orhan Tan

  6. My great grand parents came from Van, entering Ellis Island around 1921, they spent some time in Massachusetts before moving to central California just south of Fresno to take up farming. Many people from Van settled in this area. What would be the best direction to further trace our roots back since my great grand parents have passed and very little history is know from those surviving? David L. California .

  7. Fascinating article! My father was from Palu, Havav kugh. Born in 1904.
    A genocide survivor. Entered Providence, Rhode Island about 1921,
    How can I get information about his ancestors?
    Please advise.

  8. I just came across this article. My grandfather was from Sakrat. His name was Robert Souren Yazujian. He also had a brother Hrant (George) Yazujian. I have been looking everywhere for more information about their parents, siblings etc. If there is anything else you can tell me I would be forever grateful.

    Ann Yazujian

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