It is a race against time.
Armenian Genocide survivors are quickly passing away. Fortunately, we were able to speak to Aleksan Markaryan multiple times about his life during the Armenian Genocide and after. Despite his age, he was always willing and motivated to talk about his experience during the Genocide. He gave an interview to the Armenian Film Foundation (AFF) in 2014 and spoke to the Armenian Law Students’ Association at Loyola Law School last fall in 2016. His interview conducted by the AFF can be viewed at the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive (VHA).
Markaryan passed away on January 15th and his funeral ceremony took place on January 24th.
Markaryan was born in Gesaria (present-day Kayseri, Turkey) in 1906 to Hagop and Verjin Markaryan. During WWI, his father Hagop was drafted into the Ottoman army. Due to his father’s military status, his family evaded deportation to the Syrian Desert and instead was given shelter in a village nearby.
A year later, during the second wave of the Genocide, the lives of his family was threatened. In good faith, a local hodja (Islamic clergymen) asked the family to temporarily convert to Islam in order to save their lives and were given a home in another village where they lived in peace and were assisted by local villagers.
At the end of the War, the family moved back to Gesaria and reclaimed their Christian names/identity (Aleksan’s muslim name was Ali Ihsan). They struggled to start over but by participating in some odd jobs the family eventually began a stable seasonal business in making and selling sujuk and basturma.
Markaryan’s remaining family (his mother, grandmother) left Kayseri in the early 1920’s to join his sister and her in-laws in Beirut. In Beirut, his mother initially worked as a servant for a family but after a year and a half of apprenticeship in carpentry, Aleksan was able to bring his mother home and provided for his family.
The Soviet call for Armenian repatriation in 1946 brought Markaryan and his family to Yerevan, Armenia. He did well and mastered many different trades. One of the jobs he’s most proud of is oud making—one of the few ouds he made ended up in Los Angeles where he lived in since the 1980’s.
He lived a long and meaningful life with his children and grandchildren and was loved by those around him. He had an unmatched pride in his own work and patriotic desire in his motivation in telling his story.
Usta Aleksan will be missed.
This piece was originally published in Asbarez on Jan. 25