The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Archives located in Watertown, Massachusetts contain a trove of photographic treasures. The process of cataloging the thousands of images is an often time-consuming, yet fascinating, research process.
Last month, while reviewing the catalog, we happened upon a photograph where the handwritten last name was not entirely clear. The photograph was of a dapper young man with the imprint of a fingerprint left sometime over the years. We discovered the subject of the photograph was named Sdepan, and his last name began with “Al.” Entering this scant information into the Hairenik Digital Archives yielded a single result, Sdepan Alyanakian. From the September 9, 1917 issue of the Hairenik Daily, we learn that Alyanakian had drowned in New York.
Born in 1892 or 1893 in the village of Nirze in the Gesaria region, Alyanakian arrived in the US at the age of 18 or 19 in 1911 aboard the SS Martha Washington. In 1918, A Brief History of the Nirze Village of Gesaria was written by Senekerim Khederian and, just this year, an English translation by Gerard Libaridian was published by the Gomidas Institute. Alyanakian is mentioned a number of times in the book along with a short biography.
Alyanakian had worked in New York as a tailor. After joining the ARF, he enlisted in the first Caucasus volunteer movement in 1915. There is a record of Alyanakian first joining the 8th Company of the New York Guard on April 21, 1915. He left for the Caucasus soon thereafter in August. He would return to the US by 1917. I cannot be sure because of some conflicting information, but I may have found the ship manifest for his return aboard the SS Kristianiafjord on August 20, 1916. His World War I draft registration in the summer of 1917 stated he had served one year in the Russian army as an infantry private.
Alyanakian would again volunteer for the second Caucasus movement. Yet in August of 1917, he would drown at Holland Rockaway Beach on Long Island. Apparently, he had gotten cramps while swimming, and others nearby did not realize his distress until it was too late. His funeral took place on August 21, 1917 at St. Illuminator’s Church in New York City. He is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery, though I could not find an image of the gravesite online.
Neither the book nor the Hairenik article contain a photograph, thus the one in the ARF archives is probably the only photograph of Alyanakian in existence. The Alyanakian family of Nirze seems to have been small. Khederian writes of four individuals in a household headed by Garabed Alyanakian. When Sdepan arrived in the US, he stated that he had no relatives remaining in Turkey and, again, he was single and without dependents on his World War I draft registration. His funeral record lists his parents as Mgrdich and Sultan Alyanakian. It is unclear if he has any surviving relatives today, but regardless, we should not forget men like Sdepan Alyanakian. “There was no one who had known him who did not mourn this young man’s death,” wrote Khederian. “Unger Stepan was modest and quiet, but by personality he was unswerving. He had a deep sense of the responsibility he was bearing as an Armenian.”
As we find new and interesting items in the ARF archives, we hope to share them in the pages of the Armenian Weekly.