Armenians remember the horror


April 24, 2005
Source: The Boston Globe (Massachusetts)

By Yvonne Abraham

Yegsha Giragosian at 18, in an orphanage, and at 105, praying in her room at the Prescott Nursing Home in North Andover.

-- Globe Staff Photo / John Tlumacki

Today is the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, the mass killings and deportations by Ottoman Turks that led to the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923. Few survivors of those attacks - which the Turkish government says were part of a civil conflict, not a genocide - remain. Some settled here in Massachusetts, where Armenian-Americans now number about 30,000.

In the excerpts below, they share some of their memories.

Yeghsa Giragosian, 105, North Andover (native of Harput)
"You don't know who's coming. And you don't know what's going to happen. But you're young and you take it."

"I was 14. Everything was going good, then the genocide started one morning. In every village, Armenian people, everybody has to go to the cemetery. We are in the cemetery and the soldiers right away start to take the girls. Turkish men took my two sisters [and married them]. A Turkish man, a friend of my grandfather's, he held my hand and took me to his home. I lived with them. He had a wife and children, and I didn't know so much of what was happening. I was young. And I didn't know life. The wife was so good to me. She never says, 'You are Armenian girl,' or this and that. They didn't use me. She wash me, she cook for me, she was good just like a mother. They had two boys and a girl, and she talk Armenian and she was my age, and we became two sisters. About three years later, my aunt, she come back. And she told me my mother died. She told me, 'If you can, run away, because the war is stopped and the Turks can do nothing.' I did, right away.... My mind grew up and now I know the difference. I run away. I didn't say nothing... even [to] the girl I was with. My second sister ran away too. I went to [an] Armenian orphanage. Two years I stay over there. We come to Aleppo... and Marseilles. Then we are here [in America], then a couple of years later, my sister says she finally found out where [our older sister] is. She was still in Turkey. My second sister, she went to her house [in Turkey] and she says 'Sister, run away, come on.' She says, 'I can't, I have five children.' Last time I saw [my eldest sister] was in that cemetery. I don't know if she died.... She's going to be 108. It must be she died."

Peter Bilezikian, 92, Newton (native of Marash
"The dream I used to have, a Turk would cut my ears off, cut my nose, pull my teeth, gouge my eye out."

"All I remember is, we were hungry, and I thought that was a normal thing.... There were so many people dying.... I remember children dying with the big stomachs... dropping dead right in the middle of the street. And a cart would come along, pick them up as if they were nothing, and throw them up on the cart and keep going. There'd be a big hole somewhere, they'd just dump it in there. During the 1919 war, when the... Turks rebelled against the French... there was a war in the city. We were in one place and it was fenced. A lady was baking bread. I was hungry and I went over there and asked for a piece of bread. She wouldn't give it to me: 'This is for my children. If I give it to you, then my children won't have any.' So I waited, I was hoping she would take her eyes off the bread, I could steal. She never took her eyes off it, but they were shooting from a minaret... I had a cowlick, like an Irish boy, you know... [the bullet] singed my hair and hit her between the eyes. She died. I grabbed all the bread that she had baked, ran under a stairway and ate it all up. I didn't care what anybody [thought]. It wasn't a nice thing to do, looking back. Poor woman died, and do you know, I never thought anything of her dying? These are all dreams to me today. When I came to this country I lived in Newtonville. At night I used to find myself under the bed in a cold sweat. The dream I used to have was, a Turk would cut my ears off, cut my nose, pull my teeth, gouge my eye out. I would wake up all wet.... I never had these dreams in the old country."

Arminé Dedkian, 92, Watertown (native of Tekirdag
"I didn't know so much of what was happending. I was young. And I didn't know life."

"I was just born when they killed my father. Everybody had to keep going. We were walking towards the desert... to Syria. My mother got a job in a hospital over there. Then this young man, he was Armenian, he was working there too. They got married. He was ashamed to say he had married a widow... you know, 17, 18 years old, she had a child. They [left me with my grandmother]. They told her, 'After we settle, we are going to come and get her.' But then, again things happened. The Turks chased us three times, we had to abandon everything. We didn't know where [my mother] was.... We didn't know who had died, who hadn't. We found a way of finding each other by writing in the Armenian papers. [We placed an ad, looking for my mother.] My mother's cousin saw the ad and he knew my mother was in America. I was seven days on the boat by myself. I was 15. Whoever had sponsored you had to be there to pick you up. My mother wasn't there. She had made a mistake. So they took me to Ellis Island. Six or seven days there. You just sit there and your ears are wide open and you hope that you are going to hear your name. You don't know who's coming. And you don't know what's going to happen. But you're young and you take it. When my mother opened the door I just had a feeling it was her, she was a very pretty woman. But because we never knew each other, like two strangers we stood together, you know, no hugging, no kissing, no nothing. That's why my family always tell me, 'We're not a kissing family.' I made something out of my life, but I feel cheated that I didn't have a childhood. I should have talked to her: 'What happened? Why did you leave me?'"

John D. Kasparian, 98, Worcester (native of Van
"There was nothing to be eaten. I ate grass for days. That's the way we live....It was a hell life to live."

"All I know, I was 7 years old, and I seen this fighting... all the time. You get kind of sick of it, you get used to it in a way. But things got so much worse, that Turks in 1915 start to go from house to house, take the people out -- father, mother, children, they don't care. One night... a Turkish friend of my father... woke my house... and took my father and says 'You know this is the section they coming after tonight, you get out right away. If not then you won't be living to see the light tomorrow.' We run away for life.... By early morning the [same] man came and says... 'After you left, they gathered 200 men, women, and children and put in the armory. They closed the door and put kerosene, and lit up that place.' Men, women, children, they perished that particular night. If we didn't get out we would have been gone, for sure thing. We would have been dead. We couldn't eat nothing [on the road]. There was nothing to be eaten. I ate grass for days. That's the way we live, till we came to Yerevan. It was a hell life to live. My brother got lost... on the road to Yerevan. Somebody [found him] and brought [him to Yerevan]. Now we were looking for our brother and we went every place. Finally we went to this park, he was all by himself sitting on a huge stone, so everybody could see and recognize him. He was crying. 'Where's my parents? Where's my folks?' My father naturally grabbed him and broke down and we got all together. But unfortunately he didn't last long. He died because of starvation and no water.... Thank God we find him. That was a sad day for me really. I don't look back. I forget about it, just looking forward. Thank goodness, I live in such a heavenly country."