The Chitjian Foundation is dedicated to preserving the legacy of Hampartzoum and Ovsanna Chitjian and the indigenous Armenian people of Anatolia.
by Ara Arabyan
About the Collection
“The Chitjian Foundation Collection” sprang from Hampartzoum’s legacy, unintentionally! It began with Hampartzoum himself. A man, a Kharpertzi, an identification which he would never allow anyone to forget because he himself was not able to forget.
Most striking was his father, Mardiros, starting with his visage: handsome with auburn hair, a mustache of the same color with each end curling over each of his ears. He was of modest height, somewhat shorter than his own father, Torros. Mardiros was light complexioned as opposed to his mother, who was olive skinned. But most all, it was the basic wisdom he instilled into Hampartzoum…and why Hampartzoum and not his remaining four brothers, was a mystery.
Simple words of truth: They will eat our heads if we do not unite. Words Hampartzoum remembered since his infancy. A sense of “doubt” when the school board [in Kharpert, Perri, Turkey] was replaced with the “United Perri Society.” No longer did the church govern the school. His father had put his “total” faith in the dictums of the church. This was the prime difference between Hampartzoum and his father throughout Hampartzoum’s 102 years. He followed his father’s total commitment to family. His grandfather was “the king” of the family…all family members had to confer respect to Torros. Food and shelter for his family were Mardiros’ prime concern. He worked laboriously, day and night, to provide for his family of 14.
Thus, this is what Zaruhy remembers of Hampartzoum, himself. These memories go back to 1936-37 when Hampartzoum’s family lived on Bonnie Beach Place in East Los Angeles. Memories of the two houses on Bonnice Beach, the first a rental and the second purchased. Hampartzoum rented a market on the corner of Bonnie Beach and Whittier Blvd, a half block away. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles from Mexico City, Hampartzoum established his market, was successful enough to buys a house outright and establish a profitably business that he felt he could afford to go on vacation back east to visit with Ovsanna’s sisters, perhaps he would have liked to live there!
Zaruhy’s memories of her father go back to this time and place. These memories are so strong in Zaruhy’s psyche that she could look back a span of 75 years to realize the various episodes in her life, living with her parents…confirmed with a panorama of photos.
This marking of each segment was just a continuous awareness of the ups and downs of their lives.
Hampartzoum’s most single experience was his marriage with Ovsanna and her family. Both his father’s and Ovsanna’s essence could be traced in Zaruhy’s memories of her father, Hampartzoum.
Thus, it’s with this background that Zaruhy used to “interpret, elucidate, clarify, define” the preservation and translation of Hampartzoum’s words which are preserved in “The Collection.”
A collection of his “papers.” Upon his passing, Zaruhy gathered all of the papers Hampartzoum had written in a box. Unfortunately, this was not only a partial collection but it was mainly the photo copies of the originals. The originals were gathered in a box when Ovsanna told him to clear off the dining room table because company was coming. Sadly, for whatever reason, that box never returned into the house and was lost.
Most likely, Hampartzoum turned his attention to his letters. This was a collection of letters that Bedros and Kaspar had saved while the boys were corresponding with each other from America to Turkey…and Hampartzoum’s escape from Turkey via Iran, France, and Mexico.
The third component are six audio tapes: four of Hampartzoum and two of Ovsanna.
The fifth component is a book collection: mostly in English bought by Zaruhy and a small collection in Armenian bought by Hampartzoum.
The fourth component is a collection of artifacts and whatever documents were found from Hampartzoum and Ovsanna. This collection consists mostly of items brought out of Turkey and Haleb by Ovsanna and her family.
A fifth component are the visual documents; mainly photographs, a few mostly cherished are from Kharpert and Malatya. Then there are thousands of the family collection of photos.
There is also a digitized collection of 88 family films and reel-to-reel audio.
A sixth component is Zaruhy’s collection of video tapes.
A seventh component is an “extensive file of copies of Weekly Armenian newspapers”
The total composition was created over a laborious period of 15 years by Zaruhy, from 1998-2013. From the onset there was no plan to create any of the components. Had there been such a conceivable idea to develop any one of the components, much more would have been saved much more deliberate data would have been recorded, especially from Ovsanna!
Since she was less confident that a record of her experience in Malatya, Mexico City, and Los Angeles would be of any value or interest to anyone. She was a more pragmatic person. That is not to say that she did not yearn for her yergeer. Just the word Malatya had a special sound and meaning in the Chitjian household. It trumped any other word! Anything and anyone with a connection with Malatya was without one word considered momentous. Just as strong as this aura was the pain she had to leave it. The disdain that the government of Turkey forced her out…that her ideal family life, her Armenian childhood friends hips, bother Armenian and Turkish, were ripped away from her at the tender age of six. She not only lost her beloved uncles, aunts, and cousins, but her most beloved half-brother, Khachadour Piloyan, his wife, and their two daughters and baby son. Khachadour was the one who spotted her high intelligence and spirit. He was the one who brought laughter and holiday treats into the family. How could she forget and forgive the cruel Butchery of the demise of the Hovannian family and Khachadour Piloyan? A Turk hid the immediate family, thus she did not suffer the dangers and vicious brutalities perpetuated by the Ottoman Turk!
Thus, for her 92 years, Ovsanna reflected he loss, her frieving, by trying to reflect the customs she knew! She was commended by all and anyone Armenian or non Armenian who tasted her cooking! Various “dolmas,” wrapping mulberry leaves with cornmeal, a variety of similar wrappings, plums used instead of lemon, kufta, sennie kufta, etc. Various stews, kavourmak, and the list goes on. Her specialty, however, was her baking, from “parag hatz” flat bread, to her Russa-Hye katas, and pakhlav, chorags of various sorts, chorag with yoghurt. Pies were also her specialty. Hampartzoum’s garden provided her with the most aromatic juicy lemons for a meringue, the most crunchy and tasty apples, and then there were the blueberries!
Ovsanna’s baking took place starting on Friday and continuing into Saturday. Weekdays were days that she spent sewing new clothing or mending old. She used her childhood talents to sew almost all of Hampartzoum’s shirts, all of her dresses, and most of Zaruhy’s.
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, she spent time looking for remnants. She never bought by the yard and she had her bureau drawers filled with material to be used for one project or another.
However, once her son Mardig married, all joy for her baking and sewing dwindled down. She now was a companion for Hampartzoum as he drove around Los Angeles fulfilling whatever job he had with his real estate activities.
Thus, in their twilight years, they spent their time from morning until night, grieving over the loss of their life in yergeer.
From the onset, Zaruhy had a grave handicap: she could not read or write in Armenian. She understood 98 percent of Hampartzoum’s written words. Thus she had to have a constant oral reader by her side. 90 percent of what Zaruhy heard was translated into English; some was lost with “very precise mainly emotional words and phrases that without direct English equivalents, most of what was lost was by a “given” translator, a translator who had learned English in a particular style. Thus, there was a noticeable lack of presence of the Armenian vernacular. Zaruhy attempted to modify as much as she could, to make the words sound like Hampartzoum, even at the expense of a tinge of “awkwardness.”
There was also a question of just how accurately the Armenian she heard was accurately read. Problems of reading in the “written” script by Hampartzoum or by others, mainly having to do with the collection of letters.
Zaruhy felt that she “alone” was the best judge because she had a remarkably keen memory of what Hampartzoum had said, but most importantly, what he meant! She was able to recall the emotional significance of words by their sound (on audio recordings) and not their definition. Likewise, when there was a pause or a sniffle, etc. With the “few” DVDs, she was able to discern a nuance from his emotions, even on CDs she was able to discern his feelings and emotions –while he described his “ordeal,” Hampartzoum reflected his inner feelings.
Thus, Zaruhy attempted not to leave his up to the translators nor to her readers! However, because of the derth of material, some translation just had to be accepted by default. The tapes had to be edited six or seven times. They likewise went back and forth from five to seven times! Thus, to complete these two components alone took twelve years.
About the Collection – Version 2
The Birth of The Collection
Sara Chitjian reflects on how the memoirs were born.
The Cow Tail Switch
“A man is not really dead until he is forgotten”
Zaruhy Sara Chitjian assembled these archives knowing that her father would never really be dead as long as he is not forgotten.
This story has its origins in Liberia and is one that would, in its native Afrika, allow for audience participation. Near the end of the tale, the audience would be asked to decide or for vote for which son deserved the cow-tail switch the most. The correct answer might or might not then be given, depending on the teller of the tale. A cow-tail switch is something that is well known in West Afrika and symbolizes authority.
Near the edge of the Liberian rain forest, on a hill overlooking the Cavally River, was the village of Kundi. Its rice and cassava fields spread in all directions. Cattle grazed in the grassland near the river. Smoke from the fires in the round clay houses seeped through the palmleaf roofs, and from a distance these faint columns of smoke seemed to hover over the village. Men and boys fished in the river with nets, and women pounded grain in wooden mortars before the houses.
In this village, with his wife and many children, lived a hunter by the name of Ogaloussa.
One morning Ogaloussa took his weapons down from the wall of his house and went into the forest to hunt. His wife and his children went to tend their fields, and drove their cattle out to graze. They day passed, and they ate their evening meal of manioc and fish. Darkness came, but Ogaloussa didn’t return.
Another day went by, and still Ogaloussa didn’t come back. They talked about it and wondered what could have detained him. A week passed, then a month. Sometimes Ogaloussa’s sons mentioned that he hadn’t come home. The family cared for the crops, and the sons hunted for game, but after a while they no longer talked about Ogaloussa’s disappearance.
Then, one day, another son was born to Ogaloussa’s wife. His name was Puli. Puli grew older. He began to talk, and the first thing he said was, “Where is my father?”
The other sons looked across the ricefields.
“Yes,” one of them said. “Where is father?”
“He should have returned long ago,” another one said.
“Something must have happened. We ought to look for him,” a third son said.
“He went into the forest, but where will we find him?” another one asked.
“I saw him go,” one of them said. “He went that way, across the river. Let us follow the trail and search for him.”
So the sons took their weapons and started out to search for Ogaloussa. When they were deep among the great trees and vines of the forest they lost the trail. They searched in the forest until one of them found the trail again. They followed it until they lost the way once more, and then another son found the trail. It was dark in the forest, and many times they became lost. Each time another son found the way. At last they came to a clearing among the trees, and there on the ground scattered about lay Ogaloussa’s bones and his rusted weapons. They knew then that Ogaloussa had been killed in the hunt.
One of the sons stepped forward and said, “I know how to put a dead person’s bones together.” He gathered all of Ogaloussa’s bones and put them together, each in its right place.
Another son said, “I have knowledge too. I know how to cover the skeleton with sinews and flesh.” He went to work, and her covered Ogaloussa’s bones with sinews and flesh.
A third son said, “I have the power to put blood into a body.” He went forth and put blood into Ogaloussa’s veins, and then he stepped aside.
Another of the sons said, “I can put breath into a body.” He did his work, and when he was through they saw Ogaloussa’s chest rise and fall.
“I can give the power of movement to a body,” another of them said. He put the power of movement into his father’s body, and Ogaloussa sat up and opened his eyes.
“I can give him the power of speech,” another son said. He gave the body the power of speech, and then he stepped back.
Ogaloussa looked around him. He stood up.
“Where are my weapons?” he asked.
They picked up his rusted weapons from the grass where they lay and gave them to him. Then they returned the way they had come, through the forest and the ricefields, until they had arrived once more in the village.
Ogaloussa went into his house. His wife prepared a bath for him and he bathed. She prepared food for him and he ate. Four days he remained in the house, and on the fifth day he came out and shaved his head, because this was what people did when they came back from the land of the dead.
Afterwards he killed a cow for a great feast. He took the cow’s tail and braided it. He decorated it with beads and cowry shells and bits of shiny metal. It was a beautiful thing. Ogaloussa carried it with him to important affairs. When there was a dance or an important ceremony he always had it with him. The people of the village thought it was the most beautiful cow-tail switch they had ever seen.
Soon there was a celebration in the village because Ogaloussa had returned from the dead. The people dressed in their best clothes, the musicians brought out their instruments, and a big dance began. The drummers beat their drums and the women sang. The people drank much palm wine. Everyone was happy.
Ogaloussa carried his cow-tail switch, and everyone admired it. Some of the men grew bold and came forward to Ogaloussa and asked for the cow-tail switch, but Ogaloussa kept it in his hand. Now and then there was a clamor and much confusion as many people asked for it at once. The women and children begged for it too, but Ogaloussa refused them all.
Finally, he stood up to talk. The dancing stopped and people came close to hear what Ogaloussa had to say.
“A long time ago I went into the forest,” Ogaloussa said. “While I was hunting I was killed by a leopard. Then my sons came for me. They brought me back from the dead, but I have only one cow tail to give. I shall give it to the one who did the most to bring me home.”
So an argument started.
“He will give it to me!” one of the sons said. “It was I who did the most, for I found the trail in the forest when it was lost!”
“No, he will give it to me!” another son said. “It was I who put his bones together!”
“It was I who covered his bones with sinews and flesh!” another said. “He will give it to me!”
“It was I who gave him the power of movement!” another son said. “I deserve it most!”
Another son said it was he who should have the switch, because he had put blood into Ogaloussa’s veins. Another claimed it because he had put breath in the body. Each of the sons argued his right to possess the wonderful cow-tail switch.
Before long not only the sons but the other people of the village were talking. Some of them argued that the son who had put blood in Ogaloussa’s veins should get the switch, others that the one who had given Ogaloussa breath should get it. Some of them believed that all of the sons had done equal things, and that they should share it. They argued back and forth this way until Ogaloussa asked them to be quiet.
“To this son I will give the cow-tail switch, for I owe most to him,” Ogaloussa said.
He came forward and bet low and handed it to Puli, the little boy who had been born while Ogaloussa was in the forest.
The people of the village remembered then that the child’s first words had been, “Where is my father?” They knew that Ogaloussa was right.
For it was a saying among them that a man is not really dead until he is forgotten.