The Ottoman Letters
The Ottoman Letters were mainly written in 1918 (when the Post Office re opened after the mass killings had ended) when the atmosphere in Mezreh (Kharpert) was still dangerous for Armenians. Letters were being censored at this time by Zaki Bey, an Ottoman Turkish official positioned at the post office. Zaki Bey befriends Rushdi and Rashid, thinking they are Turkish residents when in fact they were Hampartzoum and Kaspar, disguising themselves as Turkish. Hampartzoum as an incognito Turk had become a letter writer for Armenian widows and learned to write in Ottoman script and be subtle as to not give away the true Armenian identity of the letters. Hampartzoum learned to write in Ottoman script from a Turkish neighbor in Sako Malasi who was a lawyer. Sako Malasi was a village in shambles a short distance from Mezreh and Hampartzoum would go there and look for a proper mound where he could sit. As Hampartzoum cleared the area to receive clients he finds a babies skull on the ground and it crushed his heart. The Armenian widows would gather every morning there to have their letters written or have responses read to them since most women could not read or write at the time. He would go every morning to the Post Office first to see if there were any new letters for the Widows. There were a lot of wild Turkeys in the area and he would surprise them by clapping his hands so that a feather would drop as they fluttered away. He made his quil pen from those feathers and would buy his ink and paper from the market place (shuga). The reason Hampartzoum became a scribe was because after his bout from Typhoid fever, he could not sustain hard labour work and came up with the idea of becoming a letter writer.
The full story is discoverable in chapter 28 on page 209 in Hampartzoum’s book “A Hair’s Breadth From Death” available as a free download from this site.
There are approximately 80 Ottoman letters in the collection.
In 1988 Hampartzoum CHitjian would be interviewed by The Zoryan Institute at which time he reviews some of the Ottoman Letters at which time he discovers it has become difficult for him to remember how to read them. To watch this interview: Click Here.
In 2008 Sara Chitjian would return to Mezreh (Kharpert) to find the very same post office and it was exactly where her father had said. There were now modern additions added to the architecture, yet the original structure was still there.
The Process of Translation
The numeric breakdown below represents the process of translation that the Ottoman Letters went thru:
Ottoman Turkish to contemporary Turkish then contemporary Turkish to Armenian and English.
Each letter is organized by its number and in parenthesis is the same letter translated into different languages.