Speaking To Students (2)
Hampartzoum Chitjian tells his story of survival from the 1915 Armenian Genocide to the 6th grade class in 1984.
Speaking To Students (2)
Hampartzoum Chitjian tells his story of survival from the 1915 Armenian Genocide to the 6th grade class in 1984.
Hampartzoum’s speech translated into English
HAMPARTZOUM CHITJIAN TELLS HIS STORY OF SURVIVAL TO THE 6T HGRADE CLASS IN 1984
Hampartzoum: He is not a good person. He sponsored the film called ‘’Death Valley Days.” We watched the film and we voted for him as we thought he was a great judge. At first he became a President here in California, then he moved somewhere else and became a President there. I hope he doesn’t forget what we did for him.
Man: 10, 20 or 30 people like you should have sent a letter to him demanding that he stopped telling fairy tales to people. They have documentary evidence in their archive, by the way.Hampartzoum: Not only documents. Ask Ovsanna and she will tell you that there were many Americans there who were collecting the bones of the Armenian people. They have a base there.
Man: To hell with that! Their base is on our land. Who gave them the right to establish an American base there? Can you see where the problem comes from?
Woman sitting on the chair: We are very few. That’s the root of the problem.
Man: The problem is not that we are few— the problem is that we don’t stand together. We become a little closer only on April 24t h and that’s all. These political parties are very harmful for our nation as they don’t find a common language with each other. We come together on April 24t h and that’s all.
Woman interrupting the conversation and talking to Hampartzoum: I’d like to know how long you are going to stay here as I also want to listen to your speech.
Hampartzoum: As long as you want. I don’t know how long it will last.
Woman: I will finish my work and will immediately come to the classroom.
Hampartzoum: OK, great!
Hampartzoum (to the woman sitting on the chair): He says that Armenians come together only on April 24t h. I don’t want to sound arrogant but how many people do you know who are like me?
Woman: No, you’re absolutely right.
Man: This time Armenians should not vote for Reagan.1 No one should do that!Hampartzoum: Please say that again. What did he do?
1 Reagan-probably referring to Ronald Reagan (1964–1965) sponsoring the film ‘’Death Valley Days’’
Woman: He asks what he did.
Man: I’m talking about Reagan.
Hampartzoum: Yes, I heard that. My question is, why should we vote for him if did absolutely nothing?
Man: Oh, OK. Yes, not only he did nothing but he made everything even worse.Hampartzoum: Yes, he made the situation even worse.
Man: So voting for him will be stupid. We must look forward. They say that unity is strength and that’s absolutely right. The problem is not that we are few. We may be few but we can be powerful. The real problem is that we don’t stand together. Don’t ever say we are few. We are not!
Hampartzoum: Moving from one country to another will not change anything.
Man: You’re right but there is some difference between the countries.
Hampartzoum: Now it’s better to live in France than here. France didn’t treat Armenians well in the past but now they are more supportive.
Man: France? Not even France.
Hampartzoum: But Beirut was a good place for Armenians. What happened?
Man: That’s because of some disturbers.
Hampartzoum: Because of Jewish people.
Man: Yes, Jewish people are to blame for that. If we want to achieve success we need to stand together.
Hampartzoum: I feel so honored to be here. I hope I don’t start crying.
Man: No, don’t cry or you won’t be able to speak.
Hampartzoum: Yes, you’re right.
Hampartzoum: I’m very happy to be here with you right now. Although I’ve been feeling a little sad lately I feel much better now that I see you. I remember myself when I was eight. Now I’m 84 and I’m going to share my life story with you. I asked Zarouhi to bring an eight-year-old child here. If there is someone among you who is eight at the moment, please come here and stand next to me. Eight or nine, doesn’t matter…Is there anyone here who is eight?
Classroom: No sound.
Hampartzoum: Anyone who is nine?
Student: May I come?
Man: Yes, you may.
Hampartzoum: Come here. I want to share my memories with you and tell you about my family. I was eight. We lived in the same house—my grandfather, father, mother, six brothers, three sisters and two aunts. Fourteen people living under one roof. My grandfather was 92 but he was the head of the family. My father had so much respect for our grandfather that he acted like a little child around him. My father was a smoker but he never smoked in my grandfather’s presence. My grandfather would sit around the hearth and my father would sit on the other side of it but only after kissing my grandfather’s hand. We all respected our elders. Younger brothers would never call their elder siblings by their names. They called them ‘’agha brothers’’.
In the evenings we used to do our homework. If someone didn’t know how to solve a task he asked his elder brother for help. If he didn’t know the answer either he asked for help from his elder brother, etc. In case no one knew the answer our father came to help. Once we finished our lessons we sat on our grandfather’s knees: sometimes it was me and sometimes it was my twin brother who died a few months ago. Our grandfather loved us more than our younger brothers. However, I think I was his favorite grandchild as I was stronger and I loved fighting. We would sit on his knees and he would tell us fairy tales either to make us laugh or to teach us something. He told us many stories but I can clearly remember two of them. Now please listen to me attentively as this is a kind a riddle you need to solve.
So three horsemen are moving to another city. When they reach the city they see an announcement which says, “The horseman whose horse stays behind the other horses will get monetary reward.” Do you understand what I’m saying? Only one of these horsemen can take
the money. The first horseman starts to ride more slowly in order to stay behind his friends. The second horseman starts to ride backwards instead of moving forward. Suddenly a man comes up to these three horsemen and says, “I will tell you a secret now. If you listen to me, you will be able to take the money.” This man whispers something to their ears. All of a sudden the horsemen start riding even faster than they did before. So my question is, what did that man tell the horsemen? I will give you a second to think about this to see if you can solve this riddle. Is here anyone who knows the answer?
A few students raise their hands
Hampartzoum: You two, come here, please.
Student: I assume they were told that the Turks were approaching them.
Hampartzoum: Please repeat what you said. One of my ears is not hearing well.
Student: The Turks were approaching them.
Hampartzoum: Come closer and repeat one more time. What did they do?
Student: The Turks were approaching them.
Hampartzoum: No, there were no Turks approaching them. There was no one there except for these three horsemen rushing to the city. I want to find out who is the most attentive student here.
Student: Maybe they were told that the one who reaches the city first will get the money?Hampartzoum: No, as I said the one whose horse stays behind the other two horses will get the money. The one whose horse is the first to reach the city will not get the reward. OK, let me tell you the correct answer. Look, these three horsemen want to take the money but they will be able to do so only if their horses stay behind the others. So what did that man tell them to do? The announcement says, “The horseman whose horse stays behind the other horses will take the money.” So here is the correct answer. The man told one of the horsemen, ”Give your horse to your friend, your third friend will give his horse to you, and the second horseman will give his horse to your third friend. So you have my horse and I haveyours.ObviouslyIwillrideyourhorsefastersothatmyhorsestaysbehind,right?Do you understand what I’m saying?
Hampartzoum: So this was the first story. We were eight when my grandfather told us this story. We couldn’t solve this riddle just like you. We were thinking, “Why would they start
riding faster if they knew they would lose the money that way?” So is everything clear to you?
Now let me tell you the second story. Someone is walking down the street. Suddenly he sees a large number of hens in front of him. He says, “Hello, 100 hens!”. There are not 100 students here in this classroom. Imagine if I entered the classroom and greeted you this way, “Hello, 100 students.” So the hens respond, “There are not 100 hens here. Our number, half of our number and you will equal 100”. So how many hens there were?
Hampartzoum: No, they say, “Our number, half of our number and you will equal 100.”Student: 49 hens.
Hampartzoum: 49? 49+49=98 and plus 1 will be 99.
Hampartzoum: 50+50=100 and plus 1 will be 101. No, their number, half of their number and the speaker will equal 100. Anyway, 39+39 equals to…?
Hampartzoum: Good job, boy! What about half of 78? No, not half of 78. So their number, and half of their number. There were 39 hens, so half of 78 will be?
Hampartzoum: The sum of these numbers should equal 100.2 Anyhow, he was telling us these kinds of stories.
Our family didn’t go to sleep without reciting the 24 verses of “With Faith I Confess’’. In the morning my father and grandfather went to church and we went to school. In the evening we all went to church. We didn’t hide anything from one another. So I can definitely say that I had a very nice and happy family.
Everything changed when I became nine. In 1809 the Turks started recruiting Armenian soldiers. My elder brother was 17. Armenian soldiers were taken to the mountains to build roads there: they usually didn’t take part in military activities. They stayed on the mountains starving one or two years and usually didn’t come back. That’s why my grandfather sent my elder brother to America. Two or three months later my mother became sick and died unable to live without her son (here mothers are a little bit cold-hearted but the mothers in our
2 It seems they decided not to continue solving this riddle because this is how it ends.
village were very sensitive and affectionate). My grandfather died one day before my mother’s death. They died almost the same day. At first we buried my grandfather and then we came back to bury my mother as well. This was a tragedy for our family.
In 1912, the other brother of mine, who was 5 years older than me, became 17. He was also sent to America. I stayed at home with my three brothers—me, my twin brother and our two younger brothers. My father was in a very difficult situation. After my mother’s death he got married again. It was a bit difficult for us to put up with all these changes.
It was the beginning of 1915. Our teachers supported the Dashnag Party and taught us patriotic songs about revenge. There were many heroes we were proud of such as Andranik Pasha, Kevork Chavush, Murad, Qeri. We were told that in 1895 another massacre took place. Of course, that massacre could not be compared to the one that happened in 1915.
I can remember everything very well. I was fourteen. The political parties gathered in church. Me and several other boys of my age were there to help them. Our teachers were very honest and honorable people. Avedo was a fedayeen. He was my and my twin brother’s godfather. I loved him very much as he always hugged us whenever we met. He would always say, “When you grow up you must take revenge for everything that happened to your family. Keep that in mind.” Among the attendant there were 40-50 people from our village and two priests. We didn’t have a Government so all important decisions were made by the priests. One of these priests joined the Dashnag Party.
In the meantime, the Turks planned to disarm all the Armenians living in the territory. They announced that if they found a weapon in any Armenian house the entire family would be immediately killed. Despite the fear, Avedo, our Dashnag teachers and one of the priests insisted that we should not obey this order. We had been living under the rule of the Turks for about 600 years. We were being slaughtered and robbed every 15 or 20 years. Now that we had a little more power it would be wiser not to give them our weapons. Soon Russia announced a war against the Ottoman Empire. Capturing Van, Bitlis and Mush the Russian army was almost reaching Kharpert. The Kurdish people suffered at the hands of the Turks as much as we did despite the fact that they were Muslims. We were very good friends with them. We called them ”kirva”3. We loved and believed our Kurdish friends so our political party members thought that it would better if we gave half of our weapons to them. This way
3 Kirva-Kurdish friend
the Turks wouldn’t be able to slaughter the entire nation. There were 300 villages in Kharpert but only 10 percent of the people living there were Turks: the rest were Armenians. So we could easily win the enemy. Unfortunately, our teachers and all the supporters of the Dashnag Party were so discouraged and exhausted of enslavement that two weeks later they died. Schools closed. One of the priests was against handing off our guns to the Turks but the other one supported this decision of the Government. Every day this priest visited Armenian families and took away their guns, swords, knives and other weaponry. Those who didn’t own firearms would buy them from Muslim neighbors just so their names appeared on the list. When the Government received these weapons the police officers started arresting the people whose names were on the list. They were torturing them in prison to find out if they knew anyone who had weapons but didn’t turn them over to the Turkish authorities. These people were silent: they were taken to the canyons and were killed there.
I have heard that the priest, who supported the Turkish Government and collected the weapons, was also slaughtered. The Turks slit his throat and threw his body away leaving the knife in his mouth. So this priest who supported the Government and collected weapons became the cause of many deaths including his own.
In those days there was no radio or newspaper so people were informed about the decisions of the Government through town criers. They announced that carpenters, dyers and other artisans would be released. My father was an artisan: he was printing and decorating clothes, bedcovers, etc. He was the only specialist in the territory so the Turks decided to release him as well. Two weeks later my father was arrested again. He stayed in prison for eight days. I didn’t visit him in prison but my twin brother did and brought some food for him. However, my father was so weak and exhausted that he was unable to eat anything. A week later my father was released on the condition that he took his sons to the Turkish Government.Student: Why did they arrest your father?
Hampartzoum: Because they wanted to eliminate Armenians. At first they planned to slaughter only some Armenians but then they decided to slaughter them all. There were 300-400 villages in the territory. Approximately 3000-4000 people were arrested like my father.
So my father was ordered to give his four sons to the Government so that they were gradually turkified and assimilated to the Turkish society. My twin brother and I were fourteen. The
other brother of mine was 9 and our youngest brother was six. The latter died: he was thrown into the water.
When my father came out of jail he returned home and knocked on the door. He usually walked with a stick in his hand. All he said was that he was going to take us to the Turks. My father could suffer inside but he would never shed a tear. I’m not like him. We had no other choice but to obey him. He took us to the Government building without saying a word the whole way. There were many boys standing there. My father told us that the Government knew that his two sons lived in America. As I’ve already told you one of my brothers was sent to America in 1909 and the other one was sent there in 1912. My father said that he would probably join our brothers in America and would send money to us from there. Then he went away without looking back. There was no one left in our house: it was locked by the Turks so that no one could rob the property.
We were taken to a huge hall near the Protestant Church. It could accommodate about 200‐300 people. There were 200-300 children gathered there: some were very young and some were a bit older like me. I was fourteen. The Turks believed that the erasure of national identity would be easier to implement at an early age. That’s why they planned to turkify the children who were 10‐12 and kill those who were 14 or 15 as they would never forget their nationality. (To the classroom) I see you are of the same age but I hope you don’t forget what I’m telling you now.
The children who were a bit older, for example me, my brother and 10-15 other boys were ordered to enter the Armenians’ houses (the ones that were locked) together with the Turkish soldiers and bring all the goods to church so that the Kurds couldn’t steal anything. There were 200-300 Armenian houses and only about 10-20 houses that belonged to the Turks.
Our names were changed. I was named Rooshdi, my twin brother was named Rashid, my third brother was named Hambi and my youngest brother was named Nayim. They started teaching us Turkish language, their hymn, prayers so that we gradually became Turks. We had to praise the Turkish nation saying phrases like “Turks are very nice people”, ‘’Long live the Turkish Government’’ and so on. We were made to speak only Turkish but that was almost impossible as we didn’t know the language well enough. The children who were older were communicating in Armenian. They used to console each other saying, “One day the “uncle” (referring to Russia) will come to Kharpert. The Russian army already captured Van and Bitlis. Yes, we are Turks now but soon we will be saved.” This thought gave us hope.
When the Turks noticed that the older boys were still speaking Armenian they became mad and started beating the tall boys. I was ordered to join the older boys while my twin brother joined the little ones. I tried to explain the police officer that I was his twin brother so I should also be there. Yes, I was tall but I was still a little boy. I was speaking Armenian so the police officer didn’t understand what I was saying—he was too busy splitting the children into groups. There was a boy standing next to me whose name was Mihran Mirakyan. He advised me to keep silent and give my brother a chance to survive. So I stopped shouting. We were taken to a small room. There were about 20-25 tall boys there. A police officer was standing at the door in order not to let anyone escape. It was 9 o’clock in the morning. We stayed in the room till 12 o’clock. Mihran Mirakyan, who I have been just talking about, had a small knife with him. There was a window there with two or three iron bars on it. Mihran said he could remove those iron bars with his knife and he did. We planned to escape through the window. It was quite possible as we were all very thin. Each of us wanted to be the first to get to the window but the boys who were closer to it jumped first. It was now my turn to jump. Mihran was very tall: as far as I know he was 17 or even 18. I got on his shoulders and then jumped from the window. The police officer who was standing at the door heard the noises and realized what we were doing. He said, “You will soon die anyway. Don’t kill yourself now as it will be very difficult to take your dead bodies away from this place.”
When I was outside I realized I had nowhere to go. We were on the hill. I saw several boys running in different directions. I was a 14-year-old boy who was scared and confused. What could I do? I started walking towards the stores.
We used to have an Armenian neighbor who was turkified in 1895. His name was Ibo but his Armenian name was Ago. The Armenians called him Ago (his full name was Hagop) and the Turks called him Ibo (abbreviated from Ibrahim). So he was known as Agoibo. He noticed me standing near the stores and started waving at me. However, he didn’t approach me. Instead he approached a completely blind and very tall Turkish man and started talking to him. I don’t know what they were talking about but the next moment this blind man started walking towards me holding a stick in his hand. By the way, he was perfectly capable of walking by himself as he had lost his eyesight at the very young age. Day or night—it was all the same to him. So he came up to me, caressed my head and said, “Chitjian Oghli (which means “Chitjian’s son”), don’t be scared. I will treat you like my own son’’. He took me with him and this is how I survived.
This blind man lived alone in his house. It was kind of strange to lie on bed all alone without my brothers or friends. That night I woke up and forgetting where I was I started shouting. The blind man came in and asked what the matter was. I told him that I was just scared. The same thing happened in the next few days that followed. The blind man said, “There is something that’s bothering you. Why are you crying every day?” I replied, “My brothers stayed in zhoghvaran”4 and I have no news from them.” He told me that some of the boys who were taken to zhoghvaran were still there but some disappeared. He asked, “Would you like to go there and see your brothers?” We decided to go there at night so that the police officers didn’t notice me. As you can see there are kind people among Turks as well. I believe there is kindness even in hell. He put some bread and cheese in the bundle and we went to zhoghvaran. One of my brothers was nine. (To the classroom) Any 9-year-old boy here? You? Please stand up. My youngest brother was six. There was no place to sit there: you had to sit and lie on the ground. I saw my 9-year-old brother sitting on the ground. My 6-year-old brother was also sitting there with his head placed on his brother’s knees. They both looked miserable. I asked, “Where is Kaspar?”. My brother replied, “Yesterday Kaspar left with a Turkish man.” There were only 10-20 boys there. I looked at the blind man. I could see tears falling down his eyes. He said, “We have to go now. Tell your brothers where you live and they will visit you.”
There was an orchard near our house with all kinds of fruit and vegetables: grapes, walnuts, almond, mulberry, cucumber. The orchard once belonged to Armenians and was then given to this blind man. The blind man said, “Invite your brothers to our orchard. They can stay there for about 2 hours.” I was so happy!
The next day I was waiting for my brothers in the orchard. I had told them that our house was located near the spring called ‘’Gol Aghbyur’’ but they didn’t know exactly which orchard belonged to us. Suddenly I heard them shouting, “Agha brother, agha brother!” We didn’t call our elder brothers by their names—we called them ‘’agha brothers’’. I opened the door and they came in. There were different types of fruit growing in the territory except for peaches. We had only one peach which I sliced and gave to my brothers. Every day, at the advice of the blind man, I visited my brothers with a bundle filled with bread, cheese and
4 Zhoghvaran (in Turkish ‘’Joğvaran’’)-Armenian Protestant Primary School in Gedikpaşa İncirdibi, commonly referred to as ‘Joğvaran’
pastegh5. Two or three days later they visited me again. This time they told me that the Government planned to send them to our father. This was our last conversation. I haven’t seen them since then.
Five or six months later I was walking down the street when I saw my twin brother going somewhere holding a plate in his hands. My brother’s Effendi was a Government official who was very rich and had many servants. I came up to him and asked, “What’s that Kaspar?”. He replied, “It’s baklava. Let me give you one piece”. I was very happy to see my brother alive. I asked him if he had seen our other brothers but he said he hadn’t.
A few months passed. One day we were informed that the Russian army planned to withdraw. They had already reached Kharpert: we could even hear the firing sounds of cannons. People were fleeing from Kharpert to Malatia and from Malatia to other places. The Russians reached Jabakheti, Kghi but unfortunately they decided to withdraw. The Kurds began looting the Armenians’ houses. When this happened the soldiers (about 200 or 300 people) started running away in fear and moving to the other side of the river to escape the danger. When the Kurds approached our house the blind man loaded his horse with as many goods as possible. We rushed to the river to move to the other side of it. I noticed that my brother Kaspar and his Effendi were also there. People were moving to the other side of the river by small boats. Suddenly I saw that one of the boats turned over. A lot of women fell off the boat and died.
Student: Why were these people moving to the other side of the river?
Hampartzoum: They wanted to escape the Kurds because otherwise they would be killed.
It was spring. During the cold season the river was usually so frozen that animals could easily walk over it. However, in spring the river ice melted making it very dangerous to travel by boats. I told Kaspar to ask his Effendi if I could get on the boat with them. The Kurds were already very close and I was afraid that I would be killed if I didn’t hurry. When Kaspar asked this question to his Effendi, the latter gave him a slap and said, “You will be saved and that’s enough. Forget about your brother!” The blind man suggested that we moved to the other side of the river by our horse. We walked for 10-15 seconds and found a place where the water was not very deep. The blind man suggested that we took off our clothes and tied our heads with them so that they didn’t get wet. This was a good idea as it was very cold and
5 Pastegh-a kind of Armenian fruit leather made by simmering mashed fruits and berries, then drying the thickened substance in sheets
we would not have anything to wear if we stayed in clothes. We took off all our clothes and tied our heads with them. The blind man got on the horse and I held the lead rope. There were small slippery stones in the river. I accidently stepped on one of these stones and fell into the water. All my clothes got wet. As I was holding the leap rope the blind man fell into the water as well. His clothes got wet too. Finally, we reached the other side of the river. By the time we were there our clothes were already frozen. We were completely naked. The weather was sunny but it was still very cold. We hoped the sun would dry out our clothes. We stayed there for 5 days. One day I noticed that our village Perri was on fire. All Armenian houses and their property were burning. We became hungry. Every time the blind man got bread from somewhere he always gave one piece to me.
There was an Armenian boy whose name was Hampartzoum. My name is Hampartzoum too. He knew that my Effendi was completely blind so one day he came and motioned for me to go outside without saying anything. The blind man didn’t notice as I slipped away. Hampartzoum suggested going with him to his Kurdish Effendi’s house as he would help me to survive. This seemed like a good idea to me so I left the blind man alone and went with Hampartzoum to his master’s house. It was a small house—almost half of this classroom. The Kurd lived with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Half of the house was filled with cows, donkeys, sheep, dogs, cats and the other half was filled with people. At the center of the house there was a hole like a window to let some light in.
One or two days later a woman, probably one of their relatives, visited the family and left the house. I don’t know if she was Kurdish or Armenian. 10 or 15 seconds later someone knocked on the door. The Kurd opened the door: it was my blind master accompanied with two Turkish soldiers. I thought they would tear me apart right there. The Kurd ordered me to hide under the covers of his daughter-in-law’s bed (she had just given birth to a baby). When I did, he covered me with a blanket and said, “I’m sure the soldiers won’t look here.” 2-3 seconds passed. The soldiers searched the entire house but they couldn’t find me. When they were about to leave the blind man said, “My son Rooshdi, if you come out voluntarily from whenever you’re hiding I will not hurt you. I will forgive you because we’ve been both starving for a couple of days. If you don’t, I will find you myself. I know that you’re here.” The Kurd was too scared to say anything. When I heard that my master was ready to forgive me I got out under the covers and came up to him. He spat in my face yelling, ‘’Phew! Shame on you! Aren’t you ashamed for lying next to a woman who has just given birth?’’ He
reprimanded me for doing such a thing but deep in his heart he knew I had no other choice left. The blind man took me with him and asked the soldiers to bring some food for us. A few hours later Hampartzoum approached me again. The same day! He quietly beckoned me with his hand to go with him. I told the blind man, “Agha, you must be thirsty. I will go out to bring you some water.” I left the blind man again. Hampartzoum told me that this time he would take me to another Kurdish house. He said, ‘’My agha wants you to go there.” I was very sad for abandoning my master after all the good things he had done for me. I remembered him saying, “Look, I’ve saved your life and taken care of you. Now that I’m in a difficult situation it’s your turn to help me.”
The Kurds continued slaughtering people and stealing their belongings such as rings, earrings, money. I joined a group of Kurds and we hit the road in the middle of the night. It was very dark and it was raining. There were 10-15 mules loaded with goods and 20-25 Kurdish people walking beside them. They were all very brave soldiers. We were walking through the hills. There were sharp sticks everywhere on the hills. My shoes were worn out so these sticks were hurting my feet and making them bleed. We called these shoes ”charokh”6. Soon my feet stopped bleeding as it was very cold. We continued walking for a day or two. At night the Kurds stopped at the miller where people were grinding grain into flour. The Kurds asked the miller to make bread for them. That type of bread was called bagharj7. We were very hungry and the bread tasted very good. Then the Kurds tied up the miller so that he didn’t tell anyone about us.
The next day we reached the Kurd’s house. One of his wives was Kurdish and the other one was Armenian. His Armenian wife was very nice to me. They had about 20-30 sheep, cows, donkeys, horses, goats—all were stolen from Armenians. My job was to graze the cattle on the mountains in the afternoon and bring them back in the evening. I was happy because at least I was not starving. In the morning we ate matzoon with a loaf of bread and we ate the same thing in the evening. That was all. This Kurd had a bad habit of swearing. He usually swore in Turkish as he used to work for a Turkish man in the past. He would yell at me using all the bad words he had learnt from his Turkish Effendi.
One day when I was grazing the cattle I became very bored. I started asking questions to the villagers to find out what other villages there were near that mountain. I was told that there
6 Charokh-something like moccasins7 Bagharj-unleavened bread
was a village called Ichme 2-3 hours away from the mountain. They said there were Armenians there as well unlike our village which was inhabited only by Kurds. I left the sheep there unattended and started walking in that direction. I was a 16-year-old boy. I wish there was someone here of the same age so that I could ask him what he would do in that situation. Or a 12-year-old boy…What would a 12-year old boy do if he were me? Would he run away or he would stay with the cattle? Do you want to say anything?
Student: Where did you eat?
Hampartzoum: In the house. I ate only matzoon and a small loaf of bread. That was all. Sometimes in the evenings we would eat soup. Nothing else. How did they get that food? Well, as I said they had cattle that produced milk. By the way, we slept in the stable with the cattle. We collected their manure in one place to make the stable warmer. The smell was terrible but we gradually got used to it.
So I left the Kurd’s cattle on the mountain and started walking. What would happen if my Kurdish Effendi came to the mountain and found the cattle there? What if another Kurdish man saw me walking without the cattle? They would definitely tear me into pieces. However, I was too young to think about that. I knew that God was with me so I continued my way. I reached the village Ichme in 3-4 hours. I asked little boys if there were Armenians living in that village. It would be very dangerous to talk to adults as they considered Armenians “giaours’’. These boys showed me a house inhabited by 20 Armenians. I knocked on the door and asked the inhabitants if I could stay with them in the same house. They said, “Yes” and started asking me questions such as, “Where are you from? How did you come here?” Everywhere people spoke Turkish and we were no exception.
I stayed in this house for about a year. One day a Turkish General came here with his soldiers. That information made me anxious. There were 10-12 women living in our house—the others were men. There was a girl there whose name was Juvar. We called her Juvo. She was a 12 or 13‐year‐old tall and beautiful girl. This Turkish General came to the village to find a girl for himself. When they saw Juvo they decided to take her with them. Here is what the women told me and Juvar’s nephew, “If you want to defend Juvar’s honor you need to help her escape from the house.” The police officers had already warned the women that they should bathe the girl, give her clean clothes and send her to the General in the evening.
Juvar’s nephew and I left the house through the backdoor taking the girl with us. We went to the village called Zantarich. Our leader Gulash Effendi (the head of all 21 Armenians living in our house) was half Kurdish and half Turkish but he was very nice to Armenians. He was a government official. He ordered to take the girl to Zantarich, find his Kurdish relative and ask him for help. I was very scared of the huge dogs that were walking around the villages and attacking strangers at night. The next minute these dogs were chasing us. The villagers started shouting, “Lie on the ground! The dogs won’t hurt you if you lie on the ground. If you don’t, they will bite you.” But we were too scared to lie on the ground. Fortunately, the villagers caught the dogs and saved our lives. When we reached the Kurd’s house, we told him what we had gone through for saving the girl. The Kurd ordered to leave Juvar in his house till Gulash Effendi’s arrival. He said to me, “Now go back to the stable. It’s night so no one will notice you.” When I reached the stable a police officer noticed me and asked me where Juvar was. I was so scared I couldn’t say a word. He took one of the burning woods (we were burning woods to warm the stable) and hit me with it on my back. I fainted and fell down. He thought that I was dead and left. The next day I woke up and realized that I had been saved by Gulash Effendi.
A few months passed. One day a boy came to me saying that the Turks had given freedom to all Armenians and that my brothers and sisters were waiting for me in our village, Perri. He said, “Let’s go there together!” Later it turned out that this was just a cunning method to discover and arrest the Armenians who were hiding from the Turkish Government. I didn’t know this at that time so I went to Perri and met my aunt there. We hadn’t met each other for 2 or 3 years but instead of hugging and kissing me she started crying and exclaimed, “Why did you come here?” The next day she suggested that I found Kaspar’s master. She thought he could help me as he was a Government official. When I found him he brought Kaspar’s photo and showed it to me saying, “Rashid is doing great. He is in a very good relationship with my children.” Then he brought pilaf and some bread and said, “Sit here and eat it in front of me. Don’t take it with you.” I ate the pilaf but put the bread in my pocket. I went to my aunt and gave it to her. She said, “I haven’t seen bread for several months.” She took the bread, went to the window, and started praying on her knees. Then she ate the bread. You could never find bread anywhere.
Two or three days later I left Perri with one of my friends. There was no point staying there—my aunt was starving like the rest of the villagers who ate nothing but boiled grasses.
It took two days to reach Kharpert. First we reached another village called Pertak located at the river bank. We were wondering if we would find our fellow villagers in Pertak and we did. This boy recognized us with difficulty as we had grown up and changed. He said to me, “You had a nine-year-old brother whose name was Kerob. He survived the massacre and he is now grazing the sheep of his Turkish master.” My brother used to have belly fat but according to this boy he had lost weight and was almost as tall as me. I asked this boy if he knew where Kerob was at the moment but he didn’t. He said that the last time he saw Kerob he was grazing the cattle. I said, “If you ever see my brother again please let him know that we are going to Kharpert.”
We continued walking and finally reached Kharpert. I met an Armenian woman there who was my uncle’s wife (paternal side). She said that she was the laundry washer of an Armenian doctor living in that village. She decided to take me to this doctor to find out if he could give me a job. She knew I was trustful so she said, ‘’Many people robbed this doctor. I’m sure you won’t do such a thing.” The clothes I was wearing were very dirty. I didn’t have shoes either. So when the doctor saw me he said, “I’m a doctor and many people visit me every day. I’m sorry but I can’t let you live here as you don’t look presentable.” My aunt took me back. What I’m telling you now is not a fairytale. This is a true story. My aunt and two or three other women bought some clothes and shoes for me and took me to the Turkish bath. I have never been in the bathhouse before. They helped me get dressed and we visited the doctor again. The doctor’s name was Michael. His son’s name was Hagop. Who is familiar with the name Michael Hagopian? The doctor’s son is a filmmaker and lives here now. He was two or three-year-old at that time. My job was to take the doctor’s son, his sister who was a little older than Hagopik and their little lamb for a walk and bring them back in the evening. In those days it was impossible to find bread anywhere even if you were ready to overpay. Thanks to his good reputation the doctor was in a very good relationship with the owner of the bakery. Every day I would go to the bakery and would buy 10, 20 and sometimes even 50 bread. I would divide the bread into four equal parts to give them to the poor Armenians. There were poor Kurdish people as well but I didn’t give bread to them lying that there was no bread left.
There was a big store in that village. The boy who worked there was my friend. His name was Hagop. I asked him to tell all the Armenians who would enter his store that they could
get bread from me. After that many people came to our house saying that they had been sent here by Hagop.
One day someone knocked on our door. They knocked on the door again. I took two pieces of bread and opened the door. It was my friend Hagop with a little boy whose head was facing down. I tried to give the bread to the boy but he didn’t take it. (To the student) Do you want to ask something?
Student: Yes. Where did you buy the bread from?
Hampartzoum: The bread? As I said I worked for Dr. Michael who wasn’t arrested as he was the best doctor in the territory. He sent me to the bakery to bring bread from there. At the command of the doctor I divided the bread into pieces and gave them to the poor.
So coming back to my story—I gave the bread to the little boy but he refused to take it. I thought the boy wanted the other piece as well so I gave both pieces to him. However, he didn’t take it again. I asked Hagopik why this boy didn’t take the bread. He replied, “Why don’t you lift up his face to see who he is?” I lifted up the little boy’s face and saw my 9-year-old brother who I hadn’t seen for a few years.” He looked miserable and was wearing worn out clothes. We started living together. The next 10-15 days were wonderful. I would take Hagop by the hand, my brother would take his sister and we would go outside walking and having great time together.
However, 10, 15 or 20 days later the Turkish Government (the doctor was a Government official) heard that the doctor kept two employees instead of one. He was ordered to get rid of one of his employees. He came home and announced that we had to take my brother to the orphanage. There were several orphanages there opened by Americans with 2000-3000 orphans living there. About 50 or 100 American people would walk around the territory collecting the bones of the Armenians. I saw that with my own eyes. They also witnessed how the Armenians were slaughtered by the enemy. They saw everything with their own eyes but today they keep on denying that saying, “We have never seen such a thing.” Dr. Michael’s mother‐in-law who was Hagop’s grandmother would give me food and money so that I gave it to my brother who lived in the orphanage. The orphans were not fed well but they were kept very clean. Every time I went to the orphanage my brother would come and sit next to me. We would kiss, hug each other and sometimes we would cry. One day when I was about to go back home my brother gave me a question, “Brother, why are you going back and leaving me here alone?” When I discussed this situation with the doctor he said,
“As they don’t allow your brother to work here you can start sewing old shoes as your friend does and earn some money. I can see you’re suffering now. This way you can at least take your brother from the orphanage and live with him somewhere else”. I took my brother from the orphanage and started sewing old shoes.
In 1919 I improved my Turkish skills and started writing letters in Turkish. Writing letters in Armenian was forbidden. Armenian women would come to me asking to write letters in Turkish so that they could send them to America. I was paid for this service. The response letters that were sent to the Post Office were addressed to me. I would hand out these letters to the women standing around me and impatiently waiting for their turn. They became so happy every time I told them there was a letter for them. They would sit next to me asking to respond to the letter.
When I was 19 every two months the town crier would walk around the territory shouting (because there was no television or radio then),’’Whoever harbors an Armenian will be put in prison with a chain around his neck’’.
Reads the text on the board (in Turkish and English)
’’Whoever harbors an Armenian will get 5 years underlock +chain’’
One day I was walking down the street and there was a Turkish woman walking next to me. I heard this announcement, ‘’Whoever harbors an Armenian will be punished. The ones who will bring them to the Government will get monetary reward’’. Upon hearing this announcement this Turkish woman took me to her house. Her husband’s brother wanted to take me to the Turkish Government but the woman didn’t let him do so. This is how I survived.
From 1920-1921 I fled from Kharpert and reached Iran.
Man pointing to the board-The students don’t understand the text written on the board.Hampartzoum: They don’t understand it? OK. It says, ‘’Whoever harbors an Armenian in his house will get 5 years in jail plus a chain around his neck (like the Turkish woman who harbored me in her house). The brother of this woman’s husband wanted to take me to the Government saying, ‘’We will get money and we won’t be arrested,’’ The woman didn’t let him do that and I survived. Is it clear now?
Teacher to students: Now you can ask questions. One person at a time.
Hampartzoum: Let’s see what this boy wants to say. How old are you?
Student: I’m 10.
Hampartzoum: Great! Ask your question.
Student: Why was your father arrested?
Hampartzoum: Because he was Armenian. The Turks wanted to eliminate all Armenians. That’s why they arrested my father and released him after torturing him for a week. Then my father took us to the Government.
Students: Why did they put a chain around his neck?
Hampartzoum: They didn’t put a chain around his neck. This punishment was for those who harbored Armenians in their houses.
Student: Why did the Turks hate the Armenians?
Hampartzoum: Have you heard this boy’s question? He asks why the Turks hated the Armenians or why the Armenians hated the Turks? It’s not his fault that he doesn’t know the answer. His parents should be blamed for not telling him the truth. My children were very young when I told them everything. This boy’s parents didn’t tell him anything. (To the student who asked the question) Because Armenians were Christians. They were the owners of the country. The Turks came to their territory, slaughtered them and started dominating the country. The Armenian people wanted their country back but the Turks refused to give it back to them. Instead, they decided to eliminate the entire Armenian nation.Teacher to students: Please ask your questions loudly. We can’t hear anything.
Student: Why couldn’t Armenians and Turks live together in the same country?Hampartzoum: Armenians and Turks lived together for 600 years.
Student: No, I mean without fighting and killing each other…like friends…
Hampartzoum: Armenians were Christians and Turks were not. They were Muslims. Turks treated Christians very badly and that’s why these two nations became enemies.
Student: Were there any Armenians who fled to Russia?
Hampartzoum: Yes, many Armenians fled to Russia.
Student: How old were you when the Turkish woman harbored you in her house?
Hampartzoum: No, I was 18.
Student: Were there Turks who didn’t want to kill Armenians?
Hamparztoum: There were no Armenians left. They slaughtered everyone.
Student: Yes, but were there any Turkish people who didn’t want to kill Armenians?
Hamparztoum:Yes, there were a few Turks who pitied Armenians.
Student: How many Armenians were killed?
Hampartzoum: 1.500.000 Armenians were killed. I can even say 2.000.000 because a lot of Armenians died of sickness and hunger.
Student: The Turks didn’t die?
Hampartzoum: The Turks were killed by the Russian soldiers during the war.
Student: Are there any Armenians who live in Turkey now?
Hampartzoum: Not many. There are about 400 Armenians living in Constantinople.Student: Did your youngest brother die as well?
Hampartzoum: He was thrown into the water and died. He drowned.
Student: Do your two brothers who came to America live here?
Hampartzoum: They lived here but they died as they were old.
Student: So you’re the only brother who is still alive?
Hampartzoum: Yes, I am alone now. Six brothers and three sisters…but now I’m alone.Students: You have no sisters?
Hampartzoum: No, I have no sisters now. I had three sisters but I don’t have any now. I’m alone.
Student: Who is Miss Chitjian?
Hampartzoum: She’s my daughter.
Student: How many daughters do you have?
Student: Do you have a son?
Hampartzoum: I did but he died.
Hampartzoum’s interview with a journalist
I had five brothers and three sisters. All of them were killed. Only my twin brother Kaspar Chitjian and I are alive now. Kaspar survived and came to Constantinople with a Turkish official and then he left for America. I stayed with the Turks for six years with my other brother. We forgot the Armenian language. We were sick and hungry. Every day we found bones thrown throughout the entire country. There were so many bones there. This photo of mine was taken in 1919. We were so hopeless at that time. And now I don’t know if this is a dream or a reality. In English?
(repeats almost the same text in English. I tried not to change his words)
We were six brothers and three sisters. They killed all of them but me and my brother Kaspar are living now. We are twins. Kaspar had a chance to go to the United States before me. In 1919 I wrote a card to Kaspar. I took my picture that time. We were very poor. His name is Rashid and my name is Rooshdi. Here is the card I sent to Rashid.