By May 23, 2012 0 Comments

24 April, 2011 – The Armenian Genocide

April 24, marks the tragic memorial of one and a half million Armenians who were massacred at the hands of the Turks and their affiliates in 1915.

The genocide was executed through very cleverly devised plans that served to mask the true intentions of the Turks at the time which was simply to annihilate the majority of the Armenian population.  The invasion took place in stealth; villages were isolated and surrounded while their inhabitants were marched out on foot to join other Armenians, leading to a mass exodus.  To the world at large, or to those who even bothered to enquire, Armenians were simply being ‘relocated’.

Armenians were marched non-stop and without food or water through the worst terrain and arduous conditions and it was during this march that many Armenians overcome by fatigue, disease and starvation, fell to their death and were left to rot.  Those who did not die of natural causes were lynched by marauding Kurdish bandits and other vile element of the Ottoman Empire.

The Turks employed the services of the Kurds and instructed them to rid the villages of the Armenians and to help themselves to their lands and property.  The Kurds were even more vicious ensuring the rape of daughters before their fathers’ eyes and the slow mutilation of Armenians hanging on trees by children (yes you read right) with fine razors.

The Armenian massacres were despicable and a painful memory etched into every true Armenian heart.  My grandfather, Garabed Dedeyan recounted his tale to me and other members of our family on rare occasions.  He told us of how he came to survive the massacres and end up in Lebanon and his story always stayed in my heart.  Today, I write this piece in honour of my grandfather and his loving memory.

My grandfather, Garabed came from a poor family, from a village called Korpe in the town of Kharpert (formerly an Armenian village prior to the Turkish occupation) Garabed told me of the cold bitter winter that spanned for the most part of the year.  He remembered how his mother used to gather snow from outside to melt in a cooking pot for him and his siblings to have water to wash and drink.  He could not recall his mother or father very well, which at the time I did not quite comprehend but as I grew older I learnt how we humans sometimes suppress even the fondest memories of people if they are too painful to recall.  Garabed remembered his sister, who like him seemed to have survived the holocaust albeit for a coincidental and brief encounter in the orphanage where he sought refuge.  When my grandfather left the orphanage, he never saw his sister again – she was the last of his family that he left behind.

It was on a typical day that Garabed went to the mountains to herd the sheep and before sunset he returned to the village and he found it very quiet.  He rushed to his home and found to his horror the bodies of his family sprawled and bloodied on the floor.  If memory serves me right, he was seven or even younger at the time.  He ran until his legs could not carry him, tired, weak and desperate, he eventually reached a little home and it turned out to be a Turkish family.

The Turkish family took him in and sheltered him, fed him and clothed him.  They were a noble family who took pity on an orphaned child and risked their own lives by taking him, an Armenian child into their home.  Had they been caught in the act they would have certainly been executed.  They taught my grandfather some Turkish and told him never to reveal his true identity to anyone.

I could never discuss my grandfather’s feelings with him at the time for I was a naïve and foolish child back then.  Now that I have drunk from the cup of life, I can only imagine the sheer terror he must have felt and the pain he endured, I cannot even begin to think about it…

I do not remember exactly how long he stayed with the Turkish family but I know that one day, he felt he had to leave and so he left them and went alone on his way until he ended up in a small refuge for children – an orphanage that was established or funded by Maria Jacobsen.

Maria Jacobsen was a Danish lady in her twenties who came from a rich and affluent family.  She had a magnificent tall horse that she rode, the finest of clothes and plenty of gold pieces that she used to bribe Turkish soldiers with to get them to release Armenian children into her care.  Maria, gathered hundreds of children in this fashion and their numbers grew, she kept the children safe in her Danish sponsored ‘orphanage’ and paid for their safety and basic needs like food and water.  Fearing for the children’s safety, Maria, using her contacts and authority managed to eventually organize the children’s transportation by ships to be distributed as refugees to other orphanages in different parts of the world.   Garabed, my grandfather ended up on one of those ships.

Maria left her family, wealth and every security behind and joined the children on their journey by sea.  It is at the bleakest times that sometimes God’s angels reveal themselves and here was one selfless and loving human who myself and every single member of my family are indebted to for life.

The ship sailed and docked at different ports, Greece, Syria and eventually Lebanon.  At every stop, children were made to disembark and were met by various organizations that led them to the orphanages where they would begin their new lives.

Garabed disembarked at the last stop: Lebanon.  He had heard about Lebanon in the Holy Bible, the cedars and the mountains.  This was the country that Moses begged God to allow him to see before his death.  Maria Jacobsen also disembarked in Lebanon and went on to join the children in the orphanage where she spent the rest of her life with them under her care.  She taught and administered in the orphanage assisted by other Danish ladies.  Maria even learnt Armenian to better communicate with the children.  She commanded respect all round and was a woman of very strong character but equally she possessed every quality we all strive for.

My grandfather grew in the orphanage and was taught some skills to help him with his eventual rehabilitation into society.   Eventually he left the orphanage when he was of age and married.  He lived a very poor life but dignified in his love of God and embraced the Holy Bible whole-heartedly.  Nothing in the world would allow his faith to waver and even in his darkest hour he found determination and light in truth.  He frequented the orphanage which was suitably named Tershnos Pouyn  meaning ‘The bird’s nest’  My grandmother, a natural seamstress would prepare garments for the Danes and help supplement the family income.

Maria Jacobsen stayed in Lebanon until she eventually passed of old age.  She is currently buried in the orphanage in Lebanon.  I visited and paid my respect to this fine lady and thanked her in my prayers.

Today, I decided to write this article so that I can educate all my friends and loved ones about my culture and our history as Armenians.  I also want my grandfather’s name and legacy to live forever.

Above all, I want to bring to light some truths so that we can all learn and see the broader picture.

I will begin by referring to the Turkish family who took my grandfather into their own home, risking their own lives.  This is a perfect example of how there are good and bad people in every race, in every culture or religion.

It was on my trip to Ghana, West Africa and outside the dungeons where the poor African slaves were left to rot in inhumane conditions and where those who made it out alive to be enslaved, wished they had died in captivity.  Our guide, a Ghanaian lady saw me very sad and with tears in my eyes.  She said, let us pray for this evil to leave our planet, let us pray for God.  She did not hold bitter resentment in her heart and nor did she look me in the eye and say, this is what you, the whites did to us!
By her saying that, I felt there was hope…

As Armenians, we pride ourselves for being the oldest Christian Western civilization that has embraced Christianity.   It hurts me to see that some of us still harbour hate towards those who were responsible for the Armenian Genocide.  I am not saying we should forget what happened, on the contrary, we must always remember them, but we must also learn not to lose sight of truth:
From the words of the disciple Andrew as he was led to his execution and before the cross:

““O cross!” he declared, “O cross most welcome and long anticipated! I come to you with a willing mind, with joy and desire. Since I am a follower and a student of the One who died on you, I have always loved you and sought to embrace you.”

And so Andrew gave his life for the love of Christ.

It is time for us to honour those we lost and to find humility in our hearts.  Hate will only dissolve our race further and serves no one and nothing but evil.

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