Tamay Fyne-Silva Shekerdemian Vartanian
Today, 24th April 2020, marks the 105th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. This year, I wanted to share my family’s story with you, written by my aunt Silva Shekerdemian Vartanian. The man in this picture is my grandfather Zaven who I sadly never got to meet.
The Brother’s Survival, Hadjen, 1915-1923
Mesrob Shekerdemian, my eldest uncle, was a hero and a Commander in the resistance against the Turkish Genocide of Armenians in Hadjen (now Saimbeyli, Turkey) of 1915-1919.
Mesrob fought against the Turks to protect Hadjen and its surrounding villages from the Turkish army and the massacres that ensued. He organised groups of volunteers from Hadjen to defend themselves from the Turkish and Kurdish brigades and looters whose aim was to eliminate Armenians from Hadjen. Sadly, Mesrob’s parents and two sisters were brutally killed however, he managed to survive and made his way to Cyprus, where he settled.
Yervant Shekerdemian, my second eldest uncle, also survived the massacre with the help of a Turkish family who knew my grandfather, Kaloust Shekerdemian, a very successful businessman in Hadjen.
To survive, Yervant remained in Hadjen and became this family’s shepherd. Meanwhile in Cyrpus, Mesrob received a message that his brother was still alive and with the help of some of his friends in Hadjen, Yervant escaped and eventually Mesrob and Yervant were reunited in Cyprus.
Zaven Shekerdemian (pictured), my father was about 8 years old at the time of the Armenian Genocide.
Turkish soldiers came to Zaven’s house and forced him, his parents and two aunts, to vacate their house and walk towards their church, Sourp Hagop, with all of the other Armenian men, women and children of Hadjen. Once they arrived at the church, the men were separated from the women and children. Zaven never saw his father again.
My father witnessed the massacres of the women and children of Hadjen by Turkish soldiers – a baby cut in half with a sword by a Turkish soldier simply for crying with hunger. He remembered how the soldier then told the baby’s mother, “your baby will not cry now”.
When Zaven’s turn came, Turkish soldiers threw him up in the air and shot him. He thought he was dead, but woke up amongst all the dead bodies. He realised he was alive but injured with a painful bullet wound that had penetrated his left shoulder and come out of the other side. He then heard noises and realised two more children were alive, a girl and a boy, who were of a similar age. They helped each other by mixing earth with water to create a mud to cover their wounds and managed to get away together.
The three children kept themselves safe until a Turkish family in Hadjen, who knew my grandfather Kaloust Shekerdemian, found out Zaven was alive. They took my father in to protect him from the Turkish soldiers and made him their servant. They were a large family and had many servants, all by the name of Ali. They named my father Gavour Ali, meaning infidel.
For three years, my father looked after the family’s young children and animals. One of Zaven’s ‘duties’ was to soothe the baby of the family to sleep by walking with him on his back for hours. Often the baby would urinate all over my father – despite this Zaven had no choice but to keep calm and continue until the baby had settled. During this time, Zaven spoke only Turkish and forgot his own Armenian language.
After three years, my uncle Mesrob received a message through his business associates (Mesrob had become a successful merchant in Cyprus) that his youngest brother Zaven was alive. It took a while for Zaven reach Beirut, Lebanon safely, where he was put in an orphanage. Of course, my uncle Mesrob wanted Zaven to be with him and eventually three brothers were reunited in Cyprus.
By this time, my father was about 12 years old and could not speak Armenian. He attended the Armenian school in Cyprus and was put in a class with 5 year olds. Zaven sat right at the back of the classroom because he was so tall. All the children used to make fun of him and laugh when the teacher used to call him ‘Big Boy’.
Our father, Zaven, would bravely tell us and everyone who asked, the story of his survival of the massacre in Hadjen. It did not matter how many times we heard his story, we always sat listening in tears struggling to imagine how such a young boy could witness and survive the barbarity of Ottoman Empire.
Our father’s wish was simply RECOGNITION. Recognition of the atrocities against the Armenian people by the Ottoman Empire, not only by Turkey itself, but also by every country around the world. To date, 32 countries have recognised the Armenian Genocide but there is still a long way to go.
Zaven Shekerdemian sadly passed away in 1988.
Today exists Nor Hadjen (New Hadjen), a town in the Republic of Armenia. In 1973 survivors of the Armenian Genocide from the Armenian Diaspora, including my father, were invited to Nor Hadjen to be present at a special commemoration ceremony. The Nor Hadjen Museum has a corner dedicated to the Shekerdemian Brothers.
We are honoured and very proud to be descendants of survivors of the Armenian Genocide.