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Real Stories of Families that Survived the Genocide

Real Stories of Families that Survived the Genocide

On the cover: photo of a couple made in Trabzon /

I wrote down these stories according to my 84 year old mother Saretsyan Hamestoohi, who despite the considerable age, had an impressive memory and bore in mind all the events that took place when she was a child in the fullest detail.

Her parents Saretsyan Armenak and Chepnyan Aghavni before the massacre of the Armenians moved with their parents from the village of Shana located by Trabzon (Ottoman Empire).

After settling in Tsebeld (Abkhazia) Armenak and Aghavni brought up 7 children. The eldest son was killed during World War II. Their large family was hard working, lived in love and harmony.

His maternal grandfather Hovhannes Chepnyan lived in the village of Shana near Trabzon with his parents, wife and children. The Turks forced the Armenians either change religion or language. The majority of the Armenians did not change their faith and grudgingly changed the language (my grandfather spoke Turkish mainly and I fluently spoke the language since I was a child). Grandfather often told us his grandchildren what he had to go through. I was 5-6 years old back then but I still remember the story down to every last detail. 


It became dangerous for Armenians to stay in Shana. From the neighboring villages there was news about the massacres of Armenians. By the example of his neighbors my grandfather put his wife and children (he left his parents temporarily in the village) in the boat and sent to Abkhazia through the Black Sea. At first they settled in the village of Kraevich, Tsebeld region. Then my grandfather hurried back to Turkey after his parents but he was late. They had killed all the old people in the village and the young people fled and hid in the mountains. Grandfather joined the fellow villagers.

It was the end of autumn. The refugees ate the fruits of the gardens and forests but it started to get cold there were no warm clothes and day by day it was becoming harder and harder to find something edible. The nightmare of the refugees was a Turk whose name was Temel. With his hideous dogs he was scouring the forest and once finding Armenians, he shot them on the spot. Soon my grandfather caught a cold and became sick; he started to cough and had to make himself scarce not to disclose his friends. 

My grandfather was rescued by his relative Chepnyan Pilik; a courageous tall man who after taking his family to Abkhazia returned too. Pilik took care of grandfather; put him on his legs and they decided to kill Temel. They found two flintlock revolvers, secretly connected with the beautiful Armenian girl whom Temel was violently keeping in his house.

After learning from the girl where Temel was hiding they hid and waited for him. Soon the torturer came back with his gampers (Armenian wolfhound, ed. note). My grandfather's revolver misfired but Pilik's revolver thundered. They killed Temel and his dogs in the house yard. They returned the beautiful Armenian girl to his father, and went back to Abkhazia with great difficulties. Although grandfather already had grandchildren, he had two children too afterwards. He brought them up, married them off and helped them to build houses. He lived to an old age but he had hard feelings for God. He did not forgive him for the deaths of so many Armenians. And never attended the church».


In Tsebeld Atmadjan Srbuk was our close neighbor. She lost her entire family during the Armenian massacres: her husband and three children. She was telling that during the deportation of Armenians from the neighboring villages (sadly I do not remember the names) the Turks gathered all the people in one room. The men were taken to an undisclosed location. After some time gun shots were heard. At dawn the Turks withdrew women and children outside the village and started to kill them with axes and balts (hook-nosed Turkish axes). The bloodstained people were falling down: one part of them was killed and the other part was senseless. Srbuk was among the living and she suddenly heard:

«Whoever is alive, let us know. We will no longer kill».

I was lying next to cousin, – Srbuk was telling. Suddenly she sat up and said:

«Brothers what we have done to you, that you treat us this way? »

«Ah, infidel, daughter of infidel», – screamed the Turks and continued their dirty deed with renewed vigor.

Srbuk said that up until that time she did not have a scratch but after the stabs she received many wounds and lose consciousness. I opened my eyes: not a single sound or moaning, probably everybody was killed. It rained a little at night and the blood mixed up with water flowed in streams. Barely had I crawled away from that place, on the way I found a rope and a sickle. I went into the forest, climbed on the tree and tied myself with a rope not to fall in case I fell asleep. The next day I continued my way and in the evening reached a village. I hid in the bushes and listened to what language they spoke. When I heard the Greek language, I went into the first house.

«Come in, sister», – said the housewife and led me into the house.

The Greek woman kept Srbuk secretly in her house for over a month, took care of her, treated her wounds. Then Srbuk took to the road. She reached Abkhazia with great difficulties and settled in Tsebeld. Only one cousin from her relatives was alive. Srbuk married Minasyan Grigor. His wife died and left 5 children orphans. Srbuk also gave birth to 5 children. Grigor was a lazy man and Srbuk had to solve all the family related issues. One night her heart gave out and she died suddenly.


My father Arsen Hakobi Yalanuzyan was born in 1917. From 1935 to 1937 he studied at the Sukhumi Art School. In 1938 he was drafted in to the Red Army. Six months after the demobilization the Second World War began and he left for the front. After the war he taught in the 8-grade school in the village of Ablukhvara, he married and had two children. In 1957 the family moved to Sukhumi. And in 1978 they settled in Yerevan. 

My father's grandfather Sarkis Nikoghosi Yalanuzyan was from Kapadjevich village, Charshampa region, Samson county, Trabzon province. The entire family moved to Abkhazia after the massacres of 1895–1896. Sarkis and Mariam settled in a mountainous village Ablukhvara (Azanta), located north of Sukhumi. They had 5 children. Hakob had two adult sons when his wife died. Back then (1905-1906) young and single guys could hardly find brides for themselves, let alone the widower with children. And he headed off to Ganja (Gandzak) where reportedly many young Armenians died during the Armenian-Tatar clashes, and they were many Armenian girls there. 

My father Arsen Yalanuzyan wrote down how grandfather brought a wife for himself from Ganja:

A year later after his wife's death Hakob started to look around to choose a wife for him. And sure enough, he who seeks, hits on. And Hakob hit on, he reached Ganja. People were saying that there were many young girls in Ganja. And it was true. And Hakob took to road. He sailed to Batumi from Sukhumi on a steamship and then took the train to Ganja. Asking around he reached to Getashen and then to Martunashen and the same evening he was hosted in the big house of Aghasaryans'.

Aya-nane was the housewife of the big house, as her husband oosta (master) Ohan died several years ago. Assessing the outfit and the looks of the guest Aya-nane understood at once that this person came here in search of a bride. And she was not mistaken. She invited close relatives, set the table. Meanwhile Hakob was looking for a bride; there were some young girls there. He chose Shoghik; a tall, dark-complexioned girl with long black hair. The relatives got acquainted with Hakob, asked him about everything. Hakob told that he was from Sukhumi, lived in a village, had a house, bakery and drying house for tobacco. 

Some of those present understood «magazan» (drying house) as magazin (shop in Russian) and were very happy. The good news reached up to Aya-nane, and after it the atmosphere became friendlier. The young started to sing and dance, Aya-nane was among them and she was as good as them. She thanked the guest from Sukhumi for visiting her house. And Hakob put two ten rubble coins between the fingers of the future mother-in-law. All those present applauded, were happy and greeted each other. The feast lasted until midnight.

Then everyone left. In the morning the good news spread in the village: a guest came to Aya-Nane's house from Sukhumi, courted Shoghik and married her. As a dear son-in-law Hakob stayed in the house of Aghasaryans' three days and three nights. Meantime Aya-Nane bore another idea in her mind. She decided to send her middle daughter Manush, who was limping from birth, to Sukhumi with her son-in-law. Who knows, maybe she would also get married. And she was not mistaken. She arranged in advance with Hakob and sent Manush with them to Abkhazia. 

And indeed Manush had luck. After less than a month Hakob's neighbor Buyukli Aleksan courted Manush and they got married. One or two months passed, the entire village was talking about Hakob's trip to Ganja. Even some people: Kochkonyan Oves. Terteryan Melkon, Kyulyan Honhannes came to ask Hakob to find brides for them. Hakob promised that he would solve that issue within 6 months. And indeed soon he took to road to Ganja and brought three brides and after 1-2 years there were 7-8 brides from Ganja in the village of Ablukhvara-Azanta: Shoghik, Manush, Sofya, Manik, Arshaluys, Astghik, Nakhshun, Vardanush. 


Hakob and Shoghik brought up 6 children: 4 sons and 2 daughters. When the Great Patriotic War began, everyone was married and had their houses except for the two youngest children Arsen and Pepronya. Hakob's 6 sons: Yeprem, Hambartsum, Andranik, Ashot, Harutyun and Arsen and also Manuk, husband of their eldest daughter Araksi left for the frontline.

«Killed in action» death notice came instead of Yeprem, Andranik and Manuk and in each family the children were orphaned. Other sons returned from the war. My grandfather Hakob died at the age of 82 in 1949, and my grandmother Shoghik died in 1978 at the age of 88. She was 22 years younger than my grandfather. When I was a child, her dialect was a little strange for me. For example a very common particle in our dialect “ta” she pronounced «t'a». I learned the reason for this when my grandfather told me the mentioned story. By the way my grandfather was tall, fair-skinned and had blue eyes just like most of the Hamshens. And they say that dark-complexioned, black haired children were born from the brides of Ganja. 

Karine Yalanuzyan

Translated from Armenian. "Dzayn Hamshenakan", october 2004. 


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