The iwitness public art installation by artists Ara Oshagan and Levon Parian and architect Vahagn Thomasian and sponsored by LA County Major Michael Antonovich will open April 25 at 5 pm, at the Music Center and Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles.
200 N. Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Born 1908, Marash
The crowds were huge in Meskeneh. We were in the middle of a vast sandy area and the Armenians there were from all over, not only from Marash. We had no water and the gendarmes would not give us any. There were only two gendarmes for that huge crowd. Just two. Wasn’t there a single man among us who could have killed them? We were going to die anyway. Why did we obey those two gendarmes so sheepishly?
The word was that from Meskeneh, we were going to be deported to Der-Zor. My father had brought along a tent that was black on one side and white on the other. Each time the gendarmes approached us to send another group to Der-Zor, my father would move the tent. He would pitch it on the other side of the crowd—as far away as possible. We were constantly moving. He bought us quite a bit of time that way.
Eventually, we crossed the Euphrates River to Rakka where we found an abandoned house—with no doors or windows—and we squatted there. But we still had no food. We used to eat grass. We used to pick grains from animal waste, wash them, and then in tin cans fry them to eat. We used to say: “Oh, mommy, if we ever go back to Marash, just give us fried wheat and it will be enough.”
b. Aintab, 1909
“They first took us to the first train station outside Aintab. On the Baghdad railway. A train station in the middle of nowhere. We set-up our tents and camped. Already that first night Turkish bandits attacked our tents. We had no idea what a train was. The next morning we got up and went to look at the tracks. The train came and its whistle scared the hell out of everybody and everybody ran, terror-stricken.”
“We were in Bab and one day orders came that we were to go Deir-el-Zor. Other refugees were coming to take our place. And, sure enough, refugees from Zeitun showed up, from Marash, to take our place. So we loaded up one day, like we had loaded all our stuff on mules in Aintab, but this time we rented camels. We were going to Deir-El-Zor. On the way, we saw maimed, injured men. They were taken to Deir-El-Zor to be massacred but had survived somehow and were returning. My father said we are going back. I don’t care what happens, he said, but I am not walking straight to the slaughterhouse.”
Born 1907, Lezk, Van
In September 1920, our tranquil existence on the desert of Bakouba came to an abrupt end when our camp became the targets of indiscriminate volleys of rifle fire from the Arabian side of the river. The small number of soldiers, both English and Hindu, stationed at the camp was insufficient to guard the long periphery of the tent city. Hastily, young and able-bodied Armenians and Assyrians were pressed into service. They were given Manchester rifles. I remember the name since three men from our neighboring tent received them. The rifles might have been usable but the ammunition was old. As old as the river was this late in the summer, our bullets could hardly traverse half way across. They would fall—plunk, plunk—into the river. The Arabs, incited by the Turks who announced they were from Van, would boldly stand up on their side of the river and taunt the Armenians by saying: “There are lots of Armenians, but no guns; there are lots of Arabs but no women.” The meaning of the insult was clear…
Of course, the Arabs had modern weapons, as well as fresh ammunition, powerful enough to hit any and every spot in the tent city. Not satisfied with just shooting blindly at tents (I do not remember how many days had elapsed since the firing had commenced), some fifty or more Arab horsemen invaded the camp by crossing the river and shooting at everything in sight. Commotion, panic, and chaos gripped the people. Everyone headed toward the market area. Children were being trampled, as were the weak and ailing. This could have been a disaster of serious magnitude had there not been one brave individual from Van who stepped out in front of the charging Arabs and sprayed them with bullets from his German Mauser, which he had somehow smuggled past the British at Hamadan where everyone was disarmed. This sudden appearance of armed resistance caused the Arabs to beat a hasty retreat. Soon reinforcements came to the lone hero and the camps were saved.
Born 1909, Aintab
During the defense of Aintab, I was a kid. We tried to help as much as we could. The French were in Cilicia then, as you well know, and they alongside the Armenian volunteers were fighting Ataturk’s army. Of course, the French hadn’t sent their real army, only the Foreign Legionnaires. Many of them were Senegalese soldiers who ate cats. They would shoot cats and we would find them and bring them back and get bullets in return. We took those bullets to the Armenian fighters.
Born 1906, Smyrna (Izmir)
We already had been deported once, in 1915, sent towards Der-Zor. But, my uncle’s friend had connections in the government and he had us ordered back to Izmir.
Orders came again that everyone must gather in front of the Armenian church to be deported. My father refused to go and told us not to worry. He didn’t think the Turkish government would do anything to him since he was a government employee himself.
Twelve Turkish soldiers and an official came very early the next morning. We were still asleep. They dragged us out in our nightgowns and lined us up against the living room wall. Then the official ordered my father to lie down on the ground… they are, dirty the Turks… very dirty… I can’t say what they did to him. They raped him! Raped! Just like that. Right in front of us. And that official made us watch. He whipped us if we turned away. My mother lost consciousness and fell to the floor.
Afterwards, we couldn’t find our father. My mother looked for him frantically. He was in the attic, trying to hang himself. Fortunately, my mother found him before it was too late.
My father did eventually kill himself—later, after we escaped.
Hayastan Maghakian Terzian
Born 1903, Pazmashen, Kharpert
My brother-in-law was American Consul Davis’ body guard in Mezre and the Consul himself saved my father’s life. There was a Turkish gendarme by the name of Shadhe who wanted to kill my father. Consul Davis came all the way to our door in Pazmashen. My father was hiding in the back, in the wood shed. He came on his horse and took my father back with him to the Consulate.
When the deportations began, I went to Mezre to say goodbye to my father. He cried. The Consul saw him and told me to stay. Later, my mother escaped from the deportation and also came to the Consulate. We were in the American Consulate during the deportations. Consul Davis saved us. Everybody else, my sisters, my maternal aunt—all of them, all of them—were deported. Our whole village was wiped out.
We lived in the Consulate until 1922. On September 7, 1922, our family left Kharpert along with 250 Armenian orphans on horses and wagons. My father was asked by the Near East Relief to oversee the transportation of these orphans from Kharpert to Aleppo.
From Aleppo we went to Beirut, then to Marseille, and then by ship we came to Providence, Rhode Island.
“One of the persons whom I took in the Consulate was an old man who lived in the village of Pazmashen, which was about two hours distant. He had lived in America for many years and I felt interested in him. Learning that the people of his village were to be deported and that many of the men already had been arrested and put in prison, I resolved to go out to look for him and try to bring him back with me. I went alone on horseback… Not a traveler was to be seen and not a living person except the gendarmes. On arriving at Pazmashen, I found the man still there but greatly frightened. He had escaped arrest the day before by hiding all day in a dark hole in the house… by means of a friendly word and a little money it was quickly arranged for the old man to leave with me… I rode on horseback and he walked alongside, trying to keep out of sight as much as possible… We came by a circular route and arrived at the Consulate toward night. The old man was Krikor Maghakian.”
Leslie A. Davis, American Consul General at Kharpert, February 9, 1918
US State Department Record Group 59, 867.4016/392
Born 1909, Zeitun
We arrived in Kirkuk, the three of us together—my mother, my older sister and myself. We were hungry, barefoot, and with absolutely no belongings. We took refuge in a tiny room at an abandoned police station. At some point in time, an elderly Turkish widow asked that my sister live at her home as her caretaker. My mother agreed, so my sister left.
Now, it was just my mother and I in that tiny room. We were utterly destitute. We had to sleep on the dirt floor, with nothing to cover ourselves with. It was so cold that we just huddled together at night, trying to keep each other warm with the heat of our bodies. We had nothing else.
One morning, I awoke to find my mother totally still on the floor. She had frozen to death. Later that day, some Armenian men from the neighborhood came by and took her body away to bury it.
Now, I was completely alone. I wandered the streets. One day, a man asked me to(†go to his house with him. He was a Turkish merchant with a family of his own, but wanted to adopt me. I lived there for awhile. Then, he brought a mullah home and the two of them told me I had to convert to Islam. I said I wouldn’t. As their coaxing didn’t seem to get anywhere, they hung me upside down and gave me a ferocious beating. But I didn’t give in. Finally, they untied my legs, stretched me down on the ground, and left—probably thinking I would die soon. I survived, and managed to escape.
Born 1907, Hüsenig, Kharpert (Harpoot)
They took us from Hüsenig, to Mezre, to Kharpert, to Malatia and then, after a couple of days’ walk, to the shores of the Euphrates River. It was around noon when we got there and we camped. For a while, we were left alone. Some time later, Turkish gendarmes came over and grabbed all the boys from 5 to 10 years old. I was about 7 or 8. They grabbed me too. They threw us all into a pile on the sandy beach and started jabbing us with their swords and bayonets. I must’ve been in the center because only one sword got me… nipped my cheek… here, my cheek. But, I couldn’t cry. I was covered with blood from the other bodies on top of me, but I couldn’t cry. If had, I would not be here today.
When it was getting dark, my grandmother found me. She picked me up and consoled me. It hurt so much. I was crying and she put me on her shoulder and walked around.
Then, some of the other parents came looking for their children. They mostly found dead bodies. The river bank there was very sandy. Some of them dug graves with their bare hands—shallow graves—and tried to bury their children in them. Others just pushed them into the river, they pushed them into the Euphrates. Their little bodies floated away.