‘Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia’

Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia, (London: I. B. Tauris, May 2015)

Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia, (London: I. B. Tauris, May 2015)

In 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the remarkable story of one family’s survival.

The Armenian world was shattered by the 1915 genocide. Thousand of lives were lost, families were displaced and the narrative threads that connect them to their own past and homelands were forever severed. Many have been left with only fragments of their family histories: a story of survival passed on by a grandparent who made it through the cataclysm or, if lucky, an old photograph of a distant, yet silent, ancestor.

By contrast the Dildilian family chose to speak. Two generations of storytellers gave voice to their experience in audio and video recordings, lengthy written memoirs, in diaries and letters, and most unusually in photographs and drawings. Their story covers a 50-year time span that encompasses three pivotal and often violent moments in Armenian and Ottoman history: the period leading up to and including the Hamidian Massacre of 1894-96; the 1915-1918 deportation and killing of the Ottoman Armenians, during which the Dildilian family rescued and hid dozens of young Armenian men and women; and the massacre and final expulsion of the surviving Armenian population during the Turkish War of Independence, 1919-1923 – an often-overlooked, but no less integral, part of the Armenian story.

Their descendant, Armen T. Marsoobian, uses a unique array of family and public resources to tell this story and, in doing so, brings to life the tumultuous events of the early twentieth century. Their remarkable story is one of survival against overwhelming odds and in the face of mortal peril.

Armen T. Marsoobian is Professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He is a descendant of the Dildilian family.

Reviews of Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia

“I was awed by Fragments of a Lost Homeland. I was moved by its precision and poignancy: its authenticity of detail and the wrenching story that emerges image by image and detail by detail. This family memoir is among the most powerful detective stories to emerge from Armenian Genocide.”

— Chris Bohjalian, bestselling author of The Sandcastle Girls

“In Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia, Armen Marsoobian, a professor at Southern Connecticut State University, has produced a formidable work of research that is partly microhistory, partly political history. At times the book reads like a novel, focusing on the trajectory of Marsoobian’s forebears, the Dildilian family, starting with their lives in the Ottoman empire and ending with their migration to the United States in the first half of the 20th century. The narrative is enriched with an amazing range of visual material: photographs, drawings, maps, house plans. “Keeping family secrets can be motivated by a variety of reasons,” he writes. “Secrets hidden by one generation from the next are often the result of shame or fear: the shame that comes from believing – often falsely – that one should have behaved differently in a morally challenging situation or the fear of causing harm if a trauma is passed on to the younger generation…” Marsoobian describes powerfully the struggle to survive and its impact on the human psyche. The chapter on the forced Islamisation of the Dildilian and Der Haroutiounian families is riveting. Despite the importance of Marsoobian’s grandfather to the government, he and his family were forced to convert to Islam and adopt Turkish identities in order to avoid deportation. Thus Tsolag became Pertev, Mariam became Meryem, Jirair became Fatih and Aram became Zeki. Reading this list of names, I could not help but wonder how many other families in Turkey had been in a similar position. How many names have been changed, erased, forgotten. The final exile, and the final chapter, arrives when the Dildilians understand that there is no future for them in their homeland. Together with Armenian orphans they leave their beloved Anatolia behind.”

— Elif Shafak,  published April 27, 2015, The New Statesman

 Armen T Masoobian’s Fragments of a Lost Homeland is a book of primary source materials, rather than a history. Miraculously, several of his grandfather’s family survived the genocide – by conversion to Protestantism and then Islam, by bribery, by good luck, or thanks to a ‘righteous Turk’ – and in 1922 escaped to the USA, together with their diaries, which Masoobian has collated. After travelling to their former homes in the Anatolian cities of Amasya, Merzifon and Sivas, where a substantial Armenian population created a thriving culture of which lamentably little remains today, he set about piecing together the diaries, letters, historical documents, eyewitness accounts and pictures of the time. The result is a sometimes bewildering narrative, so extended are the Armenian families, so frequent are the reversals of fortune and so uncertain is the sequence of some events. There is much here for historians and even filmmakers to develop – for instance, the story of Kiremidjian, an Oskar Schindler of Anatolia, who saved hundreds by inventing vital jobs for them in a military factory. Above all, Masoobian gives a feel for the horror, the fear and the sometimes quite unreasonable hope that the victims felt, an emotional and tangible re-creation that even the best historian could not arrive at.

— Donald Rayfield, published April 29, 2015, The Literary Review

Upcoming California Book Tour Dates

September 12, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM:
“From the Capital to the Provinces: Armenian Photographers in the Late Ottoman Period,”
A Conference on Armenian Photographers: “The Eyes of Our Culture.” Ararat-Eskijian Museum, Mission Hills, CA.
For information contact: (747) 500-7585 or ararat-eskijian-museum@netzero.net

September 15, 7:30 PM:
“Memory, Memorialization & Bearing Witness: Contested Memories of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey Today,” at, in the University Business Center, Alice Peters Auditorium, Room 191, on the Fresno State University campus.
For more information contact the Armenian Studies Program at 278-2669, or www.fresnostate.edu/armenianstudies.

September 16, Noon:
“The Presence of Absence: Photographing Loss and Violence,”
University of Southern California, Ground Zero Coffeehouse.
Sponsored by the USC Institute of Armenian Studies.
IN CONVERSATION guest is Armen Marsoobian of Southern Connecticut State University and author of the recently-published Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia (I. B. Tauris). On September 16 at noon, USC Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni will lead Marsoobian in conversation about his family’s unique collection of photographs from 19th and early 20th century Ottoman life. These photographs, which have been exhibited in Turkey, portray a story of vibrant culture, exile, memory, and history.
Please call 213.821.3943 if you have any questions regarding the event, including parking and directions.

September 17, 7:00 PM:
“Resisting the Darkness: The Story of an Islamized Armenian Family, 1915-1918: An Illustrated Talk. Glendale Public Library at the Glendale Adult Recreation Center, 201 Colorado St., Glendale, CA.
Information: Elizabeth Grigorian, Armenian Outreach Coordinator, Glendale Library, Arts & Culture at egrigorian@glendaleca.gov or call (818) 548-3288.

September 19, 2:00 PM:
“Fragments of a Lost Homeland: Remembering Armenia.” Armen T. Marsoobian will describe his on-going project of memorialization of the Armenian Genocide in Turkey as seen through the photographs of one family. La Jolla Riford branch of the San Diego Public Library 7555 Draper Ave, La Jolla, CA 92037. Tel: 858-552-1657



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One Comment;

  1. Betsy Beacom said:

    Armen Marsoobian will be speaking about his book, “Fragments of a Lost Homeland,” at a reception for his photography exhibit, ‘Bearing Witness to the Lost History of an Armenian Family through the Lens of the Dildilian Brothers,’ on Thursday, September 10 from 5-8 p.m. at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. The exhibit will be on display in the university’s Lyman Center Lobby Gallery from Sept. 11-Oct. 18. The reception and the exhibit are free and open to the public.