Our Grandmother’s Heritage to Us All

By Harry L. Koundakjian

To the Armenian Press around the world–as well as members of the Koundakjian Clan.

Dearest cousins–nieces–uncles–aunts–sisters and brothers–relatives from near and far,

We are Hassanbeylitsis. Almost all of our great grandparents came from Hassanbeyli–a mountainous region in Cilicia. Some others are from Aintab–Adana and nearby villages and towns.

This is a portion of a letter that was recently found in Germany. I understand other parts of this letter may be around and we are searching for them.

It was written by our grandmother–Yeretsgin Mariam (Mary) Koundakjian–widow of Rev. Hagop Koundakjian of Hassanbeyli (Aman’s) of the Armenian Evangelical Church. Medzmama (grandmother) wrote this letter on May 7–1909–after the massacre of our grandfather Hagop and 28 members of his congregation–including cousins and uncles. She addressed this letter to her three daughters–Persape (nee Koundakjian) Badeer–wife of Dr. Sarkis Badeer of Beirut–Lebanon; Helen (nee Koundakjian) Hadidian–wife of Rev. Yenovk Hadidian–Pastor of the Ashrafiyeh Armenian Evangelical Church of Beirut–Lebanon; and Yevnigue–(nee Koundakjian) Jebejian–wife of Dr. Avedis Jebejian of Aleppo–Syria)–as well as to us–their grandchildren.

My dearest children–

I wish I had not been compelled to write about the terrible and frightening tragedies that took place here. The tragedy struck us like a lightning.

With tears in my eyes–I write to you. Your father [Rev. Hagop Koundakjian] was more lucky than we were–because at the beginning of the catastrophe–he was killed on his way to Adana–burned alive inside his church with his 28-person congregation–and did not see the sudden destruction and premeditated attacks on our city.

He did not witness the burning of his city–nor did he hear the shootings by the enemy. He did not see his sisters–brothers and relatives shot to death indiscriminately. On April 11th 1909–we had our Communion [at church–during the service]. It was a rather heartfelt ceremony. Nobody knew that this would be his last sermon…

On the next day–father journeyed for the annual Conference of the Armenian Evangelical Churches. As you might have already heard–all in the group were burned alive in Osmanya and your father was killed with the 28 delegates of the congregation from our church.

We–the womenfolk–were driven [exiled] towards Bakhche–where we are until today. [The Ottoman Turks] threatened us with death if we did not convert to and accept Islam… I want to assure you–my children–that all these difficulties–persecutions and doomsday announcemen’s have strengthened us in our Father–Christianity and belief in God.

Everything down to the roots was destroyed: the church–in which your father served for over 30 years disappeared. But we think of Hebrews 10–verses 32-34 where we read: ‘Remember those earlier days after you had received the light–when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property–because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.’ Dirty–dry and hard pieces of bread were put in front of us–while the children were dying of starvation …"

This is only a portion of the letter. All efforts to locate the rest have so far been in vain. But we will continue the search.

Harry L. Koundakjian is International Photo Editor at The Associated Press Headquarters in New York City.

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