SAN FRANCISCO—The last known Armenian Genocide survivor in the San Francisco Bay Area has died. Takouhie Keshishian, age 99, passed away peacefully on February 26th. She was one of the last living survivors of the 20th century’s first systematic genocide, perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish government against its Armenian subjects, 1915 -1923, during which more than half of the Armenian population living on its ancient homeland was killed, and their personal and community properties seized.
Takouhie had often expressed her wish that the Turkish government and the U.S. Congress recognize the Armenian Genocide. She has been honored as a source of strength and voice of justice at Bay Area Armenian Genocide commemorative events, held at the historic Mt. Davidson Cross in San Francisco. In a video message to the Armenian community, Keshishian had a simple yet powerful message: “We must never forget what Turkey did. . . We must always remember.”
Takouhie is survived by 6 children, 16 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren. Funeral services and interment took place on Saturday, March 8, 2014, at 11:00 AM, at Cypress Lawn, 1370 El Camino Real, Colma CA.
California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom sent a condolence letter to the Keshishian Family. “She was a leader in every sense of the word” stated Lt. Governor Newsom. “Her leadership touched her family, friends, community, and demonstrates that there are no obstacles in life that cannot be overcome.”
Congresswoman Jackie Kanchelian Speier issued a statement and had a flag flown at the US Capitol in memory of Takouhi Keshishian. “I share with Takouhie her wish that the Turkish government and the U.S. Congress recognize the Armenian Genocide” stated Rep. Speier. “I have introduced legislation to that effect since 2008 and will continue to do so until it passes in the Congress.”
“Considering the traumatic experiences she had endured, our grandmother had such a great, positive spirit which we loved so much. She taught us a lot about life and values,” said Ara Makasdjian, Keshishian’s grandson and ANCA- San Francisco Bay Area Board Member.
Takouhie was born in the city of Adana, Turkey, on February 14, 1915. Her mother, Marie, was born in the village of Missis, outside of Adana. When the massacres against Armenians in that region were unleashed by the Turkish Sultan in 1909, Marie’s entire family was murdered, and her village, destroyed. A kind neighbor saved Marie, keeping her hidden and safe, until she could make her way to Adana, where she later gave birth to Takouhie.
Takouhie never knew her father. When she was two months old, he fled the Turkish army into Syria. (Armenian men were being conscripted into segregated, un-armed sections of the army, and later murdered). During his flight, disguised as a Kurd, he saw many Armenians on forced death marches, including his own sister and her family. He contracted Typhoid and never returned.
Takouhie’s mother Marie, was married off to another man and as a child, Takouhie was told that this man was her father who had come back from the army. In addition to her eldest son and Takouhie, Marie also later gave birth to more two sons and a daughter.
In 1921, under the threat of continuing massacres, the family was able to leave Adana, travelling by boat to Tripoli, Lebanon. When the family arrived in Lebanon, their very poor condition was exacerbated by the fact they didn’t know the language. Takouhie’s stepfather died of food poisoning. Instead of going to school, Takouhie cared for her younger siblings while her mother worked to support them. Each evening, Takouhie joined her mother in creating embroidery pieces, which her mother sold for income the follow day.
Takouhie married Antranig Keshishian in the 1930’s, and they had 6 children, 5 girls and a boy – Shaké, Loucine, Anahid, Dikran, Sossi, and Sona.
After years of living through the devastating Lebanese civil war, several of her children moved to the Bay Area, and Takouhie joined them in 1987. In her last years, she was a resident of Pacifica, California.