In May/June 2009, I traveled with my cousins and brother, and a close friend, to visit Western Armenia and the historical sites that were largely obliterated during the Turkish Genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks. In June 2012, my friend Lisa and I will return for a week to portions of Western Armenia, as well as Javakh Georgia, to spend more time in the towns of Old Kharpert, Chunkush, and Dickranagert (Diyarbekir) - the villages of our family ancestors.
Our itinerary includes a visit to the newly renovated Sourp Giragos Cathedral in Dickranagert, which was re-consecrated in October 2011. We believe that was one of the two churches that our Amirian/Memleketian great grandparents, and great uncles and aunts, as well as our grandparents, attended. We visited the other church, Sourp Sarkis, in 2009.
This picture was taken in 1913, after my great-great-grandfather Giragos Amirian died. He is the old man who looks like he is asleep. We believe this was taken at Sourp Giragos Cathedral, which looked like the picture below before the 1915 massacres. Today, the Cathedral no longer has the tall steeple reflected in the picture below.
By way of brief history, my grandmother Queeny Amirian and and her sister Rose were about 10 and 13 in 1915. They were marched by the Turks from Dickranagert south toward Der Zor desert in Syria after their parents, aunts and uncles were slaughtered. On the road to Der Zor, they and their older sister Zorah and two brothers Nishan and Diran were taken by various Kurdish and Turkish families to Mardin, where the boys lived as "adopted" children, and the girls lived as slaves to Turkish families. Their brother Karnig was taken by a nomad clan and was never found. Nishan and Diran were located by their sisters in Mardin and a nearby village during the next few years. Nishan, Rose and Queeny returned to Dickranagert after the massacres around 1918 and eventually came to the United States in the early 1920's. Diran came to the U.S. in the early 1960's with his family. Their older sister, Zorah, lived in Syria and then in Beirut, Lebanon.
As an interesting story, in the 1980's, when my grandmother and her sister Rose were still alive, we invited Father Sarkis Petoyan to show his pictures from his then-recent visit to Dickranagert. Father Sarkis (then Deron Petoyan) had some wonderful pictures of Dickranagert, which my grandmother and great aunt were reluctant at first to look at, given their memories of the Genocide. But, as they eventually looked at the slides, they reacted with great excitement because they actually recognized some of the locations in the pictures. I only regret that I did not ask my grandmother for more details on landmarks that would have helped us locate the area where their family lived. However, this picture, below, was a picture they did recognize. We know they lived within the walls of the old city, and they lived in a "complex" of homes surrounding a courtyard. We also know that they often used the southern gate (Mardin Gate) to walk down to the river, which was not far from Sourp Sarkis church.
Old Picture of Sourp Giragos Church
During our visit this June, Lisa and I will wander the streets of the old city of Dickranagert, and hopefully some of those paths will be the same ones on which our ancestors walked before they met their untimely deaths. We will also visit Old Kharpert (Harput) and the small village of Chunkush, where Lisa's grandmothers and one grandfather were born and lived.
Read more about the Amirian/Memleketian families at www.amerianfamily.com.
I will detail our journey back to Western Armenia, which will start in Yerevan, Armenia on June 15, 2012 once we are on the road.