Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Gold Coins and God's wrath

After all was said and done . . . well, actually, not all . . . nearly all of the Armenians were gone from Marash . . . they had either been slaughtered, followed after the French who were sneaking out of the city unbeknownst to most (although most froze to death in a snowstorm that hit a day outside of the city), forced on the death march to Der Zor (a march which few survived) . . . but Grandma Yepros was still in Marash, in hiding, with her little sister Mary and her four children, a mother with no income and no adult male member present in the household, a single mother trying to feed and protect her family.  As Peter remembered the experience, in order to leave Marash and the newly established Republic of Turkey for the protection of the new French mandate of Syria, Grandma Yepros had to pay Turkish officials  5 gold coins (presumably to relinquish title to any of her properties in Marash) in order to acquire an  exit visa. She approached the Protestant missionaries in Marash and borrowed the five gold coins which she then took to the Turkish official who would provide her with an "exit visa". The Turkish official told her that the exit document would be ready the following day.  When she approached the official that very next day and asked for her "exit visa", the official told her that she had never paid him the five gold pieces.  Yepros, devastated, went to the Protestant missionaries again to borrow 5 more gold pieces in order to pay the Turkish official yet again for an exit document.  After paying the official for the second time five gold pieces and receiving her exit visa, she walked some distance from the Turkish offices,   removed her black shesh from her head, raised it to the heavens and looked up.  "Allah, ben yardum et! Lord you see what this man has done.  I cannot do anything about this, but you can."

The very next day, the family set out for Aleppo, Peter riding on a “jackass” (as he often laughingly related). Days later, upon the family's arrival in Aleppo, Grandma Yepros learned that the Turkish official who had cheated her out of five gold pieces, that very official had dropped dead on the very same day that she had paid him five gold pieces for the second time, the day that she had raised her shesh over her head, looking up to the sky to ask for God's justice.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Palm Sunday in Newton Corner

 Congregants gather in the Great Hall of Grace Episcopal Church awaiting the blessing of the palms.

Above, congregants of Grace Episcopal Church parade through Farlow Park, Newton Corner, chanting "Hosannah in the highest" and waving palm fronds in remembrance of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

N.B.  Marash Boy's often referred to folks walking around "Alleluiah gibi" (as if they were singing Hallelujah), not "Hosannah".  Although much is lost in translation, Marash Girl figured out yesterday to what Marash Boy's grandmother was referring!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Interview with Filmmaker Roger Hagopian on his film, Memories of Marash

M.G. I hear that you were asked to submit your Special 2015 Edition Memories of Marash to a Film Festival in Providence.

R.H. Yes.  I’m so pleased. Dorothy Martiesian of The Daughters of Vartan arranged for my film, Memories of Marash, to be shown at the Southeast New England Arts and Film Festival in Providence, Rhode Island, as this year is the 100th year commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

M.G. Where and when will that festival be held?

R.H. The Southeast New England Arts and Film Festival will be held at the  Columbus Theatre at 270 Broadway in Providence, R.I., on Monday, April 20 at 7 PM.  Their contact #  is 401-203-7363.
I will be attending the SENE Film Festival in order to speak after the showing of my film, Memories of Marash: The Legacy of a Lost Armenian Community (2015).  This documentary film traces the ancient history of the city of Marash,  the massacres of  the late 1800’s, and the final expulsion and genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks between 1915-1923; the film tells the story of the lost Armenian community of Marash. Interviews with survivors and their descendants supported by historical film and photographs combine  to portray the tale of the vibrant Armenian community that once existed in Marash and is now forever a memory. In 2015, I remastered  
MEMORIES OF MARASH to wide screen with high resolution photography and animated maps.  

M.G. When did you first begin making documentaries?

R.H. My first film, Journey along the Middlesex Canal, was completed in 1996.  (As I’ve always been interested in railroads, I became fascinated by canals because in America, canals were the predecessor to railroads. You may not realize that the Middlesex Canal was  the first major artificial waterway — completed in 1803 — in the United States.)   This film has been shown at the Lowell National Park Visitor Center, on local TV stations, at public libraries, and can currently be seen on the Middlesex Canal Association website.  The Canal That Bisected Boston, a film I made in 2010, has been shown at various historical societies as well as the West End Museum in Boston, the Middlesex Canal Museum, and the Charlestown Historical Society, to name a few. 

M.G. You’re a history buff, are you?  

R.H. Yes, I’m especially interested in early transportation and American history.  The Armenian focus came later.  My father was a survivor of the Armenian genocide; I’ve known that since I was a teenager, but I did not seriously research  family history until I was about 49 years old. 

M.G. How old are you now?  

R.H. 66. Ironically, what turned out to be the first action of the Armenian Genocide by the Ottomans occurred in Zeitoun on April 10, 1915 — that is the month and day of my birthday.  

M.G.  That’s tough. On a happier note, how were you introduced to filmmaking?

R. H. My wife Linda cut out an ad in the newspaper which announced that Lexington Cable TV was offering film-making courses for free.  I took my video camera, and began volunteer work there and I was able to sign up for editing time in the studio.  I could produce my own film on any subject I wished.  That’s when I made a video of my father’s story: Journey of an Armenian Family (1999)  It took about a year to put that together. I showed that in many Armenian and non-Armenian venues.  (Senior Centers, Newton Public Library, NAASR)  The film begins in my dad's fishing village Avantz (outside of the City of Van) in historic Armenia (which was at that time a part of Ottoman Turkey).   I can remember being down the Cape, putting a microphone in front of my father as we sat by the lake.

M.G. What inspired you to make the film Memories of Marash

R.H. I wanted to cover my mother’s family’s experiences in historic Armenia;  during the Armenian Genocide, my great grandparents were beheaded in front of their children. I wanted the world to know the truth. 

M.G. Oh, no.  Just like my great grandparents! Let’s move on . . . Have any of your films ever been entered into a film festival in the past? 

R.H. Yes.  Destination Watertown:  The Armenians of Hood Rubber was shown at the ARPA International Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California, in 2010.  This film describes employment at the Hood Rubber Factory as being the draw for  Armenian immigrants to settle in Watertown.

M.G.  Switching gears a bit here, I wonder when you first became aware of the fact that you were Armenian?  What was it like being an Armenian growing up in the diverse community of the Dorchester section of Boston?  

R.H. I was just another ethnic kid with friends who were Jewish, Greek, Syrian, Lebanese, Irish, Italians . . .

M.G. Have you ever met any Turks?  

R.H. I didn’t start meeting Turks until I got involved in activities regarding Armenian history and the Armenian genocide.  

M.G. How did you meet them then?  

R.H. It began with Professor Taner Akcam, Chair of Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University . . . probably the first Turk that I ever talked to about the Armenian genocide.  

M.G. Has your film been shown in Turkey?  

R.H. Harry Parsekian brought a copy of "Memories of Marash" to the Hrant Dink Foundation in Istanbul and Osman Koker, editor of the book ARMENIANS IN TURKEY 100 YEARS AGO purchased a copy of "Memories of Marash" when he was in Watertown several years ago; he recently told  Marash Girl that he just loved the film!

M.G. What are your plans, if any, for future films?  

R.H. I want to record the story of the destruction of four Massachusetts towns: when the Quabbin Reservoir was constructed in the 1930’s, the folks living in the communities in Massachusetts’ Swift River Valley  were forced to leave — their homes and their land were taken by eminent domain in order for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to  create  the reservoir which provides drinking water for Metropolitan Boston.  Being an Armenian, I could identify with their experience of loss and displacement.

M.G. How can we purchase a copy of the Special 2015 Edition DVD of Memories of Marash?  

R.H. Just call me, Roger Hagopian. at 781-861-7868 or, for further information, email  RogerHagop@aol.com.

Peter Bilezikian (1912-2010), a survivor of the Armenian genocide, whips it up with filmmaker Roger Hagopian (at right) on Feb. 10, 2008, during the  yearly gathering of the Watertown Chapter of the Union of Marash Armenians. Peter Bilezikian is featured in the film MEMORIES OF MARASH.  Photo by Marash Girl

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Courage to Survive

You may wonder what in the world you are looking at!  Any guesses?  

Soon after spring arrived -- 5 days later, to be exact -- these little plants, and Marash Girl has yet to figure out what they are, made their way up through the dark and the cold of a half a foot of snow to bare their limbs to the sunshine.  

Would that we could follow their example!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sell-Out Crowd Greets Author Chris Bohjalian at Watertown Free Public Library

Joe Rossi (right) greets author Chris Bohjalian (left)  who holds a copy of his book,      
The Sandcastle Girls
Ten-time New York Times best-selling author Chris Bohjalian and author of  The Sandcastle Girls appeared yesterday evening at the Watertown Free Public Library as part of Watertown's commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  A sell-out crowd awaited him.  Unfortunately there was no room "in the inn", as it were, for those (like Marash Girl and her escort) who had not purchased tickets ($5/person) ahead of time, and even tickets for standing room only were sold out.  

Nonetheless, Marash Girl and her escort arrived early enough to greet Chris Bohjalian as he approached the crowds gathering around the doors of the lecture hall (a rather small lecture hall, at that, for such a prominent figure) and Chris was gracious enough to allow a photo to be taken before he greeted the throngs who were there to hear him speak.
Chris Bohjalian inscribes and signs a copy of his novel, Sandcastle Girls.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

An Alderman by any other name . . .

Marash Girl received the following email today from Newton's Alderwoman (formerly known as Alderman) Emily Norton.

Call Me Councilor… City Councilor.  I am pleased to report that by a vote of 19-5, the Board of Aldermen voted last week to amend the City Charter to change our titles from “Alderman” to “City Councilor.” We also scrubbed the charter of other gendered references, such as changing “Chairman” to “Chair” and “School Committeemen” to “School Committee members.” The measure now must be filed by our State representatives and passed by the Legislature as a home rule petition.

Marash Girl has many questions.  
1)  What shall we do with the word "human"?

2)  Juliet (in Shakeseare's ROMEO & JULIET) states, 

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. . ." 

or not, as the case may be. . . 

3) Do we really need gender references scrubbed?  Marash Girl kind of likes being known as Marash Girl and not Marash Writer or Marash Person or Marash Descendant or Marash Adult or Marash Writer or Marash Chamur . . . You get the point.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Jacket from the Past

This morning Marash Girl was browsing through her emails and there she saw a link to a Facebook page that contained a photo of the jacket (at least similar to the jacket) that her great grandmother (Noussia (Lucia) Danielian Bosnian, born in Aintep in 1855, died in Winchester, MA, 1944) had gifted Marash Girl's mother -- Marash Girl's mother's jacket was purple velvet with gold threaded embroidery, puffed upper sleeves (in the fashion of the late 19th century) and fitted lower sleeves.  Marash Girl's great grandmother was an Armenian who hailed from Aintep (now known as Gaziaintab) until she had to leave (in the early 20th Century) to escape the Genocide of the Armenian citizens who were living in the Ottoman Empire.  Noussia settled in Winchester, Massachusetts, and brought with her little more than the jacket (her wedding jacket, is Marash Girl's guess) that she later gifted to Marash Girl's mom, Lucille Mae Vartanian.  No doubt that the museum has not identified the jacket as "Armenian!"  Or has it?
 Photo of jacket in a museum in Marash - jacket pre-1920 
Photo Credit:  Facebook's Kahraman Marash page

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


PETER BILEZIKIAN, MORE THAN A CONQUEROR written by his son, James Bilezikian, on the occasion of Peter's passing on March 24, 2010.

Anybody who was blessed to see and eat of the garden our father husbanded for forty years would know the pull the very first garden, the garden of Eden had on his heart.  Where there were stones and struggling grass and cabbage weeds that flourished and dandelions that ruled, our father planted a garden.  Each spring he would sift through the loam, which became blacker every year because of his nurturing, and pick out the rocks, then the stones, and finally the pebbles, and throw them into the ravine at the edge of our kingdom where the mulberry bush held court.  This garden was to the west of the three bee hives which guarded the back door of our property.  A century old apple tree, whose bark was dappled with age and seniority, reached over the fence from the yard of our neighbor, ‘old man’ Cogan, and shattered the illusion of separation of neighbor from neighbor, and sheltered the hives with a promise of an early feast of pollen and nectar.  The scent from their April blooms covered the hives and blew from a horn of plenty.  It announced the arrival of spring after a winter siege long enough to put recovery from the snow gripped land in doubt.  It was a victory of life over death, and the garden was its celebration.

Like the antediluvian mist that rose from the ground and watered the earth, the fruit of the garden rose from the ground, and hung from a design of poles and pipes and twine, never sullied by contact with the soil in which their roots were buried, ready to be eaten with the sun still smarting on the skin.  It was a feast, a moveable feast, of light and life.

One of dad’s favorite hymns that we would hear him sing impromptu on a Sunday afternoon, or a Saturday evening was…

In The Garden (first verse)
By: Charles Austin Miles, 1913
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses
And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

To hear this rock hard man break forth and regale his father in heaven always filled me up. To watch him, as a child, climb those cellar stairs that led up to our kitchen, caked in the black dust of the oil burners that he cleaned and bear the mark of the chimney sweep of a century earlier, or the West Virginia coal miner from the mile deep pits of bitumen, filled me with wonder and made my eyes wide when he surfaced to the sunlight of our kitchen and my mother’s smile and me and my sisters’ excitement at the return of our father.
Can you eat violin lessons?  That was the question his mother asked our father when he came home one day, reporting that his middle school would teach him how to play the violin.  But even that pittance to be charged was too much for his immigrant family.  It was from that deprivation that ushered forth the treasure of his soul stored up until he was fully grown and married to a beautiful foreigner (Armenian girl) from Aintab, via Cambridge Massachusetts. Dad made certain that all three children studied a classical instrument for 12 years by the time we graduated high school. When visitors arrived at our home, one, or all of us, were asked to perform on either the piano or the violin.  We children were our parents’ flags of victory over the enemy that had sought our family’s life.  The music that came from our hearts, from the fingerboard of the violin or the keyboard of the piano, was the sound of light bursting forth from the darkness that sought to overwhelm him and his mother and brother and sisters in their childhood.  The love of Christ sounded forth in those notes of the cherubs who were his progeny.  He and mother were more than conquerors.  They gave us life and life abundantly. 
Dad would joke about his singing voice, and he was right.  He said the best song he sang and the one in greatest demand was ‘Far, far away’, the farther, the better.  Dad married Lucille Vartanian, Jenny to everybody, who, unlike himself, had a radio quality voice that sang out throughout many a day to the confusion of our friends who called us on the phone.  They would ask what station we were listening to because the voice and the songs were so pretty.  The two became one in their marriage, as was designed by our Father in heaven.  They protected each other from the hardness of the world.  Dad’s hospitality was equal to our mother’s welcome.

I can remember the cool air seeping through the metal of our screen door, whose shape was distorted after years of children running into and out of the house. The air was of spring, an air that wilted in the mornings, after a few months, as the days sailed into summer. I can remember the people arriving at our house, at our small home, huge with welcome. It was the look on their faces, when my mother opened the door, I always scrutinized the look, it was the look of pleasure at the sincerity of welcome, and the attempt to hide their excitement at their arrival on our shores, as it was not good form to be so transparent. They 
knew they were entering a world of experience, as our house was a museum of life where everything could be touched and upon which everything could be gazed. There was conversation and laughter in our home. It was a 
conversation that carved time out of the granite block of the darkness of days. It was a conversation that never tittered, because it was not driven by clock or courtesy.

That was the rub of it all. Father had suffered through ‘the granite block of the darkness of days’ and yet I never once heard anger or bitterness escape his lips toward the perpetrators of the crime against our humanity.  We were raised in a spirit of forgiveness that blew from the soul of our parents, souls in which the Holy Spirit made residence and which liberated them from ‘the granite block of the darkness of days’.  
Almost every Sunday afternoon there was a ‘thanks God, praise God’ that wheezed out of the lungs of Aunty Mary.  That was her signature arrival as she made her way through the house to our dining room to find us seated at a late lunch to find the chair that had been saved for her.  She was the kid sister of dad’s mother, one who had survived with them through the years of the genocide and the battle for the city of Marash. 

It was these several things that informed my father’s and mother’s actions and which described their lives as our parents.  They walked in a spirit of forgiveness, of praise and thanksgiving, a spirit which came from their relationship with the Father in heaven through his son our Lord Jesus Christ. 

That was how and why dad was able never to refuse a call in the middle of the night in the dead of winter from somebody whose furnace or oil burner was no longer working.   I knew that because the phone was in the corridor ten feet from the entrance to my bedroom. The ring would awaken me and I would hear my father speak, and the tone of his voice.  He never complained.  He got dressed, put on the layers necessary to survive the blizzard raging outside or the bitter cold of a forever winter’s night and like the Christian paladin he was, ride to the rescue of those stranded under a cold winter sky.  Because he and his family were rescued so many times while trying to survive Marash and the war against humanity, as rescuer, it never occurred to dad to send a bill to those he rescued.  Dad would have said that Jesus rescued us from our bondage to sin, and never sent us a bill, because He paid for the rescuing and the sin on the cross of Calvary.  Dad and mom were examples of those who grew in conformity to the image of Christ, to the mind of Christ. 

When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment.  He said, ‘to love the lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and the second is unto the first, to love thy neighbor as thyself.’  Further on in the New Testament, St. John declares that any man who says he loves God, but hates his neighbor, is a liar, and his father is the devil.  Dad hated certain ideas and philosophies, but not people, not even the people who held those philosophies anathema to his thinking.

“When you are a Catholic, miracles happen.”  This was the evangelism for Roman Catholicism that daddy would hear often enough from Johnny Flynn, a close friend, and one of the salesmen that frequented Newtonville Electrical Company, the business established, owned and operated by daddy and his brother, Uncle Paul.  Johnny Flynn was six feet tall, 3 inches taller than my father, had those telltale Irish brown eyes that looked at home on the face of a boy, but always improbable on the face of an adult.  He was a spare man with unsparing freckles over all his face, faded, then, from the onset of middle age.  He was an average catholic for those days of the last years of the Korean War, if you counted the six children he had.  Dad never took issue with Johnny Flynn’s declarations of miracles awaiting any who were blessed to be Roman Catholic or might become Roman Catholic, or his attempts at proselytizing.  On Christmas Eve, 1951, dad got a call from a friend reporting that Flynn’s home had no heat, and had been that way for a couple of days.  Dad wondered why he had not been told by Johnny, a good friend, and then he realized, no doubt, Flynn was too embarrassed to admit he did not have the funds to pay for a service call.  Dad advised Harry Mooseghian, a protégé of his, to meet him late in the evening so they could embark on an adventure together.  When it was dark enough and late enough, while Flynn’s family slept, the two snuck into the cellar of Flynn’s home, through the unlocked bulkhead doors.  Sure enough, the culprit was a faulty oil burner.  Dad returned to his store, found a model identical to the one Flynn had, stole back into the cellar a second time through the bulkhead doors, and exchanged the good oil burner for the ruined one.  The following Friday, Johnny Flynn, visiting dad along with all the regulars that met there on late Friday afternoons for coffee and donuts, breathlessly recounted the tale of the miracle of waking up on Christmas morning, the week before, to a home well heated.  For two days the Flynn family had shivered through the misery of December cold that hovered just above freezing, and on Christmas morning awakened to a home delivered and resurrected from the dead of winter.  Johnny Flynn, flush with the proof of one more miracle in his life, and because of his deep affection for my father, tried again to convert Peter with, “When you are a Catholic, miracles happen.”  Johnny Flynn went to his grave never knowing the story of his deliverance.

Whether it was helping out widows locally, or Armenian orphans in Beirut, or anybody else the Lord called upon him to help, it was done quietly, always. 
On March 24, at 1 a.m. Peter told one of his caregivers, that he was going to die that day.  He sang hymns off and on with her until 5 a.m.  Peter said he was going to be with his wife, his brother, his sister, his parents, and his Lord Jesus Christ.  At six a.m., he called for Irene, another caregiver.  When she arrived at the side of his bed, he looked up at her and said, “I am tired”.  With those last words on his lips, Peter Bilezikian passed into heaven. 

Peter would be the first one to quote the following scriptures (Romans 8: verse 35, 37, 38, 39) as a testimony to where he was going following the death of his body.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Because Peter Bilezikian was one of the sheep in the pasture of our Lord Jesus Christ, The Great Shepherd, he knew that he would dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Invite your plants to take a shower

At the end of this long cold winter, especially if your heating system is of the "hot air" variety, you can be sure that all of your indoor plants are covered with dust, no matter how dust-free you think your house is.  Your plants are ready for a nice cool shower.  And that's what they deserve!  Just take your potted plants into the bathroom, place them in your shower stall or your bath tub,  and shower them in a gentle shower with water that is at room temperature.  (Too hot or too cold will be too much of a shock for the plants to endure . . .  no soap please, unless the plants are buggy!)  [Thanks to Susan of Longmeadow for this idea.] 

Alternatively, if you don't have a shower, as soon as the weather warms up, when the weatherman forecasts a gentle rain (no wind), take your potted indoor plants outside for their spring bathing.

You'll be surprised at how your plants will "come alive"!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Snowdrops Under Snow

Galanthus (snowdrop; Greek gála "milk", ánthos "flower")
Yesterday, a friend announced that her Snowdrops were up.  "How could that be?" Marash Girl asked. "All that's up in my garden are the snow drifts.  How can the Snowdrops possibly be higher than the snow drifts?" 

"I planted my Snowdrops at the edge of the tree belt so that when the sidewalk is cleared of snow, the edge of the tree belt is uncovered," Marash Girl's friend replied.

Garden envy reared its ugly head as Marash Girl lamented the fact that she would probably not see her Snowdrops for another year, as her Snowdrops were not planted close enough to the edge of her front garden which was still covered  with two feet of snow!

Note: Snowdrops are often the first flower to appear in the cold spring of New England.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bramacharya and the Hockey Team

Marash Girl's "in house yoga instructor" will be teaching the concept of "bramacharya" next week to a class of pro hockey players. Bramacharya is commonly translated "celibacy", her daughter explained. [What a crime to womankind, should the team take that concept of celibacy to heart, or to body, as it were!]

Marash Girl begged her daughter not to translate the concept of "bramacharya" as celibacy. 
"Not only will the hockey players turn their backs on yoga," Marash Girl warned, "but think what would happen if the  hockey players [and all young men] did follow that rule . . .  As T.S. Elliot warns in his poem 'The Hollow Men', 

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Marash Girl can't control what her daughter will teach the team, but God willing, they, the hockey players, will reproduce.

Note:  Marash Girl's daughter explained that bramacharya literally means "walking with God" and though it has been traditionally translated to mean celibacy, a more useful interpretation for all of us, dear reader, might be "all things in moderation".

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Grandpa Moses' Disappearing Olive Trees

Thanks to Ozcan Gulkesen for the above photo of a grove of olive trees on the north west side of Marash, the photograph taken in 1972. The grove is no longer.  According to folks living in (Kahraman) Marash today, most of the olive groves have been taken down to make way for apartment buildings..
 For years Marash Girl heard the story from her grandfather . . .  and later her father and uncle . . . how Grandpa Moses had planted 100 olive trees in Marash round about 1885, before he left for the United States . . . olive trees that would mature and bear olives in time for his descendants -- his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren, his great-great-grandchildren  -- to enjoy.  But when he returned to Marash years later, to marry and have a family, the olive trees had all been cut down.  Not a tree left standing.

Marash Girl wonders if Grandpa Moses had heard the Nasreddin Hodja story that goes (in English) like this.

One day Hodja went out into his garden early in the morning to plant some saplings.  When evening came, he uprooted all of them and took them back into the house.

His wife asked him, "Hodja, what are you doing?"

Nasreddin Hodja answered, "We are living in bad times so I don't want to leave any of my belongings out in the open where someone might steal them!"

[From 202 Jokes of Nasreddin Hodja, Miniature Yayinlari, Istanbul, Turkey.]

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Charkoudian Drugs, Springfield, Massachusetts

"When we were growing up, after they learned I was Armenian, folks would ask me if my father was a rug merchant.  Did you get that?" Marash Girl asked Marash Boy.

Marash Boy replied without hesitation. "No. Everybody in Springfield knew that the Charkoudians sold drugs -- they were drug merchants."

Both Marash Girl and Marash Boy wish you all a Happy St. Patrick's Day. Did you know that there's an Armenian community in Ireland? 
See  http://www.armenians.ie

Monday, March 16, 2015

Kindness goes a long way -- all the way to the United States

One might rightly ask, then (see yesterday's post) how it was that Marash Girl's family was still in Marash in 1919 and 1920, after all the Armenians had been driven out of the city to their death?  Another story of the kindness of their Muslim neighbors.

As Grandpa Peter told it, the muhajjirs that lived next door would warn his mother Yepros when the Turkish gendarmes were planning to scour the neighborhood clean --  clean of Armenians, that is -- warn Yepros to leave her home and move to an Armenian neighborhood that had already been "cleaned out".  The family would stay there until the neighbors -- the muhajjirs -- alerted them that the coast was clear, that they could return to their home, that the gendarmes had left Kumbet (their neighborhood in Marash).

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Weaving to Survive

Yesterday evening, Marash Girl attended "Turn of the Screw" performed by the Newton Nomadic Theatre at Gregorian Oriental Rugs in Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts.  The play was intense, the actors superb, and the setting (courtesy of Scott Gregorian) far more colorful  than any theatre Marash Girl had ever experienced.

Being surrounded by the oriental carpets brought back a family story of survival in Marash early in the 20th century.  As her father Peter told it . . . .

There she was, his mother -- young Yepros -- with 4 children and a younger sister to care for, her husband Moses in the United States, unable to return to his family in Marash because World War I had broken out.

As Marash Girl's father Peter told the story,  Yepros's uncle (her mother's brother) Ganimian (Marash Girl doesn't remember his first name), concerned, asked Yepros, "What are you going to do? How are you going to support these children? I'll set up a loom in your house, and teach you how to weave so that you and the family can weave cloth and sell it in the marketplace."   As Peter told the story, every member of the family worked at that loom -- he spun thread, the others (Gulenia, Paul, Rosie, Mary and his mother Yepros) did the weaving -- in fact, Aunty Mary Kurtgusian (later Pambookian) apparently caught the hook (and I'm not sure what Peter meant by hook) in her eye and to her dying day had a scar on her eye lid as a reminder of those days! Grandma Yepros sold the cloth in the market place in Marash, and if the cloth was too rough, or had too many errors in it, their Muslim neighbors (Muhajjirs) took the cloth to the countryside to exchange for produce from the gardens of other Muhajjirs.  Grandpa Peter proudly told of how he, then a 6 year old boy, would spin wool into yarn, the yarn that would  be woven into cloth by his mother, his brother Paul, his sister Gulenia and Rosie, and Mary Baju (his mother's sister, though they always thought she was their sister as they called her Mary Sister -- Baju in Turkish means sister).  With the waters coming down from the mountains, and some fruit and vegetables, milk and eggs, (and probably more raw wool to spin into thread/yarn for weaving) coming in from the countryside (thanks to their Muslim neighbors --  see above), the family was minimally able to survive (though apparently when they arrived in this country, they were thinner than thin!)

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Marash Girl packaged the books that had been ordered from her for the day and made her way to the post office, as she did every day.  But this day was different.  When she handed her last package to the clerk at the post office, he began laughing.  
"What's up," Marash Girl asked.  
"This is the first time I'm seeing this!" answered the clerk between chuckles.  "Did you see where this package is going?  The address says Frostproof, Florida!  Is this a joke?" Of course, for those folks in snow-worn Massachusetts, it certainly seemed like a joke. The postal clerk checked to make sure. "It's real!" he exclaimed.

When Marash Girl returned to her office, she checked out Frostproof, Florida on Wikipedia, and this is what she found:

"The name Frostproof was a marketing ploy to convince potential Florida landowners that the town had never had, and never would have, a frost that could destroy the large citrus-driven economy. However, only a couple of years later, a frost killed most of the citrus in Frostproof."  

Oh, the ironies of life.  "Man plans and God laughs!"

Friday, March 13, 2015

Will we really be able to plant our peas on St. Patrick's Day?

When we were little, we used look out the window on a rainy day and sing:  "Rain rain go away; come again some other day. . . Little Johnnie wants to play!"

Today, we are living in the Boston area,  we are looking out our windows and crying, "Snow, snow, go away; come again some other day. . . Grown Up Johnnie wants to plant!"  And we might add, "Grown Up Johnnie wants to plant peas . . . it's almost St. Patrick's Day!"

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Where did you say we come from?

From Dr. Michael Joyner, a colleague of Dr. Nisha Charkoudian, comes the following:


Geneticists found Armenians to come from a mixing of populations that occurred from 3000 to 2000 B.C., coincident with the date given by a historian in the fifth century.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

On Being Identified As Armenian

Meeting with a playwright from Los Angeles last night, Marash Girl was telling stories from the old days -- stories from the years that she was an ardent member of the Harvard Radcliffe Armenian Club.  Her friend, the playwright, insisted that Marash Girl record the following story on her blog.  So here goes. . . 

Many years ago, Marash Girl met David Balaban, an ardent member of the Harvard Radcliffe Armenian Club, a brilliant young man who had travelled from the Northwest to study at Harvard College (later to become a brilliant and successful lawyer, of course!)  David was Armenian, but unlike the rest of his, he did not have the identifying marker at the end of his name.  He had no ". . .ian".  No one would know, looking at his name, or, for that matter, looking at him, that he was Armenian.  But David soon corrected that problem.

David Balaban submitted application to the courts to change his name from David Balaban to David Balabanian. When he appeared before the judge, (as David tells it), the judge asked him, "Are you sure you want to lengthen your last name?  Everyone who appears before me for a name change wants their name shortened . . . And you want yours lengthened?  Really?"  And, of course, the rest is history.  David Balabanian was Marash Girl's good friend in college . . . one of Marash Girl's and Marash Boy's best friends . . . and he is now one of the best lawyers on the west coast. 

So there, all you guys that changed your names so that no one would know that you were Armenian. . .  Some of us WANT to be Armenian!  See?  Get it?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Glven up on making oatmeal from scratch, have you?

Try again!  Combining the wisdoms of Grandpa Peter and Grandma Jennie, Marash Girl has come up with the solution for the perfect oatmeal for breakfast -- and ready in three minutes.

Buy yourself a tub of old-fashioned oatmeal at the supermarket -- nothing fancy, just plain old fashioned oatmeal.  All the supermarkets package oatmeal under their own labels, but Quaker Oats also still carries the original, old-fashioned oatmeal.

Pour a cup of dry oatmeal into a microwaveable bowl.  Add a cup of whole milk, a 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla, a teaspoon or more (to taste) of brown sugar.  Cook in the microwave for one minute. Open the microwave, remove the bowl of oatmeal, and stir.  If necessary, add more milk.  Repeat several times until the oatmeal is cooked to your liking.  (Marash Boy and Marash Girl like theirs slightly crunchy.)  Serve with freshly sliced bananas and milk.  In about five minutes, you will have a delicious and nutritious breakfast!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Is Marash still a city in Armenia?

A new acquaintance just emailed me asking,  "Is Marash still a town in Armenia?"  How about a thesis on the topic!  This year marks the 100th year commemoration of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide (1915-1922) by the Turkish government, a genocide that has yet to be recognized and admitted by the perpetrators.  And no, Marash is not a town, but a city, and no, not in Armenia, but in Turkey, and no, there are no Armenians left in Marash.  All of the Armenians' properties (if not their lives) were confiscated by the Turkish government; some of us survived to tell the tale.  Marash is still alive in our hearts -- those of us whose ancestors were born and lived in Marash -- and yes, the city of Marash still exists, but without its Armenian population. 

BTW, Marash is now called Kahraman Marash (Courageous Marash) commemorating the year that the Turks fought the French and there, and finally got rid of us!!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cold yogurt - the best thing for a burn?

After cold water, Marash Girl is told, cold yogurt is the best thing for a burn.  But then, cold madzoon (as she calls yogurt) is the best thing for a bee sting as well . . . Marash Girl learned that factoid one day many years ago on the afternoon that she was to play the piano for an audience of hundreds!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Marash Cycling Team, Sao Paulo Brazil

Paolo Bilezikjian from Sao Paolo, Brazil, submitted this photo to the Bilezikjian family page on Facebook  a photo of his Marash Cyling Team Jersey.  He writes, "The jersey comes with Bilezikjian on the back!"  Note the Lion of Marash on the right, and the words Marash in Armenian on the upper left.  The colors of the jersey, for those of you that don't know, are the colors of the Armenian flag:  Garmir, Gabouyd, Narinchakouyn -- translation: Red, blue and orange (Marash Girl's favorite color).  Come on, family members -- don't you want to run and play in a jersey like this one?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Boston Marathon Runners in the Snow

Boston Marathon Runners in the Snow
Statues  at the corner of
Commonwealth Avenue and Walnut Street, Newton, Massachusetts
Photo by Marash Girl

Thursday, March 5, 2015

95th Anniversary of the Heroic Defense of Marash

With Roger Hagopian's documentary MEMORIES OF MARASH playing on the screen at the front of the auditorium, Marashtsis from all over the world, now settled in the Boston area, gathered in Belmont, Massachusetts, this past Sunday, March 1, 2015, to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide and the 95th Anniversary of the Heroic Defense of Marash, a defense that ended with the departure of the French in the middle of the night, their horses' hooves covered with burlap to deaden the sound of their departure, the departure assuring the demise of most of the Armenians in Marash. (This information from eyewitness Stephen Baliozian - his oral history conducted by Marash Girl, the tape now on file at the Armenian Library and Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts - Stephen Baliozian who was 8 years old at the time of his departure from Marash during the famous snowstorm).

Opening remarks were given by Lalig Musserian; Nvart Kouyoumjian, chairwoman, welcomed the gathering, and Harout Sajonian, accompanied on the piano by Yelena Hakobyan, sang with the assembled the Armenian National Anthem and the Marash Anthem, following which a traditional Hokejash was served.  Blessings and remarks were offered by the Very Reverend Father Andon Atamian,

Entertainment consisted of a Piano Interlude with Yelena Hakobyan at the piano, a recitation of poetry by poet Avik Deirmenjian, and a musical program offered by Antranig Boynerian and Shan't Der Torossian.  Closing remarks were offered by Lalig Musserian.

The event was sponsored by the Union of Marash Armenians, Watertown Chapter; the hokejash was preceded by a memorial mass.

Peter Bilezikian remembered.  He told of how the Armenians, now few in number, unarmed, their young men having been taken into the Ottoman army (and often forced to dig graves into which they would soon be placed), from these defenseless people, the Turkish soldiers demanded arms; the Armenians had no arms to give. The Turkish soldiers proclaimed that they knew that the Armenians had arms, and if the Armenians did not give up their arms, they would be thrown into jail.  So most of the population, unarmed, had to go out and buy guns to give up to the Turkish soldiers in order to save themselves from certain death in Turkish prisons.

Such a sad story that Marash Girl really doesn't want to go there . . .

Peter also told of the Marashtsis gathering here in Boston --  how they gathered to be together, to remember, to ask of the whereabouts of their loved ones . . . where were they? had they survived? The moderator could not get the attention of the gathered amidst all the hubbub, and so he tried the following words, the words Peter remembered with a smile to his dying day; the words Marash Girl remembers Peter quoting throughout his many years of life.

"Quiet, please!  Quiet, please!  Pretty soon, by and by, we gonna have a the ice-a cream."

Although there was just as much hubbub this past Sunday, it was all joyous, and no, there was no ice cream!
Dignataries attending the event pose for photographer at culmination of Heroic Defense of Marash event held at the Holy Cross Armenian Church in Belmont..  l. to r. Elizabeth Cerda Koutoujian (Mrs. Peter Koutoujian, Jr.), The Very Rev. And on Atamian of the Holy Cross Armenian Church, Nevart Kouyoumjian (Master of Ceremonies), Peter Koutoujian, Jr., ( current Sheriff of Middlesex County, Massachusetts and a former member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives), Mrs. Peter (Connie Cassidy) Koutoujian, Sr.; front row are the children of Mr. & Mrs. Peter Koutoujian, Jr. -  l. to r.  Isabel, Cristian,  and  Peter Koutoujian

Peter Bilezikian remembered Cornelia "Connie" (Cassidy) Koutoujian when she was a little girl, as he used repair her family's furnace. He would be so pleased to see her with her husband and children at the Marashtsi events in Watertown, Massachusetts.  Peter Bilezikian would often recount his memories of Peter Koutoujian, Jr.'s grandfather as both Peter Bilezikian and Peter Koutoujian's grandfather were young boys in Marash together, and later settled in the Boston area.