Yesterday, reading a missive on Facebook, Marash Girl was shocked to learn of the story of her Aunt Arousiak, the story, that is, of how Aunt Arousiak survived the Armenian Genocide.
|Dr Hagop Bessos, Descendant of Genocide Survivors, writes on Facebook --|
My grandfather was one of those caught up in the snow storm that Marash Girl refers to. Here is the testimony that was passed to me:
How my 13 year old mother survived the Genocide
The picture above (1913) shows my grand parents' family (Mesrobiani/Bilezikjian), with my 3 Mesrobian great uncles in the back.
In 1920 at the tail end of the Armenian Genocide, as Turkish troops prepared to attack the French controlled town of Marash, my grandfatlher took his wife and three children to an American missionary centre for protection. He left them there and, carrying as much jewelry as he can (he and this family were wealthy jewelers), he joined the countless Armenian men and French troops escaping to Aleppo in a freezing blizzard. Sadly the message to leave reached his three younger brothers too late for them to escape, who were caught up in the Turkish assault and cold bloodedly slaughtered.
As my granfather marched in the snow he was kicked by horse mounted by a French trooper, knocking him out. By the time he regained consciousness, the convoy had moved on considerably and he could only make them out in the distant horizon. He noticed a man lying down beside him and poking him he said to him “come on, let us move and catch the others up otherwise we will be left behind and freeze to death”. The man did not budge and my grandfather realized that the man was frozen to death. Leaving the body behind he caught up with the retreating convoy and reached Aleppo safely, where he immediately set out to organise the rescue of his children. Using some of his jewelry he hired a carriage and couple of Turkish men, instructing them to go back to Marash and smuggle my grandmother and the three children to Aleppo (my 13 year old mother Eliz, my 10 year old aunt Arosiag, and my newly born uncle John).
The two Turkish men managed to leave Marash undetected by the Turkish troops, but on the way to Aleppo they were attacked by armed Kurdish men who tried to kidnapp the children. My grandmother had to make an impossible choice by holding on to her son but letting his sisters go. Soon after, my grandmother and her son along with the two Turkish men reached a village where they sought refuge. My grandmother was inconsolable, devasted at loosing her two daughters. As it happened, her plight came to the attention of a prominent and influential Turkish town elder who took pity on her and set out to find the Kurdish perpetrators and retrieve the girls. To my grandmother's utter relief he managed to rescue the girls and reunite them with their mother. My grandmother, wanting to show her gratitude, offered to give the town elder one of the expensive rugs she had stowed away in the carriage. However, he refused to accept the gift and sent them safely on their way to Aleppo, where they were reunited with my granfather. My mother went on to attend high school at the Aleppo American College graduating in 1925 and shortly thereafter marrying my dad and settling down in Beirut, Lebanon.
Thus, in the midst of the genocide, there were kind Turkish people to whom are owed the lives and wellbeing of countless people such as my mum and aunt.