Her Name Was Takouhie (Part II)

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I feel blessed that I have in my possession the notes and tapes of many long conversations with my mother, Takouhie Charverdian Apigian, which contribute to this series of columns. My family history has now become a permanent record.

I was 12 years old, standing behind the counter of my father’s grocery store on Ferry Avenue in Pontiac, when Margaret Kevorkian entered. She was the sister of Dr. Jack Kevorkian; the Kevorkian family were friends of my parents and lived a short distance from dad’s store. Much to everyone’s surprise, Margaret had just become engaged to a young Armenian gentleman from Racine, Wis.; she had met him at an Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Mid-West Conference. It was a whirlwind marriage of short duration.

She knew I was the youngest of the four Apigian children, separated from the next youngest by almost 10 years. Margaret smiled and said, “Betty, you are destined to be the comfort to your parents in their old age.” Funny how her words came to fruition. I’ve never forgotten what she said, even though as a 12-year-old you don’t think of your parents ever really getting old.

I have no regrets that my mother, Takouhie, and I spent many long hours talking about the yergir of Dovrag, where she was born, and then about her family’s move to the French-run coal mining town of Zonguldak on the Black Sea.

I had the habit of at least once a week having my mother over for dinner, or I would drive the few miles to her house for tea and fresh boereg, choreg, or cinnamon nut-filled Ishlee cookies. Mom would talk, I would take notes. Many interesting subjects other than family history came out of these talks. For instance, she told me that at home they would sometimes make katah and then take them to a local baker who would bake the katahs, eliminating the tedious hours needed to end up with that delicious mainstay of an Armenian’s diet. Mmm…warm rose jam and katah.

She interjected many other interesting facts in her stories. It seems divorce also took place in the old country. I laughed when she told me the three reasons for divorce, according to her: if a woman could not produce children, if there was adultery, and if someone had bad breath. Given the chauvinism of Armenian society, men probably had the advantage.

She said another common practice was local unmarried men traveling to a neighborhood village to select a wife and bring her back to live with his mother and family. And as we know, that young wife had to be subservient to her mother-in-law (woe is me).

Takouhie Charverdian was the daughter of Nectar Keshishian and Ohannes Charverdian, a saloon keeper. Grandpa Ohannes had the only business in Dovrag selling wine, whiskey, and cognac. The local police chief asked him not to leave because he was well liked by the Turks who called him “brother” and “oozendai,” saying no harm would come to him and his family.

In 1899, their first son Senekereem was born. He is fondly remembered for loving to ride horses, but unfortunately he rode the family horse long and hard to its death. He died at age 18 while serving in the Ottoman-Turkish Army. This was the fate of many young Armenian men. As Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire, they had to serve in the Ottoman-Turkish Army. Apparently you could avoid serving if you paid a bribe. Armenian soldiers were driven to the warfront first or were herded, with other men, into the outskirts of town and slaughtered. This left Armenian cities and villages under the protectorship of old men, young children, and women totally vulnerable to the whim and savagery of the Turks and Kurds.

I include these details, familiar to most of us, because it is the 100th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide this year and as Armenians we have vowed we will never forget the slaughter and exile of the Armenians from their ancient homeland.

Although I have little knowledge of my father’s family history, I’m proud of my paternal grandfather, Abraham Apigian. The biblical name of Abraham translates to “Father of Nations” in Hebrew. My dad’s middle name was Abraham as well, and my brother was named Abraham after our grandfather. Many Armenians have names relating to the Bible.

As the granddaughter of Serpouhie and Abraham Apigian and of Nectar and Ohannes Charverdian, it is my duty to take an active part in continually drawing attention to the Armenian Genocide. The Turkish government is very aware of the Armenian people’s demand that they acknowledge the genocide, and I expect demands for reparations will go on long after the Centennial.

Hagop Charverdian, the second son, was born in 1900. He would eventually resettle in Marseille, France, marry, and have three sons. Hagop was fair-haired like his father and looked like actor Lloyd Bridges. He died of kidney trouble; upon his death, his widow took her sons and moved to Yerevan, then part of the Soviet Union and it certainly was not the paradise it was purported to be.

In 1903, Hripsema was born. She wed Khoren Apigian in Bolis (Constantinople), a man older than herself. He won her favor when he showered her with gifts and pretty dresses. She died of cancer in Niagara Falls, N.Y., where they had raised their family.

Takouhie Charverdian was born on Aug. 13, 1906. According to my notes, Takouhie’s grandfather on her father’s side Hagop Charverdian, married a woman named Hripsema. Hagop Charverdian’s father came to Dovrag from Persia, city there unknown. The surname Charverdian was equated with a highly respected and wealthy family in Persia, associated with the Shah (Charverdian is derived from Shah).

Though the following details may seem tedious, they are the history of thousands of other Armenian families, too. What happened to the people listed here? Somewhere I’m certain I have lost relatives. Lost are Takouhie Charverdian’s grandmother on her mother’s side: Anitza Keshishian, who married Chalaby Keshishian, and had seven boys, Melkon, Levon, Krikor, Toros, Karnig, Mehran, and Roupen, and then three girls, Nectar, Dirouhie and Serpouhie (twins), of whom I have a photo.

Takouhie’s grandmother on her father’s side Hripsema (maiden name unknown) married Hagop Charverdian (whose father came from Persia). They had three boys, Ohannes, Garabed, and Tavid, and three girls, Zemroot, Takouhie, and Maryam.

In 1915 in Dovrag, the Turks issued a decree in the newspaper that all Armenians must take a Turkish first name or be killed. My mother had to go to the local city hall to assume the Turkish first name of “Fakria,” but was allowed to keep the surname Charverdian. In 1918, a Vartabed by the name of Dajad Vartabed arrived in Dovrag and said to the Turkish authorities, “My people must resume their Armenian identity.” They then dropped the Turkish names. Out of fear and insecurity, my mom’s father moved them to Zonguldak in 1918. On Sept. 28, 1922, they were exiled to Bolis. Mom, Aunt Hripsema, and Grandma Nectar never went to the Muslim mosque, although many wealthy Armenians did to protect their financial interests. Eventually they all resumed their Armenian identity.

The Charverdian family left Dovrag in 1919. The Ottomans had already wiped out 1.5 million Armenians from Historic Armenia, and were moving westward to expand their killing fields. The family moved to Zonguldak, 30 miles from Dovrag (7 hours by foot). Ohannes Charverdian remained behind seemingly safe because the Turks liked him. They called him “Ouzoundyee” because he was tall and had blue eyes; it means “Tall Uncle.”

The family had two weeks to vacate their home and sell their goods. The Turks knew they could get everything without paying for it. Grandpa stayed in Dovrag until he sold out his stock of spirits. In 1920 he, too, left for Zonguldak. He sold the house for much less than the value. The livestock he owned on the farms tended by Turks also became a loss. The Turks only turned over to Ohannes 50 lambs and 9 cows. He herded the animals halfway to his destination and a Turk offered to buy the livestock.

The family had been living in a rented house during the year they were separated from Ohannes. When her husband arrived, Nectar insisted they build a house, against her husband’s better judgement. My grandfather only lived in that house for one year before dying in 1921. He is buried in Zonguldak in an Armenian cemetery. A French engineer hired Hagop to care for his horse, the only available transportation. He lived with the family for six months or up until the Turks removed the Armenians from that area. My family’s then-newly built house is in the hands of the Turks illegally. The community in Zonguldak, as in Dovrag, was a mixed community of French, Turkish, English, Jews, Greeks, and Armenians.

On Sept. 22, 1922, my mother and her family boarded a ship in the seaport town of Zonguldak; the Turks had just issued a decree: Armenians had two weeks to sell their homes and belongings. It was traditional for an Armenian church to include their school under the same roof as the church. In 1918, the Turks closed the Armenian church and school in Dovrag and filled the school with wheat, used it as a storage house, and turned the church into a Turkish Army hospital. At this point, Armenians could only go to Turkish schools, so they decided not to attend them. In Zonguldak, there was no Armenian church; services were held in a house, and school was too.

The freighter left Zonguldak at 9 p.m. and arrived in Bolis at 4 p.m. the next day. They were not treated badly, but before they boarded they were searched and if they had any gold it was taken away and replaced with paper money. They were greeted in Bolis by an Armenian committee from the church who then transported them in horse and buggy to local churches and schools that were vacant for housing. In this one big schoolroom lived my mom’s family, which included Hagop, Hripsema, Nectar, Takouhie’s aunt’s family, Serpouhie, and Baron, their sons Noubar, Bedros, Garabed, daughter Aghavani, Nectar’s deceased brother Karnig’s children, their mother Serpig, daughter Arshagouhi, Ohannes, Hagop, and Denchalouhi. Arshagouhi’s children were Zakar, Miran, Melix, and Vahan, last name Tertzagian. Most of them stayed in Bolis; they were about 10 years younger than Takouhie. Denchalouhi’s children, two boys, names unknown, were about one and three.

The school was in a section of the main metro area called Besheegda. They lived there together until they left for France, surviving on their savings.

Yegheayan. This is my mother’s father’s sister’s married last name; the family was very wealthy and remained in Istanbul after they moved from Zonguldak. They were in the yard goods business and it was profitable because all clothing had to be custom made. You selected the fabric and had it sewn on the premises.

Mom does not remember her aunt’s first name, but does remember the names of her sons who were all Hadjis: Antranig, Sumpad, Nishan, Khatchig, and Boghos. These cousins at the time were at least 20 years older than mom. The prefix Hadji indicated they had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy Land. These relatives of my grandfather remained in Istanbul. (We have no relatives of his in France. Grandma Nectar’s relatives are the ones we are related to in France.)

Our relatives in France are Aghavani Koshkoshian Karzarian and Kevork Keshishian, who was grandma’s nephew’s brother’s Levon’s son. Aghavani’s mother and my grandma Nectar were sisters. Aghavani’s mother was one of a set of twins, Dirouhie and Serpouhie. Serpouhie was Aghavani’s mother. She had three boys and one girl. The boys died in France. Mom said that because Aghavani was the only girl she was “shpatzadz” (spoiled). Aghavani’s father was called Baron. He was very wealthy, had a large home, always lived in Zonguldak, and had acres of vineyards and many varieties of fruit trees and flowers. All was lost to the Turks. Serpouhie, a thin wiry woman, lived to be 90 and died in France. Her sister Dirouhie came to France but did not like it and returned to Istanbul.

Grandma Nectar and grandfather Ohannes could not read or write Armenian. When she corresponded with her sister Serpouhie, her daughter wrote the letters. Mom, aunty Hripsema, and uncle Hagop and Senekereem could read and write Armenian, with the two boys being high school graduates.

How many generations emanating from the many names above succumbed to a horrible death at the hands of the Ottoman Turks?

The post Her Name Was Takouhie (Part II) appeared first on Armenian Weekly.

Source: Armenian Weekly
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