Schiff Submits Story of Sarkis Saryan, Survivor of the Armenian Genocide, into the Congressional Record

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) submitted an additional story to be included in the Congressional Record – one of many submissions into the national record as part of Rep. Schiff’s Armenian Genocide Congressional Record Project.

“The survival story submitted today builds upon previous stories that have been submitted into the Congressional Record to help document and preserve the accounts of Armenians who survived the Armenian Genocide,” Rep. Schiff said.  “This submission contributes to the effort to raise awareness about the issue, and educate Members of Congress now and in the future on the necessity of recognizing the Genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.” 

The Armenian Genocide Congressional Record Project, pioneered by Rep. Schiff, is part of an ongoing effort to parallel H. Res. 252, the Congressional resolution he sponsored to recognize and commemorate the Genocide. Rep. Schiff continues to encourage survivors of the Genocide and their families from throughout the country to participate in the project by sending in the stories of what happened to their family during the Genocide. 

Please send your family's story to Mary Hovagimian in Rep. Schiff’s Pasadena office at mary.hovagimian@mail.house.gov.

Below please find the story submitted today as included in the Congressional Record: 

Hon. Adam Schiff
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Rep. Adam B. Schiff
Mr. SCHIFF. Madame Speaker, I rise today to memorialize and record a courageous story of survival of the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, resulted in the death of 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children. As the U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau documented at the time, it was a campaign of "race extermination."

The campaign to annihilate the Armenian people failed, as illustrated by the proud Armenian nation and prosperous diaspora. It is difficult if not impossible to find an Armenian family not touched by the genocide, and while there are some survivors still with us, it is imperative that we record their stories. Through the Armenian Genocide Congressional Record Project, I hope to document the harrowing stories of the survivors in an effort to preserve their accounts and to help educate the Members of Congress now and in the future of the necessity of recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

This is one of those stories:

 A Genocide Survivor from Piran: Sarkis Saryan’s Story

Translated by Levon A. Saryan, Ph.D.

In January of 2008, I traveled to Beirut to participate in the International Symposium on the Culture of Cilician Armenia, which was held under the sponsorship of His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.  One morning, as I took my seat in the meeting hall, I turned around and introduced myself to two women scholars seated behind me, Dr. Verjine Svazlyan and her daughter Knarik Avagyan.  Both were among the contingent of academics from Yerevan who were participating in the symposium.  As we got to talking (the usual “where are you from, where are your parents from” questions that Armenians are so fond of), Dr. Svazlian removed from her briefcase a small book that she had written and opened it to a page containing several photographs.  After searching for a moment, she pointed to one of the photos.  It was a picture of my father, whose account was one of several hundred that Dr. Svazlian has been collecting over the years.   Dr. Svazlyan transcribed my father’s story in July 1999 at the Louvre Museum in Paris, when they were both attending the Sixth International Conference of Armenian Linguistics.  My father’s account was not contained in the small book she showed me, but it is recorded in Armenian in Dr. Svazlyan’s major work, Hayots Tseghaspanutiun: Aganades Verabroghneri Vgayutiunneruh (Armenian Genocide: The Testimonies of Eyewitness Survivors), published in Yerevan by the Republic of Armenia National Academy of Sciences in 2000.  After returning to Yerevan, Knarik kindly sent me a scan of the relevant pages from this book, enabling me to prepare this translation.

“The village of Piran is located on the southern slopes of the Taurus mountain range, approximately midway between the towns of Palu (to the north) and Diarbekir (to the south).   Kharpert is to the west, and Sassoun is to the east.  Piran was a relatively small village, with probably less than 1,000 inhabitants.  It does not appear on most maps.  As we will see, it did not escape the fate of other Armenian towns and villages in the region.  In 1915, through murder and deportation, Piran was nearly emptied of its Armenian inhabitants.   

“I present here an English translation of my father’s account as transcribed by Prof. Svazlyan.  Some additions and clarifications are noted in brackets.  I have also made a few minor factual adjustments based on our personal family knowledge.”



            “For the most part, the inhabitants of our village were Kurds; there were a few Turks, and the rest were Armenians.  Our village was not far from the source of the Tigris River.  The Tigris begins at Dzovk Lake; Dzovk is where Nerses Shnorhali was born.  Dzovk was one and one-half days away from us.  In the spring, the Tigris River flowed so swiftly that it would carry trees with their roots in its current.  I have seen how, if the trees became tangled in the river, some swimmers would enter the water and straighten the trunks so that the water could flow unimpeded.  Four or five miles from Piran, our village, there was a red rock outcropping, where wild bees made honey which would collect in a hole [in the rock].  Our villagers would go [to this place] with pans to collect the honey, fill their pans, and take it home.       

“I was born in 1911.  My father’s name was Krikor, my uncle’s name was Garo, my grandfather, Sarkis.  Three months before the Great Catastrophe, I awoke to find myself on my grandmother’s back.  My father had been taken in handcuffs to the police house.  The last time I saw my father he was tied with handcuffs. All of the Armenian men in the village were taken from the prison and driven to the northeast.  Later, the Kurds told us that all of them had been killed.

“It was a hot day in the month of July, 1915.  The Kurds had come; they were sitting in the shade of a tree watching the proceedings.  The command for deportation had arrived and everywhere there was confusion.  The Turkish gendarmes were saying to each other: “Firman geldi, bir giavourn kafa kalmaiachak.” (Turkish for “an official command has arrived, not one infidel (Armenian) head shall remain.”)

“Although at that time I was only 4 years old, I remember it well.  I did not want to go into exile.  Our family was put onto the road before noon.  They were taking the road toward the nearby Kurdish village of Kalbin, the one we used when taking our herds to graze.  The flocks went, the dust rose, and our family went.  My mother, my older sister Haygouhi (seven years old), my younger sister Esther (2 years old), and my four-month old brother Haygaz.   My little sister and my brother became tired on the road to exile, and began to cry.  The gendarme [accompanying the caravan] took Esther and Haygaz and threw them into the Tigris River.  My mother fled and my older sister Haygouhi was kidnapped.  My father’s brother’s son was small; they killed his mother with a dagger, and they also killed little Ghevont since his mother would not obey the soldiers.  Hermig, one of our neighbors, had escaped from the caravan.  She returned to the village and told us what had happened to them.

“I did not go with them.  Because I sensed the coming danger I went and hid in our stable.  A military policeman came, found me and took hold of me, and placed me on a donkey.  I did not want this, and started to cry.  I got down from the donkey, and again went and hid myself in the stable.  Once more, the military police came and found me, and again they placed me on the donkey.  Again I let myself down, and this time I went to the tree where the Kurds were sitting, and mixed with them.  They belonged to the Zaza tribe and spoke the Kurmanji dialect; they were our friends and neighbors.  Imagine, just at that moment my grandmother came from behind me.  She was a folk doctor; she would dry various types of flowers and use them to treat eye diseases, and cure people.  People would compensate her for her services with tomatoes, peppers, madzoun (yogurt), and so forth.  [Because of this skill, she was allowed to remain in the village.] 

“I had a 15-year-old uncle [whose name was Kaloust], who was taken all day for interrogation.  It was he who shoed all the horses in our village.  Consequently, the Turks needed a craftsman like him in the village.  For that reason they allowed him to remain in the village, and I stayed with him.  The next year we were Islamized, we became Zaza and Kurmanji, but in the house we spoke Armenian.  A mullah came, and my name became Sefer.  I, my uncle, and Hovhannes (whose name became Haso) were circumcised.  I remember that there was a terrible pain.  That part of my body felt like it was on fire.  They took that part of my body and dried it in the sun, keeping it as evidence.

“We stayed with the Kurds for four years, until 1919.  In those years we would travel by donkey north, south, east, and west, tinning copper pots.  My job was to [stoke the fire by] working the bellows.  Hovhannes-Haso worked with us.  He would pulverize rocks, fill them in the copper pots and mix them with his foot, cleaning the inside of the pot so that the tin would adhere.  My uncle would collect old nails which we would warm in a fire until they became soft, and make new nails.  One day, in this fashion, we made 1,500 nails.                         

“Southeast of our village were Kurdish villages named Kalbin and Shekhmalan.   I have been to those villages.  There was an Islamized Armenian married woman who lived there.  I was there one night.  I heard some whispering that the Islamized Armenians, because they had been reduced to starvation, had decided to enter the wheat fields at nighttime and steal grain.  The grain belonged to them, they had cultivated the wheat in those fields, but the Kurds had taken it.  The following day it became apparent that they had taken the grain, since one of their bags had a hole in it and the grain, falling out of the bag, had left a trail.

“East of our village was the Kurdish village of Deiran, where the Kurds lived in conical stables.  I went, and saw that the wheat was ripe in the fields around us as we walked to Deiran village.  The weather was so hot that the fields behind us ignited and started to burn, but we were not harmed.  The Kurds were the losers, since for them this was ill-gotten gain.

“The war was over by 1919.  My father’s brother Simon had enlisted as a volunteer [gamavor in Armenian] in the Armenian legion of the French Army.  The young men trained in Cyprus, and then went to Adana and fought. 

“[Simon came to our village and found that I had survived.  He wanted to take me to America.  First,] we came to Dikranagert [Diarbekir], then Mardin, where there was a railway.  There was a fortress on a very high hill.  The railroad was down below, in a valley.  The train only came once a week, so we went to the station a day early and slept there, waiting for the train.

“Many Armenians were going to Aleppo and we, with them, were also going to Aleppo.  There was nothing to eat, and I was ill with a strong fever.  My Uncle Simon somehow got me into the railway wagon, so that I could reach Aleppo quickly.  From one side the French soldiers were pulling me onto the train, while on the other side the Turkish soldiers were trying to pull me off.  Simon was unable to come with me, but he gave me his volunteer’s cap.  This was the Berlin-Baghdad railway that brought us to Aleppo.  When I reached Aleppo, I put the cap on my head, and the Armenian volunteers found me and took [care of] me.  We had a relative named Baghdadian, who had reached Aleppo with his young son, but a Turk had struck him in the head and blinded him.  He took me in and kept me until my uncle arrived the following week.  Since my uncle was a volunteer, he could travel for free.  First he returned to America, and in 1921 he sent me money and I also came to America.

“I became a chemist.  Later, I went to Beirut to study Armenian at the Jemaran [Collège Arménièn].  There, my teachers were Levon Shant, Nigol Aghbalian, and others.  We learned to sing in Gananchian’s chorus.  There I met Armine [Manoukian, my future wife].  Later, she came to America.  Now we have two sons and two daughters.  One son is a physician and the other is a biochemist.  Our daughters work in the financial industry. We have eight grandchildren.  The Turks reduced our numbers, but we increased them.

“I am also a writer and I study the relationship of Armenian to other sister Indo-European languages.  I have published a book on this topic [Language Connections: Kinship of Armenian with Sister Indo-European Languages].”         

Verjine Svazlian, The Armenian Genocide and the People’s Historical Memory (Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 2005).  This is an English language summary of the main book, but does not contain individual survivor accounts.  

Saryan’s account is found on pp. 236-237.