Honoring Those Who Helped Rescue a Generation of Armenian Survivors
On March 22, 2014, Ararat-Eskijian Museum hosted an all-day international conference titled, “Honoring Those Who Helped Rescue a Generation of Armenian Survivors, 1915 -1930.” The purpose of the conference was to pay tribute to all those countries, individuals and organizations that had sacrificed so much to aid a perishing nation. Leading scholars from around the world discussed the manner in which the international community participated in the first major humanitarian effort of the twentieth century. The event was very well-attended by the community.
Dr. Carla Garapedian, documentary filmmaker and Director of Screamers, served as mistress of ceremonies for the day. The conference opened with pre-recorded speeches addressed to the Armenian community by United States Representative Adam Schiff and California State Assemblyman, 43rd District, Mike Gato.
Representing the Eskijian family, Martin Eskijian spoke about his father, Luther Eskijian, who founded the Museum. He also spoke of the legacy of his grandparents, Rev. and Mrs. Hovhannes and Gulenia Eskijian, who labored to save Armenians in Aleppo from 1915 to 1916. Rev. Eskijian perished of typhus at the age of 34, a day before he was to be publicly hanged for saving the lives of thousands of orphans.
Missak Kellechian, an independent researcher, described the Near East Relief (NER) humanitarian organization, in which the “world united in selfless service to humanity.” Through trauma relief, education, empowerment, self-reliance, parenthood by proxy, education and nutrition, “quite literally, NER kept an entire nation alive” by enabling orphans to keep their heritage and reintegrate into society.
Shant Mardirossian, a member of the Board of Directors of the Near East Foundation since 2002 and its Chair since 2007, subsequently discussed NER’s ongoing work in the Middle East and Armenia today, a continuation of our national legacy of humanitarian aid. “Ninety-nine years later, NER is still prominent throughout the world.”
Professor Vahram Shemmassian, Director of the Armenian Studies Program at California State University, Northridge, described the work of the American Red Cross in rescuing and rehabilitating survivors in the Arab Near East, in nations such as Syria and Lebanon.
Author and researcher Dr. Rubina Peroomian spoke of the various missionaries from Sweden, Germany, the United States, and other nations, who served in the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire and became witnesses to the mass atrocities against the Christian Armenian population. They sent letters, telegrams and other correspondence to their governments warning of the humanitarian crisis, and they were instrumental in saving thousands of Armenian children from a tragic fate.
Guests were emotionally moved when Kevin Blowers, Curator of Bethel College Library, unveiled the Orphan Dress from Hadjin, a patchwork of garment belonging to an Armenian child deportee, as well as an unfinished rug woven by orphan girls in Hadjin. Mennonite Missionary Sister Dorinda Bowman brought the items with her on her return to the United States from Turkey in 1914. The items are currently on loan to Ararat-Eskijian Museum for two years from Bethel College in Indiana. Also on loan for the day of the conference from a San Francisco patron was a jewelry box made by the orphans of Sivas.
Dr. Hayk Demoyan, Director of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Yerevan, presented newly discovered material related to Aurora Mardiganian and the movie Ravished Armenia. The daughter of a wealthy family from the province of Kharpert, Aurora was kidnapped during a death march and sold into the slave markets of Turkey. She eventually escaped and, with the help of Near East Relief, made it safely to New York. Aurora authored Ravished Armenia, the story of her survival, which led to the creation of the silent film, Auction of Souls, the first movie about the Armenian Genocide.
Bared Maronian, award-winning Director of Orphans of the Genocide, screened a brief portion of his documentary. He took viewers on an emotional visual journey through never-before-seen footage and recently-discovered memoirs of Armenian orphans who survived the Genocide.
Dr. Vatche Mankerian delivered a powerful piano performance of the works of Father Gomidas. He also paid tribute to the Mankerian family from Hadjin, which lost over 300 of its members during the Genocide.
Dr. Robert Fisk, a British writer and Middle East correspondent for the UK newspaper The Independent, explored the comparisons between the 1915 Genocide, when Ottoman Armenians were marched to their deaths in the Syrian Desert, and the current Syrian catastrophe with its recurring accounts of massacres, including the killings of Armenians on Syrian soil. Dr. Fisk received several resolutions and a “Franz Werfel” gold medal from Dr. Demoyan for his selfless contributions to the Armenian cause.
While the conference had invited diplomatic representatives from 20 countries in order to honor their contributions to the unprecedented humanitarian assistance shown Armenian survivors from 1915 to 1930, three diplomatic deputies were in attendance. Former Governor of California George Deukmejian presented the Australian, Greek and Norwegian representatives replicas of “Mother Armenia” as a symbol of deep gratitude for the role their countries played in helping the survival of a nation.