100 years later: On the road to exile | As we begin

PS: This article was published on TheArmenianWeekly | USA
you can reach the original link is http://armenianweekly.com/2015/08/31/100-years-later/

Some people look for their stories at their desks, others among the pages of history. For some, History consists of experience and memories, while for others (like the President) it consists only of measurable figures and numbers found in documents.

In this series, I will explain how Armenians were massacred, expelled from their homes, and suffered from genocide, in the language of those who survived and those who were left behind. Empty houses, stone walls, mills that no longer turn, and fountains that have been running alone for 100 years will explain to us how Armenians lived on this land. With respect to the work of national and international historians, whose work we see on TV and in the media every April, local historians, performing“micro-Historical” studies, will explain the story of the Armenians to us here.

I will make two different routes, first from Istanbul to Antep, and afterwards from Mus to Urfa, and as much as I can during this journey, I will write about villages, peoples, and cultural legacies that have not been written about before until today. My writings will show the psychological damage created by the aftermath of the great destruction that occurred in 1915, and also the notes of an Armenian journalist traveling the same roads that saw exile and destruction 100 years earlier.

Izmit – Adapazari

When writing about the Armenian Genocide, the attitude and conditions of Armenians living in the Western Ottoman Empire has always been a mystery. Especially because there were many representatives of the Western states in this area, the number of those who were deported or slaughtered in the Western regions has not been much reflected in the pages of history. But that does mean it did not happen. 200 Armenian intellectuals were arrested and relocated from Istanbul, for instance. The execution of 20 Armenian socialists on June 15 in Beyazit was actually just a reflection of the massacres experienced in the East since Abdulhamit’s reign. For this reason, I wanted to start my project “On the road to exile: 100 years later” in the city of Izmit, located just a short distance from Istanbul.

This is partially because my family came from Geyve and Bursa. But studying the massacres in the Marmara region as much as others and making what remained from Armenians more visible is something that hasn’t been done so far.

As an Armenian, I grew up in a home where the genocide was not discussed for a long time. My grandparents did not live long enough to see me grow up. Therefore I learned my family’s story relatively late. When I did learn, I wrote about it in the Radikal newspaper (http://www.radikal.com.tr/yorum/akabinin_hikayesi-1117771)

However, now I am on a new route to discover new stories. My itinerary goes from Izmit to Adapazari. Although the current boundaries are very different than they were a century ago, these two cities resemble each other geographically. The plains leading to the Black Sea are both green and fertile, able to support the growing of many varieties of fruit, and attracted the attention of those engaged in trade and business.

The secret Armenian architecture of Adapazari

This information was shared in the local newspaper “Dogru Hamle”:

In Adapazari and the surrounding area the most famous buildings were the homes which resembled the beautiful manors of Bedros Muradayan and Hovhannes Virgayan in Constantinople. The city’s most prominent buildings, both public and privately owned, included churches and stone pathways constructed by the Armenian architect Lord Varteres. Karasu was the work of the same architect who also built the church in Kızılcık (then known as the Aram village) and the church in Yassıgeçit (then known as the Kegam village) In the same way, the wooden Armenian Churches in Cukurkoy and Cobanyatagı,then known as Hoviv, are amongst the examples of important Armenian architecture.”

A mill with a wheel does not turn, a printing press that smells of sewage instead of ink!

As stated above, wooden architectures in this village have unfortunately not been preserved. However, newly developed ‘Akmeşe’, also known by its traditional name Armas, is famous for having the highest number of these structures still remaining.

It’s been 5 years since our last visit to Armas.

Today we see a mosque and a primary school in what was once the monastery, a wreck that looks like a stable where the printing press was supposed to be; and the small priest’s home that is now filled with sewage due to a landslide… Meanwhile, two of the water mills that were operated by Armenian families 100 years ago have now been restored and are operating in a low capacity by their current owners. The most known mill is already on sale on web for 1.650.000 TL. (aprx 620.000$).

The remaining fountain of the monastery in the village square has been restored, albeit poorly. However, according to accounts, hanging back the Armenian writing above the fountain has been the center of some local bureaucratic resistance.

This is what is written above this fountain, made in 1862 and supposedly called “Işık Çeşme”(The Light Fountain): “The water flowing from this fountain is for everyone, so that they may be enlightened.”

Armas is an important center for Armenians. According to some sources in Armenia, it was founded and given its name by Armenian migrants from the Armas region of Iran. The monastery here was for many years famous for raising numerous Armenian Patriarchs and other holy men, and its printing house was famous for printing Armenian school books and history books and distributing them to all 4 corners of Anatolia.

The soul of Armas lives on in Tibrevank.

The founder of Surp Hac Tibrevank School in Istanbul, Episcopos Karekin Khachaturyan (Trabzonlu), is among the important persona that were raised at Armas Monastery.

The late travel writer Sarkis Seropyan, whom we lost recently, said that Karekin built Surp Hac Tibrevank School in order to keep the spirit of the closed monasteries of Tıbrevank School in Armas alive in Istanbul.

Election insights from the village coffeehouse

When traveling around old towns, the most accurate information can be taken from barbers and the old men hanging around the village coffeehouses. On our journey also, next to the mosque that was once a monastery, we found such an establishment. The conversation got deeper after the first round of teas. When a man from the front table said “In this election we’ll send two guys from HDP [to Parliament] and they’ll all see the real Kocaeli!” I jumped into the conversation.

Why?” I asked.

A reaction vote”, they said.

Akmese was an independent municipality until a few years ago. According to the new law, it was absorbed into a larger adjacent municipality, and the local government services don’t work as well as they used to. Armas, which has a household count of 750, is now governed as two neighborhoods with the names “Ataturk” and “Cumhuriyet” [Republic].

Our families came here from Thessaloniki in 1923. Our grandparent’s birthplace was written as “Drama” on their ID cards. We emigrated from there.” – Sabahattin Aktop, who served two terms on the local city council. 

Local Historians come from hardware stories

We encountered a local historian who, in 2012, published a study on the history of Armas, entitled “The Totality of Bithynia in Akmese – Armas”. Yakup Ozkan…

He owns the hardware store in Armas. The outside of his store sells hardware, while the inside is filled with Armas’ history. The walls are filled with photos and Ozkan’s own notes of what needs to be researched. There, he added what he took from me and shared his own, giving a copy of his books to me as a gift.

Ozkan’s interest in this place began in childhood. He explains while showing a photograph towards the end of his book: “The other writer, Yakup Aygil, came here on February 12, 1974. In front of the village coffeehouse,he is giving us information from his historical notebook, and I am listening from the first row. See, there I am in this photo. 11 years old. I guess I always had it in me”

Thanks to the efforts of local historians like Yakup, the presence of Armenians in this land will never perish. Due to their sincere interest, at least the stones will continue to talk…

After our long interview with him -which I will handle in a different column-, we continued on our way…



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