University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Survivors and Their Oral Histories

Former residents of KayseriThese former residents of Kayseri escaped to Adana. Zakios Arslan (reclining in foreground) became the director of the orphanage after the 1918 Armistice. Adam, 1921.

A Small Child Trapped Inside a Burning Church in Marash Survives, 1920

Reverend Vartan Hartunian was born in 1915 and arrived in Ellis Island in 1922. This 1986
interview is taken from the Ellis Island Oral History Program Archives.

"...Some two thousand Armenians had gathered, whom the Turks surrounded and poured gasoline all around and set them on fire. I, myself, was in another church that they were trying to set on fire and my father was thinking that this was the end of the family. He just gathered us around and pulled the movable pews around us as if he were trying to protect us and said something that I will never forget, `Don't be afraid, my children, because soon we will all be in heaven together.' And, fortunately someone discovered some secret tunnels that the French had dug from that church to another vantage point and we escaped in that way."

Turks With Compassion

During the 1915 massacres, Abraham Tellalian, a resident of Kayseri, was conscripted into the Turkish Army's Labor Battalion to build roads. Because he worked too slowly, a Turkish overseer stabbed him in the back with a bayonette and left him for dead. A Turkish woman found him on the road, took him to her home, nursed his wounds, then sent a coded message to his mother Gohar so she could come and take him home. Abraham Tellalian came to New York City with his family in 1921.

"I'm Going To Get Out Of This Country"
(Kayseri, 1908)

Abraham Tellalian's brother Garabed at age 17, after serving an internship as a tailor, became a qualified tailor. Hagop A. Tellalian, Garabed's nephew, described during an interview why his uncle Garabed cried.

"He (Garabed) ,made himself a nice jacket. He wanted to go to church Easter. He's walking the street, four, five Turkish hoodlums confronted him. They said, 'That jacket doesn't look good on you." They took it off his back and they beat him, and he went home crying. He said to his mother, ' I'm going to get out of this country."

A Turkish Schindler: Ramez Bey

In 1914, Aleppo, Syria was a major Turkish military nerve center for the conduct of the war in Palestine, where the British had opened up a new offensive against the Turks and their German allies. Ramez Bey was the superintendent of four military hospitals. He hired Elmasd Santourian, an Armenian nurse, who had nursed his daughter back to health. Recognizing her capabilities, he asked her to reorganize the Azizeh Hospital. Elmasd was asked to submit a list of incompetent nurses, who were then dismissed. She was now in a position to hire their replacements, so she gradually replaced them with Armenian refugee girls, some orphaned, but all hiding from the gendarmes. She secured their work papers, which exempted them and their families from deportation. (Paraphrased from "The Story Of a Widow" by John Halajian)

"Then One Morning They Did The Same To The Women"

John Alabilikian was born in 1908 and arrived at Ellis Island in 1922. This 1985 interview is taken from the Ellis Island Oral History Program Archives

"I am an Armenian, and in 1915 my parents were killed by the Turks, and I was left an orphan, age approximately about six years old. Both of them, my parents... mother and father, I think their ages were somewhere around 36 years old. The way they were massacred ...l'm going to call them massacred ...Turkish government took my father away from his business one morning and they locked him up. Next morning there were 500 of them, arms tied together and taken out of the city. Later on, we wondered where they went. But nobody knew. Finally, we were told that they were killed. This happened about three times in the city that I was living in. There were no males, except the children and the mothers and grandmothers. Then one morning they did the same thing with the women. "

The Funeral of Azar Azarian

Azar Azarian was beaten to death for not wearing a fez when he looked out from his refugee tent to investigate loud shouting.  Ismid, Turkey, 1917.
Ohaness Momijan family members gather in front of their porch to brew Turkish coffee and converse, Ismid, 1914.
Makrouche Malian (third from left),  a surgical nurse in the operating room at the military hospital, Aleppo, 1920.