From the Plains of Govdoon to the Mountains of Ushbeg

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By Dr. Louis M. Najarian

In September 2011, Elenne, my wife, and I participated in a pilgrimage to historic Armenia (Anatolia) with Armen Aroyan. Aroyan is an encyclopedia on the villages and life in historic Armenia during the 20th century.

As one travels with him and other pilgrims to cities and villages where our parents and grandparents came from, one enjoys an odyssey through the past that is both enlightening yet bittersweet. One certainly appreciates the richness of our heritage and culture including religion, art, music, literature, architecture, commerce and specifically the highest order of civilization at the time. As Aroyan says, every individual finishes the pilgrimage with an expanded view of their ethnic identity.

This was my third trip to Govdoon, the village of my grandparents with whom I lived with until I was 5. Govdoon is a village about 20 kilometers east of Sivas, the capital of Sepastia. During my grandparents’ life, there were 250 Armenian families and only three Turkish families living in Govdoon.

The village is located on the plains along the Alice River, juxtaposed to a mountain range providing fertile soil for farming wheat, the primary occupation then and now. This visit was the most rewarding because I walked the unpaved roads of the village and there was little change from my grandparents’ time. St. Garabed Church, where they married, exists but sadly it is used as a barn. With a map drawn by a former Armenian villager, we located the foundation for the Mikaelian (grandmother’s) home. There are many abandoned homes, just walls with no roofs or just foundations. One Turkish family from the turn of the century still lives in an original house belonging to Armenians and they remember Mourad Pasha, the Armenian freedom fighter.

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Today the remaining 25 Turkish families were relocated from the eastern parts of Turkey to farm the fertile soil. They were hospitable, as they knew our story. They mentioned that families who survived the Genocide and moved to Istanbul would return to Govdoon right up until the 1950s but none since. I visited one morning as a guest in the home of one of the current Turkish families. The house sitting was the same as my grandparents’ home: three rooms, one room was a kitchen/living room, one was a bedroom and the third was for the animals. The bathroom was outside. They farmed, made their own bread and lived a simple life not too different from my grandparents’ time.

Elenne and I visited for the second time, the village of Ushbeg near the city of Chemishkezeg, from where her father and mother’s family immigrated. During our visit in 2004, we saw only two homes, with artifacts from a church by the house and nothing resembling a village. As we were leaving this time, two women approached us, both from the village of Ushbeg but having relocated to Istanbul. One of the women indicated her grandmother was Armenian and offered to show us where the church was located. Even Aroyan was surprised as this was a new find for him. As we walked for almost an hour up the hill, the woman pointed to the foundations of homes, one after another saying,

“Ermeni, Ermeni” (former Armenain homes). At the top of the hill, at the edge of the cliff, was the ever-present wall surrounding the former church.When we turned to walk back down the long winding road, in front of us, stood the famous Chemishkezeg rock known as Moornayee Kar. Elenne’s father had pictures of this rock and it was the symbol of the village where he played as a child. It was a moving moment to be where her father, aunts, uncles and cousins lived and played. Elenne heard often about the village up the mountain, Ots Quig, where they visited during the hot summers. Our Turkish guide told us the new name of the village so we drove the seven kilometers and found her father’s summer village with a church.

Unexpected but cherished times, all provided by Aroyan. As a student of Armenian history, I am well aware of our past turbulent story. If our parents and grandparents dreamed about a free and independent Armenia, which is a reality, one may still dream about the future of our historic homeland. But I still ask myself, these people with such intellect and talent, how did it happen?

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