By Gabriella Gage
MADISON, Wisc. — The late Josephine Mangasarian’s Diyarbakir Exodus is more than the story of a singular life; the memoir is an extensive family history — the interconnected stories of Mangasarian’s mother’s, father’s and husband’s families — between the years 1895 and 1927. In April, the Mangasarian family published her unfinished memoir.
In 1905, Josephine Mangasarian’s father, Achod Amassian, accepted a transfer from his post at the Diyarbakir telegraph office at the mysterious urging of the telegraph office’s director and relocated his young family there — roughly a 15-day journey. Her family was in Aleppo at the time of the Genocide and deportations and she watched as countless relatives came to Aleppo seeking refuge and rebuilding. At one time, 20 people were living in her family home, many of whom were friends and family who had fled the massacres.
Josephine Mangasarian wrote of how she collected these stories, saying, “The events that I have described in this family memoir are all true. The account of these incidents was related to me by the survivors who took refuge in my family’s home in Aleppo.” Her father’s position at the telegraph office afforded her access to secret messages that he decoded corroborating the mass killings and much of what she learned was confirmed by eyewitness accounts from family members.
The publication of Diyarbakir Exodus itself was a family endeavor. Josephine Mangasarian began the work with three detailed genealogical charts completed in her late 80s. From there, she wrote 270 pages by hand about her family and the events during this time period.
Josephine Mangasarian died in 2002 before she could complete the section on the 35 years of her life spent in Baghdad, Iraq after they left Syria. Her son, John Mangasarian, had already begun aiding his mother in her endeavor by transcribing and typing her handwritten pages. Upon her death, he continued editing and assembling the materials for the book until he passed the torch to his sister-in-law, Claire Mangasarian, in 2010. In 2011, John Mangasarian died and she continued editing and assembling the manuscript. Claire Mangasarian, a painter, had experience assembling memoirs after she had put together and published her own grandfather’s memoir, Farewell Kharpert: The Autobiography of Boghos Jafarian, years prior to her work as editor on the Mangasarian text.
Claire Mangasarian described her mother-in-law as a “very generous and very confident in her own ability,” who had spent years of her life working with charitable organizations in Baghdad. According to Claire Mangasarian, Josephine was known for her “sharp mind” and spoke five languages.
Unlike many memoirs centered on Genocide survival, “hers shows the day-to-day life and situation of a young Armenian woman and the experiences of these families that fled during turbulent times and started to rebuild,” said Claire Mangasarian.
In addition to the three family histories — that of the Amassians, Kurkgys and Mangasarians — Diyarbakir Exodus includes several rare photographs offering a visual perspective into these stories.
Copies of Diyarbakir Exodus are available at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) and the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA), with further copies available upon request.