Alexanian Presents Father’s Memoir, Forced into Genocide, at ALMA


WATERTOWN — Adrienne Alexanian presented the memoirs of her father, Yervant Edward Alexanian, at the Armenian Museum of America (ALMA) on May 18. The event was sponsored, in addition to the museum, by the Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian Cultural Foundation, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) New England District, Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives and the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).

ALMA Executive Director Berj Chekijian welcomed guests and recognized all the sponsoring organizations for the event. Marc Mamigonian, Director of Academic Affairs for NAASR, introduced the author and the book she edited, Forced into Genocide: Memoirs of an Armenian Soldier in the Ottoman Turkish Army. Alexanian, a graduate of Hunter College in New York with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, taught intellectually gifted students in New York. Active in various Armenian organizations as a volunteer, she has organized panels for the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) and the AGBU at the United Nations and elsewhere. In 2010, Alexanian received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Alexanian explained how the project of disseminating these memoirs, which she edited and published this year through Transaction Publishers, arose. The memoirs came to light while she was going through her father’s effects, intending to donate his papers to appropriate Armenian organizations. Her father, born in 1895, died in 1983, leaving many documents and papers to go through.

He was very active in Armenian organizations after emigrating to the US. Yervant Alexanian was a lifetime member of the Armenian General Athletic Union and the AGBU, and president of the New York chapter of the Pan-Sebastia Rehabilitation Union, as well as later on a member of its executive committee. He was a delegate to the 1947 World Armenian Congress, and later co-commander of the Vasbouragan Lodge of the Knights of Vartan.

He raised funds for the construction of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York as the chairman of a committee in the Bronx, and supported the Danish-run Birds Nest Orphanage in Lebanon for decades. He and his wife were among the first to send help to the Armenians of Cyprus after the Turkish invasion.

Adrienne Alexanian said that she was upset that she had not found these memoirs earlier, yet was comforted by the timeliness of the publication. Dr. Taner Akçam, a researcher on the Armenian Genocide, told her that it would be useful because of all the recent denialist literature concerning Armenians serving in the Ottoman army.

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During the question-and-answer session at the end of her talk, Alexanian said that her father did not present his full story to her. Every so often, he would tell her small anecdotes, such as the way playing the bugle saved his life. She said, “He did not want to burden us with those stories…his therapy was actually writing, so he wrote his memoirs.” However, Alexanian said during her presentation that her father thought about the Genocide every day of his life.

In fact, she said, “My father would have said he is the messenger to tell a bigger story.” As he died before he could tell this story to the world, Adrienne took on this responsibility.

Alexanian said that she was impressed with the work of Simon Beugekian, who had translated Karnig Panian’s Goodbye, Antoura memoirs into English. She hired Beugekian and worked with him for one year while he translated her father’s handwritten pages from Armenian. She then edited the result, which juxtaposes vivid descriptions of both good and evil acts of Turks.

The book, she said, begins with her father’s childhood in Sivas. Alexanian showed slides to the audience as she spoke, pointing out various aspects of the city of Sivas/Sepasdia. An excerpt from the memoirs read to the audience pointed out that her father was born only three days prior to the outbreak of the 1895 massacres of Armenians. Fortunately, Turkish neighbors protected the family members who were at home. Yervant’s father was traumatized and was unable to recover from his experiences. He died at the young age of 42 seven months later.

Yervant learned Armenian, French and Latin at the French Jesuit School in the city until it was closed in 1914 due to the outbreak of the world war. His memoirs, Adrienne continued, portrayed scenes of Armenian life before the world war. Nobody imagined that a genocide could happen. Adrienne emphasized that Armenians were part of the fabric of Ottoman society and life. They even contributed to the war effort financially in 1914 and 1915.

Yervant Alexanian was conscripted into the Ottoman army in June 1915, and was able to stay in Sepasdia during the deportations. His army commander allowed him to go only on the first leg of the deportation journey with his family, and then to return. Alexanian converted to Islam in order to save a childhood friend, and was sent to the Ottoman Military Academy in Pera. Interestingly, afterwards he was sent to a training camp in Istanbul for the use of machine guns, where together with other Armenians he became part of the “Senekerimian Brigade.” Adrienne showed a slide of this group.

An interesting aspect of his experience, according to his memoirs, was that Alexanian senior encountered Ottoman Minister of War Enver Pasha three times.

Alexanian after the armistice was able to journey to America to join his siblings who emigrated there prior to the war. Adrienne said that the latter part of the memoirs provides an overview of his life in the US, including his struggle for justice for the Armenians. The book includes various letters and personal documents translated into English with notes.

Adrienne pointed out that Robert Fisk wrote about her father’s memoirs in an article on Turkish genocide denial in the Independent on March 23, 2017, thus assuring that it would be known to wider circles of potential readers.

At the end of the talk, Mamigonian was asked to read Yervant Alexanian’s moving “Final Thoughts” about the fate of his mother. Audience members, some of whom were descendants of Sepasdia Armenians, were inspired to ask a number of questions during the discussion period.

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