Beshlian’s Memoir A Shirt for the Brave Recently Published

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By Gary A. Kulhanjian

In the Introduction of this trim but powerful 100-page memoir, A Shirt for the Brave by Dr. Hagop K. Beshlian, I acknowledged my gratitude to Dr. William V. Beshlian one of the author’s sons, for allowing me to read and use the manuscript while doing my preliminary research about Armenian immigrants who came to the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. In addition, I extended my appreciation to Bob Beshlian one of Dr. Beshlian’s grandsons, for allowing me to write the Introduction, and the editor, Ara Sarafian of the Gomidas Institute, for its publication in 2017.

Dr. Beshlian wrote his memoir after his retirement as a physician in New Jersey, circa 1957. The text was based on his memory, and not the historical dimensions of all the events between the 1890s until his subsequent immigration to the United States. He described it in his own words as “a story of terror and bloodshed, of heartaches and setbacks, of strange and fear-ridden experiences.” His memoir was intended to inform his children and family of his story for their knowledge and remembrance. He referred to his abiding fate as “Good Providence,” which was the power of his survival.

The scope of the memoir was divided into twenty-two short, unnamed chapters. Beshlian included early photos of himself, his immediate family, and a hand-drawn map of the Ottoman Empire including areas of ancient Armenia occupied by the Armenians. The new publication does not include the original photographs due to their poor quality for reproduction. Bob Beshlian provided photos of his grandfather and members of the Beshian family. The new publication included a timeline with some of the key events during Dr. Hagop Beshlian’s lifetime in Turkey from his birth until his escape in 1922.

The writer gave a vivid description of the milieu in Turkey from his youth to his adulthood. He described the hostilities endured by the Armenian populous and mentions those who assisted him in very difficult situations. He referred to the crimes of the Sultan Abdul Hamid prior to the advent of the Young Turk revolution and their focus on removing the Armenians. During the Hamidian atrocities against the Armenians and the development of the Medz Yeghern (Catastrophe/Armenian Genocide), Beshlian focused on the place of his birth, the city of Urfa, where he was the first Armenian physician. Its name was changed to Sanliurfa in the second half of the twentieth century; however, it was known in the ancient world as Edessa. In the ancient world Edessa was where St. Thaddeus cured the Armenian King Abkar and his family converted to Christianity before the Armenians adopted the religion in 301 C.E. as the first Christian nation.

Urfa was where Hagop grew up as a boy and returned from medical college as a physician. He was orphaned together with other Armenian children and educated by an American missionary. Her name was Corinna Shattuck. He wrote about how she assisted hundreds of Armenian orphans after the Hamidian massacres. Historians have not highlighted the humanitarian efforts of this heroine. She had witnessed the “cathedral holocaust” where Hagop’s mother perished during the era of Hamid. The huge Armenian cathedral was named after the Holy Mother of God.

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Hagop’s father had been killed in the defense of his community while Urfa was pillaged by the Turks. Shattuck had great empathy for the orphans since she was orphaned as a child also. She was the “mother surrogate” of the children who were left without parents. A friend wrote about Miss Shattuck with great admiration that “the ascetic simplicity of her life would have surrounded her head with an aureole and her memory with legend…” She served as a missionary in the Ottoman Empire from circa 1873 to 1911 but departed due to personal illness.

This memoir has now become public, and others could gain insight from Dr. Beshlian’s experiences and decisions. Some have not agreed with him or his views. He faced great dangers in his youth, and after he became a physician and while he was drafted into the Turkish Army. Moreover, he continually faced adversity from the Turks, especially Turkish officers in the armed forces. He came close to death several times. The record showed not many Armenian physicians, pharmacologists, dentists, or medical students survived during the Armenian Genocide or after it.

The memoir is a personal account of his experiences and is rare since he chose to reflect on them in English years later. He discussed the division of the Armenian political groups and their views in dealing with the Turkish triumvirate.  Dr. Beshlian had chosen his course to survive with the “fate of Good Providence.” He assisted and helped those in need of medical attention and to save his immediate family.

Historians who have written about the Armenian Genocide were able to rely on archives of several nations in World War I, missionary accounts, diplomatic correspondences, world news articles, memoirs, and other sources. The memoir may be incomplete in its historiography, but it can lend more documentation to an understanding of the horrific treatment and hardships of a people who were the primary victims of the “Mez Yeghern “ or Armenian Genocide. Dr. Beshlian reveals the names of those non-Armenians who assisted his survival and of others who are often forgotten.

Kulhanjian is a social historian and educator. He specializes in Armenian immigration to the United States and Genocide/Holocaust education. He was appointed formerly by three New Jersey governors to the Commission on Holocaust Education representing the Armenian community. He has taught at several academic levels. Presently, he lives in California.

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