Dr. Carla Garapedian introducing the panelists

From Mundane Details to Great Revelations


LOS ANGELES — One simple — yet key — question set into motion 30 years of research: how many Armenians were actually massacred during the Armenian Genocide?

This question was posed to Dr. Sarkis Karayan in 1971, when he was serving as chief of the American University of Beirut’s Maternal and Child Health Center, by Dr. Stanley Kerr, chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at AUB. Close friends and esteemed colleagues, Kerr was working on his soon-to-be published book Lions of Marash, which focused on the eyewitness accounts of the American Near East Relief’s efforts during the Armenian Genocide. Kerr knew that Karayan was not only Armenian, but possessed the passion for history and research that would lead him to the accurate findings.

He was right.

Karayan made this quest one of his life’s missions and after countless hours of research and decades of dedication, Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, 1914: A Geographic and Demographic Gazetteer, was recently released by the Gomidas Institute, an independent and academic institution based in London (www.gomidas.org).

Although Karayan passed away earlier this year, the significant efforts of the Gomidas Institute, the Armenian Film Foundation (AFF) and Dr. Silva Karayan, his widow, ensured that this thorough and first-of-its-kind volume would see the light of day. The book’s publication was marked by multiple symbolic events throughout the Diaspora, from a discussion in London to a special ceremony at the University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles to Abril Books in Glendale to a talk at Fresno State and concluded with a panel discussion at the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in Burbank.

The events, co-sponsored by the Armenian Film Foundation, Fresno State Armenian Studies Program and the AGBU Yervant Babayan Institute of Pedagogy for Research and Development, further explored Karayan’s research and its ramifications not only for the Armenian community but for academia and society as a whole.

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While there were many estimates about how many Armenians perished during the Armenian Genocide, Dr. Karayan’s systematic and detail-oriented approach dug into archival records and peeled back layers of history, shooting straight to the core. He researched how many Armenians factually existed in these historic Armenian villages and towns before deducing the actual number killed. By utilizing his fluency in both Ottoman and Modern Turkish, Eastern and Western Armenian, Classical Armenian, French and German, he compiled a comprehensive list of 4,600 towns and villages that were home to Armenians in pre-genocide Turkey through researching books, maps and a myriad of sources in various languages.

The results of this book, which lists both old Armenian and new Turkish names, geographical coordinates, maps and sources, place over 2.4 million Ottoman Armenians in these towns and villages. He cites them all, one by one, profiling the demographics of each, a tedious approach that required a search for names of villages that had changed during the Turkification process in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide. These villages and cities vanished overnight when the government wiped their maps clean of Armenians in 1959 but for the first time ever, Karayan resurrects these ancestral lands for the entire world to learn the breadth and depth of the Armenian presence in the Ottoman Empire.

Honoring the publication of the book and Karayan’s memory, a notable commemoration was held at the USC Shoah Foundation, where the original manuscripts of Karayan’s research are housed, thanks to a donation by his wife. This was followed by a discussion featuring historian Ara Sarafian, executive director of the Gomidas Institute, hosted by Abril Bookstore in Glendale on Tuesday, October 23.

Dr. Carla Garapedian, a member of the Board of Directors of the Armenian Film Foundation and a film producer and director, welcomed guests and traced the connection of Karayan’s book to the founder of AFF, Dr. Michael Hagopian, who used this study to locate historic Armenian cities and towns in modern day Turkey while documenting Armenian Genocide testimonies.

During his talk, Sarafian pointed out that this book is not only a resource for Armenians but for Turks and Kurds as well, who also have questions about their history. Sarafian noted that at the book’s launch in London on October 17, one third of the audience was Turkish.

“Dr. Karayan puts Armenia back on the map in Turkey,” said Sarafian, who highlighted a period in the 1970s and 1980s when Turkish and American scholars “downgraded” the Armenian presence in the region.

From left, Zella Karayan Karakozian, Crispin Brooks, Ara Sarafian, Dr. Silva Karayan, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Dr. Garbis Der Yeghiayan and Dr. Garabed Moumdjian

“This book is a critique of denialist history,” said Sarafian. “Dr. Karayan engages in this denialist debate and opens up a new genre of historical evidence, making his thesis certifiable and breaking down the number of Armenians who perished from 1915-1923.”

Sarafian said that due to the Turkification process after the Genocide, Armenians were written out of historiography and that Karayan “challenges the Turkish government’s monopoly of their revised history.”

Emphasizing that Karayan’s book reverses denialist claims, Sarafian said it’s up to the current generation to challenge revisionists and partake in historical debates in order to present the Armenian voice and perspective.

He noted the importance of learning how to use this resource well in order to “reclaim the Armenian identity and ancestral lands and to raise healthy questions in Turkish society.”

“This is a political weapon and it’s a form of resistance,” said Sarafian who stated that donations of this book should be made to every municipality in Turkey as well as to human rights organizations, “who will ask the right questions when exploring where the Armenians in these towns and villages went.”

Karayan’s book also “builds bridges” and engages debate with the Turks, according to Sarafian, because they don’t have the knowledge but want to learn about their own histories.

“This work has opened up new possibilities,” said Sarafian, emphasizing the importance of using knowledge as a weapon. “Dr. Karayan encapsulates the memory of lost villages and creates an opportunity for contact, human dialogue and interactions.”

Born to Armenian Genocide survivors in Aleppo, Syria, Karayan was raised in Beirut, Lebanon, where he graduated from the American University of Beirut Medical School and was appointed Chief of AUB’s Maternal and Child Health Center. During the Lebanese Civil War, he moved with his wife and daughter, Zella, to the United States in 1976 where he was the recipient of a Fellowship in Developmental Disabilities at New York Medical College. He then joined the University of Massachusetts Medical School as clinical faculty in pediatrics and developmental disabilities before moving to California where he was appointed Chief of Service at Camarillo State Hospital’s Developmental Disabilities Center. Although his profession was that of a medical doctor, his devotion to uncovering the number of Armenians who were massacred during the Armenian Genocide was fueled by his own families experiences in Aintab, which he uses as a case study in his book.

A special panel discussion was organized on Friday, October 26 at the Western Diocese in Burbank, under the auspices of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, featuring Ara Sarafian, Dr. Garabed Moumdjian, Crispin Brooks and Dr. Garbis Der Yeghiayan.

In her welcoming remarks, Garapedian said that the evening “marked a beginning and an end.”

“It’s a beginning of this study’s debut as a book and the beginning of a discussion in both the academic and public domain,” said Garapedian, who praised Dr. Silva Karayan’s “steadfast” efforts that led everyone to this day. “Without her dedication to this publication, I can say without hesitation we would not be here tonight.”

In memory of her beloved father, Zella Karayan Karagozian shared insights about his passion for medicine, history, music and research.

“My father’s book is the product of decades of research, his passion to ensure that information and facts about Armenians, especially the Armenian Genocide, are documented accurately and his hope and desire that Armenia’s towns and villages, past and present, are not erased from the map,” said Karayan Karakozian who then introduced the musical interlude of the program as a tribute to Dr. Karayan’s love of classical music and opera.

Piano pieces by Arno Babajanian and Aram Khatchaturian were played by Nanor Der Bedrossian and tenor Suren Mkrtchyan performed compositions by R. Amirkhanyan and a classic Italian piece by Rodolfo Falvo and Enzo Fusco.

Opening up the discussion, Sarafian called Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, 1914: A Geographic and Demographic Gazetteer an “exemplary scholarship” that “undermines the efforts of the Turkish state.”

“This is the first of its kind in the English language to uncover the genealogy demographics,” said Sarafian, who noted that Americans and Turks worked together in their denialist enterprise.

Brooks, curator of the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, said the work is “invaluable.” Home to the Armenian Film Foundation’s Armenian Genocide testimonies since 2010, Brooks has been working on filmed interviews of survivor testimonies.

“Geography is a challenge when trying to uncover the places survivors talk about since the towns and villages have been renamed,” said Brooks. “We use a systematic approach with multiple sources to find the existence of the place and where it is.”

Brooks said the foundation is now utilizing Dr. Karayan’s book as one of its main sources to verify the existence of names of towns and cities.

“These places don’t appear on a modern map but since we also work in the electronic medium, we are able to place them back there because of this work,” he said.

Panelists, from left, Crispin Brooks, Ara Sarafian, Dr. Garbis Der Yeghiayan and Dr. Garabed Moumdjian

An independent researcher and historian, Dr. Garabed Moumdjian was familiar with Dr. Karayan’s research and the articles he had published in newspapers about his findings. Dr. Moumdjian referred to the book as a “national treasure” that creates an opportunity to discuss various important points, including the issue of Islamized Armenians. Dr. Moumdjian noted that the numbers were long-debated with Turks saying 1-1.2 million Armenians existed in historic Armenia, while the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople had recorded 2.2 million.

“In this book you will see 2.2 million is accounted for,” said Dr. Moumdjian, noting that Dr. Karayan reaches the same number as the Patriarchate. “There is a gap in the numbers, we say 1.5 million died, therein exists the Islamized Armenians, who stayed behind in those days but to us are lost and counted as dead.”

He highlighted that Islamized Armenian are now resurfacing and it’s up to the current generation to “continue the debate and find these answers.”

Dr. Moumdjian also expressed the importance of Armenian as an academic language, arguing that there aren’t enough specialists in the Armenian language and that it’s time to reconnect with the Armenian intellectual tradition.

Dr. Garbis Der Yeghiayan, President of the Los Angeles-based Mashdots College, referred to the book as a “game changer” and as an answer to the denialists, historians and members of the Turkish government “who are trying to rewrite history.”

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Karayan for his monumental research,” said Dr. Der Yeghiayan, who leads pilgrimages to Cilicia, Cappadocia and Western Armenia. “I have traveled to the region more than 25 time and I wish I had this publication in my hands in order to find all the villages.”

Crediting Karayan’s passion as a “truth seeker,” Der Yeghiayan said the book is “unprecedented and unmatched” because it redefines the Armenian map.

“He has resurrected the Armenian consciousness and Armenian roots and when I visit our ancestral land next summer I will carry this book with me and Dr. Karayan will serve as our guide,” said Der Yeghiayan.

“If there is any reconciliation, Dr. Karayan will be the godfather of that reconciliation between Armenians and Turks,” concluded Der Yeghiayan.

He expressed profound gratitude to the Babayan and Karayan families, the Gomidas Institute, and the Armenian Film Foundation for seeing through the publication of this book, “that will be so valuable for our generation but for many generations to come.”

Closing remarks were made by Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, who thanked Dr. Silva Karayan for being “the architect” of this publication which brings “the Armenian Genocide under a new light for us.”

Derderian noted the panel discussion was an “educational session” for the audience and reaffirmed the importance of educating the present and future generations to learn about the depth of history of the Armenian Genocide in order to be “informed of the historical facts.” He encouraged schools to remain open on April 24 and to be commemorated not only as a day of remembrance but also as a day of learning.

“The late Dr. Karayan certainly lived a meaningful life and left us with an invaluable legacy,” said Archbishop Derderian. “We will cherish this book as a treasure as it will open new doors to better understand what happened in the history of Armenians and in the history of humanity.”


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