Uneaten Mulberries: Ichmeh before the Genocide

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By Charles N. Mazadoorian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

There were many mulberry trees in the village of Ichmeh in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Ichmeh was a small village in the province of Kharpert containing several hundred families. It rested in the shadow of Mount Mastar and was made up of two sections, upper and lower Ichmeh. The name Ichmeh literally means “don’t drink” in Turkish apparently from a time when water drunk from the natural spring was found to be distasteful. Unlike most of the other villages of Kharpert, the name of the town has not changed and the name Ichmeh continues to the present time.

The Armenians in the village had lived in relative harmony and peaceful coexistence with the Ottomans for quite some time. The Armenians in their section of the village occupied their homes peacefully and ran numerous businesses, mills and orchards. The village had its own school, formed by the merger of three smaller schools: while Ichmetzi’s (citizens of Ichmeh) were not particularly well educated, they shared a great respect for education and strongly encouraged learning among their children. The town had two churches, one Apostolic and the other, Protestant. The Armenian citizens of Ichmeh were especially proud of St. Nicholas Church, a magnificent stone structure, which had been built over a steady stream which flowed right under the Church.

Ichmeh’s St. Nicholas Church pre-Genocide

Ichmeh was quite independent and self-contained and the shops and mills were able to provide virtually of the needed foodstuffs and household items which the citizens required, as well as providing items for neighboring towns.

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Garabed Mazadoorian was born in 1867. He was a respected member of the Armenian community and interacted well with both the Armenians and Turks. He was one of three Armenian members of the town’s governing council and known as a khojabashi in Turkish. Nonetheless, although the Armenians had representation, they did not command much actual authority and the Armenian members of the council did not have much influence with the Mayor. The job of the council was to hear complaints of the villagers, to arbitrate disputes, aid in the collection of taxes and to keep registries of property, inhabitants and dates of births and deaths. Garabed had twice been to the United States and in fact had become a naturalized American citizen in Rhode Island on one of his trips, in 1897. His son Nigoghos was his only surviving son as his other son Harutiun had died of illness as a child. Thus, the bond between father and son was very strong.

Young Nigoghos enjoyed living in Ichmeh, but in the spring of 1915 increasingly noticed that things were changing. Although he was only 8 years old in the spring of 1915, he perceptively sensed that matters were greatly amiss. The school had been converted into a police station and the number of policeman had increased significantly. So too was there an increased presence of Turkish militia passing through town. Most of the Armenian men under the age of forty had been “conscripted” into the Turkish army. Things seemed uncertain and the Armenians seemed uneasy about their activities. Things were not as peaceful as in the past and there was a noticeable sense of unease and apprehension. Increasingly, word came from other villages of the disarming of Armenians, confiscation of their property and the diversion of Armenians in the Turkish army to labor battalions. Both father and son knew that the situation was becoming bleak with the cessation of delivery of an Armenian newspaper printed in Istanbul, to which Garabed subscribed, and which was his most reliable source of accurate news

Nigoghos recalled in particular one occasion, while he was walking through the Armenian section of town, when he saw two Turkish soldiers watching him and whispering to each other. Although Nigoghos spoke Turkish fluently, he was not able to make out what the soldiers were saying in their hushed tones, but he could not miss the snicker on their face and he did hear one word quite clearly: “Gavoor” or infidel as the Armenians were sometimes called. He was bothered by their laughter as they stared at him.

The Armenians of Ichmeh were particularly fond of their fruit trees, especially the apricot trees, fig trees and the prized mulberry trees. The orchards were bountiful and productive. As the growing season progressed, the fruit, when ripened, would be harvested and enjoyed for immediate consumption as well as dried for later enjoyment. The mulberry trees varied in their schedules of ripening: when ripe the fruit would be harvested by someone climbing the tree and shaking the branches so that the mulberries fell into sheets or blankets held by others below. It was a festive and joyful experience.

In the spring of 1915, Garo and His son Nigoghos were walking through their orchards where among other mulberry trees was a particularly robust and early ripening one. Whereas most of the other mulberry trees were just newly flowering and the fig tree branches were producing new green buds, this particular mulberry tree was already showing signs of bearing fruit. The Armenians considered this to be a very good omen. To see and taste the first mulberries of the season was something special.

Nigoghos was pleased to be with his father examining the trees and anticipating the future bounty. His father lifted him onto the tree producing the early fruit where Nigoghos found a secure foothold and began shaking the tree, causing fruit to fall from the branches. After an ample number of the berries had fallen to the ground, Garabed helped his son down from the tree and father and son picked up and ate the fresh fruit. After they had eaten their fill, Garabed asked his son to collect some in a cloth pouch to take home to his mother Zartoohee.

Topics: Ichmeh

“Let us go home now my son” said Garabed. “We have tasted the first mulberries of the season. We shall not die this year.”

Nigoghos Mazadoorian

They hurried home with their bounty. They looked forward to returning as there would apparently soon be many more delicious mulberries to eat.

Garabed Mazadoorian (1867-1915), together with numerous other older male residents of Ichmeh and its surrounding towns not previously conscripted into the Turkish army, was taken away from his family, and imprisoned in extremely packed conditions in the sacred Soorp Nigoghos Church. From there these men were bound together by rope in groups of ten and taken to a valley called Arpa Talatsee where they were killed. His son Nigoghos survived the Genocide, endured many hardships including being required to tend to orchards owned by Turkish families in the nearby town of Zartarich. He travelled to Aleppo by foot and ultimately found safety in a Danish orphanage in that city. There he was discovered by a friend of his father and as the son of a naturalized American citizen was provided passage to America partially through funding by a charitable and educational foundation named “ Ichmehee Oosoomnaseeratz” meaning generally patrons for the advancement of education in Ichmeh, which had originally been formed for school construction and education in Ichmeh. He married Yegsa Aharonian, also a Genocide survivor from the Kharpert village of Yegheki. Both worked tirelessly in the factories of New Britain Connecticut. They saved enough money to buy a home where Nigoghos planted many bountiful fruit trees and painstakingly cared for them as he had learned to do while in servitude in Zartarich. They had two sons for whom they provided a loving home, many comforts and advantages including the opportunity for both to attend and graduate from Yale University.

Nigoghos Mazadoorian and his wife, Yegsa

This story was told by Nigoghos Mazadoorian ( 1907-1997), to his older son Charles (1934-1996), who earned a degree in English literature and who lovingly preserved it in writing. Minor edits have been made by Charles’ younger brother, attorney Harry Mazadoorian, Nigoghos’ younger son.

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