|Birth name||(ne Derderian)|
Survivor of the Armenian Genocide.
Armenian Genocide: A child's flight to freedom
By Ruth Lefler
Friday, March 27, 2015
On April 24, 1915, in Constantinople, today Istanbul, over 200 Armenian leaders and intellectuals were rounded up and killed. Experts say that between 1915 and 1918, 1.5 million Armenian people perished.
In December, 1980, Victoria (Vicky) Bayley captured on tape, her father's journey to freedom from an Armenian village in the District of Keghi beginning in 1915 and ending in Brantford in 1930. Peter, Vicky's brother, put these experiences in writing.
In 1915, Harutiun Seraganian, (ne Derderian), a seven-year-old Armenian boy, his four siblings, his parents, grandfather and all Armenians living in 20 villages in the District of Kegli, 70 miles southwest of the provincial capital, Erzerum, in Turkey, were ordered to leave their lands for safer places because of the danger of the advancing Russian forces. The Turks said that they did not want the Armenians to fall under Russian rule. Harutiun's family packed a few belongings and took enough bread to last for two or three days.
After walking for that length of time, they had reached the mountains where they spotted some Kurdish people who were on the mountain top. The Kurds assisted in many of the massacres for the Ottoman Empire. The group complained to the police who had brought them here that the Kurds were coming to rob them. The police did meet with the Kurds but, during the night, they attacked. At that point the family had to leave their blind grandfather behind. After the skirmish, Harutiun fell asleep and when he woke up his mother was the only family member with him. They again began walking and they found his father who had paid 40 golds (coins) to remain on the farm with his family for six months rather than join the army.
The next day when another wave of Kurds was coming, Harutiun's mother told his father to leave so that he would not be killed. As they continued walking, two Kurdish or Turkish men on horseback stopped and asked for money to which the women replied that they had none as they had already been robbed. When the men asked once more, Harutuin's mother, the eldest in the group, stood up and repeated that they had nothing to give. At that moment, one of the men raised his gun and killed her. She fell to the ground. They left his mother there and, in tears, Harutuin trudged along with the other people.
Going back to the village
As they walked along during the night, they met some Armenians trying to get back to their village but the police had arrested them. Harutiun saw Horkur, his mother's sister, in this group. She grabbed him and he told her of his mother's death. The police took the group to a large house where they were very much afraid. During the night they climbed out on the roof, jumped down and ran back to the village where Harutiun met his father but he never did see his brothers and sisters.
Once again the police took the Armenians, including Harutiun, his Aunty Horkur and Serpig. On their way Aunty Horkur told Harutiun to hide in the bushes and, when everyone had left, he went back to the village where he met his father at night.
They remained here for about a month and during this time, Harutiun stayed with Kurdish neighbours, but it wasn't safe. They moved on to another village and Harutiun stayed with another Kurdish family who was looking after his father's sheep. They kept him because, although he was seven years old, he was small for his age and they thought that he was only four or five years old and would not grow up knowing his Armenian identity. The police would also think that he was one of their own. His father wasn't allowed to stay because he was too well known.
Later, Harutiun's father was arrested, taken to the city and jailed. Somehow he broke a window, escaped and came back to where Harutiun was staying, got cleaned up and was given better clothes to wear. One of the Kurds asked him if he would become a Moslem in order to stay alive to which he replied that he wouldn't change his religion.
That night the Kurds told him that they would take him to his sister's place in another village as it would be safer for him. On the way they shot him in the back. The Kurds came back but Harutiun had no idea what happened to his father.
The Russian soldiers advanced and took the City of Erzerum. The Kurds were now afraid to stay under Russian rule because they could be killed. It was the winter of 1917, when Harutuin's Kurdish family left everything but a few sheep and walked farther west in Turkey. The sheep that they brought along were grabbed by Turkish soldiers because food was scarce.
By spring, when he was eight years old, he decided to go on by himself. He had to cross a river making sure that he was travelling south to the City of Kharput but he had no money to pay for the raft fare. He met a government man who had been in jail and had vowed that when he was released, he would give money to the poor. Harutiun was given a few Turkish cents and crossed the river. He also had enough money to buy some dried mulberries on the other side.
All night long he walked along the roadside in the mountains until morning when he spotted a house which he approached and received some food. By nighttime he was in the city. He tried to find food but was turned away. Hungry and tired, he came upon a place that reminded him of his Armenian house. The door was ajar; he entered, found it empty and slept.
The next morning he spied a bakery on his walk downtown. While standing in front of the shop, someone punched him in the back and, to his surprise when he turned around, he saw an older Kurdish boy that he knew from the Village of Astghaberd. The lad worked at the bakery. He was most interested in how Harutiun had arrived here and with whom he had come, to which he replied that he was just by himself.
The Kurdish boy mentioned that he knew some Armenian women that would take him to their place and look after him. Finally, after waiting two or three hours, two Armenian women arrived and the Kurdish boy explained Harutiun's plight. One woman asked him some questions and then said for him to come with them. An Armenian teacher who had opened a children's orphanage also asked poor little Harutiun some questions and he replied that his head hurt and he had some sores. He had a bath and was given some used clean clothing.
The next day he was looking forward to food but one loaf of bread was cut into six pieces for the children. Since Harutiun was still hungry, he decided to look elsewhere.
A new home
While searching, Harutiun met a Turkish woman who had one cow out to pasture. Before bringing it in, she questioned him in the Turkish language which he did not understand. She then talked to a nearby Kurdish woman who asked him where his parents were and he replied that they had died. When asked his name, he gave a Kurdish one instead of his Armenian name.
The Turkish woman took him into her home and fed him for which he was grateful.
He stayed with the family for about 10 years helping with chores and learning the Turkish language. The family did find out that he was Armenian but it made no difference.
The Turkish woman's husband's brother had a son who was a shoemaker and came to stay at the house. He had learned his trade from an Armenian and was now passing his knowledge and skills along to another Armenian. Harutiun was 18 years old when he left this home.
When he first came to Kharput, the first Armenian woman with whom he stayed for a very short time put his name in the Armenian paper that came to Boston, Massachusetts. His cousin, Kirkor Emma, who lived in Preston, now Cambridge, obtained a copy of the newspaper, read his name and sent him some money.
When Aunty Horkur, who now lived in Brantford, found out that Harutiun was in Kharput, she wrote to the Armenian woman and asked her to visit him which she did and a letter was sent back verifying the information. Horkur's husband wrote back and told Harutiun that if he could reach Halep (Aleppo) in Syria, which was then under French rule, he could obtain a passport and travel to either the United States or Canada. Fifty dollars was included in the letter.
Once more, Harutiun ran away and asked some travellers how to reach Halep without a passport. He took a ten hour truck ride from Kharput to Diyarbakir where he stayed overnight. The next day he took a truck to Mandin and then caught a train to Gaziantep and stayed in the station until dark. When he left the station, there was a kind of a fence that he crawled under. He had reached Syria.
At daybreak as he was walking toward a highway, he saw some Armenian men selling biscuits. He bought some and talked to them in Turkish telling them that he was Armenian and wanted to go to Halep. One of the Armenian men told him that the boys would be coming. A small Ford car came by, the Armenian man explained to the driver where Harutiun wanted to go and also told him that he didn't have any papers. The driver consented and in a couple of hours they had reached Halep where there was a border like check point set up by police. The driver mentioned that the boy was from Halep and he was taking him back. They didn't ask for a passport and let them go on their way. The driver then asked Harutiun which country's people he wanted to meet and was told the Keghetsi Armenians from the District of Keghi. The driver let him off in front of a church. Harutiun searched and found an Armenian man from Brantford who was here to meet his wife. For about six months Harutiun stayed with them. The man took a photo of him and sent it to Aunty Horkur so that she could recognize him when they met.
Preparing for Canada
In the meantime Aunty Horkur and Kirkor Emma went to Galt, now Cambridge, where they visited their member of parliament to make arrangements to bring Harutiun to Canada. They told him that he was in Aleppo, Syria, and they wanted to bring him to Canada and that his age on paper was 18 years but he was actually 22 years old. Permission was granted.
He now needed a Syrian passport and was off to the office where a Syrian employee helped him fill out his application. Aunty Horkur had directed him to use the name Harutiun Donigian on the passport as Donigian was her first husband's last name and she was claiming Harutiun as her son. When asked how long he had been in Syria, he said five years rather than the true six months.
Everything was now in place and Harutiun was now on his way to Canada after fifteen years of an arduous continuous search for freedom and family. Aunty Horkur welcomed him with open arms into her home for as long as he wished to stay.
Later Harutiun made application to become a Canadian citizen. An employee from Ottawa advised him that he could give any name that he wished, so he chose Seraganian because his father's name was Seragan.
Harutuin settled nicely into life in Brantford where he found a supportive Armenian community. Without ever having any formal education, he taught himself how to read and write in English and Armenian and, with this information, was able to open his own business known as Harry's Shoe Repair at 49 Queen St., now part of a city parking lot. After settling in Brantford, he ventured back to Syria to find a wife, Elma Keoseian, whom he married and promptly brought back to Brantford to start their new life. Together they raised four children - George, Sol, Dr. Peter Seraganian and Vicky Seraganian Bayley.
Local Armenians are marking the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide with a time of remembrance and reflection at Grace Anglican Church, Albion and West streets, on Saturday, April 25, at 2 p.m., beginning with a memorial service in the sanctuary, followed by a play, There Was and There Was Not, which tells the story of the Armenian genocide. A reception will follow featuring Armenian foods and hospitality. All are welcome
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