Katherine Magarian

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Boston Globe, 1998/4/19

'You can't walk, they kill you. You walk, they kill you.'

By Globe Staff, Globe Correspondent, 04/19/98


Katherine Magarian saw her father and dozens of other family members slain by invading Turks in the Armenian massacres that began 83 years ago this Friday. In all, the Turkish attempt to wipe out the Armenians lasted nearly eight years and claimed the lives of more than a million people; 20 years earlier, the Turks had also slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Magarian, who turned 92 on April 10, survived the murderous rampage by escaping her village with her mother and sister. Separated from her mother, Magarian eventually emigrated, first to Cuba and then to the United States in 1927. She settled in Rhode Island, where she has lived ever since. Magarian spoke recently with Globe correspondent Paul E. Kandarian at her daughter's home. The following are edited excerpts of her remarks.

I saw my father killed when I was 9 years old.

We lived in Palou [an Armenian enclave in Turkey], in the mountains. My father was a businessman. He'd go into the country selling pots and pans, butter, dairy products. The Turks, they ride in one day and get all the men together, bring them to a church. Every man came back out, hands tied behind them. Then they slaughter them, like sheep, with long knives.

They all die, 25 people in my family die. You can't walk, they kill you. You walk, they kill you. They did not care who they kill. My husband, who was a boy in my village but I did not know him then, he saw his mother's head cut off. The Turks, they see a pregnant woman, they cut the baby out of her and hold it up on their knife to show.

My mother and I, we run. They get one of my other sisters, and one of my other sisters, she was four, she ran away. My mother was hit by the Turks, she was bleeding as we go. We walk and walk, I say Ma, wait, I want to look for my little sister, but my mother slap me, say No! Too dangerous, we keep walking. It gets darker and darker, but we walk. Still, I don't know where. The Turks had taken over our city.

Two, three days we walk, little to eat. Finally, we find my sister, who had run away. Then we walk to Harput, and I see Turks and want to run, but they are friendly Turks, my mother tell me. She say, You go live with them now, you'll be safe, and I was. I worked there, waiting on them, cleaning, but I was alive and safe. But I don't see my mother for five years. She was taken to the mountains to live, and she saw hundreds of dead Armenians, hundreds of them, who had been killed by the Turks, bodies all over.

Years later, my mother say to the Turks, I want to see my child, and they let her come back. She came to the house at night. She did not know me, but I know it was her. Her voice was the same as I remember it. I tell her who I am, she say, You are my daughter! and we kiss, hug, and cry and cry.

My mother later heard of an orphanage in Beirut for Armenians, and we go there after the Turks kick us out of our country. I spend four years there, and again, I don't see my mother until a priest gets us together. In 1924, she comes to this country to meet family who left before the genocide. Three times now, I have lost my mother.

In 1926, I go to Cuba, with money from an uncle. On June 3, 1926, I marry John; we had met in Beirut and we marry in Cuba. He was a shoemaker and he came to the US in 1927, I came two weeks later, when I was 20. I had a baby in Cuba, alone, with relatives. That is my Mary. In all, we have four children, two boys, two girls, and also one other boy, but he died 40 days after he was born.

We lived in Providence on Althea Street most of the time, 50 years. It was tough times in those days, but my husband he provided for us. He did not let me work, it wasn't the way. He say, I bring one dollar home or I bring two dollar home, you no work, you stay home and take care of the kids. I work very, very hard, but I do all for my children so they can be children.

It was a very nice neighborhood where we live. Italian people, Irish people, Armenian people, we all there, all the same. My kids, they only speak Armenian in the house and learn English in school. Education very important to us. We had no money to send the girls to college, but we save enough to send the younger boys, they go.

If I had been born later, here, I would like to be a nurse. My husband was sick for eight years, and I take care of him. He died at 88, in 1993. My mother and I were very close in this country, we saw each other a lot even though she lived in Pawtucket. In those days, it was much harder to get from one city to the next, but we still saw each other. She died in 1943. She was never sick, and one day she was gone.

I love to crochet and still do it a lot. I crochet angels for my nine great-grandchildren, so they all remember me, I give those to them.

Sometimes, near the anniversary of the slaughter, my mind goes back there. You know, when I was 14, maybe 15, I have a dream, Jesus comes to me, says Give me your hand, and I want to get up and go with him but I cannot get up. Then I am in the mountains, where all the dead were that my mother would later tell me about, and I see flowers, every kind of flowers, no bodies, it is beautiful. Then I see the ocean and a boat, the boat that would take me to Cuba years later. I think this was God saying to me that I would be OK.

I was lucky to live, I guess. God make me lucky.

This story ran on page B10 of the Boston Globe on 04/19/98. _Copyright_ 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.