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Miriam Goureghian

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Miriam_Goureghian&chld=H_100&junk=junk.png Miriam Goureghian Venus symbol.svg
Birthplace Mezire
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Languages Armenian, English
Ethnicities Armenian
Dialects Western Armenian
Ancestral villages Mezire
Children Sylvia Goureghian Kaloustian

ORAL HISTORY DISCUSSION WITH MIRIAM GOUREGHIAN

CONDUCTED BY HER DAUGHTER, SYLVIA GOUREGHIAN KALOUSTIAN – OCTOBER 10, 1976

I was born in Mezire in Kharpert. I never knew my parents but was told that my father had gone to the market and there he was robbed and killed. My mother was pregnant with me. I have no idea if I had sisters or brothers or any family at all. A child who has no family is called an“aravel”. The orphanage gave me my name “Miriam” and because there were many Miriams there, they added the name Dzaelgh which means flower since I was cared for near the flower garden, I went by the name of Miriam Dzaelgh #61. This was probably around 1900 or a year or so before.

I spent over twelve years in the German Protestant Orphanage called Panuel. (Mahamurat El Azig) The Reverend Mr. Ehman was the director. He was a Protestant minister who spoke fluent Armenian. Tante Tillie and Tante Gadayan (both German) were the first care takers that I knew.

The orphanage or “vorpanotz” was housed in a big beautiful building. It was an all girl’s school and I really didn’t see boys until I was about 14 years old. The rooms were always very clean and pleasant. Typically, we were twelve to a room with one supervisor. Each of us had an “angolin” (a quilt generally stuffed with wool) and we slept on the floor. Each morning we would wake up, pile our “angolins” on top of each other and set off to the “big room” where there would be as many as one hundred girls. We would begin with morning prayers, hymns, and Bible readings always in Armenian. We would then go into a large, clean dining room for breakfast which would consist of a “chorba” or soup, typically made with bulger wheat or “dzedzadz. At 8am we would walk to school where we were taught by Pastor Baldasar. The school was patterned after the German school system. We had four levels - the Mangaran/Gurtagan/Varjaran/Seminar. The boys in the adjoining school had more advanced studies than we did. They had the “Najaranotz” for carpentry and they were taught how to work in a factory.

We were given one pair of shoes that were to be saved for Sunday church. The rest of the time we were barefoot but never minded it. The floors were clean and even the outside where we played it was clean. There was a German seamstress who sewed dresses for each of the girls. Every level had a different dress. The dresses were clean and pretty. The food was always cooked on the premises. For lunch we would have 2-3 pieces of bread with a pear or apple and raisins. We were always satisfied because we knew that we had no choice. We never felt hungry. From one o’clock to 4pm we would play outside; we had swings and seesaws. We would play tag, dance, and other games. I was very happy there. I would sing a lot. Songs like “B I N G O, Tztzeghnag, (Nightingale) Jamatsusa (The clock) etc. I did not regret not having a family. Everyone was friendly toward each other and we were well disciplined. We had our daily chores. Five girls would be assigned to dust, five others to change the beds, five to clean the room etc. The weather was mild and I enjoyed the changes of seasons.

I remember one Sunday when we were in church with our shoes left outside as usual, Nishan Kinosian from the boy’s school stole a whole bunch of shoes and went in town to sell them. He was very naughty. I also was a bit of an instigator. I remember climbing up the mulberry tree and shaking the berries to the ground so we could eat them. I was often punished. We would be spanked.

Sundays were a very special day for us. The church was very large and beautiful. We would sing hymns. Mr. Ehman would give a sermon and lead us in prayers. Dinner was always special. We would have pilaf.

There were lots of grapes in Mezre. People would make bastek which is dried grape juice. They would then add nuts and make rojig. These packets were put into wooden containers (kegs) which were in a beautiful big room. They were then shipped to Haleb where it got sold. There were big dairies where I would see large bags hanging to make cheese. Life would begin at 5am. The owners were very wealthy. Everywhere there was wheat, bulghur and stone grinders which separated the grains.

In 1912 there were rumblings of the Turks committing genocide against the Armenians. I spent some time at the home of my aunt whom I hardly remember. By 1913 the genocide was in full force. Everyone was told to leave their homes and possessions within hours and head to Urfa and then to the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor where most of them starved to death. I was not aware of this at that time since my situation was about to change. Everywhere there were killings in the streets. The young boys were either starving in the streets or were killed. Many of the girls were raped, killed or taken by the Turks into their homes as servants. The Turks ordered that the orphanages be emptied and the missionaries were forced to leave. They took over the buildings and turned them into military hospitals. The orphanage was permanently closed.

It was in 1913. I must have been around fourteen or fifteen years old. It turned out that I was one of the fortunate ones. Tante Pauline saved me by taking me to the home of the Der Stepanians in Mezre. I cried and was frightened but there was no choice.

The Der Stepanians were one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Mezre. Mezre was the major city of Kharpert. It was the administrative center of the province. The head of the family was Soghomon Effendi. The term Effendi denotes one of high prestige- nobility; an educated gentleman), his wife Yester (Esther) Khanum had five boys, Joseph, and Roupen, a doctor who lived in Russia, by Soghomon’s previous marriage. He had been married three times and his two previous wives had died. Stepan, Hagop, Badrig and Adroushan were Esther’s children. Adroushan had just been born. He was a beautiful baby and I loved him very much. Soghomon was very close to his brother, Mugurdith with whom he shared his businesses and the two families ate most of their meals together. The two brothers were very close There was a large stone with an engraving which read, “Beloved brothers always.” They would meet together every night for “meze” and “olghi” and then go to their individual homes. Esther whose only daughter had died, very much wanted a daughter and I was taken into the family as one of their own where I stayed over twelve years. Esther Khanum was always very kind to me. Most of the children I played with assumed that I was part of the family. My best friend was Lusaper who lived near by.

I played with your mother-in-law Azad who lived on the same street. Her family was also very wealthy. Her sister Victoria was one of my best friends. We would meet again in Haleb (Aleppo). The father of the family had been killed by the Turks and unfortunately the oldest son Haroutoun died of cancer there in Haleb (Aleppo). Your father-in-law Kourken came from America to find a bride. He who was thirty-two years old chose the sixteen year old, blue eyed Azad to marry. They did marry in Haleb (Aleppo) in 1925 and since he was a citizen he was able to save the rest of the family by bringing them to America.

The Der Stepanians were very wealthy. Among their many holdings, they owned a large pharmacy which at that time was like a doctor’s office.

The brothers Soghomon and Mugurditch together also owned vineyards and made wine, medicinal alcohol (oghie), and raki. They also owned a bank across from the Vale’s office building. Their home was one of the most beautiful and largest in the city. There were twelve stairs to the bedrooms, a beautiful porch enclosed with glass. The cellar or “khoranotz” was the cellar where they burned wood. Near the swimming pool was a waterfall. There was a beautiful stream in the back. It was like paradise and the family lived lovingly together. Since Roupen and Joseph had left, the younger boys went to the Armenian school in Mezre.

I would help Esther Khanum with the cooking. She was very kind and loving toward me and I was very obedient. We also had servants. One would do the wash, make dough and do other chores. There was a man who would come regularly to crush the grapes to make the wine. We would make sure his feet were always washed.

It happened that the Turkish Vale (governor) of the Mamuratul-Aziz/Harput Province had a strange disease on his hand and no one could heal it. Soghomon had medicines which healed it and fortunately for us, the Vale ordered that the Der Stepanians were to be spared from the deportations. These deportations on order from the Turkish government were taking place everywhere around us. The police were going from house to house telling people they had a few hours to gather whatever belongings they could carry and head toward Urfa. The police passed by our house since the vale’s special seal protected us. We were free to come and go and most of the time the Turks were very fine with us. After a while, everyone else from the town was gone. They were headed for Urfa. We knew our “protected” time would be limited when we heard our vale was about to be replaced.

Outside in the streets, chaos was raging and unbelievable atrocities were beginning.

Everyone around us was being forced to march with their few possessions followed by Turkish soldiers who were beating and harassing them on the way. The Kurds were given free reign to attack the people as they were leaving. They were told that they could take anything they wanted from the Armenians, their money, even their homes. However, the Arabs who were nearby helped as us much as they could. Many Armenian lives were saved by these Arabs. We would hear stories of people dying of thirst, drinking their own urine. They would try to get wet from the rain and drink from their wet clothes. Mothers had to leave their children to die because they were too weak to care for them.

We were afraid to leave the house because of the terrible stories we were hearing. Someone had to find out what was going on. I would cover myself in Muslim garb and hide to find out what was going on and report back to the family. We had plenty of money but could not go out for food. Much of the time we were starving. From time to time one of us would go out and beg from the Turks who would give us some bread which we would share among us. The workers from the drug store would sometimes bring us food. It was not long before the tragedy came to our own family. Soghomon’s beloved brother, Mugurditch was taken by the Turks and killed. Ali Effendi who worked in the drug store told us the story. He was a nice man and helped save many Armenians. They were rounding up the intellectual and professional leaders of the community – some they forced into their churches and then the buildings were torched. Others were forced to dig deep gullies and were then slaughtered. The gullies turned red with their blood which then went into a river upstream. In spite of all this, Soghomon had to continue working since he was desperately needed in the drugstore. In the end, however, the profound grief was too much for him. One evening he lay down, asked his son Stephan for a cigarette, then asked Esther if he could put his head on her lap. He died of a broken heart. We buried him and put a rock over his grave. That left Esther, a very gentle and naïve woman to deal with the rest of the family.

One day a knock came and there were three Turkish doctors who had come from the military hospital that was once my orphanage. They wanted to take over our house which was one of the best in the city. Of course, we had no choice so for several months we had to live in the 2-3 room smaller house that was on the premises. A short while after we returned to the house, Hassan Effendi from Bolis, the head of the prisons, demanded to move into our house. He came with his wife Zera Khanum who was pregnant. When the Vale heard of this, he made him leave and sent him back to Bolis. It was at this time that I learned Turkish.

After several months there was a third knock on the door. This time there were four German flight officers. Herr Vigik Rigen, Herr Jacoob, and Herr Klara, a big, strong blue eyed officer, and Herr Ustabashi. They were covered with medals. This was the beginning of World War I. The Germans and Turks were allies. They were very polite and respectful toward us. I was able to speak some German which I had learned from the orphanage with them. They would show us their planes and let us sit in them. Once more we had to go back to the small house. Esther Hanum was very frightened and she cried a lot. I was never afraid and Esther Hanum hugged me many times and said how happy she was to have me.

As much as Esther was naïve, Mugurditch’s daughter, Maritza was very clever and very strong. She did what she could to save others. She had heard that there was a group of twelve young men in their early twenties, who fearing for their lives, were hiding in the basement of one of the buildings. They were cold, dirty and starving. She dressed herself in Muslim clothing – a “charsharf”and made believe she was Turkish and carried an urn on her shoulders. She would sneak to where the boys were hidden and bring them supplies. I remember her bringing back their filthy clothes, boiling them to get rid of the vermin and dirt and take them back clean. She would gather food, cigarettes and whatever she could find, even from the servants and take them to the starving boys. This went on over many months. Finally, one by one she was able to save them. They were able to sneak at night and get to the city of Erezurum. From there they would crawl to the river bank which separated Turkey from Russia. There would be someone there who could save them. Maritza was very brave; a truly amazing woman.

There are many stories to tell at this time. There was a banker named Mirhan who had a beautiful, but very naïve daughter Victoria. The Zabit, Suleman Effendi who was the military head under the vale, killed her father and brother and then forced her to marry him. She had no choice. However, she was able to save her mother and two other brothers. The Zabit insisted that the boys be circumcised. Victoria got the chicken pox and was very ill. Her husband took very good care of her. He brought in doctors and nurses to help her get better. In spite of that she and her family wanted to get away from him. Her aunt was able to hide the family’s jewels and money in a large container which enabled them all to escape to Haleb. The Zabit was sent back to the army. In the end, there were terrible Turks and some kind Turks that tried to save the Armenians. For us it was just to survive and in the end to save our lives. Esther Khanum had to act. The time was getting short and we no longer had the Vale’s protection. She was able to save Hagop by paying an Armenian man over $1,000.00 to get him to Haleb and then to Canada. The time had come for the rest of the family to make an escape. Esther Hanum had a great deal of money and jewels hidden, so we could use those resources to help in the escape. The plan was for Maritza to take Stepan, the oldest son, to that same river bank between

Turkey and Russia where brother Roupen who was married to a very wealthy woman in Russia, would meet them. Stepan did not want to go. He was only twelve years old. He cried and cried. Maritza felt confident she could save him since she had already done that with the other boys. She sewed money and jewelry in her Turkish garb. This was to help them along the way before they met Roupen. We were all very concerned and the atmosphere was tense. What we did not know at the time was that Aslan Beg who lived across the street had heard about the escape attempt from a Kurdish boy who worked at the house. Aslan told the boy that he had to kill them both and take the money and jewels back to him or he himself would be killed. In the end, the Kurdish boy was killed himself.

We waited and waited for hours to hear how they made out. When the devastating news came to us, our grief was overwhelming. I am sad to this day thinking about the loss of that poor child. Our fear and desperation became unbearable and something had to be done. Since Hagop was already in Canada, he could sponsor the family. Unfortunately, they were unable to get the appropriate papers for me. That meant I would be left behind. Esther Hanum said she would try to find a way to get me to join them when she got to Canada. In the meantime, I had to think about what I was going to do next. What was going to happen to me? Esther Hanum gave me a gold piece which would support me for a while. With great sadness, we had to leave behind our beautiful home, the gardens and all that had been our lives. We all left together and headed to Haleb, Syria. We were among the more fortunate because we made the voyage in an automobile with a driver and not on foot like the others. We passed women and children starving along the way. There were stories of Turkish soldiers slitting the bellies of pregnant women just for the fun of it. These Armenians were forced to walk across the barren desert to DerZor in Syria with no food or appropriate clothing.

In Haleb, I stayed with the Kooyumjian family with my friend from the orphanage, Miriam #101. There were several of us who lived together in one room for 2-3 years. One of the members of the family was a photographer and the other a teacher. They would go to work and we would just hang around. We were very careful with the little money we had.

Many of the Armenian young men had left Turkey and gone to the United States and to Canada to avoid military conscription in Turkey because the young Armenian men were often sent to the front lines and/or killed by their own Turkish troops. From America or Canada they would send money home to help their families and some even hoped to come back to resettle. That, of course, was now out of the question and these men were ready to get married to an Armenian girl and start a family in the United States and Canada.

My friend Miriam was matched up with a young man who was living in Worcester, Massachusetts. She was to leave soon for America. Her future husband had a friend who was originally from Hin Akarag, a small village near Mezre Kharpert. When he was nineteen years old he came to America. I had never gone to the village, I was only in Mezire. He also was looking for a wife so they asked me if I would be interested. I said, “If he sends me the money and if he is fair, I will go.” I did not want to be married to someone who had dark skin. Besides, why go to Canada when I could go to the United States?

This young man’s was name was Zakar Goureghian. He sent me $550.00 which would be enough to get me to Cuba.

From there I could get to the United States. He also sent a wrist watch as an engagement present. I gave the money to the Badveli (Pastor) to hold it for me. Unfortunately, instead of saving it for me he stole my money. Haji Matteos’ wife told me what happened. Since Zakar was not yet a citizen I would have to get to Cuba and wait until he got his citizenship. He resent me money for three years from 1925 – 1928.

It was in Haleb, (Aleppo) Syria that I met up with my fiancé’s younger cousin also named Zakar Goureghian. My fiancé, Zakar was supporting his cousin as well. Zack and I were very aimiable with each other. He was very talented with the violin and he loved to paint. He said that someday he would paint his village, Hin Akarag (Old Farm) from memory so that they would never forget where they came from.

The Arabs were very kind to us. Haleb was a beehive of activity. Everyone was hoping to get to America, the land of the free! Families like mine headed off to Canada, others to America. I was left to fend for myself. Thankfully, I had the gold piece that Esther Khanum had given me plus the money that would come from time to time from Zakar in America. I, of course, had to be very careful since that money needed to last a long time.

Everywhere marriages were being arranged in order to save the lives of the young women and their families that had just fled from Anatolia. They had nowhere else to go. The young women survivors were matched with the young men who were already in North America. The lucky ones got to go directly to America. Others ended up staying and building their lives in Haleb. We were 4-5 in one room, Khuntir, Zakar were the men. At night we would hand a sheet in between the men and 1 the women. We had a little gas stove where we cooked. We were very satisfied.

Beirut was the next stop. Many of the Armenians settled in Beirut and prospered. They did not have any connections in America. But for me, Beirut was just another stop on my way to America. We stayed there many months until it was time to move on to France. But I had to wait until Zakar became a citizen. I would be one of those lucky ones some day. From there we traveled to Marseille, France where once more we were 4-5 in one rented room. Marseille was very pleasant but we kept pretty much to ourselves. One day Zack and I went to a store to shop. When we were leaving a man came running after us. We were terrified that they were going to send us back? We thought we were legal but weren’t sure. We were afraid they were going to put us in prison. Finally the man caught up with us and handed us a purse saying that this purse with lots of French money had fallen out of the pocked of my dress and belonged to us. We kept telling him it was not ours. We couldn’t understand French and they couldn’t understand Armenian. We went back and forth in this manner until we convinced them the purse was not ours. They asked us what nationality we were. When we told them we were Armenian, they said all Armenians must be honest. They were so impressed by our honesty they gave us a gift of a ticket to take an earlier ship to Cuba before the others. Haiguhi and her sister were with us.

We finally headed to Cuba which would be my entrance to America. I remained in Cuba for three years – 1925-1928.

We landed in Frisco. Zack stayed with me. We were like brother and sister and lived together for five years. We lived 1 on the money Zakar sent us from America. We did not know any Spanish. We came from Turkish Armenia where we spoke Armenian, Haleb and Beirut where the language was Arabic, then Marseille where everyone spoke French and now Cuba which was a Spanish speaking country. Downstairs from the room where we lived was a woman named Mary and she taught us enough Spanish to get along. Pastor Zenas and his wife Nevart also helped us. We would never go to the market without a man. Everyone was black and they would harass the white women. At one visit to the market the proprietor gave us $5.00 instead of $2.00 change. When we told him his mistake he said, “Much bonito Armenians.” From then on he made sure no one wold bother us. We even had a car and a driver. Again we were five to a room; two men, Khuntir and Zack, Havas, Anna, Miriam and me. Haju Matteos would help us as much as he could. Pastor Zenas would do services in a room in a Cuban church for twenty or so Armenians when he could. His wife Nevart would help us as much as they could. dI have to take a breath now because it upsets me when I think of all that has happened.

Finally, the letter came from Zakar. He was coming to Cuba to take me to America. Pastor Zenas said that he would take me to the ship. At the dock we saw the ship come in and Pastor Zenas checked the manifest and there was only one Armenian on board and his name was Zakar Goureghian. I saw him get off the ship and said to myself, “Ah, he is fair and handsome, just what I always wanted.” Pastor Zenas said not to say anything to see if he would recognize me. I was standing with the others when he came right over to me and said, “Hello Miriam, how are you?” Everyone laughed. I was just thrilled!

Then he took me for a boat ride and we would talk. There was a rule in Cuba that he had to sign that we would not cohabitate. If he did not sign the document there would be no place for me to go. I was very nervous. Thankfully, he said he would go immediately to the American Consulate with witnesses and sign his intentions to marry me and take me to the United States of America. Pastor Zenas made all the preparations for the wedding. Esther Hanum had asked her sister Anna Morkor, who lived in New York City to pay my expenses. Badveli Zenas’ wife gave me a beautiful wedding gown and was my maid of honor. We got married in the Tropicale hotel. Zakar rented a bus and all my friends were invited. There were no gifts since no one had any money. As for me, all I could think of was to survive and finally it seemed I would be saved.

The Tropicale was an outdoor hotel. We had a special room with music; there were violins and drums. It was a big celebration. The American tourists who were watching were amazed at how happy everyone was. The drinks were rationed but there was plenty of food. Anna Morkor had ordered twenty-two pounds of meat for khema. Everyone was amazed to see how we were going to eat that raw meat. There was free beer up to a limit and we celebrated all night long. Zack danced and played the violin. He even dressed himself like a girl and covered his head with only his eyes showing and we all laughed. He was so much fun. My husband paid the policeman, the beer expenses and took care of everything else. Everyone was very happy.

Samuel, Haji Matteos’ son made arrangements for us to stay in a hotel for three days. We stayed together in Havana, Cuba for 1 ½ months. When it was time to leave we had a bon voyage party with ice cream. Finally we took the morning boat to Key West and then took the train to New York City. We stayed in Haji Matteos’ family home and also with Anna Morkor for eight days where we had paklava, boerags and continued to celebrate. From New York I came to Clinton where I have lived all these years. I was very happy to be saved since I was always afraid of being captured and killed. My husband worked in a factory which was transferred from Worcester to Clinton. I feel very fortunate. I have had he richest life.

Clinton was a nice town. I have lived here over forty-eight years and have three children. We rented a house on Church Street. However, it was 1933 with President Hoover during the depression. My husband had no job, we had no food. Sometimes he would work at night off and on. I would wait up for him. For six months I worked at the nearby laundry for twenty-five cents an hour and watched my children play nearby from the window. Zack and I would share our stories and began to settle down. We knew how to be hungry. We would feed the children first. We made homemade bread since we barely had enough money for food. Sometimes he would make $5.00 a week.

One day a policeman came to the house to tell him that his brother Setrag had died. We were frightened and did not go with the police. We had no money even to bury his brother. It was very hard living. I got a job in a pajama factory and made better money. Finally, his factory called him back and he worked there for over forty-eight years.

I wanted to go to night school but could not leave the children. Mr. Mitchell was the teacher. I took English lessons with my friends Acabe and Sirvart. At the end of a year, Mr. Mitchell said I was ready to apply for citizenship. I was nervous but he was very encouraging. I was in the top class. He suggested I sign my name Mary because it was shorter and on June 4, 1945 I became an American citizen which made me very, very happy. I was very satisfied with my life and grateful for what I have. I have forgotten all the bad.




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