The Armenian Genocide:
Hripsime & Simon Cihanyan's Story
The story of Simon and Hripsime started in 1916 if we are not mistaken. But before telling their story, let me explain you what I know about their lives.
They had been living in a small village of Sivas called Zara. Unlike most of the others, Simon was a well-educated man, he had been teaching the Armenian language (how to write and read in Armenian) in an old, small building located in the center of their town which was known as the Armenian primary school. Simon was somehow different than most of his friends, he was among the few people who had the chance to get an education in that time. During his time, Turkish was not the common language in Anatolia, instead a weird language which was a mixture of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish was used. Most of the people including both Muslims and Armenians were not able to read and write by using this language called "Osmanlica". Simon was a highly respected man, because he had learnt to use both Armenian and Osmanlica as his native languages. He was a very helpful man, although he could earn just the needed amount to carry up his life, he acquired a reputation of being concerned with other people’s problems. He had devoted his life to aiding his friends, both Armenians and Muslims, because he believed in the brotherhood of people. That’s why he was sympathized and appreciated very much in Zara. In fact then the Armenians and the Muslims lived in peace with each other. This continued until one day (April 24) in 1915, when 300 Armenians living in Istanbul were rounded up, deported and killed. Simon was aware of the danger threatening them, but there was nothing to do for him except waiting to see what would happen next. Then the news of deportation arrived to Zara one day which caused a great panic in the Armenian towns and villages. In the following days groups of soldiers from the Ottoman army came to their town to collect all the Armenian families, so that they could deport them.
The soldiers who were called "the Gendarmes" tried to gather all the Armenians together in the town center by using force, they killed the ones mercilessly who had tried to resist them. That was the bloody day which Simon would never forget in his life. The crowd which was brought to the town center consisted of few hundreds of people, everyone of them crying: "Gendarme, gendarme don’t take us away from our homes, gendarme!!!" But none of the soldiers listened to what they said. Few hours later the gendarmes had already left the town with the poor Armenians who were treated like if they were animals. Simon and his wife Hripsime heard lots of terrible stories about Armenians being massacred on the way to Syria, Armenians collected from every part of Anatolia were butchered during the deportation. Of course those are different stories which I might talk about later.
What about Simon and his wife? As I told you before, Simon was very different, beside his wide knowledge of things, he was also very talented and had different hand skills. That was one of his hand skills which saved him and his wife from being deported to the east. As well as being a teacher, Simon was also a plasterer. Fortunately near Sivas a new barracks was constructed for the soldiers of the Ottoman army and they needed someone to plaster the walls of the interior of this barracks. As you may guess Simon was chosen for that and so he was let to stay in Zara. In this way Simon and Hripsime were relieved, they were safe at least for a short period of time. If he could satisfy the soldiers with his work, they could even award him by letting him to spend rest of his life in Zara.
In this way Simon and his wife stayed one more year in their home town. By the way no more Armenians were left there except them. However the 2 sisters and the brother of Hripsime, and the mother of Simon had been also living with them in the same house. In 1916 there was this event which changed their life all of a sudden.
One night the door of their small house was knocked noisily which awoke the whole household with horror. Simon reluctantly went to open the door while the women inside were trembling. Could it be the gendarmes coming to take them? When Simon opened the door, he saw two unexpected guests in front of him who seemed to have come from far away, they were exhausted, and starved. There were numerous wounds on their skins which continued bleeding. The guys standing in front of them were totally strangers to the whole household, few minutes later it was understood that they were Armenian fugitives who had successfully hidden themselves in different places and succeeded to come to Zara. The names of the strangers were Ananiya Çobanyan and Setrak Çilohannesyan. These guys had heard about the good reputation of Simon and thought that only Simon could accept to help them. Simon, who’s said to have a golden-heart, didn’t even hesitate about the idea and welcomed the guys, he provided them with food and clothes although he was aware of the risk that he had taken. The next day they altogether started to search for a hiding place for Ananiya and Setrak. First they thought about the well near the house, but that was not a good idea. After that they dug the surface of the cow-shed and so got a grave like space underground which was suitable to hide them. Next they built some type of cover over it and finally put animal dung on it to camouflage the place. From then on Ananiya and Setrak began to live in that hidden place, but Simon and the rest of the household always had the fear of being caught.
Some time passed and everything was going OK, nobody had realized their GUILT yet, they had been very careful and not left anything to chance. During long cold nights they left someone to watch the entrance of the shed, if any of them saw a suspicious person, he or she would somehow send a signal to them. This was the situation until one day when the gendarmes arrived suddenly and found the two fugitives. We’re not sure about how the gendarmes figured out their guilt, maybe someone from the town, who had seen their efforts to hide the fugitives, informed them or the gendarmes suspected their attitude. Anyway that’s not so important I think.
After the discovery of the hiding place in the cow-shed, the gendarmes directly took Ananiya and Setrak to somewhere which we don’t know today. They probably executed them immediately. Few days later the gendarmes came once more to take Simon and the rest of the household this time. At last they were decided to be exiled, too. So Simon, his mother, Hripsime, the 2 sisters and the brother of Hripsime were forced to leave their house, they weren’t even told to where they would be taken.
As a result, their long journey to east started, the gendarmes didn’t let them to rest on the way, they didn’t give them enough food or water. In other words, they had no regard for human life. During their journey, the mother of Simon, who had difficulties in walking because of her age, died. The gendarmes didn’t stop to bury her, they just throw her corpse from a cliff. Because of lack of food Simon and the rest got the habit of eating grass to be able to continue their lives. When they arrived to Malatya a generous Muslim, who owned few towns himself, took Simon and Hripsime to his house by paying for them to the gendarmes, so they stayed in Malatya for 21 months, living wretchedly.
The brother and the sisters of Hripsime were gone with the gendarmes and after that day of separation they didn’t hear anything about them. Many years later my grandma learnt that the brother of Hripsime and his sisters had passed the border and from Syria they emigrated to Canada. Today I probably have some relatives in Canada, but we’re not aware of each other!!!!
After the end of 21 months spent in Malatya, Simon and his wife attempted to go back to Zara, Sivas. But before that they were forced to be a Muslim, so by pretending to accept the Islamic faith, they enabled themselves to return to their hometown.
That’s the tragic story of their lives. By comparing their story with most of the other bloody ones I can say that they had been much luckier, at least they achieved to survive!