Vardan Vardanyans

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" . . . YOU NEVER KNOW . . .": FROM A BURNING HOUSE TO A BASEMENT By Marianna Grigoryan ArmeniaNow reporter

He clung to his father's lap. His four sisters hung to their mother's skirt. Houses were burning on the right. On the left was the sea, where the Turks threw the Armenians.

 From Adana to Izmir, from Izmir to Greece by sea: the images of "the road of 

escaping the Turks" from native Adana were imprinted in three-year-old Vardan's memory forever.

The old man, who is 91 now, remembers he wished to reach one of the ships on the shore that saved the Vardanyans' family of seven from death and brought them to Greece.

"I was small I could not keep much in mind, but I have remembered several things very well," tells Vardan. "I remember the burning buildings and the fire, the shouting of the people and my parents' horrified eyes. My father would grip me to him as strong as he could to protect me from everything. I was the youngest in the family - the only son."

It was 1917 when the first page of refuge history in the Vardanyans family opened.

Wandering in the past of his life Vardan remembers how the parents were doing their best to escape the danger, how they left the living they had, fame and opportunities and took the way of refuge to save the children.

"This is the only paper that has remained of my husband's past," Vardan's wife Gyul takes a document with a photo out of an old sack from a shabby small suitcase. The photo is that of Vardan's family and the document certifies they lived in Adana. It contains notes about the family members and their confession of religious faith.

"Everything was in a mess, my father would watch here and there, and my sisters Orzhine, Angel, Verzhineh and Josephine were holding my mother Elisabeth's hand not to be lost on the road. Then, my parents told, many were lost on the road," tells the weak old man. "This was our only document that my parents kept carefully."

In the wet and dark room in the basement accompanied by the sound of the clock on the wall, bed-ridden Vardan Vardanyan turns time back in his mind, remembers his past, his mother, father, the hardships and details of deprivations of childhood that he left behind.

"I don't remember what our house in Adana looked like, but I remember my father was an esteemed man, famous for making basturma and sujukh. We had a shop were he would make basturma and sujukh, I can vividly recall his instruments and the gestures - he would let me watch him when I was small," says the survivor.

Narrowly escaping from Adana Vardan Vardanyan discloses from the mist and memories of the history of his past the first time they lost their home, and "reached Greece passing through fire and death".

"My ancestors have not been very rich, but they were industrious and tried to make something from anything and live," he tells in a low voice pointing his forefinger. "This is typical to Armenians. That is why they have been able to overcome all the hardships."

The first asylum the Vardanyans got was in Greece, where they spent seven years. Later their father Hambartsum decided to take the way to the homeland.

Moving to Armenia the Vardanyans lived in Artik for a while.

"Our language differed from the one the locals talked. My mother mainly talked Turkish and the people in Artik did not treat us very friendly because of that," remembers Vardan. "That is why we decided to move to Yerevan."

In Yerevan Vardan engaged in air-balloon sports. In 1939, he, a soldier of the Soviet Army, went to fight against Finland, and in 1941, he went to WW II.

During the war a shell wounded Vardan. However, the injuries did not hinder him to create a family of four sons.

The greater part of the clothes hanging on the wet walls are covered with mould and the only link that could connect them with the outside life - the radio set of Soviet production - is broken.

In the room that is a collection of past and present, the past dominates. A soldier's cap that belongs to Vardan who managed to get back from the war hangs on the wall. It is cold in the basement room and the only thing warming the hearts of the old people are their memories.

On the bed are the medals, and congratulations with the President's signature, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII.

"I have created and built during my life. I was a strong man and thought my power would suffice for everything, but I was ridden to bed. Four years ago my son died in an accident and my life became senseless; I and my wife appeared in these conditions," tells Vardan. "I learnt in my elderly years again that life is a thing that prepares for . . . you never know what." 11/25/2005