Hear Armenian Genocide Survivor Oral Histories on Ancestory.com

March 31, 2011

Armenian oral history recordings are available on Ancestory.com. (If you create a free account, you can listen to the oral histories on your computer.)

Search the four names below and listen to each individual tell their stories in their own voices of surviving the Armenian Genocide and thriving in America. There are approximately 50 Armenian interviewees included in the Ellis Island oral history interview collection. Each interview is about 1 hour in length.

  1. Vetzigian
  2. Babaian
  3. Tellalian
  4. Hartunian

About New York City, Ellis Island Oral Histories, 1892-1976

This collection contains some 2,000 oral histories collected by the Ellis Island Oral History Program through the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Begun in 1973, the project aims to collect first-hand information about immigrant experiences from everyday life in their country of origin, family history, reasons for coming to America, the journey to the port, experiences on the ship, arrival, processing at Ellis Island, and adjustment to life in the U.S. Most interviewees are chosen from submitted questionnaires, range in age from 46 to 106, though the average age is late eighties, and are from many countries.

Ellis Island was in operation from 1892 until 1954 and processed 12 million immigrants. Upon arrival 29 questions were asked including name, occupation, and the amount of money carried. Immigrants were quickly looked over for any medical problems and 2 percent were deported back to their home countries for chronic contagious disease, criminal background, or insanity. In 1924 immigration was restricted and the only immigrants to pass through the Ellis Island station were displaced persons or war refugees.

Request the names of more Armenian interviews via email or post a comment.

Reflecting upon the deportation and death marches of Armenians in 1915

April 5, 2010

Yesterday, I hiked Bear Mountain in New York State, elevation 1,284 ft (391.4 m). It was a beautiful, sunny, spring day. The temperature was in the 60’s (F). My 15-year-old godson and a good friend joined me for the outing. We packed sandwiches and plenty of water and wore good shoes for climbing rocks and walking on rough, but well-marked trails. The nearly 4-mile climb to the summit and back down took us about 4 hours (with breaks).

I’d remembered first hearing about Bear Mountain from my mom. She told stories of camping there with the Girl Scouts. My friend Rita remembers picnics and family outings at Bear Mountain, as well as many hikes with friends and students. I wanted to share this idyllic experience with my godson and he loved it.

But, throughout the afternoon, I couldn’t help imagining old women and little children being forced to walk for miles every day, in the hot sun and in the freezing winter, barefoot, eventually naked or barely clothed, and starving, until they literally dropped dead. Then, I’d return my thoughts to the three of us enjoying this special day together.

Many of the Armenians who were taken from their homes and towns by the Turkish officials in Ottoman Turkey naively believed they would be able to return home again. How could they have possibly imagined they were on organized death marches orchestrated to depopulate Turkey’s interior of its Armenian Christian population?

How is it that my grandfather who was torn from his mother and sisters, as well as his home and identity in Marash, could come to America (at the same age my godson is now) and find the resources within himself to rebuild his life in New York City? What did he think about when he wasn’t busy working, going to school, building a dental practice and a home for my grandmother and his children? Did he remember all the parts of his story that he left out of his letters to us? Did he ever want to go home again?

My godson is a good boy and he is the light of his mother’s and father’s life. (And mine, too). He loves and adores his parents. They have made a very safe and comfortable world for him. I wish it were possible to know what my grandfather’s life was like before the massacres in Marash. Did he live in fear? Did he know the kind of love and security my godson has received? Did the massacres define my grandfather? Did his mother shape his character? How is it that my grandfather was one of the lucky few who made it out of Turkey alive and managed to thrive once he reached the safe harbor of Ellis Island and Manhattan?

Learn how Vartoosh and Arshile Gorky escaped the Armenian Genocide

February 25, 2010
Arshile Gorky and his mother, Lady Shushanik

Arshile Gorky and his mother, Lady Shushanik (from ArmenianHighland.com)

Arshile Gorky's, The Artist and his Mother (from armenianstudies.csufresno.edu)

Arshile Gorky’s given name was Vosdanik Adoian. He and his family were originally from Van, in historic Armenia. They fled their beloved homeland during the Armenian Genocide, living briefly in Yerevan (where Gorky’s mother tragically died from starvation in his arms).

During one of my research visits to Ellis Island, historian Barry Moreno recommended that I read, The Many Worlds of Arshile Gorky,  a biography written by the world-renowned artist’s nephew, Karlen Mooradian. The book is in the Ellis Island Bob Hope Memorial Library collection. It  includes an interview with Vartoosh Adoian Mooradian, Gorky’s sister and the author’s mother, as well as interviews with several of Gorky’s contemporaries.

The book describes historic Van, which influenced and inspired Gorky’s work, and it depicts the Yerevan of nearly a century ago. In The Many Worlds of Arshile Gorky, Vartoosh details the family’s odyssey from the shores of Lake Van (including their deportation march) to the shores beyond Ellis Island (living in New England and Manhattan). Vartoosh’s interview provides insights into Armenian immigrant life and struggles during, and beyond, the Great Depression.

Did you know Gorky was fired from Hood Rubber Company in Watertown, Massachusetts, for drawing on the frames that held sneaker tops? The Hood Rubber Company employed many Armenian immigrants who fled Turkey and came to America.


I came across an article in the Armenian Reporter online, mentioning an upcoming Armenian Genocide Commemoration Essay Contest. For more information, follow this link to the article:


Finding out the truth about my grandfather and the genocide

February 7, 2010

As readers of this blog already know, I am writing a book about my grandfather, Dr. Karnig Kalpakian. This blog came about because as I started researching the history of the Armenian Genocide, I learned that what my high school Sunday School teacher warned us was true: the Turkish government actively denies the fact of the Armenian Genocide. And, sadly, many of our politicians and universities are on the Turkish lobby’s payroll. This blog is simply a means for sharing what I come across each day as I dig deeper into the mountains of evidence that actually do exist, which prove the truth of the Ottoman Turks’ slaughter and brutalization of over 1.5 million Armenians at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Last night I read Neither to Laugh nor to Weep: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide by Father Abraham H. Hartunian. I learned about the book when I read the Ellis Island oral history of his son, Vartan Hartunian. Father Hartunian’s account is brutal and vivid. I shutter to think what horrors he may have edited out of his memory, because his descriptions of the attacks he witnessed and the terror he experienced are raw.

I wanted to read his book because I learned that he led a church congregation in Marash (which is the city where my grandfather lived). I hoped to learn more about what happened in 1920, as my grandfather only glossed over the events in his letters to our family. The only clue I had to the madness is that my grandfather referred to his home burning and that his mother and sisters were taken to the mosque and ‘butchered’. But, I questioned his knowledge and memory of the event because until last night I had not read an account, or spoken with anyone, who knew of the mosque (I kept encountering the recounting of the burning of the churches with their congregations inside).


On pages 136-137 of Neither to Laugh not to Weep, Father Hartunian writes:

On the night of January 23, to the firing, the thundering of the cannons, the din of battle, a more calamitous evil was added—fire! The Turks had begun to set Armenian houses and buildings on fire. Even Turkish buildings were being burned if it seemed possible thus to spread the blaze to the Armenian quarters or one of the military centers. The flames rose everywhere; the city glowed beneath their light. From every side, bullets were incessantly whizzing like hail, and no one knew when he might be hit. Every moment there was danger of a fierce attack on any center where the Armenians had gathered. The fire horrified us. It was impossible to withstand it. I do not know a battle on a field or in the air, but I do know that a battle in a city is a hellish thing!

In the other centers the situation was the same or even worse. But no horrors can ever parallel the experience of the Armenians in the Armenian quarters and in their houses. These were tortured without respite and without pity and then slaughtered. A well-known and supposedly good-hearted Turk, Murad Bey, was in the Great Mosque, Ooloo Jami, where the murderers were at work. Some Armenian women and children, watching the slaughter and awaiting their turn, pleaded, “Please tell them to shoot us and not cut our throats with the knife!” and our kind Turk answered, “Don’t be afraid. The knives have been sharpened well and you will not suffer much.”

The city’s greatest Hoca was there too, Dayi Zade Hoca, and the Turks turned to him saying, “Hoca, shall we slaughter the small children too?” Does the Koran give us permission?” “Yes,” he answered, “slaughter them too. The Koran permits. We must kill the offspring of the scorpions, too, that they may not grow and sting us.”

Now, I know the fate of my grandfather’s mother, Mary Mesrobian Kalpakian; and his sisters, Anais Kalpakian (13 or 14 years old), and Armenouhi Kalpakian (9 or 10 years old).

The more I read, the more my grandfather’s words are verified as fact. This history is no ‘myth’ as Turkish government spokespeople continue to allege. But, I wish they were right.

Visiting the Armenian Home in Queens, New York and meeting Margaret Tellalian Kyrkostas at Queens College

January 28, 2010

This morning I will be visiting the Armenian Home in Queens, New York. It is home to a few of the remaining survivors of the Armenian Genocide. I remember first visiting a resident (and survivor) when I was a little girl. Her name was Rose and she took care of my mom and uncles. They called her ‘mama’ and loved her very much. Rose lost her children in the genocide. She was a gentle and loving woman my mother remembers vividly.

This afternoon I am honored to meet Margaret Tellalian Kyrkostas the Director and Curator of Armenia: Memories From My Home. From September 6, 1997–February 28, 1998, the Sherman Gallery at Ellis Island featured this exhibit about the Armenians and the Armenian Genocide.

Over 40 percent of America’s population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island. Opened on January 1, 1892, Ellis Island became the nation’s premier federal immigration station. In operation until 1954, the station processed over 12 million immigrant steamship passengers. [US National Park Service]

Armenia: Memories From My Home (Scroll down to click the links in the Table of Contents)

This unique exhibit is on permanent display at The Anthropology and Armenian Museums (The Anthropology Museum of the People of New York) at Queens College, Queens, New York. NOTE:  I came across this compelling, well-organized, and comprehensive overview of Armenian History and the Armenian Genocide virtual tour of the exhibit on the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies: University of Minnesota website.

Armenians remember Ellis Island

January 6, 2010

This short video shows Ellis Island and features video interviews with some of the Armenians who came through Ellis Island upon arriving in America:

Ellis Island | www.20voices.com | 2006

Armenian Genocide survivors who came through Ellis Island

January 5, 2010

Today, I spoke with Barry Moreno, a librarian at the Ellis Island library. I told him that I’m interested in the oral histories of Armenian Genocide survivors who came through Ellis Island. He told me there are many Armenian history records in their collection. He also said that most of the Armenians who came through Ellis Island were survivors of the genocide.

When you browse the ship manifests listing the passengers who came to Ellis Island, it is striking how many Armenian surnames you will find. Be sure to visit the Ellis Island website:  www.ellisisland.org and check out the various ways to search for your family members. (If you know your grandparents or any family members came through Ellis Island, but you don’t see their names, try misspelling their last names. That’s what I had to do.) You’ll be surprised by what you’ll learn.

Here are a couple of book recommendations:

Ellis Island Images of America by Barry Moreno (this link takes you to a preview, landing on page 84), which features a picture of Tourvanda Ahigian, who became Victoria Haroutunian. She was an Armenian orphan who spent years in an Egyptian orphanage, before coming to America (through Ellis Island). Her daughter, Virginia, wrote a book about her story, An Orphan in the Sands.

My Uncle Jack was born to Armenian Genocide survivors

January 2, 2010

Today I’ll be visiting my uncle Jack. He is in his late 80’s. He was born in Egypt to parents who lost their families in the Armenian Genocide. He came to the US as an infant, with his parents and my grandfather, on one of the many ships bringing Armenians (and other ethnic Christians who were able to survive and flee from Turkey). First stop Ellis Island. The Ellis Island archives contain oral histories of Armenian Genocide survivors. The passenger manifests of ships arriving at Ellis Island list a disproportionate number of Armenian surnames during the years surrounding the massacres of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks (before, during and after 1915). Since the current Turkish Government denies the Armenian Genocide, why do they think so many Armenians left their homes?

Do you owe your life to a relative who survived the Armenian Genocide?

November 12, 2009

I do:

My grandfather was Karnig Kalpakian (Dr. John Karnig) and his father was Dr. Janik Kalpakian. In 1920, they escaped the killings in Marash, Turkey, that claimed the lives of my great grandmother Mary Mesrobian, as well as the lives of my great aunts Anais and Armenouhi. During the Ottoman Turks’ mass deportation of the Armenians, Mary Mesrobian’s entire family, with the exception of her brother Kevork, were deported “to the deserts of Arabia” (as my grandfather wrote in his letter to our family).

Janik, a dentist, was the son of Dr. Aboujhon Kuzujian, a prominent medical doctor from Aintab who migrated to Marash. The family name was officially changed from Kuzujian to Kalpakleoglou or Karnoug (in Armenian) when my great-great grandfather received a Kalpak (Persian lamb hat) as an honor from the Sultan of Turkey. Dr. Kuzujian was recognized as a hero for saving the lives of children during an epidemic in Marash that took the lives of many children.

My grandfather and great grandfather were among the ‘lucky’ victims of the Ottoman Turks. Leaving everything behind, they survived. Starting off in a horse-drawn carriage to Aintab, Janik and Karnig set out on their journey to safer shores in America. From Aintab they traveled to Aleppo (Syria); then to Beirut (Lebanon), then on to Jerusalem, and finally to Alexandria, Egypt—where they waited to immigrate to America. In 1923, Karnig, together with his father, new stepmother and a new baby brother, finally arrived at Ellis Island in New York.

I promise to share much more of the details of Karnig’s story, but first I need your help:

Please forward this blog link to all Armenians you know:


Help us respond to the Armenia-Turkey Protocols call for an investigation into our history. We need your family names, stories, pictures, oral personal histories and video testimonials. We are also seeking translators and research assistants to help us with this worldwide Armenian Genocide documentation effort.

Please enter your comments (through the comment link below) or send an email to: armeniangenocide@ymail.com.

Thank you!

The road out of Turkey

October 2, 2009

Yesterday, I posted a picture of mountains. The photograph is actually of an area near the Syrian/Israeli border. I went there this summer and looked out over these mountain ranges trying to imagine what it was like for my grandfather to narrowly escape death in Marash, where his mother and sisters were killed. Together with his father, they found their way from Turkey, traveling through Syria and Palestine to Alexandria, Egypt. They stayed in Alexandria until they could come to America. I have a copy of the record from Ellis Island, New York.

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