The Untold Story of How the YMCA Saved Lives During the Genocide


By David Luhrssen

 

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(MIlwaukee, Wis.) During the beleaguered years of the First Armenian Republic (1918-1920), two Americans traveled the length of the country in a rickety motorcar over unpaved roads on a mission to aid the refugees. They may have saved as many as 100,000 lives and left behind a priceless documentary record of the Genocide.

 

On Sunday, April 7, Dr. Rouben Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute in Washington DC, spoke at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church about those two Americans, John Elder and James Arroll. They were YMCA volunteers, initially sent to Russia to boost morale in America’s World War I ally. With the rise of the Bolsheviks, Elder and Arroll found themselves in Russian Armenia. The challenges they faced were catastrophic in scale.

 

From May through October 1918, Elder and Arroll witnessed the carnage as Turkish forces drove across the border into the fragile Armenian Republic. The YMCA volunteers organized relief in Armenia as part of an overall American effort to aid millions of hungry and displaced people across Europe and the Near East, yet Elder and Arroll had fewer assets at their disposal than their counterparts in Belgium and other countries. For many months they were the only Americans in Armenia and served as their country’s unofficial representatives to the republic. The resources they worked with were slender. They established an orphanage consisting of nothing more than an empty room without beds or furnishings of any kind, only a roof to keep out the rain.

 

Elder and Arroll were also responsible for a trove of photographs showing the ravaged faces and emaciated bodies of refugees, the mass graves and the decimated towns left by the retreating Turks. One especially chilling image, displayed by Adalian in PowerPoint, shows a woman picking a dirt field looking for scraps of food.

 

Elder and Arroll’s work was long forgotten until Adalian, who earned a Ph.D in history under Richard Hovannisian, pieced together their story. However, as he conceded, many things remain unknown about the pair of humanitarian adventurers who played a decisive but unsung role in assisting Armenia during a time of great peril.

https://www.armenian-genocide.org/files/american_relief.pdf

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VAROUJAN KHEDESHIAN

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY 
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

 

Birth of Varoujan Khedeshian
(April 7, 1937)

Khedeshian

Varoujan Khedeshian was one of the most innovative directors of Armenian theater in the Diaspora during the second half of the twentieth century.

He was born on April 7, 1937, in Aley (Lebanon). At the age of sixteen, he debuted in the Hamazkayin “Kaspar Ipekian” dramatic troupe, directed by Georges Sarkissian, another famous name of Diasporan theater.

In 1960 he went to London to study at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art. He graduated in 1965 and returned to Lebanon, where he joined the Hamazkayin “Levon Shant” dramatic troupe. Two years later, he founded the “Theatre 67” dramatic troupe, which had a very important role in the Lebanese Armenian community until the beginning of the civil war in 1975. Khedeshian was noted for staging works from the Armenian and international repertoire that went outside the mold of tradition, introducing the audience to contemporary works by playwrights like Arthur Miller, Peter Weiss, Edward Albee, and Neil Simon. He would maintain this approach when he took over the direction of the “Kaspar Ipekian” from 1989-2000. He translated a total of 22 plays from English into Armenian.

Some of the works he directed included, along with “Ancient Gods” and “The Emperor” (Levon Shant), “By the Road of Heaven” and “Up to Where?” (Hagop Oshagan), “Alafranca,” “The Oriental Dentist,” and “Brother Balthazar” (Hagop Baronian), “The Piper of the Mountains of Armenia” (Hamasdegh), world-famous works like “The Merchant of Venice” (William Shakespeare), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (Edward Albee), “Marat/Sade” (Peter Weiss), “The Crucible,” “View from the Bridge,” “The Price,” and “All My Sons” (Arthur Miller), “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and “Barefoot in the Park” (Neil Simon), “The Master Builder” (Henrik Ibsen), “Romulus the Great” (Friedrich Dürrenmatt), “The Venetian Twins” (Carlo Goldoni), “The Caretaker” (Harold Pinter).

From 1979-1987 Khedeshian staged five dramatic performances in Armenia, both in Yerevan and Leninakan (now Gyumri), and received the “Bedros Atamian” medal in 1987, becoming the first Diasporan Armenian who earned this award during the Soviet period.

His decades-long theatrical activity earned him multiple accolades and several distinctions late in life. In 2000 he was decorated with the “St. Mesrob Mashdots” order of the Holy See of Cilicia by Catholicos Aram I and the Hamazkayin order by the Central Executive Board of this organization. In 2008 the Ministry of Culture of Armenia awarded him its gold medal, and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II bestowed upon him the “St. Sahag-St. Mesrob” medal of the Armenian Church. Meanwhile, in 2004 he had received the order of the Institute of Arts of Lebanese University, where he had taught dramatic art from 1971-1999.

Varoujan Khedeshian passed away on December 28, 2015, in Beirut, at the age of sixty-eight.

Bishop Karekin Servantzdian

 

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY 
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

 

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Birth and Death of

Bishop Karekin Servantzdian

(November 17, 1840 – November 17, 1892)

 

Together with his mentor, Khrimian Hayrig, Bishop Karekin Servantzdian was a remarkable ecclesiastic who worked actively for the well-being of Armenians in their historical territories and even engaged in political activities. At the same time, he became a founder of sorts of Armenian folklore studies.

 

Servantzdiants was born in Van on November 17, 1840. He studied in his birthplace, and then graduated from the seminary at the monastery of the Holy Cross of Varak, where he was designated as teacher. When Khrimian became the superior of the monastery in 1858, he resumed the publication of his paper Ardzvi Vaspurakan, which had initially been printed in Constantinople (1855-1856), and named young Servantzdiants deputy editor of the weekly from 1860-1862.

 

Khrimian and the future ecclesiastic toured the Armenian provinces in 1860-1861. Servantzdian depicted the painful situation of the Armenian working class, subject to exploitation by Turks and Kurds. The Ottoman authorities took him under surveillance. He also collected samples of folkloric texts and sayings. His initiative contributed to the opening of schools in various places. In 1862 he became principal and teacher of the seminary attached to the monastery of Surp Garabed in Moush, and edited another publication by Khrimian, Ardzvi Darono (1863-1865), a biweekly. In 1866 he published a textbook, New Reader, in Constantinople.

 

In 1867 Servantzdian was ordained a celibate priest in Karin (Erzerum) and sent to Van as preacher. Soon he became general director of the schools of Karin, and two years later, he was designated deputy abbot of the monastery of Surp Garabed.

 

While a champion of popular education and culture, Servantzdian did not shy away from engaging in more difficult tasks. In 1872 he participated in the foundation of the clandestine political group “Union and Salvation,” created in Van. He was designated vicar of the diocese of Van in 1879. Patriarch Nerses Varjabedian sent him to tour the Armenian provinces in 1879-1880 and prepare exhaustive reports about the situation of the population. At the same time, he also recorded many samples of oral literature and described rites, customs, and beliefs.

 

By then, Servantzdian was actively publishing his findings. His book of 1874, Գրոց ու բրոց (Krots oo prots, loosely “From Written and Oral Sources”), consecrated his name as the discoverer of the Armenian national epic David of Sassoon. The young priest recorded for the first time an account of the epic, which has been regarded as one of the best among 150 recorded published and unpublished accounts. He published another book of written texts, From Old and New, in the same year. New books appeared in the next decade: Manna (1876), where he included folkloric material and the description of the neighborhoods and historical monuments of Van; Toros Aghpar (1879), where he spoke about the economic situation of the country, and the Armenian emigration; and With Taste and Smell (1884), which included a description of Armenian places, historical monuments, and weather, and also literary sketches of various figures of the past and popular tales.

 

In 1881 Servantzdian participated in the organization of another patriotic secret organization, “The Black Cross,” and by order of the government had to leave Van. He became vicar of the diocese of Bitlis and then took the same position in Kharpert. He traveled to Echmiadzin in 1885 and was ordained bishop the next year. Then he was designated primate of Trebizonda and then of Daron, at the same time becoming abbot of Surp Garabed.

 

Servantzdian’s patriotic activities and stance triggered the displeasure of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Consequently, Patriarch Haroutioun Vehabedian (1885-1888) fired him from his positions in Daron and had him sent back to Constantinople. Under strict surveillance, he worked as preacher at the Holy Trinity Church of the district of Pera, teacher at the Getronagan School, and chairman of the Religious Council. His contributions to the fields of ethnology and archaeology earned him an honorary membership in the Imperial Academy of Archaeology of St. Petersburg (Russia).

After a long illness, Bishop Karekin Servantzdian passed away on the day of his fifty-second birthday, November 17, 1892. His legacy became a stepping stone for the development of Armenian ethnology and folklore studies in the twentieth century.

 

Mikhail Loris-Melikov

 

 

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY 
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

 

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Birth of Count Mikhail Loris-Melikov

(November 2, 1824)

 

Among many Armenian soldiers who served the Russian Empire, the name of Mikhail Loris-Melikov was also relevant for his political labor.

 

His actual name was Mikayel Loris-Melikian. He was the scion of an ancient noble family from Lori, which owned the province in the Middle Ages. They later entered the aristocratic society of Georgia, and the princely family of the Loris-Melikovs was approved in 1832 as part of the Russian nobility.

 

Mikhail Loris-Melikov was born on November 2, 1824, in Tiflis (Georgia), and was educated in St. Petersburg, first at the Lazarian Institute of Oriental Languages and afterwards at the Guards’ Cadet Institute. In 1843 he joined a hussar regiment and was sent to the Caucasus in 1847. He would spend some thirty years there and make a career both as a distinguished cavalry officer and an able administrator, working to ensure a transition from military to civil administration. He was governor of the region of Terek (nowadays the northeastern Caucasus) from 1863-1875.


Loris-Melikov, who reached the rank of cavalry general in 1875, commanded an army corps on the Ottoman frontier in Asia Minor during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. He took the fortress of Ardahan and was rebuffed by Ottoman general Ahmed Muhtar Pasha at Zevin, but he subsequently carried a conclusive victory over his opponent at Alaja, took the impregnable fortress of Kars by storm, and laid siege to Erzerum. His distinguished military service in the war earned him the title of Count, and he was awarded the Order of Saint George of the second degree for his service in Alaja in October 1877.

 

In 1878 Loris-Melikov was transferred to the region of the Lower Volga as temporary governor-general to combat an outbreak of the plague. His effectiveness at the work earned him another transfer, this time to the provinces to Central Russia to combat the terrorist activities of nihilists and anarchists.

 

He was successful in his task, and he was appointed chief of the Supreme Administrative Commission created in St. Petersburg after an assassination attempt against Czar Alexander II in February 1880. He showed his preference for the use of ordinary legal methods rather than exception extralegal measures, believing that the best policy was to strike at the root of the evil. He recommended a scheme of administrative and economic reforms to the Russian emperor with the aim of alleviating the causes of social discontent. Alexander II, who was not convinced of the efficacy of police repression, dissolved the Supreme Commission in August 1880 and appointed Count Loris-Melikov Interior Minister with exceptional powers in November.

 

The scheme of reforms was never carried out. On March 13, 1881, the very day that the emperor signed a decree creating several commissions to prepare reforms in various branches of government, he was the victim of a conspiracy by nihilist terrorists. His son and successor Alexander III adopted an anti-reformist policy and started to undo the reforms promulgated by his father. This led Loris-Melikov to resign in May and retire from active life. He wrote several historical and political works, living in Germany and then in Nice (France) until his death on December 24, 1888. His remnants were moved to Tiflis and buried in the courtyard of the Armenian monastery of Tiflis. 

 

Anton Kochinian

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY 
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

 

Birth of Anton Kochinian

(October 25, 1913)

 

Anton Kochinian

Anton Kochinian

 

Anton Kochinian was a remarkable, yet underrated figure in the history of Soviet Armenia during the 1950-1970s, despite being in top leadership positions for most of that period.

He was born in the village of Shahali (now Vahagni), in the district of Lori, on October 25, 1913, in the family of an agriculturist. He studied in the local school, then entered the youth organization of the Communist Party (1928) and studied in the school of the organization until 1931. He went to Tiflis to study at the Armenian pedagogical technical school in 1932, but left after a year and he was sent to Yerevan to study at the agricultural school of the youth organization (1933-1935).

After working on the editorial boards of local newspapers from Tavush and Vayots dzor (1935-1937), Kochinian rapidly rose in the party ranks. First he was secretary of the regional committee of the district of Azizbekov (Siunik) from 1937-1939, and from 1939-1940 secretary of personnel and then first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth Organization. In 1940 he was elected member of the Central Committee of the Armenian Communist Party, and in 1941-1943 he led regional committees in Yerevan and Kotayk.

After spending two years in Moscow as an auditor at the higher school for party organizers, in 1946 he was elected third secretary of the Central Committee of the Armenian Communist Party, and in 1947 secretary of personnel.

In November 1952 Kochinian was promoted to the post of president of the Council of Ministers. He would occupy this position of prime minister for almost fourteen years, during the tenures of Grigori Arutyunov (1937-1953), Suren Tovmasian (1953-1960), and Yakob Zarobian (1960-1966) as the party’s first secretaries. Kochinian was selected by the Moscow leadership to replace Zarobian in February 1966 after the latter failed to contain the demonstrations of April 1965 on the fiftieth anniversary of the genocide.

During his more than two decades both as prime minister and first secretary of the party, Kochinian recorded a series of important achievements. The economic progress of Armenia was backed by an important program of industrialization. This included the construction of chemical factories in Alaverdi and Kirovakan (nowadays Vanadzor), the industrial complexes of Hrazdan and Charentsavan, and factories in Sevan and Dilijan, complemented by railways that ensured transportation of raw materials and production. The “Yeraz” truck factory (1964) in Yerevan and big electronic factories in the city of Abovian were added in this period. Thermoelectric centrals were built in Yerevan, Kirovakan, and Hrazdan, as well as the hydroelectric central of Tatev and the cascade of Vorotan. The construction of the 48 kilometers-long Arpa-Sevan tunnel, which would bring the waters of the Arpa River to Sevan Lake, started in 1963. Kochinian’s active participation was instrumental in the decision to build the nuclear central of Metzamor, started in 1969, which would lead Armenia to energy self-sufficiency. Several thousand hectares of orchards were planted, along the construction of the canal of Aparan and the reservoir of Garni. The Yerevan-Sevan highway and the Kapan-Goris route were also built.

Besides a network of sanatoria, pioneer camps, and tourism areas throughout the republic, the sports complex of Tzaghkadzor, which would be used to train the Soviet winter sports teams, was built in the 1960s, and some important public works in Yerevan started in the early 1970s, such as enlargement of the Zvartnots airport (1973), the Hrazdan stadium (1971), and the Rossiya movie theater (1970). The first steps to build the subway network were taken in 1972.

Kochinian was also instrumental in the inauguration of the genocide memorial of Tzitzernakaberd (1967), the monument of Sardarabad (1968), and the Erebuni museum (1968). The latter coincided with the celebration of the 2750th anniversary of the foundation of Yerevan with great fanfare. He also raised the issue of Karabagh in 1966.

During Kochinian’s tenure as first secretary, Soviet Armenia earned three of the five all-Soviet decorations it had throughout its history for reaching high marks in economic activity (1968, 1970, and 1972). Kochinian himself was twice decorated with the order of Lenin.

In November 1974 he was replaced by Karen Demirjian under pretexts of “serious flaws in leadership” and practically left unemployed. He passed away on December 1, 1990. On the centennial of Kochinian’s birth, two busts were inaugurated in Yerevan and in his birthplace in Vahagni (Lori).

 

SOS SARGSYAN

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY 
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

 

BIRTH OF SOS SARGSYAN

(October 24, 1929)

Sos Sargsyan

Sos Sargsyan became one of the most renowned Armenian actors in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

He was born in Stepanavan, in the Lori region of Armenia, on October 24, 1929. He debuted on the stage in 1947 as David Copperfield in a homonymous play based on Charles Dickens’ novel. He moved to Yerevan in 1948 and started performing at the Theater of the Young Spectator. Meanwhile, he entered the Yerevan Fine Arts and Theatre Institute, from where he graduated in 1954. Upon graduation, at the age of twenty-five, he entered the Gabriel Sundukian Drama Theatre, the premier theatrical ensemble of the country, where he worked for the next thirty-seven years.

 

Sargsyan was one of those actors who did not need to make recourse to external emphasis and emotions in order to reflect his feelings. During his lengthy career, he performed roles in many plays both by Armenian and non-Armenian authors. Roles like Ben Alexander (William Saroyan’s My Heart is in the Mountains), Don Quixote (Mikhail Bulgakov’s homonymous play), Iago (William Shakespeare’s Othello), or King Lear (Shakespeare’s homonymous play), among others, cemented his fame.

 

He played in over forty films, including unforgettable roles in Armenian classic movies like Guys from the Army Band (1961), Triangle (1967, Armenian SSR State Prize in 1975), We Are Our Mountains (1969), Khatabala (1971), Nahapet (1977), Dzori Miro (1981), Gikor (1982), and others. His cinematographic participations included various Russian films, most particularly Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972). He was the narrator of the documentary Matenadaran (1988, Armenian SSR State Prize).

 

In 1992 he established the Hamazkayin Theater, which he headed until the end of his life. Sargsyan continued directing and playing, both in theater and cinema. Simultaneously, he was the dean of the Yerevan Institute of Theater and Cinema from 1997-2005, and served as a member of its board of directors from 2006 until his death. He published several novels, memoirs, and collections of essays between 1991 and 2013.

 

His lengthy career of more than sixty years earned him many distinctions. He was named Popular Artist of Armenia in 1972 and of the Soviet Union in 1986). He was also awarded the Mesrop Mashtots medal of the Republic of Armenia (1996), the St. Sahak-St. Mesrop medal of the Armenian Church (2000), and the Mekhitar Gosh medal of the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh (2001). He was named honorary citizen of Yerevan in 2000 and earned the title of Professor in 2003.

 

Sos Sargsyan was also active in the political field. He was elected deputy to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 1989-1991, and in October 1991 he was nominated by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation as candidate in the first presidential election in independent Armenia. In 2009 he was elected to the National Assembly on the A.R.F. list. On the same year, he was elected as member of the Public Council, an advisory body to the President of Armenia.


The famous actor passed away on September 26, 2013, in Yerevan, and was buried at the Komitas Pantheon.

 

Vilmos Lázár

THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY 
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)

 

Death of Vilmos Lázár

(October 6, 1849)

 

Vilmos Lázár

Vilmos Lázár

 

The centuries-old Armenian community of Transylvania—currently part of Romania–had essentially lost the language by the nineteenth century, but had kept a strong sense of identity. They were fully integrated to the life of Hungary, which was part of Austria since 1526. It should not be surprising that several military leaders of the Hungarian-Revolution of 1848-1849 were Armenian. One of them was Vilmos (pronounced Vilmosh) Lázár.

 

Lázár’s (originally Lazarian) ancestors had moved from Gherla (Armenopolis), the Armenian center of Transylvania, to the region of Banat—currently divided between Romania, Serbia, and Hungary—and received a title of nobility. He was born in the city of Nagybecskerek (nowadays Zrenjanin in Serbia) on October 24, 1815. In 1834 he began his military career in the service of the 34th regiment of infantry in the imperial army. He was commissioned by Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria as a second lieutenant in the Hussar regiment, but in 1844 he retired and returned to his estate farm in Zemplen with his wife, Baroness Mária Revitzky. He worked at the railway company in 1847.

 

The echo of the French revolution of 1848 spread throughout the continent and found fertile ground in Hungary, where nationalist trends had generated an awakening of patriotism. On March 15, 1848, a revolt against the Habsburg dynasty exploded. Led by Lajos Kossuth, poet Sándor Petöfi, and Mór Jókai, it soon became a war of independence. Emperor Franz-Joseph asked for help to Czar Nicholas I of Russia to fight against the revolution.

 

Lázár took the revolutionary side and volunteered his services to the Hungarian army. He successively became a lieutenant (October 1848), captain (November), major (January 1849). In April 1849 he was appointed as commander of a brigade stationed in Zemplén. At the end of the month the brigade was reassigned to the legion forming in Upper Hungary. In mid-June Lázár became the commander of division in the legion and participated in the Dukla Pass battle against a Russian army. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in July and fought in the last battles of the war of independence. He was promoted to colonel on August 12, but the next day the revolutionary army surrendered to the Austrian-Russian forces. On August 19 Lázár had to do the same with the remainder of his troops (4,600 people).

 

The promise of an amnesty went unfulfilled. On October 6, 1849, thirteen Hungarian officers were condemned to death by the Austrian forces of occupation in Arad (Transylvania). The date was purposefully selected, because it marked the first anniversary of the failed insurrection of Vienna in 1848 and the supremacy of Austrian power.

 

Although Lázár only had the rank of colonel, he was considered to have equal status with the generals in the Arad military court martial. He was sentenced to execution by firing squad together with three other colleagues, including General Ernö Kiss, also of Armenian origin. Nine others were hanged.

 

Vilmos Lázár’s remnants were uncovered in 1913 at the cemetery of the fortress of Arad. His body was then laid to rest in the crypt with a monument that honors him as one of the 13 Martyrs of Arad. Four streets in Budapest and other cities are named after him.

 

Since 1997, on each October 6, the Armenian community of Hungary organizes a tribute to Vilmos Lázár and Ernö Kiss at the square that remembers the martyrs of Arad in the city of Veszprém.

 

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