www.Hadjin.com A Town No More

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www.Hadjin.com A Town No More

Yervan Shekerdemian's Survivor Story

The town of Hadjin, in southeastern Turkey, had a pre-war population of approximately 25,000. Less than a third of that number were repatriated in 1919, hopeful that the massacres would be a thing of the past. But in early 1920, Turkish chetes were sighted. By the end of March, the battle lines had been drawn and a 600-strong army of Hadjin residents was assembled. But the residents of the town proved incapable of resisting the Turkish machine-guns, cannons, and bombs.

Yervan Shekerdemian still remembers the battle that he survived due to the kindness of a Turkish officer. Shekerdemian, now aged 95, was a 13-year-old messenger scampering between battalions when Hadjin was besieged. His father was an entrepreneur who traded with Turks. He remembers his home town as "mainly Armenian, although there was a Turkish street and a few Kurds. The local Turks were friendly and there was harmony in the community. But their minds were poisoned by immigrant Turks and they started to change the way they dealt with us." Hadjin's Armenians held off the Turks for 8 months before the town finally fell. Then, in one week, the resistance crumbled and 2,000 people ran to the mountains. Four hundred managed to reach nearby Adana.

Yervan Shekerdemian was one of a small group captured while attempting to escape. "The Turks were grabbing anyone they could," he explains:

I was in a group of twelve. The other eleven were beaten to death: some were chopped up with swords, but I survived because I was giving names of important Turkish people who my father had dealings with. The soldiers took me to their leader, Yousef, and he said, "I knew your father. He was a good man who helped me a lot." Yousef had been imprisoned for not paying taxes, and my father had paid off his debts and arranged his release. So he said, "I've killed a lot of Armenians, but because of what your father did for me, I'm going to spare you."

So Yousef took me to his house. He had three wives and thirteen children. When they realized I was Armenian, they treated me badly, because one of the brothers had been killed by an Armenian. But Yousef said, "His father was good to me. You will have to look after him." But once Yousef was out of the house, they would beat me. I suffered from lack of sleep, I had to work all the time. They treated me like a bad slave.

Yervan's brother, Mesrop, had escaped to Adana, where he asked the local bishop to inquire after Yervan. Eventually the boy was traced by Kazim, a Turkish peasant, who accepted the task of bringing him to Adana. One night, when Yousef was out, Kazim took Yervan, and hid him amid the food and goods in his carriage. They traveled to Jihan, near the border with Allied territory, where Yervan was re-united with his brother. From there they continued to Adana, where they stayed for two months, until the Turks conquered the town. Mesrop, again aided by the bishop, found passage on a boat which took them to Cyprus, where they lived for 40 years.

Yervan was one of the lucky ones. Another brother and two sisters, survived. But his parents died in "deportations" from Hadjin. He lost uncles, aunts, and cousins, as well as friends. His childhood, like so many others, was shattered by the atrocities. But his story also emphasizes the distinction between the government's policy, and the actions of individual Turks like Kazim, who risked their lives to help Armenians — to whom, often, they had no obligations.

Now, more than 80 years after he lost most of his family and all his possessions, Yervan has only one wish:

I do not seek money. I do not seek anger or hatred against the Turks. I seek peace. But what I do want is the recognition — they are guilty of genocide — and I want them to recognize that. Turkey must recognize what it did to us and our dead. We must have that dignity.

Excerted from Who Remembers the Armenians? by Nichlas Jubber

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Copyright H.M. Keshishian 2006.
Last revised: July 08, 2006.

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