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
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
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
Last revised: July 08, 2006.