By Mike Karibian,
In the last letter my grandfather, Mooshek Karibian, living in Fresno,received from his brother Vahan, living in Moosh, Turkey, was the line, “Forgetting our unbearable sufferings, we were worried on your behalf.” My grandfather never heard from his brother or any other member of his family again.
The ominous letter was dated March 24th, 1915, exactly one month before what is regarded as the beginning of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey. For the most part, the letter was a typical missive referencing the usual regards from family and friends, financial circumstances and welfare concerns of various members, but the mystery in this case is that the Turkish censors blacked out various lines in the letter, the meaning of which cannot be determined.
I conducted my own oral history interviews with a number of Armenian Genocide survivors before they all passed away, and found that their personal stories were quite similar regarding their losses and hardship. They had to endure privation and displacement to a degree we can’t imagine.
The Turkish authorities destroyed legal and church historical records, insurance documents and illegally appropriated Armenian homes and land without compensation.
With their property confiscated and families destroyed, still the refugees survived and prospered in America.
My grandmother, Verkin, was born in Erzurum, Turkey and migrated to America after her husband was killed by the Turks in 1915. She was exiled from her homeland and lost a baby daughter on the forced march out of Turkey.
My grandparents took great pleasure in family and friends, working to own vineyard property and see their sons prosper, essentially overcoming great tragedy.
On April 24, Armenians commemorate the loss of 1,500,000 people massacred.
I assume in that letter with those blacked out lines, a Turkish censor thought he could hide from the outside world some evidence of the conditions existing and the horror to come.
The last letter
Here is the last letter by Vahan Karibian from Moosh, Turkey to his brother Mooshek Karibian in Fresno, 30 days before the start of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 by the Turkish government. Some lines of the letter were blacked out by the Turkish censors. Mooshek never heard from his family again.
March 24, 1915 of our Lord
Dearest and missed brother Mooshek Karibian
Dear and sincere brother, we received your letters dated February 10 and 11 and read them. All our friends, neighbors and their families were glad because we hadn’t received a letter from you for the last 9 months.
Forgetting our unbearable sufferings, we were worried on your behalf. Thanks to the Lord you comforted us with your two letters and we forgot our sufferings. If you ask about the nature of our sufferings, our situation is already known to you, I cannot write anymore.
My dear and honorable, my head’s crown brother if you deign to ask about us, thanks to the Almighty all of us are in good health in spirit and successful in our trade. If you ask about our livelihood, thanks to the Almighty and to you we are the best in the neighborhood and live honorably. About the 20 gold Liras you sent me, I sent a list of items with which I secured a good future for Aesho. She is now a business partner to Karkar of our neighborhood. Now with her business she can keep two families. You already know that if I work in a business, how little it may be, I work more than anyone. I want you to know that nobody in our neighborhood is as happy as we are, makes money as we do, we have everything a household needs.
Dear, if you ask about our military service. I, Dikran and our Godfather serve in the army. Godfather and Dickran went to war but I, thanks to some protectors, remain at home and look after my business. I make good money now, but I don’t know what will happen later. Godfather was sick in the Army so he got permission to come home. but Dikran on fell on the snow and lost the fingers on his of his feet. Reachins Khouly Hospital, his feet were healed. He sent a telegram asking for 2 Liras, which I immediately sent. Don’t worry about this, you shouldn’t worry on our behalf. Be calm and happy, and look after your business. Dear you you shouldn’t heed for what other people say about returning to the Fatherland, wait until you receive my letter to do so, then you will return without wasting your time.
With Eyes Full of Tears know that Harout and Krikor send their best regards, and ask about Michael and Misag, what are they doing, what are their news. Tell them to write to them. Stephan and efendi’s wife, Hero, asks about her son Souren. Our business partner Eco sends her best regards and ask about our Zakar, in what business is he? Tell him to write us.
I tell you again, you shouldn’t worry about our household. Keep your heart, because we haven’t had any hardships whatsoever.
I made everything ready for this year and the next and have no worries concerning money. The money you make keep it there. It will be a great asset for our future when the world will be calmer and you come back to the Fatherland, live in a happiness and forget the sufferings you endured in Diaspora. Dear, you should be glad that we have no hardship which can cause you to worry about us. Dear, give our best regards to our fellow countrymen and tell them what Vahan says: Now is the time we say to the dead, get out of your grave so we can lie in it. I would rather be a bunch of hair and stick to their skin. Let them be proud for living freely.
You had written to me dear soul, that I should go to Mister Alexan and take 5 Liras for myself and another 5 Liras for Hagop. Not needing money for myself I decided not to take the 5 Liras. He refused to give a Hagop the 5 Liras, so Hagop asked me to give him 2 Liras, but without your permission I didn’t give him.
Don’t you ever think to send me money now, when the country will be calm and I write you to send me money, then send it so as I can expand my business and prepare a great future for us. If you send money now, it’s useless because all the country is on strike. but tell our fellow countrymen and anyone who knows about your home’s situations for God’s sake, let him save some money for his home, otherwise, all of them will perish of hunger.
Your elderly mother sends her regards. Paghacouse and Lusentak send their regards and ask about their gifts. We sent them our photograph as a gift, he says, why doesn’t you send us our gifts? Levon Acharian and family kiss your hands. Arshag, the Godfather sends his regards and says: Don’t worry, till we are alive, we will work hard and not need anyone’s help.
Our folks, all the villagers and the neighborhood dwellers send you their best regards.
As for me, I send my best regards to Mr. Nahabed, to Hagop, Mardiros, Anush, Kkhitar and finally to all our compatriots.
Waiting for your honorable letter, your genuine and sincere brother Vahan H. Karibian
Mike Karibian is a photographer in Fresno.