By Liz Ohanesian,
In the spring of 1915, college student Hagop Abadjian left school to escape conscription into the Ottoman military and embarked on a journey that led him back to Musa Dagh, the mountain in Turkey that was his home. A half-century later, Hagop recounted this trek over seven pages typewritten in English. There’s much more to the story, of course, and a fuller account of his journey is recounted in his memoir, which was written in Armenian and posthumously published in 1986.
Eleen Abadjian Bedrosian was just a child when her paternal grandfather died, but she remembers the big stacks of paper in his Toronto home and the typewriter from Egypt with the Armenian letters on the keys. Bedrosian, a graphic designer and artist based in Glendale, has tried reading the memoir in Armenian, but progress is slow. Much of what’s in the book was related to her by Vehanosh Abadjian, her mother and Hagop’s daughter-in-law, who has read it multiple times.
The Young Turk regime launched a systematic campaign to purge the Ottoman Empire of its Armenian citizens in 1915. In all, an estimated 1.5 million lives were lost. After the catastrophe, some survivors, as well as their descendants, wrote down the stories, the results forming its own genre of literature: survivor memoirs. These books are part of the overwhelming evidence that the Armenian genocide, which Turkey continues to deny responsibility, happened. But, for descendants of the survivors like Bedrosian, memoirs can also be a link to family histories. In the diasporan community in the U.S., Armenian-to-English translations are a way of sharing that history with those who can’t read them in the original language.
In the diasporan community in the U.S., Armenian-to-English translations are a way of sharing … history with those who can’t read … the original language.
Outside a Glendale coffee house, Bedrosian and her mother show a copy of the memoir, its cover depicting blood falling from a mountain. Bedrosian translates the title, which is written in Armenian, to “Pages From My Life Book.” The two look through an album of photos as well. Hagop was a photographer who eventually opened his own studio in Venezuela before moving to Canada in his retirement. There are pictures in here from the time of the genocide and the years following it, from Hagop’s wedding to Bedrosian’s grandmother in Egypt, of his young family in Lebanon and of an Armenian community’s later return to Musa Dagh.
Musa Dagh (also known as Musa Ler) was the site of a resistance against Ottoman forces set on annihilating the empire’s Armenian population. That event informed Franz Werfel’s 1933 novel, “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh,” and more recently the 2016 film “The Promise.” It’s part of Bedrosian’s family history and she wants to preserve it. Now she would like to have the memoir published in English, not just for herself, but for her children, ages 11 and 7. Sometimes they ask her about the genocide. She says, “When they ask me, I tell them about Grandpa.”