Set in Stone: New book links «worry-bead» exiled to their histories
Misak Tchevahirtchyan, a soldier in the Turkish army took micanite, a stone, from the nearby hill while on a mission to the town of Changhr town and added it to the micanite in his grandfather’s collection of stones. It was in 1947. His grandfather, Misak Tchevahirtchi, doctor at the Turkish court also brought micanite from Changhr where he had been exiled together with Armenian intellectuals from Constantinople in 1915.
Tchevahirtchyan read his grandfather’s name on the fourth stone of 99-bead «worry-beads» in the State Museum of Armenian History in 1985. Every bead in the chain has a name of an exiled person on it. Two beads hold two names and one holds four, making a total of 103 names memorialized.
The worry-beads were carved by exiled martyr and district council head Varderes Atanasyan, who engraved his name on the 71st bead. In 1965 the worry-beads were presented to the Museum of History by his daughter Ezheni Atanasyan-Gulbolyan who returned from France in 1946 and died in 1993. She told the story of the worry-beads to her close neighbor Margarit Barseghyan.
«Ezhen told me that one day in Constantinople, when she was a little child police burst into their house,» Margarit recalls. «Her mother Srbui took children to the other room and locked them there as far as according to the tradition of that time children shouldn’t hear adults talks. A little later mother returned crying. Her husband was arrested. Some time later a Turkish cabman visited them and told Srbui: ‘Your husband gave me a watch and asked to hand this relic over to you.’ And he gave her these worry-beads. They didn’t get any other news from their father after that.»
Three months ago, Karine Avagyan, a scientist working in the museum published «Genocide Commemoration relic or Confession and Evidence of the Cross», a book devoted to the worry-beads.
In the book she gives information about those intellectuals who were arrested in Constantinople (now Istanbul) on April 24, 1915, whose names appear on the beads.
«There was the poster devoted to Sevak’s 60 year anniversary being prepared in the Museum of History in 1984,» says Karine, who has been working in the museum for 27 years. «Head of our department advised me to use exhibited worry-beads. It didn’t have inscription and was exhibited as a piece of jewelry of 19-20th century. I placed a picture of the worry-beads on the poster and made an inscription ‘Refound relic’.»
Karine used the worry-beads in 1991 for the second time after seeing the book «Armenian Golgotha» in a book store written by Grigoris patriarchy Palakyan, whose surname was engraved on the 99th bead of the worry-beads. The book is devoted to the exiled intellectuals and there are only 69 names of those exiled to Changhr mentioned.
«Armenian Golgotha» became for Karine an incentive to investigate the destinies of those whose names were engraved on the worry-beads.
It was written on the bead connecting the row of beads «Changhr, 1915, April 11, to remember».
April 24 (April 11 according to the old calendar) became a genocide commemoration day because that day in 1915 black lists of Armenian intellectuals prepared in advance were opened in Istanbul police, and about 220 intellectuals such as physicians, teachers, journalists, writers, pharmacists, traders, lawyers, clergymen and political figures were arrested in their homes.
Their exile way is described in «Genocide Commemoration relic», the book based on comparison with other sources where the information regarding victims and those rescued is provided. Seventy one exiled were taken to Ayash village-town and majority of them (45 according to the «Armenian Golgotha») were murdered by the order of local authorities. Saimanto was one of the murdered there.
Other exiled were taken to Changhr, and Karine Avagyan provides information about 80 people murdered there. Not all the names of exiled are engraved on the worry-beads.
The names engraved on the beads of the worry-beads are published in the book together with a separate list providing information regarding every person under his name. Thirty-five people from the list were killed by the authorities in various circumstances and sixty-one survived. The author hasn’t succeeded in finding information regarding seven people.
There are names of composer patriarchy Komitas engraved on the first bead of the worry-beads, poet Ruben Sevak killed in exile -on the seventh bead, and Daniel Varuzhan — on the eighth bead. Pictures of their children are placed in the book. There is also information regarding descendants of the people whose names are engraved on the worry-beads.
«One day I asked a permission to see the worry-beads,» tells Misak Tchevahirtchyan, «and after I read my grandfather’s name on it with magnifier I made sure for myself that it is not false because my grandfather was exiled to Changhr.»
Misak Tchevahirtchi was gynecologist to the sultan’s 400 wives, and was released due to the women’s protest. The other courtier physician Omar Besit pasha also asked for his liberation.
Misak Tchevahirtchyan came to Armenia from Istanbul in 1958, saying that he ran away. But he keeps secret why he ran away. «If you want to preserve your head on your shoulders you need to be very careful,» says Misak, now 80. He is a mechanic, the author of four culture-history books, and still works in one of Yerevan’s scientific institutions.
During her investigation Karine has found in Yerevan the granddaughter of Gaspar Cheraz — whose name is engraved on the 30th bead — Byurakn Andreasyan teaching Armenian language in Yerevan Conservatory.
«My mother often visited and looked after Gaspar Cheraz by the request of my father Vahan Cheraz while being in Constantinople in 1920-1924,» Byurakn says. «He was exiled to Changhr in 1915. He was released due to persistent efforts of his Turkish colleague from the university, but got mental illness by that time. Karine found me in 1996 and told me about the worry-beads.»
In the book there is a comment of 80-year old Ara Karmiryan from Montreal to Karine Avagyan’s report about the worry-beads presented at a conference and published in Haraj daily Parisian newspaper in 2000.
Karmiryan informs in his letter to Haraj that Karapet Tashjyan, whose name is engraved on the 60th bead, is his close friend’s father. He also says in his letter that he is acquainted to the descendants of dentist Vahan Altunyan, a name engraved on the 15th bead.
«The only survivor is a girl residing in Montreal, Suzan Halepli. She is an intelligent one,» the letter says.»