Friday, July 5, 2013

Honoring Archbishop Ardavazt Terterian

Honoring Archbishop Ardavazt Terterian

By Vahe Apelian, USA, 12 December 2010

On Sunday Dec. 5, the Groong website reported that following holy liturgy, His Holiness Aram I paid a special tribute to Archbishop Ardavazt Terterian on the occasion of his 80th Birthday. The Catholicos said, “For more than 50 years Archbishop Ardavazt has served the Catholicosate of Cilicia as a devoted member of the Brotherhood. Archbishop Ardavazt spent most of his time as dean of the Antilias Seminary, outside Beirut. As well as researching and writing on pastoral theology, he served as locum tenens to several Catholicoi. We thank God for his life and his devotion to the Catholicosate of Cilicia."

I met Archbishop Terterian for the first and only time in April 2004 at my parent’s house. He was in Los Angeles at the invitation of the Kessab Educational Association (K.E.A), to officiate the inauguration of the late Catholicos Karekin I Sarkissian Library at the K.E.A Center in Reseda, CA where my parents lived.

It's not possible to meet this unassuming, gentle, and temperate clergyman without feeling humbled by the privilege of having been graced by his company, and not thank God for gifting us him as one of the many clergy who have upheld and perpetuated the Armenian Church since King Drdat adopted Christianity 1,700 years ago.

Archbishop Terterian is born in Chakhaljekh, one of the 12 villages of Greater Kessab. The village is the ancestral home of the Terterian family. To this day only Terterian family members reside year around in Chakhaljeck. The village, famous for its springs and gigantic trees has become an attractive summer resort.

He is the son of Panos and Karoun (Apelian) and has a large extended family consisting of two brothers--Berj and Zaven and three sisters (Sarah, Berjouhie and Marie). Berj and Marie are deceased. Other than his late brother’s family, who live in Chakhaljekh, the rest of his siblings’ families reside in Canada.

The Archbishop’s father and paternal grandfather were prominent personalities in Greater Kessab. His grandfather was a master mason. He walled the 112-year-old Armenian Evangelical Church stone by stone--a testament to his skills. His father was the prominent basket weaver.

After graduating from Kessab schools, Archbishop Ardavazt and the late Catholicos Karekin Sarkissian entered the Cilician Catholicosate Seminary in 1945 as teenagers. They progressed together through the ranks as monks, and were consecrated as Vartabed, Bishop and Archbishop. The late Catholicos Karekin and Archbishop Ardavazt were close friends and spiritual brothers. The late Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian, in his moving description of the last few hours of Catholicos Karekin I Sarkissian, in Etchmiazin, wrote that he would comfort the Catholicos by telling him that Archbishop Ardavazt had telephoned to inquire about the health of his long-time friend.

On April 7, following the inauguration of the library, the K.E.A. organized a dinner-reception in honor of the Archbishop, who attended the reception accompanied by the Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian--one of the many students of the Archbishop Ardavazt. Other clergy and lay dignitaries from the Western Prelacy also accompanied the Archbishop.

During the reception, Khatchig Titizian, chairman of the K.E.A, welcomed the Archbishop. His cousin and prominent Armenian language teacher Haigaz Terterian introduced the Archbishop. Mrs. Zvart Apelian, secretary of the K.E.A., expressed the Association’s gratitude to the Archbishop for honoring it with his presence and for officiating the opening of the Library. She also read a poem she had composed in dedication to the Archbishop. The Archbishop concluded his speech by urging everyone "to lend hand to each other and to set aside self and selfishness in service of the nation.”

I ask the readers of Keghart to join Catholicos Aram in thanking the Archbishop for his many years of service and wish him health and continued service to the Armenian Church.

Սրբազա՛ն Հայր, Արտաւազդ Թրթռեանին

Kessab and the Kessabtsis

Kessab and the Kessabtsis

Vahe H. Apelian, 20 November 2011
Book review
The Kessab Educational Association (K.E,A) of Los Angeles held a banquet on Saturday October 29, 2011 to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the Kessab Educational Association - Kessab Ousumnasirats - in 1910. During the banquet Missak Apelian, the editor, unveiled the centennial commemorative book titled Kessab and the Kessabtsis and then ceremoniously presented the first signed copy to Mrs. Sarah, Vahan Churukian’s widow.
The book  is a labor of love and is the culmination of over two years of efforts to archive the centennial of Ousumnasirats Association and is dedicated to its founding members who had the vision to establish it in 1910 at the aftermath of the 1909 progrom. Likewise it is dedicated to Mr. Vahan Churukian who is the founding member of the K.E.A. of LA in 1957. Kessab and the Kessabtsis will provide, especially to the English speaking Kessabtsis (People of Kessab), a glimpse of history of Kessab and its traditional way of life.
The Book is in 8x10 inches white page with color imprint. It is hard cover and is 314 pages long. The artwork of the cover is designed and gifted by Richard Taminossian. It contains 87 articles of which 40 are in English and the rest in Armenian. The first section is devoted to the English articles that are presented in a columnar layout. The next section is devoted to Armenian articles that are presented in a textual layout. Forty-five authors from Australia, Canada, Italy, Lebanon, Syria, United Arab Emirates and United States of America have contributed articles. It contains 207 black and white and colored pictures depicting Kessab and the Kessabtsis through the past century. Two editorials, one in English the other in Armenian precede the rest of the contents of this beautifully rendered centennial commemorative book.
Both the English and Armenian articles are presented in 8 sections that are titled as follows: Kessab and its History, Kessab Ousoumnasirats Association and the Kessabtsis in Kessab, Kessabtsis in the Diaspora, K.E.A. of LA, We Remember With Gratitude, Kessab and its surrounding Villages, Articles about Kessab and Kessabtsis, Kessabtsis Celebrating their 100th Birthday, Pictures of Bygone Days.
This centennial commemorative book is the first bilingual book about Kessab and its people. Its purpose is to bridge the big divide and to acquaint Kessab’s past and present to a new generation, who do not read Armenian, especially to those born to Kessabtsi parents in the Western Hemisphere. However, it is not an exhaustive study, but a rendering of a sentimental journey at this junction of crossroad where so much has changed in Kessab especially during the last two decades. A way of life the Kessabtsis knew is now relegated to memory or at best within covers of books such as this one. As the English editorial notes that the once secluded Armenian enclave that is a remnant of the historical Cilicia, has become a bustling summer resort that attracts tens of thousands visitors during summer. Its cherished dialect is endangered as fewer and fewer people speak it nowadays. However, Kessab still maintains a sizable all year around Armenians who constitute the majority of its non-transient population.
Anatole France is quoted to have said, “All changes, even the most longed for, has its melancholy; for what we leave behind is part of ourselves”. This centennial book is a very readable, picturesque coffee table book presentation to capture what is now left behind in the annals of Kessab history and a way of life that is no more. It makes for a very informative and entertaining leisurely reading. It is a must especially to those born to Kessabtsi parents who left their village behind to start a new life elsewhere and provide further opportunities for their children. The book may be purchased from K.E.A. of LA by requesting a copy or copies through the address: K.E.A. of LA, P.O. Box 1507, Reseda, CA 91335. The book retails for $35.

A Wreath on Gamavor's Tomb

A Wreath on Gamavor's Tomb

Vahe H. Apelian, 19 July 2012
Gamavor is an Armenian word meaning volunteer. It is used only as a noun. For the one or two generations preceding ours Gamavor referred to the approximately 5,000 Armenian men who volunteered to join the French Army and fight the Turks during the First World War. The French called the formation La Legion Armenienne.
American-Kessabtsi Volunteers in dancing formation, 1916, New York
The Armenian soldiers were motivated by a French and Diaspora Armenian pact which promised that in return for Armenian military support to the Allies against the Ottoman and German alliance, the French and their allies would help the Western Armenians lay the foundation for home rule in Cilicia, part of historic Armenia. Most, if not all, of the volunteers were expatriate Cilicians. Approximately 1,200 came from the United States, including 70 Kessabtsis. Among the latter was Nshan, the paternal uncle of historian Dr. Antranig Chalabian. When the doctor dedicated “Revolutionary Figures” to his uncle, he included the following inscription in the book: “Towards the end of 1916, when my father was subjected to deportation, his brother left America and returned to the homeland to enlist with the volunteers to fight against the Turks. After training with the Armenian Legion in Cyprus for two years, my uncle and his cousin Panos went to Palestine along with thousands of volunteers, fought in the Battle of Arara, went to Cilicia and after the turnabout of the French Government, returned to America and died in Fresno in 1973.”
The Battle of Arara was the major military engagement of the Gamavors. It took place on Sept. 18, 1918, near Megiddo (the Biblical Armageddon) in northern Palestine. The valor of the Armenian combatants in securing victory against the German-Turkish forces merited special commendation of the Allied High Command. Twenty-three Armenian combatants were killed in action. What followed the battle was another sad chapter in Armenian history.
The French forces, having secured victory, headed north and eventually captured Cilicia. Their presence encouraged the Genocide survivors to return to their ancestral villages. But instead of honoring their pact with the Armenians, the French reneged on their promise and withdrew their forces, without giving notice to the Armenians and without having negotiated with Turkish forces about the state of the Armenians they were to be left behind. I recall being told during family conversations that the French even padded the hooves of their horses to muffle the sound of their unannounced midnight evacuation. “Chivalrous France” became a sarcastic expression in Armenian conversation and literature.
Abandoned and left to the whim of the Turkish onslaught, without the protection that they had rightfully expected from their French allies, and unable to protect themselves, the Armenians once again fled their Cilician homeland to disperse around the world.

Only two Armenian villages were left from a thriving Armenian enclave on the prime northeastern Mediterranean region-- Wakf in historical Mussa Dagh in Turkey and Kessab in Syria.
The Kessabtis tenaciously held on to their enclave, establishing a de facto home rule, mostly under the leadership of the Gamavors. The home rule lasted from 1918 to 1921 during which the Armenians established administrative and judicial bodies to enforce law and order. They also had an army to protect the population from the prevailing lawlessness. It's said that members of other minorities, such as the Greeks and the Alevis, were given refuge in Kessab. Eventually the French disbanded the self-rule, as they cemented their colonial control over Syria and Lebanon.
The British and the French, as the supreme powers in that part of the world, redrew the map of the region to suit their interests. The straight-lined borders of present-day Middle Eastern states were the work of  Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and  François Georges-Picot of France. They carved, among themselves, what had remained of the Ottoman Empire, without regard for the mosaic of the area's ethnic, religious or social fabric.
The redrawn map put Kessab within Turkey. The prospect of ending up in Turkey terrified the Kessabtsis, although they had been under Turkish rule for centuries, had adopted Turkish words, traded almost exclusively with Turkish-occupied Antioch and had almost no dealing with their Arab neighbors in the south. The uncertainty over the fate of Kessab heightened in the latter part of the decade (1937 to 1939) as Turkey began imposing its presence in Kessab and made Turkish language teaching mandatory. Many members of the first post-Genocide generation born in Kessab had reached conscription age by then. They were urged by their families to flee, lest they be drafted into the Turkish army. These young men also became the last resort for their families forced to leave their ancestral village.
The Kessab episode may be the only instance where the great powers gave in and redrew the map in that small corner of the Middle East to save it from Turkish occupation. Kessab was incorporated into Syria but at a price. Most of the arable lands of Kessab were given to Turkey.

It is generally accepted that Cardinal Krikor Bedros XV Aghajanian (Գրիգոր Պետրոս ԺԵ. Աղաճանեան, French: Grégoire-Pierre XV Agagianian, Italian: Gregorio Pietro XV Agagianian) played a decisive role in the redrawing of the border as he struggled to secure the last remnant of Armenian Cilicia. The first official visit to Kessab (March 20, 1944) of Shukri Kuwaitli, the first elected President of Syria, was Syria's token of appreciation to the Armenians for urging that their native land be included in Syria.
The late George Azad Apelian, in his pre-teens in the mid-'50s, remembered the Gamavors arrival to Keurkune--one of Kessab's twelve villages--for a September reunion and celebration. Their arrival created much excitement among the villagers, particularly among the youngsters: seeing the men in their military fatigues and carrying ammunition and rifles was a thrill for all. The Gamavors celebrated their victory at the Battle of Arara seated next to the village spring, feasting on food over white sheets spread on the meadow. They sang about the Gamavors. George had memorized the old song that ended with:
From Arara to Cilicia
Are reminders of the Volunteers
On the tomb of the Volunteer
There is no wreath, however.

Daye--A Kessabtsi Legend Remembered

Daye--A Kessabtsi Legend Remembered

Vahe H. Apelian, Columbus OH, 2 August 2010

The Beirut branch of the Kessab Educational Association – Kessabi Oussoumnasisrats – published a pictorial album, in 1955, depicting the daily lives and endeavors of the Kessabtsis as they carved a living in the then desolate area at the foot of their beloved mountain – Gassios Ler. The late Archbishop Terenig Poladian is credited to have been the main thrust behind the publication of this memorial album, which to this day stands as the best pictorial presentation of Kessab before civilization with all its conveniences encroached it. The memorial album is dedicated to the famed Kessabtsi – Daye*. The late Archbishop whose adult life was cut short by the stabbing of a deranged seminary student – eulogized Dayen* in the album.

My recollections of Dayen is through my father who, during a family conversation, said that Dayen always advocated keeping a rifle at home. Dayen would then elaborate in a light mood and add: “if your wife and friends will not be impressed by the site of your rifle hanging on the wall in your house, your enemies will think twice to dare break into your house.”

This article may well be the very first in English about him. The Kessabtsis this year celebrate the centennial of the Kessab Oussoumnassirats (Kessab Educational Association--KEA). He was one of the founders of KEA United School in 1924 and physically worked to make the building a reality. I thought it is fitting that Dayen be presented to our younger generation who may have remained oblivious to his legend. I owe Haigaz Terterian, his son-in-law, the information I gathered for this article.

Daye, understandably, was not his name or his surname. His Saghdejian parents had baptized him Ovsia. His contemporaries however named him Daye, much like the contemporaries of the beloved Catholicos of All Armenians Mkhrditch Khrimian called the Catholicos Hayreg**. Kessabtsis still relate to Ovsia Saghdejian as Daye. For some nowadays calling a person Daye may sound odd. After all it is a Turkish word and it means uncle. However, for the Kessabtis who long lived under Ottoman rule and adopted many Turkish words into their dialect, the word to them was then as Armenian as the word Hayreg is. Both of these names were made in reference to the all caring, selfless advocate the people saw in these men for their inner most needs and concerns for safety, security and for dignified living.

Ovsia Saghdejian was born in 1887 in a non-descript house in Kaladouran, the coastal village of Kessab, where the Saghdejian family had their own hamlet known as Saghdejlek. Not much is known of his childhood and youth. The only certain thing about his childhood is that he never attended school. That’s the way it was then for many toiling under the oppressive Ottoman regime. It is known that he learned rudimentary Armenian writing in America so that he would be able to write letters to his parents and relatives in Kessab, without asking others to write on his behalf. The other certainty of his early adult life is that he left for America before the 1915 Armenian Genocide. However, it is not known what compelled him, as a young adult, to leave his parents and relatives behind and emigrate to America.

His life as, we know it, for all practical purposes started in 1917. The previous thirty years of his life are lost in obscurity. We become aware of him when he volunteered from America and enlisted in the Armenian Legion under French command. On September 19, 1918, he took part in the famed Arara battle on the Palestinian front, where the French commanding officers credited the bravery of the Armenian combatants for being instrumental in defeating the Turkish army. Twenty-three Armenian volunteer fighters were killed in the battle. He continued to serve in the Armenian Legion under French command. However upon witnessing the French government renege the promises it had made to the Armenians for a secure homeland in Cilicia, he left the Legion and with his compatriot Missak Guiragossian returned to Kessab and took refuge in his ancestral village Kaladouran and organized a defensive force consisting largely of the former legionnaires who had the training and the materiel for self defense. The group undertook the security of Kessab and made a point of ceaselessly appearing in different locations at different periods of the day, but mostly under the cover of the night, leaving the impression that armed Armenian forces were stationed throughout Kessab safeguarding the security of the inhabitants who had survived the Armenian Genocide and were returning to their ancestral homes to start their lives anew.

In the aftermath of the First World War there was no centralized government in the region. The Ottoman Empire had crumbled and the Middle East, as we know today, did not exist yet. To organize their communal life and secure their safety, the Kessabtsis established their own de facto republic with elected officials heading an executive committee, a police force, a judicial committee and even operated a prison. The self-proclaimed republic that oversaw the daily lives of the Kessabtis lasted three years. During this period Ovsia Saghdejian was not elected to any office and yet for the Kessabtsis he personalized the spirit and the will that safeguarded and made this self-governing entity a functioning reality in Kessab. Throughout the three-year period, Kessab not only lived a secure life, but also provided refuge to people from the local Alawi and Greek minorities. It is thus that the legend of the Daye was born. His name, Ovsia Saghdejian, henceforth started to fade into oblivion while the stature of Daye started to emerge larger than life. The late Archbishop Terenig Poladian wrote in his eulogy of Daye that the Kessabtsis noted with confidence that as long as Dayen was alive and well, no Turk would dare attack Kessab.

His compassion for the welfare of the Genocide survivors was not only manifested in his fiercely independent will to resort to arms for self-defense. He also established an orphanage and took care of over 30 young orphaned boys and girls. He resorted to every means to fund the orphanage. These efforts didn't stop him from setting his arms aside and roam from village to village, asking for sustenance whenever the funds he received became insufficient to take care of his orphans. It is also said that he acted as a matchmaker and found suitable mates for many of his orphans, and he married the last orphan.

In the late 1922, the French government took over the command of the region and dissolved the local self-proclaimed governing entity of Kessab. The French authorities also issued an arrest warrant for Dayen on the allegation that he was spearheading desertion activities from the French army. During this period Dayen was compelled to live a semi-nomadic life in Kessab always entrusting his fellow Kessabtsis his whereabouts.

In 1929 Ovsia married Marie Adourian who, as noted, was the last person of his orphanage. Marie and her mother were the sole survivors of their immediate and extended families and had managed to return to Kessab after an ordeal which, by popular claim, had lasted three years and three months since that fateful day in June 1915 when they were uprooted and returned in autumn to face the bitter winter ahead without being prepared for it. Marie’s mother died soon after their return and Marie found refuge at the orphanage. In spite of their noted age difference they established a loving and nurturing family and raised 4 daughters to adulthood--Khatoun, Rahel, Manoushag and Yerjanouhe. Their last daughter is named after their first born who died of a freak accident at the age of three. In time their daughters married, raised their own families and added 13 grandchildren to Daye’s legacy.

After marrying, Ovisa settled down as a family man. He henceforth became an all-compassionate community leader. Dayen did not oppose the 1946-1947 repatriation to Soviet Armenia, but decided not to move. He had innate mistrust of the communists and did not support the 1920 Soviet take over of the short-lived first republic of Armenia. As an outcome of his stand no member of the Saghedijain clan left for Soviet Armenia.

He was tall, well built and had a commanding presence and was calm and composed with an enlightening spirit. No one had been a witness to his anger or fear during the inordinate pressure he faced in organizing round the clock defense of Kessab and in action. He was of modest means but was a much sought after companion and host. For all practical purposes he was illiterate and yet the Armenian literary titans of the day, such as Nicole Aghpalian and others, eagerly sought his company. He was a natural-born raconteur. He did not take part in the Armenian politics. He was a populist. However, many sought his advice. He was self reliant to the end and if he ever asked for a favour it was for someone else. His requests on behalf of others were never turned down. For a person who never commanded a position, or elected to an office or had any formal education, he commanded an unusual degree of respect from individuals and organizations alike. He was a natural-born leader. Over time, Kessabtsi youth idolized him, even though he was bed- ridden in the last four years of his life.

On his tombstone it is carved that he died in 1953. Indeed, Ovsia Saghdejian died then, but the legend of the Dayen continued to live among his contemporaries and the generation that followed. Dayen's legacy remains tied with Kessab Armenian history.


* The word Daye is used for "uncle" and Dayen as "the uncle".
** Hayreg is an endearing Armenian term for father.

Keurkune’s Church, a Cultural Landmark

Keurkune’s Church, a Cultural Landmark

Vahe H. Apelian, Loveland, OH, 14 October 2010
Keurkune in 1950s

This article is about the Armenian Evangelical Church of Keurkune’, the only church of the village. I characterized the church as a cultural landmark. While it is the only house of worship in the village since its foundation over 110 years ago, the sanctuary has also served as classroom, or as classrooms for the youngsters born to parents who survived genocide and were taught at the same time in different corners of the sanctuary. It was also used as a town hall where the villagers congregated to resolve issues pertaining the village, such as allocating the water from the village’s only spring to the different families for irrigation. The sanctuary has also acted as a social hall where plays were staged on the podium of the church. October is the Armenian cultural month.

In 1846 the Armenian Evangelical Community was established in Istanbul. The new faith found a foothold in Kessab and soon a school was inaugurated in 1853. The Armenian Evangelical School of Kessab still continues to operate and may be the oldest functioning school in the Diaspora outside Turkey. However, the original church – The Armenian Evangelical Holy Trinity Church - was destroyed during the 1909 pogroms of kessab. The community resumed constructing a much bigger church made of fine off white stones quarried locally. The construction of the church was halted due to the 1915 genocidal deportation and remained unfinished until 1960s.

Along with Holy Trinity Armenian Evangelical Church in Kessab, the center village, there are three additional Evangelical Churches in greater Kessab. The church of Ekiz Olouk, named after the village, was established in 1882, whereas the one in Kaladouran in 1855 and of Keurkune’ in 1898. Arguably, the latter is the only one in greater Kessab where services are still held in the same sanctuary since its founding. Keurkune’ is the ancestral village mostly of Apelian, Bedirian, Chelebian, Kakoussian, Kerbabian and Khederian families.

Thus by all accounts the Armenian Evangelical Church of Keurkune’’ can be considered an Armenian cultural and historical landmark. On the upper portion of the front wall, the following is inscribed in Armenian alphabet reading Turkish – “My house shall be called a house of prayer” Math: 21:13; Keurkune’’; Armenian Evangelical Church; January 8.98 foundation; July 21.99 completion. Missak Agha Apelian is claimed to have laid down the cornerstone.

Yervant Kassouny, the former editor of the Armenian Evangelical Monthly Chanasser, edited Dr. Albert Apelian’s study of Kessab into a well documented book. Albert was a 20 years old student of Aintab College when he wrote his study as a requirement for his graduation. Dr. Albert Apelian is Dr. Soghomon Apelian’s son who is the first Armenian to graduate as a Medical Doctor from the American University of Beirut.

In his study Albert Apelian notes that the construction of the church of Keurkune’ commenced without securing a permit. When the authorities planned to halt the construction, the villagers participated and completed the covering of the roof almost overnight and thus secured the viability of the sanctuary. Ottoman regulations forbade the destruction of an erected building with a roof on it. Subsequently, the Sultan’s High Porte issued the permit for the church. This important historical document, however, has been lost.

The logs that covered the roof of the church were made of trees from Furnlagh, a forest some 8 miles from Keurkune’’. To this day it is renowned for its tall and erect pine trees. Soghomon Kerbabian, the late Rev. Ardashes Kerbabian’s father, accompanied the cavalcade and played the flute all the way to inspire the able bodied young men and distract them from their heavy loads as they carried the logs on their shoulders. The long trimmed logs extended across the two opposing walls of the church. On these logs wood was fastened and on which the villagers spread bluish ground stones, called Keuruk, which they would have quarried from a nearby vein giving the church roof top the same bluish color that colored the roof tops of all the houses in the village. Keuruk is a bluish colored, light weight, easily crushable stone ideal to cover the roof tops. Each roof top had a stone roller that was used to pack the keuruk, which was replenished frequently. Such were the efforts put to erect the only house of worship Keurkune’’ has ever had.

The Armenian Evangelical Church of Keurkune’’ is situated on an elevation at the southeastern corner of the village. An arched entrance leads to the courtyard. The sanctuary is right across the arched entrance. The pastoral dwelling, uninhabitable now, is situated on the right hand side. The bell tower is positioned at the back right hand side corner of the church. The sanctuary was built by master mason Hovsep Terterian, from the neighboring village of Chakaljuk. He was the grandfather of Archbishop Ardavast Terterian who, next to the Catholicos Aram I, is the highest ranking bishop of the Catholicosate of Cilicia.

The construction is typical of the era. It consists of two layered walls erected by depositing carved stones resulting in thick walls and in deep windows. The pastoral complex was built in 1903 during Rev. Kevork Kassarjian’s tenure. The sanctuary has two entrances. Up to the time I attended the church, the men used the door on the left-hand side, and the women used the door on the right-hand side, irrespective of their marital status. There are three olive trees in the church courtyard. They seem to have always been there and are regarded as part and parcel of the church. On one of these trees a resonating piece of a metal was hung which was rung to alert Sunday school services.

Many pastors have served the Armenian Evangelical Church of Keurkune’ and some were ordained in the church. Keurkune’, nor Ekiz Olouk, its neighboring village and the birthplace of the pastor emeritus Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian, the eminent author of some 20 books, could support a full time pastor on their own. Therefore the same pastor always served the churches in these two neighboring villages by alternating the Sunday services, holding the early Sunday service in one church and reversing the order the next Sunday. The practice continues to this day.

Rev. Hovhannes Iskijian, whose late grandson found the Iskijian Museum in Ararat Home in California, was the first pastor to be ordained in Keurkune’’ and Ekiz Olouk. His ordination became an issue of contention between villagers. They could not agree whether his ordination would take place at the church In Keurkune’’ or at the church in Ekiz Olouk. They came to a workable compromise and agreed to have the pastor's ordination done in open air, mid way between the two villages, under a tree, which came to be known as Badveli's (the pastor's) tree. The tree was still erect when I spent my summers there in my youth.

Reverends Mardiros Marganian, Hanna Sarmazian, Hagop Sarkissian were also ordained in Keurkune’. Rev. Ardashes Kerbabian is the only native son of Keurkune’ to serve as a pastor of the church. Rev. Hanna (Hovhannes) Sarmazian, a Kessabtsi, is the church’s longest serving pastor. He served the church from 1959 to 1981. His son renovated the pulpit of the church in his memory. The present pastor, Rev. Simon Neshan DerSahagian, is also a Kessabtsi.

The sanctuary, as noted, has also been used as a classroom, town hall and as a cultural hall where plays were staged on the church podium in the halcyon days of the village. In mid 1950s, a play was staged under the direction of Rev. Ardashes Kerbabian to raise money to purchase a bell for the church. The bell was cast in Beit El Shehab in Lebanon and stayed locked in a basement for over two years due to some bureaucratic hurdles. As an impressionable child, I still remember the vivid discussion among the villagers to sort through these bureaucratic hurdles to bring the bell and install it in the tower. Those whom the bell beckoned for service still remember its deep tenor ring that resonated deep into the soul. The bell is still in use.

The church has undergone major renovations. The first major renovation took place in mid 1960s. The seed money for this renovation was raised through the collective efforts of a group of young adults, among them Ashod Apelian, George (Kevork) Apelian and the late dynamic Yeghia Mouradian. The logs that covered the ceiling of the church have now long gone into oblivion and a cement ceiling covers the roof. The old pews have been replaced with newer ones. The front wall is now covered with yellow stone bearing the following inscription “Renovated in memory of Khatchig Apelian”, who was tragically killed during boar hunting in December 1988. Stepan Apelian lately had the bell tower renovated as the church continues to be tended.

The church is the spiritual center of the village and plays a vital role in the lives of the inhabitants of the village and safeguards the kinship among its one time inhabitants and their descendants spread across the globe

Miss Chambers - The Beloved Missionary in Kessab

Miss Chambers - The Beloved Missionary in Kessab

By Vahe H. Apelian PhD, Columbus OH, USA, 4 November 2009

I first heard Miss Chambers' name in my early teens. It may have been from my maternal grandmother or someone else of her generation in our extended family. My recollection puts me in company of family and friends in Keurkune seated cross-legged on the floor under the dim light of the kerosene lantern chatting of the bygones. Other than the endearing memories she had left behind, nothing else seems to have been known about her, not even her first name. She was simply the beloved Miss Chambers of the Kessabtsis who uttered her name in one breath and in local accent making Miss part of her name but not the title.

My curiosity of her rekindled recently upon reading Haigaz Terterian’s article about the founding of the Kessab Educational Association in 1910. Haigaz, quoting Dr. Albert Apelian, makes reference to Miss Chambers’ positive influence in fostering education and learning in Kessab at the turn of the 20th century. Coupling her name with Kessab I embarked on a search trusting that the powerful Internet search engines Google and Bing will shed some light about her. Not only I found more than I was expecting, but I also serendipitously came across her grand niece’s email, a lady by the name of Danette Hein-Snider who has been doing research on her grand aunt’s life and has managed to gather quite a bit of material in way of photos, reports written from the field, newspaper articles, and personal letters. 
Mrs. Danette writes “She (Effie Chambers) first planned to enter the missionary field with her soon to be husband. But unfortunately he did not pass the physical, and so she had to make a choice to stay home and marry or go to the missionary field. She chose the missions and left her fiancé’ and never married. Her home was burned at least twice and her friends insisted that she come home, but she told them God sent her to the Armenians and He would tell her when she was supposed to leave, and until then she would live with them and care for them to the best of her ability.”

Her obituary states that “Miss Effie Chambers, fourth child of Mary and Harlow Chambers, was born 3 October 1863, at the family home north of Anderson (Iowa). She was one of eleven children, six daughters and five sons, seven preceding her in death. Her education was begun in a rural school close to this home and then moved to Sidney to enter the public school, where she prepared herself for teaching. At this time she united with the Presbyterian Church in Sidney under the pastorate of Rev. H. B. Dye. She taught in the Fremont County Schools, and then entered Iowa State Teachers College at Cedar Falls. Then she was given an appointment as teacher in the Creek Indian School in the Indian Territory, where she decided on Foreign Missions as her life’s work. To prepare herself for this work she entered Tabor College, receiving her diploma in June 1893, and was accepted by the Congregational Board of Foreign Missions, and in the fall of 1893 sailed for Turkey, in Asia. There she remained 19 years in the service of Christ.”

Miss Chambers did not go to Kessab when she first moved to Turkey. A report by the Woman’s Board of Missions in 1898 places Miss Effie Chambers in Ourfa. Ephraim K. Jernazian in his book Judgment Unto Truth: Witnessing the Armenian Genocide‬ translated into English by Alice Haig, places Miss Effie Chambers in Urfa in 1896. The 1905 Mission Studies: Woman's Work in Foreign Lands, Volumes 23-24 report that Miss Chambers has gone to teach in the Aintab Seminary. Both Urfa (Ourfa) and Aintab, depopulated of their Armenian inhabitants now, had sizable Armenian populations then.

The 1904 Annual Report of the American Commissioners of Foreign Mission, to the credit of the Kessabtsis reported the following: “Miss Chambers’ first year in Kessab has been a good one in spite of many trying circumstances. The people welcomed her coming with cordiality and have aided her in many ways. The people here are not close-bound by customs and are ready to learn and put into practice new things. The Sunday school has about a thousand pupils. Miss Chambers makes earnest request for another lady to join her in this promising work at kessab”. It is not known if another lady joined Miss Chamber. She stood alone in the memories of her contemporaries in Kessab. Her grandniece, Mrs. Danette reports that she found these verses in her writings: *Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”. Galatians 6:2 *The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few.” Matthew 9:37
Thus we can safely conclude that Miss Effie Chambers arrived to Kessab in 1904 and remained there until her return to the United States in 1912 and thus endured the atrocities along with the rest of the Kessabtsis during the 1909 massacres.

The New York Times on Monday April 26, 1909 reported the following: “Constantinople, April 25 - Dispatches reaching here from points in Asiatic Turkey bring tidings of Armenian and Turkish conflicts all over the country. Dr.JM Balph, who is in charge of the missions at Latakia, Syria, telegraphs that the refugees are arriving there from outlying parts of the district who report massacres and the burning of towns. He also reports that there are the gravest apprehensions concerning the conditions at Kessab where Miss Chambers is one of the missionaries”. Edward Latimer Beach in his autobiography titled ‪From Annapolis to Scapa Flow states that Miss Chamber’s presence in Kessab became a justifiable cause for foreign powers to interfere in Kessab and prevent further atrocities in protecting an American citizen. Dr. Albert Apelian in his book in Armenian entitled Kessab and its Villages states that 152 persons, mostly old and young were killed during the pogroms, 516 houses, 62 businesses and 4 churches were destroyed causing widespread despair.

After the atrocities Miss Chambers stayed with the Kessabtsis and worked to ameliorate their situation. The June 1911 Missionary Herald reports the following: “ With us in America the memory of the Armenian massacres of 1909 in the region of Adana may be becoming dim; on the ground the misery they entailed is very real and present. At Kessab they have yet no church building to replace the one that was destroyed, and Miss Effie Chambers is almost heart broken at finding no place where can be gathered the remnant of the church, further discouraged and burdened by the sufferings of a terrific winter. What is most needed is uplift of spiritual life, and this is hard to promote with no meeting place for worship and fellowship. If the money could be found for rebuilding, it would not only provide a sanctuary, but as well timely work for the people, to help them get their bread. Though the missionary herself with the rest is in need of clothes and a comfortable bed, the cry is not for these things, but for help that will prevent the passing of another winter without the blessing of a church home. It seems to this lone woman, tugging at her task, as though help for her distressed flock must come from those who are more abundantly provided with the aids and comforts of religion.”

The dire circumstances took a toll on Miss Chamber’s heath as well. Her obituary states that her health was so affected that she returned to the United States in the spring of 1912, where she spent several years lecturing for the cause of Foreign Missions. On Wednesday May 8, 1912 College Eye, a publication by the students of Iowa State Teachers College, reported that “Miss Effie Chambers who graduated from the Teachers College some thirty years ago is spending a few days in the city. Miss Chambers has been engaged in missionary work in Armenia for several years. It will be remembered that she is responsible for sending Bedros Apelian to the college to complete his education. Miss Chambers addressed the students on her work in Armenia at the regular prayer meeting hour last Sunday night”. After Iowa Rev Bedros Apelian continued his education at the Columbia University and served his calling on the east coast and among others officiated the wedding of Henry and Virginia Apelian on April 4, 1959. Miss Effie Chambers spent the remaining years of her life with her brother Will in the old family home where she died on October 3, 1947 at the age of 84 and was buried in Chambers cemetery, which was given to the community by her grandfather, Ezekiel Chambers, in the year 1857.

Thus ended the life of Miss Effie Chambers, who left an indelible and enduring impression on her contemporaries in kessab some of whom as pupils in her Sunday school or as young men and women carried her memory into their old age and passed it to the next generation. The legacy of her contribution to the Kessabtsis endured, however much like other unwritten stories, over time she faded into oblivion to have rightful place in the memories of the younger generations of Kessabtsis.

Antranig, The First Born, Is No More

Antranig, The First Born, Is No More

Dr. Vahe H. Apelian, 14 April 2011

It's not everyday that a book written by a Diaspora Armenian sells 75,000 copies. Yet a Detroit resident, a recent immigrant from Lebanon, achieved this unlikely and remarkable success. And to add icing to the cake, the author donated proceeds from that book's sale to the Artsakh cause, at a time when that Armenian province was embroiled in a life-and-death war with much-stronger Azerbaijan. The book, published in Armenian and English,  later  Spanish and Turkish, was the biography of Kachn Antranig, one of the greatest Armenian heroes of the past century. The author was Antranig Chalabian.

On the evening of Tuesday, April 12 my cousin broke the news of the passing away of her father and my elder maternal uncle, Dr. Antranig Chalabian. The Good Lord had bestowed upon him unusual talents, which he put in good use as an accomplished medical illustrator, calligrapher, cartographer and historian. He leaves behind a void and a legacy of extraordinary accomplishments. He exemplified the indomitable spirit of the first post Genocide generation who were born to parents who were orphaned during the Genocide.

Dr. Antranig Chalabian was born in Keurkune, Kessab on March 11, 1922. He was the first born son of Khatcher Chelebian and Karoun Apelian who were married in late 1910 in their make shift camp in Deir Attiyeh, Syria on their way to their ancestral village having survived the horrid ordeals of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
Antranig and his siblings, Zvart, Hovhannes and Anna were orphaned at their tender ages having lost their father on February 2, 1930 at the age of 38. Antranig was a brilliant student and remained so until the twilight of his later years. After graduating from the Armenian Evangelical School of Keurkune he was awarded scholarship to continue his education at Aleppo College. He graduated with distinction and won the coveted Altounian Prize. After graduation he taught in his former school in Kessab for one year then returned to Aleppo College where he taught English and mathematics to the middle school classes from 1945 to 1949.
In 1949 Antranig moved to Beirut where his family had settled four years earlier. He taught English for one year at the AGBU Hovagimian-Manouginan High School. He then took a position in the Physiology Department of the American University of Beirut (AUB), where he remained for twenty-seven years as a research assistant and physiology laboratory instructor to the medicine, pharmacy and nursing students. During the last fourteen years at AUB he worked as a free-lance medical illustrator and calligrapher. He single handedly illustrated three medical textbooks, countless research papers and theses and calligraphed many diplomas. Meanwhile he contributed articles to the city’s Djanaser, Spurk and Nayiri papers.
In 1977 Antranig immigrated to the United States with his family and settled in Detroit where his paternal uncle Garabed (Charlie) had settled in early 1920’s having survived the Genocide. He assumed the position of Public Relations Director of the AGBU Alex Manougian School and continued to contribute articles to various Armenian periodicals. In 1984 he published his first bi-lingual book General Antranik and the Armenian Revolutionary Movement. The book became an instant best seller and was printed in more than 75,000 copies in Armenia. He donated the proceeds from that print to the Karabagh freedom fighters. In 1989 the History Department of the University of Armenia invited him to defend his exhaustive historical study. Upon successful defense he was awarded a doctorate degree in history.  The book was later translated into Turkish and Spanish.
In 1991 Dr. Antranig Chalabian published his second book in Armenian titled, Revolutionary Figures. Dr. Ara Avakian translated the book in English. In 1999 he published his third book, Armenia After the Coming of Islam in English. The book became a very popular reading and had two printings. In 2003 he published his fourth book in Armenian titled Tro. The book traces the feats of the legendary Armenian freedom fighter, Trasdamat Ganayan. His son, Jack Chelebian, M.D, translated the book into English. In 2009 Indo-European Publishers printed the book. Dr. Antranig Chalabian was also an invited contributor to the internationally acclaimed Military History magazine where he published articles dealing with Armenian history. Without any assistance, he prepared the print ready formats of his books and articles by typing them both in Armenian and in English, proof read them without resorting to spell check, painstakingly prepared the indices and drew the maps that appear in his books.
Before writing and publishing his books, Dr. Antranig Chalabian collaborated with Dr.Stanley Kerr after discovering Dr. Kerr’s personal notes in the attic of the Physiology Department. Dr. Stanley Kerr had moved to New Jersey after retiring in 1965 from his distinguished career as the Chairman of the Biochemistry Department of the American University of Beirut. However, he had left his notes behind assuming that the notes were long lost through the years. Stanley Kerr had kept his notes and taken hitherto unpublished pictures while serving in Near East Relief. In 1919 Stanley was transferred to Marash, in central Anatolia, where he headed the American relief operations. The outcome of their collaborative work was the publication of Dr. Stanley Kerr’s The Lions of Marash in 1973. The Kerrs hosted the Chalabians as their overnight houseguests during the latter visiting America in 1971.
While collaborating with Dr. Kerr, Henry Wilfrid Glockler, a one-time controller at AUB and a neighbor of the Kerrs in Princenton, entrusted Antranig Chalabian his personal memoirs. Chalabian edited the memoirs and had it published in Beirut in 1969 by Sevan Press. The book is titled Interned in Ourfa. In private conversation Antranig Chalabian noted that he heeded to Kersam Aharonian’s call in 1965 urging Armenians to encourage non-Armenian authors to publish about the Armenian Genocide. Kersam Aharonian is the late eminent editor of Zartonak Daily in Beirut. In 1976 by sheer coincidence my first job interview in America was at the American Cyanamid Corporation where the personal director in charge of college relations happened to be to a handsome young man named Robert who turned out to be Henry Glockler’s son. We made the connection during the interview that will always remain the most memorable interview of my career, especially for a first job interview in the New Land. Interest in Armenian history indeed has its own unexpected collateral benefits!
Dr. Chalabian received numerous accolades and recognition. Armenian organizations in various states invited him to lecture. The mayor of Southfield designated in 2005 a day as Dr. Antranig Chelebian Day in recognition of his goodwill ambassadorship of the city through his readers worldwide. He continued to live in Southfield, MI with his wife Seran (Tootikian) who preceded him in death in 2010. In 1995, his compatriots, the Kessabtsis, honored him as a noted professional and dedicated the 2003 Edition of the Kessab Educational Association’s yearbook and directory in his honor.
My earliest childhood impression of my maternal uncle Antranig is vividly embedded in me when he interrupted an ongoing traditional kessab circle dance during a festivity in Keurkune and took the guns away from two dancers who had joined the dance with their hunting guns dangling from their shoulders. I realize now that my very first childhood recollection of him was a reflection of his innate total aversion of guns and anything remotely violent and by the same token his instinctive appreciation of those who, as a last resort, resorted to gun as Armenian freedom fighters. He made the preservation of their legacy his cause. Years later he prepared the graphical presentation of my first Master of Science thesis.
Immaculate, driven to precision and perfection to any task at hand, fastidious to personal hygiene, tireless researcher and scholar; his is a legacy of extraordinary accomplishments. Few years ago his son - Jack Chelebian, MD - presented his father and his father’s work in Rochester, NY where Jack practiced psychiatry. One of the attendants of the presentation summed up his assessment and emailed Jack noting that Dr. Antranig Chalabian is a “ true renaissance man”. He was indeed a talented man. He leaves behind his daughter Garine’ and her husband Hovsep Koundakjian, Annie and her husband Tom Hoglind, Jack and his wife Gail and eight grandchildren: Lara and Garo Koundakjian; Anthony, Anneli and Anika Hoglind; Alex, Simon and Charlie Chelebian. He will be sorely missed.

Kistinok a Cherished Language

Kistinok a Cherished Language

Vahe H. Apelian, Columbus OH, 28 May 2010

Levon Der Bedrossian, our first nationally elected president, Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin I Sarkissian, who formerly occupied the throne of Cilician Catholicosate as well, Rev. Dr. Movses Janbazian, the Executive Director of the AMAA who spearheaded establishing the Armenian Missionary Association of America in Armenia, spoke a common language they had learned from their parents, Kistinok.
If my recollection serves me well, it was the Armenian Reporter that had noted that whenever the three met, they exchanged pleasantries in that language which literally means the language of the Christians. I am inclined to believe that their knowledge of this cherished dialect fostered among them a special camaraderie and bond that transcended all other considerations. There is a unique feeling of cherished ownership knowing that you have been entrusted with an ancient Armenian dialect, or language if you will, few others speak nowadays.

Dr. Avedis Injejikian, the prominent Kessabtsi doctor, notes in his study published in the third volume of Hagop Cholakian’s exhaustive study of Kessab that the Armenians of the historical Antioch, which constituted the core of the famed Armenian Cilicia, called themselves kistini, i.e. Christians and the language they spoke, Kistinok. While the native Armenians understood Kistinok, there are nuances in the accent and therefore to further characterize Kistinok, Kessabtsis, call it also Kesbetsnok*, i.e. the language spoken by the Kesbetsek**, the people of Kessab; while the people of Mussa Dagh refer to their dialect Sividitsnok**. Consequently, Levon Der Bedrossian and Movses Janbazian having hailed from Moussa Dagh, Catholicos Karekin I Sarkissian, having hailed from Kessab, would have spoken in their distinct accent and yet all three would have understood each other and enjoyed the precious legacy they have been entrusted with, Kistinok.

Speaking of Kessab, it is not known for sure when was it that it started being inhabited by the native Armenians. Greater Kessab consists of 12 villages each having been built around a spring. It also is not known when were these springs discovered that enabled and sustained life in this mountainous enclave which not in too far distant past was exclusively inhabited by Armenians. Kistinok is a conversational language. Hagop Cholakian, the eminent Kessabtsi scholar, has done much of the study of the language and preservation of folk stories, songs and sayings.

My paternal grandparents, Stepan and Sarah, were the sole Genocide survivors of their families. They spoke Kistinok with each other not only at home but also socially with their contemporaries. In fact it was with that dialect that they welcomed my father and my paternal uncle into this world and raised them. My mother tells me that for the first generation of the Kessabtsi boys and girls, herself included, born to parents who had survived the genocide, speaking Armenian was not the norm, rather it was the mandate. In order to enforce speaking Armenian at school, the school had devised a system called “signal”, which consisted of a note card kept by a teacher supervising the students during recess. The teacher would record the name of the student caught speaking Kistinok instead of Armenian for an appropriate punishment at the end of the day.

With the ensuing immigration of the Kessabtsis to the “four corners of the world” and with the repatriation, the language went along and in some families the kistinok remained the conversational language. Children born and raised in these families in far away places often time used it as a substitute for Armenian and some became very conversant in it. However, kistinok is endangered as fewer and fewer people speak it. I doubt that there are nowadays Kessabtsi families whose conversational language is in Kistinok. It is still spoken as a social testament and I understand that in kessab the young are making an effort to use it socially to make a statement and to preserve the language.

Kistinok, with its varied accents is a vivid example of the rich dialects that had evolved from coastal towns of historical Cilicia, to the plains of Van and Moush, to the mountain top of Sassoun that was destroyed due to the Genocide. With the disappearance of these dialects a rich folklore that had evolved over millennia simply got wiped out as well.

Kistinok is still alive, but endangered. I chose to believe that as long as there are Kesbetsek, Kistinok would be spoken. For those of the readers who would like to hear it sung, please check the attached video taken from some festivity at the Kessab Educational Association Center in Los Angeles. A Moussa Daghtsi sings it and its pronunciation is as authentic as it can get. The song is the famed kessabtsi song “Garmer Festan Hegoutz eh”(Dressed in Red Dress) and is accompanied by the traditional kessab circle dance. Enjoy!

* Phonetically close to the way Dr. Injejikian uses the words.
** Kesbetsek is the plural for Kessabtsis in Kistinok. In singular it would be Kesbetsa.

The Real Cold-Press Olive Oil

The Real Cold-Press Olive Oil

Vahe H. Apelian, 7 May 2011

The shelves of the grocery stores are full of “virgin” or “extra virgin” olive oil. Most, if not all of these bottles claim that their content is the result of olives subjected to “cold press” and are bottled after collecting the oil from its “first pass”. I have bought and tasted many in colored fancy bottles. Transparent bottles alter its taste due to oxidation. However, I have yet to come across to one that tasted nearly like the olive oil I tasted in my childhood that came from Nofer’s Mangana, in Keurkune, Kessab. The olive oil was stored then in tin cans that were also the standard containers for storing molasses and for fetching water from the village’s spring on the back of the family’s donkey. I am not sure if mangana is a Turkish word. It may be. However, much like many other Turkish words it has become part and parcel of Kesbenok, the mostly Armenian derived dialect of Kessab. Nofer’s Mangana remains a cherished legacy of a long bygone way of life in Keurkune.

Nofer Apelian established in Keurkune the first and only olive oil press in greater Kessab at a time when sheer human muscle drove the industry. The cold press consisted of a long and large wooden column that rotated on its longitudinal axis, one end of which was at ground level and the other at the ceiling of the two-story building. Nofer, in fact, had removed the ceiling of a room in their house and converted it into the two-story high olive oil press. Their house and consequently the press stood in the center of the village, right across my maternal grandmother’s ancestral house.

If I remember correctly the number, there were three wooden handles that were fastened into this wooden column. Able-bodied young men pressed the wooden handles against their chests, grabbed the handles from underneath with their arms and pushed the column rotating it on its long axis. As the column rotated a thick rope started coiling on it as it lifted a horizontal wooden platform against the stationary one. In between the two platforms minced olives were layered between burlap bags. The harder the men pushed the more oil oozed out of the minced olives. The whole process was a test of strength under the critical eyes of us kids watching the whole process and shouting out loud who among the men were the strongest and pushed the hardest. I admit though at times our nagging outspokenness raised the rage among some of the men who would not have hesitated to teach us a lesson or two had they been able to catch us fleeing their chase. After the last drop of oil was squeezed the men would alert each other to simultaneously let lose of the central column that now swirled back fast on its axis to release the tension it was subjected to.

That was the second and the last phase for processing the harvested and washed olives that were first crushed outside in a flat stone mortar upon which a huge round shaped stone wheel was placed. A hole was dug through this large stone along its horizontal axis. Do not ask me how and what kind of tools the villagers used to manually carve such a smooth hole through the middle of this large stone. Through this hole a long wooden handle was placed that had a hole at its far end that went over the central wooden axis in the middle of the mortar. The indispensable and man's most obedient servant ever, the donkey, did the job. Ropes from the wooden handle were attached to the donkey and the donkey thus pooled the stone wheel over the olives to mince it.

Along with the oil, the process resulted in another bi-product, the remains of the minced olives that Kessabtis used to prepare one of their tastiest bread ever, Djeftuon Heots, i.e. Djeftuon Bread. As to the word Djeftuon, it is an authentic Kesbenok word whose origin seems to have lost in obscurity.

My mother, many a time, told me the story of one of the Pastors of Keurkune who, to his wonderment and puzzlement, came across a large family sitting cross-legged on the floor around a table. Each member of the family held a loaf of bread under their arm, repeatedly cut morsels out of it and dipped it into a singe bowl placed in the center of the ground table and savored it with a mouth watering voraciousness. It turns out that the family had placed pomegranate molasses in olive oil in the bowl and dipping into it. For those who have tasted the pomegranate molasses made in Kessab can only appreciate the exquisite taste of these two in a bowl when tasted with freshly prepared bread in the family oven.

Those who saw Godfather III may remember the scene when an aging Mafiosi meets a professional assassin to have Don Corleone done with it. Before going into the details of the macabre plan, he dips into olive oil and tastes it and utters-“only in Sicily”. However, as far as I am concerned, it was only the olive oil from the mangana Nofer Apelian set up in Keurkune in an era long by gone now from our midst. Keurkune has also changed to have any resemblance of the way it was then. Not only my taste buds, but my whole being longs for that real cold press olive oil taste and the way of life that went along with it in the tranquility of the once exclusively Armenian enclave called Keurkune.

The Cilician Mount Ararat * Կիլիկիոյ ՛Արարատ՛ Լեռը

The Cilician Mount Ararat

Vahe H. Apelian, Columbus OH, 9 August 2010

Much like Mount Ararat, Gassios Ler (Կասիոս Լեռ) has been a silent witness to the lives of the Kessabtsis since the original inhabitants set foot at the mountain slope. The mountain rises from the Mediterranean Sea shore and flanks Kessab in the north. It commands a majestic view to the traveler approaching Kessab. Gassios Ler may very well be regarded as the Cilician version of Turkish-occupied Mount Ararat.
Ler in Armenian means mountain. The Armenian name of the mountain, Gassios, is thought to have evolved from Cassius. Syria was once a Roman province and several “Cassius”s were governors of Syria. Although the Kessabtsis refer to the mountain as Gassios Ler, its official name in Arabic is Jabal Aqra ("Bare Mountain") because of its sparse vegetation. Its summit is approximately 1,800 metres (5,000 ft) and commands a magnificent view of the Mediterranean, Moussa Ler of the famed Forty Days of Mussa Dagh by Frantz Werfel and parts of the historical Antioch through which Apostle Paul traversed, spreading Christianity.
The very first stamps of the new  Republic of Armenia depicted Mount Ararat even though the mountain is in Turkey. Much like Mount Ararat, Gassios Ler is part of Turkey as well. However, the Kessabtsis continue to relate to it as their own. Historically, it was part of Armenian Cilicia. The mountain, along with parts of the region (Sanjak of Alexandretta), including part of the Kessab, was annexed to Turkey in 1938-1939. Present-day Kessab was incorporated into Syria, thanks to the appeals of the local Armenians to the European powers. It is claimed that Cardinal Aghajanian played a decisive role in securing present-day Kessab as a remnant of the historical Cilicia. Kessab retains its Armenian inhabitants to this day, while the rest of Cilicia is depopulated of its once-thriving Armenian population.
Up to its annexation to Turkey and once a year, on the Sunday nearest to August 15, Kessabtsis used to go on pilgrimage to the ancient ruins on the slopes on Gassios Ler, to celebrate the Feast of Assumption. Kessabtsis called these ruins Ballum. Some historians claim that a temple dedicated to Greek god Apollo stood there once. At one time for the Kessabtsis, the word Ballum and the Feast of Assumption were intertwined if not synonymous.  Both of my parents as youngsters used to accompany their parents to celebrate the Feast of Assumption at Ballum on Gassios Ler.
The Feast Assumption is an important religious celebration to Catholic and Orthodox Christians as the day that Virgin Mary was received into Heaven. However, all the Kessabtsis, irrespective of their denominational affiliations, celebrate the feast. Grapes are brought to the church and are blessed after Divine Liturgy. Kessabtsis would not eat grape until the feast. I remember well my paternal grandmother Sarah forbade me to pick grapes from vines until their blessing. The Feast of the Assumption is a major festivity for the Kessabtis who continue to celebrate it with davul and zurna and feast on harissa.
Gassios Ler, unlike Mount Ararat, has one summit. In the gorge between the snow-capped twin peaks of Mount Ararat our legendary King Ardavast remains chained, accompanied by his faithful dogs who unceasingly lick his chains to free Ardavast to liberate Armenia. No such legendary figure inhabits Gassios Ler. Both mountains however, remain silent witnesses of our turbulent history, stretching from the slopes of Mount Ararat to the slopes of Gassios Ler and its surroundings within the famed historical Armenian Cilicia.

A Century-old Relic Comes to Light - Embroidery of Gratitude

A Century-old Relic Comes to Light - Embroidery of Gratitude

By Vahe H. Apelian PhD, Columbus OH, USA, 16 November 2009

This is part II of a remarkable, yet unknown story, about an American aid worker's selfless work and dedication to Armenians during the Kessab massacres of April 1909. -Keghart

Along with this short article you see the pictures of an embroidery. The embroidery which measures approximately 4 feet by 4 feet, is being shown publicly for the very first times since almost 100 years courtesy of Anna Lee Hein-Langlitz and Danette Hein-Snider who are Miss Chambers’ grandnieces.

The embroidery should have been presented to Miss Chambers sometime from 1910 to 1912 as she brought it with her. The records indicate that she was in America in May 1912. The embroidery most probably was sewn by the women of Kessab and must have been presented to her as an acknowledgement of her dedicated services to the community at large between from 1904 to1912.
The inscriptions on the embroidery are both in English and in Armenian. In English the following has been sewn on the embroidery: TO MISS E M CHAMBERS A MEMORY OF GRATITUDE WE WILL NEVER FORGET. Naturally the Kessabtsis wanted to make sure that Miss Chambers understood their feelings of gratitude towards her in her native language.

The Armenian inscription is equally telling, it reads IN GRATITUDE FROM KESSAB ARMENIAN REVOLIONARY FEDERATION. The battle hardened Armenian Revolutionary Federation is not an organization that would have been swayed by sentiments alone. Its members must have believed that they had every reason to express their feelings of gratitude to her to have with her thenceforth throughout the remainder years of her life.

This year we commemorate the 1909 Adana massacre. The massacre however was not confined to that city. It spread like a wildfire and reached to the northern part of Syria and to Kessab. It is up to the future historian to ascertain whether Miss Chambers was in town when the marauding crowd attacked Kessab. However, the attackers encountered the fierce resistance of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation fighters who held the attackers at bay for up to seven hours giving time for the inhabitants of Kessab to flee, mostly towards the coastal village Kaladouran as Miss Chambers attests in the notes I read. It is not hard to imagine the ensuing mayhem. The evacuation of the villagers must have been chaotic and as in most chaotic situations, it is the elderly and the young who get left behind or get lost not being able to catch up with the able bodied fleeing in a hurry. That is what must have happened in Kessab, as the 153 Miss Chambers cites to have been killed were mostly elderly and the young.

After the ransack and massacre in Kessab a relief committee was organized and Miss Chambers acted as its secretary and kept correspondence with her peers in America asking for assistance. In her report to America she cites the following as facts:

Villages receiving aid 11
Number at present on relief lists 5251
Burned Houses 516
Burned Shops 62
Number killed 153
Widows 79
Orphans not over 15 years old 64
Received into Orphanages to recent date 6 by 1912.

A cursory look at the numbers reveals the widespread despair as 5251 of a total population estimated by Dr. Albert Apelian to have been 6543 were on relief lists. The April 1909 ransack and massacre at Kessab was followed by a bitter winter to shelter the many whose houses were destroyed. Miss Chambers writes at the aftermath of this tragedy: We are alike in Kessab these days. There are no rich or poor, but we are all one. Sometimes the thought comes to me, if they had not burned my house and the girl's school I might have given shelter to many, but I am glad on the other hand that I can suffer with them and suffer as they do.”

Her round the clock work must have exhausted her physically and emotionally to compel her to leave behind the people she cared and return to her native home. God only can imagine the pain Miss Chambers must have felt when 3 years after her departure 2/3 of the people in Kessab she cared so dearly perished due to Armenian Genocide.
The embroidery is an undisputed historical piece from that era. Each and every one of us owes a degree of gratitude to the Chambers family for safeguarding the embroidery in the family in Iowa for the past 100 years. When I offered Anna Lee that I will cover the expenses to have the embroidery professionally photographed, she declined. She said the fabric is silk and the embroidery has only been exposed when there has been a desire to see the embroidery in remembrance of her great aunt. Anna Lee added that she taught the heat and the flashlight in the photographer’s studio might damage the embroidery and as result we have these pictures taken by her daughter at her home. Such has been the care that Chambers family has displayed in safeguarding part of our history both symbolically in way of the embroidery rendered by a grateful people and in the eyewitness account by one of their own, Miss Effie Chambers.

The preservation of the 100 years old embroidery and the legacy of Miss Chambers are a testament to the values that Chambers family cherishes. Danette and Anna Lee, thank you.

In Praise of the Gasli Tree «Ի Գովասանք Կեսլի Ծառին»

In Praise of the Gasli Tree

by Vahe H. Apelian, Ohio USA, 22 November 2012
Gasli Tree
The Kessabtsis call the laurel tree Gasli Dzar (tree) or simply Gasli . It is native to Kessab and most likely also to that part of the world we refer to as the Armenian
Cilicia. Its Latin name is Laurus nobilis. The name conveys majesty and leaves a sort of a “nobless oblige” impression. It is indeed a majestic tree growing as tall as18 meters (59 feet). That may be the reason that those who baptized the tree with its scientific Latin name called it nobilis.
In English the word laureate has come to signify eminence. It is associated with literary – poet laureate - or military glory. It is also used for winners of the Nobel Prize. I cannot tell if the word laureate was coined after the tree or whether the tree was named after the word that had evolved somehow to signify achievement that bestow upon the individual a high social status. The ancient Greeks considered wreathes made from laurel as symbol of highest status. The Romans depicted golden crowns made in the like of laurel tree (Gasli) leaves as a symbol of victory.
Ovid, the Roman writer, tells the story that the nymph Daphne was transformed into a laurel tree to avoid being pursued by Apollo.  I am not sure if the Greek myth has anything to do with the Romans to have their victory symbol shaped after the laurel tree - Gasli - leaves. I have my own thoughts as to why the Greeks and the Romans may have picked laurel leaves  - say - over rose pedals or any other leaf.  The laurel trees - Gasli – are evergreen. Their leaves do not assume a rusty color during the fall, unlike the leaves of the many naturally grown trees such as in New England. There does not seem to be a later season for the laurel tree. Its leaves remain sparkling green during the four seasons of the year and throughout the life of the tree. The tree simply looks ageless.  This unique feature of the laurel tree leaves makes a good reason for it to symbolize enduring achievement. The crisp, attractive, the uniform shape and color and their orderly spacing on a branch give the Gasli leaves more of a reason to be decorative symbols.
The Gasli appears not to lend itself to domestication. It grows in most unlikely places.  It takes root within the rocky crevices and it does it on its own terms. Try to plant it in your backyard, more likely than not, you will not succeed. If gold is the golden metal among the metals, then laurel tree (Gasli Dzar) is the golden tree among trees grown in the wild. It is imposing, majestic, pleasant smelling and aloof.
GroupGasli trees have been and continue to be a source of income for the Kessabtsis. From the berries
the Kessabtsis extract the oils that make the famous Kessab soap, known as Ghar soap. Ghar means laurel in Arabic. LaurApel is one of the main manufacturers of laurel soap in Kessab. It is situated in Keurkune and it products have reached Japan. According to their Website it was Hagop Atikian who introduced the manufacture of laurel soap in Kessab in early 1940’s. He is one of the early graduates of the famed Kessab Oussoumnaserats Varjaran, the Kessab non-denominational high school, the Kessab Educational Association founded in 1922. It is the first Diaspora Armenian High School to be recognized by a foreign country, France, allowing its graduates to pursue their education in France, and many did. Hagop Atikian, as a young graduate from the University of Sorbonne, upon his return to Kessab, advocated making use of the abundant Kessab Gasli trees and to make soap from its famed laurel oil and taught the Kessabtsis the basics for soap manufacture. The manufacture was first initiated by the Churukian Family of Kessab and continues with their daughter Ani and son-in-law, Steve. Hagop Atikian is also a revered educator and author of Armenian history.
Besides being a source of income, Gasli is also very much ingrained in Kessab culture and somewhat to its cuisine as well. The Kessabtsis call its ripe black berries as fruit-Gasli Bdugh (laurel fruits). Harvesting the ripe black berries used to be a much looked for social event. The attached picture depicts young Kessabtsis mounted on donkeys, protected against the colder autumn weather, on their way harvesting Gasli Bdugh – laurel fruits- as late as in 1978. The Kessabtsis look forward in anticipation for the autumn passage of migratory birds they call summun and kartavok. They taste delicious full of laurel oil aroma because they feed on laurel tree berries.
The branches of the tree serve as skewers par excellence. Those who have tasted freshly hunted birds prepared over fire on skewers made from laurel tree (Gasli) branches, can attest to the exquisite taste, especially when the birds are eaten with bread oiled by squeezing the birds during the grilling in freshly prepared oven (toneer) breads. Laurel leaves, commonly known as bay leaves, impart taste to a cooking but should not be consumed. They are not digestible.
Spoons made from laurel leaves are used to taste foamed grape molasses. During the autumn the Kessabtsis get engaged in the preparation of grape molasses. The process is called massara. At one time it was by far the most anticipated social event in Kessab extending well into the night.  Ms. Effie Chambers, the beloved missionary in Kessab from 1904 to 1912, in a letter to her Board in America complained that the school year is short and getting the kids attend school gets harder during the autumn because of the preparation of grape molasses that the Kessabtsis consider a time to be merry. Kessabtsis continue to do massara in kessab and as far away as in Los Angeles and in Fresno. The freshly made warm grape molasses is scooped by ladles made from gourd and poured back into the container from a distance creating a most exquisite tasting foam, the Kessabtsis call prpoor, which is then scooped with Gasli leaves that leave on the taste buds an unforgettable exquisite taste. Wooden or metal spoons do not come near to the Gasli leaf spoon in imparting the taste of the prpoor.
The late Stepan Panossian depicted a picture of Gasli branch with leaves and ripe berries on the cover of one his books depicting life in Kessab, which is also famed for its apple and grape trees, The 1978 Vol. 3 National Geographic attested to the Kessab’s “crisp apples that burst upon the tongue” and “grapes that cluster sweet and heavy on the vines”. However no other entity can possibly symbolize Kessab and its resilient native Cilician Armenian population as the tall, erect, eternally green Kessab native laurel tree – the famed Gasli of Kessab.

Kessab Ousoumnasirats Celebrates Centennial Քեսապի Ուսումնասիրացը կը Տօնէ Հարիւրամեակը

Kessab Ousoumnasirats Celebrates Centennial

By Vahe H. Apelian PhD, Columbus OH, USA, 8 January 2010

1910 may have been the worst and the best of times for the Kessabtsis – people of Kessab. The year before, the massacre that started in the city of Adana spread like a wild fire to the other cities of the historical Cilicia and in northern Syria. The pogrom reached Kessab in the latter part of April 1909. In that short span over 30,000 Armenians were killed. 516 houses, 62 businesses, 4 churches were destroyed and 153 people were killed in Kessab alone. The ransack and massacre was followed by a bitter winter in Kessab adding to the misery of the surviving inhabitants who had not been able to tend to their harvest due to the carnage, and they needed shelter and sustenance.

Kessab at the turn of 20th century

The Kessabtsis, however, responded to this tragedy by rebuilding their lives anew and embarked on an unprecedented program. In 1910, in the aftermath of this tragedy, and instead of dwelling on despair, a group of young Kessabtsis envisioned to establish an educational association , the Ousoumnasirats, not only to further the state of education in Kessab but also to render Kessab a college level educational center for the Armenians in historical Cilicia. The Kessab Educational Association (KEA) was thus born. The founders however could not realize their aspiration. In a matter of a few years the Great Calamity befell on the Armenian people that forever altered their millennial way of life in their ancestral land, the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Two thirds of the Kessabtsis perished during the genocide. In 1918 the surviving Kessabtsis started rebuilding their lives again. In 1924 the KEA Association established the United Educational High School to meet the educational needs of greater Kessab and in a short period of time the high school achieved a remarkable academic success thanks to a host of dedicated teachers such as the noted educator Hagop Atikian. However, the ensuing political situation put a damper on the academic progress. In 1938 Kessab lost considerable portion of its arable lands to Turkey and the subsequent economic hardship resulted in the great migration of many to Lebanon, America, Canada and Australia. In 1946 and 1947 the great repatriation took place and many Kessabtsis moved to Armenia further depopulating Kessab and curtailing the academic excellence of its schools. The Kessabtsi immigrants however did not let go of the mission of the KEA and established branches in the cities they moved to, such as Beirut in 1951 and Los Angeles in 1957. In Beirut the Association ran an evening school that lasted until 1975 when it became a casualty of the Lebanese civil war. During a quarter of century service, the school, supported by the Kessab Educational Association of Beirut, offered free of charge educational to young Armenian men and women who had dropped out of school early on to pursue a trade.

Kessab in 1960s

The KEA of Los Angeles continues to operate, organizing various activities. It runs a camp; it has built a community center and continues to publish a yearbook connecting expatriate Kessabtsis in United State of America, Canada and Australia. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its uninterrupted publication, an unprecedented feat for any Armenian cultural association.

Unfortunately, the KEA could not realize its aspiration of rendering Kessab a college-level Armenian educational center. However, the Kessabtsis both as laymen and clergy, who constitute the rank and file of the KEA, kept the spirit of the Association alive and made remarkable strides in improving the state of education both in the Diaspora and in Armenia, and taught Armenian language and literature to generations of Armenian students. Gabriel Injejikian pioneered the Armenian School in America. Mrs. Anahid Meymarian pioneered teaching Armenian language and literature in the United States, having accepted Gabriel’s call to teach in the new-found school. Mrs. Zvart Apelian became the only female educator to receive the distinguished order of St. Mesrob Mashdotz commendation from the late Catholicos of All Armenians His Holiness Karekin I. Haigaz Terterian spent his adult life teaching Armenian and was awarded St. Mesrob Mashdotz commendation from Catholicos Aram I. Dr. Antranig Chalabian taught in Kessab, at Aleppo College, and later at Hovagimian-Manougian High School in Beirut, before embarking on his career as research assistant and then as a noted and popular historian. George Apelian found an institute for clerical training after teaching at the Armenian Evangelical High School in Anjar.

Similarly, dedicated Kessabtsi clergy gave a unique luster to the seminary of the Catholicosate of Cilicia and educated a cadre of young clergy. Among these educators are Archbishops Terenig Poladian, Datev Sarkissian, Ardavazt Terterian, Bishop Yeghishe Manjikian and Catholicos Karekin Sarkissian. For decades Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian taught religion at the Lawrence Institute of Technology in MI, and the Saramazian brothers, Rev. Hovhannes and Rev.Yessai were teachers at their village in Kessab when they received their call for the ministry. Rev Hovhannes Saramazian, a seminary student at Near East School of Theology, was also the principal of the Beirut Kessab Educational Association evening school whose teaching staff were volunteers and mostly Kessabtsi college students. Father Yeghia Kilaghbian left Kesssab at the age 13 to attend the Mkhitarian monastic order on San Lazaro Island in Venice, and is now the Abbot of the Mkhitarian order famed for its Armenian scholarship.

Location: North-east of Al Lathqiyah, south-west of Antakya
and south-west of Aleppo (Halab)

Dr Stepan Karamardian and Dr. Mihran Agbabian became founders of the American University of Armenia. During his short tenure in Armenia as the Catholicos of All Armenians His Holiness Karekin I revived the Gevorkian Theological Seminary. “Under the supervision and immediate participation of His Holiness, the educational curriculum of the seminary underwent fundamental changes. To guarantee a high level of education, doctors, professors and candidates of sciences--who had devoted their lives to educate Armenian youth and develop sciences--were invited to teach in the seminary.” (Wikipedia).

Thus the same spirit that drove the founders to establish the Kessab Educational Association in 1910 drove many Kessabtsis to further education in the Diaspora and in Armenia.

Kessab Educational Association is now 100 years old and it may be the oldest educational association in the Armenian Diaspora. It predates Hamazkayin Cultural Association by two decades. The Kessab Educational Association of LA may be the oldest educational association in the western hemisphere. The Association has survived the test of time. Recently through the collective efforts of the KEA in Kessab, in the United Arab Emirates, in Beirut and in Los Angeles, a modern cultural center was built in Kessab, which also serves as a high school. It held its first commencement ceremony in 2009 with graduates attaining impressive marks in Syrian Baccalaureate.

Last year the Kessabtsis commemorated the 100th anniversary of the 1909 ransack and pogrom of Kessab. This year the Kessabtis around the globe celebrate the centennial of the Kessab Educational Association as a testament of their continued vitality and their zeal to overcome destruction through love of education and learning.

Kessab in 2009

Dr. V. Apelian's previous contributions to
Miss Chambers - The Beloved Missionary in Kessab
A Century-old Relic Comes to Light - Embroidery of Gratitude