Monday, April 24, 2017

Anna’s Love Story, No Less A Genocide Promise - Vahe H. Apelian

Friday, April 21, 2017

Anna’s Love Story, No Less A Genocide Promise

Vahe H. Apelian

Today I read Huffington Post reporting that “The Promise’ is a love story against the backdrop of the Armenian Genocide. No less were Roupen Sevag’s  and Anna’s love stories and those of many others long lost forever. The much lesser known Anna was my maternal grandmother’s sister-in-law. Here is her story.

My maternal grandmother, Karoun Chelebian, ne’e Apelian, was born in Kessab to Hanno and Anna, the latter from Boymoushakian family of Sev Agphpuyr (Black Spring). She had three brothers, Seron, Diran and Kerop, all were naturally Apelians. Her two brothers Serop and Diran had left to the United States of America before the genocide while their brother Kerop remianed in Kessab.

It so happened that Kerop eloped Anna from the Titizian family of Kaladouran for his bride, Undoubtedly her elopment became the sensational news of the time in greater Kessab even though young couples eloping against the patriarchal choice for a spouse was not that all that uncommon. With the aid of friends, Dr. Avedis Injejikian, Gabriel’s fahter, had eloped Dr. Soghomon Apelian’s dauther Mary for his bride.

Kerop’s and Anna elopement, however, was altogether different. Anna had done the unthinkable. She had crossed all by herself in the darkness of the night and through the eerie silence of the gorge and walked all alone all the way from the coastal village Kaladouran to Keurkune to her lover’s house to the utter astonishment of Kerop's parents and his only sister, my grandmother Karoun. Something had gone terribly wrong. Trusted intermediaries had worked out a plan for them. Kerop and his friends were to meet her in the cover of the night and escort her. But the lovers missed either the rendezvous point or the timing and Anna took upon herself to finish the task and wait for her lover’s return in her lover’s parental house. Never in greater Kessab had a girl walked all by herself to her lover’s house before. She had always been free spirited with a mind of her own and was also known for her beauty. Anna, however, was not to experience the tranquility of a family life with the man she chose to love.

Their elopement resulted in a bitter family feud among the families involved. Anna’s father had her engaged to a promising young Kessabtsi and their wedding was imminent. The families were in the midst of preparations for the upcoming wedding that would do justice to their social status. Their escapade must have been so sensational that over time a folk song evolved around them that continued to be sung during wedding celebrations in Kessab long after Anna, Kerop and most of their contemporaries were not around anymore.

They named their fist chirld Kevork, after the family’s patriarch. A few years after the birth of their first child, Kerop decided joining his brothers in New York leaving behind his pregnant wife under the care of his parents. His brother Diran was a pharmacy graduate from Istanbul. His other brother Serop had run a store in Kessab selling candies. That’s why he had come to be known as shakarji, someone who deals with sweets. It was a moniker that stayed with him throughout his life much like other endearing nicknames kessabtsis gave to each. Kerop was to bring his family after he settled in the New World and saved enough to cover the expenses for his family’s journey to America. 

In due time Anna gave birth to their second son. Kerop sent word from America letting her know that he wanted to have their son named James. The infant was destined to be an American citizen, therefore it was fitting for him to have a western name.

The family’s reunion was never to be.

One June 1915 the local Ottoman authorities transmitted to the kessabtsis the order for their deportation. James was a child when he also embarked on the perilous forced march along with his mother Anna, brother Kevork, grandparents Hanno and Anna, and his aunt, my maternal grandmother Karoun. It would not be hard to envision that all the adults shared in caring of the young deportees. The ordeals of their forced marches to their illusive final resettlement destination decimated the family. Only James and his aunt, my maternal grandmother Karoun survived. The popular account among the Kessabtsi genocide survivors was that their 1915 ordeal lasted three years and three months placing the return of the survivors to their ransacked villages sometimes in the fall of 1918 only to face the bitter winter ahead without having the provisions to weather it. 

The Kessabtsi survivors, on their way to their villages, saw fit that the young orphaned teenager girl Karoun, born in 1900, be married to the most eligible surviving bachelor, Khatcher Chelebian (Chalabian). Their wedding took place in their make shift camp in the outskirts of Deir Attiyeh. The town is an hour’s drive from Damascus. They were married in their rag tags. Their wedding was officiated by the groom’s brother Stepan who was known for his piety and knowledge of church liturgy. There was no registry to record their marriage. They were to do that after their return and when a semblance of law and order was established. They were married by the grace of God and consent of their fellow Kessabtsis. The young family moved to Karoun’s parental vacant house when they reached Keurkune, Kessab. James became a bona fide an adopted son as they also started raising their own children, my maternal uncles, my mother and an aunt I never had the pleasure of knowing. They named their children Antranig, Zvart, Hovhanness, Anna. Antranig means the first-born son. Zvart was named at the behest of her maternal uncle Diran from the United States. Hovhannes was named after his maternal grandfather. The last was named after her maternal grandmother, Anna.

Once the overseas communication resumed, James’ father Kerop managed to have his son join him in America. The records of Ellis Island indicate that James was in his teens when he embarked on his journey from Beirut on a French ocean liner. He was on his way to see his father whom he had not seen before. He was to live in a country that was alien to him. He had witnessed harrowing realities of the Armenian genocide and was growing up in Keurkune where electricity or a faucet at home was not even in their wildest imagination, let alone movie theaters or ice cream parlors. However enticing the latter may seem to be, they were alien to him along with language spoken. He spoke only Armenian and Kesbenok, the local dialect. His acclamation to the New World proved to be impossible even though he stayed in the country for many years. His father and his two uncles made arrangements for him to return home, to Keurkune where his grandfather’s lands would secure him a livelihood. He was the only male inheritor among the three brothers. 

The departure of his only surviving son must have been heartbreaking for his father Kerop. The 1915 Genocide had already deprived him of the cherished dreams he must have harbored with his wife Anna. His first-born son Kevork, his parents had also died during the Genocide. Throughout those heart-wrenching war years, Kerop must have kept faith to preserve his sanity and energy to work to make a living while awaiting news from home front. After the war was over the news that his son James and sister Karoun had survived may have given him hope. After the return of James, the realization of the enormity of his loss may have weighed heavy on him anew. A sense of hopelessness may have dampened his spirits and broken his will. It was rumored that he even attempted to commit suicide. He passed away in Bronx, New York. It is not hard to surmise that he was a broken man, a far cry from the dashing handsome young man who stole Anna’s heart. He had become another victim of the Genocide although oceans and continents away from the killing fields.

Upon his return, Kerop’s surviving son James started his own life in Keurkune, Kessab. He married Sirvart Chelebian, my maternal grandmother Karoun’s sister-in-law. They named their firstborn son Kevork in memory of the brother James lost during the Genocide, their second son Kerop in memory of James’ father and their daughter Annais in memory of James’ mother Anna.

As to Anna, her grandson Kevork George Apelian immortalized her in his second book  titled “Anna Harseh”, (Anna-the Bride). In the novel Anna immerges as the independent, free spirited, stunningly beautiful girl who wanted to live her life with the man she chose to love against her father’s wish.

Anna (Titizian), the beautiful and strong willed girl from Kaladouran who broke her father’s heart and left his choice for her to pursue her heart’s calling did not live the promise the life she must have dreamed. She succumbed much like the rest of the 1.5 million Armenian victims of the first Genocide of the twentieth century. Much like the rest of the Genocide victims she also does not have a known burial site, let alone a tombstone. Unlike most of the victims who remain nameless and anonymous Anna became an exception thanks to an appreciative grandson named Kevork George James Apelian who never had the pleasure of knowing her in person but cherished the legacy she left behind.

Although the name Ann became prejudicial in the family but the memories of those in family named Anna perpetuated. My maternal grandmother Karoun ruled against naming daughters Anna anymore. Her mother Anna, her sister-in-law Anna, and her own daughter Anna were struck down with misfortune. The last had died in her teens while the previous two had died during the Genocide. A variation of the name Anna evolved over time in the family in the person of my maternal cousin Annie (Chelebian) Hoglind, my maternal uncle Dr. Antranig Chalabian’s elder daughter and of Annais (Apelian) Tootikian, my maternal grandmother’s grandniece. Both are now  proud mothers and grandmothers.

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