Armenian Genocide Survivors Tell Their Stories

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

Nearly a century ago, the Armenian Genocide took place, causing the deaths of between one million and one-and-a-half million Armenians. Now, 99 years later, two of the survivors shared their stories.

At the New York Armenian Home for the Aged in Flushing, two women who have reached the milestone of being 100 years old talked about the struggles they went through as children.

Perouze Kalousdian (left) and Azniv Guiragossian are both survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. They reside in the New York Armenian Home for the Aged. Photo by Joe Marvilli

Perouze Kalousdian (left) and Azniv Guiragossian are both survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. They reside in the New York Armenian Home for the Aged. Photo by Joe Marvilli

The Armenian Genocide was the Ottoman Empire’s systematic extermination of its minority Armenian subjects in 1915. Taking place in what is now present-day Turkey, the massacre started when Ottoman authorities arrested about 250 Armenian community leaders and intellectuals in Constantinople. From there, they forced Armenians from across their territory to leave their homes and march for hundreds of miles, without food or water, to the desert of Syria.

One of those Armenians who was forced to march, but survived, is Azniv Guiragossian. Born in 1914 in Urfa, the genocide left her as an orphan. According to her testimony, Guiragossian was kidnapped when she was one year old and lived with a Turkish family until she was reunited with her family at the age of 4.

Her father was accused of a crime and sentenced to hang by the Young Turks. While a Turkish friend saved him from that death sentence, he died within 40 days of that incident from a heart attack.

She wound up marching with her mother in the Syrian Desert. During that time, she witnessed her mother give birth to a child who died, and then saw her mother die two months later. After the march, Guiragossian was placed in an Armenian orphanage. She was married at the age of 16 to a choral director and teacher. They moved to New York in the 1950s.

Guiragossian said that while she does get sad thinking about those traumatic moments in her early life, she acknowledged that she had the willpower and wit to survive.

“I think and then I cry. I was a little girl but I am strong. I was very smart,” she said. “Sometimes, I go to bed thinking about my life. I open my eyes and it’s daytime.”

Another survivor is Perouze Kalousdian, who was born in 1909 in Harput. Kalousdian reported that when the genocide happened when she was 6 years old, she saw the Turks take males over the age of 15, including her uncle, and threw them over a bridge into the Euphrates River.

“They came and took us out of our homes and took our homes for themselves. I was crying and asked my mother what happened to our home,” Kalousdian said. “The Turks have done us much harm. We were living like animals. I hate them.”

Kalousdian and her mother served as maids for one of the Turkish leaders. Eventually, they fled to Syria where they stayed for three years before heading to the United States, where they reunited with her father, who had successfully escaped the genocide.

In tribute to those who were killed in the massacre, thousands of Armenian-Americans and their friends will make their way to Times Square for the 99th Anniversary Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. The service will take place on April 27 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The theme of the ceremony is “Turkey is Guilty of Genocide: Denying the Undeniable is a Crime.”

Turkey has been criticized for denying that the Ottoman government committed genocide, arguing that the deaths were not as numerous and only happened as a side effect of World War I. As of 2013, 21 countries, and 43 U.S. states, have recognized those historic events as genocide.

In recognition of Genocide Awareness Month, Holocaust Remembrance Day will also commemorated, as will other genocides that have occurred.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @Joey788.