Friday, October 29, 2010

Vanessa Kachadurian- What the Orphanages always need.

Those of you that ask "What do the orphanages need" lice is a continual problem. One child gets it - everyone gets it. They don't bath every day, and the eggs are on the bedding, couches and rugs. I found out that one home was using pesticides to spray on their heads, we cannot believe how toxic that is for the children. Rid or Nix is good, it is available in Armenia but more readly available in the USA. Thank you to the Asadourian family for purchasing a whole case. It will go to good use!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Vanessa Kachadurian-Armenian Orphanage memorial for Antoura

Many of the children died at this Turkish ran orphanage after the genocide. These children were Turkified and given Islamic names. Some were adopted by Moslems.
Aintoura, Lebanon - It has been over five years since Maurice Missak Kelechian discovered the location of a Genocide-era Armenian orphanage at St. Joseph Aintoura French College in Lebanon.

On September 22, through support from KOHAR Symphony Orchestra & Choir and Harout Khatchadourian, a khachkar (Armenian Stone-Cross) and a bronze statue in memory of Armenian orphans was inaugurated at the Aintoura College cemetery.

Remarks by Mr. Kelechian at the inauguration he entitled as "My Journey of Love" are below:

"My journey of love started in 2005 with a single photo in Stanley Kerr's book, "Lions of Marach" that showed a group picture of Jemal Pasha with a footnote that read: "Jemal Pasha commander of the Turkish Fourth Army together with Halide Edib, on the steps of French College at Antoura, Lebanon."

My passion for the Armenian modern history had just started to take off and finding a piece of that history in my own backyard was surreal! Little did I know that I was embarking on an incredible untold story.

I jumped into my car eager to identify the location of the orphanage shown in the picture. Antoura, for many Lebanese families, is a beautiful place to take their kids for a drive and some fresh air. They had no idea that soon, it was going to take their breath away!

Apprehensive at first and then excited, I approached the French college. Careful not to disturb what I didn't know, I started taking pictures of the college from afar and as I came closer to the building, my story started to unfold.

The college was established by the Jesuits brotherhood in 1656. Lazarist priesthood took over the college in 1834 and when the WWI broke out, the Ottoman Turks confiscated the college, dismissed all the priests and converted the building into a Turkish orphanage. Between 1915-1918, 1200 young orphans were kept in Antoura of whom 1000 were Armenians and the remaining 200 consisted of Turks and Kurds.

In 1916, Jamal Pasha visited Antoura together with 40 elite Turkish teachers, headed by Halide Edib, the new director of the college; prepared to teach the orphans the "Ottoman Turkish culture"; hence the photo in Kerr's book.

I finally took the courage to enter the college. Pretty soon, I was guided to see the college's archivist, Mr. Sebastian Arhan, who welcomed my curiosity and very gracefully supported my pursuit.

As we started walking around the college trying to trace the location of the photo, an employee of the college, Mr. Doumit Hayfa, told us that in 1993, the remains (bones) of some of the young orphans were found and were collectively buried under an unmarked mass grave next to high ranking Lazarist priests.

In 2006, when my initial findings about the Antoura orphanage were published in Aztak, an Armenian newspaper in Lebanon, I found out that Mr. Karnig Panian, previously the deputy dean of Jemaran high school in Beirut, was one of the survivors of the Antoura orphanage. In 1992, he had published his experiences as an orphan in a two-volume memoir.

I stayed up all night reading the memoirs in owe and disbelief! While the Antoura building looked like an orphanage on the outside, on the inside, the young orphans were going through a systematic Turkification executed through most heinous tactics; changing the Armenian names of the orphans into Turkish names, luring the orphans into believing that the Turkish culture is a better culture than the Armenian, and, gradually, if the orphans spoke, prayed or sung in Armenian, punishing them by Falakha (Hitting of the soles of the feet with iron rods). "The sessions of Falakha usually ended up with bleeding kids sent to the infirmary to be treated for fractured bones."

In Halide Edib's own words: "One felt that these children, whatever happened, would carry something crippled, something mutilated in them."

I was appalled and revolted by the realization that the Genocide did not stop with the killings, the drowning, the burning and the rapes, it rather continued to crawl beyond the deserts, the rivers and the caves; the final frontier of the Genocide aimed at annihilating the memory of what constituted "Armenian culture."

Here, I would like to add that according to the UN definition of Genocide, the 5th point specifically stipulates that "Forcibly transferring children of a group to another group" is an act of Genocide (Article II of the 1951 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide).

From that day on, I was haunted by the souls of these orphans 300 of whom lost their lives between 1915-1918 as a result of abuse, famine and illness. In his memoires, Mr. Panian wrote: "The available hospitals were merely a sleeping hall. There were no skilled doctors to provide the proper medication. The dead orphans, who were buried in a hole and covered with dirt, were attacked, the same night, by the hungry jackals, ripping off the little bodies and scattering their bones all over the place." "The only thought on the orphans' minds was food. In desperation, they would often collect the bones of their dead friends, grind them and use them in soups as food to survive."

Later, when I returned to Antoura and I watched the college through the eyes of a 6 year old Karnig who experienced the pain of abandonment, famine and Turkification and who saw his friends lose their identity and vanish to be forever forgotten. As I sat on the mass grave bewildered, I promised to tell the story of the unsung heroes until they were truly laid in peace.

Towards the end of 1918, Halide Edib asked Dr. Bliss, then the dean of American University of Beirut, to take Antoura under the protection of the American Red Cross.

I expressed my gratitude to the Near East Relief and Red Cross organizations and several official representatives of foreign governments for actively taking part in saving Armenian lives and selflessly caring for over 130,000 Armenian orphans.