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Garabed’s Suitcase

The following is the first in a series of student essays to be published by Hye Sharzhoom.  If you have an essay about any aspect of Armenian life or culture that you would like to publish in Hye Sharzhoom, please contact Dr. Kaprielian in Social Science Room 216 or call her at 278-6493 or the Armenian Studies Program office at 278-2669.

By Anna R. Der Minasian Garza
Revised:  September 19, 1997

This story traces the Der Minasian familyís migratory history, life, and work experiences in the pre and post Genocide period.  It is a story much like most Armenian families, but it also has its own uniqueness.  The story of this family dates from 1860 to 1989, with the death of Garabed Der Minasian, who was a Genocide survivor and the oldest surviving son of Minas Der Minasian.  Most of the facts and information leads in this story came from documents, pictures, and journals found in Garabedís wooden suitcase which he traveled with most of his life.

The Beginning
n 1860, a son was born Garabed and Zartig Der Minasian (granddaughter of Der Toros) in the small village of Kuyulu (Telgadin) (1) a province of Karpoot Turkey.  Garabed died, at the age of 32, leaving Zartig, a widow, to care for their son Minas, and youngest daughter Altoon.  The children, regardless of age, helped in their home textile bench, weaving linens in exchange for payment of money, cotton, wheat or flour to survive.  Minas was handy with his hands, and supplemented the family income by carving whistles and crochet needless from wood.  He learned to make a hand made long drill, operated by a piece of cord tied to a bow.  By pulling and pushing the bow the drill could travel an inch and a half, leaving a three quarter inch hole at a depth of fourteen inches. (2) Minas made pipes, flutes, and the small amount of money he sold them for added to his familyís income.

Minas found a blacksmith, and had him make some tools such as a hand edger, chisels, nail puller, plain blade, and draw knife.  He made the wooden handle for his mallet himself.  With these tools, he began helping village farmers by making wooden plows, yokes for the oxen, and repairing wagons, in exchange of what the farmers could afford.

Zartig noticed her sonís intense interest in working with wood.  She took him to a town, twelve miles from their village, and made an agreement with some building contractors to teach Minas the skill of carpentry.  In 1883, she paid for his room and board, and for the skilled carpenters to teach the art of carpentry to her fourteen-year-old son. (3) For two years, Minas studied as an apprentice with the master carpenters, returning home only on the weekends.

While Minas was learning this trade, he also learned about America, and learned to read and write English, Turkish, and Armenian.  He wanted to come to the America after his instruction was completed.  His mother objected to this and said:   “Son, in America, young girls go behind young inexperienced young adults snatching their hats, have the boys to chase them, an be trapped.  If this happens to America for a sake of adventure, improve your ability, master your  knowledge;  I want you to get married with the girl of your admiration.  Then, weíll know you will come back. (4)”

At age eighteen, Minas agreed to his motherís request, and married the beautiful young women of his dreams at the end of the winter of 1887. (5) Two week later, he left his new bride with his mother and two sisters and came to America.  He journeyed to Providence, Rhode Island where some of his relatives were already established.  They helped him secure a job at a field factory.  An agent of the factory convinced Minas it would be to his benefit to become a naturalized citizen for better opportunities.  He became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

While visiting friends and relatives in Lawrence, Massachusetts, they told him about some jobs that would be available in the textile mill in Lawrence.  Minas started working at the textile mill in Lawrence, then in a textile mill in Nashua, New Hampshire.  Minas returned to work again at the textile mill in Lawrence until labor problems caused him to be laid off.

Once again, Minas started looking for work on the outskirts of Lawrence.  He noticed a good road but there was no indication where the road would lead him.  He thought there might be a larger town at the end; so he started walking down the road.  It was raining by the time he reached the end.  He found a little muddy town called Haverhill.  While walking down the wooden sidewalks of the town, he found a ìhelp wantedî sign, at a tannery.  He applied and was hired.  The tannery boss asked him if he knew others who needed work, and offered to pay for his time to bring more workers to the tannery.  Minas left for Lawrence and brought four more of his countrymen to work for the tannery.  When Minasís son Garabed arrived in Haverhill in 1920, he was told by his countrymen that his father, Minas, was the first Armenian to walk in Haverhill.  They told him,  “This is your fatherís town.” (6)

Minas kept his promise to his mother and returned to Armenian sometime before the Massacres of 1894. (7) It was during this massacre, that his first wife, pregnant at the time, was murdered by Turks.  When Minas found his dead wife and child, he was grief-stricken and could not speak for six months.

After this period of grief, he took a second wife by the name of Anna Boyajian.  Anna was the daughter of Marsup and Hripsime Boyajian, born in 1878.  Anna had one sister, Mary (8), and brother, Gurgho, and her family was involved in silk trading. (9) In the village of Kuyulu, Anna and Minas had ten children, three daughters an seven sons.  The  first child was born in 1897 and the last child born in 1915. (10)

The Surviving Children
In the Genocide of 1915, the entire family with the exception of three of their children perished.  Two of the sons, Garabed, born 1898, and Mesrop, born 1903, (11) escaped death during an attack while the family was being evacuated by the Turks.  It would not be until 1967, that Garabed and Mesrop would learn that their sister Zartik, born in 1897, (12) also survived the Genocide but died in the late 1940ís.

Life for the two young brothers was very difficult in Turkish Armenia.  With no food or money, they resorted to stealing food to survive.  One kind Armenian women helped feed and care for them temporarily.  Garabed, being the oldest, carved crochet needles and peddled them for food or money to sustain them.  The young boys had to learn Turkish and Russian, and pretended they were not Armenians in order to stay alive in Turkish territory.

In 1919, Garabed joined the Volunteers of the Region of Armenian, Sixth Division, in Adana Turkey, which was French occupied territory at the time. (13)  The job of the Sixth Division  was to hide in the mountains to protect the people in the villages from being massacred by the Turks.

Mesrop, at this time, was sent to France to study dentistry. While in France, he changed his last name to Samoian and later married and Armenian woman named Berjouhi.  They had three sons, Robert, Edward, and Albert.  Mesrop came to Providence, Rhode Island, sometimes after 1928. (14) where he started his  practice of dentistry, but eventually returned to France.

Garabed married his first wife, Lucy, and they came to Haverhill, Massachusetts, in 1920.  They traveled to Fresno, California, where Garabed worked for his Aunt Mary Papazian, on her grape farm on Clovis and Belmont Avenues.  For leisure activities, Garabed and Lucy would travel with his cousin, Agnes, and her husband, Alex Kochouian, to place like San Francisco, Oakland, and Yosemite Valley, California (15) P  Sometimes before 1927, the couple returned to Massachusetts.  Garabed left Boston on December 26, 1927, to visit Mesrop in France, returning to Boston on Jan. 19,  1928. (16)

Lucy died on August 3, 1930.  After Lucy’s death, Garabed spent his time collecting poetry and writing his autobiography.  He also made a three and four inch miniature violin with intentions to donate it to the Armenian National Art Museum in Yerevan, Armenia, at the time it was being built in the 1930’s. (17) It was not until the late 1970’s that he sent his miniature violin to the museum.

He lived in Detroit, Michigan in the early 1940’s and Groveland, Massachusetts. In the late 1940 and early 1950, where he earned his living as an carpenter, building and remodeling homes. (18) He married two more times, but the marriages ended in divorce, leaving him no children.

In the early 1950’s he met Rose Dawkins White, who had four children from her previous marriage.  Garabed and Rose married in August of 1953, and left Groveland for Texas.  The August heat in Texas was unbearable for Rose so they decided to come to Fresno, California.  Garabed adopted his four step children (19) and they had four more children.  Garabed continued his business as a contractor, picking up the majority of his work from the Armenian community in Fresno.

Garabed died on July 17, 1989, at the age of 91.  Most of his family still resides in Fresno County today.  Garabed is no longer alive to add to the details regarding his familyís experiences in the Genocide, conditions or modes of transportation in the migratory experiences of his family.  Much history was learned about the family from the old wooden suitcase and others still living and able to recall facts about the family’s history.  More information is needed to make the history complete that stemmed from the information found in Garabedís suitcase.

1 Boyajian,  Interview.  Telgadin was the Armenian name of the village before it was changed to the Turkish name of Kuyulu.
2 Der Minasian, Garabed.  Journal.  Sanger, Ca 1970-1989. Technical notes in Garabedís journal.
3 Der Miasian, Journal.,  p. 1.
4 Der Minasian, Journal,  p. 2.
5 Der Manisian, Journal,  p. 2.
6Der Minasian, Journal,  p. 3.
7 The exact date of his return is not known.  It is a fact that his first wife died at the hands of the Turks.
8 Annaís sister Mary, would later marry into the Papazian family that settled in Fresno, CA.
9 Boyajian, Mary.  Oral Interview.  Fresno, CA.  April 23, 1997.  Gurgho was naturalized in Nashua, New Hampshire, and immigrated all five of his children one by one to the United States.
10 Der Minasina, Journal,  p. 4.
11 Der Minasina, Journal,  p. 4.
12 Der Minasian, Journal,  p. 4.
13 Picture:  Volunteers Region of Armenia, 6th Div., Adana, Turkey.  1919.
14 Der Minasina, Garabed.  Passport #1876.  Boston, MA. Dec. 23,  1927
15 Picture:  Garabed and Lucy der Minasian. San Francisco, CA.  1922
Picture:  Fairy Boat Cruse.  Oakland, CA.  1922
Picture:  Garabed, Lucy, and Agnes K. & Friend. Yosemite, Ca.  1923
16 Der Minasina, Passport #1876
17 Picture:  Garabed with Violin.  Norfolk Prison Colony, MA,  1933
18 Der Minasian, Garabed.  Drivers License.  Detroit, MI.
Issued:  Feb. 16,  1942
Der Minasian, Garabed.  Drivers License.  Groveland, MA
Issued:  Sept. 26,  1949
Der Minasian, Garabed.  Contractors License.  Boston, MA.
Issued:  May 2, 1930.
Der Minasian, Garabed.  Contractors License.  Detroit,
Mi. Issued:  Jan. 22,  1947.
19White, Wayne, Donna, Judy, Brenda.  Matter of Petition for Adoption.  Fresno, CA

Der Minasian, Garabed.  Passport#1876.  Boston, Mass. Dec. 23, 1927.
Der Minasian, Garabed.  Drivers License.  Detroit, MI. Issued:  Deb. 16,  1942.
Der Minasian, Garabed.  Drivers License.  Groveland, MA. Issued:  May 2, 1930.
Der Minasian, Garabed.  Contractorís License.  Boston, MA. Issued:  May 2, 1930.
Der Minasian, Garabed.  Contractorís License.  Detroit, MI. Issued:  Jan. 22, 1947.
Garabed Der Minasian v. Helen Der Minasian.  No. 349-569 Decreed of Divorce.  Country of Wanye in Chancery, MI. Feb. 3, 1944.
Julia M. Der Minasian v. Garabed Der Minasian.  Petition of Divorce.  Essex County, MA. March 31, 1953.
Nufus Kay Ornegi.  Turkish Birth Record.  Elazig, Turkey. Dec. 6, 1967.
White, Wayne, Donna Judy, Brenda,  Matter of Petition for Adoption.  Fresno,CA.  June, 6,  1955.
Journal of: Der Minasian, Garabed. Sanger,  CA.  1970-1989.
Oral Interview:  Boyajian, Mary. Fresno, CA.  April 23, 1997.
Oral Interview:  Der Minasian, Rose. Sanger, CA. April 18, 1997.
Picture:  Volunteers Region of Armenia, 6th Div., Adana, Turkey.  1919.
Picture:  Garabed and Lucy Der Minasian, San Francisco, CA.  1922.
Picture:  Fairy Boat Cruse.  Oakland, CA.  1922.
Picture:  Garabed, Lucy, and Agnes K. & friend.  Yosemite, CA.  1923.
Picture:  Garabed of Cliff.  Elizig,Turkey, 1967.