My great-grandfather Karekin was born in 1875 in Erzurum, the ancient capital of Armenia as well as the capital city of the province of Erzurum. It is a city which has been renamed throughout the centuries as Garin.
Karekin’s grandfather was born in Kghi, one of the most distinguished districts in the province of Erzurum. In that era it was the custom that once a Kghetzi got married he would leave after a few months and go to Istanbul, or Polis as it was commonly known (Greek meaning city) to work and send money home. The reason for the departure was because making a living in Erzurum was hard.
Karekin’s grandfather went to Istanbul after his first child was born- a boy named Boghos, my great great-grandfather. Karekin’s grandfather got a job as a manager of an inn. The family name Odabashian stemmed from his profession: Oda (Turkish for inn) and Bashi (Turkish for keeper). During the time there my great great great-grandfather met a man named Boorasdanian from a village near Erzurum called Doghnig and he was there for the same reason. He had a daughter named Mariam. The two men became friends and talked about their families. Since they each had a child they decided that it would be perfect to have their children marry. Boghos and Mariam were engaged as infants.
Some years later when my great great great-grandfather returned to Erzurum the wedding took place. Boghos was 21 and Mariam was 15.
Shortly after the marriage at around 1870, Boghos my great great-grandfather rented a building from the Pasdermajian family, the most prominent and wealthiest Armenians in Erzurum. Since my great great-grandfather had the experience of running an establishment in Istanbul he decided to open a bar/casino/restaurant combination. It was a place where men went to relax and read newspapers in both Armenian and Turkish, and had excellent food cooked by a Chef he had brought from Istanbul. His casino/restaurant was the only one run by an Armenian that the Turkish government allowed Turkish citizens to attend. This included school officials, military, government workers, etc. The establishment was not a true inn because it did not have sleeping facilities.
Their first child was Karekin (my great-grandfather) followed by Vartanoush, Khoren, Azniv, and Nerses. They lived in a two story house where they kept cows and poultry. Karekin’s sister Vartanoush and her husband Mihran Prudian and their children Vartan and Aram lived with the family on the second floor. Across the street lived Vartkes Seringulian, a noted revolutionary.
When my great-grandfather Karekin graduated from the Ardzenian school the director told him that the local pharmacist was looking for an apprentice to learn the profession and found Karekin best suited for the position. In Erzurum pharmacists were respected as much as doctors; due to the lack of doctors, pharmacists were often called upon to do doctors work.
With the 1908 declaration of freedom, equality, fraternity, and peace, Armenians were free to travel. My great-grandfather Karekin decided to go to Istanbul to practice his profession. The day before Karekin was to leave. He was asked to accompany the Tiriakian family: a recent widow, her three children, and her brother back to Istanbul, because they were stranded in Erzurum. During the eight day trip he became acquainted with them and the eldest daughter Noemi eventually became his wife. Once in Istanbul his old neighbor Vartkes Seringulian one of the revolutionaries who was now the representative from Erzurum to the Turkish government, informed Karekin that the Limondjian Pharmacy, the top pharmacy in Istanbul was looking for a qualified pharmacist. He applied and was given the job. Now his aim was to bring his family out of Erzurum and into the comparative safety of Istanbul.
Karekin started by sending for his brother Khoren who was in danger of being inducted into the Turkish army. He got Khoren a position in the German embassy which deferred him from service and later Karekin also got a position in the embassy. Karekin was lucky to fall into the good graces of his boss, whom he was able to get out of several tight spots that might have sent him to jail. He, in turn aided Karekin a few times when his life was in danger and covered up for him when he hid dozens of people escaping from the authorities.
In 1913 Karekin sent for his mother and his brother Nerses. Soon after, in 1914, war broke out and travel was prohibited. Karekin’s brother Khoren was able to get Levonís mother left her new born baby daughter on the side of the road. Since she could not carry both of them, she had to choose between the children she loved deeply. Levon’s mother decided to leave the baby girl because she was small and knew that she was not going to have enough energy to take care of a baby girl. Levon said in a soft voice, ” I remember my mother looking back to see how my sister Knarig was doing and hoped that someone would pick her up and take her to a safe place.” safe-passage papers for the rest of the family still in Erzurum through his job in the German embassy. Shortly after Karekinís sister Vartanoush and her children Aram and Vartan, his cousin Pailag and Karekin’s niece Ashkhen with brothers Suren and Haig arrived. A Mr. Dolci, an Italian, heard about the familyís escape from the interior of Turkey and wanted to help. He got in touch with Vartanoush and hearing the stories of the genocide wished to send Aram, Vartan, and Haig to St. Lazzaro, the island near Venice run by the Mekhitarist Armenians.
At the end of the war in 1918 Karekin was discharged from the embassy, he returned home to the European side of Istanbul. Shortly after in 1919 he married Noemi. Karekin was 44 at the time and had not thought of marriage for years because his highest priority was keeping his family safe. Noemi was 20 years his junior.
In 1920, with his brother Nerses as godfather, my aunt Hasmig was born. A year later Karekinís younger sister Azniv and her husband Kevork Kazazian and daughters Heranush 6, and Araxy 2, arrived from Russia where they had gone to escape the massacres. They all lived together and helped each other so they could live relatively well. However soon afterwards they realized the Turks were beginning their usual harassing and persecuting and it was time for them to leave Istanbul and emigrate to America for a new life.
Karekin’s sister Aznive and her family decided to go to Bulgaria where her husband Kevork had an older brother. Karekinís sister Vartanush, his mother, and a friend Arshavir stayed in Istanbul and later left.
An Italian freighter took Karekin and his family to Marseilles where his daughter, my grandmother Angele, was born in 1922. From France Karekin decided to go directly to Mexico to make their entry into the United States easier since they had no sponsors. It is also where Karekin met up with Vartanoush and his mother. They liked the Mexico City climate so much they decided to stay in Mexico City. In 1924 they had a son Boghosig who died in an auto accident when he was two years old. Then their last child my aunt Iris was born in 1926.
While my Aunt Hasmig was visiting relatives in Fresno, CA, she met her husband Ted Markarian. My Aunt Iris met her husband Sarkis Sahatdjian in Fresno when she was visiting her sister Hasmig. My grandmother Angele met my grandfather Mugerdich Harutinian in Mexico City where he owned a slipper factory. My grandparents had three children, Aram (my father), Nora, and Sonia. In 1975 my father came to Fresno to visit his relatives. While in Fresno he met his wife and my mother Joyce Donabedian at a picnic at the Hagopian center. In 1979 they had their first child, a son they named Michael and in 1980 they had a daughter they named Barbara.
Thank you to my aunt, Jasmine Markarian, who assisted me by providing additional details of my family history.