Panorama of the city of Erzerum (Karin)
The cathedral of St. Asdvadzadzin (Holy Mother of God) is in the centre
Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute
Haykanush Makinajian-Aharonian’s memoir (Erzerum, 1898 – Baghdad, 1963), held in the AGMI museum collections, is a valuable source for the study of various episodes of the Armenian Genocide. The memoir, titled "Recollections of Exile: Erzerum – Mosul," although not large (86 pages), provides valuable insights for the study of the deportations, massacres, abductions of women and children and the violence inflicted upon Armenians from Erzerum and its surrounding areas.
The author, Haykanush Khachaturi Makinajian-Aharonian was born in Erzerum, western Armenia. She was one of six children and was 17 years old when the Armenian Genocide began. She lost all the members of her family, one after the other, during several months of their deportation.
She begins the story of her deportation and survival in June 1915 in one of the caravans that left Erzerum, describing the journey made, day by day and settlement-by-settlement, finally reaching Mosul. According to her story the caravan, which included her and seven members of her family, began the "road of death" from Erzerum on Saturday, June 28, 1915, although the deportation order had been received as early as June 8. Haykanush's family comprised her father Khachatur, mother (name not mentioned), brothers Yervand (her elder brother), Ghazaros (a student of the Military College in Constantinople), Hovakim (9 years old) and sisters Satenik (a graduate of the Hripsimian College) and Tigranuhi. Yervand Vanetsyan, Haykanush's sister Satenik’s fiancé, was also with them but was forced to stop his journey near Ashkale (about 40 km west of Erzerum) due to a severe fever; they never heard of him ever again.
The author recounted all the horrors of the deportation while charting the road that the caravan took, with the deportees walking and halting for months on end, their numbers dwindling on a daily basis. Their route took them to Kez - Ashkale – Baberd; then across the Chorokh river to Yerznka – the Kemakh gorge - Egin and Arapgir , then across the Murad river to Kharberd - Mezre - Tigranakert - Mersin - Mtsbin (Nisibin) - Jezire -T’hok - Nabi Yunus (a village on the road to Mosul) to Mosul itself. This was the road of death, which the author miraculously survived, having lost all her relatives.
She witnessed scenes of the separation and murder of the men as well as the abduction and violence used against women and children. Haykanush, suffering from the inability to help her relatives who wasted away day by day because of hunger, thirst and diseases, survived their deaths. She was left alone with the remnants of a people who lost their human features and were doomed to indifference.
The gendarmes separated around 850 Armenian youths from the caravan when they arrived at Kemakh gorge and took them away. They were never heard from again. This group also included her aunt and uncle’s sons. When the caravan arrived near the Murad river on August 6, 1915, the gendarmes separated another 90 men from it, tied their hands together and took them away, saying: "...our soldiers are fighting, so you must come and harvest our fields." Haykanush's older brother, Yervand, and her uncle were among this group of men. The gendarmes had collected, before their arrest, all kinds of tools: adzes, axes, knives, and cleavers. Haykanush then recounts, ''We heard, from a Kurd's wife, that they [the Armenian men] were slaughtered with those tools and thrown, half-dead, into pits in such a way that, after they were covered with soil, the blood seeped to the surface of the ground like a flood of water''. Jazira became a slaughterhouse for the few men left in the caravan.
The author reported that, during the deportation robbery, searches and murders became more and more prevalent, but the most dreadful were the abductions of young brides, girls and children. She testifies, ''...the Arabs started abducting brides, girls and boys by force away from the road. They would come from distant villages with herds of cattle and bribe the gendarmes; the latter would let them what they liked: take, humiliate or possess the girls completely and, after satisfying the desires, desert or kill them. That's how we got to Mersin." Haykanush and her mother eventually managed, using bribery, to recover her beautiful sister, Satenik, a graduate of the Hripsimian College, who had been kidnapped by the local Turks.
Mosul was the last station for deportees and where Haykanush ended her story. She lost her mother and two sisters there and was left completely alone. She ended the story of her survival with the following lines, "I was deprived of my dear parents, my cherished brothers and sisters, remaining disheartened and helpless... The graves of my sisters and mother were left without tombstones in unmarked corners of Mesopotamia."
Unfortunately, there is neither information about the author's later life, nor the year when the memoir was written. We may assume that Haykanush spent her last years in Baghdad as it is mentioned as the place where she died on the title page of the memoir.
The memoir was handed to the AGMI by Dr. Zohrap Nakhshkerian in 2009.
Researcher, responsible for organizing museum exhibitions at the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute
The Torosian family from Erzerum, 1900s
Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute
A caravan of Armenian deportees from Erzerum
Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, Viktor Pietschmann’s collection