Mary Ann’s father Badrig Arakelian, the only survivor of his family as the result of the Armenian Genocide, left us this oral history.
Transcription of Oral History entitled Badrig Arakelian…
interview conducted by Rev. Fr. Tateos Abdalian
Badrig “Bud” Arakelian
1909 – 1988
Today we are sitting with Mr. Badrig Arakelian, who lives at 123 Winter Street, Belmont, Massachusetts. Mr. Arakelian was born on September 18, 1909 in the City of Yozgat. Today’s date is August 20, 1980. The interviewer is Richard Abdalian.
Q; Mr. Arakelian, you were born in Yozgat in 1909. How long did you live there?
A: Approximately I was three years old. At three years old my parents moved to a town called Samson, so that my father went into a business of his own. Before that, my father was working with his father in business in Yozgat.
Q: What kind of business did he have?
A: My father had a business as a wholesaler at the waterfront, importing and exporting all kinds of dry goods such as walnuts, peanuts and so forth and other types of small nuts and soaps. Different types of dried fruit.
Q: Was he a wealthy man?
A: He wasn’t wealthy..He was comfortable making a living. By the way, he was in partnership with the Greeks.
Q: What was your father’s name?
A: My father’s name was Arakel.
Q: Your mother’s name?
Q: Did you have any other brothers and sisters?
A: I had a sister next to me and also a brother.
Q: What were their names?
A: My brother’s name was Haroutiun and my sister’s name was Ann.
Q: Do you remember your home?
A: I do.
Q: Can you describe it for me?
A: It was a comfortable home facing the sea, approximately a half mile away the sea. It was sort of on top of a hill.
Q: This was in Samson?
A: Yes, Samson. And we could see the sea. It was two floors. It was a comfortable home.
Q: How big was it?
A: It had about three rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs.
Q: Can you describe approximately how long and how high?
A: Yes. It must have been about 50 feet wide and approximately 30-35 feet high. And it was located right next to an Armenian Church.
Q: Do you remember the name of the church?
A: I do not. In fact, right near the church, there was a small grave. In those days, they use to bury the priest at the church yard. I remember that distinctly, but I do not remember the name of the church.
Q: Was it a large church?
A: It was quite a good size church. And old stone building and probably would have held 100-150 people.
Q: Do you remember your neighborhood and your neighbors?
A: I do not remember any of my neighbors or neighborhood at all.
Q: Do you remember the house across the street from you?
A: It wasn’t really a house. I remember it was a big yard and it had some sort of building in there because in those days, most of the men had to serve in the Turkish Army. And I knew that my father would be going there once or twice a week. He use to serve in a National Guard. So I did not know what kind of building it was. That’s all I could remember and I use to see him in a Turkish uniform there.
Q: Did anyone else live with you?
A: Yes, I had…When we first moved from Yozgat to Samson, about six months later…my grandparents. I…being the only first grandchild…they couldn’t stand being alone. So they sold their business and came to live with us. My grandparents and the sister of my father. Within six months, my grandfather died over there. Within in another six months, my grandmother died. Of course, my Aunt, my father’s sister who was much younger was the only one living with us when this war started.
Q: Do you remember the market or market place?
A: I remember what we called sort of a bazaar or marketplace. Not too far from where we lived near the sea where my father’s store was. It was an open market where people use to bring their bones or fruits and vegetables to sell there.
Q: Do you remember going to the market yourself?
A: I remember going there after the war….While during the war, after my parents had disappeared. Not before…No.
Q: Were there all Armenians in that area, or were there a mixture of Turks and Greeks?
A: There were Turks and there were some Greeks and few Armenians. They were some wealthy people approximately one or two blocks away from us.
Q: Did you know their names?
A: No, because I remember distinctly when the war was going on Allied ships use to come. We could see the ships from a distance, the smoke. We all use to go to these Armenian homes to see the ships coming which were on top of the hill. They had an underground or a really big cellar. All the Armenians use to go there and take refuge there while the bombardments were going on. The Russians or the Americans or whoever came use to come close to the city and open fire.
Q: Did anyone else work in your family of just your father?
A: Just my father.
Q: What were your mother’s duties?
A: A housewife as far as I know.
Q: What do you remember about her in those days?
A: I just don’t remember anything outstanding, just a housewife.
Q: Did you go to school?
A: I really wasn’t old enough to go to school.
Q: You didn’t go to school in Samson at all?
Q: Was there a school there?
A: I presume there was, but I really don’t remember a school.
Q: Do you know if there were any doctors?
A: No, I don’t.
Q: What would happen if someone got sick in your house?
A: I can’t recall that at all.
Q: What about your friends your age as a young person?
A: I had one friend which somehow or other during the war this wealthy Armenian had a tobacco factory there manufacturing cigarettes. They use to have a big mansion there. They use to take me up to their house and I use to play with their boy.
Q: Do you remember his name?
A: I really don’t remember. No. Because the way I could tell they were wealthy was because he had a tricycle which was unusual. And then they use to have Hershey Bars all the time over there.
Q: Where did the Hershey Bars come from?
A: They use to sell them in the stores.
Q: Were there any other items like that that came from the United States or outside?
A: No, I don’t. I just remember the tricycle and a lot of Hershey Bars that they use to give to us. That was something.
Q: What toys did you have?
A: I don’t remember any toys. I don’t think I had any toys. I just don’t remember.
Q: What did you do during the day?
A: I can’t recall doing anything.
Q: Did you help around the house helping your mother?
A: Probably I would. My mother use to ask me to go and get Grandma. My Grandmother use to visit some Armenian friends. I would go and visit them but I don’t remember their names at all. I’m not aware that I had any other friends to play with except my sister, that’s all.
Q: You mentioned the church next to your house. Was it a Loosavorchagan Church?
A: I don’t remember what kind of church it was.
Q: Do you remember going to church?
A: Once or twice, I went with my Grandmother.
Q: To the church?
Q: Do you remember anything about it?
A: The only thing I remember was that the outside was concrete, but I can’t recall anything on the inside at all. As I said, right next to our house we were right next door to the church practically. And between us there was some land and a graveyard for the priests.
Q: Do you remember the priests?
Q: Let me ask you about religious observances. Do you remember how you would celebrate, for instance, Easter?
A: I don’t recall that.
Q: Or Christmas? What about Lent? Did you keep Lent?
A: They use to talk about it, but I don’t know how they kept it. I remember hearing about it but I don’t know how it was kept.
Q: Do you remember any individuals from Samson that stand out in your mind? Particular people, maybe a Der Der, or a person who you could classify as the village elder who was the wise man of the village, leader of the village in the Armenian community?
A: No I don’t.
Q: As a child, where you happy?
A: I presume I was, because as I said before you asked me how I spent my time, my father use to take me to his place. A few times I use to go with him and I use to play around there in the warehouse.
Q: He had a warehouse also?
A: Yes, he had a warehouse.
Q: Was it a large size warehouse?
A: Yes, it was a big warehouse.
Q: You mentioned earlier that he was in partners with someone?
A: With a Greek.
Q: Was it just the two of them?
A: Just two of them, yea.
Q: Did he travel at all?
A: No, not at all.
Q: How did he get his supplies?
A: He was right at the wharf. They use to come in by boats, ships.
Q: Do you remember any certain customs, traditions that your father would transfer to you?
A: No, I was too young I didn’t.
Q: Do you remember if there was a bath house, a public bath?
A: There was. I know we went there a few times. My mother use to take us there a few times. We use to bathe in the bath house.
Q: Did you have a garden at all?
A: No, we did not have any garden.
Q: You had to buy all your needs?
Q: What was the weather like?
A: It was very pleasant, very little winter. You would find most of the fruits and vegetables would grow like California. Warm weather fruits such as pomegranates, figs, things like that. So it must have been pretty warm climate. We had very mild winters.
Q: So you had all those fruits in that area. You had pomegranates, figs. What else did you have? Did you have citrus fruits, oranges, lemons?
A: No, nothing like that.
Q: What about apples, pears, peaches?
A: Yes, apricots. The reason I remember them too was not too far from the house use to be a little farm land and we use to go over there.
Q: Whose farm was it?
A: I really don’t know.
Q: Did your father belong to any political organization?
A: I don’t know.
Q: Did you know of any at the time?
Q: Hunchagans, Tashnagans?
A: No, I don’t think so.
Q: The Turks, the Armenians and also the Greeks all lived together? They weren’t separated by districts at all?
A: No, they were mixed.
Q: Did you speak Turkish as a young boy?
A: I did, yes.
Q: Did you speak Armenian also?
Q: In your home, what language did you speak?
A: Mostly Turkish
Q: Why was that?
A: Well, my folks came from Yozgat. They were Turkish speaking. So naturally they spoke Turkish in the house also.
Q: Why didn’t they speak Armenian?
A: I really don’t know why they didn’t? But somehow or other, I learned Armenian but I don’t know where.
Q: Were there any penalties for speaking Armenian?
A: No, not so.
Q: There was no problem with the Turks as far as being able to speak Armenian?
A: Not that I know.
Q: Did you know if somebody was a Turk, Armenian or a Greek?
A: I wouldn’t know. Of course, we would associate mostly with Armenians. But out in the street, we couldn’t tell if they were Turk or Armenian.
Q: Do you remember any Wakes?
A: No, I don’t.
Q: The happy or joyous event such as wedding, whether it be a christening or engagement?
A: I wouldn’t know.
Q: You didn’t go to school, you said?
Q: Did you ever go on any vacations or trips with your mother or father?
Q: Did you have any animals?
Q: No animals. What about in the village?
A: We use to see donkeys and dogs, but I didn’t have any animals.
Q: Who were the leaders in your village? Do you remember?
A: No, I don’t.
Q: Do you remember any of the government buildings, such as the court or prison?
A: No, I don’t.
Q: You know if there were any?
A: I presume there were, but I didn’t know the whereabouts? I guess there was no occasion for me to know.
Q: Were you treated differently as a boy than someone as a girl? Were the girls treated differently?
A: Well, I was treated differently, because I was the first grandchild. That’s the first thing.
Q: How were you treated differently?
A: Well, my father use to take me to his store, in the first place. Then in the house, if there was anything to be done, I was the first one to be asked to go and do it. Other than that, I didn’t see any other advantages to being a boy.
Q: When you were at home, did you eat together as a family?
A: We did.
Q: You never ate separately…the men from the women?
Q: Do you remember the types of food that you ate?
A: I can’t recall that either.
Q: You mentioned the building across from your home as being a military building.
A: Some sort of military building, or some sort of school. I know it had a big yard. I really don’t remember what kind of building it was, government building or not.
Q: Do you remember seeing any vehicles? Motorized vehicles?
A: No we didn’t see any vehicles at all.
Q: As far as the army, the Turkish army. Were there always soldiers present?
A: No. I didn’t see any soldiers whatsoever, until the war.
Q: How did you receive the news from the outside world?
A: I wouldn’t know.
Q: Do you remember if there was a town crier or anything like that?
Q: There wasn’t anyone like that?
A: I don’t remember. I don’t think there was any.
Q: Do you remember any other stores? Was there a store near your father?
A: I remember a bakery store there, in that neighborhood. And I remember a shoe store, a shoemaker, and there was a few other stores near the center of town, the bazaar. But, oh yes, there was another store, I recall, that use to sell all these imported sweets like I mentioned. Hershey bars, different sweets. We use to see it in the window. Other than that I don’t remember anything else.
Q: Do you know who owned these stores? Were they Armenians?
A: I really don’t know.
Q: What did your sister do during the day?
A: I don’t know. I can’t recall.
Q: Is there anything that you can remember about the village life at all such as the events of the day prior to the massacres?
A: No, I can’t remember anything in particular that stands out until after the war or during the war.
Q: Okay, let me start at that point. 1915 the massacres started. In 1915 were there any problems occurring in Samson?
A: There wasn’t, no.
Q: Did you hear of anything going on from the outside?
A: No, I didn’t.
Q: There was no activity within the town? There wasn’t an increase in seeing the number of soldiers coming into the area, anything of that sort, that would give an indication that there was something was going on?
A: There wasn’t. I don’t remember hearing anything.
Q: Was your father taken away to the army at this time, 1915 or so?
A: No. He wasn’t. I guess he had served his time. Or in them days, they use to buy their way out. I think he paid, I don’t know how much it was, but he paid his fee and he wasn’t serving in the army anymore.
Q: When you are talking about the war, you are talking about what year1918?
A: 1918 on.
Q: So in 1915, 16 or 17, 18, do you remember anything going on at this time?
A: No I don’t. There was nothing unusual.
Q: Nothing unusual going on? There were no Armenians being taken away, families being taken away, maybe usurped to your knowledge?
Q: Okay..1918 then?
A: 1918 yes.
Q: Let’s being from here. What do you remember?
A: Well, I remember one night they came, soldiers or Turkish military or whoever they were. They came over…My father was wanted.
Q: This was 1918?
A: Approximately yes.
Q: Do you know approximately what month it was?
A: No I don’t.
Q: What was the weather like, do you remember?
A: It was ordinary weather.
Q: In other words, you don’t know what season it was? The approximate time?
A: I think it must have been a cool season.
Q: So maybe the Fall or Winter?
A: Probably, yes.
Q: Okay fine.
A So these men came over. They wanted to ask him some questions. He was wanted at the Town Hall or wherever it was, they took him. The next morning he did not come back. I think my Mother inquired about it and they said he couldn’t come out yet. And that was the last time we saw him. I don’t know what happened after that.
Q: You don’t know what happened to him after that? Never learned what happened?
A: No. So two weeks went by. Then there was a notice posted in this Bazaar place that all the Armenians have to leave Samson approximately say within a week.
Q: This is 1918?
Q: They had to leave Samson within a week. So that my mother, she didn’t know what to do. She finally decided that she is going to go and see if she can find my father. She had heard rumors that my father was taken away to a certain part of the town, or out of town to some other city. So she had an inkling that she would go and find him. As I said before, I had an Aunt living with us and she said to my Aunt…”Look, you take care of Badrig, and I’ll take the two kids and see if I can go and find him.” And they hired a wagon. In the meanwhile, before my mother went, the Greeks told my mother why don’t you come and stay with us until things quieted down. And my mother says “No, I’m going to go and find my husband.” And she gave all her jewelry to them. She said “You take all this jewelry that I have and take care of my son.” I’m going to leave them here..:
Q: Meaning who?
A: Myself and my Aunt. So the Greeks took us into their house and my mother went. And we lived with the Greeks quite a few months. That’s when I started to go to Greek School. Of course, the Turks thought I was Greek. They all look alike. I use to go to Greek School, back and forth. So six months we lived there in that house. After six months, by this time, we haven’t heard a word from my mother.
Q: What was going on in the village all this time? Were the Armenians taken out?
A: All the Armenians had left. They were taken out. There was no Armenians left. They all disappeared.
Q: What happened to their houses?
A: They were left as it was.
Q: Did anyone come to occupy them?
A: I’m coming to that. After six months, word came out if there were any Armenians hidden with the Greeks, which they knew there were some, they can come out, go claim their houses, go in their house. They were free to do so. So we did, we came out and went to our house. Of course, it was all ransacked. There wasn’t much valuables left there. They had taken out the rugs. Everything was taken out. So we went in the house and we have no money. Whatever that was left in the house, any small furniture, my Aunt use to take it to the Bazaar and sell it. So we lived that way two to three months, selling whatever we had in the house. The time came when there was no more furniture left and no money.
We heard that there was a Turkish Orphanage in Marsovan which use to be an Armenian/American College in Marsovan. And of course, during the war, the Turks took that over too. So we hired a wagon and went to Marsovan, just my Aunt and I. She put me in the orphanage, the Turkish Orphanage, and she as a nurse. Of course, this orphanage wasn’t American buildings, but all barracks, just like Army barracks built away from it and we slept in the barracks. We use to sleep on the barracks, no covering, no bed, nothing, just on the earth floor. They use to give you a quarter of a loaf of bread a day. That was your rations. We could eat it at once or ration as you like. That was your…..So there was hundreds of kids there. I don’t know what nationality there were, Turks, Armenians, but we all spoke Turkish. It was really a filthy place to stay. So while I was there, I heard that if you got this certain disease, they take you there in that other department where you got more food. That disease was some sort of skin disease that use to start between your fingers and then spread all over like pimples. I use to scratch my hand and tell them that I had that disease and they believed it so they sent me over there.
Q: Now who controlled this orphanage?
A: Turks. So I got there, sure enough, I had the disease completely all over my body. So the way they treat you over there, that disease, is with some sort of salve all over your body and put a nightgown on. That’s the only clothing you had. No shoes. Nothing else. And you sleep with that on the floor. I had it all over me. That lasted about a month before I was cured. I was cured and went back to the orphanage.
Somehow or other, my mother had an uncle in Constantinople. He had heard that I was alive in this orphanage. The way he heard was that when we first went to Marsovan, there was an Armenian family. We stayed with them for a couple of days until we went into the thing. They treated us very good, this Armenian family in Marsovan. This Armenian family got in touch with me saying that you have this mother’s uncle who wants you to go to Bolis. We want you to run away from the orphanage and come to our house and we send you there. So I did. One day or one night I ran away, went to their house, by myself. I went to their house. They hired a wagon. Now I don’t know who paid for it. It was just like a covered wagon. They hired a wagon and the driver was a Turk, an elderly man. He was supposed to take me to Samson. From Samson, we take a boat to Constantinople. You have to go to a seaport. Marsovan was inland.
Q: Let me ask you this, Buddy, at this point. What about your sister and your brother? Where were they?
A: My mother took them along with her. I haven’t seen them since. Of course, we had heard afterwards through the grapevine that my mother went blind and she died. And we don’t know after this whether my sister and brother arrived or not.
So this man was Turk. He said to me when we go through any mountains and if you see bandits or anyone like that or if anyone asks you any questions, I’ll say you’re my son. Okay, so we’re in the covered wagon, driving along the mountain pass. There’s always bandits there you see. As we were going down, you would see them here and there. We came to a little hill and he said let’s get out and walk and make it easy for the horses. So we started to walk and we came to a crossroad. Some German soldiers were going by with their tanks and armored cars. As we were walking along, this German soldier says to me “Toon, Hye es?”(Are you Armenian?) I said, yea…He says,”Getseer(wait), I’ll put you on one of the wagons so that you don’t have to walk”. So he put me on the wagon and we rode that way.
Q: These were German soldiers?
A: German soldier, but he must have been Armenian. So we went that way and then they disappeared and we continued our journey. It was an overnight journey. One night we slept in a place they called some kind of inn. We stopped there. We slept in a room. Nothing in the room but a bare floor. We sleep there, get up in the morning, and we continued. That was in Samson in the morning.
Q: Was this 1918 still?
A: Yea. So we went. They put me on a boat. I don’t know who put me on the boat? Where they got the money? Only thing I had was a bag in my hand with an orange and an apple inside. I got on this fishing boat, overnight trip to Bolis. Next morning we got up. I’m along in the boat looking outside. This man with a rowboat beside us asked us if my name was Badrig. I said yes. He said come with me. (chuckle) So I went with him. He was my mother’s uncle. And he took me to his house.
Q: Do you remember his name?
A: Roupen, Roupen Berberian. I don’t where they are now, or what happened to him. He had two sons and a daughter. They were very, very nice. They treated me like one of the family. I went to school over there.
Q: In Bolis?
A: In Bolis.
Q: Which school was it?
A: I don’t know what school it was. I still don’t remember. Well this is going on. Time’s going by. It’s coming close to 1919, something like that. I was there six months. I use to go to Armenian School during the day. There was some sort of orphanage, but I didn’t stay there. I use to commute back and forth.
And after that, I had uncles over here. They came over here, my uncles, from Yozgat originally, to study, and they were going to go back to the village to improve their business. But when they got here, the war started and of course, they never went back. So they heard that I was alive and that my aunt was alive.
Q: How would they hear?
A: I don’t know how they heard. I don’t know. So they sent for me and for my aunt. When my aunt came from the orphanage to Bolis and from Bolis we got together and got onto the boat and we landed in New York.
Q: So your aunt stayed at the orphanage?
A: She did, as a nurse.
Q: Well, during this whole time, did you at all hear what was going on with the Armenians, and about the massacres or anything?
A: I was too young. I don’t remember anything about massacres. I wouldn’t know anything.
Q: Even at this time you didn’t hear anything?
A: No, even in Bolis, I didn’t know what was going on. The only thing I knew was that my parents had disappeared. That’s the only thing I knew. But as far as anything political or a war going on…Well I remember that a war was going on, because we went through it in Samson when the ships use to come and bombard the city.
Q: You remember that?
A: I remember that. When they use to come and bombard the city, as I said before, we use to go to this Armenian people’s cellar. Although most of the old ladies use to take out the Bibles and read it and pray. So when we come out from that bombardment after it was all over, we use to look all over. Most of the houses had big shell holes….shell holes all over.
Q: Were there any troops there?
A: We use to see Turkish troops there in Samson. They use to dig trenches all along. But no Allied soldiers ever came there.
Q: You didn’t see any French or English?
A: No, no. They use to come and bomb the city, but they never landed.
So……..We came to…They heard we were alive and they sent us our transportation fees whatsoever, and they brought us to this country.
Q: What do you remember about Bolis at this time?
A: Well what I remember was that we use to stay at a place called Kadikoy. I remember the trolley cars which I had never seen before. And to me it was a modern city which I never saw before. I remember the bridge…that famous bridge they have. And comfortable homes like I said where I lived. They were living comfortable. I don’t know what business he was in.
Q: He wasn’t bothered by the Turks at all?
A: No, not in Bolis. I did not know what business he was in.
Q: Were you afraid to be an Armenian at that time?
A: No, I never had that fear. In fact, I use to run errands for him. :Like they use to ask me to go here, go there where there was mostly Turks. They never bothered me. I had no fear.
Q: Did they know you were an Armenian?
A: Oh, definitely. But in Bolis, there was no fear at all.
Q: Now did you receive any newspapers or anything? At this time, were you able to read?
Q: You didn’t know how to read at this time?
A: I couldn’t read the newspaper or anything like that. I was just starting to read and write Armenian but not too well. I wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on in the world except my own problem.
Q: How big was the school that you attended?
A: It was a good size school. I should say like a small elementary school in this country. Of course, we were bigger yards, not two or three stories. Mostly it was two stories. But they had quite a few classrooms.
Q: Do you remember your teacher?
A: No I don’t.
Q: Do you remember if it was a man or a woman?
A: It was a woman.
Q: She was Armenian?
A: Oh yea.
Q: There weren’t Americans?
A: Oh no, they were Armenians.
Q: Do you know what subjects you studied other than the Armenian language?
A: I really don’t know.
Q: During your stay in Constantinople, did you hear at all of other Armenians telling their stories of the massacres or anything of that sort? Were there other Armenians coming to Constantinople relating what happened to them? Were you able to hear from your uncle any of these things?
A: One thing. They didn’t associate much. I don’t remember anyone coming or going in the house. So I don’t remember hearing any conversation. It seemed they mostly lived and had grown up kids. They lived amongst themselves, by themselves. I really don’t remember anyone coming and going.
Q: The section they were living in. Were there mostly Armenians?
A: There were Turks too; they were mixed, they were mixed..:
Q: There wasn’t strictly an Armenian section?
Q: Do you remember anything else about where you lived? Let me ask you, was there enough food to eat?
A: Oh yea, I was satisfied. There was enough food. And as I said, once in a while they use to take me to Constantinople. As I said, we lived in Kadikoy and we use to take a ferry, go across the river and that’s where Constantinople main city was. Anything else, I don’t remember.
Q: Did you hear at all about Armenia at this time? Anything in Armenia?
A: No, never heard of Armenia at all. Nothing was mentioned, as I know now.
Q: Is there anything else that you can remember up to this point? About your life over there? Could you describe your life and daily routine, your feelings, your thoughts about your mother or father?
A: My thoughts. Of course, I always had that feeling that I was an orphan. I was never comfortable regardless whose house I lived in. I took myself as an orphan. I use to stay backwards all the time, always shy. That’s the only thing I remember. I was never free. I didn’t express myself freely to anyone else. That’s the only thing I remember.
Q: Did you think about your parents at this time?
A: Oh yea, I always use to think about them.
Q: Did you have any hatred in your heart against the Turks?
A: No, I really don’t know if I had any interest about them, because I really did not know what was going on, whether it was the Turks or someone else that took them away. Of course, as I got older, I realized it was the Turks. But at that time I had no feelings whatsoever against the Turks.
Q: 1920 you came to the United States?
Q: Can you describe the experience about coming to the United States?
A: Well when I came here with my aunt…At that time there was no such thing as quota. The reason why we came first class or second class on the boat. You just walked off the boat. There was no questions asked. Being that an orphan coming with my aunt, I was held back in Ellis Island for two days. I don’t know. We went through all kinds of red tape.
Q: Do you remember your experiences at Ellis Island?
A: Yes I do. It was like a big prison there. Big, big buildings, bunk beds whatsoever…big dining rooms. They fed you this and that. As I said we came second class on the boat. In fact it was an American line boat.
Q: Do you remember the name of the boat?
A: S.S. President Wilson. That’s what it was. And we came (chuckle) really in luxury, just like today’s boats. They use to treat us. We had tables, individual tables, dining room. And they use to tell us what we want to eat. I didn’t come….Mostly Armenians did come in cattle boat. I stayed two days on Ellis Island and so they went through a lot of red tape before we walked out of there.
Q: Did you take the boat directly from Constantinople?
A: No, we took one boat from Constantinople to Greece. I don’t know which boat we took first. It wasn’t the same boat.. We had to take the President Wilson from Greece. We stayed in Greece for two days until that boat was ready. And we boarded the American line boat from Greece directly here.
Q: Do you remember the voyage over?
A: I do distinctly. (chuckle)It was rough, very rough. I was seasick all along. I couldn’t eat the beautiful food they had, I couldn’t eat. It was rough, yea.
Q: Were there any other Armenians on board, do you know?
A: I don’t know.
Q: You didn’t have any contact?
Q: Do you know approximately how long it took?
A: It took about seven days. I don’t think there would have been any Armenians on the boat. As I said, we came really in class. In those days, most of them came in cattle boats. So that’s how I remember America, after two days in Ellis Island. And as I said before if you came first or second class, there were no questions asked. You walked off the boat direct to the United States.
Q: Were there any Armenians in Ellis Island?
A: I don’t either.
Q: And when you came off the boat, you had no problems at all?
A: No, no problems.
Q: What was your impression of America before you arrived?
A: I had no impression whatsoever. I mean I didn’t look forward to what it is now, because I was a kid. I didn’t know the difference. You really don’t know the difference unless you grow up, and experience over there, and then come back and see a country like this First thing when we came off the boat, we came to a Pennsylvania Station. I remember distinctly. We would take the train to go to Philadelphia. I had two uncles there. One was my mother’s uncle and one was my father’s uncle.
Q: Do you remember their names?
A: Yes, one was Vahan Berberian and the other one was Levon Arakelian. And all the toys I saw in the windows, I remember them buying me a toy. An automobile, the kind you wind. I was happy with it. That’s all I remember.
Q: Did you learn any English at this point?
A: Nothing at all, not a word. I went to first grade. I was nine years old. I didn’t know yes or no.
Q: And you came from New York to Philadelphia?
Q: You lived in Philadelphia until?
Q: So for about fourteen years, you were in Philadelphia?
Q: Were there any other Armenians other than your family in the area?
Q: In Philadelphia?
A: Oh yes.
Q: Did you have contact with them?
A: I did, when especially in school, there were Armenians that were in the same category as I was. They couldn’t speak English either. They were newcomers. And they were as old as I was, in fact older. We were all put in a first grade starting to learn English.
Q: Did they relate to you their experience?
A: No, they didn’t. Some of them came with their parents. Now I don’t know if they were orphans. Most of them came with their parents.
Q: But you amongst yourselves didn’t talk about the massacres?
A: No, no.
Q: Was it something you wanted to forget? The past?
A: No, of course I knew I was an orphan. That will never go out of your mind. It’s in your head all the time. As I said, the others weren’t. They had parents. We never discussed about massacres or whatsoever.
Q: Who were your friends at school?
A: I can’t remember their names. But I had four or five of them. They were all Armenians. I can’t remember their names.
Q Did you have problems with the Odars at this point? Making fun of you?
A: Oh, definitely. We had problems all along.
Q: What type of problems?
A: Well, they would make fun of us all the time. And we couldn’t argue back with them. And they use to throw stones at us and pick a fight. Of course, amongst us we had some grown up Armenians. They use to stick with us and fight back until we started learning the language. I use to go to a store to buy bread or something like that. In them days, in the grocery stores everything was displayed openly. I use to just go for the bread, pick one up. I couldn’t even say bread. Or a pound of onions, I couldn’t say anything. Naturally gradually you picked it up. As a kid, you pick it up quickly.
Q: Your teacher in school?
A: It was a she. She was very nice to us.
Q: She was good to you. She wanted you to learn? She helped you out? Do you remember her name?
A: I remember her name distinctly because she was very good. Her name was Miss Smith. (Betty laughs). Yea, the first school I went to was the Stowe School. Harriet Beecher Stowe. They named it after her. Of course, that school is torn down. Because I had some information I wanted to get. I wrote to them and there was no school existing anymore.
Q: How long did you go to school there?
A: Oh I went to school up to sixth grade in Philadelphia?
Q: Did you work also?
A: Let’s see. After fifteen, sixteen I had to quit school and work.
Q: Where did you work?
A: Well I worked with my uncle. He had a cleaning shop. And then during bad times, Depression time, I had another uncle over here. He had a business here. I use to come here and work with him.
Q: What was the most difficult thing for you at this time as a newly arrived immigrant? Was it the language, the adjustment?
A: It was mostly the language. That was a barrier, yes. Because no matter where you went, if you were looking for a job, the language barrier was there. And of course, your name with an “ian” you came last.
Q: Why was that?
A: Well, it seemed that way because no matter how qualified you were, you weren’t accepted because it was “ian”.
Q: You had those problems?
A: Oh yea.
Q: Do you remember your house in the U.S. in Philadelphia?
A: Well there was a number of houses we lived in. We moved to different sections of the city. The first house when I came to this country to live I remember distinctly. It was Adison Street in West Philadelphia.
Q: After that where did you live?
A: After that, we went to Germantown. That was the last. From Germantown address, I came here to Massachusetts.
Q: Did you maintain your ties with the Armenians in Philadelphia?
A: That’s right.
Q: Did you also associated with the Odars once you began to learn English?
A: Oh yes I did because when I was eighteen, I opened up my own business in Philadelphia.
Q: What type of business was that?
A: Also a cleaning business. And of course, I had contact with all Nationalities. I spoke pretty well by then. So I was in business when I was eighteen years old. I was doing very well.
Q: How long were you in business down there?
A: Well I had a store until the Depression came. Naturally I had quite a few bucks in the bank. The Depression came and I went broke.
Q: During the Depression, what were your major problems?
A: Well, during the Depression, I was with my uncle. We had a cleaning business and we use to live in Philadelphia mostly with the stores downstairs and the house behind it or upstairs. Naturally we were just about making the ends meet. Couldn’t get jobs. We didn’t have enough money to buy luxurious food. We use to live on the most cheapest or inexpensive food that we can. There was no such thing as Welfare or nothing like that. We just existed as much as we could.
Q: You moved to Watertown in 1934. Why did you come here?
A: Why did I come? The reason I came here is that I had an uncle that came to Watertown. He moved from Philadelphia to Massachusetts. My uncle asked me at that time if I would come with him and help him out in the business. Because I was grown up. I said I would. So we came together. He moved the house and everything else and we opened up a bleaching business. Arakelians are there now. We started in Roslindale, a small place. Naturally we came together, I’m supposed to be his partner. In them days, I was so naïve. There was no such thing as making papers out or nothing like that. I had absolute confidence in both my uncles. I respected them all the time. We came here. I was helping him and we started a business. Things started to pick up, gradually picked up. Of course, I was living with him. I didn’t have to worry about where to live. So it came to a certain time, we came to a disagreement. I couldn’t stand it, so I went back to Philadelphia. I went back into the cleaning business again. And I started to go to school at night to pick up a High School course. I wasn’t there three months, when this uncle over here fell and broke his leg. He sent a telegram to me that he broke his leg and needs me right away, which I knew how to make everything. So I left everything and I came here. Left my job and school. Again, he said business is yours and mine, so we worked together like that six or seven months. I worked with him. No pay, just living in the house. Time went by. It seemed that we still couldn’t get along. He was always on my neck. So I told him to keep it and I got out of it. If it wasn’t for me, my uncle wouldn’t have that business. But he didn’t recognize that and he thought he could do it alone, which he did. Then gradually his sons grew up and took it over.
Q: So you stayed in Watertown after that?
A: I stayed here. I use to live in Watertown in a room for $3.00 a week, 3 hours extra pay.
Q: Where was that?
A: On Dexter Avenue, the second or third house on the left. There was an old lady. She use to belong to the other church on Arlington Street, you know what they called ????
Q: The Armenian Memorial Church?
A: Something like that. They were very religious, you know. I use to give her $3.00 a week. I got a job in town making fifty cents an hour pressing clothes. And he use to make sure that I didn’t make more than $10.00 or $12.00 twelve dollars a week. The end of the week comes, he owes me $12.00. He would give me $6.00 and said I’ll give you the rest next week. In the meanwhile, I was always looking for a job. So I use to pay $3.00 and the other $3.00 was for me. Of course, there was a restaurant where Kay’s is now, an Armenian Restaurant. Man and wife use to run it. We’d go in there and he use to take me into the kitchen and we would take what we want. I’d take this, this and that. Afterwards, I would ask how much I owed him and he would say fifty cents. So you see, your money lasted. (chuckle)
Q: Who were these people?
A: I happened to know that his wife was eccentric and eventually they divorced. I don’t know what his name was, but he was there.
A: This is around what year?
Q: It must be around ’39 or ’40, something like that. That’s when the restaurant was.
A: An Armenian Restaurant?
A: So I use to make $6.00 a week until I got myself another job making $20.00 a week. So gradually I climbed up.
Q: When did you get married?
Q: You married an Armenian?
Q: Why? Was it important to you to marry an Armenian?
A: It was. Because I went out with different Nationalities and I would see the difference. I always said that I would never marry a different Nationality.
Q: What is your feeling about Intermarriage? Between Armenians and Odars?
A: Well, in the first place, they would look at you as not-Armenian. You have that in the back of your mind. And plus their customs, plus their food. So I always had this in my mind that I would always marry an Armenian. Of course, I went out with different Nationalities. There were some nice people there, but when it came to marriage, I would never step into that.
Q: You have a daughter. Did you teach her Armenian?
A: We did.
Q: Was it important to you that your daughter know Armenian?
A: Naturally it was.
A: Because we’re Armenians. That’s why. We wanted her to use the same language as we’re supposed to. Until she went out, she started to go to school, naturally she had to change and learn English. In fact, when she went to school she didn’t know a word of English.
Q: That has happened to more than one person.
Q: What about your grandchildren? Do you speak Armenian with them?
Q: Why not?
A: It’s the parent’s fault. The parents don’t speak Armenian. They speak English. Just like we did, eventually, after she went to school, we changed to English.
Q: Is Education important to you?
A: It has been, yes.
Q: Why is that?
A: I realize now probably later than before I never realized that without Education you can’t accomplish much. You don’t go anyplace. If I had Education, probably I’d be in a different category.
Q: Let me ask you about your contact with the Armenian people now? As far as involvement, any political organizations?
A: None whatsoever.
Q: What about church organizations?
A: Well, we belong to St. James Church. We’re involved in that. That’s the only involvement we have. All of our friends are Armenian and members of the St. James Armenian Church.
Q: Is your connection with the church important to you?
A: It has, it has been. We look at the church as our second home, because through the church we made a lot of friends. If it wasn’t for the church and meeting people over there, we’d probably wouldn’t have these friends.
Q: What do you feel it takes for a person to be a good Armenian today?
A: Well, the first place be a good citizen, a member of the church, the Armenian Church and try to be involved among Armenian people mostly. And if you can, join the Armenian Organizations and raise your children that way if it’s possible.
Q: Who are some of the Armenians that you admire?
A: Lot of Armenians I admire. I read their names. I don’t know them in person. But I see them in the papers. I read their names and I admire them.
Q: Can you give me an example?
A: Well, the first one comes to mind is Manoogian. There’s an Armenian for you.
Q: Alex Manoogian?
Q: Why do you admire him?
A: Well the man is a self made man, made his money. But he’s done so much for the Armenians. It’s really unbelievable. There are a lot of Armenians in his position which they don’t do. And this man does.
Q: Is there anyone else?
A: Kavookjian is it? Yes, Kavookjian, Haig Kavookijian is the same way. These dedicated people. They have money and they help more than they can. Of course, we have some talented Armenians, writers, actors. Then there is…let me think…the man who wrote the book recently.
Q: Michael Arlen?
A: Michael Arlen. There is a young man is a dedicated Armenian I think, through his father’s teachings. There are lots of them that I read in the paper. I really admire them.
Q: Do you think fifty years from now the Armenians will remain as a people in the United States?
A: Absolutely. They’ll remain because Armenians are going ahead. Every year you hear there are more and more Armenians. Don’t forget years back, as I said, you couldn’t get a job because our name was “ian”. But now some of these people, at that time, in fact some of the Armenians changed their name to sound like English names so that they could get jobs or be recognized. But now they’ll never change their name. They’re known as “ian”. They want the world to know that they are “ian”. We see more that type of names in the newspapers.
Q: Have you ever told your life story to your daughter or to your grandchildren?
A: I told it to my daughter, but not my grandchildren. They’re too young. They don’t understand.
Q: Every year, we celebrate April 24th. Should we continue observing that date? I shouldn’t use the word celebrate but observe is the more appropriate word. Should we continue to observe April 24th?
A: Well, this is my point of view. Since the world has always been wars and battles, but after so many years, they’re forgotten, they make friends and they lived together happily. Now, we are continuing this hatred towards the Turks, which I do have myself because my whole family was wiped out. But I think for the sake of the remaining Armenians in Turkey, we shouldn’t publicize so much. Because the more we publicize, the more we do these things, we’re hurting the other Armenians living in Turkey. Like we have population in Bolis, churches and so forth. Every year they tighten the reins over there. The more we do over here, the more they tighten the reins. Take Jews. They lost more people than we did, but it’s all settled. Yes, they remember that date, what has happened. But why keep on publicizing more and more every year. That’s the way I feel.
Q: Do you think there will ever be Unity in the church?
A: I don’t think so. I don’t there will ever be Unity, the way I see it now. Because it seems they’re stressing more and more amongst themselves. And we’re stressing more and more Unity. But it doesn’t go through. It’s not working. I don’t know what’s keeping it back, but it’s not working.
Q: Are you yourself involved with any political organization?
A: No, no I’m not.
Q: Do you believe in them in this country? The Armenian political organizations?
A: Well, the only one if I ever belonged to or would do good is A.G.B.U., which they do quite a bit of good work. Other than that, forget it.
Q: This tape is going to be a permanent part of history in the United States. It will be listened to by future generations of Armenians. Do you have any special message that you’d like to give to our future generations? Those that are youngsters now and those that are yet unborn?
A: Well, the message that I’d like to give to them is don’t forget your Armenian Heritage. Keep that alive as long as possible. And especially, Christianity…your church. The most important thing in Armenian life. That’s what is keeping Armenians alive is the church. If it wasn’t for the church, I don’t think Armenians would be recognized in another ten years long. But as long as the Armenian Church is alive, they’ll be recognized. I hope they all keep up the church and do as much as they can, strengthening our church. That’s the only message I can give.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add at this point to anything you’ve said?
A: No, I think that’s all I can say.
Q: Thank you very much.
A: You’re very welcome.