Bridges: A survivor remembers a father’s good work and a Turk’s kindness

Red and white grapes twist in the old man’s hands, slipping into the bowl. Andranik Tachikyan begins separating the sweet tasted bunches of grape – one to eat, one to make wine.

He was a small child when he used to take bunches into his hands squeezing them and having fun of it.

Andranik’s family was well known in the Turkish city of Tripoli (now in Lebanon).

His parents and ancestors, Andranik says, were wealthy famous people possessing a big garden, a pharmacy, endless fields of wheat and tobacco and a mansion that they lost in one day when the mass extermination of Armenians began.

“My father was Dutch, his name was Pierre Van Moorsel. He was a famous man, a doctor and engineer, who had built several bridges,” tells Andranik, taking his father’s visit card from a pile of papers. “My mother was Armenian, her name – Arshaluys. She was a kind woman, who lost almost everything during the genocide and stood against all the pain and trouble alone.”

“When the bridge was ready all our family used to sit under the brand new bridge and loaded cars used to pass over it,” remembers Andranik, who is now 94. “That was the way and the bridge builder knew that building a bad bridge will first of all threaten the life of his family. But everyone knew about the strong bridges my father used to build. We were confident nothing will happen to us, but neither his fame nor his descent saved him.”

Fixing his eyeglasses Grandpa Andranik brings the military green tie and garment into order and begins bothering with his documents.

The old man who served in the Military Registration and Enlistment Office for 55 years tries to substantiate everything he says, bringing arguments showing the shabby-yellow documents or photographs.

“This is the only picture of the massacre times,” he tells. “This is the only thing that has remained from our wealth, years and life.”

Mother Arshaluys is in the middle, and Andranik and his sister Mariam are on the sides.

The faded photographs are as old as the fading remembrance, the childhood memories and difficulties of genocide times.

“I was small; there are some dates and names I can’t remember, but there are several things I remember very well,” tells Andranik. “The Turks on horses with swords in their hands either killed people or threw them into the river. The scene was horrifying. Although my father was a Dutch, they killed him and my older brother as Armenians. We were shocked and horrified. We did not know where to go and what to do without father. We left home, fame, wealth and took the way of refuge – starving and barefooted.”

Andranik remembers their gardener, a Turk, reached them in a difficult moment and “saved us away from the sword”.

“Our Turkish gardener was very loyal to my father and our family, because we treated all of them very well. As soon as the massacres began, he saved us, endangering his own life. He took my mother, my sister and me under a bridge my father had built,” he says. “Everything went wrong, people could not save their children from the Turks’ swords; we would not survive if it were not for the gardener.”

Andranik remembers the grass was high under the bridge and the gardener kept them there.

“We stayed there for a while. Every day our gardener would secretly bring us sunflower seeds, hazelnut oil cake and we ate it until the Americans entered Tripoli,” he says. “Then the Americans found us and sent us to Greece by sea.”

Andranik says he remembers the orphans and the exhausted people gathered by the ship.

“Everyone cried by the ship, for they couldn’t believe they have been saved at last. My mother would also cry, she would squeeze us to her breast and cry loudly,” he remembers. “Then the ship took us to Greece. We move to Armenia from Greece.”

Andranik says they saw many difficulties in Armenia at the beginning.

“We had a marvelous big house in Tripoli and lived in gorgeous conditions. When we came to Armenia we were allotted an barn in one of the suburban sovkhozes (state farms) of the city.”

And then he adds: “But we were happy we were alive.”

“Although my mother never forgot our house, my father and my brother, however, after many years, life changed and we started everything over again. We worked and had a home; we married and tried to live and to continue our life in the Motherland.”