Deported from Childhood: “There were Armenians suffering everywhere”

Tigranuhi’s childhood ended when she was four.

And that, was a long time ago – 1914, when her family was deported for the first time. For the next 21 years, she would hardly know a “home”, but would merely have places to live.

Trouble began after the start of the First World War when the father of Tigranuhi Asatryan (then Kostanyan) with his large family (three daughters and one son) first had to leave the town of Kaghzvan (near Kars, Western Armenia) in anticipation of persecutions against the local Armenian population. First they moved to Alexandropol (now Gyumri), then to Tiflis (Georgia) and then farther to the north – to the town of Armavir in the southern Russian province of Kuban.

Tigranuhi’s elder brother, Artashes, had been called up for military duty in the Ottoman army fighting the Russians on the eastern front and her younger brother, Artavazd, who was not of call-up age yet, had to hide as Turks did not look at potential recruits’ age.

Tigranuhi vaguely remembers their first exodus from Kaghzvan. But she clearly remembers their second deportation in 1918.

She says they stayed in Kuban for several years, but then her father’s nostalgia for his birthplace brought them back to Kaghzvan in 1918. Their stay in the hometown, however, was a short one, lasting for only 15 days, and then their path home was much more complicated. By then, Armenians had already been widely persecuted, killed or deported throughout the Ottoman Empire.

“We hid in the house of a Molokan family (a Russian religious sect, similar to Quakers). I and my two sisters, Armine and Liza, saw terrible scenes peeping through a hole in the fence,” Tigranuhi remembers. “Turks with their women, all dressed smartly, wearing gold ornaments and expensive clothes they had looted from murdered or deported Armenians came to town and more plunder followed. They broke into people’s homes looking for Armenians and their gold.”

She remembers that hundreds of people then were killed, raped or lost their lives unable to bear the suffering.

“We lost many of our relatives during those years – my three cousins, uncle and aunt were first tortured and then killed in Turkish jail,” remembers Tigranuhi, now 95. “We were all stricken with terror when we heard about thousands of people murdered, raped and humiliated. Armenians were suffering everywhere.”

Brother, Artavazd, was red-haired and he hid in the house of a Molokan family (many of whom are fair haired) pretending to be their son. He worked for them from morning till dark in the grain fields and also doing various domestic chores not to be handed over to the Turks.

When the first opportunity arose to leave the town on a train together with Molokans, all members of Tigranuhi’s family dressed in Molokan clothes set off on a journey again, casting their last glance at their sweet hometown rapidly disappearing behind the train.

Then was their usual way – from Alexandropol to Tiflis and farther to Armavir…

A decade of peaceful life began for the Kostanyans in southern Russia. Tigranuhi married a fellow Kaghzvantsi, Mikael Asatryan, in 1928, but more trouble awaited them. Tigranuhi’s father, a successful food store owner, considered a kulak (a peasant land owner, who would not submit to a collective farm) by the Bolsheviks, was accused by the Soviets, and his property was confiscated this time by the communist state.

Tigranuhi and her husband left for Samarkand (Uzbekistan) in 1931 and after four years spent in Central Asia they finally made up their mind to move to Yerevan and settle down here.

“My husband began to work at a rubber production plant in Yerevan, everybody knew him well. Our life more or less became normal,” says Tigranuhi.

Here they had five children – sons Simon and Albert and daughters Tamara, Anna and Liza. Today, Tigranuhi, whose husband died in the 1980s, boasts of 14 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

She says her husband worked a lot and provided the family well and so she didn’t have to work or have a specialty. She was always a housewife, caring for children and domestic needs.

Now she lives in a one-room apartment in Yerevan’s working-class district (so-called 3rd district) and gets a pension of 16,500 drams a month (after the rise in pensions for Genocide survivors in April 2005 – about $36).

“I have seen a lot in my life and I spent my childhood and adolescence moving from one place to another,” says Tigranuhi. “Sometimes I close my eyes and remember my cousins. I see them young and beautiful, as they were when they lost their lives at the hands of the Turks. Often in my dreams I see them talking to me, but I know they were all gone a long time ago.”