A story about my family (written for my Turkish friend)

Photo: Genocide survivor Takuhi holding her great-grandchild (me) in 1986

I will start telling the story of my family by saying
that I know very little about it. I know very little,
because my grandparents are now gone, and my father
doesn’t know whole a lot about yeghern because it had
been a taboo in my family for a long time. I know
very little, because there are no written documents
and written accounts about my family. But I know one
thing – I may never be able to trace my family’s
history before 1895. I always tell my girlfriend she is lucky. Her family,
who are Iranian-Armenian, have a tree, and I have a
copy, that dates back to the 1600s. 1600s, because
this was the time when Persia’s Shah Abbas forced
Djulfa’s residents to leave and establish in what is
now New Djulfa, Isfahan. Although I am jealous, she,
too, cannot trace her family’s history before 1604,
and will never be able to do so, especially when the
Azerbaijani authorities flattened to the ground the
ancient Armenian cross stones in Djulfa cemetery in 2005.
The cross stones might have included the key to her
family’s ancient history.

My own paternal family was from Urfa, now Sanliurfa in Turkey. We were known as “Magak Oglonts” (Maghakyan men), and there was a street with that name next to
Urfa’s St. Astvadzadzin (St. Mary) church. I found
the street on the 1915 self-defense map. My father
says our extensive family was very big. When his
grandfather, Hakop Maghakyan, would visit his families
in their street for holidays, it would take him the
entire day. Now, I can’t tell whether it was because
there were hundreds of Maghakyans or because they
would keep my great-grandfather in their homes for

Hakob’s father, my grandfather’s grandfather, was
Gevork Maghakyan. I know this because Hakop
Maghakyan’s gravestone says so. My father says Gevork
was shot on his head in the Armenian church of
Urfa by the Turkish militia. I suspect Gevork was one of the
3,000 Armenians who were burnt in the church in the
late 1890s.

Gevork had many sons. Some were killed, but my direct
ancestor, Hakop Maghakyan, survived. Hakop had served
in Algeria as a Turkish soldier – perhaps this would
make it easier to find out more about him – and after
participating in the self-defense, had fled to Syria
dressed up as a girl. He lost track most of his
relatives. Some had escaped and disappeared earlier
than him.

In Syria, Hakop met Sarah Ghasapyan – the mother of
his future wife. Sarah told him that she had given her
young daughter, Takuhi, to their Turkish neighbor in
an Urfan suburb village during the massacres. Sarah
thought she would never survive the deportation, and
knew that young Takuhi was safe with their friends.

When the Allies occupied Urfa after WWI, Hakob
returned to look for Takuhi, instead, she found a
Turkish child who did not recognize Sarah or anybody
from her family. The child, I think in her early
teens, did not want to leave her mother and go to
Syria. I don’t know the exact details, but she ended
up remembering her family, and agreed to go to Syria.

In couple of years, Hakop and Takuhi married. Their
first child was Sarkis, I think named after Hakob’s
murdered relative. Gevork (George) was the second one
named after Hakob’s murdered father. I don’t know who
the later brothers, Gaspar and Zaven, were named

In 1948, Hakob, Takuhi and their four sons decided to
immigrate to Soviet Armenia. In the 1970s, they were
among the ones to establish New Yedesia (Yedesia was
one of Urfa’s names) village in Soviet Armenia.

The first son of the emigrated family was Hakop
Maghakyan, my father. Before he was born, the story
says, Hakop Maghakyan Sr. woke her wife up and said,
“A king to Syria is going to be born.” I was Hakop
Jr.’s third child and second son, born in 1986.

In 2005, I went to Canada for the International
Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
course. The president of the school, Greg
Soghomonian, said his mother was Maghakyan too. “FromUrfa?” I said. “Yes,” shockingly answered Greg. “Do you know Gevork Maghakyan?” I said. “No,” said Greg.

After a long conversation, we could not find the part
of the tree that connected us. Here we were – two
descendants of Urfa’s Maghak oghlonts who could not
connect their families. The warmness went away, and
the Genocide that had torn our stories apart was the
only thing that brought us together again. I was
there to learn genocide, and he was there to organize
genocide education. But we were not relatives any