By Irina Lamp
Imagine a century gone by before members of your family are able to reunite. Relatives you had presumed dead for a long time contact you unexpectedly. This is what happened to Haig Dolabdjian, a talented engineer who runs a small consulting company not far from Munich today. Like his father, he grew up believing that he and his siblings were the only ones to carry a name so unusual it is especially difficult for Germans to pronounce.
After his father’s death Haig Dolabdjian found valuable documents and notes and decided to write down his father’s unusual life story. In 2012 Haig Dolabdjian published his book, “My Armenian Father,” in German and English. “When the English edition was published, I received a Facebook message from a young Armenian woman in Toronto, Anahid Dolabdjian. ‘Hello Haig! My father, Armenak Dolabdjian, wants to contact you. Are you interested?’ she wrote. I replied instantly.”
Haig entered into regular correspondence with Anahid’s father Armenak and discovered, to their great delight, that their great-grandfathers were brothers. A short time later another relative, Ankine Dolabdjian, contacted Haig. She lives in Montevideo, Uruguay. Their great-grandfathers also were brothers. “My third cousin Armenak from Toronto, who is 74 years old, had traced our genealogy better than I had. According to him, all Dolabdjians from all over the world are related to one another and come from the same area in today’s Turkey, lying roughly between the cities of Adana and Marash. Like many others in the Ottoman Empire back in the day, Armenians lived in large, multi-generational families. My father was 11 years old at that time. As a tragic consequence of a radical political change, family ties were severed. We found each other thanks to our last name – almost 100 years later,” Dolabdjian said.
My Armenian father
“It must have been very difficult for him. My father, Barkev, lost his father and most of his siblings when they were deported to the Syrian Desert.” The 11 year-old boy was saved by two German officers and taken to his sisters, who were employed in a hospital run by the German Relief Organization for Armenia (later renamed the Christian Relief Organization for the Middle East). German Pastor Ernst Lohmann founded the relief organization in 1896 in cooperation with Dr. Johannes Lepsius, a German Protestant and humanist held in high esteem as a “guardian angel of the Armenians.”
“My father was subsequently taken to Lebanon and Syria by other relief organizations for safety reasons. There they tried to teach him to be a tailor or a shoemaker, but failed – he wanted to be a doctor.”
As a young man, Barkev managed to enter Turkey for the last time. He went to see his sisters and stayed for approximately one year. Then he left the country for good. “In Germany Lepsius and others had created a favorable climate for Armenians by reporting on the massacres and the Genocide. Germany had always been rather charitable. Relief organizations across the country tried to help and accommodate young orphans. It wasn’t uncommon for German families to commit to the cause of the Christian Relief Organization for the Middle East. One of these people was B. von Dobbeler, the headmaster of a German school in Haruniye in 1915 and a very active member of charities that provided and coordinated aid for uprooted Armenians in Germany,” Dolabdjian said with deep gratitude in his voice.
Thanks to individuals and relief organizations in Germany his father was able to build a successful life after the tragic events of his childhood. Barkev came to Germany in the 1920s. He learned the language, took his “Abitur” (the German university entrance exam), went to medical school and was a highly regarded chief physician at the women’s hospital in Litzmannstadt during World War II. “My father was a hard-working and strong-willed person for whom it was especially important to provide us children with an excellent education,” Dolabdjian remembered. “He used to say, ‘Financial and material wealth may be a good thing, but you can’t take it with you when you are forced to flee. What you can take with you is what you have in your head.’”
Blue eyes and a passion for Armenia
“My mentality is German. I grew up German. I’m one of those who appreciate a clear line. East Armenians are like that. We all share the same attitude and way of handling matters,” Dolabdjian realized after his many journeys to Armenia. His mother is German; she has blond hair and blue eyes – it is from her that Dolabdjian inherited his. He has been to Armenia with his family three times since 2011, and wants to go back as often as possible. “I love Armenia. I’ve never been welcomed as warmly as I was in this country. We also have friends there who come to see us here in Germany. It’s very nice.”
Dolabdjian has been taking Armenian classes with his wife and daughter for a couple of months. “It’s very difficult,” he says about the complicated grammar and pronunciation of the Armenian language. But he hasn’t given up yet. Like many other Armenians, he has also been concerning himself with Armenian-Turkish relations. “Turkey must recognize the Genocide. The question will be in what way, but that’s politics. I take the view that an average Turk is as good or bad as an average Armenian or an average German. And the majority of people are good.”