Shirley Collins

Shirley Collins

My Armenian heritage is very important to me because of what I heard from my parents and my grandparents. I know that all our families suffered greatly, and many lost everything.

The United States was their salvation. My grandmother and grandfather would kiss the ground and thank God many times a day for the fact that they had made it to a place where they could be free.

My biggest achievement would be the family history project that I embarked on after my mother died in 1999. I have now collected enough stories from both sides of the family for not one, but two books. My mother started it and tried to write down what she could. She interviewed my grandmother and collected pictures. She even visited our relatives in the Middle East two times, in 1967 and in the 1980s. I found those archives in her things after she passed away. She had tried so hard to document their past and their sufferings, and I finished it for her.

Both of my grandparents, paternal and maternal, as well as my mother, escaped the Genocide. My grandmother's brother, my cousin (her nephew) and my grandfather's brother Leon Guleserian also managed to escape. My father was born in Massachusetts.


My maternal grandfather was drafted into the Turkish army. He tried to escape, but they found him. He was a carpenter and they wanted his services. He ran away again when he found out that all the Armenians in the army were scheduled for execution. Meanwhile, my grandmother escaped to Syria where there were relatives who had made it there ahead of her. The Armenians were everywhere.

Aleppo became a place of refuge, as did Beirut, where we still have relatives to this day.

Eventually, France opened up to Armenians as well, and my mother and my grandparents arrived at Camp Oddo in Marseille, which had been set up to accommodate the now stateless and homeless Armenians. The Bardakjian and Beshlian families housed them until they moved to America.

I would like to use this opportunity to thank the Guleserian and the Bardakjian families, who now reside in France. I would also like to thank Mehmet Celal Bey, the Governor of Aleppo Province, whom, I believe, my grandmother mentioned as the one who gave them safe passage. If not for him, she and my mother would not be here, nor would I or my family. I am forever grateful to my relatives in Jerusalem who were bakers and took in my mother, uncle and grandparents, the Meneshian family, my grandmother's parents and siblings. I would also like to thank France for opening up a large camp to house the Armenians as they made their transitions. And, of course, Dr. Fred Shepherd who gave my grandfather milk for my mother, who was only a baby, when they had no food.