Vahagn Hayrapetyan

Vahagn Hayrapetyan

Vahagn Hayrapetyan, a student of Barry Harris and Frank Hewitt and an ”Honored artist of the Republic of Armenia,” is an accomplished jazz pianist, singer and composer, the founder and director of the avant-garde jazz and rock band “Katouner” (“The Cats”). Once, when Vahagn was eight years old, his grandfather began rattling off names of cities, and Vahagn asked him to mark them on a map and connect them with lines. Little did he know that the man, a Genocide survivor, was drawing the route of his salvation.

Bedros Hayrapetyan, Vahagn Hayrapetyan’s grandfather, was ten-years-old when the massacres began. His father was a military man, and the two hadn’t seen each other for a long time. The Turks were driving the Armenians of Eskişehir and other, surrounding settlements into the desert. Bedros was from the village of Nalloukhan (now the province of Ankara), some 120 kilometers northeast of Eskişehir. Bedros would lose his mother, two brothers and aunts on the road of exile.

“During the deportations, a Turk from one of the villages took me and cared for me for a few months. I was an energetic and handsome child. The Turk treated me well. News had gotten out that there was an Armenian child in the village, and they took me in the second wave of deportations,” says Vahagn remembers his grandfather saying.

The road of deprivation led to Der-ez-Zor. Grandfather Bedros told his grandkids that he was extremely parched, when he spotted a watering hole. He took a piece of handkerchief and threw it in to soak up the water. He lapped up the water from the handkerchief. When he turned it over, there were red worms all over it.


Bedros walked all the way to Der-ez-Zor with the other deportees. When they reached the desert, news spread that Wolrd War I had ended and an order had been issued to let the Armenians loose in the desert. Bedros stayed in a burrow. 


                 Bedros (center) seated in front of a shoemaker’s table with fellow workers, Istanbul, 1924                    

It’s not clear how Bedros made his way to Istanbul, where he got by cleaning shoes and later learned the shoemaking trade. He remained there until 1923. One day, in one of the local Armenian churches, Bedros saw his father lying on the ground.

“His father was in the military. The Turks had taken him prior to the massacres. When they met in Istanbul, they recognized each other, but the man had become delirious and was in poor health. We don’t know what happened, but Bedros never saw his father again in Istanbul,” recounts Vahagn.

Hiding in a boat, Bedros made his way from Turkey to Greece in 1923. He started to work in photography and decided to travel to France to learn the profession. and then return to Greece.


                                   Bedros Hayrapetyan and a friend with their photo equipment

He landed in Marseille, then went to the Paris suburb of Alfortville. In France, Bedros fell in love and forgot about learning photography and returning to Greece. “It was like a movie. My grandmother was riding a bike in Paris when a fly got in her eye. She stopped to remove it and my grandfather, who was passing by, helped her. That’s how they met,” says Vahagn. In 1933, Bedros from Nalloukhan and Hripsimeh, a native of Ankara, married in France.


        Bedros Hayrapetyan and Hripsimeh Vardanyan on their wedding day, Alfortville, France, 1933


Hripsimeh Vardanyan had just been born when her family fled from Ankara to France. Her mother, weakened by the travel, wrapped Hripsimeh in swaddling clothes and left her in the forest. The baby remained in the forest for a few hours. Regretting what she had done, her mother returned for her.

Bedros worked as a butcher in a store he and some friends opened in Alfortville.


                                     Bedros (center) wearing a butcher’s apron, France, 1932

Because of a problem with his documents, his friends couldn’t register Bedros as a co-owner of the butcher shop. Bedros became quite angry. One day, still blinded by rage, Bedros spotted a group of men on the street, holding a sign that said “Registration of those wishing to leave for Soviet Armenia.” “Sign me up. I’m going!” Bedros exclaimed. 

In 1936, Bedros and Hripsimeh boarded the first boat taking repatriates from France to Armenia. The couple settled in the town of Sovetashen. Bedros worked as a fire truck driver at the Sakharov Square fire station in Yerevan, a building that still stands to this day. They were given a place to live in the attic.


A list of repatriates from France to Soviet Armenia. The names of Bedros (36) and Hripsimeh (21) Hayrapetyan appear at the top. Image courtesy of the National Archive of Armenia.

The couple’s first child, named Garabed after Bedros’ father, was born in 1942. “My grandmother would say that she once saw a movie in France about a violinist. She was so taken with the main character that she decided that her child would become a violinist as well,” recounts Vahagn. Thus a film decided the fate of their son Garo Hayrapetyan, a famous violinist.


                                                                 Violinist Garo Hayrapetyan

Bedros’s heirs – two children, five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren – grew up in Yerevan and established a musical dynasty. Bedros’ grandsons Vahagn Hayrapetyan and Levon Pouchinyan became a pianist and a trumpeter, respectively. Bedros’s great-grandson, pianist Armen Pouchinyan, is already a medal winner at the age of 11.


                                                             Garo and Vahagn Hayrapetyan

Vahagn cherishes the memory of his grandmother Hripsimeh’s “manti.” “Manti was the dish we liked best of all. Those small patties…No one’s, however they make them, are ever as tasty as hers. There were manti days when the whole family would get together,” Vahagn recalls. “And my grandfather really knew his meat. Even with his eyes closed, he could skin a lamb so skillfully so as not to damage anything. And what basturma he’d make! It melted in your mouth. I’ve never eaten such delicious and authentic basturma.”

In his senior years, Bedros kept a notebook that he bequeathed to his grandchildren. It’s a record of all their relatives and where they live throughout the world. On the notebook cover, as with all of his life’s writings, Bedros wrote: “Hayrapetyan Bedros from Nalloukhan.”

The story is verified by the 100 LIVES Research Team.