Anna’s great-grandmother Tamara Arzumanian, grandmother Irina Darbinyan, mother Siranush Gabrielyan and Anna
“People’s artist of Armenia” Eduard Isabekyan, who dedicated many beautiful canvases to his native city, mentions the life of Tigran Arzumanian (Arzumanents) in Igdir before the beginning of the persecutions in his memoirs: “People felt a vague anxiety, some heaviness, something inexplicable in the air. It was something that nobody could explain. This feeling didn’t fit in with your people, their amazing… composure, or was it indifference… But neither this anxiety, nor the foreboding could prevent Tigran Arzumanents and his ten daughters… from sitting on the balcony in the evenings, enjoying the oncoming coolness, drinking tea with their favorite jams and, in the absence of conversation, having internal monologues.”
But the menace finally came to Igdir. Tens of thousands of Armenian refugees began to arrive in the city from Western Armenia. There was hunger and cholera. Soon the residents of the city themselves had to leave their homeland — the advancing Turks were slaughtering everyone in their way. The streets of Igdir were covered with the corpses of those who fell behind.
Saviors among us
Anna’s family was saved from the massacres by the military commander General Dro Drastamat Kanayan; together with his militiamen, he covered the retreat of the civilian population. General Dro was one of the best-known members of the Armenian national liberation movement of the early 20th century.
One night, not long before the Turks entered Igdir, Dro went to the Arzumanyan’s house and told them, “You have several hours to save yourselves.” That night, the youngest of the brothers was left sleeping in his cradle. Tamara’s parents, Tigran and Aikandukht, realized it halfway out of the city. In all the commotion, they thought that one of the nannies or servants had the child. The militiamen had to go back and get the youngest son.
“Grandmother Tamara told me that when they gathered their things, they thought they were leaving for just a few days. They didn’t realize that this was forever, for their whole lives. Later she would tell her granddaughters, ‘We buried everything valuable that our family had in the house under the walnut tree.’ She would describe everything — the house and the tree. They sewed the jewelry into the hems of their skirts. Tamara knew that her father also had Swiss bank accounts but, in Soviet times, they were afraid to mention their former wealth,” Anna says.
Her great-grandmother never spoke badly of Turks and never remembered the grief they caused. “But at the same time, despite knowing Turkish, she never said a single word in that language,” remembers Anna. “There were times when she wanted to call out ‘fork’ or ‘bread’ in Turkish, but she would overcome the urge.”
After the warning, the family first went to Echmiadzin and then to Yerevan. They had an opportunity to move to America, but Anna’s great-great-grandmother Aikandukht refused outright, saying that they should stay on their land while they still had it.
Anna says her great-grandmother Tamara kept her love of beautiful things till the day she died. “In Yerevan, on Tumanyan Street, my great-grandmother had a very beautiful apartment, where my grandmother, Irina Darbinyan, grew up,” Anna says. “As I understand now, great-grandmother tried to recreate the house that they had in Igdir, which is why she treated fabrics, dishware and furni-ture with such reverence.”
The fate of Anna’s family on the side of her maternal great-grandfather, David Darbinyan, was even more tragic. He was also born in Igdir, but his relatives didn’t have time to leave the city before the massacres. “The only people to survive were he and his mother. They escaped to the village of Mrgashat, where they were taken in by a local family. All of his uncles and relatives lived in neighboring houses. They were drafted and sent to war, where they died. Great-great-grandmother died young and David was basically brought up by Osan, a girl from the family that gave them shelter. She was just eight years older than David, but the whole family saw her as his mother,” Anna explains.