Armen Aroyan is Honored

   
                                                                           By Ayfer Tuzcu  Unsal
                                                                                     Istanbul, Turkey


Armen’s maternal grandmother and grandfather as well as his paternal grandmother were all born in Antep.  His is named after is grandfather who was a Jibintsi Armenian.


   Armen came to Antep for the first time in 1987 and every year since then. We have become very good friends.  He is an Electronic Engineer with a Master’s Degree from USC.  He had traveled extensively and wanted to come to Turkey to explore and discover his past.

In 1988, I invited him to visit Gaziantep   He came with a friend and a few days later, he asked me to take him to Jibin, which is a village of Halfeti. This was the first time I heard the name of this village.   After his return to America, he sent me some Xeroxed pages from the book, A Briefer History of Aintab, which he thought would be of interest to me.  I was thrilled. I loved it so much that I even translated it into Turkish. It was published in the Sabah Gaziantep newspaper in August 1988.  I remember that while doing the translation, I became interested in my own culture and Antep and found myself doing further research.  Consequently, some readers of the newspaper, who were businessmen, called and asked me to definitely compile these articles into a book.

In 1990, Armen’s employer, McDonnell Douglas, was downsized (subsequently acquired by Boeing) and Armen, along with thousands of others, became jobless.  In the beginning, he was extremely disheartened.  Then he called me and said, “I didn’t like my job anyway, but that was how I made my living.  I want to explore, meet new people and to travel.  Would you help me? I am going to bring Armenians to Turkey.  I will give them the opportunity to breath the air, eat the food and meet the people who were now living in the villages of their ancestors.   Do you think is a good idea for me?”  I complied with his request and since then over 1200 Armenians from the U.S., France, England, Australia, Canada, Lebanon and even from Armenia, have come to Turkey.  

Armen’s life was centered on finding out more about his culture and in turn, opening doors to create a bridge between the two communities (Armenian and Turkish) and, as a result, he was honored on February 9th, 2014, in California, by NAASR (National Association for Armenian Studies and Research) and the Eskijian Museum.

I want to tell you about Armen’s history with Antep. Armen’s grandfather, Armenag Aroyan, was a graduate of Central Turkey College.  He worked as a teacher in both Jibin and Hajin.  He secured a job with a British firm and moved to Cairo.  Beginning in 1895, some Armenian families had left Antep and had settled in Cairo.  Among these families was Gulenya Guzilimian who later became Armenag’s wife.  Gulenya had attended the Girls' School in Antep. Today, the building is located on the American Hospital campus.  From this marriage, Armen’s father, Albert, was born.  After his mother died in 1977, Armen brought his father and two sisters to America.

Yes, this is a long and tragic story.  I want to write that it was almost a dream for Armen to bring Armenians to Turkey.  Since birth, the Armenians who were born in America and other parts of the world felt revengeful and bitter when it came to Turkey.  But Armen was able to convince them and told them, “Why don’t you come with me to see for yourself where your parents and grandparents lived?  Drink the water and walk in their footsteps?  In this way, you will also get to meet and know the people.”   This dream became a reality for all the individuals he brought to Turkey, but for me personally, I have had the opportunity to meet so many diverse people.

Jack Bournazian wrote a tribute to Armen, as he was unable to attend the ceremony.  In his letter, he wrote only one paragraph but he truly explained what I have been trying to convey to you.

Dear Armen, 
You are like an Armenian locksmith, tirelessly using your skills and knowledge to unlock doors to our personal histories and identities that had long been closed to us.  Each of us heard the stories of the old country, but only knew it as myth never sure if the fruit was really that sweet, the air really that pure, the water really that refreshing.  Our family histories were legends, locked away from us by time and distance, language and geography, and that unspeakable horror of the past.  We longed to know what was behind that locked door; we longed to know ourselves better, to step foot upon the soil that had been tread upon for so long by our ancestors. We placed our hands upon the doorknob but it would not turn.  Then you came into our lives and fitted a personal key for each of us, unlocking the door to our personal pasts, a door that we had almost given up hope of ever opening.  With you those doors swung open for each of us.  We stepped across the threshold, and breathed. Thank you.

       
I also spoke with three people who know Armen.  They were Aykut Tuzcu, Murad Uçaner and Sarkis Seropian:

Aykut:  After meeting and getting to know Armen, I learned about the Armenian exile from Turkey, which was unknown to me.  Through him I learned the facts.  And I am very proud to share the same roots with Armen, as we are both from Mesopotamia.  I was very touched by his peaceful attitude and positive views, even though the Armenians had suffered such losses.  I am always happy to see him in Gaziantep when he comes which is at least 4 or 5 times every year.  Armen considers Antep his ‘homeland’.  Armen is a part of our family now and I am certain that he will continue to try to make peace between the two communities: Armenians and Turks.  

Murad:  I became aware of and learned about history of Antep from Armen. He has become my mentor, my teacher, and my guide.  Whenever I need him, he is always there.  He has assisted me in finding resources and books about Antep.  If I didn’t know Armen, I would never have had this knowledge.   Personally, I know that Armen truly believes in peace and he has provided so much information to the Armenians that they are not longer relunctant to come to Turkey.  He has introduced me to many wonderful Armenians and I have had the opportunity to develop some very meaningful relationships with them.

Sarkis:  Armen loves to share his knowledge and really believes in peace.  He is a very nice man.  We traveled to Çankırı together and although I knew ahead of time, that we were not going to find anything there, he said, “It is an experience to find nothing when there is nothing there.

He comes 4 or 5 times a year, and without fail, will come to my office and give me information about the villages and churches he has found – whatever he discovers, he is always willing to share with others. He is a man who loves to learn new things and gain new knowledge.


Sabah Gaziantep, February 10, 2014

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