Dr. Louis Najarian
Group in Amenaprgich Monastery in Trabizon
FROM THE PLAINS OF GOVDUN TO THE MOUNTAINS OF UCHBEG
Louis M. Najarian
In September 2011, Elenne, my wife, and I had the good fortune to participate in a pilgrimage to Historic Armenia (Anatolia) with Armen Aroyan. Armen is an encyclopedia on the villages and life in historic Armenia during the 20th century. As one travels with him and other pilgrims to cities and villages where our parents or grandparents came from, one enjoys an odyssey through the past that is both enlightening yet bittersweet. One certainly appreciates the richness of our heritage and culture including religion, art, music, literature, architecture, commerce and specifically the highest order of civilization at the time. As Armen says, every individual finishes the pilgrimage with an expanded view of their ethnic identity.
This was my third trip to Govdun, the village of my grandparents with whom I had the good fortune to live with until I was five. Govdun is a village located about 20 kilometers east of Sivas, the capital of Sepastia. During my grandparents’ life, there were 250 Armenian families and only 3 Turkish families living in Govdun. The village is located on the plains along the Alis River, juxtaposed to a mountain range, providing fertile soil for farming wheat, the primary occupation then and now. This visit was the most rewarding because I walked the unpaved roads of the village and there was little change from my grandparents’ time. St. Garabed Church, where they married, exists but, sadly, it is used as barn for hay and animals. With a map drawn by a former Armenian villager, we located the foundation to the Mikaelian (grandmother’s) home. There are many abandoned homes, just walls with no roofs or just foundations. One nativeTurkish family still lives in an original Armenian house and remembers Murad Pasha, the Armenian freedom fighter. Today, most of the remaining 25 Turkish families were relocated from the eastern parts of Turkey to farm the fertile soil. They were very hospitable, as they knew our story. They mentioned that families who survived the genocide and moved to Istanbul would return to Govdun right up until the 1950’s but none since. I visited one morning as a guest in the home of one of the current Turkish families. The house was the same as my grandparents’ home: Three rooms, one room was a kitchen/living room where we were served tea with village elders, one was the bedroom and the third was for the animals. The bathroom was outside. They farmed, made their own bread and lived a simple life not to different from my grandparents’ time. For me it was a walk in the past. My grandparents talked so positively about the ‘Yergir’ and the ‘Kyugh.’ As a child, I often wondered why they left. When I learned why, I had to visit and now I see what they missed. But to their credit they brought a culture and civilization with them as they added to the foundation of their new home in the United States.
Elenne and I visited for the second time, the village of Uchbeg in the city of Chemishgezek from where her father and mother’s family immigrated. During our visit in 2004, we saw only two homes, with artifacts from a church, by the house and nothing resembling a village. As we were leaving this time, two women approached us, both from the village of Uchbeg but having relocated to Istanbul. One of the women indicated her grandmother was Armenian and offered to show us where the Church was located. Even Armen Aroyan was surprised as this was new find for him. As we walked for almost an hour up the hill, the woman pointed to foundations of homes, one after another saying “Ermeni, Ermeni” (Former Armenian homes). At the top of the hill, at the edge of a cliff, was the ever-present wall surrounding the former Surp Toros Church. When we turned to walk back down the long winding road, in front of us, stood the famous Chemishgezek rock known as “Murnayi Kar.” Elenne’s father had pictures of this rock and it was the symbol of the village where he played as a child. It was a moving moment to be where her father, aunts, uncles and cousins lived and played. Elenne often had heard about the village up the mountain, Otskyugh, where they visited during the hot summers. Our Turkish guide told us the new name of the village (Pashajik) so we drove the seven kilometers and found her father’s summer village and a church (Surp Prgich). This was another moving moment to learn more about the past. Unexpected but cherished times, all provided by our dear Armen. As a student of Armenian history, I am well aware of our past turbulent story. If our parents and grandparents dreamed about a free and independent Armenia which is now a reality, one may still dream about the future of our historic homeland. But I still ask myself, these people with such intellect and talent, how did it happen?
(November 25, 2011)