The One Hundred Year Journey

(From the Orphan to the Poet)

Most people are familiar with the Armenian Genocide that occurred at the beginning of the 20th Century where millions of Armenians were deported from their homes and massacred across Turkey. My Armenian forefathers lived in Turkey during this time in the cities of Marash and Aintab. My paternal grandfather, who was from Marash, had his entire family wiped out in a church that was set on fire by the Turks. He was only able to survive because he and a few other youths were out on a scouting mission. When they returned, they witnessed the burning church. My maternal grandfather’s family were marched out of their ancestral lands and home in Aintab as part of the systematic emigration efforts of the Armenians from that region. When they began this march, there were eighteen members in his family. When all was said and done, only four survived. The survivors included my great aunt Vergine, who was 17, the twins (Azniv and Ghevont) both 12 years old and my grandfather Sarkis who was 6 years old. My great aunt Vergine was left with the responsibility of deciding the future of her siblings. She was able to get a job as a maid in Halab and my great uncle Ghevont got a job in a bakery. With Azniv, Vergine was forced to send her back to Aintab for a year as things had settled down and there was nothing else to do with her. Then came the decision of what to do with my grandfather at six-years-old. Not sure how, but my grandfather ended up at the Bird’s Nest Orphanage in Jbeil, Lebanon.

The four surviving Abajian siblings along with my Grandmother Lousin, my Mom Marie and her three Brothers (John, Kevork and Samuel). Picture was taken in the mid '50s.
My grandfather around 16 years old shortly after leaving the orphanage in the early '30s. He is pictured with his sister Azniv.

One hundred years ago, the Bird’s Nest Orphanage or Tshnotz Pouyn was established as part of the Near East Relief efforts for the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. When my grandfather arrived at the orphanage, he was so sickly that he was placed in a section of kids who they thought would not make it. Well, he proved them wrong. He did survive and flourish too. While at the orphanage he learned how to play the violin, make furniture and other carpentry skills. When he was 16 years old, he left the orphanage, reunited with his siblings, and moved up the road from the orphanage to a town called Jounieh in Lebanon. My grandfather opened a carpentry and furniture making business in Jounieh. Thereafter, he got married and had 4 children, 8 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. In the 1980s he moved to Florida and then to California where he eventually passed in 1993.

About 5 years ago, I started to write poetry. On July 30, 2023, I had a book launching party for my contemplative poetry book “Unprepared To Be Amazed” by Greg Alexanian. Here is a link if you are interested in finding out more about my book I also decided to use the event as a fundraiser for the Bird’s Nest Orphanage in Lebanon. At the event, everyone got at least one book and they decided how much they wanted to donate to the Society of Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR). I am happy to report that the generous donations surpassed my predetermined goal four-fold. Bird’s Nest orphanage continues its much-needed nurturing efforts even today and we can help by opening our hearts to these and other great causes.

Interestingly, not knowing I would be writing this article titled the “One Hundred Year Journey”, I dedicated my book to “The Journey and All Who Are In It.”  I didn’t want to leave anyone out. This synchronicity brings my awareness back to the fact that we are all on some kind of journey through life. Without judgment, each one of us plays a part to make the journey what it is. I ponder on what made my grandfather’s journey what it is. How did he not only survive his challenging childhood, flourish into a man and have 24 descendants. As his first grandchild,

I never got the opportunity to ask him this question. Knowing my grandfather, I would have to say it was his intention to not only survive but to flourish. Intention carried him through! I convey this same intention to all people in challenging situations. I believe it provides hope and makes all the difference in the world.

I am grateful to SOAR for all the work that they do and for highlighting my family’s story. Armenians around the globe still need our help. I encourage everyone everywhere to come up with innovative ways to help others in need. I send you with my infinite appreciation.

Greg Alexanian
August 2023