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Searching for the Family Homestead But Finding, Instead, One’s Family

Searching for the Family Homestead But Finding, Instead, One’s Family
Excessive Tea in Havav. Residents of Havav, in Western Armenia, drink tea with guests from the US, together with Laura Gaboudian (far left), and Khatchig Mouradian (seated, far proper). Photograph by Matthew Karanian

Laura Gaboudian walked as much as the rusted fence that was guarding a ramshackle and apparently deserted home.

Might this be it?

Laura, an Armenian American from Rhode Island, was within the Western Armenia city of Havav, looking for the house that her nice grandfather had lived in as a toddler multiple century in the past.

Somebody checked the GPS coordinates of this home and in contrast it with the coordinates that have been listed in Laura’s pocket book. No, this isn’t the fitting home.

Laura had researched the situation of her nice grandfather’s house earlier than she had left the US, months earlier than she had begun this Western Armenia journey.

Now she was accompanied by a pair of self-taught specialists in forensic mapping—Nareg Gourdikian and George Aghjayan—each of them Armenian People, as properly, and all three of them decided to seek out Laura’s ancestral house.

George had situated numerous long-lost Armenian church buildings that had hardly been seen because the genocide, and now he and Nareg have been engaged in a mission to assist Laura discover a long-lost household homestead that Laura’s household hadn’t seen since 1915.

Map of Havav, as recalled and sketched by a genocide survivor. This hand drawn map guided Laura Gaboudian to her household homestead, which had been misplaced in 1915 following the genocide.

On this case, the forensics have been on Laura’s aspect. A genocide survivor from Havav had way back drawn a map of the city, and he had marked the situation of each Armenian residence. George had discovered the map. And the house of Laura’s nice grandfather was clearly marked.

I walked with Laura on this parched road in Havav as she looked for her household residence, however my enthusiasm was tepid.

And why shouldn’t it have been? Numerous pilgrims, me amongst them, have looked for the houses of their grandparents in Western Armenia, solely to be disillusioned. The houses of Armenians, typically their complete villages, have been destroyed throughout and after the genocide.

It was noon. It was summer time. And there was nothing between the recent solar and us. So all of us slowed our tempo a notch or two.

However not Khatchig Mouradian. Khatchig had led the expedition that introduced Laura to Havav. He appeared on the GPS coordinates that Laura was looking for, and he in contrast them with the GPS coordinates the place we have been standing.

We’re shut, individuals! Khatchig had a hunch that the home that Laura’s nice grandfather lived in may be a bit farther down the road. He picked up the tempo and began strolling towards a neat two-story residence simply 50 meters away.

The home was clad in stucco and it had been painted the colour of cream of tomato soup. There was a veranda throughout its entrance. And now there was a gaggle of six Armenians standing in entrance of it, as properly.

As we stood there, a lady sporting a shawl walked by. We informed her why we have been standing in entrance of her house however she refused to speak to us. She entered the home and closed the door behind her.

Inside moments, a person emerged and stood on the balcony. He stared at us and scowled.

What did we would like?

Khatchig defined, in Turkish. The person didn’t appear . He left the balcony and went again inside the home.

Laura and the remainder of our group conferred. The GPS coordinates have been right, however we knew this couldn’t be the home that Laura was in search of. Her nice grandfather’s home needed to be at the very least 100 years previous. This home was no more than an adolescent.

We stood on the road for a number of minutes.

After a time, one other man emerged from the home. A number of phrases have been once more exchanged, in Turkish.  After which this man, too, went again inside the home.

Khatchig had defined why we had come right here. He advised the person about Laura’s nice grandfather. And he had assured him that we meant to return to the US. We didn’t need to take his home. We have been right here for a go to, not for a lifetime.

A number of extra minutes handed. We had been snubbed. Ought to we depart? After which the primary man returned to the balcony.

The skepticism that he had worn on his face had vanished. He invited us for tea. He gave us a tour of his backyard. And whereas we took this tour, the person advised us his story.

Mehmet Sherifoglu, a Turkish resident of Havav with a connection to an Armenian from Rhode Island, jokes with some guests. Photograph by Matthew Karanian

His identify was Sharif Sherifoglu. He and his brother Mehmet lived within the new house with their wives and youngsters. There had been a century previous house on the property till about one month in the past however it was in dangerous situation, so the person had pulled it down. He piled the rubble from the previous house subsequent to the backyard.

His story matched up with the GPS. That pile of rubble was the previous residence of Laura’s nice grandfather.

I appeared over at Laura. She appeared devastated. We had arrived 30 days too late. Sharif and Mehmet had torn down her household’s house only one month in the past.

Because the tea flowed, these two males advised us that they, too, had an Armenian grandparent. Their Armenian grandmother had additionally lived within the previous home.

We tried to make sense of the truth that these two Turks had an Armenian grandmother, and that they could truly be Armenians. They talked some extra about their lives. They grew excited by their realization that a web page from their previous might have simply fallen into their lives.

However Laura remained silent. If these two males had an Armenian grandmother who had lived within the previous home, and if that previous home had been the childhood residence of Laura’s nice grandfather, as properly, then Laura might have discovered extra than simply an previous homestead. She might have additionally discovered some members of her household.

Sharif and Mehmet confirmed Laura the nicely from which their grandmother had drawn water. Laura took water from the properly and splashed it on her face.

Sharif and Mehmet confirmed Laura their backyard. They guided her as she climbed a ladder and picked fruit from a cherry tree.

Lastly, Sharif and Mehmet confirmed Laura the rubble from her nice grandfather’s residence. Laura held one of many stones in her hand. Had her nice grandfather additionally touched this stone?

Ruins of the house of Laura Gaboudian’s nice grandmother, within the village of Havav. These ruins are situated simply down the road from the house of Laura’s nice grandfather, which is in the present day the location of the Sherifoglu house. Photograph by Matthew Karanian

As we talked and laughed and shared tales it turned obvious that the grandmother of those two males should have recognized Laura’s nice grandfather.

We in contrast dates—the date when every grandparent was born, and when every grandparent had lived within the previous home. And we started to let our hypothesis wander. We started to consider that it was attainable, merely potential, that Laura’s nice grandfather was the brother of the grandmother of those two males.

Months later, Laura mirrored on that day. “As quickly as they advised me that their grandmother was Armenian,” she informed me, “all of it turned surreal. I knew that we needed to all be associated.”

Laura’s nice grandmother was born Hripsime Sultanian and was married to Laura’s nice grandfather, Melkon Boranian, in all probability someday round 1900, within the village of Havav.

Hripsime was, actually, the Havav-girl-down-the-street. Hripsime had grown up in Havav, just some homes away from Melkon. Because of that genocide survivor’s map of Havav, we discovered the ruins of Hripsime’s childhood house throughout this journey, as properly.

Melkon and Hripsime survived the genocide and ultimately escaped to Windfall, RI. That they had been younger adults through the genocide, they usually remembered all the things. Maybe this is the reason they seldom mentioned their lives in Havav. They began a brand new household in Rhode Island and had youngsters, after which grandchildren, and ultimately a terrific grandchild named Laura.

A decade in the past, Laura may need left Western Armenia after which spent the remainder of her life dreaming: had she simply loved the afternoon consuming tea with some long-lost members of her household, or had she merely encountered some pleasant Hidden Armenians?

However advances in DNA testing have made it attainable for Laura and others to do greater than dream about their ancestors. One of many members of Laura’s group, an Armenian American named Ani Kasparian, had introduced a genetic testing package to Havav.

She gave the package to the 2 males, and Mehmet agreed to submit a pattern of his saliva in order that his DNA could possibly be examined.  

The Sherifoglu household in Havav bids farewell to a gaggle of tourists from the US.

A number of weeks after Laura had returned to the US, the outcomes of the DNA exams arrived. They confirmed what she had suspected.

The DNA of Mehmet matched the DNA of a few of Laura’s recognized household. Laura’s maternal nice uncle and Mehmet, she discovered, shared most of the similar cousins.

Laura tried to obtain the information dispassionately. Positive, the DNA check advised that she and Mehmet have a standard ancestor. Nonetheless, additional evaluation can be wanted, she thought, with a purpose to set up a direct relation.

This information opened a Pandora’s Field of data. Laura had traveled to the village of Havav in quest of her household’s homestead. She discovered it, however she additionally found one thing profoundly totally different, one thing she hadn’t anticipated. She additionally discovered that a member of her household had apparently been stolen and raised as a Turk.

Laura doesn’t remorse taking this journey. However she calls it bittersweet.

The individuals dwelling at present at her ancestral house have been so welcoming, so pleasant. And but, she explains, it’s unimaginable to overlook how they got here to personal the property within the first place, and troublesome to simply accept that a member of her circle of relatives was apparently taken, pressured to transform, and married off to a Turk.

“I don’t assume I used to be really ready for what I discovered,” she stated.

Laura Gaboudian (proper), an Armenian American looking for her roots within the Western Armenia village of Havav. Photograph by Matthew Karanian

Story and pictures reprinted with permission from ‘The Armenian Highland: Western Armenia and the First Armenian Republic of 1918’ by Matthew Karanian (Stone Backyard Press, 2019). Obtainable on April 15, 2019 from bookstores and immediately from the writer at


Matthew Karanian practices regulation in Pasadena, Calif. He’s the writer of Armenia and Karabakh: The Stone Backyard Journey Information, the best-selling English-language information to Armenia. His e-book, Historic Armenia After 100 Years: Ani, Kars, and the Six Provinces of Western Armenia, can be revealed in February 2015. For extra info, go to


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