Tuesday January 27, 2015
Inside this small grave are some of the powdered bones and skulls of up to 300 children, Armenian orphans of the great 1915 Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkish government, who died of Cholera, starvation and abuse as the Turkish authorities tried to systematically “Turkify” them.
1656 The Antoura College was established by the Jesuit Priests (Antoura, Lebanon; 15 miles from Capital Beirut)
1834 Lazarist priesthood took over the college
1915 The Ottoman government seized the college and converted it into a Turkish orphanage
1915 – 1918 There were 1200 young orphans, between the ages of 3 and 15 years old of whom 1000 were Armenians and the remaining 200 consisted of Turks and Kurds.
1916 Jamal Pasha visited Antoura together with 40 elite Turkish teachers headed by Halide Edib to teach the orphans the “Ottoman Turkish culture.”
1915 – 1918 The Armenian orphans were islamicized, circumcised and given new Arab or Turkish names. Most of the new names kept the initials of the names in which they were baptized. For example, HAROUTYIOUN NAJARIAN became HAMID NAZIM, BOGHOS MERDANIAN becomes BEKIM MOHAMMED and SARKIS SARAFFIAN became SAFOUAD SULEIYMAN. When the orphans spoke, prayed or sung in Armenian they would be brutally punished by Falakha (Hitting of the soles of the feet with iron rods).
1915 – 1918 300 orphans died of Cholera, starvation and abuse and were buried behind the old college chapel. The surviving orphans, in desperation, would often collect the bones of their dead friends, dug out by the hungry jackals at night, grind them and use them in soups as food to survive.
1918 By the end of the WWI, defeated by the Allied Forces, Ottoman Turks left Antoura. As Palestine, Syria (Lebanon) was liberated by the British and French troops. On October 17, Major Stephen Trowbridge, a Professor at the American University of Beirut and a member of the American Red Cross Commission, became the transitional director of the orphans at the College.
1993 Some of the remains (bones) of the young orphans were found and were collectively buried by the administration of the College under an unmarked mass grave next to high ranking lazarist priests. Copyright © 2010 Maurice Missak Kelechian Page 2
2005 My journey to discover the untold story of the orphans began. It started with a single photo in Stanley Kerr’s book, “Lions of Marash”, that showed a group picture of Jemal Pasha (dated 1916) with a footnote that read: ” Jemal Pasha, commander of the Turkish Fourth Army, together with Halide Edib, on the steps of French College at Antoura, Lebanon.”
2005 –2010 Determined to uncover the story, the experiences and the location of the young orphans, through research, interviews and dialogue with survivors, I collected the pieces of the untold story that seemed to had vanished together with the victims of the Genocide.
Through my lectures and presentations, the young orphans were soon embraced by the thousands of Armenian students and community members in Lebanon, Syria and United States. They became the “Living Proof of the Armenian Genocide” announced to the world by Mr. Robert Fisk, the M.E. Correspondent for “The Independent” newspaper of London.
2010 Father Antoine Nakad, the Superior of the Antoura College, donated the land necessary to expand the cemetery to accommodate the memorial. He supported all efforts to give the young orphans a proper burial and a place in history.
Mr. Harut Khatchadourian and KOHAR Symphony Orchestra & Choir generously funded the Memorial for the orphans on this day of September 22nd, 2010, as well as the creation of the Khatchkar, the symbol of the Armenian culture, by Zaven Koshtoyan; the bronze sculpture of a young boy holding a globe, by Raffi Tokatlian, symbolizing the young ambassador to the world to raise awareness to protect and treat orphans around the world with passion, compassion and utter respect.
Maurice Missak Kelechian, Independent Researcher