College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Aghop Der-Karabedtian spoke on the memoirs that he translated from his grandfather and wife’s grandfather about the Armenian Genocide last week. More than 30 colleagues and students attended the event.
Nearly 40 students and faculty members gathered in the West Dining Room last week to hear Aghop Der-Karabetian read from his translated works “Jail to Jail,” true stories of survival from the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
Der-Karabetian, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and an Armenian, faught back tears as he told the personal stories of his grandfather’s survival and in “Vahan’s Triumph, “ the story of his wife’s grandfather and his experience during the Turkish invasion of Armenia.
“As I look around the room I can say that I’m among friends,” Der-Karabetian said at one point during the reading. “I apologize if I get a little emotional as I read.”
As he read, the room was silent.
Junior psychology major Lucy Kyupelyan said she was touched by the readings.
“Coming from an Armenian background I thought his story was very emotional because I related to it from a female perspective from the stories my grandmother told me,” Kyupelyan said.
Phase one of the stories talks about the uprooting, when the residents of the villages and towns were forcefully moved from homes they had lived in for generations.
Phase two talks about the journey to nowhere, when millions died from starvation and death from being obscured into Turkish and Muslim communities. Some were saved; even though their identity vanished, they survived.
In phase three they found life again: The two authors found true love and began to rebuild their families in spite of great loss.
The readings moved Amanda Becker, a junior liberal studies major.
The readings included description of April 24, 1915, when the central government devastated the Armenian community by killing its leaders, as Turkish nationalist forces were unleashed to accomplish the extermination of the Armenians.
On this date, the Young Turkish government rounded up nearly 250 cultural, political and business leaders of the Armenian community of
Constantinople and sent them to their deaths.
“The stories, the titles, the way they were recorded and how he discovered something about himself in telling his grandfather’s story – it was a good feeling that he talked about it and he’s getting the word out to others,” Becker said.
“I think that this generation finally mastered the courage to relive and tell the story more widely,” Der-Karabetian said.
Born in a squalid refuge camp near Beirut, Lebanon, Der-Karabetian is a third-generation survivor of the Armenian Genocide.
Der-Karabetian was named after his grandfather, Hagop Der-Garabedian, who finished writing his memoirs in 1933 at a refugee camp in Aleppo, Syria.
Der-Garabedian started writing 10 years prior to this date, after escaping to Athens with his family.
Der-Garabedian self-published 500 copies of his autobiography “Jail To Jail” from Marash to Mosul in shackles.
?He gave the book away to family and friends in Lebanon and overseas.
“I remember, as a 9-year-old, helping tie up stacked copies of the book for shipping to places like Greece, Aleppo, Armenia, and South America,”
Der-Garabetian wrote his autobiography in the Armenian alphabet.
“He expressed the wish that someday the book be translated,” Der-Karabetian said.
Copies exist in the National Library of Armenia and in the library of Haigazian College in Beirut, Lebanon.
“I hope this translation to English tells his and his people’s story to an audience much wider than he imagined,” Der-Karabetian said.
“Jail To Jail” and “Vahan’s Triumphs” were published to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the genocide.
“Translating the autobiography ‘Jail To Jail’ made my grandfather’s journey my own personal journey of discovery, wherein I encountered my own fragile humanness,” Der-Karabetian said.
Der-Karabedtian said that doing the translations gave him greater courage in facing the terrible experiences of the genocide.
“It strengthened my belief in the resilience of the human spirit to endure the impossible, and to forgive the unforgivable when the time is right,” Der-Karabedtian said.
Leticia Arellano-Morales, associate professor of psychology, also attended the readings and enjoyed the educational experience.
“We had a conversation outside of class, Aghop was talking about translating these letters of his wife’s grandfather and his grandfather’s stories and as I listened to the finished stories it was very moving,” Arellano-Morales said.
“Dr. Der-Karabetian’s books remind us of the best and the worst of human character,” said George Keeler, chairman of the communications department, who attended the reading. “They are poignant true stories of love and hate, made even more meaningful because he is related to some of the genocidal victims.”
“After hearing his moving presentation, I was compelled to buy both books. This blood-stained time in history is one no one should forget,” Keeler said.
Vitoria Drost can be reached at email@example.com.