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Entries in German Missionaries (1)


SURVIVING ARMENIA: A Conversation with My Father (3)

Want to start from the beginning?  Read the Introduction to the series & Part 1 of "A Conversation with My Father."


In my last post, we were left wondering how my family came to the United States, rather than end up France or another part of Europe. As with many of these now 100-year-old survivor stories, the details are sketchy. But my father remembers that Mihran had an older brother by the name of Haig who had been conscripted into the military. Haig went AWOL and returned to Bardizag where he had befriended a few Greek sailors. They got him passage to America on one of steamer ships from the North German Lloyd line on August 31,1912, three years before the Armenian Genocide began. As his brother was sailing to the United States, Mihran turned sixteen and was also about to be conscripted into the Turkish military. Mihran was hidden by German missionaries and then escaped to find passage to be with his brother.

Where did the German missionaries come from?

They, over the course of several years, converted many of the Armenian Orthodox Christian “heathens” to the Protestant version of Christianity. Personally, I wonder if these Armenians “converted” so that they would have some sort of protection in the future, as the Germans were becoming a dominant force. As you know, the 1915 Armenian Genocide may have been the largest and most dramatic at the time, but it was not the first, nor was it the last.  

Mihran eventually escaped and immigrated to upstate New York where he and Haig bought a farm. The rest of my father’s family back in Baidzag did not survive the Genocide and details of their passing are not known.

My father did remember an interesting story at this point in our conversation. During WWI, his father, Mihran began a trip to California to see more of the country. Many Armenians made Southern California their home because the climate was very similar to that of ancient Armenia.  On his way, Mihran was arrested in Kansas City, Missouri. He was a dead ringer for a German spy on the American government’s watch list. He, of course, protested. The local authorities sought the help of a local Armenian attorney who came to the prison where Mihran was incarcerated. When the attorney confirmed that Mihran was Armenian and not a German spy, he was released and went back to New York. My father and I had a chuckle. I suppose being detained as a German spy would wipe out any yearning to travel!


In 1926, Mihran had decided that it was about time to find a wife. There were no Armenian women in upstate New York, so he contacted relatives in -- of all places -- Paris, France. Through letters, they recommended the daughter of close friends named Varsenig Pashayan.  Mihran travelled to Paris to meet Varsenig and shortly thereafter, the two were wed and travelled together back to New York State.

Farm life was difficult, and sadly, their two-year-old child died there. So Mihran and Varsenig decided to move to New York City but stopped in Utica, New York to visit some distant relatives. During their stay, the local Armenian community convinced them to stay, and they did. Mihran opened a candy store and was prosperous. They had two more children, Armenag, my father and his sister, Armenouhi.

Thus, my family ended up in the United States through a series of interconnected events, cultures, belief systems, conflicts, teamwork and decisions. In other words, we came here through this thing called, "Life."