Armenian News Network / Groong
July 20, 2007
By Abraham D. Krikorian
PORT JEFFERSON, NEW YORK
This writer is a trained scientist with a lifelong interest in experimental research. Nowadays, I am trying to do research on `Things Armenian.' I find myself asking `Why did I not ask this or that question when it was possible to do so?' After all, in its simplest form experimental research is simply (or not-so-simply) a matter of asking the `right' questions and seeking answers through testing of hypotheses. So far as `Things Armenian' are concerned, I believe that the kinds of broad questions should be `How will the Armenian past be remembered? On what and whose sources will it be based?` My friend Florence Sahagian Chakerian, who was born in Boston on January 21, 1918, but lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for 67-odd years with her family clearly had made her mind up on such questions long ago.
|Florence Chakerian, December 2005|
Florence and her late husband Jerry came to know Mariam and her professional photographer husband, Wyatt Davis, and their daughter Joan sometime in the 1979/80 timeframe. They had first met the Davis' son Edward at an organizational meeting of the ACA (Armenian Cultural Association of New Mexico), and shortly afterwards they met Mariam, Wyatt and daughter Joan. Visits followed, and to quote Florence from a copy of an email, `The [Armenian] Archbishop, at the time, was visiting New Mexico and Santa Fe on working vacations. We found one another and in Albuquerque he conducted services for us, sometimes in the Greek Church. On one of these occasions we had a reception and fellowship at the home of our host and hostess, Alexander and Marge Hachigian and the Archbishop met Mariam that evening. Eventually Mariam gave several hours to us to tape her experiences of exile for the Armenian Assembly. It was the first time, she said, that her family had heard her full story and she was appreciative for the interest and compassion offered. This was followed in 1983 in Boston by a video interview with the Zoryan Institute. She was their first subject'others followed. A full-page story about Mariam in the Boston Globe along with a photograph of her as a 10 year old in Arapkir attracted much attention. Inclusion of the photograph led to the identity of the photographer, a physician from the Near East Relief, by his daughter who recognized the photo. Serendipity for sure! [That was Dr. Mark H. Ward, see below.]. She participated in the Facing History and Ourselves Workshops in Albuquerque. Each of these'the taping, the video and the workshops'were emotionally taxing.'
It was Florence's intention to write an appreciation/obituary of Mariam Davis. She was in an exceptional position to do this. She knew Mariam well and was very familiar with the details of the Armenian Genocide, especially as it encompassed the Sepastia/Sivas, Kharpert region, and well beyond. Indeed, Florence was a font of knowledge on all kinds of things dealing with Historic Western Armenia and the Armenians, and their many connections. Unfortunately, she was unable to write the obituary for Mariam because she suffered a stroke and passed away on June 18, 2007. It was a shock. Florence was 89 years old but she was quite mobile, sharp as the proverbial tack, and ever-mentally active. She was engaged in all sorts of projects and activities. Florence and I enjoyed and shared common interests and communicated regularly by email and spoke often on the telephone. (We only had one personal visit in December 2005, just before Christmas 'expectedly it was a memorable one. Her personality was such that one felt that one had known her all one's life.) The last thing on my mind was that Florence would not be with us any longer. Her death struck like a thunderbolt. I quickly imagined all the empty spaces that would be left behind. It saddened me greatly as I am sure it will those who are just now hearing of Florence's death.
Understandably, for me Mariam Davis' death was less of a personal loss. I had neither met her nor talked to her. At the same time, I'll add that I felt as though I did know her. I knew her first and foremost through her pivotal role in the film `An Armenian Journey' by Theodore Bogosian (1988, Bogosian Productions, initially shown on Public Broadcasting TV, WGBH, Boston; see also http://www.cstar.com/titles/all/d1ffc1dc-1c84-44a4-9376-71c13e1a113b). Considerably later, I had read about Mariam and her husband Wyatt in the scholarly apparatus that accompanied the biography entitled `Arshile Gorky, his life and work' by Hayden Herrera (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 2003). It was made clear in that thick biography that Mariam, and Wyatt who died in 1985, knew Arshile Gorky well. Wyatt had even photographed Gorky in a series of almost unknown (to the outside world that is) black and white shots which certainly qualify as works of art. Perhaps more obtusely, I felt I knew Mariam because I have been working with my partner and co-researcher Eugene L. Taylor, on, among other things, relief work, Armenian orphans and orphanages in the Kharpert area. And, last but not least, Florence had shared with me a series of audio tapes that she had made on a particular visit with Mariam, wherein she interviewed her on experiences in the Genocide period, and her life in America.
Mariam's death made me say aloud `One more.' It was all too sad. The ranks of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide were becoming thinner and thinner. One more direct link with that horrendous event in the life of the Armenian nation was to be lost. (And sadly, still another survivor living in Albuquerque, William Knadjian, 93, died on 29 June - Albuquerque Journal July 3, 2007.)
My initial contact with Florence Chakerian came as the result of an attempt to obtain more information on the late Mark H. Ward, M.D. and his work in Kharpert/Mezereh. I had tracked down his son in California and learned of a daughter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in telephone conversations learned much from them. But I also found out from Dr. Ward's daughter about `a very knowledgeable woman who came originally from Boston, but for many years lived in Albuquerque and had strong connections within the Armenian community.' She said that she would approach the woman and find out if it would be O.K. to give her email address to me. Fortunately, it turned out that it would be fine for me to call Florence Chakerian. That started a treasured relationship of only four plus years but it was far-reaching.
|Mariam Davis (left) in Arapkir, 1919|
Dr. Ward, along with Dr. Ruth Azniv Parmelee, both physicians descended from old missionary families in Turkish Armenia, ran the American hospital in Mezereh/Kharpert at the end of the war-actually it was starting in 1919 when serious relief work among the scattered and desolated Armenian remnants in post-WWI Turkey began. Drs. Ward and Parmelee and other volunteers labored under the auspices of the American Committee for Relief in the Near East, afterwards called Near East Relief, doing much good work, medical and otherwise among the orphans and needy. Both physicians were eventually ejected from `Harpoot' by the Turkish Nationalist Regime when it became clear that they were speaking out too vehemently against the atrocities and genocide being committed against the Greeks. The Greeks of the Pontus in particular were at that time being violently uprooted from their homes, and were the latest targets of the Nationalist Turks now that the `Armenian Question' had been `solved' by disposing of the Armenians.
Florence was thrilled to hear that Eugene and I had spent a fair amount of time reading and studying the Ruth A. Parmelee papers at the Hoover Institution. She knew one of Dr. Parmelee's nieces but had lost contact with her. (Although Albuquerque is not a very large city, and New Mexico is far from being a heavily populated state, the area has fortuitously attracted over the years the descendants of an unusually large number of individuals with Armenian connections. Many non-Armenians were descendants of those who had worked with Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Florence seems to have known them all.)
The long and short of it all is that over the years, Florence Chakerian had made it a first priority to make contacts and to follow through on connections (real or suspected) and to do what may easily be called seminal work aimed at `peeling back the leaves of the onion bulb' to get at the very best information available. That meant going to the source(s) or the next best possible thing, direct descendants, or archives. She was certainly `a people person.' She appreciated very well that the devil was in the details and that the answers to the questions she was interested in would, more likely than not, come from people. She was a great detective'a real sleuth.
Florence knew much about so many things, and in great depth. She had a wide variety of information at her fingers' tips-things ranging from rugs made by orphans, gypsies-Boshas, Near East Relief workers and their descendants, and orphans taken in or adopted by them, the college education in America of Armenians from the `old country' (many of whom went back with additional experience and knowledge of `things western', only to lose their lives), human rights, all things on Sepastia, and of course the Genocide. But she was also interested in art, music, photography, architecture, New Mexico local and state history and kitty cats. We bonded immediately. (It did not hurt that we both had Huntchak roots. She was a liberal and progressive through and through politically and religiously listened to Amy Goodman on `Democracy Now!')
Florence for sure was an unassuming, nominally `amateur' scholar who clearly had none of the hang-ups so characteristic of far too many modern academics. She showed no territoriality on a given topic or notions of priority on anything. She was in search of truth'pure and simple. And, in my experience, she had forgotten more about quite a few things than many `scholars' known to me think they know. She was a giver and a sharer to the very end.
We would joke about an amateur historian/researcher being someone who never made a penny as the result of their `hysterical' [sarcastic turn-of-phrase for historical] research. Usually to the contrary, it inevitably cost money to do it! (And, having used the expression `to the very end'--a contact in Albuquerque that Florence gave me resolved a problem that I had been struggling with for 50 years on the location of a small beehive hut Kurdish village in the plain of Suruj [Suruc] area where my mother lived for 5 years after she had been taken in by a Kurd family late in the summer of 1915. The contact, who was about to leave for a trip to the Kurdish areas in southeastern Turkey when I contacted him by phone, literally took it on himself to make a side-trip when he was in the region. He made inquiries about the place, found it, and even took photographs. Amazing! All the professorial experts in Europe on Kurdistan and Kurds had been of no help. Thank you Florence, for telling me about Rob Leutheuser, beyondbordersphotography.com).
To my credit I like to think, I very quickly was able to surmise that Florence had over the years done so much to help so many people on so many `Things Armenian' but had received little formal recognition for her tireless efforts, and accomplishments. It was ironic that when some individuals did see fit to acknowledge her often-invaluable help, they frequently got the name or the spelling of the name wrong. Sometimes they confused her with her scholarly sister Helen (Anahit) Sahagian, and on one occasion (`A Pioneer in the Euphrates Valley') even got thanked as one Florence Avakian, the well-known journalist-editor, instead of Chakerian. An acknowledgment states `this publication would not have been possible without the help of Florence Avakian¦- The nature of the `help' was that attention to the book had been drawn in the first instance by Florence Chakerian.
Florence also discovered what came to be called the Agn [Egin] Rug in an antique shop in London. She was pivotal in bringing the Armenian orphan-made rug to the attention of those who could afford its purchase. Once again, her modesty did not allow her to receive proper recognition for the original research on the Agn Rug that she took on at the request of Lemyel Amirian. Through a series of what might charitably be referred to as `ditherings' the full story was never properly told. And so it goes. (On a more positive note, I would be remiss not to draw attention here to an ebullient and deserved appreciation of Florence online which refers to her as the `matriarch of the Albuquerque Armenian Community' [and] `really incredible' see:-http://www.cilicia.com/2007_03_01_armo_spiurk-backlog.html)
Further bonding came when I translated for Florence into English a taped memoir narrated by her late husband Jerry's cousin Nahabed Chakrian (no e in spelling of the surname). It was a big job since Baron Nahabed had apparently written his memoirs, or at least had made extensive notes (not found at the time of his death), but then read them at a rather rapid pace into a tape recorder. The tape cassettes, while remarkable and very interesting, were challenging to deal with. Over the years and in an area where Armenian was spoken infrequently, Florence said she had become more distant from her Sepastatsi dialect Armenian than she would have liked, and just did not feel up to tackling the chore of dealing with the tapes by herself. Moreover, the tapes were hard to hear and were hardly in logical order. They were thus `farmed out' to a Yerevantsi then in the Albuquerque area (unproductively I might candidly add, the translation needed to be redone from scratch).
Florence and I eventually saw the Nahabed's Memoirs project through. She was particularly glad that one of Nahabed's children, Hagop Chakrian the artist, although in very poor health was able to read his father's memoirs just before he died. The chore of the translation and editing thereof had been hanging over Florence's head for some time. She said that surely Providence had brought us together. Maybe. Asdvadz gideh [God knows.] But my reaction was at the outset, and still is, that it was about time someone did something for Florence for a change.
Incidentally, one glimpse of Florence's sense of humor emerges from a statement in one of Baron Nahabed's tapes. He was clearly irritated with the situation he faced at a specific moment and one could hear him shuffling though his papers/notes looking for something. He exclaims `What the hell is this?!' It was very unexpected and very funny. Florence and I, too, understood the all-too-frequent frustration of knowing that we had such and such in our files but had misplaced it/them temporarily. Florence would say, `I feel like Nahabed when I go through my folders and cannot find what I am looking for, or come across something completely unexpected.'
Despite her saying her memory was failing, I saw no sign of it. I envied her facility with names, and kinships. She would have made a great professional genealogist. I joked with Florence on more than one occasion about the various, and to me often humorous, kinship names in Armenian, and how the old timers from the villages would place a person on the genealogical tree by stringing out a whole raft of kinship terms, ridiculous-sounding things like `so and so's nerotchin, kurotchin khunamihn manoog zavaguh.' [order of, `so and so's sister in-law's sister's `in laws' youngest boy']. And by such an alliterative string of identifiers would finally be elicited the response, `Aha! That's who you are talking about!' Florence would chuckle, and exclaim that she had not heard such things since she was a girl growing up in Massachusetts, and how she missed such silly connections with her past.
Florence and her husband, whom I never knew, were very active in the Albuquerque area and indeed in all New Mexico and were involved in many projects, and fostered many cultural events. For example, they were among a handful of dedicated Armenians to found the Armenian Cultural Association of New Mexico. They spearheaded many things such as the dedication of a suitable Armenian Genocide Monument'eventually in the form of a living tree with plaque bearing the inscription `This tree presented to the Museum of Albuquerque, A living commemoration to the 1915 Genocide of the Armenian Nation, Armenian Cultural Association of New Mexico, 1981.' Annual proclamations from the New Mexico statehouse were encouraged and written on commemoration days, etc.
Florence was born to Sahag Krikor Sahagian and his wife Nevart-Artemis Zartarian Sahagian. She had two younger siblings, Anahit (Helen) who joined the family in Albuquerque from Massachusetts in 2003, and brother Edward Haig Sahagian, who died in 1990. Sahag, who was from Sivas city, had immigrated to America sometime around 1896 and lived in Haverhill and Chelsea, Massachusetts. He brought his sisters over in October 1914. (Incidentally, Florence mentioned to me that her great-uncle had borrowed the money for the passage of her mother to America from Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian when what he had first sent was `lost.' They had been classmates in the Jesuit school in Sivas and arrived together or near the same time in 1896.)
Sahag saw to it that his sisters married first, and then he married in 1916. Sahag ran a variety store in Boston and one can surmise from the fact that Florence got bleary-eyed when she recently read a warm recollection entitled `My Father's Store' by Puzant Kevork Thomajan (see pp.44- 48 of `Worcester Memories,' Armenian Church of Our Saviour, 1983), that her `Papa's' store was very much like the one described therein. More to the point, Baron Sahagian's store was a focal point of the community, and a probably much-appreciated facet of the business was that he offered generous terms of credit to those less fortunate.
Florence was not widely published. First and foremost she was a facilitator. For example, she saw to it that an important manuscript which lay untouched in the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) archive at Houghton Library, Harvard University was published along with some photographs (Impressions of Sivas, 1912, [by] C. Henry Holbrook, Journal of Armenian Studies Vol. 5, issue 1 (winter/spring 1990-91) pp. 37-71. She also published some `Gorky errata' in Ararat: a quarterly, volume XXIV, no. 1, winter, 1983, p. 74.
Much, much more could be said about Florence Zarouhi Sahagian Chakerian, but let us now turn towards Mariam Davis.
Unlike Florence Chakerian, Mariam Hapetian Davis's own roots were considerably less certain. Like so many orphans of the Armenian Genocide, Mariam was not even certain of her surname. The sad part is that she, like all children of the Genocide, was robbed of her childhood. Mariam recalled on tape in Florence's interview various incidents associated with the initial parts of the Genocide.
Florence felt that a major point that emerged from Mariam Davis' `story' was that she was an unusually `spunky kid.' She was very brave and showed a lot of leadership. She certainly had a strong will to live and showed epic ingenuity and resourcefulness. Indeed Mariam admitted that she was strong-willed and was rarely afraid .
I agree fully with Florence, but from my personal viewpoint upon re-listening to the tapes, I was especially impressed with three points. The first was Mariam's excellent memory. It was typical of the many survivors whom I personally knew as a youngster growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts. The level of detail she provides is very good. A few examples will emerge below. Secondly, Mariam was in no way hesitant or reluctant to acknowledge that she had been treated well by some Turks. This too was not uncommon in the survivor stories that I had heard first hand. And thirdly, the level of documentation associated with `Mariam's story'--even down to the surreptitious visit she made in June 1986 at the age of 76 to Elazig, Egin, and Terjan with Ted Bogosian, and her daughter Joan--is exceptional. Mariam's exact words are an example of how there were indeed `good Turks' who carried out altruistic acts; they could show kindness to an Armenian orphan.
The well-known journalist and author Robert Fisk has written and lectured much recently about potential avenues that might help Armenians and Turks enter into dialogue. Surely, Fisk argues, modern-day Turks cannot be ashamed of those among their ancestors who risked a fair amount by trying to help Armenians during the Genocide. Whether that is an empty hope that is based on `wishful thinking' or not is a matter for history to decide.
Getting back to Mariam's story. She recalled that her father's first name was Hapet Apet and thus she afterwards took in America the Armenian patronymic surname of Hapetian. Her mother's name was apparently Selvie. Mariam was born in the village of Terjan, between the towns of Erzingan and Erzeroum in Erzeroum Vilayet (Nahank of Garin in Armenian), Turkey. According to the nominally authoritative internet world gazetteer Fallingrain, http://www.fallingrain.com/world/, Tercan is also apparently referred to today as Mamakhatoun. In Mariam's day Terjan and Mamakhatoun were different places. (It is not a simple task to identify precisely the old villages and towns of historic Armenia. There has been a fairly thorough sanitizing of village names. And, places that might be considered suburban or neighboring hamlets today have in some instances been absorbed through growth into the `mother town.' Still others are flooded over fully, or in part, like Egin.)
Mariam knew that her grandfather was named Giragos, and that he was a priest. Her grandmother was Anoush. But Medz Hairig also carried on what seems to have been fairly lucrative business activities. She recalled that he would take her with him on various rounds. The memory of her father was much more limited since she only remembers her mother showing him to her and her brothers in the `cellar' while he was in hiding from the Turks. (The oldest child in the family was a considerably older brother Armenag. Mariam had a baby brother Hampartzoum, probably 2 Â½ to 3 years old at the time of the Genocide). Mariam's father was a soldier--whether a guerilla volunteer or soldier in the Turkish army gone A.W.O.L was not clear to her, although she believed that he fought against the Turks.
Mariam recalled other episodes from her childhood in the pre-Genocide period. One example of her excellent memory follows. She recalled that there was some special occasion or other, probably the wedding of one of her uncles. She remembered especially the use of henna. This seemingly minor point is noteworthy because Mariam's upbringing in America was not amongst Armenians. She would not have been familiar with that ancient tradition called the heenahyiun, the henna ceremony, brought over by village Armenians from the Yergir [Old Country] to America. The heenahyiun was solemnly carried out before the bride-to-be and her women relatives and friends on the eve of her marriage. As a culmination of a series of traditional carryings on, the entire pinkie finger of all the guests would be first dunked into a large dollop of henna paste. A fair sized gob of paste would adhere to the finger, and this was kept in place with a white cloth wrapping much like a simple bandage. The following day, the wedding day, the wrappings were removed, and, hopefully a beautiful reddish baby finger would appear. All this forbode good fortune and a happy and fruitful marriage.
Mariam then recalled when the terrible day came. Exile. The details to the extent they existed in Mariam's memory very much sound like the familiar horrid litany of descriptions that are now part of the Armenian psyche and Genocide literature. Pretty much the same old details Older brother Armenag and Mariam's uncles and other older males of the large extended household were taken away. She was left with her grandmother and mother and baby brother. And, there was her nanny or nurse from the nearby village of Mamakhatoun. The exiles from the village were only women and young children. Mayhem abounded. She herself was not sure of what was happening.
Mariam relates that when `her' large group of exiles from Terjan and other nearby places got near Erzingan, her grandmother had to be left behind because she could not go any further. Exhausted and unable to go on further, they were forced to leave her on a hillside. The sole donkey that they had set out with was carried off. Kurds came down from the mountainsides and stole every thing. `Everything! Everything!'
`There were lots and lots of bodies in the river. And I kept asking `Why are there so many people in the river? Are they swimming? Are they having fun?' Mariam was used to swimming for recreation. She was confused by all this.
They eventually got to Egin and found some kind of dilapidated, rat infested shelter. She was sent out to beg. Her baby brother died and his body was taken to the riverside for burial in a makeshift hole. The following day pieces of the body were found scattered, dug up by the dogs. So they collected what they could and buried them again. She would be sent out to beg. On one occasion, after she came back she found that her nurse had died. This was soon followed by the death of her mother. She remembered little of Egin---it was largely limited to the great losses she suffered there'her baby brother, her nanny, and last but not least her mother. So she was left on her own.
Crying and sobbing and `carrying on' as she puts it, she recalls that a Turkish hodja, prayer leader, came across her crying and took pity on her. He forcefully separated her from her dead mother and pushed her mother's corpse into the river with a stick. He then seated Mariam on his donkey behind him and took her to Arapkir, where he left her. She ended up staying with a Turkish family for a while but then she adds, `I left.'
There has always been a tacit recognition and admission at the individual level of the altruistic acts that were sometimes carried out by Turks and Kurds and Arabs on behalf of Armenians. Without these acts far fewer Armenians would have survived than did. The scale of altruism has yet to be understood but in my opinion, it was not on the level that is sometimes intimated. It depended on many factors. Those like myself who have heard a number of survivor stories first hand, are forced to wonder how much altruism really existed-frequently the word opportunism seems more applicable. But Mariam's experiences certainly reflect `the kindness of strangers' referred to by Florence Chakerian.
Mariam herself clearly distinguished both in her interviews and in the film `An Armenian Journey' between those who were kind, and euphemistically speaking, those who were `not so kind.' Arapkir became home to this little five year old for five years-that was her estimated age with her birth date guessed at as 1910. She recalled that in Arabkir she was fairly well-treated by the Turks, and that there were a number of Armenians secluded in the town' - all women or children - no men.' They all pretty much kept a low profile or were in actual hiding. Mariam got to know them and actually helped get bits of food to some of them. The Turks acknowledged that Mariam was an honest kid, saying that she only stole food. She was completely trustworthy so far as anything else. She survived by doing chores here and there, sweeping carpets in the mosque (formerly a church) but allowed entry dressed as a boy, polishing brass, winding thread etc. being paid with a bit of food or a coin.
She got to know various homes in Arapkir `homes that had once belonged to Armenians who had been driven out in the Aksor [Exile]. She mentions that some remained empty since some Turks were superstitious and worried that curses and ill-luck would befall them as retribution for what they had done to the Armenians. (This interpretation is quite insightful and can be encountered in the literature time and time again.)
Significantly, Mariam says on the audio tape that before the Near East Relief team arrived in Arapkir they were `visited' by some half-dozen or so Germans. Mariam says they had `enormous dogs.' `Tall Germans going around hitting their boots with their sticks. And all the Armenian kids came to look,' Mariam added `They siced their dogs [Dobermans] on us.¦After that any mischief we could create we did.' One specific act of retaliation that the Armenian kids effected, with Mariam as a ring leader of sorts, involved letting loose the horses of the Germans. The Germans only stayed a short while.
The American Committee for Relief in the Near East (ACRNE) workers arrived sometime in summer 1919. (I might add Mariam's dating was quite good.) Of course she got to know them all very well. There is an interesting little story about how she became particularly involved with Miss Elsie Tanner. Miss Tanner (who served in Arapkir for a year and whose foster child Mariam later became) was interested in seeing the inside of a `real' Turkish home. Mariam saw to it that she did. She acted as interpreter etc. Mariam also mentions Mr. Lee Vrooman [who much later served as an educator in Izmir in Republican Turkey], and Krikor Kaloustian? (who spoke a little English) and Satenig (who spoke English). She praises Bessie Murdock, a nurse from Aberdeen, Scotland - as a particularly lovely person. (In terms of `documentation' then, Mariam clearly supplies names of individuals whose role in the Near East Relief can be verified and about whom biographical information is available. Personal files of this writer.)
`Miss Elsie Tanner of New York City, attached to Y.W.C.A., sailed on July 1, 1919, and was assigned to that part of the Harpoot unit serving at Arabkir, a far interior station of varied needs. In February, 1920, the house in which Miss Tanner and Miss Murdock were living was burned to the ground. Miss Tanner left Constantinople on her return on July 20, 1920. She is now  owner and manager of the Green Dragon Tea Room in Pittsfield, Mass.'
For `Miss Murdock' we find that she `signed with Near East Relief as a nurse, September 6, 1919. She joined the Harpoot Unit and was appointed to Arabkir, a remote mountain city of 15,000 people. In February, 1920, the house in which she was living burned and she and her fellow-workers lost all their clothes and equipment. She had the medical care of 450 children and for a time was the only doctor [read nurse] in twelve towns in the district. She returned in autumn of 1922 by way of Scotland to America, where she spoke for Near East Relief for some time.'
So far as first impressions of the relief workers themselves were concerned, Mariam recalled that the kids were all given saltine crackers. Saltine crackers, saltine crackers and more saltine crackers. The kids concluded that saltine crackers were all that the Americans ate!
Be all that as it may, Mariam was brought to America by Elsie Tanner. In the USA, her Armenian contacts were scattered and minimal.
It would take a book to relate fully all of Mariam's life, for virtually nothing has been said here of her life after arrival in the USA. Reference may again be made to the article in the Boston Globe April 23, 1983 (`A woman of many identities is certain of being Armenian' available online through Boston Globe). In it one gets a feel for yet another dimension of Mariam Davis, that of a talented person in the arts. Mention may also be made that her brother-in-law was Stuart Davis the early modernist painter. Mariam was also active in the radical political scene in New York City (see for example the Gorky biography mentioned earlier). I believe she is worthy of a biography, better still a motion picture.
Mariam told Florence `There hasn't been one day in my life that I haven't said I am an Armenian, and they are a beautiful people. I have never claimed I was anything else'--[unlike Arshile Gorky whom, as mentioned, she knew]. And, while consenting to be interviewed by Florence Chakerian, she added `If it will help my people, I am all for it.'
When I was a young kid I was told by my Mama in Kharpert mountain village dialect that `Yepvohr bidi medtsnassnuh, Hye askudh chibbee mornass!' [When you grow up, you shall not forget your Armenian nationality!] It seems that both Florence Chakerian and Mariam Davis felt the same way. We feel privileged that their memory will remain with us, hopefully forever.
Our deepest sympathy to all those who are aggrieved by the loss of these two Grand Ladies of New Mexico.
-- Abraham Krikorian thanks Artemis and Armen Chakerian for helping with details about their parents. Thanks go also to Ted Bogosian for supplying information on the trip to eastern Turkey. And last but not least, thanks to Joan Davis for reading a final version of this appreciation and for permission to reproduce the photograph of Mariam as an orphan.
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