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Book of the Week: A Lost Treasure of a Lost Paradise

August 8, 2013

by ALEXANDER CALIKYAN

KhodorchurOne of the newer books we have added to our collection here at the Zohrab Information Center is about an area in historic Armenia that most native Armenians have never heard of or know very little about. Khodorchur: Lost Paradise is an extensive study that details virtually every aspect of life in this forgotten region. Khodorchur (now named Sirakonaklar, “row of mansions” in Turkish) was a cluster of historic Armenian villages referred to as Little Rome in the late 18th century. These Armenian Catholics were isolated geographically in the mountainous range north of Erzurum, surrounded in a sea of ethnic Armenian convert Muslim communities known as the Hemshin—Armenians largely devoid of a Christian presence as a consequence of forced Islamicization but who retained their language and other customs.

The work was originally written by Mekhitarist-order priests both native to Khodorchur, Fr. Harutiun Hulunian and Fr. Madtéos Hajian. Dr. Vatche Ghazarian oversaw the translation of the volume into English, while Gina Ann Hablanian coordinated the project as Managing Editor. The original title of the Armenian book, published in Vienna in 1964 by the Mekhitarist Press, reads in English translation, “Memorial Album of Khodorchur.” Co-editor Aram Arkun, former director of the Zohrab Information Center, provided rich historical annotations.

Hovann H. Simonian, who has studied the Hemshin, opens the volume with a brief, yet rich foreword introducing Khodorchur and providing the cultural background and an historical overview of its people. The original preface from Vienna in 1964 by Fr. Hamazasb Vosgian credits and recounts how the pair of priests came together and authored the book. Fr. Hulunian focused on the topography, customs and history of the region when he began writing in 1908. Fr. Hulunian had been granted an opportunity to revisit his birthplace in 1913. In consequence, he was able to correct, expand, and enrich the first draft of his work, which he had brought with him. He took his work with him, continually refining it. Before Fr. Hulunian began writing his work on Khodorchur, Fr. Madtèos Hajian, who had been dispatched to his birthplace in 1899, and where he remained for a number of years, had published a number of works on the district before being deported and martyred. This compilation of material would later be utilized by Fr. Hulunian in his research.

The Katchkar Mountains in the region of Khodorchur, one of the many color plates in the volume.

The Katchkar Mountains in the region of Khodorchur. The word “Khodorchur” literally means “crooked water,” probably referring to the streams and rivers that cascade down these mountains.

The study begins with a discussion of the various topographies and customs of the area encompassing Khodorchur. The first 15 chapters present detailed facts about the various villages in the Khodorchur region. The second half of Part I describes the inhabitants’ wedding festivities, funeral traditions, pilgrimages, seasonal traditions, superstitions, popular medications, and proverbs and riddles. Part II tells the history of the people, marked by its conflicts with Turkish and Armenian convert Muslim bandits and raiders in hostile, neighboring provinces. Part III is devoted to recounting the deportations of the Armenians of Khodorchur in detail. Included are testimonies of victims of the Armenian Genocide who retell their survival stories and the fate of their unfortunate compatriots. In Part IV, Bert Vaux presents an exhaustive linguistic analysis of the unique Armenian dialect of Khodorchur. Included is a dictionary of terms compiled by Shushan Avagyan that shows just how sharply the language of Khodorchur differed from both the Eastern and Western Armenian dialects familiar to us today.\

An addendum contains an official report of the survivors in the region of Khodorchur by the Dayk Union’s Committee for the Search and Relief of Refugees following the Armenian Genocide in 1919. Documented here are statistics and records concerning the confiscation of arms, searches, imprisonments, tortures, etc., confiscation and sale of belongings, the number of Armenians in the region immediately before the war, the number of deportees, and where they were sent, the current number of Armenians, and the conditions of churches, schools, and

Alexander Calikyan reading in the Zohrab Center this summer

Alexander Calikyan reading in the Zohrab Center this summer

houses, just to name a few. In the Appendix, a narrative entitled, “Three Times in Khodorchur,” Vartan Gianighian, who has ancestral ties to Khodorchur, describes his experience while on a tour of eastern Turkey that eventually led him to his father’s homeland. There he had the opportunity to see the beauty and subsequent

devastation that his father had told him about years earlier. Aside from a lengthy and detailed index, another precious feature of this book is its rich variety of plates of priceless photographs and artwork from Khodorchur.

A real gem among lost and hidden Armenian treasures from pre-20th century times, Khodorchur: Lost Paradise has revived the legacy of Khodorchur and her people, creating a rich ethnography that snapshots a lesser known, yet enigmatic piece of Armenian society which, through the hard work and dedicated effort put in by Fathers Harutiun and Madtèos, is sure to capture the imagination of any Armenian having roots in another Armenian world. It has surely done so for this reviewer.

Khodorchur: Lost Paradise. Memories of a Land and Its People. Fr. Harution Hulunjian and Fr. Madtéos Hajian. Vache Ghazarian, trans. Edited by Aram Arkun and Victoria Rowe with a Foreword by Hovann H. Simonian. New material by Vartan Gianighian, Hagop Hachikian and Bert Vaux. Monterey, CA: Mayreni Publishing, 2012. ISBN 9781931834384. 652 pp.

Copies of Khodorchur are available for sale from the Bookstore of the Eastern Diocese. Phone (212) 686-0710.

Alexander Calikyan is a third-year student at the Catholic University of America majoring in philosophy and theology. He is completing a summer internship at the Zohrab Information Center, where he has assisted in cataloguing rare books. 

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