A Letter from Kars dated February 11, 1917

Last month, I was approached with a request to translate a letter written in Kars in 1917, from one Sarkis P. Jigarjian to his daughter Araksi (Arax), after a fire had erupted on the family property, causing the loss of several buildings (though not the family home or anyone’s life). The letter is written in the Kars dialect and contains several words of foreign origin (particularly Russian and Turkish). That the letter was written in haste after a sleepless night is evidenced not just by the numerous spelling errors and grammatical irregularities,[1] but by Sarkis’ own words in the final lines where he describes his state as like that of a drunken man and apologizes for his bad handwriting. Despite this statement, the handwriting is rather beautiful and mostly legible.[2] 

The Jigarjian family portrait, circa 1910, with Arax seated between her parents.

Descendants of the Jigarjian family who produced the letter also provided the following background information: “This is believed to be the last letter Sarkis wrote to his youngest and favorite child, Arax. We suspect that the fire he reported was a result of arson. At some point within the following year or two, Sarkis was murdered. His murderers were identified as Turks by his wife who then fled Kars and lived her remaining days with her daughter, Arax, and her family.”[3]   

World War I and its immediate aftermath was a time of upheaval and instability in Kars, when the city was a heavily contested site between the Ottoman and Russian Empires and then the young Republics of Armenia and Turkey.[4] In February 1917, when this letter was written, Kars was part of the Russian Empire, then considered to be an important strategic outpost and fortress for the empire in the Caucasus. In the wake of the instability caused by the Bolshevik Revolution in late 1917, the Turks looked to expand their position eastwards and shortly after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918) occupied Kars on April 25, 1918. This may have been when the letter’s author, Sarkis Jigarjian, met his bitter end. A year later, with British assistance, Kars became part of the First Republic of Armenia on April 28, 1919. But on October 30, 1920 it fell with little resistance to the Turkish Republic, within whose borders the city remains to this day.

The Caucasian Front in World War I, 1914–1918 [from Robert H. Hewsen, Armenia: A Historical Atlas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), map 221, p. 229.]

Below is a digitized scan of the two-page letter, written on Sarkis Jigarjian’s business letterhead, followed by a transcription and translation, which should be of interest both to scholars as well as the general public. Any corrections to the translation or transcription may be made in the comments below or by private email to zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org.

— Dr. Jesse S. Arlen


[1] In fact, there is no punctuation in the letter, which reads as one very long sentence.

[2] I would like to thank Vartan Matiossian, Nareg Seferian, and Sonya Martirosyan for their many helpful suggestions and especially for their assistance with the Russian words in the letter.

[3] Private communication; 20 April 2022.

[4] For a historical survey of Kars in this period, see Richard G. Hovannisian, “The Contest for Kars, 1914–1921,” in Armenian Kars and Ani, edited by Richard G. Hovannisian (Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, 2011), 273–317.



11ըն փետրվարի 1917.

ՍԱՐԳԻՍ Փ. ՋԻԳԱՐՋԵԱՆՑ

            ԵՒ ՈՐԴԻՔ

       — ԿԱՐՍՈՒՄ —

Սիրելի որդեակ իմ Արագսի,

Ամսուն 10ին երեկօեան ժամը 7ին ժամանակը խօրէնը շատ զարպանձ զըվանօքը տըվեց բէրդա գընաց դուռը բացէց իսկուն ներս եկաւ եւ ասաւ որ մեր հաեադին մէջ պաժառ կա իսկուն հէվէտդուրս վազեցինք որ մեր փետանօձի վրաի պալկօնը բօլօրօվ կըպերէ եւ սուր կերպօվ վառւումէ խօրէնը սկսեց այդ կրակի մէջ պալկօնը քանդել յետօ տեսանք որ չաբազանձ շատացաւ վառելը խօրէնը արմէնը ըսկըսեցին մէր փօքր հայեադի դուռը եւ քօվի նուժնիկը բօլօրօվին քար ու քանտ էրին եւ հէտօ մեր կուխնիի դըռան քօվի յօտին տախտակէ պուտկէն բօլօրօվին քանտեցին տեսանք որ շատ յուժէղացաւ պաժա[ռը] արմէնակը կամանտիրին քօվէր գընացէր եւ կամանդիրը իսկուն յիրան պառքի սալտատնէրուն հրամաեր էր եկան բօլօր վէշջիքը տարան կամանտիրի տունը ի հարկէ թան ո փօխինդ էղաւ բօլօր վէշջիքը վէրչապէս այսօր առա[ւօտ] նօրից պառքի Սալտատնէրը վէշջիքը բերին տուն դեռ եւս մէզ յայտնի չէ թէ ինչ բան չիկա միեայ[ն] թէ այս քան յիմացիր որ մէնք լավ պրծանք եւ վեշջիքը արթէն մեր կուխնիին եւ փատանօձին վրաի եղած շինութիւները բօլօրը վառվեցան քարուքանտ էրին հիմա մէր տունը բօլօրօվին սելեմեդէ ոչ ինչ կըրակ չի դիպաւ [page 2] միեայն թէ շատ չարչարվեցանք ժամը 12ին գընացինք հաճօնձը այն տեղ 2 կամ 3 ժամ իբրեւ թէ քընէցանք սիրելի Արաքսի ճան այս պաժառը շատ կը բարձրանար միեայն թէ ինչպէս բարի բաղդութիւն ունեցեր էինք որ քաղաքիս կամէնտանտը եկեր էր եւ տեսաւ որ պաժառը շատ պիտի բարձրանա իսկուն տէլէֆօնօվ ձօրի պաժառնի կամանտիրին բերել տըվեց որ պաժառը մարեցին իսկ եթէ քաղաքին պաժառի կամանտին մընայինք այս մէր սրան բօլօրն ալ կը վառէին ես քեզի տեղօվը գրեցի որ չի լինի թէ յուրիշից յիմանաս թէ ինչէ եղեր կամ ինչ չէ եղեր ավելի լավէ որ բօլօր բանը մանրամասը այս նամակօվս յայտնեցի ես այսպէս յարմար գըտա որ ինչպէս կատարվէլ եւ բօլօրը մի առ մի ձեզի տեղեկացնեմ սիրելի Արաքսի ճան դու հանգիստ եղիր այսօր էկան բօլօր վեշզիքը յիրանձ տեղերը կը տեղաւորցընենք վերչապէս Աստված բաները աջօղէ պառքի կամանտիրին եւ պարքի սալտատնէրուն եւ մէկ այլ քաղաքիս մեծապատիւ կամենտանտին վերչապէս Աստված հեռու պահէ այս տեսակ գալստական փօրձանքներէ եւ յուրիշ այլ եւ այլ գալստական փորձանքներէ Աստված պահէ. սիրելի Արաքսի ճան այս նամակս գրեցի քեզի ի միամըտութեան համ[ար] միեայն թէ գիտես թէ հարբածի պէս եմ գըլօխս դըմդըմպումէ սրա համար գիրս գէս դուրս կեաւ օտարական չէս խօմ մնամ քեզ միշտ օրհնօղ քո ծընօղ հայր։

Սարգիս. փ. Ջիգարջեանց


February 11, 1917

Sarkis P. Jigarjian 
and sons, Kars.

My dear child Araksi, 

On the tenth of the month[1] at 7:00 in the evening[2] Khoren rang the bell[3] very frantically, Berta went and opened the door and he rushed inside and said that there is a fire[4] in our courtyard.[5] We immediately ran outside and saw that the entire balcony of our woodshed had caught fire and was fiercely burning. Khoren began to demolish the balcony in the middle of the fire but when we saw that the burning had increased too much, Khoren and Armen then began to utterly reduce to rubble the small gate of our courtyard and the outhouse[6] beside it and then they also completely tore down the flock’s wooden pen[7] next to our kitchen.[8] But when we saw that the fire had grown even stronger, Armenak went for the komandir,[9] and the komandir immediately gave an order to his park[10] soldiers,[11] who came and took all our belongings[12] to the komandir’s house, and of course all our belongings got mixed up.[13] Finally this morning the park soldiers brought our belongings back home. It’s still not clear to us what all was lost but know this much: we escaped safely along with our belongings. All the structures that were in our kitchen[14] and woodshed were burnt and destroyed, but for now our house is entirely unharmed[15] and the fire didn’t touch any of it. It’s just that we were very distressed. At midnight we went to the hajonts[16] and there we tried to sleep for two or three hours. My dear Araksi, this fire was rising so high, that was our only good fortune that the city kamendand[17] had come and seen that the fire was going to grow even more and so immediately called on the phone and had the valley fire chief[18] brought over and they put out the fire. And if we had been left to the city’s fire crew,[19] everything would have burned. I wrote to you on the spot so that you wouldn’t learn from someone else what had happened. It’s better that I reveal to you in this letter the whole affair in detail, I thought it was more appropriate for me to inform you of how everything happened in order.[20] My dear Araksi, don’t be worried. All our belongings came today, we’ll finally put everything back in its place. May God grant success to these things and may God keep the park commander and the park soldiers and our city’s highly honorable kamendand safe from such apocalyptic tribulations and may God protect [us] from all other kinds of apocalyptic tribulations. My dear Araksi, I wrote you this letter to reassure you. But know that I feel like a drunk man, my head is throbbing and for that reason my handwriting came out so bad, you are so dear to me[21] and I shall ever remain your devoted father,

Sarkis P. Jigarjian


[1] i.e., February 10th (the day before he wrote this letter).

[2] i.e., 7:00pm.

[3] Zevanok (Russian, звонок), ‘bell (doorbell).’

[4] Pazhar (Russian, пожар), ‘fire, conflagration.’

[5] Hayat (Turkish), ‘courtyard, yard, sheepfold.’

[6] Nuzhnik (Russian).

[7] Putke (Russian, будка), ‘booth, shack, cabin.’ Likely referring to a ‘pen’ or other small enclosure for the sheep.

[8] Kukhni (Russian, кухня).

[9] ‘Commander, chief’ (Russian, командир).

[10] Park (Russian, парк).                                                                   

[11] Saltat (Russian, солдат).

[12] Veshjik (Russian, вещи), ‘stuff, things, belongings, possessions.’

[13] թան ո փոխինդ էղաւ. Literally, ‘became tan [yogurt drink] and polenta.’ Meaning of the idiom is uncertain— I thank Nareg Seferian for the above suggestion.

[14] Kukhni (Russian, кухня).

[15] Salamat (Arabic), ‘safe, secure.’

[16] Հաճօնցը. Uncertain meaning— perhaps a spelling mistake for hawnots (‘chicken coop’). Alternatively, it could be “at Hajis’ house,” perhaps a neighbor.

[17] ‘Commander, leader’ (Russian).

[18] Komandir (Russian, командир), ‘chief, commander.’

[19] Kamand (Russian, команда), ‘team, crew.’

[20] Մի առ մի. Literally, ‘one by one,’ i.e. bit by bit, piece by piece.

[21] Օտարական չես խօմ Literally, “You’re not a stranger, are you?” asked rhetorically. 

3 thoughts on “A Letter from Kars dated February 11, 1917

  1. Karen Bedrosian Richardson

    Thank you for sharing this important and very moving document and for the historical context you provided.

  2. Thank you, Jesse. A sad and interesting window opened up on a tumultuous time for Armenians.

    Dad

    On Tue, Apr 26, 2022 at 8:21 AM The Krikor and Clara Zohrab Informati

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