Dirtad Dirtadian’s ‘Haght and the Haghtetsis’ (in English)
By Betty Apigian-Kessel
(This article is about a genocide survivor who so loved his village in historic Armenia’s Sepastia that he painstakingly documented every aspect of village life for future generations. Haghtetsis had suffered 600 years of Turkish humiliation, oppression, the Hamidian massacres, and ultimately the 1915 exile to the desert of Der Zor and genocide. The author was not about to let it be forgotten.)
Just when you think you could not possibly have more admiration for the Armenian survivor generation of 1915, you are introduced to a book by an exceptional gentleman, Baron Dirtad Dirtadian (deceased) of Utica, N.Y. who by virtue of his book created a permanent historic document of life in the yergir (old country) Armenia and in particular the village of his birth, his beloved mountainous Haght.
Equal admiration must be given to Dirtadian’s daughter, Marian Dirtadian Amiraian, who soon had the support of Dearborn Heights, Mich. residents Araxy and Ned Apigian; they recognized the importance of translating the 1959 book into English. Araxy’s father, Hagop Madoian, of Providence, R.I. was also from Haght. Fellow Haghtetsis Araxy and Marian became friends, with Araxy giving support to Amiraian to pursue the translation.
The Apigians contacted friend Dickran Toomajan, a teacher in the Armenian Studies Program at Detroit’s Wayne State University. It was a perfect match. Toomajan’s father, Nishan, had relocated to the city of Sepastia after the Hamidian massacres. Toomajan like Dirtadian, describes the translation as a labor of love. Together with his wife Anahit and daughter Ani, their excellent English translation was completed.
Dirtadian’s book is a display of his Armenian language skill and memory. “A wonderful scene opened up before your eyes from the faraway fields to the shores of the Alis River,” he wrote. “One could see the half-gathered piles of wheat and how the unharvested fields were undulating like the waves of the sea.”
The book was printed by the Hairenik Press in Boston in 1959, the organ to which Dirtadian was also a literary contributor. It is the publication of the Central Board of the Patriotic Society of the village of Haght, Sepastia.
Although Dirtadian’s foresighted book is his legacy to the villagers of Haght and their descendents, its contents could be applicable to the lives of all Armenian villagers.
Why would you not want to know the customs followed by your people for engagements, marriages, birth, and burials? The many proverbs and sayings, riddles, customs, holidays, and superstitions? The educational and farming conditions of the village? The revolutionary involvement of Haght and its destruction? Dirtadian even compiled a list of village residents and those who survived the genocide, those who came to various cities in America and their addresses.
Often as American-born Hyes we bemoan a book is written only in Armenian. This book is an opportunity to avail yourself of something very tangakin (special). You may never “go home again,” but you will have a permanent connection to the Haght village.
Photos in the book include one of Mourad of Sepastia; men who fought with General Antranik; volunteers on various Armenian war fronts; and a 1930 photo of the Patriotic Society of the Village of Haght Providence Chapter.
Photos of the serene village show it to be nestled in a mountainous gorge with a river and small streams flowing through and stretching toward the Alis Valley, hence the popularity of the feminine name “Alice.” On the slopes of the mountain was built the famous St. Hreshdagabed (Archangel) Monastery.
He writes, “The endless Turkish suppression, brutality, injustices, terror, and unbridled looting of the once obedient and subservient Armenian people became the reason why rebellious, virile, and heroic figures emerged from the bosom of an enslaved community to wage a struggle against captivity giving rise to revolutionary ideas.”
It began in the fall of 1914: “The Turkish government ordered Armenians to surrender their weapons immediately and took the men away forever. A repeat of the Hamidian massacres of 1895 filled their hearts. Wisely the villagers buried what armaments they had left. Then Turkish policeman entered the village, took away 150 elderly and teenagers to a field and under the pretest of an attempted escape, shot them all, leaving the women and children to harvest the crops…
“The joyful but unfortunate Armenian people were superior in their creativity, morals, character, and culture, to the cannibalistic monsters and cursed tribe that has established a despotic rule which had tarnished the history of humankind with its name, Turk, and by bestial acts carried out under that name.”
No where will you find a more descriptive, uplifting, and then tragic chronicle of Armenian village life than in Dirtadian’s book. It is your witness to your ownership of homes in an ancient land called historic Armenia that lives in all Armenian hearts.
Appreciation to the Patriotic Society of Haght, Baron Dirtadian, his daughter Marian and granddaughter Arpi Amiraian, Araxy and Ned Apigian, the Toomajan translators, Armenag Topouzian for guidance, and Melkon Yessailian for getting the original manuscript published by the Hairenik Press.
In Armenian, haght means “to win,” and this book about this village in historic Armenia is truly a winner. If you “get it” you will get it.
Source: "The Armenian Weekly", 29 June 2009