Երկուշաբթի, 26. 02. 2024

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The Memoirs And Thorns Of My Life

narrated by Mathild Berberian-Arabian
written by Harou
tune Iskahadian

I met Mrs. Mathild Berberian-Arabian in the summer of 1992.The seventy-four year-old woman had not forgotten the sad events of her life, especially the Disaster of Smyrna when she was five years old. Sometimes with a mild smile, but   often   with   tears,  Mrs.  Mathild  narrated  to    me  the episodes of her life. After she passed away in 1993, her daughter Christine Arabian-Atallah gave me her photographs and notebooks, in which were written Mathild’s and her mother Yeranouhi Guegherouni-Berberian’s memoirs, in which was written the details of their life as refugees at a seashore camp in Greece and their first steps of reconstructing their lives in hospitable Lebanon.

Yeranouhi Guegherouni-Berberian's
Yeranouhi Guegherouni-Berberian’s


The Disaster of Smyrna (Izmir) took place in 1922 without any justifiable reason. Perpetrated and executed merely with the motivation of jealousy and savage lust, we the prosperous class of the city were driven out by force, without any respect, as a result of an absurd policy. Leaving behind their wealth and belongings, the Armenians, Christians by faith, were forced to emigrate to Greece. They were sheltered in that beautiful country, but were deprived of their comfortable lives, the enjoyment of which was denied to them contrary to God’s will. Contrary to our prestige, education and honor, all of us were obliged to live in one room deprived of almost everything. Being used to living a decent life we had many requirements. Despite our wealthy past, we had a miserable life in Greece, as we faced many difficulties. We started from the beginning, in a new city, with a new but miserable life. We adjusted with a new way of life in a foreign place, but not in prosperous Athens. The very small portion of our wealth which we could bring with us, was spent in this foreign place. With much effort and struggle, we succeeded in surviving and reconstructing our living again. Later, we were obliged to leave for Lebanon, where we succeeded in securing a decent living, thanks to our hard work, ability and cleverness. We lived a decent life, unlike the nomads, so that our children would also do the same. Even the mere remembrance of our refugee life terrified us.
This passage is an extract from Mathild’s notebook.
Mathild Berberian, the daughter of Garabed Berberian and Yeranouhi Guegherouni, was born in Smyrna (Izmir) in 1918. The Berberians and Guegherounis had been noble families in Smyrna. Yeranouhi Guegherouni, an educated lady, used to teach French language and literature at the Armenian schools of Smyrna without expecting any payment. Her brother Garbis Guegherouni had a PhD in chemistry and was living in Paris, France, and her father Hagop was a diamond and jewelry merchant. The Berberian family was also one of the wealthiest families of Izmir and owned a lot of farms. When the forces of Mustafa Kemal attacked the city of Smyrna, they blazed the houses of the Armenians and the Greeks. The people fled and rushed to the port. Hagop Guegherouni gathered his family and made an attempt to flee. Disguised as a poor man and keeping his diamonds and gold coins in bread loaves wrapped in a bag, they rushed to the port and tried to get aboard a ship. However, Turkish soldiers discovered the diamonds and gold coins with Hagop. Not only were they satisfied in robbing Hagop, but they also kidnapped
him in sight of refugee women and children and took him away; later it was discovered that he was killed.

Mathild’s mother Yeranouhi had secretly kept gold coins in her attire and in the buttons. She succeeded in getting aboard a ship with her husband Garabed Berberian and three children, Zohrab (born in 1914), Mathild (1918) and Garbis (1921)
For a short time, Garabed and Yeranouhi managed to secure a living for themselves and their children with some of the gold coins that they were able to bring with them. They survived with much effort and hard work. Yeranouhi was depressed by the shock of her father’s kidnapping. She was like
an injured bird. In memory of her father she wrote the following poem։

From My Refuge

Born in a foreign refugee camp
My beloved father has fallen captive
In the hands of Turks; I am alone here
Living with hope, left to my destiny.
Grant me a smile, oh God of destiny,
A life without father, what passion has it?
Your worshipper shall I forever be,
Let me feel my father’s love.
Life is sweet for those who have a father.
What good is money to a child.
I
have a mother as miserable as I,
Give her luck, so that she would smile again.

Yeranouhi's poem about her father in captivity
Yeranouhi’s poem about her father
in captivity

Along the Greek seaside refugee camp life was cruel. Cold winters, storms, and rain showers tormented the camp. The severe hot weather during the summer season, on the other hand, severely distressed the refugees. Hunger and thirst often visited them. Under such conditions epidemics were spread in the camp and the most usual illness was typhus, with which Yeranouhi’s youngest son Garbis was inflicted. There was neither a physician nor a cure. Garbis suffered of high fever for a few days and died. Yeranouhi’s grief for her father’s loss had not yet been forgotten when she lost her beloved son. The family mourned in distress Garbis» death on the 18th of March 1923.

Yeranouhi expressed her sorrow with another poem։

To My Angel

His joyous face, sweet and handsome
With deep eyes and a brave look,
Curly hair like an angel’s
With a high forehead, already thoughtful
Why should not he live now?

Sweet mouth with delicate lips
He was a blossom with rose leaves;
White as snow, and soft cheeks
One would want to kiss with love
And sincere heart.

His parents» love was his everlasting hope,
His delightful mind thriving with him
Yet not completing two years in age;
He promised a great future to come
Should he
live or not?

Living unaware of the severe life
His fresh breath forever I lost,
His smile extinguished, Nature’s Sacrifice,
My Angel burned a Mother’s heart.

Yeranouhi's poem about her deceased son Garbis Berberian
Yeranouhi’s poem about her
deceased son Garbis Berberian

Why did not he live?
Garabed
and Yeranouhi Berberian stayed in Athens with their two children until 1939, after which they came to Beirut, Lebanon. First they made ends meet, and then with huge effort they worked hard and achieved a wealthy position.

Mathild had lived a refugee’s life before she became a well-to-do lady. Her life was full of ups and downs as is expressed in her memoirs and mother Yeranouhi’s poems. They express the feelings and sorrows of many a refugee life.

THESE ARE MY MEMOIRS AND THORNS, had concluded Mrs. Mathild Berberian-Arabian.

Garbis  Guegherouni  in Paris
Garbis Guegherouni in Paris

Hagop Guegherouni disguised
Hagop Guegherouni disguised

 

Mathild Ber berian-Arabian with her grandsons
Mathild Ber berian-Arabian with her grandsons
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