An appreciative Armenian

I just wanted to say thank you for the great feature on Portland’s Armenian culture, “‘Atrocity’ in the Forest City” [November 2009]. I really enjoyed the fact that the writer featured the great artwork and message of Stephen Koharian, but then went a step further to not only explain the conflict of the Armenian Genocide, but also the rich history of the Armenians in Portland, Maine.

My great uncle, Haig Manoogian, who passed a few years ago, grew up here in Portland when the area around Lancaster Street was considered “Little Armenia.” His father, Kevork Manoogian, fled here during the genocide. He made five trips back to Armenia, bringing a young man back with him each time as his “son” to save them from very possible death. Now there are a great number of Manoogians in the state of Maine due to his brave efforts.

I can recall as a little girl going to all of “Gus” Barber’s Armenian dances with my aunt, Dorothy Manoogian. Unfortunately, as the elders began to pass away or become too old to organize the events, the cultural picnics and dances that once connected us started to dwindle to very few. Thanks to the wonderful efforts and hard work of the Kiladjians of the Armenian Cultural Association, the events and community connections have again begun to grow.

Although I am a third-generation who is half Irish, I am very proud of my Armenian heritage and appreciate the acknowledgement of the great work of all those in Portland who continue to keep the history and culture alive. Thank you all.

—Kristina Kentigian, South Portland

My grandfather’s stories

I am writing to you after reading your piece “‘Atrocity’ in the Forest City.” My grandfather, Hovigan (John) Serunian, fought in the Armenian Army from 1914 to 1916 against the Turks. He was a leader of a band of guerilla fighters. My parents and I lived in the apartment above my grandfather in South Portland, where he finally settled.  I spent as much of my time with him downstairs as I did upstairs.

I can remember the first time I heard him tell me what is was like being in the war. I must have been 8 or 9 years old. My grandfather passed away when I was 13. Every now and then, he would tell me the stories of the pain and horror. Always we would be eating walnuts and talking and he would begin again …

He tells of the day he ran home, having heard that the Turks were nearby, and when he got there the Turks were already in the house. He hid under the porch while he heard his parents’ and sister’s screams as they were killed. 

Once while in the Armenian Army, he was swimming to get away from the Turks and was captured. They were going to take him away to be shot. One of the Turkish soldiers knew my grandfather and he said he would take care of transporting him. This soldier had grown up with my grandfather and the two recognized each other, but said nothing. The soldier let him go once away from the camp.

My grandfather met my grandmother and great grandmother at the base of a mountain (the mountain never was named in the story). The mountain was where my grandfather would take Armenians to be safe. My grandmother, Rose Aloian, had been shot. My grandfather took them both up the mountain. They were married on the mountain by my great grandmother before coming to this country.

The mountain… My grandfather is coming back down the mountain and hears screams and there is fire and smoke. The Turks had put the Armenian children in a school house and set the schoolhouse on fire. The screams he heard were the Armenian children being burned to death.

I wonder: If this is not considered genocide, what is it considered? And up to this date in time, the very country that finally came to the Armenians’ aid does not formally recognize that genocide occurred.   

You may be asking, Why would anyone tell his granddaughter these things, especially starting at such a young age?

“I am telling you these things for you to tell your children and they can tell their children,” my grandfather told me. “Tell anyone who will listen. Do not forget this. You must remember because they [the Turks] will never, ever admit what they did!”

Grandfather was a smart man.

—Denise Dow, South Portland

photo/Alexander Boss
photo/Alexander Boss

Editor’s note: A few weeks after the publication of last month’s cover story, which noted the sorry condition of the monument commemorating survivors of the Armenian Genocide, a member of the local Armenian community stepped up to revitalize the plaza at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Franklin Arterial by removing graffiti, adding plantings and thoroughly cleaning the site.

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