"Tell your story" - Abraham Celikoz

I was born in Eregli, Konia, in South-Central  Turkey, north of Adana, near the Taurus Mountains. Like many Armenians, my actual birth day is unknown, and I have an official birth date of March 6, 1945.  To the best recollection of my parents, Lousaper Solak (meaning left-handed), and Haroutyoun Celikoz (meaning pure steel), all of our ancestors had lived there.

My father was born in 1914, and my mother in 1916. During the genocide of 1915, their parents' properties were confiscated. My mother's parents were Sarkis Salah, and Mayram Mumdjouyan, and my father's parents were Kerope Boyadjiyan, and Maryam Kalaydjiyan. Last names usually reflected the trade of the family. Thus, Salah meant butcher; Mumdjouyan meant candlemaker; Boyadjiyan meant dyer; and Kalaydjian meant tinsmith. Significantly, in 1935 the Republic of Turkey created new laws which forced Armenians to stop using the surnames of their ancestors. This was another obstacle put in the way of surviving families, making it almost impossible for them to trace, and claim, their ancestors' properties.

According to government records, my mother's grandfather Krikor Moumdjouyan, his wife Marta, and one of their sons, were deported to Damascus.  No one ever heard from them again. However, the other son, Hagop Moumdjouyan, was spared deportation because he had completed his military service, and was working as an official government registrar. Exemptions were not uncommon for those who had skills that were scarce.  My mother's paternal grandparents, Hagop Salah, and his wife, escaped deportation. 

My father's parents, Kerope Boyadjian and his wife Maryam Kalaydjian, and their children (Garabed, Haroutioun, Viktor, and the eldest Gulhatun), were deported in 1916. However, half way to Adana, they were somehow excused, and allowed to return to Eregli. Possibly, this was due to the relatively liberal- minded governor of Konya, Celal Bey.  This honorable person managed to protect his citizens as much as possible. Unfortunately, many of our ancestors, and their properties, were lost during this dark period.  

My parents, both born during these years, were illiterate Turkish-speakers.  My father was a tailor.  While my mother remembers attending an Armenian primary school run by the church, this was effectively shut down in 1924 when the Republic was established. There was no longer any Armenian schooling in the region, and churches were shuttered, and repurposed, by the government.   Additionally, in the late 1920s, the Republic of Turkey introduced a new “Western” alphabet to replace Arabic. This just compounded my parents' literacy problems.  In the following years, educated people, and those with trades, began migrating to Istanbul because the region had become increasingly hostile towards Christians.  Immigrant Turks from the Balkans had been encouraged to move there, and occupy properties of the Armenian families.   The atmosphere of harassment and discrimination made it dangerous, and my parents especially feared for the safety of my sisters. So, in 1955 they moved us to Istanbul.

My four siblings and I were educated in the Armenian schools of Istanbul. I was fortunate to be accepted at Tibrevank Seminary where I was given excellent preparation for admittance to the Technical University of Istanbul's Faculty of Architecture. I had been inspired to pursue this area of study by the many beautiful structures throughout the city, which was very cosmopolitan at the time. I graduated in 1972, and worked in Germany from 1972-1973, and in France from 1975 to 1978. In 1978, I immigrated to Canada, and have worked in the architectural field since that time. The highlights of my career have included international project management in theatre design. It has taken me to Hungary, the Czech Republic, Vienna, Canada, and the United States.  Interestingly, I also returned to Turkey to manage cinema projects in Ankara, and Istanbul.

My siblings and their descendants reside in Germany. I have been married for 33 years. My daughter, Lousaper-Anne Gharapetian, received her elementary education in Armenian school in Toronto. She is fully fluent in Armenian, and travelled to Armenia in 2007.  During the coming, momentous, year when all Armenians will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the genocide, I am overjoyed to announce that she will present us with our first grandchild. 

My maternal grandparents, Sarkis and Maryam Salah

My mother, Lousaper (Right), my aunt Verjin (Left) in 1928