The fate of hundreds of thousands of Armenian orphans who survived the Genocide in the Ottoman Empire turned out differently. Forty of them ended up in Ethiopia, joining the imperial orchestra. The Sputnik Armenia correspondent managed to communicate with the son of one of them.
About three years ago, Sputnik Armenia published an article about how 40 Armenian orphans formed the Imperial brass Band of Ethiopia in 1924. And so, a couple of days before the New Year, the son of one of the orchestra musicians contacted us. We agreed to meet in mid-January.
I waited for the meeting with excitement for two weeks, then reread the article.
The appearance of 40 Armenian orphans in Ethiopia, the formation of the imperial orchestra, the performance of the national anthem of Ethiopia during the coronation of the emperor was a miracle in itself, and then there was such luck – to meet a man who is related by blood to a participant in those events. I was met by Vache Zatikian, a precocious 80-year-old man, the son of Grigor Zatikian and Siran (Sirun) Magakian. Before answering my questions, the elderly gentleman opened a battered blue suitcase and carefully took out photographs and all sorts of documents. “Both mother and father became orphans. His father was born in 1906 in the village of Daranda, Malatia province, and his mother was born in Van in 1914. Both miraculously escaped during the Genocide and ended up in an orphanage.” Mr. Zatikian takes a worn-out piece of paper out of his suitcase, carefully smooths it and begins to read his father’s autobiography. Vache Zatikian does not know exactly how many relatives his father lost (he did not like to talk about the tragic events of those years). He only knows that his father had a sister who was taken away by the Turks…
From Grigor Zatikian’s autobiography, we learn that representatives of the Pan-Armenian Charitable Union sheltered him in Mosul and in 1919 took him to Baghdad, to a shelter called Pakupa, in 1921 – to Basra, in 1922 – to the Ararat orphanage in Jerusalem. The future mother of Vache Zatikian, Siren and uncle Mushek also got into the same orphanage “Araratyan” (before that they were with their two brothers in the orphanage of Echmiadzin, the brothers remained in Armenia). Zatikian doesn’t know much about his maternal grandparents – only that his grandmother died in Etchmiadzin. He remembers that he went with his mother to the old cemetery, his mother laid flowers at a random grave, as she did not know where her mother was buried.
There were various groups for Armenian orphans in the Ararat Orphanage in Jerusalem. Vache Zatikian shows a glazed clay plate – in 1924, his father made it with his own hands in an orphanage, in a pottery circle. There was also a theater circle, as evidenced by the preserved photographs, which also depict Vache Zatikian’s father Grigor. During these years, the brass band of the shelter – the “Fanfare Group” – was formed. The orchestra’s musicians included Vache Zatikian’s father (bass trumpet) and maternal uncle (clarinet).
In 1924, the last emperor of Ethiopia, Ras Tefari Makonnin (who at that time was not officially an emperor yet, but was the heir to the throne and the de facto head of the country), during a European tour, went to Switzerland to represent Ethiopia in the League of Nations. Along the way, he also visited Jerusalem, visited the Armenian Patriarchate, and heard about a “Fanfare Group”. The year before, the emperor’s wife also visited the Ararat orphanage; she was touched by the performance of Armenian orphans and their history. Teferi was so impressed by the performance of the children that he turned to Archbishop Yeghishe Durian and said that he wanted to adopt the children and take them with him to Ethiopia, promising to take care of the orphans, provide them with food, housing and everything needed.
The orphanage was overflowing, and then there was an opportunity to accommodate at least these 40 orphans. The archbishop and the management of the orphanage agreed. On September 6, 1924, Armenian children, including Grigor Zatikian and Mushegh Maghakian, arrived in Addis Ababa. Siran stayed in Jerusalem to continue her studies (later moved to Beirut). There is another interesting photo in Vache Zatikian’s suitcase: it depicts Emperor Haile Selassie during a festive ceremony. Grigor Zatikian himself can be seen behind the emperor. It is possible that this is a photo from the very coronation ceremony. “As far as I know, at first the orphans lived right in the palace or in the building attached to the palace, in any case, next to the emperor, under his direct patronage. Then several orphans were settled in Armenian homes in Addis Ababa. Children not only played musical instruments, but also learned a craft. My father, for example, learned watchmaking and jewelry, even became a court jeweler, the emperor appreciated him and trusted him,” says Zatikian.
The future father of our interlocutor very soon became one of the most famous and respected jewelers in Addis Ababa. His business card is still kept in the same blue suitcase. As the years passed, Siran moved to the Kelekian and Sisuan orphanage in Beirut, but she had already become an adult, so she had to leave the orphanage. Her brother Mushegh asked the emperor for permission to move his sister to his place. The Emperor gave his agreement. In the early 30s, Siran moved to Ethiopia. Grigor and Stran met again, this time they were both adults, fell in love and decided to get married.
“According to the Armenian custom, the bride should be taken from her father’s house, but Siran did not have a father’s house. Members of the local Pan-Armenian Charity Union, the Martikians, offered their house for a traditional wedding ceremony.”
The wedding of two Armenian orphans was held with royal elegance and royal gifts: the Empress presented Siran with a beautiful bag and an ivory pipe, and the emperor presented Grigor with a silver cigarette case and a mother-of-pearl pipe.
In 1935, the firstborn of Grigor and Siran was born in Ethiopia, he was named Andranik (translated from arm. “firstborn” – ed). Grigor continued to play in the orchestra, worked as a watchmaker and jeweler, and Siran gave needlework lessons at the local Armenian Sunday school. In a blue suitcase, her embroideries of different years are carefully stored, including those that were created back in the orphanage in Jerusalem.
In 1938, they, like many others, were forced to leave Ethiopia – the troops of fascist Italy entered there (during the occupation, Mushegh Maghakian was captured, he returned to his homeland only in 1962). They fled to Beirut, where Grigor had a small jewelry store in the Burj Hammoud quarter for several years. After the end of the war, in 1946, they moved to Armenia. Here Grigor Zatikian worked as a watchmaker, sometimes taking small jewelry orders.
“Few people know that in the 60s Emperor Selassie came to Yerevan, lived in the Armenia Hotel. My father really wanted to meet him. He went to the hotel, explained to the guards that the emperor knew him, that he was a court musician and jeweler, but the security staff did not believe him, the meeting never took place.”
Grigor Zatikian died in 1982, Siran Maghakian – in 1987. Family members remember that grandma continued to stitch, even when her eyesight sank to minus 14. Grigor Zatikian and Siran Maghakian lived together for about half a century. They lived in peace and harmony. And the reason for the dispute could be, for example, if Grigor Zatikian used Turkish words in a conversation with his repatriate friends. Then Siran really started to get angry.
The couple often remembered Ethiopia with nostalgia. In the blue suitcase there are many photos from this country, the emperor and the empress, which they often reviewed.