My grandfather, Krikor Kachadoorian, was traumatized and suffered greatly by the Armenian Genocide. Krikor left his family in Kharput, Armenia in 1912 to seek work in America. He made his way to Selma, California where he farmed grapes. He sent money back to Armenia to help support his wife, children, and extended family until 1917 when they along with 65 members of his family were killed by the Ottoman Turks. Due to tough economic times in America, Krikor found himself moving around the country looking for work. In 1927, he heard that Ford Motor Company in Highland Park, Michigan, close to Detroit, was hiring men for their new assembly plant. He was hired and reconnected with a couple of his uncles who had found their way to America. He started to settle down and was looking to start a new family.
My grandmother, Varter, was born in 1899 in Malatia, Armenia. When she was very young, her father was killed by the Turks. Her mother remarried a French-Armenian with the last name Chekemian. Her mother moved to Marseille, France and left Varter with her maternal grandmother. She married at the age of 15 and gave birth to a son. In 1917, Varter’s husband was inducted into the Turkish Army. Shortly after he was shot by firing squad with a large group of Armenian soldiers. Soldiers were sent to the Armenian houses where they forced women, children and the elderly out of their homes with only what they could carry. Vartar’s son was only 18 months old and still nursing. They were marched out of town into the Syrian Desert as far as Del Azor.
A Turkish soldier came along to collect coins and jewelry. When he came to Vartar, the soldier tore her pearl and gold earrings off her pierced ears. The baby was startled and began to cry annoying the soldier who then stabbed the baby and killed him in his mothers’ arms. She had to leave the infant on the trail. We do not know the name of the baby because Vartar never mentioned his name.
Varter survived the march to Aleppo with help from a Turkish woman who took her in. She eventually found passage to Marseille, France and reunited with her mother. In 1927, she immigrated to America and found her way to Detroit, Michigan. It is here that on a Sunday afternoon, three eligible suitors were brought to her. She was expected to be married and start a new family. She chose Krikor Kachadoorian to marry because he made her laugh. They had four children, Sara, Charles, Mary, and George.
Charles, the second child of Krikor and Varter, was my beloved father. In 2018, my adventurous sister Sara Cumbelich took him on a trip to Armenia. He was so happy to have been able to visit his parent’s homeland. Sadly, he recently passed away and we all miss him very much. I moved to Chula Vista in 1994 along with my wife Maria who grew up in Southbay. Charles had 12 grandchildren. Two of them are my daughters Amanda and Marissa Kachadoorian who graduated from Eastlake High School. We love living in a Welcoming City such as Chula Vista and continue to honor our ancestors and Armenian heritage.
Meet Therese Serapian, the grandmother of Summer Stephan who is San Diego County’s District Attorney elected to office in 2018. Therese was born in 1909 to a loving Armenian family of jewelers and textile craftsmen. In 1915, at the age of six years old, Therese was living in the Ottoman Empire in the city of Mardin, which is now in Turkey. She remembered being woken up and walked with soldiers alongside her mother who was pregnant. Therese later learned her father, along with most of the male relatives, had been killed. Women and children were together but there were no men. Therese remembered that they were put in caravans but at times they had to get out and walk for a long time. They arrived at her aunt’s place which seemed safe, but her mother contracted Dengue, a form of yellow fever, and died. Her brother also died along with her little sister Victoria because she was always right next to her mom. Therese and her sister Georgette survived and stayed together during this time.
Her cousin, Gabriel, left to study medicine in Istanbul. It was customary to take a family photograph since they never knew when they would return from school. Gabriel learned that the Armenian men were being systematically killed in his hometown of Mardin and elsewhere, so he fled and began a new life in Detroit. Other relatives escaped to Paris. Gabriel safeguarded the precious family photograph. Later, he was able to locate surviving family members and shared this photograph with them.
Therese moved from place to place eventually coming to the United States. San Diego became her home. Therese got to celebrate her daughter graduate from law school and two granddaughters also graduate from law school before she passed away in 1992. Therese left her family with an indelible legacy teaching them that at the end of the day it is the richness of one’s heart and mind that counts; and that we must always remember the importance of protecting our right to pray along with our human rights. It is poetic that her granddaughter Summer devoted her life to serving justice and protecting the most vulnerable as District Attorney.
Here you can see the rare historic photograph of the family, along with the beautiful jewelry taken within weeks of the horrific Armenian Genocide. Summer Stephan explained when she looked at the photo, she immediately spotted her grandmother’s dignified face as it had not changed with age. Therese is the girl in the third row, 2nd from the left. Therese’s mother is the pregnant woman in the second row, 3rd from the right with her father in the first row with his hand on her mother’s shoulder.
By Jill M. Galvez, Chula Vista City Councilmember
My great-grandfather, Moushek Goshgarian, and his brother were orphaned in the early 1890s, when the Red Sultan’s forces massacred their parents and the rest of their family in Armenia. Moushek and his brother were saved by Lutheran missionaries, and sent to an orphanage in Detroit, Michigan, sometime between 1893-1896. Their last name was shortened to “Garian” at Ellis Island. They became cobblers and soon were able to support themselves and live outside of the orphanage.
My 14-year-old great-grandmother, Zartar, and her younger brother had been sent to a neighboring village to purchase steerage to America. When they returned to their Armenian village, they found their entire family decapitated inside their home. Lutheran missionaries helped them escape to an orphanage in Odessa, Russia.
In 1908, my great-grandfather in Detroit (who was in his 30’s at the time) was matched to my great-grandmother (a young teenager) to save her and help her immigrate to America. In his letters, Moushek made himself out to be younger,and Zartar made herself out to be older. They were quite shocked to meet one another and live together as man and wife, but soon they had six children, including my grandfather, George “Sabu” Garian, born in 1909. George married a Lutheran girl from Minnesota, who was a refugee (of sorts) of the Great Depression. Moushek’s brother never married.
On April 24, 2015, my husband, Victor and I marched along with 130,000 Armenians in Los Angeles, CA. The March for Justice was a six-mile march from the neighborhood designated as Little Armenia in Hollywood to the Turkish Consulate of Los Angeles, demanding recognition of the Armenian Genocide.