Matt Abajian

Great-grandson of Hagop Shamlian

We Armenians Survived! Battle of Marash 1920 tells primary and secondary accounts of the atrocities and crimes committed against the Armenian community as the Turks grappled for sovereignty following the loss of World War I. These accounts afford a window into numerous eye-witness stories, especially centering around the city of Marash that was a staging ground of fighting between the French and the Turkish National Forces. Numerous perspectives of survivors who escaped, recounted their stories of genocide of family members and friends at the hands of the Turks once the French retreated. These survivors battled blizzards long enough to reach relative safety, transitioned to a life as refugees across the neighboring regions and ultimately gained passage to the United States to rebuild their communities once again.

Ellen’s masterful work to put together this collaboration of narratives, telling the truth of the Battle of Marash is yet another body of work that adds to the voices lost during the Armenian Genocide. Her endeavors to showcase her family’s voices are evident in the care she provides to have them become “a symbol and reminder to the Turks and Kurds of the not-so-perfect genocide” (p. 27). The campaign to exterminate Armenians is well documented; yet requires constant reminders of the heroism and struggle the everyday victims of this tragedy experienced that shine brightest in her book. The family members are not portrayed without their faults, yet their imperfections bring out the stories that resonate with the legacies the Armenian community has lost and left behind.

One such example was Hagop Shamlian, a tanner who was well-known for quality leather-making across various regions. His skill set was sought after by the Turkish army to cure leather for military outfitting. “This increasing demand for leather by the army gave Hagop the authority to hire as many workers as he needed. Hagop knew what was happening to the deportees and resolved to save as many Armenian men as he could from the ghastly fate of so many others. He proceeded to hire men for his tannery but shrewdly did so in such a way as to conceal his purpose from the authorities. He would hire three Armenians, one Greek, two Turks, three Kurds, two Armenians, and so on. Many did not know the tanning business but Hagop told them he would train them. In this way, he was able to hire scores of Armenians, whether they were tanners or not” (p. 97). A tanner, not a man with high power or prestige, is one of many faces in this book to save the lives of countless others and account for the lesser-known heroes during the genocide. Hagop Shamlian’s name will not be written into a history book (until now with Ellen’s writing), but more importantly, it is the legacy he left to generations that contributed much to their local communities both in the neighboring regions and the West Coast of California. That is what We Armenians Survived! Battle of Marash 1920 embodies as I read about my own great-grandfather’s strength on display and am humbled to carry on that story for future Armenians to come.