Hakob Moutafian tells the story of his grandfather, also named Hakob, who was from the village Kamurj in Urfa. According to him, during the massacres, he and his parents were exiled and made to walk the desert of Deir ez-Zor, where they cut off Armenians’ heads and threw them into the Euphrates.
...My father’s father, Hakob, was forcibly deported with his parents in the days of the Armenian Genocide from the village of Karmounj, near Yedessia. Going on foot, hungry and thirsty, sun-scorched and exhausted, they had reached Der-Zor. There the Turks had started to cut off the heads of the Armenians with axes and to throw them in the Euphrates River. It is said that the water of the Euphrates River was colored red by the Armenians’ blood. My grandfather Hakob had miraculously escaped the slaughter. An Arab desert man had taken him as a shepherd to graze his sheep. After many years Hakob had married a girl, an orphan like him, and they had had three sons and two daughters. The three sons had named their firstborn sons Hakob in honor of their father. So, my name is also Hakob after my grandfather.
Our large Moutafian family, numbering 25 souls, lives up till now in Der-Zor and is well-known here by its prosperous situation.
There are also 10-15 other Armenian or semi-Armenian families in Der-Zor. The Armenians are in good friendly relations with the local Arabs. The latter are very kind and hospitable people. The Arab desert tribal chiefs often visit us. They always remember and tell us the narratives about the Armenian deportees they have heard from their fathers and grandfathers, about how the Turkish gendarmes had brought the poor Armenian exiles in groups to Der-Zor; they had massacred them and had thrown their corpses in the Euphrates River.
That is why the Armenians erected, in 1991, right in the center of today’s Der-Zor the Saint Martyrs’ Church-Memorial complex dedicated to the memory of one and a half million innocent Armenian martyrs.
There is a hill called Markadé, just a two-hour drive from Der-Zor. According to the testimony of Arab desert tribal chiefs, that name was given precisely by the Arabs at the sight of the slaughter of the Armenians. The name “Markada” is derived from the Arabic word “Rakkadda,” which means “countless piled up corpses.” It is said that the said hill had been formed by the corpses of the Armenians. In fact, up till the present day, if you dig the earth a little bit with your hand, you will find the bones of the Armenian martyrs. On that same place the Chapel of St. Harutyun was built, in 1996, on the relics of our martyrs, which are displayed in show-cases in every corner of the chapel.
A little farther, there is a large cave called “Sheddadié.” Again, according to the testimony of Arab desert men, that name derives from the Arabic word “Shedda,” which means “a place of terribly great tragic event.” The elderly Arab desert men relate that the Turk gendarmes had brought the Armenian deportees, had packed them into that large cave, had shut its entrance and had set fire to it. There remained only the bones of the Armenians reduced to ashes…
Those, who come to Der-Zor, do not go back without seeing these places. But during the past few years, petroleum was found near Sheddadié, consequently the Syrian government has forbidden the visits to those places. But the names of these two localities, Markadé and Sheddadié, were given by the desert Arabs, who had witnessed the massacre of the Armenians with their own eyes.
During the massacres many Armenian girls and boys were able to escape, in various ways, from the Turkish murderers and find refuge, naked and hungry, at the Arab desert Bedouins. The latter had tattooed with blue ink the faces of many Armenian girls according to their custom, had made them Moslems and had kept them for years. Most of those Armenians had grown up, had forgotten their mother tongue, had become Arabs, but there are those among them, who still remember that their ancestors were Armenians.
Here is one example. A few years ago, two Arab young men, aged 20-22, knocked at our door. I opened the door and saw two Arab peasant boys and I guessed from their garments that they were from the villages of Der-Zor. I asked them to come in. They sat down and started to speak with great emotion. It turned out that the grandfather of one of them was an Armenian, named Karapet, who was miraculously saved from the slaughter. The other’s grandmother was also an Armenian, named Mariam. Although the names of these young men were Arabic, but they said that there was a nickname added after their family names, “Karapet” and “Mariam” respectively, by which they were known in the villages they lived.
These two young men started to ask questions, whether what they had heard was right, that the Armenians had a country named Armenia, that Gharabagh had been liberated from the Turk-Azeris, that after the Gharabagh victory it was possible to go there and to have the right to live there, that they would be given a piece of land for cultivation and money to build a house for themselves. Therefore, whom should they apply to go to Gharabagh and to settle there? I showed them the way with my advices and I told them that I and my two brothers were already students at the various universities of the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. And I told them that they should apply to the Armenian consul in Aleppo, and he could settle the matter…
Thus, there are thousands of assimilated, estranged Armenians in the Syrian deserts, but there are also many who have still retained their national identity, perhaps not evidently, but the organization of their relocation in Armenia and Gharabagh is, in my opinion, the sacred duty of our government.
Verjine Svazlian. The Armenian Genocide: Testimonies of the Eyewitness Survivors. Yerevan: “Gitoutyoun” Publishing House of NAS RA, 2011, testimony 384, pp. 545-546.