An Ethiopian Odyssey

"Jack pulled up a chair and sat down to explain: "My father, Avak, was one of the many hundreds of thousands of Armenian children orphaned in the genocide in 1915 by the Ottoman Turks.  He’d been born in Van, the capital of Van Province. His mother and father were killed, along with his younger sister, Aschen.  Only he and my uncle, Yervant, survived, they were just four and six years old.  They joined other refugees, and somehow made it through the Syrian desert to old Jerusalem, where they were cared for by other Armenians.
As I listened to him, I wanted to weep in pity for Aschen and Avak’s parents and for Avak, who had survived that desert crossing, only to die 40 years later.  Yet, it was extraordinary – Avak was my third link to Jerusalem, in just five months.  I vowed, then and there, to find out where he’d been looked after in the old city.
"

"Jack pulled up a chair and sat down to explain: "My father, Avak, was one of the many hundreds of thousands of Armenian children orphaned in the genocide in 1915 by the Ottoman Turks.  He’d been born in Van, the capital of Van Province. His mother and father were killed, along with his younger sister, Aschen.  Only he and my uncle, Yervant, survived, they were just four and six years old.  They joined other refugees, and somehow made it through the Syrian desert to old Jerusalem, where they were cared for by other Armenians.
As I listened to him, I wanted to weep in pity for Aschen and Avak’s parents and for Avak, who had survived that desert crossing, only to die 40 years later.  Yet, it was extraordinary – Avak was my third link to Jerusalem, in just five months.  I vowed, then and there, to find out where he’d been looked after in the old city.
"

Annette is half-English, half-Norwegian and spent much of her childhood living out of suitcases, as the family travelled from city to city, country to country, following her father’s aeronautical career. Most of her childhood was in Africa: Ethiopia and South Africa. When she witnessed the endemic poverty in these countries, she developed a strong sense of justice for these people, who had so little, and yet were often happier than we were, with all our material possessions. Her simple, Christian faith grew from such encounters.
After returning to Britain in 1972, she moved into corporate communications, working for major international companies. She won awards for some of her work, but as she approached 40, life began to seem increasingly meaningless, despite the BMW in the drive, the birth of James in 1989, and a lovely house.

Everything changed, after her mother’s death in 1993. She stopped work for a while to care for her and began to question what life was really all about. In particular, she was puzzled by the still, clear dreams she had, messages which had no connection whatsoever to the previous day’s events. She began to wonder if these could, perhaps, foretell her future.

Her first book “An Ethiopian Odyssey” is about her quest to find nine classmates from her schooldays in Addis Ababa in1964, prompted by another dream in April 2000 – she’d returned there to help provide water. Setting off in March 2004, guided by dreams and the old black and white photo of the women, with just their Christian names on the reverse, little did she anticipate that she would cross three continents to track them down, helped by men and women around the world. The dream spread everywhere, on the internet, radio programmes and TV news and ends at St. Paul’s Chapel in New York, the little church of such peace beside Ground Zero. The city is home to two of her former classmates.

It’s Annette’s intention to find all the remaining classmates and include their stories in book 2. On the front cover will be the class, as they are today, standing on those same steps at Nazareth School for Girls, Addis Ababa.

The crown which Avak Hagopian created
for Queen Elizabeth II in 1954

"Jack stared intently at me: "Tell me, Annette, did you hear about the 40 orphans?

"Yes, Jack mentioned something about it – Haile Selassie had adopted them."

"Well," he smiled ruefully, "Avak was the youngest to be adopted. Selassie, or Ras (Prince) Tafar as he was known, wanted to create an imperial court band.  During a visit to Jerusalem, he heard the Armenian brass band playing at the Armenian Orthodox Cathedral.  And now, well, you know the rest."

Gazing at the hand-coloured photo of the magnificent crown that Avak had created for one devine ruler to give another, blood roared in my ears and now familiar shockwaves of intuition sped through my body.  The walls of the confortable Los Angeles kitchen seemed to disappear as I looked in tears at him and Silva.

Braking the spell, Jack added: "So, will you be able to use it?"

"Of course I will, Jack.  It would be an honour to do that for your father’s memory."

We looked at more photos of the house in Addis Ababa where they’d lived after their marriage, and I told Silva news of Jack, her second cousin in Buckingham.  It had been a momentous evening and I needed to sleep on the facts.  Tomorrow, I would hear more about Silva’s time in Ethiopia and life in LA."


An Ethiopian Odyssey
published by


Half of the royalties will be helping to provide water and a future for the very poor
in Ethiopia, and hope in the Middle East

8 comments
  1. Thank you so much, Dikran!
    Dikran, bless you.  This coverage means so much to me, and I hope that it will encourage many Armenians to buy the book.  I think I told you that Queen Elizabeth received the book for Christmas last year, as it was 50 years since she received the crown.  (And interestingly, I had a dream about Prince Charles and Princess Anne last night – perhaps a foretelling of your website’s story).

    I remain forever a supporter of your people and the suffering they have endured.

    With warmth

    Annette
    ++++++++++++++++

  2. Ethio-Armenians
    Dear Anette,
    I was twelve in 1964 and attending Nazareth School. So were two of my sisters. I read with great interest of your book and will certainly get hold of it somehow. Most of my family is now in Taranto (southern Italy) and something tells me there still isn’t the Italian translation of your work but I’m sure it can be found on the net. Congrations and gook luck with your book. Mary

  3. Ethiopian Armenians

    I have had the opportunity to know members of the Ethiopian Armenian community through my father’s business and have been fascinated by the community. My father ran Hotel Lux in Lebanon. Almost all of our clients were Armenians from many countries including Ethiopia. My mother has kept in touch with some of them to this day. Many we knew have passed away since then. Including the late Mr. and Mrs. Aroukian who were the principal and teacher of the Armenian school in Addis Ababa. My last meetings of Armenian Ethiopians were Arpi and Bartev, born and raised in Ethiopia. They were students in Columbus, Ohio. Like others I had told before, I told them as well that someone needs to write the story of the community. I met Arpi’s parents when they came to Columbus from Ethiopia to attend Arpi’s wedding. Her future husband was baptized by the Armenian orthodox rites before they got married and her wedding probably was the first wedding in Armenian Orthodox rites in Columbus, OH. Arpi and her husband continue to live in Ohio.

    It is claimed that Haile Selassie’s roots go as far back as to Queen Sheba and to King Solomon. Among the many titles of the king, he was titled as the protector of Mount Zion. The Ark of Covenant is said to have been taken to Ethiopia. It is to this deep family roots that I attribute the king’s ties to Jerusalem and his adoption of the orphans some of whom had Armenian spouses sent to them to establish families; others married locally giving rise to one of the most fascinating and prosperous Armenian community at one time.

    1. Arpi’s wedding

      Vahe, I was browsing the site earlier today and read your post.  I am still good friends with Mary and Vartkes Nalbandian, who are one of the few families who remained in Addis after the Dergue (Committee) Marxist regime seized power.  I met Arpi’s parents when I visited Addis in 2006, and took some jewellery back with me, to post securely from the UK to Arpi in Columbus, Ohio!

      Arpi’s mother runs a pharmacy in Addis, and one of my Ethiopian classmate’s sisters worked there for a while, I believe.

      On Thursday (25th –  your thanksgiving), I attended a very interesting talk in London about the genocide by Dr. Harry Hagopian, a revered international expert on the genocide and Middle Eastern relations.  It was well attended, about half the audience were Armenian.

      It is clear that we must keep up the pressure on US and UK governments to recognise the genocide.  Their unwillingness is due to the fragility of Middle East, and Turkey’s role as their ally.  

      It seems to me that whenever we deny facts – both personally and nationally – something dies within us and external resentment builds, like a cancer.  Here is the link to a report about the talk.
      .http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/essay_ArmenianGenocide

  4. Congratulations
    Dear Annette,

    It is with great pleasure I read about your connection with Ethiopia and your book. To add to the connection "Jack",  as you called him, is in fact my first cousin Hagop. Jack’s mum, the late Arshaluys Hagopian was my dad’s sister.

    I currently live in Melbourne, Australia. Could you please let me know where I can get my hands on your book here in Australia? Hope to hear from you soon.
     

    The honour has been mine.

    Avo Haigazian

  5. Vartouhi Derentz
    Can you tell me please if Vartouhi Derentz’s maiden name was Sakajian?

    1. Who is it addressed to?
      Dear Rosik,

      Who are you addressing your question to? If it is one of the people who have made a comment, then use the reply option under that individual’s comment. Otherwise don’t expect people at random to answer a question about somebody specific that most people don’t know of.
  6. Inquiry

    Sakajian is listed in The Ethiopian Odyssey, along with her husband Yervant. That’s why I thought someone would know of her here.

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