Our Toureg

Simon Vratsian

By Simon Vratsian, Translated by Vahe H. Apelian, Loveland, Ohio, 1 October 2010
Simon Vratsian
October 29. Hot, it can be said it’s a suffocating hot Sunday. One looks for shadow.

Friends came, that let us go; it’s Toureg’s first memorial service.

Strange, I had not realized that a year had already passed.

By Simon Vratsian, Translated by Vahe H. Apelian, Loveland, Ohio, 1 October 2010
Simon Vratsian
October 29. Hot, it can be said it’s a suffocating hot Sunday. One looks for shadow.

Friends came, that let us go; it’s Toureg’s first memorial service.

Strange, I had not realized that a year had already passed.

Saint Nshan church probably is full to capacity now. It would be impossible to breathe there in this suffocating hot weather. However, it is Toureg’s memorial, can I not attend? 
Although there are other memorials, the church is mostly empty. Regular Sunday church attendants who have nowhere else to go, for that reason they attend church services and few others who truly respect Toureg. “Intimates”, those who partook of his daily table are absent.

I felt very uneasy. The choir was singing “Jerusalem of the above”, the choir’s “do not despair small flock” was reaching my ear; however, hammers were doing the talking in my mind.

-Toureg, Toureg, Toureg, where is your small flock?

Was it this or the smell of the incense? I could not take it any more so I left the church.

I do not remember the exact date. I had come to Tbilisi from Yerevan. In the Yerevanian Square, volunteers who had come from America surrounded me. They had one thousand and one complaints and demands.

The volunteers were being organized into troops and were being integrated with the regular forces but the volunteers were refusing to be under such command. Especially the Armenian-American volunteers who had come with high hopes and enthusiasm, but instead were disappointed and were complaining that they were deceived in being brought to Caucasus.

First and foremost there was no deception. Of course, we had alerted volunteers not to come from America. Personally, I had written letters explaining the situation in Caucasus and the change in the policies of the Tsarist government. I had urged the Armenian-Americans not to move from their places and take advantage of the favorable employment conditions to save money for the future. However the impatience had been great with the Armenian-Americans. They were afraid that Armenia would be liberated without their participation. Many had wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and return to their ancestral homes, or to avenge their martyred family members. The party thus had been obliged to give in and send volunteers to Caucasus from America as well.

The Armenian-Americans arrived to Caucasus under most unfavorable conditions and they did not receive the welcome they had expected. From here their first disappointment and a series of other difficulties which were inherent of the volunteering movement.

Karekin Tourikian stood in front of me in the Yerevanian Square.  He is from Khoups village of Keghi. He was dressed in leather jacket and next to him stood a young man who also was dressed in leather jacket as well and was also wearing a Russian Cossack fur hat from which his curly hair protruded.


-“My nephew”, said Karekin, “Mehran Tourikian, he is also a volunteer from America.”

I did not remember Mehran from America. I think he was from Detroit and I had never been in Detroit.

He was a likeable young man. In appearance, he was dark almost black. His expression was such that you thought he would be laughing at any moment.  He treated his uncle with reverence.

– From which troops are you? I asked.

– From our troop, joked Mehran.

– With few others we are getting ready to go to Keghi, explained Karekin, therefore we decided not to join any other group.

I secured for them the necessary permits and gave them recommendations to present to Keghi regional command to explore the region. I think they were 8 to 10 persons.

They went to Garin and for a long time there was no news from them. To the extent I remember, Rostom had met them in Garin and had given them advice as to what to do when they get to Keghi.

Later on I met them in Etchmiadzin. Karekin, Mehran and the others had come to kiss the right hand of the Catholicos and brief the Catholicos of what they had seen in Keghi. The Catholicos had heard them in grief, had shed tears with them, had given them his blessings and had bid them farewell.

Karekin looked hopeless. Not the party, not the Catholicos, no one was in a position to mitigate his pain.

We should take our revenge with our own hands,

That was the conclusion of their troop.

They told what they had seen in Keghi.

There were no Armenians left in Keghi.

To this day Mehran’s expression voiced in an affirmative tone rings in my ear.

-There are no Armenians, but Armenian will live.

What did he mean to say? Was it his bitterness for the Armenians who had vanished? It was his faith of course that Keghi will remain Armenian. It’s worth to note here, “your faith will sustain you”.

Karekin had gathered notes about the evacuation and massacres of Keghi. He thought of publishing them. In France he approached me several times to find a publisher. It was not possible. He evaded trusting his notes to others to read, which he claimed amounted to few volumes. What happened to these notes? Where they used to prepare a memorial album about Keghi?

I do not know where the troop of Keghetsis went from Etchmiadzin.

I accidentally met Mehran a few times in Caucasus. He was a solemn, reserved man who looked at life philosophically. He was the exact opposite to Karekin, who held everyone responsible for the ills that had happened.
Much like our accidental meeting, Mehran disappeared from my Caucasian horizon. I thought that he had returned to America. There was nothing left for him to do in Caucasus. Keghi was no more. And much like Vanetsi without Van, Keghetsi without his mountains cannot breathe freely.

If it were to end this way, I would have regarded it as an accidental meeting with a likeable young man and I probably would nothing to write. Don’t we all meet likeable people in our lives?

Years passed. Armenians dispersed all over the globe. The Armenian Diaspora came into existence branched in my countries. And in every place, a prominent Armenian flavored the local Armenian life.

There are names that define the country or the city they live in. For a while, it was not possible to imagine Paris without Chobanian. Chobanian died, so did Paris for many.

Beirut for a time was synonymous with Toureg for me, the Toureg of Hotel Lux. Humorous articles in newspapers…. Toureg. Presence in our national bodies….Toureg. In the life of the party……Toureg. Who was this individual? For a brief moment I could not believe that he is the Mehran I had met in Caucasus. That dark featured young man, with expressive eyes, curly hair, the solemn young man and now a married man with children.

America had not enticed him. Avenging the ills that had befallen on his people had catapulted him from Caucasus to Cilicia. He had participated in the national upheavals and struggles there.  In the end he had met a like-minded miss from Garin and gotten married and had settled in Beirut as the owner and director of the famed Hotel Lux and as the enthusiastic national and party activist.

In December 1951, when I moved from America to Beirut, Toureg and his wife Shoushan visited me for welcome at Goms’ house, where I was staying. Almost 35 years had passed since I had met him last in Caucasus. His former impressive curly hair had disappeared. However, his expressive eyes and face had remained the same but he seemed to have grown even darker. There was a new man in front of me both in body and in mind, someone who had grown wise by the experiences of life into the beloved Toureg of the community.

The life of every Armenian is a novel. For some it’s tragedy, for others it’s adventure, and for a third it’s comedy. Toureg was fated to experience these three literary genres in his life to leave this earth content and in joy.

That’s what he told me during our last visit.

– I leave this earth content and in joy.

Was that true though? His eyes were telling otherwise. Who, I beg you to let me know, leaves this planet called earth content and in joy?

“Do not despair small flock”, but where is the flock?

The words of the song are being justified

-You die and they bury you as if you never lived on earth…………..

“Housaper” Daily
December, 15 1960.


Toureg was the pen name and Mehran Tourikian’s moniker, a noted Keghetsi in his days in Beirut, Lebanon. Simon Vratsian was the last prime minister of the 1918-1920 short lived first Armenian Republic. St. Nshan is well known Armenian Apostolic Church in Beirut. Garin is the Armenian name for Erzeroum.  Rostom [Zorian] is one of the founders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Goms, is the pen name of Vahan Papazian who was a deputy member of the short lived Ottoman Parliament representing the Van region. He is also a noted author. Houssaper was an Armenian daily printed in Cairo, Egypt.

According to Jean-Louis Tourikian, who lives in Toronto, his grandfather Karekin wrote a book about Keghi. Jean-Louis entrusted his grandfather’s  personal papers to the Academy of Sisters in PA, USA. "


  1. Vahe-djan Thank you for

    Vahe-djan, Thank you for this lovely translation.  I have been reading about Garin in the R. G. Hovannisian edited book Garin – Erzerum and in the lost cyclist.  I have been reading about Simon Vratsian in Garin Hovannisian’s book, Family of Shadows.  I grew up in Detroit where there is a large population of Armenians from Kghi and Khoups.  The timing of your piece was perfect bordering on the eerie. : )

    Why is it I can relate to Vratsian’s words?  "There was nothing left for him to do in Caucasus. Keghi was no more. And much like Vanetsi without Van, Keghetsi without his mountains cannot breathe freely."  I am not of that generation.  I was neither born there nor have I visited.  Yet, I feel the same angst and longing as Vratsian expressed to some degree.  Is it genetic?  Is it too much Armenian school and indoctrination by my parents and grandparents?  It is kind of amazing.   Other friends of mine with the same kind of background and yet live perfectly "normal" lives.  I am laughing out loud at this paragraph and shedding a tear over Vratsian’s words.  I guess this is the Armenian blessing and curse.

    Thank you again for this article.


    1. Is It Genetic ?

      Is is genetic, you wonder in your comment. Well Mark, it seems that genetics does play a definite role.

      This week’s – the November 8, 2010 issue of the Newsweek magazine carried an article tiled “Sins of Grandfathers”. The crux of the article is the following, and I quote from the article: “The life experiences of grandparents and even great-great-grandparents alter their eggs and sperm so indelibly that the changes are passed on to their children, grandchildren and beyond”.

      This finding then lets me believe that the descendents of the genocide survivors carry genes that have been shaped by the common experiences of the Great Calamity that befell on their grandparents or great-grandparents well before the mass extermination in 1915 and beyond. We all have our own fathers and mothers of course and yet again and in many ways then, we are brothers and sisters in the great post Genocide family having inherited from our forbearers genes shaped by common experiences. Much like life itself, among siblings, some of us may lend more of ourselves to that genetic make up and I suppose some of us, as you state “with the same kind of background and yet live perfectly ‘normal’ lives.”

      Yes, Mark, I agree with you, “It is kind of amazing!” and I agree with you as well that it’s the curse and the blessing of being an Armenian.

  2. Toureg – Keghi

    "There were no Armenian left in Keghi,"  "There are no Armenians, but Arrmenians will live." Yes, Armenians will live and I am of that noble group of people proudly known as "Keghetzis" and I love to tell their story.

    I was named after my paternal grandmother Serpouhie and each and every day I rub my right hand gently, lovingly over my left hand feeling her presence within me, giving me the impetus to write about what the Turks did to the Apigian family in Tzerman, Keghi and to all the people with whom I share Armenian blood.

    I will never allow the world to forget what the Turks did to my people and to my family. I know I had grandparents and aunts but I never saw their beautiful faces. I make pagharch, ghavourma, halvah, and everything Keghetzi with determination and vengeance guided by the presence of my grandmother and the tradition of my people. Keghi will never die, Armenians will never die. Just let the Turks try. I won’t allow it. My friends Mitch Kehetian, Alice Nighoghosian, Tom Mouradian and I carry the name "Keghetzi" proudly.

    Thank you for this beautiful piece.

    Serpouhie – Betty Apigian Kessel

  3. Toureg

    Vahe, Thank you again for reviving memories of life in Beirut. I remember going to Hotel Lux with your brother Garo before our fishing trips at the port.

    If I remember correctly your father managed the hotel. For some reason I associate Lux hotel with Apelians. I do not remember having met Toureg. What year did he pass away?

    1. Toureg Elaborated

      My father was hardly 18 years old when he left his village, Keurkune, in 1938 and came to Beirut, which was then considered to be a haven for Christians in the Middle East. The fate of Kessab remained in limbo during this period. Kessab had always been under Ottoman rule. Kessabtsis have adopted Turkish words in their vocabulary. Kessabtsis did brisk business with Antioch but remained almost oblivious of Arabia encircling Kessab in the west. However after the 1915 genocide, the possibility of having Kessab annexed to Turkey, tormented the inhabitants who were mostly if not exclusively survivors of the genocide and their children. Having their elder son in Beirut was a safeguard for the family. Should Kessab be annexed to Turkey, the family reasoned, they would have a family member in Beirut to start life anew away from Turkish yoke.

      Unskilled in any trade my father found employment at Hotel Lux and soon after a relationship blossomed between the Tourikian families. The elder Tourigians, Mr. and Mrs. Mehran and Shoushan became the godparents at my parents’ wedding in Keurkune’s church. Their sons, Hratch and Hrair became my and my late brother Garo’s baptismal godfathers. When Toureg died in 1959 (?) my father ran the business.

      My father for few years ran a grocery store almost right across Jemaran. In the building next to the store the Armenians (as a last name) lived, so did Goms (Vahan Papazian) with his wife Hegoush and son Vatche. Vratsian, Moushegh Ishkhan, Karnig Panian who taught and resided near Jemaran frequented the store also.

      I have read “Our Toureg’ numerous times over the years. As an impressionable child I retain vivid memories of the many characters. Much like Mark and Srpouhie-Betty, I have had my emotions take better hold of me reading Vratsian’s verdict about Keghi and lamenting on behalf of Vanetsis and keghetsis the loss of Van and Keghi. There is also this one more sentence – “Chobanian died so did Paris”- that will always remain etched in my memory and I have quoted it many times on many occasions. After all, it is family and friends that give meaning and purpose to a place be it as glamorous as Paris.

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