A Village Remembered: The Armenians of Habousi - The Compatriotic Union of Habousi

Chapter 17:

The School and the Church

The spiritual and community life of all Armenian villages and towns centered around the church. The church was always the most prominent edifice of any locality.

In the center of Habousi, on top of the high hill, stood the main church. A hundred feet away was the school, known as Jemaran. It had two floors, each forty by sixty foot in dimension. Its brick walls were twenty-four inches thick. The first floor was twenty-six feet high and there were always hundreds of pigeons around.

The huge hall of the second floor was dedicated to the classrooms. It was clean and airy. The room next to the hall was used as the teacher’s bedroom.

After the atrocities of 1895, school life was disturbed. But the villagers overcame their sorrows and recovered from their wounds. They rebuilt the burned church and reestablished the school. The constructive spirit of the Armenian people was victorious. The reconstruction was mostly accomplished due to the personal sacrifices of the villagers. A small amount of assistance was received from a few compatriots living in the United States and from American missionaries.

Before the Constitution was introduced in 1908, the students of the village studied Armenian in their homes. They took lessons from Boghos Varjabed (teacher), blind Yeghig, Ghazar Varjabed Der-Hovannessian (this fine educator was killed during the atrocities of 1895), Garabed Varjabed Kehya Hagopian (another victim of 1895 atrocities), Hovagim Varjabed, and Sempad Karamanoogian.

The Sempadian Association of Habousi, founded in 1864, played an important role in the development of the school.

After the Constitution, the school was significantly improved, mostly with the contributions of Habousetzies of the United States whose numbers had grown with new immigrants.

In 1850, when the American missionaries established their school in Kharpert, students from Habousi, eager for education, went there. Over time, Habousi trained its own teachers, students of theology, preachers, and doctors. Among these some were either graduates from Euphrates College, or had been students. They all volunteered to develop the village. Noted amongst them were Boghos Boyajian, Garabed Kelhagopian, and Hovagim Varjabed. Having studied in Constantinople, Boghos Boyajian was well educated. He was known to excel in mathematics, geography, Turkish, and English.

Among the first teachers was a clergyman from Havav, a village of Palu, named Yeghishe Derderian. The Protestants had a teacher named Hovhannes from the German orphanage.

The Apostolic school functioned regularly. Moushegh Kojigian, Asdour Minasian, Nazaret Proodian, Soghomon Goshgarian, Marsoub Boyajian, Yeghia Kojigian, Garabed Mousoian, Hagop Boyajian, and Goulkhas Boolodian were elected by the villagers to administer the school and the church. Garabed and Hovagim Varjabeds ran their own schools in conjunction. It was forbidden to educate female students in the Apostolic school.

The missionary school was coeducational from early on, and most of its teachers were from abroad.

By 1911, the people realized the advantages the missionary school had over the others, and a discussion began to combine the three schools. Hampo Kehya was against the concept of foreign teachers; therefore, a separate school was established for girls in a hall next to the church. They hired D. Alexanian, an old and experienced teacher, as a principal, and teachers Garabed and Hovagim as assistants. Alexanian taught Armenian history, geography, grammar, Turkish, and French to the first and second grades, while Garabed and Hovagim taught religion and reading.

The girls’ school had sixty pupils. Pupils were accepted from neighboring villages too, like Mughur Oghli and Akhor.

Jemaran, the Apostolic school, offered the following courses:

From first to sixth grade: Armenian reading and writing, Armenian history, geography, grammar, mathematics, Turkish, and English.

Saturday course offerings included: spelling contests; church liturgy; composition; national songs and debates.

The United Association of Constantinople gave directions to the school and sent experienced, visiting teachers to the districts.

From 1903 to 1915, the following non-Habousetzies taught in Habousi:
- Khachadour Vartanian, from Garmir, teacher and preacher
- Hampartsoum Sarajian, from Pertag, preacher and teacher
- Bedros Bozoian, from Kurdistan, teacher and preacher
- Garabed Lulejian, from Kharpert, preacher and teacher
- Rev. Sahag Hovsepian, from Chmeshgadzak, preacher
- Avedis Garabedian, from Kurdistan, teacher and preacher.

During 1895 to 1915, Habousi benefited from the following public figures all originally from the village:
- Giragos Hagopian, teacher (son of Garabed G. Hagopian)
- Joohar Boghossian, teacher
- Vartouhi Simonian, teacher
- Sahag Medzadourian, minister
- Hagop Der Margossian, minister
- Armenag Simonian, very reverend minister
- Fr. Armenag Mateosian, priest
- Fr. Krikor Hagopian, priest.

The blind troubadour, Margos Boyajian, sang for years on his saz for many prominent people. He was highly respected, but unfortunately he did not write any of his songs down for future generations.

Yeghia, a blind master of Grapar (ancient Armenian), tutored students in his home.

Boghos Boyajian, a graduate of Getronagan School of Constant inople, was an expert in Turkish, Armenian, Russian, and English. He was entrusted by villagers to read Turkish official documents and to respond to them. Villagers remembered him and his beneficial work long after he passed away.

Garabed Varjabed, a student of Boghos Varjabed, was known as an expert of Turkish through self-education.

Ghazar Varjabed, another student of Boghos Varjabed, was a teacher of Armenian.

Hovagim Varjabed, still another student of Boghos Varjabed, was quite advanced in Turkish.

All those men fell victims to Turkish atrocities in 1895.

Antranig B. Boyajian, born in 1892, lost his father during the atrocities of 1895. Later he graduated from the French College of Kharpert as an expert in the French language and violin. He taught in Ourfa, where the Turks hung him in 1915 during the genocide.

Kevork Minasian, a graduate of Euphrates College, was another victim of the 1915 genocide.

Other Habousi graduates of Euphrates College were Setrag Hagopian, Mariam B. Boyajian (class of 1915), Vartouhi Simonian (class of 1914), and Joohar B. Boyajian. Joohar was a teacher for seven years.

A memorable event was the presentation of the Vartanants play in the church of Habousi in May 1912. The young Habousetzies of the village, together with two artists from Mezre, produced the play after overcoming initial objections from the Trustees. The result was incredible. People followed the play with great enthusiasm, and those outside the hall shouted: “We want to see the Armenian General!”

Vartan Mamikonian was the leader of the Armenian army in the fifth century when Armenia was already divided between the Byzantine and Persian Empires. He called for and led the struggle against the Persians in order to maintain Christianity in Armenia. He and his fellows were martyred during a battle in 451. They were sainted by the Armenian church shortly after. Ever since, a special celebration, Vartanants, was dedicated to them. Vartan and his compatriots became an immense source of inspiration for a people discovering the first sparks of patriotism.

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Habousetzies were model believers, loyal to their ancestral heritage and regular church-goers who kissed the door-stone of St. Mariam Asdvadzadzin Church before attending the service.

Christian beliefs and virtues deeply penetrated the Habousetzie soul. Habousetzies were known as benevolent, hospitable, and kind. Living in accordance with moral principles, Habousetzies treated each other in mutual trust and few felt the need to appeal to a court of law to disputes.

The village was home to its church since ancient times. Villagers prayed every Sunday during service, tearfully asking forgiveness for sins they committed or not. On holidays they received communion and peace prevailed in their religious souls.

Although destroyed during the earthquake of 1879, part of the marvelous mother church was still used for services until a new church was completed in 1891.

The high dome gave a luxurious look to the church. The building was made of stone, with an arch-shaped altar in the center and two smaller altars on either side. The altars were generously decorated. The gold and silver crosses of the great altar gave the sanctuary a special brilliance. On the walls were oil paintings of angels with trumpets. Above the church hall there was a meeting room.

Capitals were visible at the edges of the six pillars. The delicate ceiling and belvedere were painted by masters. There were special rooms for the preparation of the wafer and consecrated bread, as well as for those who were in fasting. The engineer of the church was Master Vartan of Sheikh Haji. He was assisted by Hovsep.

After years of dedicated work, the church was officially consecrated in 1897 in the presence of archbishops, bishops, pastors, and choristers in a ceremony that deeply impressed the faithful. The whole village celebrated that day along with many neighboring villagers. Herisa (a mixture of barley and shredded beef) was prepared in huge caldrons and madagh (consecrated lamb) was served.

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The following priests, respectively, served the believers of Habousi until the massacres of 1895: Father Manuel, Father Margos Der Hovhannes, Father Giragos, Father Ghazar, and Father Kapriel.

After the massacres, survivors invited Father Mateos from the village of Khonakh Almaz to serve them, which he did until the genocide in 1915. Father Mateos, together with Father Kapriel Kelhagopian, was ordained by His Holiness Sahag Khabayan Catholicos in Sis, Cilicia.

In 1896, in compliance with the instructions of the diocese, four deacons were elected as aides to the pastors: Levon Kanedanian and Tovmas Donigian for Habousi, and Haroutiun Torigian and Garabed Der Stephanian for Zartarij. Zartarij’s monastery was run by an elderly vartabed at that time.

The church of Habousi had a regular choir supervised by teachers Garabed and Hovagim. Among the choristers were: Baghdasar Donig ian who was trained by Garabed Varjabed; Krikor, the son of Father Mateos who was one of the leaders of the choir; Mahdesi Hagop Gosh gar ian; Kevork Der Hovannessian; Yeghia Donigian who was blind; Boghos Varjabed Boyajian; Garabed Varjabed Kelhagopian; Hovagim Varjabed; Kevork Papeshian; Yeghia Akmakjian; Garabed Bederian (known as Boz Garabed); Yeghia Proodian; and Hagop Khermezian.

Thus, with its dedicated pastors and choristers, the church of Habousi enjoyed a prosperity until the genocide of 1915, when the church was destroyed and the parish scattered.

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There were four monasteries in the plain of Kharpert: Khoulakiugh, Soorsoori, Tadem, and Zartarij (also called Abdel Mseh). This name was given to the monastery based on a tale. It was told that one day, the son of a gypsy wanted to become a Christian. The father opposed the idea. The son fled the house and the father chased him and caught him. The son insisted on becoming a Christian and his father killed him, right on the spot where the monastery was later built.

Although sanctuaries, the monasteries were also pleasant recreational places during the summer time. In July, the Sunday of Vartavar(1), was the best time for a pilgrimage.