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

Chapter 23:

The Patriotic Union of Habousi

The formation of unions might be as old as civilization itself. Unions have been formed in all centuries for a multitude of reasons.

In Armenian life also, reasons have been countless to create unions, mostly for national, educational, and benevolent purposes. Our homeland was under a barbaric rule and it was imperative to struggle for our existence and our freedom. It was imperative also to generate the financial resources needed to maintain our churches and schools.

Habousetzies have always been united, thus they were able to meet the needs of their village and fellow Armenians. As good Christians and patriots, Habousetzies undertook all kinds of sacrifices to have their churches and schools and to maintain them first in their own village and later in the Diaspora.

In 1800, the construction of the church in Habousi began. A church, a striking model of Armenian architecture, was a subject of pride for Habousi and neighboring villages. Later, in 1825, the school named Jemaran was founded next to the church. The village then formed an “Apostolic Council” to manage the school and a Board of Trustees to manage the church.

The church and the school are the two pillars of our national identity. It was natural for Habousetzies to form a union in order to maintain these institutions.

After years of dedicated work, the Apostolic Council turned into Lousavorchagan Grtasirats (Apostolic Supporters of Education). Although the latter’s activities were often interrupted, because of government harassment, the Board of Trustees continued to manage the school and the church.

During the 1880’s, after Protestantism was introduced to Habousi, a competition began between the two churches which resulted in the formation of the Lousavorchagan Grtasirats Union.

In 1888, Rev. Sahag Hovsepian organized a meeting in his house for the purpose of founding a union of young Protestants. Those present bestowed upon the minister the task of preparing by-laws for the new union. After functioning for two years under the name of Yeridasartats (Youth), in January 1890, after lengthy discussions, the name of the union was changed to Poghokagan Grtasirats Mioutiun (Protestant Union of Education Lovers). This Union managed the Protestant school for the next three years.

In 1890, the emigration of young Habousetzies to Cilicia began. Most then came to the United States. The number of Habousetzies arriving in the States grew. They quickly established a chapter of their Union in their new country for the purpose of assisting the Protestant school back home.

In 1893, as the number of Apostolic Habousetzies also grew in the States, they too established Lousavorchagan Grtasirats Mioutiun (Apostolic Union of Education Lovers). It functioned only two years, because most of its members returned to Habousi within that time frame.

As a result of the Ottoman Constitution of 1908, Apostolic Habousetzies began to come to the United States in much larger numbers. Soon chapters of their Union were established in Michigan, Maine, Lawrence (Massachusetts), and Providence (Rhode Island).

Two sister unions competed with each other to help raise the educational standard of their fellow villagers back home. They succeeded in preparing highly educated teachers in Habousi.

The Habousi renaissance did not last long, unfortunately. The atrocities perpetrated against Armenians during World War I smashed the dreams of individuals and groups, destroyed Armenian villages and cities, and wiped out Western Armenia.

The Habousetzies living in the United States were deeply affected. There wasn’t one who did not lose a sister, a brother, or a whole family. Many, caught in despair, left everything and lived in total isolation.

There were many Habousetzies in Madison, Maine, where they maintained the Union of Supporters of Education of the Village of Habousi. Active members of this Union were Hovhannes Nahigian, Hagop Hagopian (Karamanoukian), Sarkis Donigian, M. Keolekian, Boghos Meynoian, and others.

In Lawrence, Massachusetts, active members of the same Union were Garabed Kojigian, Ajem Ajemian, Yeghia Bedrosian, M. Hagopian, Levon Garoian, Vartan Garoian, and many others whose valuable dedication helped the Union to prosper.

In 1897, the following Habousetzies founded the Educational Society of the Protestant Young People of Habousi in Lawrence, Massachusetts: Boghos Der Bedrosian, Armenag D. Boghossian, Hagop Abajian, Avedis D. Margossian, Haroutiun Guleserian, Haroutiun Giragosian, Garabed Matorian, Setrag Vartanian, Avedis Vartanian, Bedros Yezegelian, and Sarkis Karamanoukian.

For many, many years, this Protestant Society continued its dedicated work geared toward the education of new generations of Habousetzies. Many Habousetzie patriots in Lawrence supported the Society; among those were Hagop Ghougasian, Hagop Hagopian, Marsoub Kachadorian, and Hagop Kachadorian.

The founders of the Union of Supporters of Education of the Village of Habousi in Madison, Maine, and in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1890, included Khayajan Garabedian, Hovhannes Nanigian, Krikor Nanigian, Goulkhas Avakian, Manoug Hagopian, and Manoug Karamanoukian.

In Providence, RI, the Union was populated with dedicated young Habousetzies who did everything to assist their compatriots in Habousi. Among them were M. Karamanoukian, Levon Garoian, Hovhannes Abajian, Khayajan Boolodian, Krikor Der Mateosian, and others.

During World War I, in 1917, at the wedding of Bedros Berberian and Mariam Hagopian, the Habousetzies present established the Union for the Reconstruction of Habousi. They raised funds immediately, to assist needy villagers back home. Soon many Habousetzies joined this Union, and within a year the Union raised more than a thousand dollar.

In October 5, 1919, during the meeting of the Union’s Providence (Rhode Island) Chapter, a suggestion was made for the Central Committee to contact all Habousetzie survivors. Thus, the Central Committee appealed to the Near East Relief, who in turn suggested they write to the N.E.R. representative Rev. H. Riggs in Kharpert. Soon a thousand dollars was wired for allocation to Habousetzie survivors.

In 1920, the Union expanded its operation to help Habousetzies who had begun to return to their paternal village. More assistance was rushed to those returning compatriots through Rev. Riggs.

The idea of unification gradually became dominant among Habousi organizations functioning independently. In 1925, finally, during a field trip where a majority of Habousetzies were present, the topic of unity was brought up one last time. Due in particular to the efforts of Dr. Arshag Der Margossian and Nazaret Piranian, a historic preliminary discussion took place and three people were assigned, one from each organization, to plan a general convention. Those three were: Garabed Matorian of the Protestant Youth Union of Habousi, Yeghia Bedrosian of the Education-Loving Union of Habousi, and Garabed Kojigian of the Reconstruction Union of Habousi.

In September 6, 1925, a meeting was held at the estate of Marsoub Kachadorian on Salem Street, New Hampshire, under the chairmanship of Garabed Matorian, who announced that the representatives of all three organizations had equal voting rights.

The agenda was the following:
1. Confirmation of delegates;
2. Election of officers;
3. Adoption of a name for the new Union;
4. Discussion and adoption of by-laws;
5. Official registration of the new Union;
6. Auditing;
7. Collection and unification of budgets;
8. Monetary security;
9. Assistance to compatriots by all means;
10. Election of an executive board.

It was clear that the majority agreed to the merger of the three organizations into one.

Following is the resolution of the meeting:

1. Each organization chose three delegates to represent them: Garabed Matorian, M. P. Hagopian, and Vartan Garoian from the Reconstruction Union; Hagop Kachadorian, Giragos Melkonian, and Marsoub Kachadorian from the Protestant Society; and Yeghia Bedrosian, Kh. Bozbedrosian, and G. Kojigian from the Education-Loving Union.

2. G. Matorian was elected Chairman and Yeghia Bedrosian, Secretary of the convention.

3. The merged union was called Compatriotic Union of Habousi, and it was given a large scope of activities.

4. The by-laws adopted were very similar to the by-laws of the three separate organizations and were to be ratified later by a special committee after the addition of an introduction.

5. It was decided to leave the application for tax-exempt status up to the executive committee. Special attention needed to focus around the fact that the Union would increase its affiliations with organizations abroad.

6. All three Unions resigned from any financial advantage that would surface from the comparison of each Union’s wealth.

The following is an accounting of each Union’s financial records:

a) Protestant Youth Union
A check book ............................................................................. $1396.31
Another check book................................................................... $1134.31
Total .......................................................................................... $2530.62

b) Union of Supporters of Education of Habousi
A check book ........................................................................... $2169.92
A second check book ............................................................... $1775.56
A third check book.................................................................... $225.00
Subtotal from previous ............................................................ $4170.48
A sum ....................................................................................... $210.00
Total ......................................................................................... $4380.48

c) Reconstruction Union of Habousi
One check book ........................................................................ $2159.59
Combining all three accounts, the Compatriotic Union of Habousi had by September 6, 1925, a total of ................................................... $9,070.59.

The properties of all three unions were transferred to the new Executive Committee. It was decided to open a bank account and to grant the Executive Committee sole responsibility for writing checks for the three authorized members.

7. It was decided that a Central Committee would represent the Union, and act also as the Executive Committee. It would be elected at an annual convention by delegates from all chapters. Central Committee members would serve a term of one year and were entitled to invite chapter delegates to emergency conventions.

The first Central Committee was composed of Garabed Matorian, Chairperson; M. K. Hagopian, Secretary; G. M. Kojigian, Treasurer; Vartan Garoian and Yeghia Bedrosian, Counselors.

The first convention of the Compatriotic Union of Habousi was held on March 28, 1926, in the Democratic Liberal Party’s club at 313 Common Street in Lawrence.

The Central Committee had nineteen items on the agenda related to the path the Union should adopt and the ways to strengthen the Union.

The delegates, after lengthy discussions, approved all matters and reelected the same Central Committee for another term, with praise for their activity. In addition, the delegates raised $500 to be used by the Central Committee for future needs.

At the end of the first year of its existence, the Union had $9,386.88 in cash.

The third convention of the Compatriotic Union was held on January 1, 1927, in the home of Ghougas Akmakjian at Salem Depot, New Hampshire. This convention adopted suggestions to broaden its activities in cooperation with the Pan-Kharpert Union and the Armenian General Benevolent Union. These new alliances were adopted in order to increase the participation share in a large scale national assistance movement. Habousetzies everywhere were establishing chapters, and their strength of purpose was becoming strikingly obvious as they generated enthusiasm among their members who raised $3,000. The annual report for the third term showed $10,873.72 in cash.

Garabed Matorian, Zadour Ajemian, Moushegh Hagopian, Giragos Melkonian, and Hagop Kachadorian were elected by secret ballot as members of the new Central Committee.

The fourth convention of the Union was held in January 1928, in Providence, Rhode Island, in the residence of Haroutiun Boyajian. The convention, having as officers Garabed Kholigian and Haroutiun Boyajian, decided to further strengthen the Union. They organized a fundraising raffle. By this time the Union had $11,577.50 in cash.

The Decade of 1929-1939

In the decade of 1929 through 1939, the Union increased its presence. Its annual conventions adopted new suggestions towards the realization of national and patriotic goals, in accordance with the needs of the period.

First, the Union would rebuild Habousi in Soviet Armenia. After lengthy correspondence with the Central Board of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Union agreed to acquire a quarter, named Habousi, in the planned town of Nubarashen, provided that the Compatriotic Union of Habousi would undertake the construction of six buildings in that quarter, and that the A.G.B.U. would build another six buildings, while willing Habousetzies were moved there.

For this purpose, the Union transferred $11,000 to the A.G.B.U. Six years passed before the project was implemented and the Habousi quarter was built. In those six years the Union received from the A.G.B.U. the annual interest of the mentioned sum. After construction was complete, Habousetzie orphans were moved there first, followed by other Habousetzies.

Second, the Union planned to write the history of Habousi. This project was of great interest to all Habousetzies. Since each individual had a different view about the history, preliminary actions were deemed necessary to prepare the ground. Although the matter remained unsolved at that time, many memoirs and photos were handed over to the Central Committee as a result of the initiative. Most enthusiastic about this project was K. Bennanian, who kept memoirs since the 1890’s. These memoirs later became the core of the history book.

In order to maintain close ties with members, the conventions were held in different cities, such as Providence and Lawrence.

In this decade Habousetzies dedicated themselves to the goals of the Union and did whatever they could to strengthen it. Young members were included in the Union, next to the old, to refresh the organization. Every possible assistance was rendered to needy compatriots in the United States and the Diaspora.

Worthy of mentioning was the Union’s purchasing a cemetery in Salem Depot, New Hampshire, in order to bury Habousetzies who passed away with no relatives around to take care of them.

The Decade of 1939-1949

This decade began with serious anxiety. World War II had erupted and humanity was faced once again with massive destruction and misery.

During the 16th convention, the Habousetzies demonstrated a deep desire to continue their assistance to their needy compatriots, and yet to also serve their new country, the United States.

The delegates first increased the Central Committee’s budget for immediate expenses to $500. Then they decided to purchase a $1,000 government bond in order to support the national defense. They further decided to support committees that were raising funds to donate tanks to the Armenian Red Army under the name of David of Sasun.

Thus, Habousetzies, with their modest means, were supportive of the national needs of Armenia, as well as the efforts geared toward the victory of justice during World War II.

The 18th convention of the Compatriotic Union of Habousi was held in November 1943, in the residence of Marsoub Kachadorian. On the agenda were:

a) To entrust $500 to the Central Committee to assist those Habousetzies whose only hope was the Union in those dark days.

b) To participate in all efforts of the American government to gain victory in World War II. Therefore, it was decided to raise the number of bonds to $2,500. This amount was to reach $4,000 by the end of the war.

The Compatriotic Union was in constant touch with families who had suffered the loss of a member in the war, or who had sons and relatives serving as soldiers at the front. They encouraged them with letters or small gifts.

Finally peace in Europe prevailed on May 12, 1945. The tyrants were destroyed.

For Armenians, the hope of realizing a centuries-old dream of liberation was reborn. It was the beginning of the repatriation of Diaspora Armenians to Soviet Armenia.

The Compatriotic Union financially and morally supported the committees formed to organize the repatriation. The Central Committee issued circulars advising Habousetzies around the world to actively participate in the organization of repatriation, and to support those compatriots willing to move to Armenia. The Central Committee donated $2,000 to the Central Committee of Repatriation to help with the travel expenses of Habousetzie repatriants.

The Decade of 1949-1956

After World War II, it was time to recuperate.

The 26th annual convention was held on November 19, 1949, in the hall of the Holy Cross Church of Lawrence. Many important issues were on the table to be discussed by concerned Habousetzies, all of whom had made the prosperity of their Union one of their main goals and many of whom had passed away during their active service.

Of utmost importance were three concerns.
a) Assistance—This was one of the main reasons for the formation of the Union and was the very center of attention of all Central Committees. It was decided that assistance would continue for as long as there was a needy Habousetzie in any part of this world.

It is worthy to mention that the Union was never restricted by the by-laws in matters relating to meeting the needs of Habousetzies or regarding the Union’s participation in large scale initiatives of utmost national importance.

b) Education—This, too, was one of the main objectives of the Union that was once called Education-Loving. There were times when it was not possible to allocate funds for educational purposes due to other priorities. But it was important to provide support to young generations to receive an Armenian education. Middle Eastern countries were fortunate in this regard. Armenian communities there succeeded in establishing their own schools. The Compatriotic Union at its 28th annual convention in 1953 decided to support educational initiatives and needy students; therefore, the allocation of $500 annually to the Central Committee for distribution to Habousetzies in the Middle East was agreed upon. Allocations were also made to provide scholarships for Habousetzie students in Aleppo, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.

c) The history of Habousi—Publishing the history of Habousi had become an inseparable item of the agenda for each annual convention over the past decades. And for twenty-five years, little by little, Habousetzies collected documents and other materials for this purpose.

Whatever approach we take in viewing this matter, we should be grateful to those alive or deceased Habousetzies who saved, from total loss, the memoirs, the history, the customs, the dialect of Habousi, and especially the memories of Habousi martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.

The 27th annual convention held in Providence, Rhode Island, finally appointed a committee of five—Dr. Arshag Der Margossian, Krikor Der Mateosian, Antranik Donigian, Yeghia Bedrosian, and Giragos Melkonian to prepare the “History of Habousi” and to publish it.

In the following years, the Compatriotic Union of Habousi continued its regular activities. Habousetzies actively supported all functions and field trips organized by the Committee of the History Book and they raised $3-4,000 for the publication of the book.

Soon, however, the Committee concluded that it was beyond their means to accomplish this task. They took the matter to the 30th annual convention held in the hall of Ararat Armenian Congregational Church. The committee gave the convention all the materials that had been collected and classified by Stepan Panian of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and all the money it had raised for the book publication.

Delegates suggested that the Central Committee accept responsibility for the book’s completion. This suggestion was adopted by a majority of votes, and in order to avoid future delays, a special clause was added to the by-laws of the Union.

The Central Committee realized that Stepan Panian had already done a thorough job of editing most documents. Therefore, a meeting was held in April 1954, in Bridgewater, with S. Panian, who assured the Central Committee that he would continue his work and publish the book. The Central Committee expressed its wish to revise the edited work and S. Panian agreed with no objection. It was obvious that the Central Committee was concerned about the accuracy of content. Thus, the Central Committee carefully studied the book for two months and found many repetitions, misleading information, and personalized memoirs.

In a second meeting with S. Panian the Central Committee brought these points to his attention for revision.

Stepan Panian showed total cooperation in this matter. The Central Committee was grateful to him for a thorough job, as it was grateful to Dr. Arshag Der Margossian for introducing Mr. Panian to them.

Once the book was ready, the final stage of classifying and proofing was entrusted to Khosrov Nersesian, due to Mr. Panian’s advanced age.