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

Chapter 27:

Overview of the Compatriotic Union of Habousi

by Miriam Kochakian

Comprised of Armenian immigrants and their descendants from the village of Habousi in the province of Kharpert in Eastern Turkey (in the valley of the Euphrates River).

The Village of Habousi

A small agricultural village known for its lush gardens and orchards and especially for its six legendary springs (“Hah-bou-seh” means “Here is the water!”)

Population: Approximately 350~400 houses and 3,000 inhabitants -an ethnically pure Armenian Christian population.

Present Status: Non-existent. Depopulated and razed during the 1915-1923 massacres. “Shangrila” in the minds of those who once lived there.

Note: “Habousetzie”—anyone who was born in the village of Habousi or is a descendant of an original resident, is known as an “Habousetzie” among Armenians (just as all Armenians are identified by the village or city or province from which they originated.)

History of the Compatriotic Union of Habousi

The first Habousetzies immigrated to the United States in the 1890’s, many of them settling in the Merrimack Valley area, where they worked in the mills or established farms. Others followed from the early 1900’s through the 1930’s.

These new immigrants had close social ties to one another, much like that of a large extended family. Having lost nearly everything of their past, including many family members, they were determined to keep their culture, their language, and their religion alive in what seemed at first like a hostile environment. Since they valued education highly, they organized small groups to raise money to send home to the little parochial schools (one Apostolic and one Protestant) in their beloved village. These early groups became known as The Education Societies of Habousi.

During the 1915-1923 period of Turkish massacres and deportations, when the Habousetzie immigrants learned of the destruction and pillage of Habousi, scattering refugees and orphans throughout the Middle East, they turned their focus on helping the survivors after the war ended. At that time they called themselves The Reconstruction Society of Habousi.

In 1925 all of the groups met at the Kachadorian farm in Methuen and merged into one group called The Compatriotic Union of Habousi, a benevolent society organized for the purpose of locating and helping the many displaced and needy Habousetzies around the world. The group also served as a haven for the newer immigrants to the United States, who had suffered the ravages of war. It provided educational assistance to the children of Habousetzies around the world. Every year for many years, it sponsored one of the largest and best known Armenian picnics in the Merrimack Valley, providing Armenian culture, foods, music, and dancing as well as reunion for Habousetzies and their families and friends from many locations in the United States. For many years these picnics were held at the Kachadorian farm in Salem, New Hampshire.

After the last of the post-war immigrants had arrived to recount the horrors of a lost village, the group was determined to immortalize Habousi by writing its oral history, its life and its untimely death, from the collective memories of the immigrants. Some members drew a residential map of the village from memory, to recall all the names and the locations of the families that lived in Habousi.

In 1963, after many years of laborious writing and rewriting and many discouraging attempts at publishing, The Publications Committee announced the publication of the proud history of the village of Habousi in Armenian (with an English condensation) by Baikar Press. Most Habousetzie descendants have copies of that book and a restoration of the residential map in their homes as part of their heritage. (In 1939, Elizabeth Caraman Payne had written her autobiography of life in Habousi, published by Harper and Brothers.) The first Habousetzies in America did their work well and left a remarkable legacy. However, as the older generations passed on, the organization became inactive in the 1970’s. Its work seemed to be done.

In 1985, because of a resurgence of interest in roots on the part of some descendants, The Compatriotic Union of Habousi was reactivated and nearly 200 descendants were located in the Merrimack Valley and throughout the country. For the past nine years, this new group has been meeting in Salem, New Hampshire, for benevolent, educational, social, and historical purposes. They wish “to honor the memory of Habousi’s original inhabitants, our ancestors; to provide compatriotic reunion and social communication; to help descendants around the world who need financial support, especially in war-disadvantaged countries.”

To date, this group has provided two scholarships annually to worthy descendants entering college. It has searched for and supported elderly Habousetzies in Middle Eastern countries and provided disaster relief for children’s needs in Armenia. To satisfy the need for roots, some members of the group have restored and printed in color the original immigrants’ map of the village of Habousi, where each Habousetzie can located his ancestral home and the homes of his neighbors. Every year in May, the Compatriotic Union of Habousi sponsors a well attended reunion of Habousetzies and their descendants, where members and their friends can share some of their cultural memories and foods and dances as well as their concerns for their fellow Habousetzies
in less fortunate places.

The current project of the group is to locate and evaluate the needs of a community of Habousetzie descendants in Armenia with whom contact has been lost for many years.