Armenian News Network / Groong

An Armenian Orphan of the Genocide Gives Fuller Meaning to the Essence of a Painting on Processing Incinerated Christian Bodies Used by an Assyrian-Chaldean Catholic Priest in a Book Entitled “Shall This Nation Die?”


Armenian News Network / Groong

August 25, 2014


Special to Groong by Abraham D. Krikorian and Eugene L. Taylor

Long Island, NY


A category of imagery associated with various persecutions of the Armenians, particularly in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and culminating with the Armenian Genocide, is what may be described as pictorial - inspired by actual situations or events.  This species of imagery takes on special significance when it reflects witnessing.  Some have also referred to this as a form of “survivor art or survivor-inspired art”. 

Reverend Joseph Naayem was a priest of the Syro-Chaldean rite at Urfa.  He personally experienced and survived the atrocities, and was a survivor who was approved by his own Patriarch and the Holy See in Rome to make appeals on behalf of his people, the Chaldeans.  See “A Present-day Nation of Catholic Martyrs” on pages 42-43 of Catholic Missions (New York) volume 15 no. 2, February at

Rev. Naayem arrived in New York on September 9, 1920 from Liverpool at the young age of 32 and, using Yonkers, New York area as a base of operations, immediately took up activity raising funds in the New York City region and upstate cities such as Buffalo and Syracuse etc.  His intent was to visit virtually all the parishes in the Catholic Diocese. 

A caption of an article about his purpose and work published in the Brooklyn Daily Star of April 27, 1921 pg. 3 reads “Paints Picture of Horrors of War in Chaldea.”

Rev. Naayem, as part of his making appeals, routinely described how some 250,00 Assyrian Christians from Mesopotamia, Kurdistan and Western Persia were tortured and put to death by Turks and Kurds, including five Catholic Archbishops and hundreds of priests.  The remnants of these ancient people were in dire straits and needed help for their very existence.

The original version of a book in French in 1920 that he published is entitled “Les Assyro-Chaldéens et les Arméniens massacrés par les Turcs: documents inédits recueillis par un temoin oculaire”  [The Assyro-Chaldeans and Armenians Massacred by the Turks: unpublished documents collected by an eye-witness]

This may be read online at

Rev. Naayem was, incidentally, the Chaplain General to the Allied Prisoners of War in Turkey at Afion Kara-Hissar, incurring the displeasure of the Turkish Commandant and as a consequence thrown into prison for some 130 days (see “A Present-day Nation of Catholic Martyrs” on page 43 of Catholic Missions (New York) volume 15 no. 2, February at

The English language version of his book, appeared the following year, but topics and eye-witness accounts are presented in a somewhat different arrangement.  Moreover, it is accompanied not only with some of the same photographs as the French production but also some different ones.  The English version may be accessed at

or with re-typed text at



One of the images that is of special interest to us here is one entitled

“(From a Painting)”

“The burning of the bodies of Christian women by Kurdish women, to recover the gold and precious stones they were supposed to have swallowed.” [Facing page 172.]

Below we present a scan from the book and a further enlargement.  (Attempts made so far have failed to turn up the painting.  It bears on the lower left the more or less readily discernible “de Jaegher. The first initial is illegible.

What is immediately apparent from the painting is that it reflects a composite scenario of several activities and thus covers a range of sins.  We leave it to the viewer to try to figure out the various stages of infamy in progress.




Center coin, with a dime and nickel on either side, is a gold from the period of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.  The 100 khurush [now spelled kuruş] is about 22 millimeters diameter, and weighed 7.261 grams. 100 khurush equaled one Turkish pound or Lira.  Not all that easy to swallow.


The text in Rev. Naayem’s book that pertains to this image reads as follows:-

“In the autumn of 1915 there arrived in the neighborhood of Mohammedi-Khan, an almost desert spot between Waren-Chechirn [Viransehir, Turkey], Urfa [today Sanliurfa, Turkey] and Ras-el-Ain [today’s preferred spelling Ra’s al ‘Ayn, Syria], convoys composed of 10,000 women, girls, and children.  These caravans had come from Erzerum, Kharput, Sairt, Diarbekir and Mardin, and remained several days in the neighborhood of Mohammadi-Khan. [See Falling Rain Gazeteer Syria at where the modern preferred spelling of the town is Muhaymidah-other names: Moheïmîdé, Muḩaymīdah, Moheimide; World:Syria: Muhafazat Dayr az Zawr]

“For several days the soldiers were busy plundering their victims of whatever they had left.  Without clothes, suffering from cold and hunger, two thousand died from sickness and exposure.  Several hundred, rendered mad by thirst, threw themselves into the empty reservoirs, common in this desert country, and there died, while large numbers of others were killed by the Kurds and thrown in on top of them.  Thirteen reservoirs were filled in this manner.  Several thousand Christians who remained were surrounded one day by five hundred armed Kurd horsemen and one hundred and fifty police.  Having gathered the unhappy wretches together in a place edged with the long dry grass which grows so abundantly in the semi-arid region, the persecutors set fire to it.  Before doing this they plundered their victims of all they had.

“The unhappy people, terror-stricken at seeing the flames approaching them, realized that their end had come.  Those who made their way through the flames were met by an equally deadly rifle fire.  Thus were exterminated some thousands of human beings, all indeed that remained of the above-mentioned convoys.

“After this awful holocaust [emphasis ours], Kurd women and children arrived with sieves and sifted the ashes of the dead to see if they could find gold, since it was a regular practice of the Christian women to swallow pieces of money for future use.”  Pgs. 171-173.

Readers will agree that this description provides us with a chilling and grisly scene.


Nahabed Chakrian (1904-1993) born in Zara village, Sepastia on

Massacre and Burning of Bodies in Search of Valuables


As grisly as the above from Rev. Naayem is, it does not provide us with particularly great detail or very much personal connection. 

For this, we should like to present here a more personalized and substantial story of the same general sort of scenario as told to young Nahabed Chakrian by his much older sister Gulizar.  This description was taken from his memoir that one of us (A.D.K.) translated to English back in 2005 from audio tapes that Baron Nahabed had recorded in 1988 (see “Memoir of Genocide – 1915 to 1920, The Story of an Armenian Boy” by Nahabed Chakrian (1904-1993) translated by Abraham D. Krikorian, edited by Florence Chakerian and A.D.K.).

A copy of the translated and edited document and tapes put on disks was deposited at the University of California Los Angeles, Armenian Genocide survivor collection oral history archives (personal communication Florence Chakerian).

The following is taken from Baron Nahabed’s “Memoir”, pgs. 65-69

[Burning Bodies]

“Now that I was together with my sister, I wanted to understand what took place when we were apart when the Chechens had ‘adopted’ me and sent me to their village, during the time I had been ‘saved’.  She began her account by saying that almost a couple of weeks later, some 50,000 exiles came to Shaddadiyeh.  Four days later, from amongst this population, before sunrise, six or seven Chechens went to where the exiles were, to say that upon new orders, males would be separated and taken with them to build new road for railroad tracks.  But this time, that dirty trick did not work.  And none of the exiles moved from their spots.  The Chechens got infuriated and taking out their pistols started to fire shots into the air with curses.  But this time [as well] there was a different quality to the operation [viz. there was some opposition].  Among those exiles there were some Zeituntsis, of whom three or four, had been able to keep hidden in their pockets, always at hand, some old guns.  And when the Chechens began to attack and shoot, it seems that those Zeituntsis had an agreement as to their fate--saying that “If we are going to die, let us die with our families”.  They fired and killed [uses the word satkel here] three beasts [yerek gazaner, i.e. Chechens].  The other four ran away, and went back, joining up with the other 147.  Nearly a hundred Chechens on horses had gone out in the desert and were all over the place.  It was already getting dark my sister said, beginning to cry, and two or three hours later they left.  It was not apparent what they had gone for, or where they had gone.  When dawn came, it became apparent what was happening.  The entire exile population in the desert was interspersed with thousands of Arabs, armed with guns and sabers [zenkerov yev turerov].  And just as I have described before, some ten to fifteen feet distant from a Chechen tent there was the dry river bed [called a wadi in Arabic] which joined the river in the middle [here Nahabed uses the Turkish word ortahnan].  On the right side of the river, there was the village, where on the outskirts the Arabs armed with swords and guns were scattered.  The exiles had nowhere else to go.  Arabs in the rear, Arabs on the right side, Arabs on the left side; and if they went forward, only the middle of the river and a narrow opposite side, to the right of which were some three hundred Chechens.

“The Arabs opened fire on the encampment of exiles on three sides with an attack…“ said my sister, much saddened.  “The Armenians had nowhere else to go”, she continued, crying. 

“Either to go forward and end up in the middle of the river, or where there were three hundred Chechens, or to the ten to fifteen feet deep dry wadi, or to the other side of the dry tsor [wadi] where the three hundred armed Chechens and close to one hundred fifty Arabs were waiting, armed, for the slaughter.  Behind them the sword and the bullet, in front of them the same.  One side, the river if they could reach it, before them the dry wadi where there were four hundred armed Chechens and Arabs waiting.

“The screams had broken loose.  Behind them the sword and the bullet; in front of them, the same.  On one side the river, if they could reach there, in front of them the dry tsor[wadi] where there 400 armed Chechens and Arabs waiting.  The suffering screams and firing had started.  The exiles had no alternative but to go back or forward or left.  From three sides the Arabs were approaching with swords and daggers [surov yev tashouynerov], and killed with bullets whom ever they encountered.  In front of them four hundred fifty people were approaching.  Indiscriminately and ruthlessly they fired upon them.  An hour later the sun was obscured from the gunpowder smoke.  “But the suffering screams and massacre had not finished”, said my sister again bitterly.  The gun powder smoke was such that one could not see anything but only hear the screams of the victims filling the air.  “For nearly three hours this went on, and finally stopped”, said my sister.  It took about an hour for the sky to be cleared of the smoke, and for things to begin to be distinguished [viz. as to what had happened].

“The first thing that struck my eyes was that the dry tsor [wadi] before us, as far as they eye could see, was full of endless dead.  As far as one could see the desert was covered with dead.  From that fifty thousand exiles, only six hundred and fifty people were left on their feet.  All of them wounded to one degree or other.

“When the gun smoke finally cleared, and the air brightened, then a crier with a loud voice began to shout and announce if anyone at fault was still alive, he would be forgiven.  And, that to those who could walk, and could endure to that populated village place, bread would be given.  [Given what had happened that the few wounded survivors would be “forgiven” and given bread is incredible!]

“Hearing that news, those people who had fallen and were lying half-dead under dead bodies, as a matter of fate, pushed them aside and rose up on their feet, yielding an additional one hundred and fifty people.  It became the task of the Arabs and anyone among the agonized Armenians who could pick up a body along with someone else, to collect bodies and pile them on one another.  The corpses were stripped of their clothing and were examined before the eyes of a Chechen.  If any money was found on their person, then the Cherkesses would take the money.  Any wearable clothes would be taken by the Arabs.  The bodies were heaped upon each other by the thousands.  This job took a lot of time, and when it was finally finished, fuel was spilled on the heaps [varelaniut tapetzin, suggesting by use of the tapel something liquid like kerosene] and set fire to them.  The air was full with the smell.  And when it was all thoroughly incinerated, upon orders of Suleiman Bey, screens [magher] were brought, and those ashes were all passed through the screens, with the intent of recovering swallowed gold pieces.

“This chore took a day and a half, and after that, the executioners’ work [tahij inelou qordzuh] of the Chechens was completed.”

We end by asking “What more can we say?”  We shall let matters rest here for the time being.

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