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Starving Armenian Kids in Erivan


Armenian News Network / Groong
September 27, 2017

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

Long Island, NY





In our YouTube video “Story of an Oriental Rug Made by Armenian Orphans for the White House: preserving authentic memory of survivors of the Turkish Genocide against the Armenians” we emphasized the background of the ‘Armenian orphan rug’ and made the critical connection between this rug and the orphans of the Armenian Genocide.  The orphans were made so by the Genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks.  The extemporaneous hour-long presentation on YouTube is in the form of a Photo Essay.[1]


As background to that video, much of the emphasis was arbitrarily placed on what happened in Turkish Armenia (that is western Historic Armenia).  Moreover, the imagery connected with those gruesome, horrendous events was not the main emphasis.  

The following images show some of the misery that extended into the Caucasus ₋ ‘Russian Armenia.’ 

We are deliberately keeping commentary relating to these photos to a minimum because, as has been often said, all the tales of horror and destitution experienced by the survivors, mainly orphaned children, were eclipsed by reality.

In a recent posting on Groong we drew attention to the broad range of photographs and imagery that has become the legacy of those dark days.[2]  We emphasized that the relief organizations like the Near East Relief and its predecessors (in name) were  invented so to speak and rose to the challenging task of saving a nation that had been all but fully annihilated.

We also emphasized how the number of photographs of the first genocidal events were limited in number [3], and only a bit later did the pool of images increase substantially.  This initial ‘shortage’ of imagery, of course, was due to the deliberate policy of the Young Turk leadership to restrict expressly the taking of photographs or getting photographs that had been taken out of Turkey.[4] 

The photographs that we present below had their origin in the Erivan area.  This conclusion is based on reading in various archives.  Readers will perhaps be interested to know that Erivan [Yerevan] itself in 1914 had a ‘normal’ population of about 14,000.  This did not include refugees and genocide escapees or survivors of course.  By 1932, the population of Erivan proper had a permanent population of about 105,000.


Fig. 1.

Gertrude Anthony, a volunteer relief worker from Oakland, California in a letter dated 26 December 1919 – from Erivan, Caucasus wrote “Those who had any possessions at all had a copper-kettle to cook in.”…“But there were many, oh so many, who had nothing, sleeping in the sun, sitting stupidly gazing about, hunting for and chewing mustard stems.  A few bought pitiful bits of black bread from dirty peddlers squatted along the [railroad] track.” We cannot tell of course whether the pot above is copper or not.  It looks more makeshift, like a tin pot or even a large can, than one that would have been made by an Armenian artisan.   For additional details refer to our Groong posting.[5]



Fig. 2.   The tattered rags and bare feet were typical, and a prematurely aged look was all too common as well.

Note the railroad car in the background.



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Fig. 3. This photograph of a grief stricken lad seeking entry into an orphanage was made into a lantern slide by Near East Relief.  It is unnumbered and is captioned “Clamoring for admission.”   This photo also appeared on the back cover of The New Near East vol. 7 no. 5 March 1922.  There may well be other places where it appeared.  It is a very emotional scene, of course.  The difficulty always was that there were more orphans than could be taken into the orphanages.


One account of occurrences at orphanage gates states that they were inevitably besieged daily in the hopes of being let in.  “More than a hundred emaciated, nearly naked, vermin-infested and ill children waited, hoping patiently from day to day that American ingenuity would find a place for them inside, where American ingenuity only could have found room for the crowds already here. What are we going to do for all those little children WAITING TO GET IN!” (quoted from The New Near East vol. 6, no. 12, October 1921.  No doubt the same situation obtained in other orphanages.



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Fig. 4.  Death from typhus and other illnesses like malaria, dysentery, in addition to starvation took their daily toll.  It is not easy to assess how this child died.  Flies had already begun to hover and swarm.  (Sad to say, this kind of scene is being re-enacted today (2017) in Yemen that is daily being bombed by Saudi Arabia using bombs made by the USA,)



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Fig. 5.  “The sidewalk his death bed.”  That was the caption of this sad photograph.  A mother and an older sibling observe sadly and helplessly as the youngster of the family lies on the pavement.  Either he has already died or is in the process of expiring.  It was one of a number of illustrations used in a February 1921 article “General health conditions and medical relief work in Armenia” by physician Major Walter P. Davenport published in the Military Surgeon (Washington, D.C.) vol. 48 no. 2, pgs. 139 – 158 at unnumbered pg. facing 151.  Dr. Davenport served as medical director of the Caucasus branch, Near East Relief.  This image has appeared in a variety of places including the back cover of the Armenian translation of Maria Jacobsen’s Diary, “Oragrut’iwn, 1907-1919: Kharberd” (1979), T’paran Kat’oghikosutean Hayat’s Metis Tann Kalikow [Diary, Kharpert 1907-1909, Press of the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia].  The photographs in that volume are unpaginated.  Note that the mother grasps the hand of her surviving son tightly.  This photograph was scanned from a glossy print in a private collection accessible to us.



We feel very fortunate that we have not observed starvation first hand, or at least been in a situation where we actually knew that someone was starving to death.  Nowadays, we encounter what we believe are silly designations like “food insecurity.”  (Apparently it ‘tones down’ the word starvation a bit and is aimed at making some believe as if ‘things aren’t as bad as they could be.’ – ‘we’ don’t like to believe that food insecurity is widespread in the USA!)  Let viewers see John Pilger’s documentary film “Killing the Children of Iraq” (now available on YouTube) to conclude that we Americans have been quite guilty of causing death through our “willful ignorance.” (That’s another story.)


On one of our trips made in 1971, we encountered many children in the vicinity of Lalibela, Ethiopia who were ill-clad, sick (coughing constantly either from tuberculosis or respiratory conditions so common in the Ethiopian highlands.)  These kids were clearly very poor and in need of nourishment.  Abject poverty was widespread and, as is often the case with ‘leaders’ Emperor Haile Selassie (who would be forcibly unseated in 1974) seemed immune to the problems.  He had, in a word, ‘ripped off’ immense amounts of money and deposited it into his Swiss bank accounts.

We noted at the time that “There has to be revolution!”  It was a matter of simple observation, not being particularly prescient.

We hope that the sad faces Fig. 6 need no comment.  Not knowing Amharic we never did find out whether the slightly older girl in the center rear was sister or how she may have been related to the others? 



Fig. 6

Taken by us in Lalibela, Ethiopia in 1971. 


Today, we are assaulted daily by images of infants and kids of all ages who need help desperately because they are the victims of man-generated catastrophes.  War, ethnic cleansing, genocide, etc. etc. The list is long.

‘Leaders’ and ‘administrators’ cluck endlessly on the TV and pretend to discuss knowledgeably and responsibly whether a given situation is “really” a catastrophe or genocide or a mere ethnic cleansing or whatever.

Clearly we seem not to learn. 

President Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter of condolence a few days before Christmas in 1862 to Fanny McCullough on the death of her father, one of his early friends back in Illinois.

 “In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it catches them unawares.  The older have learned to ever expect it…”

It is incredible that we have sunk to the depths we have and to the point where we routinely ‘normalize starvation’. 

Katherine Hepburn, the movie star, had it right when in the film The African Queen she told Mr. Alnut (Humphrey Bogart) that “Human Nature Mr. Alnut is what we are put in this world to rise above!”



Figures 1 through 4 are Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York. 



[1] “Story of an Oriental Rug Made by Armenian Orphans for the White House: presenting authentic memory of survivor’s of the Turkish genocide against the Armenians” by Eugene L. Taylor and Abraham D. Krikorian uploaded to YouTube on December 21, 2014; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MkQQEFsXDRg

[2] We borrow the phrase from the Armenian title of the book by Aram Andonian “Ayn Sev Orerun: patkerner” [Those Black Days: Pictures] published by Hairenik Press in Boston in 1919.  There are no photographs in the 204 pg. volume.  The ‘pictures’ are “pen pictures.’  The late Vahe Oshagan, the well-known writer, critic and poet believed that the work was the best volume on the Armenian Genocide in Diaspora Armenian prose.  So far as we know, it has never been translated into English.

[3] See Eugene l. Taylor and Abraham D. Krikorian (Groong September 14, 2017) “On documentation and attribution of photographs as they relate to the atrocities and genocide committed against Armenians in the Ottoman Turkish Empire: Several early photos of survivors released for educational use and in soliciting funds by the American Committee for Armenian and Syrian relief -  complete with contemporary captions and interpretations’


[4] Even so, there is a substantial photographic record.  Here is not the place to go into great detail but we would be remiss not to mention the excellent contribution by the late Dr. Sybil Milton “Armin T. Wegner: Polemicist for Armenian and Jewish rights.  The Armenian Review vol. 42, no, 4/168, pgs. 17-40 and the work of  Tessa Hofmann and Gerayer Outcharming in their pioneer paper published in 1992 in The Armenian Review vol. 45, pgs. 53-184 entitled "Images that horrify and indict": pictorial documents on the persecution and extermination of Armenians from 1877 to 1922.”


[5] Refer to Gertrude Anthony’s letter in our Groong posting of September 15, 2017 A Rare Poster of an Armenian Boy Used in Fund Raising for the Near East Relief: rare because very few of these posters exist, and still fewer of any of the ‘NER posters’ depict a “real Armenian.”


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