Beirut, Dec. 5, 2010 - In collaboration with Missak Keleshian (an independent researcher of historical archives), Haigazian University planned and organized a pilgrimage-trip on December 5, 2010 to the Saint Joseph College of Aintoura, (Keserouan) north of Beirut. When the 1st World War broke out, the Ottoman Turks had confiscated the college, had dismissed all the priests and had converted the building into a Turkish orphanage that housed 1200 orphans, 1000 of whom were Armenians; the rest were Turks & Kurds. In 1916, Jemal Pasha visited Antoura together with 40 elite Turkish teachers, headed by Halide Edib, the new director of the college.
Joining HU’s caravan of buses and cars at three designated centers, more than 150 participants headed to Aintoura , where Mr. Missak Keleshian described (with visual presentations) how the orphans lived in the different sections of the Orphanage. He portrayed in detail how Armenian orphans were going through a systematic Turkification process, where Armenian names of the orphans were being changed into Turkish names. If the orphans spoke, prayed or sang in Armenian, they were punished by Falakha (hitting of the soles of the feet with iron rods). In Halide Edib’s own words: “One felt that these children, whatever happened, would carry something crippled, something mutilated in them.”
Mr. Keleshian presented excerpts from Karnig Panian’s & Haroutyioun Alboyadjian’s (both orphans back then) memoirs: “The hospital was full of children suffering from different diseases and wounds. The hospital, as a structure was there with its hall and beds; however, there weren’t any doctors or knowledgeable nurses who would prescribe the appropriate medicine. That’s why each week one or two kids would pass away”. These children were buried at the backyard woodland of the church at Saint Joseph College.
In 1993 during the digging of these lands for the purpose of enlarging the college compound, numerous bones were found in the same backyard. By the generous donation of KOHAR’s founder Mr. Harout Khatchadourian, a special extension was constructed, where two monuments were placed in the cemetery in memory of all the children who died during 1915-1918. In September 2010, in the presence of KOHAR Symphony Orchestra and Choir, a cross-stone (khatchkar by Zaven Koshtoyan) and a bronze statue (by Raffi Tokatlian) of a young child holding the world in one hand and meditatively resting his face in the other hand were inaugurated.
The last stage of the tour was the visit to the graveyard, the most touching phase which was laden by the moving melody of the Armenian doudoug played by Hagop and Sero Kelougian. As they entered the burial ground, all partakers placed white roses on a tomb or in the lap of the statuette, or in front of the cross-stone. The event was culminated with a biblical message and a prayer by the President of the university, Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian, who in his word called all participants to visit the past but to mainly prepare for the future of the next generation. He also praised such dedicated individuals as Mr. Kelechian for their significant contribution to the dissemination of the truth regarding the Armenian Genocide. The prayer was followed by “Der Voghormia” hymn, sung by Sevan Palandjian, a deacon of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Baghdad, and currently a student at HU.