I am a SURVIVOR

By: | Posted on: 11.06.2014

My name is Alexandre Sismanian Choquet and I am a Survivor. I will tell you the story of my grandfather Nisan Sismanoglu. Nisan is the son of Oskihan Bicakciyan who lived in Sivas (Sepastia). Oskihan had a good life: he had 3 sons, a daughter, a wife, a home and sizeable wealth.  All was taken away from him in the Genocide.  We don’t know how Oskihan was spared as he never talked about it; all we know is that he lived.  Several years later, the people of the village asked him to marry Aghavni, a widow with 2 children who was from Bayburt.   She too had lost her entire family to the Genocide and had escaped to Sivas.  From this marriage was born my grandfather Nisan and my uncle Vahan.  Oskihan passed away when my grandfather was only 5 years old, so my great grandmother Aghavni raised her 4 children by herself.  At the age of 14, Nisan attended a trade school where he trained and then worked as a machinist before serving in the Turkish army for 3 years.

Upon his return from the army, Nisan moved his sisters and mother to Istanbul.  He spent 13 years working in Istanbul as a machinist, gradually working his way up to become a Foreman.  Despite his success, in 1961, he decided to leave Turkey as he didn’t want his future children to suffer the same persecution and discrimination he felt as an Armenian living in Turkey.  After living and working several years in Switzerland, Germany and Austria, he came to Toronto in 1967, without knowing a word of English.  He worked hard as a machinist and later opened up his own Machine Shop which he owned and operated for 25 years.  My grandfather taught himself how to read and write Armenian so that he could send letters to his fiancé Archalous whom he was introduced to in Montreal by a mutual friend.

 My name is Mathieu Sismanian Choquet and I am a Survivor.  I will tell you the story of my grandmother Archalous.  She is the daughter of Kourken Gostanian who was born in Kharpert. Kourken’s father was a tradesman who exported dried fruits and nuts.  One day, while he was helping his father at the shop, the Turkish gendarmes came to their store.  Kourken’s father gave his son the store key and told him to go home and that he would be back soon…That was the last time Kourken would see his father. His mother died shortly afterwards and his sisters were forced to marry Turks.  He lived with one of his sisters and her husband for several years and worked on their farm.  His sister’s husband was a kind man and took good care of Kourken, but Kourken saw that his being there was making life difficult for the family, so he asked his sister’s husband to help him leave Turkey.  His sister’s husband took him all the way to an Armenian Church in Syria where Kourken lived and apprenticed as a Barber.  He then moved to Alexandria, Egypt where he married Mannig and had 4 children; the first born was my grandmother Archalous.  Kourken eventually opened up his own Barber Shop and worked long hours to provide for his family. Archalous attended the local French school, but at the age of 13, she had to leave school to help her mother take care of her sister and brother as her mom had fallen ill and couldn’t manage on her own.

In the 1960s, when Nasr started his nationalization program, the family knew it was time for them to leave and sent my grandmother to Montreal, Canada to get established and bring over the rest of the family.   She came to Canada at the age of 23 and took up a bachelor flat in the popular (then Armenian) immigrant neighbourhood of Parc-Extension and worked as a seamstress in Montreal’s prospering garment industry. Her parents and siblings joined her in Montreal a few years later.

Our grandparents and great grandparents Survived, persevered, worked hard, and sacrificed and yet they never complained and always gave thanks for what they did have.  We can learn so much from their stories and this is an invaluable gift that has been passed down to us. We are Survivors.

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