Day 19 of 30 Days of Testimony: Richard Hovannisian on the testimony of Levon Giridlian

Levon Giridlian was born in Ottoman Empire, in Kayseri (Armenian: Kesaria) in the region of Cappadocia. Kayseri had once been a major Christian center, as attested by the numerous chapels hewn into the mountainous terrain. Although not a part of the historic Armenian highlands to the east, the county of Kayseri at the end of the nineteenth century had about 70,000 Armenian inhabitants, active in agriculture, the crafts and trades, and, among them, a significant number of regional and international merchants.

As Armenians sought greater civil rights and security in the rapidly declining Ottoman Empire, they came to be regarded as a threat by the ruling sultan and dominant Muslim society, which regarded Christians and Jews as second-class citizens. Tensions grew in the 1890s, leading to widespread massacres of Armenians, beginning in the port city of Trabzon in October 1895 and then spreading to numerous Armenian towns and villages for the next several months, claiming the lives of more than 100,000 Armenians and causing enormous economic losses through plunder and intentional destruction.

Levon Giridlian recounts the massacre in Kesaria in November 1895 and cites it as the cause for leaving his home and family and immigrating to the United States. He confirms what many other survivors have written or stated; that is, that the massacres began after Friday prayers and sermons in the mosques, whereupon the mob burst into the Armenian quarters, killing and looting.  The violence lasted from a few hours to several days and is regarded as one of the ominous precursors to the Armenian Genocide twenty years later, in 1915.

Author: Richard Hovannisian is one of the leading experts on the Armenian Genocide who founded the Armenian Studies program at UCLA and is now an adjunct professor at USC, advising USC Shoah Foundation on its Armenian Genocide testimony collection.

Language: English