Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In Memory of the Armenian Genocide of 1915

click on the above link to hear "Derzor Dasdanaaci" by Vahan Boyajian

First a couple notes, yes I know I'm almost a week late on this, but what can I say. Second, I actually own this same record but when I tried to upload it to Soundcloud it kept coming out extremely soft even though it was playing loud and clear on my iTunes. So that's why we have a link today instead of an embedded track.

Derzor Dasdaanaci means something like "the ballad singer of Derzor" or "one who sings a ballad about Derzor." A destan is a type of Turkish song that I am roughly translating as ballad. And the c is pronounced as a "j" here according to modern Turkish spelling. This song is more commonly known as "Derzor Cheollerinde" (Derzor Çöllerinde) meaning "in the deserts of Derzor." Derzor or Der Zor is the Armenian name for Deir ez-Zor, a city in present day Syria. During the Armenian Genocide of 1915, it was the main destination of the deportations ("death marches") of the Armenians from their homes by the Ottoman Turkish forces. When the Armenians arrived in the desert outside Der Zor, they were killed. Even though it is actually the name of a city in Syria, to most Armenians the words "Der Zor" has no other meaning than "the killing fields."

This song, sung in Turkish, describes the conditions in Der Zor during the genocide. It was apparently composed by those who were on the death march. Dr. Verjine Svazlian has done much research on this and other songs related to the Genocide, all sung in Turkish. A summary of her research can be found here: http://www.cilicia.com/armo_geno-songs.html

The first verse of Boyajian's version goes like this (in phonetic spelling):

Der Zor cheollerinde yarali chokdir - In the deserts of Der Zor there are many wounded
Gelme doktor, gelme, charesi yokdir - Don't come doctor, don't come, there is no remedy
Bir Allahdan gayri hech kimsem yokdir - Aside from the One God I have no one at all
Millet ughurina giden Ermeni - Armenians who go (i.e. march, are deported) for the sake of the Millet

He also ends every verse with that last line. Millet is a special word used in Ottoman Turkish often translated "nation," which in our modern parlance would be translated "ethnic group." The Ottoman Empire had 4 main Millets, the Islamic Millet, the Greek Millet, the Armenian Millet, and the Jewish Millet, in addition to the smaller millets such as the Assyrians or the Protestants. Each ethnic group was self-ruling in internal matters like education, marriage and divorce, and inheritance law. The head of each ethnic group was their religious patriarch, who was directly answerable to the Sultan. Of course in the case of the Muslims, the Sultan himself was basically their patriarch (as the Caliph). So in other words, the Armenians were being deported and killed because of their ethnicity.

Other versions of the song have "Dininin ughurina giden Ermeni" (Armenians who go for the sake of their religion), or "Armenians who die for....."

Vahan Boyajian was an Armenian singer who recorded as far as I can tell, almost exclusively in Turkish. He was an immigrant to the US and recorded here in the 1920s for Columbia as well as his own record label "Bilbil" (Nightingale) as seen in the above video. Here he is accompanied by the typical violin and oud duo.

My great-grandmother Vartanoush narrowly escaped being sent to Der Zor by paying a large bribe to the Turkish gendarmes while the caravan was near the city of Rakka in present day Syria. She and her family crossed the river into Rakka where they lived for a time, before her family all died, she was adopted by Bedouin Arabs, and after the war, sent to an orphanage in Aleppo and subsequently brought to the United States in 1921 to be the bride of my great grandfather Onneg Kezelian. Grandma Vartanoush's sister-in-law Sirvart was not so lucky, however. After being taken to Der Zor, the group she was with was slaughtered. She was cut across the back with a sword and she fell, they thought she died but later someone came and found her and another woman still alive, she was taken away and eventually came to America where she remarried my great-grandfather's cousin - but she had the scar of the sword mark in her back the rest of her life. I could go on and tell about my other great-grandparents that were in the massacres but I'll leave it at that so as to not drag out this post. This post is in memory of all those who died in 1915, and to all those who survived. Asdvadz hokineruh lousavoreh/may God enlighten their souls.

PS here is another version of the song, sung a capella by Vartan Shahpazian from Kharpert, living in Fresno in 1939 http://memory.loc.gov/afc/afccc/audio/a426/a4266b2.wav

It is also interesting to note the similarity of this melody to Gyozals Khrov Eh by Kusan Shahen


  1. thank you Harry. This is a very well written piece and I'm glad you shared it. More Armenia's need to know about this song. I got to know it and actually performed it in a rew concerts in New York City with the group Nour. Ayda Erbal sang a very nice version of it.

  2. thank you mark. i saw the videos of nour, didn't notice you in the band. i think they got their version from the library of congress website i posted at the end of my blog post. the first 2 stanzas are about the same, third is different. there are endless verses to this song, actually as you can read in the svazlian article.

  3. I was not with nour when the youtube was made. I may have already been in Chicago.