Sourp Komidas Vartabed
To My Dear Sister Marig

It is interesting how people want to hear and believe that Komidas was miserable and homeless in his youth, interesting how this idea perpetuates despite the efforts by Komidas' close family members to expose the truth

                                                          My Mother's Response

I said to my mother: "You know, today there was an article in the Nairi newspaper under the title ' I do not know Armenian, but I do know how to sing', it is about Komidas Vartabed, his biography and the period he spent in St. Etchmiadzin. The article was taken from Hekimian priest's diary. You read it too. The paper's number is 19-20, 25th year, 30th September 1980.

My mother already familiar with the article, said she was very sad and upset. The following is her response which she wrote in reply to the above mentioned article.

"Yes Sebouh, it is very probable that Haroutiun Hekimian was a friend of Soghomon's in his childhood, but this article is incorrect, and above all it states that Soghomon himself supplied him with all the information.

Haroutiun Hekimian, who afterwards was ordained as Mateos Kahana, God Rest His Soul, has written in his diary without knowing the facts, perhaps by gathering from other articles, such as in the book called 'Anlreli Zankagadoun' written in poetry style about Komidas Vartabed with exaggerated incorrect descriptions and anomalies, as if Soghomon was a lonely orphan, singing door to door for his daily dry piece of bread etc. This way one writer taking from another, the story of Komidas underwent a complete distortion. Yes, Soghomon was an orphan but on the contrary of what has been said about him, that after playing with the children and getting tired, he used to drift away forgetfully and sleep under outdoor roofs. Soghomon during his childhood and until his departure to St. Etchmiadzin, was never left outdoors, nor did he go from door to door for his daily dry piece of bread. Soghomon was brought up among rich and cherishing hands. I do not understand and often wonder, why the biography of such a talented priest is misrepresented by such and such stories, written without the facts being verified."

Now Sebouh, listen. Whatever my mother told me about Soghomon, that is Komidas Vartabed, his birth and how he arrived to St. Etchmiadzin, I will relate it to you so that you know the facts.

Soghomon was born in 1869 in Kotahia or Koudina. A short while after Soghomon's birth, his mother died. His father Kevork Soghomonian, a native of Kotahia, remained alone with his sister Kouline` who started looking after the infant Soghomon. Soghomon's father, who could not endure his dear wife's death, died soon afterwards. Poor Soghomon remained with Kouline`.

His uncle Haroutiun Soghomonian, Kevork's brother, noticing this misfortune and Kouline`s inability, decided to adopt Soghomon and to look after him. He took Soghomon to St. Teotoros Church and in the presence of the local priest and the Armenian Council members adopted Soghomon, brought him home to his wife Zmroukht and said: ' there is little Soghomon, our son; we will bring him up with our daughter Marig (Mariam)'.

Zmroukht naturally received Soghomon with all her heart, and promised to feed him with her own milk. Zmroukht looked after Soghomon with great love and care together with her own daughter Marig. Thus Soghomon and Marig became milk brother and sister.

Soghomon's aunt Kouline`s health deteriorated. Haroutiun Soghomonian took care of her as well. After the loss of her brother Kevork, Kouline`s eyes started aching, as a result of long periods of crying; but because there was no remedy, she lost her eyesight. Another misfortune.

Years went by and Soghomon grew up to become eight years old. He recognised Haroutiun Soghomonian as his father and Zmroukht his mother. You know Sebouh, Haroutiun Soghomonian is my grandfather and Zmroukht my grandmother, and their daughter Marig is my mother, your grandmother. I bear my grandmother's name Zmroukht. Therefore I am the grand daughter of the Soghomonian's but I was born Karakashian. I have grandchildren now, Zareh and Taleen, but I never forget the story of Komidas.

By the time Soghomon was eight years old, there was a church and a school in Kotahia. Education was in Turkish language because of the Turkish rule. The church had its council members. Your grandfather was a member too, and at the same time he was and remained the treasurer of the Turkish government for years.

Let us come back to Soghomon and how he went to Etchmiadzin.

Soghomon at this age started going to school. He was a very receptive and intelligent boy, had a very beautiful voice, and liked singing. By listening, he quickly grasped the songs sung by other people, learned by heart and sang them. Let me say this too. When the Armenians of Kotahia migrated from the Ararat region, all of them were good Armenian speakers, but the Turks forced them to speak Turkish. Anybody who spoke Armenian was punished severely. That is why Soghomon spoke only Turkish.

My grandfather was worried because Soghomon did not know the Armenian language. Something had to be done, but what. Meanwhile the local council also wanted to send Soghomon somewhere to learn Armenian, but where and how....

One day the Catholicos of St. Etchmiadzin sent a delegation to various towns such as Kotahia, Konia, Bilejik etc, to collect Armenian children, orphans, children of the poor and those who wished to study at St. Etchmiadzin as seminarists for future priests or clergymen. My grandfather and the members of the council decided to send Soghomon to Etchmiadzin, this being the most suitable opportunity. My grandfather quoted then "St. Etchmiadzin is the proper place for my son ; let him go there and get his education, be brought up as an Armenian and be a useful young man to his nation".

They informed Soghomon, who very happily accepted to go, and his name was registered to leave for Etchmiadzin together with other children. They also familiarised the delegation with Soghomon's outstanding qualities, in addition to his knowledge of the Turkish language only.

In 1881, Soghomon left for Etchmiadzin. One day, the Catholicos wanted to see the newly arrived children. He asked questions to each one of them and to Soghomon he asked:

"What is your name?" Not knowing Armenian Soghomon replied in Turkish: "Benim ismim Soghomon Soghomonian, ben Kotahialiyim" etc. meaning "My name is Soghomon Soghomonian, I am from Kotahia, I do not know Armenian, but I do know well how to sing".

The Catholicos answered: "Sing my child, whatever you know". Soghomon sang a Turkish song. The Catholicos impressed by his gracious and beautiful voice and his bold attitude, ordered to his responsible staff and said: "Take this child, teach him Armenian hymns and prayers so he can sing a solo in church at Easter".

Being established in school, they began to teach him ecclesiastical songs and hymns. Easter arrived. Soghomon, for the first time sang a solo song which they taught him. The Catholicos admiringly liked it. He was so moved by Soghomon's superb voice that tears dropped from his eyes and he cried. People from the congregation cried also.

After the Easter Mass, the Catholicos sent for Soghomon again and with good wishes, kissed his forehead and instructed his staff again: "This boy will be St. Etchmiadzin's child. He will stay here forever. Put him in the academy, teach him whatever is necessary, singing, music. He must be educated. Take good care of him".

Hence Soghomon progressed very quickly in his education. People were surprised by his intelligence and wit. He became a favourite. The news of his progress reached Kotahia. My grandfather was very happy to hear his good news, so were the people.

Years passed. My grandfather died and Soghomon was left with his mother Zmroukht and his sister Marig. He occasionally visited them in Kotahia and told them many stories from his life.

Soghomon was ordained priest and was given the name Komidas. He sent his first photo to his mother Zmroukht. He wrote at the back: "Hishadak Mores Zmroukhtin, Vortiagan Anmoratz Sirov, Komidas Vartabed Soorp Etchmiadzin". Meaning: To my mother Zmroukht with filial unforgetable love, Komidas Vartabed, St. Etchmiadzin"(Refer to Hamazkayin Calender 1939, page dated 26th September.) Another photo was sent by Komidas Vartabed to his sister Marig, which read at the back: "Sireli Kouyrikis Marigin, Hishadak yur Eghpayr Komidas Vartabed, 1909, 2 Hokdemper, S. Etchmiadzin". Meaning: "To My Dear Sister, Marig, in remembrance from your brother Komidas Vartabed, 1909, 2 October, St. Etchmiadzin".

These photos were printed in Arshag Alboyajian's book called "Houshamadian Koudinayi Hayerou". The book was printed in Beirut in 1961. It was also printed in 1939 in the Hamazkayin Calender, with his biography. In it , it is mentioned that the first photo sent by Komidas, was to his mother Zmroukht from Etchmiadzin. Look at these photos and read these books. This ORIGINAL photo card with the veghar is with your 'Genkamayr' (Godmother) Kayaneh Karakashian in the United States.

The songs and the lyrical poems Komidas wrote, spread in the Armenians and non-Armenians as well. He visited many places, Germany, Vienna etc. Many years passed and the law in Kotahia changed. The government allowed the Armenian language to be spoken and taught in Armenian schools. There were then two churches and two schools. Armenian teachers were brought from abroad, and the new generation began to learn the Armenian language, and good progress was made.

Komidas noticing this progress, decided to form a choir in Kotahia. He organized a choir of about 200 persons. My elder brother, Mkrdich Karakashian, your uncle, was one of the members. Komidas held a very successful concert in Kotahia for the benefit of the local churches and schools. The people expressed their satisfaction and he became a favourite, gaining many students from Kotahia and other countries. His success and name kept spreading.

It is sad that after that concert and because of the First World War in 1915, he could not visit Kotahia again. This was at the time of the Armenian Massacre, the great unforgettable Holocaust.

The Turks in Constantinople, (Istanbul) arrested many Armenian intellectuals and personalities. It happened that Komidas was there too and was arrested. All of them innocent people, ready to be hanged. The Turks said: "The command is from above", so that there was no possibility for anyone to be saved.

A German General, whose son was a student of Komidas, with his mediation, succeeded to save Komidas at the time when they were taking the group to the gallows. But after what. The poor innocent man lost his mind. He was struck by a severe shock and in an insane condition was taken to hospital. For years all efforts failed to cure him. He was taken to Paris, again all efforts proved to be in vain. He stayed there quite a long time. Marig made many efforts to visit Komidas but due to circumstantial obstacles and difficulties, it was impossible for her to see her brother. She always cried and lamented for her brother's suffering.

At the end, in 1935, we lost him; so did the Armenian nation for whom he was very much devoted. Lost was a person so valuable and with an international reputation, that he was named as "The Father of Music."

Sebouh, this is the short and the sad story of Komidas. Relate this to your grandchildren, so that it will be remembered for many years to come.

With our respect to his bones, to our dearest Komidas Vartabed.

Zmroukht (Karakashian) Tashjian
Amman - Jordan
December 1981


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