Explore one of the Near East Foundation’s most beloved archival items in this special video dispatch!
THE BOYS OF TREBIZOND ORPHANAGE
In 1922, a group of Armenian boys at the Sahag-Mesrobian Armenian School in Trebizond, Turkey, created a handmade book as a gift to their teachers. Each boy shared a story, poem, or drawing, written in English. The boy with the finest handwriting copied the contributions. An unknown hand added photographs of each boy and a portrait of the group. Young Krikor Der-Vartanian, a talented artist, provided illustrations. The boys called their collaboration New Year’s Gift.
You can watch a very special video about the book here, and read more about it below.
YOUNG SURVIVORS TELL THEIR STORIES
These boys were not ordinary schoolchildren. They were young survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Krikor and his friends were just a few of the tens of thousands of children rescued by Near East Relief. They were, in the words of young Kegham Husisian (left), “gathered in this building, as the children of a same house, or as brothers.”
New Year’s Gift was no doubt treasured by its creators and recipients. The original handmade edition, worn with use and the passage of time, resides in the Near East Foundation collection at the Rockefeller Archive Center in Tarrytown, NY.
Nearly 100 years later, the book still captures the essence of ten young lives touched by unspeakable tragedy and unexpected kindness. The words and photographs communicate a range of emotions. In just a few pages the reader experiences the joy, sorrow, curiosity, humor, and dignity of these young survivors on the cusp of adulthood.
OLD MEMORIES IN A NEW LANGUAGE
The spelling of the boys’ names varies slightly throughout the book. This is probably an indication of the fact that they were learning to transliterate Armenian words into English. Of all the boys, only Maksood Ananigian — who, based on his photograph, was one of the oldest boys — signed his name in Armenian.
Stories such as “The Hamal of Moush” and “The New-Year in Yerhenga” refer to geographic places, and may offer a hint as to the young authors’ origins. A few pieces comment on the beauty of the Black Sea region, while others are more personal in nature. Asadoor Manooshagian’s (right) “Towards the Kurdish Tents [Old memories]” begins with the matter-of-fact and intriguing statement, “I was, in 1916, in Agin, at a Turkish family.”
Like the other authors, Asadoor sprinkles his narrative with Armenian and Turkish words which are defined in footnotes. As young Ottoman Armenians from diverse provinces, the boys probably grew up speaking more than one language.
The boys also list the many small and humorous gifts that they would give their friends if they could. They offer the priest a new Sharagan (Armenian hymnal) on the condition that he does not “rumple the poor book.” The lucky P. Cyrille is the happy recipient of “at least two hours” of quiet rest so that he can prepare an especially good lesson for the boys. The “cook-mamma” gets a “great sack of salt” (perhaps a comment on her cooking?), while the boys promise the orphanage mothers that they will listen more and speak less in the coming year.
HELP US SHARE NEW YEAR'S GIFT
This beautiful book pays tribute to the indelible spirit of the Near East Relief community — the founders, volunteers, and Genocide survivors that shaped this pioneering organization, which in turn changed the face of American philanthropy. It is our goal to share New Year’s Gift with you here on the Digital Museum.
You can help. Your donation to the Near East Foundation will help the Near East Relief Historical Society to research, preserve, and scan this precious book. With your support, we will create a digital version of New Year’s Gift that replicates the experience of interacting with this incredible artifact.
Kegham, Asadoor, and their friends never could have guessed how precious their book would become. So many years later, New Year’s Gift is truly a gift to us all.