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From the Ottoman Empire to Killarney, Manitoba: the story of an Armenian genocide survivor

Friday, November 15, 2013

During and after the First World War, the leaders of the Ottoman Empire (the forerunner of the modern-day Republic of Turkey) made a brutal attempt to destroy the empire’s entire Armenian population. The victims were massacred or forced on death marches through the desert. Approximately one and a half million Armenians perished between 1915 and 1923. Another half million found shelter abroad. Canada opened its doors to some of the children orphaned in the Armenian genocide. One of these orphans, Harry Garabed, found himself placed on a farm near Killarney, Manitoba. Jack Garabed, Harry’s son, spoke at a recent news conference where the CMHR signed an agreement with the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute.  Here is Harry’s story, in his son Jack’s words.

Someone asked me once if it means something to me to have the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. The short answer is YES! Last week, I had the honour of witnessing an important and historic partnership between the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute of the National Academy of Sciences and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The Armenian Genocide is an important human rights story and I was proud to share the story of my father at this event.

I am the son of an Armenian genocide orphan survivor. My father was born “Garabed Haroutounian” about 1906. His name was later changed to Harry Garabed, for pronunciation reasons. Unfortunately, I have very little information about my Dad's early years, just what I remember him telling me as a young boy, and young man. 

Dad talked about how his mom made Turkish rugs. They would bring bags of wool already weighed, and she would hook them. He helped her after school. She was allowed to keep a small amount of the wool when the rug was done. 

I remember Dad telling me of his parents' demise, and about his family. He was the oldest of six. He spoke of my grandfather being taken away in the night, and murdered. They took Dad away and placed him in a Turkish orphanage. He believed my grandmother escaped into Egypt with some of the younger children. He was forced to change religion against his will. God only knows what happened to my grandmother and my Dad’s five other brothers and sisters.  

An old stamped document with a photo of a young men.

Garabed Haroutounian's registration certificate

Dad explained how he had been encouraged to sneak out of the orphanage one night with an older friend, and how they ran, and then escaped into the countryside. They existed by their wits, hand to mouth. 

Dad was 17 when he started his journey. We really don't know and I don't think he knew where he was going. My Dad went to England from Greece and he sailed from Liverpool to Montreal. 

A black and white document filled with numbers. The header says The Salvation Army Sailing Sheet. From Liverpool to Quebec. July 20, 1923

The Salvation Army sailing sheet

The Salvation Army arranged to have three children in the orphanage, including my father, transported to Canada. Dad left the other two boys in Montreal and continued on to Manitoba. He was fascinated by the train ride, and wanted to extend it as far as he could. He had never seen one, and was intrigued. The train brought him to Winnipeg, and from there he was placed with farmers in the Killarney area.

He told me how wonderful the people were to him, as he spoke almost no English. He found out later they taught him cuss words, as it was funny to hear them with his accent! He was very happy in his early years in Canada. He never spoke of being lonely, or about the old country, as he made so many new friends. He told me how he had made a comb out of nails, in the early years, as he had no money, and his hair was long. He worked hard, and eventually bought his own land and farmed. 

A green and white document with the title Certificate of Naturalization, followed by small text.

 Garabed Haroutounian's certificate of naturalization

He served in the Canadian Army, overseas, for six years. Afterwards, he was a local, respected politician for 30-plus years. 

Dad fathered five children, one of whom is deceased. There are numerous grandchildren, great, and great-great grandchildren – 65 in total. Quite a dynasty from one little Armenian orphan! Most of us still live in Killarney and southwestern Manitoba.

As he grew older, Dad always said he was so grateful to have been blessed with coming to a free country like Canada. To his dying day, he thanked God for the Salvation Army, his wonderful family, and for Canada!

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