Relic in the form of a memory: Jirair Reyisian shares a story

A month has passed since the bombing of the Holy Martyrs Memorial Complex in Deir ez-Zor. Today, every story related to the holy place of the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide is becoming more meaningful, more appreciated and is turning into a unique relic in the form of a memory.

Press secretary of the Armenian Diocese of Aleppo, general speaker of the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic and Evangelical Communities of Syria Jirair Reyisian shares a story.

When the first earthen cathedral was built in Deir ez-Zor, the ashes of the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide gathered from the sands of Deir ez-Zor were placed at the core. My father was present when the bones were being collected. In those days, he was France’s official photographer (at the time, Syria was under French dominance). My father told me that the sands on the other side of the river in Deir ez-Zor, which was completely a desert, were covered with skulls and bones. In case of a sandstorm, the sand would move away from those skulls and bones and cover the bones in the other part. When the wind would blow from the other side, the opposite would happen, and so on. The residents of Deir ez-Zor didn’t even want to cross the river because they thought they would find themselves in a world of phantoms.

When one of France’s military rulers whose name I can’t remember, visits Deir ez-Zor, he is surprised by what he sees and orders to pick up the bones and bury them. And so, some of the relics of the martyrs are buried inside the cathedral of Deir ez-Zor, and some are sent to Antilias where the Martyrs’ Cathedral was built. Some of the ashes were taken to Qamishli, and the rest were left in the sands.

When the earthen church of Deir ez-Zor is opened, a woman by the name of Refref hanm also attends the opening ceremony. One of the eyewitnesses says that when His Holiness Surmelyan comes close to cut the ribbon, he notices Refref hanm, calls her and tells her that she deserves to cut the ribbon more than she does because she saved the lives of Armenians. The woman refuses and cuts the ribbon with His Holiness.

Who was that woman whom His Holiness honored so much? Refref hanm was a woman whose father, Mustafa Nedim, was one of the first secretaries of the Ottoman palace. She was very close with the Sultan, but she took advantage of an opportunity and rebelled against the crimes perpetrated against the Armenians. That’s why many consider her unreliable and plan to kill her, but her close friends tell her about that, and she escapes.

Her daughter, Refref gets married to a military serviceman, whose brother was the military commander in the Deir ez-Zor region. They are a family that has immunity, and people don’t dare to offend them. Refref and her mother take advantage of the opportunity and provide several Armenians with shelter in their home. They turn the basement into a shelter where they hide Armenian migrants. The mother and daughter make food for them and ask wealthy Arab families to provide them with clothes for the Armenian migrants. They help them put new clothes on and see them off in some way in order to save and protect other migrants. By doing this, this family helped save quite a lot of Armenians.

I’m happy to have been able to know Refref hanm in the last years of her life. She was 100 years old, but still had conscience. Unfortunately, she died in very difficult financial conditions. I tried to seek her relatives and the tomb, and I finally found them.

By Lusine Abrahamyan

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