The Great Loss of the Armenian Clergy During the Armenian Genocide – Very Reverend Father Megerditch Tchelghadian
By Archbishop Papken Tcharian
The series of articles, which will be presented to our readers, are written by Archbishop Papken Tcharian, and translated by Tamar Topjian Der-Ohannessian.
The book, “The Great Loss of the Armenian Clergy during the Armenian Genocide” was published in 2009, by the generous donation of Mr. and Mrs. Levon and Tamar Der-Ohannessian.
The articles which will be featured in the coming days, are from the doctoral thesis of Archbishop Tcharian, and it is dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.
In his thesis, Tcharian writes, “The enemy, in his cruelty, ruthless and unjust, did not discriminate. He slaughtered the students of Maghakia Ormanian, Yeghishe Tourian and Mekhitar Sepasdatsi, the promising seminarians of Armash and St. Ghazar, who were the true intellectual clergymen, and who shared the fate of their people and their parishes.”
“The catastrophe of April 1915 was a fatal gash in the heart of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Despite of it all, however, the Armenian people and the Armenian Church experienced a new renaissance. … We do not hesitate to call all those clergymen who were massacred during the Genocide of April 1915 martyrs and saints.”
VERY REVEREND FATHER MEGERDITCH TCHELGHADIAN
- Rev. Fr. Megerditch Tchelghadian was born in Tadvan (Paghesh) in 1871. His baptismal name was Hovnan. He was one of the 16 students of the second class in Armash Seminary (October 1890 to September 1891) when Archbishop Ormanian was the dean and V. Rev. Fr. Yeshishé Tourian was the vice-dean. Having no calling to become a celibate priest, he left the seminary.
He was ordained a married priest in 1898 by Arch. Maghakia Ormanian. Archbishop Ormanian wrote the following in his autobiography:
He was one of the students of the second class, who left the seminary because he was not ready for celibate priesthood. When they requested from Drabizon for him to be ordained a married priest for Ghzana, I personally ordained him in St. Garabed (Forerunner) Monastery in Sgudar on July 12th 1898, and did this to encourage other seminarians to become married priests.
Rev. Fr. Megerditch moved to Selanig from the diocese of Drabizon and became the pastor of that community. Unfortunately, however, he lost his wife and his only child in a tragic accident in Selanig. According to an account from Teotig, the pastor “lost his wife and daughter in a gasoline fire.”
After the death of his loved ones, Arch. Maghakia Ormanian sent him to the diocese of Ethiopia to serve there. He later returned to the seminary of Armash and was ordained celibate priest in October 1890, by Arch. Ormanian.
He was assigned to be a preacher in Top Kapou, in Constantinople, and was later elected diocesan locum tenens for the diocese of Bayazid. He had a reasonably productive tenure there. He also administered to other neighboring regions of Garin, such as Khnous, which was regarded to be ‘the heart of Armenia’ due to its geographical location, and which was equidistant from the provinces of Erzurum, Van and Bitlis.
Khnous, which was under the national-religious jurisdiction of Garin, had been for a long period of time, and until 1880, under the jurisdiction of Saint Garabed (Forerunner) Monastery of Mush. But while V. Rev. Fr. Maghakia Ormanian was the Prelate of Garin, he split the region from St. Garabed (Forerunner) Monastery of Mush, linked it to the diocese of Garin and appointed a locum tenens. In 1908, after the declaration of the Ottoman Constitution, Khnous became an independent diocese with its own prelacy and Father Megerditch Tchelghadian was the newly-elected prelate.
According to the historical volume of ‘Hark Khnous’ (The Forefathers of Khnous),
Father Megerditch (Shoushdag*) Tchelghadian from Tadvan, an educated, brave and resolute priest from the Seminary of Armash, was elected as the first prelate during the era of the Constitution. In 1909, during the dreadful period of the massacres in Cilicia, he immediately organized combat squads in all the villages of Khnous in order to cope with all eventualities.
* A married priest who becomes a celibate priest after his wife’s death.
At his initiative and with the collaboration of the residents of Khnous two buildings were erected: the prelacy and the school.
The prelate was the first person to carry a slab of rock from the quarry in the valley to be used as the founding stone, setting an example for the others to follow. The people of the Fort of Khnous, from its highest ranking nobleman to the most humble citizen, followed his example.
We read a description about the construction of the school adjoining the prelacy in the newspaper “Haratch”, written by a correspondent named Ampou-Meshetsi:
July 4th (1909) is a day of enthusiasm and joy, and will remain as an indelible date in the history of Khnous… The most encouraging aspect was the teamwork. It was noteworthy to see the elderly as well as the wealthy class – who normally shunned all kinds of responsibility – working together to carry building-blocks from the nearby valley to the construction site of the new school. Priests, teachers, merchants and artisans, students and small children, all worked together.
Unfortunately, while the mission of V. Rev. Fr. Tchelghadian began with enthusiasm, it did not last very long. It had an unhappy ending. The brave and maverick cleric and the courageous people of Khnous could not understand and empathize with each other.
While prelate of Khnous, V. Rev. Fr. Megerditch was appointed abbot to the Partsrahayats Asdvadzadzin (Mother of God) Monastery and was elected diocesan vicar to the diocese of Maden in Arghen, until his departure to Dikranagerd (Diarbekir).
In 1913 Father Megerditch was elected diocesan vicar to the diocese of Dikranagerd. After V. Rev. Fr. Zaven Yeghiayan, the prelate of Dikranagerd, was elected patriarch of the Armenians in Turkey, he appointed V. Rev. Fr. Megerditch diocesan vicar according to the wishes of the local committees.
Patriarch Zaven Yeghiayan has made the following statement in his diary: “I made all the necessary arrangements in a few days, and according to the wishes of the prelacy councils I appointed V. Rev. Fr. Megerditch Tchelghadian as diocesan vicar, in order to run the prelacy. He is an Armash graduate, who was in Partsrahayats St. Asdvadzadzin (Mother of God) Monastery.
On August 3rd 1914 Diarbekir received the order for military mobilization. Next day, on August 4th the order was implemented and a declaration was issued about Turkey being at war. The Turkish government was gradually trying to carry out its plans of extermination. Along with military draft, the government immediately created a committee to collect ‘Military Aid’. Its purpose was to expropriate the possessions of the successful merchants and wealthy individuals in the various regions, under the guise of ‘Military Requirements.’
Indeed, in a few months Armenians were dispossessed of their wealth. As if this was not enough, Armenian artisans were taken away to work without any compensation. It was also deemed necessary to totally destroy the economy of the Armenians. To this end and with the concurrent decision of ‘Ittihad’, with directives from Commissar Memdouh Bey and his cooperation, the whole marketplace was set on fire during the night of August 19th 1914. After five hours the fiercely burning inferno had destroyed 1080 stores, 13 bakeries, 3 khans and 13 lumberyards. Many Armenians tried to stop the blaze with an extraordinary effort but it was useless. The authorities stirred up the fire further with barrels of petrol.
In his reports sent to the patriarchate of Constantinople during 1914, V. Rev. Fr. Megerditch described the harsh situation very clearly. Especially in a letter written in 1914 and numbered 27 he reported to the patriarchate and said:
Here, as well as in Slevan and Bsherig, the people have been pushed to a state where it is almost impossible to live. They are confiscating, under fierce threats, the sheep, the cracked wheat, ghee, wheat, flour, barley, the horses, the mules, the hides set aside for shoes, the sheets off the heads of the peasant women, etc. Those who have the means submit quietly, and those who don’t, have to buy and deliver, otherwise they are sent to the military court. Unfortunately, this is not all. For the past month, the Kurds have resumed their old craft, probably in order to replenish what they have lost, and to quench their thirst for revenge by victimizing the Armenians.
The diocesan vicar mentioned other cases of murder, looting and oppression, and added:
Our vicar in Bsherig reported the mentioned incidents and added: ‘The country is in chaos. The people are in a state of terror. People are afraid of a large scale massacre. The roads are full of thieves.’
Thus, in order to find a solution to this grave situation, Father Megerditch went to see the ruler several times, but the latter rebuked him and said: “This is not a road-side café. Do not come here all the time, bothering me.”
Indeed, on April 16th 1915 arraignments started all over Diarbekir, and more than 300 young men were arrested. The Turkish soldiers searched the houses one by one, allegedly looking for defecting soldiers. A few days later they demanded from the Armenian Patriarchate for all Armenians to relinquish their weapons.
The Executive Council, chaired by the diocesan vicar of Dikranagerd, V. Rev. Fr. Megerditch Tchelghadian, convened quickly, to study the prevailing grave situation and to decide on what position to adopt. The main item on the agenda was: ‘Whether to resort to self-defense or to believe in the promises made by the government and to give up the weapons and surrender.’
During those bloody and portentous days V. Rev. Fr. Megerditch advised the leaders in charge of the community to resort to self-defense and not to relinquish the weapons. Other members at the meeting supported him. But the V. Rev. Fr. Father could not persuade the majority. One of the opposing members in the meeting made the following ugly and inappropriate statement: “Hey! Reverend Father! We can always put you on a horse and send you back where you came from. We cannot act against the authorities. To show our faithfulness, we have to give up all the guns in the possession of the Armenians.”
The number of defectors kept increasing and the Turkish soldiers were unable to find them. The government instructed the patriarchate to give up the fugitives. Father Megerditch openly promised to comply, while he actually tried to save them.
Despite the opposition of the diocesan vicar and his efforts, the majority of the leaders of the community decided to hand over the defectors. At last, the governor promised the Reverend Father to give clemency to all of them, if they surrendered. Giving in to strong pressure from the leaders, the V. Reverend Father was compelled to recommend to the people gathered in St. Giragos Church to give up the defectors. So finally they were relinquished to their dark fate…
The leaders of the Armenian political parties were arrested on April 21st 1915. Then, on May 1st more prominent faces, leaders, intellectuals and individuals with active roles in the national life were arrested, and on May 7th all the weapons of the Armenians were confiscated for good.
It was the turn of the clergy. On May 27th the diocesan vicar of Dikranagerd, V. Rev. Fr. Megerditch Tchelghadian and nine priests, the Catholic prelate, Arch. Antreas Tchelebian, and three priests, and the minister of the Protestants, Hagop Andonian were all arrested.
The manner in which Rev. Fr. Megerditch was burned alive and martyred was unspeakable and unimaginable.
The Reverend Father was arrested and jailed in a dungeon. He was subjected to interrogation and all kinds of torture for forty days. The martyrdom of the unfortunate priest took place in the marketplace, in the underground cell of the old gathering site of the Tashnagtsoutiun (the Armenian Revolutionary Federation). The people living in the neighboring houses could hear the heart-wrenching screams of the priest and the other prisoners for days and nights. Moslem women complained about the unpleasant noise, and forcibly-proselytized Armenian women wept covertly in sympathy.
One evening, they took the V. Rev. Father from his prison cell and paraded him through the streets publicly insulting him. They smeared soot over him like a bear, hung bells from his neck, and put a bridle around his head. Then, they took him to the mosque, and accompanied by sheikhs and drumming dervishes they pulled out his teeth one by one, pierced his temples with red-hot rods, slashed his body with razors, and dug out his eyes. Then, they dripped gasoline on him and lit him up. They left him in a half-burned condition and went away.
Teotig described the martyrdom of the hapless priest in more detail, which I want to include at this point.
… They brought him out of the den and took him around the streets, like a monkey in chains. They played music and made him a target for the spitting and insults of the gathered crowds. A hoja approached him and provoked him saying: “Let your God save you now…” Then they led him back to the dungeon for more torture and his subsequent martyrdom. The final act of martyrdom took place at the hands of the chief of police, Resoul Khairi, who plucked his beard, tied him to a chair and pulled out his teeth with primitive tools. He pushed a red-hot iron rod into the priest’s temples, skinned his body with a razor and cut him to pieces, and did whatever else pleased his fanaticism.
It was time to have fun with the corpse. They poured gasoline over it and with the strike of a match the V. Rev. Father started burning in a blaze, as if to unite with the similar end of his loved ones while the smell of the cremation spread in the dungeon as a sacrificial offering.
That same day the body of the martyred priest was displayed to the people, with the pronouncement that he was found dead while he was trying to set the building of the jail on fire.
Rev. Fr. Hagop Papazian, assisted by the sexton of the church, unceremoniously buried the body of the hapless priest in the cemetery. Turkish doctors, who had pledged to defend justice and to tell the truth, did not hesitate to confirm in their official reports that Megerditch Vartabed had died of the plague.
In the book ‘Million Me Hayerou Charti Badmoutiune’ (The Story of The Massacre of a Million Armenians), the burning of V. Rev. Fr. Megerditch is told with additional details:
…On Friday, May 28th they arrested the diocesan vicar, Megerditch Tchelghadian, and put him in the attic of the central jail, in a room, with no communication with the outside world.
The next day, the prisoners were advised that they were to be exiled to Mosul. At dawn on Sunday May 30th 635 prisoners, including V. Rev. Fr. Tchelghadian, were taken from the jail. Accompanied by policemen and Cherkez armed guards, they were led to the Tigris River. There, they were loaded on 13 barges and sent away. But V. Rev. Fr. Tchelghadian was called back by a phone call. He was sent back from Mardin Kapou and was thrown back in jail.
During the night of May 30th they brought V. Rev. Fr. Tchelghadian out of jail and subjected him to insults. He was taken around in the streets accompanied by mullahs and hojas who encouraged Muslims to inflict all sorts of indignation, insults and abuse on the priest. At midnight they returned him to the courtyard of the mosque, and treating him like a bear, smeared soot on his face, hung bells around his neck and tied a noose around his head and mocked him.
Then they brought him back to the gubernatorial building, with the sheikhs constantly playing the drums.
First, they pulled out the teeth of the unfortunate priest one by one, pierced his temples with red hot iron rods, slashed his body with razors, poked out his eyes and started dripping gasoline on his beard and body. The fuel caught on fire and the poor priest started jumping around, while the drums were being struck and the sheikhs screamed: “Mourakhas effendi oyniyor.” (The prelate effendi is dancing.) Finally, they poured water to put out the fire, took the charred and almost-dead priest and threw him in one of the barns of the prison hospital, with two policemen guarding him. Later, they clobbered V. Rev. Fr. Tchelghadian with wooden clubs, and ended his life.
This was the life, administrative work and martyrdom of the unfortunate V. Rev. Fr. Megerditch, which raise feelings of sorrow and anger in every Armenian.
Not much has reached us from his literary work. He has written ‘Khorhertadzoutiun’ (Thoughts) on the 25th Anniversary of the Armash Seminary.