Thursday 29 September 2016

Syrian Immigrant James Habjian

"I saw men lined up against the wall and shot point blank." (James Habjian) 

Armenian civilians escorted by Ottoman soldiers to prison circa April 1915 courtesy

James Habjian was born in New York City.  At the age of 3, his parents decided to move to Bulgaria where his dad would make Oriental rugs.  His grandparents, on the other hand, chose to remain in the United States.  After three years of rug making his father tired of the business, and decided to return to America.  However, first he wanted to visit his sister in Turkey.  

Shortly after the family arrived in 1915, the Armenian Massacre occurred.  Turkish policemen came to their door and insisted that everyone get out.  They took James father with them.  James mother dressed him up as little girl so that they wouldn't take him, too.  James saw men lined up against the wall and shot point blank.  He saw women raped before his very eyes, too young to comprehend what was happening.  

James father was killed by the Turkish police.  James found out later that he had saved the lives of 30 Armenians.  His mother met a doctor and remarried.  The family travelled to Beirut where they stayed in an Armenian refugee camp for four months, waiting to secure visas.  From there, they travelled to Le Havre France where they boarded the S. S. Niagara.  

The ship arrived shortly before Christmas and anchored off of Brooklyn.  They took a small boat to Ellis Island.  "I remember they had a big Christmas tree there in the big building.  I didn't know what Christmas was.  I didn't know what a Christmas tree was.  They had a gathering, a lot of people and they sang Christmas songs."

When James told the immigration inspector that he was American, the inspector replied:  "You're crazy.  Get out of here!"  James grandfather, relieved to see his grandson, wrapped his arms around him.  James settled with his parents in a five story apartment building in New York City.  

Little immigrants in front of the Ellis Island Christmas tree circa 1920 courtesy

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