Ayntab, in late 1919 or early 1920. The girl orphans and staff of the Near East Relief orphanage (close up of the original photo below)

Ayntab - Missionaries

Ray Travis and his Armenian Legacy

Author: Vahé Tachjian, 15/01/2018 (Last modified: 15/01/2018) - Translation: Simon Beugekian

Travis. The photograph was most likely taken during Travis’ time in France during the years of World War I.

Introduction

To this day, countless documents that chronicle the lives of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, both in print and handwritten, await discovery in all four corners of the world. Many such documents are stored in family collections, while others are kept in prominent or obscure libraries and archives. Every time one of these valuable documents is “discovered” and made available to the public, new light is shed on another obscure aspect of Armenian life in the Ottoman Empire. Such discoveries generate great excitement, because each of them helps reconstruct an era in the history of a people – an era that ended with tragedy and bloodshed.

Such was the excitement when Houshamadyan recently acquired more than 50 old photographs from Ayntab, portraying the life of Armenians in the city in the final years of their presence there.

This collection of photographs belonged to an American missionary, Ray P. Travis, who was in Ayntab in the years 1919-1920. Travis’ personal papers, in their entirety, would later be housed at the Yates County History Center in New York State.

This rich collection of photographs is a window into a very short period of time in the life of Armenians in Ayntab, specifically the years after the end of World War I, when Ayntab and the surrounding cities and villages were occupied by the French and British armies. The Ottoman Empire had been defeated, and the Armenians of Ayntab who had been deported and who had survived the Genocide had begun to return to their native city, in the hope of starting a new life under the protection of the Allied armies.

This was also the time when the monumental task of finding Armenian orphans who had survived the Genocide, and of placing them in Armenian orphanages, was undertaken, particularly in parts of the Ottoman Empire that had been occupied by the Allied powers. These were orphans who had been kidnapped during the Genocide, or had wandered the land for years, left to their own devices and without any protection.

At the time, the City of Ayntab, like many other cities in the area, became an important shelter for Armenian orphans. In 1919, the Orphans’ Union (headquartered in Egypt) opened an orphanage in the city. In that same year, the orphanage of the Near East Relief (NER) was also founded. It was in this last establishment that Ray Travis, the owner of this collection, worked.

Armenian orphans, probably photographed in Ayntab in late 1919 or early 1920.

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1) Ayntab, in late 1919 or early 1920. The orphans and staff of the NER orphanage, photographed at the time when the orphanage was housed inside Millet Khan.

2) Ayntab, in late 1919 or early 1920. The staff of the NER orphanage photographed in Millet Khan. Ray Travis is standing, in the center, wearing a neckerchief.

Ayntab, in late 1919 or early 1920. The male orphans of the NER orphanage and members of the staff. Photograph taken in Millet Khan. Ray Travis is on the left, in the back row, wearing a hat.

Official documents and correspondence found among Travis' papers, dating from his time in Ayntab.

An official document found among Travis' papers, dating from his time in Ayntab.

The location of the photograph is unknown, but it could be Ayntab or Lebanon. The photograph shows silkworm cocoons used in the production of silk.

Official documents and correspondence found among Travis' papers, dating from his time in Ayntab.

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1) Ray P. Travis

2) Travis in his youth.

Travis in Ayntab

Ray Travis was born in New York State, probably in 1899. During World War I, he volunteered for service and was sent to France, where he achieved the rank of sergeant and served as a quartermaster. At the conclusion of the war, instead of returning to the United States, Travis received a discharge from the American forces and joined American missionary organizations, who had launched an unprecedented humanitarian campaign to help the droves of refugees and orphans who had been driven away from their homes by the war. The primary theater of this humanitarian campaign was the Middle East, where tens of thousands of Armenian survivors were in need of urgent help.

Travis most probably arrived in the Middle East in the autumn of 1919. We know that in July 1919 he was still in Paris, but his correspondence in the ensuing months indicates that he traveled on to the Middle East shortly thereafter. He was in Beirut for some time, and then proceeded to Aleppo. In November of that year he was already in Ayntab, where he assumed the post of director of the NER orphanage.

This was a difficult job. Hundreds of orphans had to be provided with shelter, nourishment, and clothing. It was an undertaking that required enormous effort in post-war Ayntab. At first, the orphans were housed at Millet Khan (Inn), located in the Turkish neighborhood of the city. Some of the photographs in Travis’ collection were taken here, and show male and female orphans gathered in the courtyard of the inn. Not all of the orphans hailed from Ayntab. Many had been found in nearby villages and cities, but were sent to hubs in the region (Ayntab among them) where orphanages had been established. For example, we know that in December 1919 15 orphans were sent from Kilis to the NER orphanage in Ayntab [1].

The orphans of the NER did not remain in Ayntab for long. In early 1920, Turkish nationalist forces attacked Cilicia and the occupying French forces stationed in the east of it. Upon hearing of these battles, the local Turkish population also declared rebellion and increased the pressure on the French forces. In the period stretching from January to May of that year, the nationalist Turkish forces were able to lay siege to a host of cities, including Marash, Bozanti, Hadjin, Sis, Ekbes, Urfa, and Ayntab. In some places, particularly in Marash, the clashes were accompanied, from the very beginning, with massacres of Armenian civilians. The fighting that erupted in Marash in January resulted in the death of several thousand Armenians.

Heavy clashes began in Ayntab on April 1, 1920. Most of the French forces had already left the city. Under attack from the Turks, the local Armenian population organized self-defense forces, leading to the battle for the defense of Ayntab, which lasted until April 17, 1920, when two French squads re-entered the city. This brought about a short-lived ceasefire, after which, in late June 1920, clashes resumed between the Turks and the French. The participation of the French in these battles was bound to be inconsistent, given that the level of their presence in Ayntab was ever-changing. The fighting continued until February 9, 1921, when the Turkish forces in Ayntab surrendered to the French. Normal life resumed in the city until the permanent withdrawal of French forces in mid-1921, which was accompanied by a mass exodus of the city’s Armenian population.

Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. Women photographed while winnowing wheat.

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1) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. The process of making bulgur. Women are washing the wheat and cleaning it of chaff.

2) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. Women photographed while winnowing wheat.

Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. The city’s historic fort is visible in the background.

An official document found among Travis' papers, dating from his time in Ayntab.

Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. Women washing wheat.

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1) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920.

2), 3) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. A dervish awes the crowds with his swords.

Ayntab, circa 1919-1920.

Ayntab, circa 1919-1920.

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1) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920.

2) A wheeled component of the irrigation system for the orchards of Ayntab, powered by harnessed oxen.

The Departure of the Orphans from Ayntab

Travi’s personal papers include correspondence addressed to him from local Armenian organizations; the Cairo headquarters of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU); the French military authorities in Ayntab; and Sabri, Governor of Ayntab. Most of these letters pertain to issues related to the orphanage, to the procurement of supplies for the city’s Armenian population (especially during the city’s siege), to the gathering of orphans, and later to the departure of the orphans from Ayntab.

One of the most important items in Travis’ personal collection is the diary he kept during the siege and defense of the city. The entries stretch from April 1, 1920, to May 30. The entries covering the period April 1 to April 19 consist of seven typewritten pages. The rest of the diary is handwritten, and consists of an additional 26 pages. The entries contain descriptions of military operations, the shelling of Armenian neighborhoods by Turkish forces, deaths, the general state of the orphanage, and the efforts to supply the orphans with food and clothing. In his writings, Travis praised Adour Levonian, the military commander of the Armenian self-defense of Ayntab.

Did Travis personally participate in these battles? His papers make no mention of this. But later, some of the graduates of the orphanage reported that he constantly fired on the Turkish positions from the orphanage building with his machine gun [2].

We also know that when the clashes began, Travis moved the orphans from Millet Khan and moved them to a building called “Ali Bey”, after which the orphans were moved to the courtyard of the hospital of the American mission. This was salvation for the orphans, as Millet Khan was in the Turkish neighborhood of the city, while the American hospital was in the Armenian neighborhood. But the hospital had its disadvantages, too, as it was located on high terrain and was often the target of Turkish forces. The orphans once again had to be moved, this time to an underground cave located in one corner of the courtyard of the Haladjian orphanage. The orphans stayed there for more than two months, until the signing of a short-lived ceasefire between the French and Turkish forces (May 29, 1920) [3].

The bulk of the French forces left Ayntab on June 2, during the 20-day ceasefire that had been agreed. The retreating French columns were joined by approximately 800 orphans, including the orphans of the NER orphanage. Travis accompanied his orphans on this journey, which led them first to Kilis, then to Aleppo, and finally to Beirut.

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1) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. Women photographed while winnowing wheat.

2) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. An important step in the preparation of bulgur. The cleaned wheat is poured into large barrels and boiled in water. Once the water is brought to a boil, the contents of the barrels are stirred using the large ladle visible in the photograph, resulting in the wheat floating to the surface. This indicates that the wheat is fully boiled. The wheat is then laid out on the ground, and dried out. After this, the process of grinding the wheat in the bedstone can begin.

3) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. One of the stages in the preparation of bulgur. The wheat, probably boiled, has already been ground using a meteorite millstone in the bedstone, which can be seen in the left of the photograph. Three women are laying out the ground wheat on a blanket, to dry it out in the sun and rid it of all moisture.

Ayntab, 1919-1920. The city market, with wheat for sale piled on the ground.

Ayntab, 1919-1920. The city market, with wheat for sale piled on the ground.

A rural Armenian home near Marash, most probably in mid-1920. The home is partially in ruins as a result of the armed clashes. However, the home’s residents have returned, have hung up laundry to dry, and are drying fruit on the roof.

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1) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. The process of making bulgur. Women are washing the wheat and cleaning it of chaff.

2) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. An important step in the preparation of bulgur. The cleaned wheat is poured into large barrels and boiled in water. Once the water is brought to a boil, the contents of the barrels are stirred using the large ladle visible in the photograph, resulting in the wheat floating to the surface. This indicates that the wheat is fully boiled. The wheat is then laid out on the ground, and dried out. After this, the process of grinding the wheat in the bedstone can begin.

3) Ayntab, circa 1919-1920. The bedstone, alongside the meteorite on top of it. This is where the process of grinding the wheat would begin. The wheat would be placed on the bedstone, some water would be added, and then an ox or a mule would be harnessed to the mill and turn the meteorite. This pressure of this heavy stone would separate the wheat from the husk.

Ayntab, circa 1919-1920.

The Jbeil Orphanage and Travis’ Legacy

It was in late June when the orphans of the Ayntab NER orphanage reached Beirut from Aleppo. First, they settled down in the neighborhood of “Karantina” (Quarantine), near the port of Beirut. The orphans were housed in tents in a large campsite, and Travis was appointed director of the campsite [4].
 
The NER aimed to house all orphans arriving in Lebanon in stone-built orphanages. Travis searched for an appropriate site, and eventually settled on a building in Jbeil/Byblos. The building was a defunct silk factory, and was partially in ruins. The orphans were moved to this location in September 1920. Most of Travis’ papers focus on the period of time from 1920 to 1925 when he served as the director of the Jbeil NER orphanage.
 
The post-war and post-Genocide years were a watershed for the process of the rebuilding of Armenian identity in the newly created Armenian Diaspora, especially in the Middle East. Those who led this movement were convinced that the rupture between the Armenian nation and the Ottoman-Turkish world was final and permanent. The “New Armenian” had to be fluent in the Armenian language, had to be well-versed in Armenian culture, and had to form an Armenian family, thus participating in the effort to revive the Armenian nation after the Genocide. This movement, guided by a nationalist ideology, was an attempt to transform the memory and trauma of the Genocide, as well as the fervent hatred of the Turks among Armenians, into the cement that would hold together the nascent Armenian nation rising from its ashes. These two elements of the post-Genocide Armenian psychology became the main thrusts of national and ideological indoctrination within the Armenian orphanages of Syria and Cilicia, and later in Lebanon, Egypt, and Greece.
 
The Armenian orphanages were mostly supervised by NER, the American missionary organization, which focused on providing religious/Protestant instruction to the orphans. Conflict often arose between the tenets of missionary instruction and the then-dominant philosophy of Armenian nationalism. During his tenure as the director of the Jbeil orphanage, Ray Travis sought to distance his institution from such conflicts. Many of the Armenian teachers he invited to teach in the orphanage were champions of Armenian national revival. Many prominent Armenians were invited to speak to the orphans of Jbeil, including Catholicos Sahak II, Yervant Odian, Vahan Tekeyan, Nigol Aghpalian, Yervant Khatanasian, Khosrov Tutunjian, and many others. The institution boasted a rich library of Armenian books, as well as athletic and literary clubs, a theater troupe, and a marching band. The orphans also published their own official newspaper.

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1) Ayntab. November 1919. The entry of Armenian Legion into the city.

2) Ayntab. November 3, 1919. A military parade was held on this date, during which the British forces officially ceded control of the city to the French forces.

Ayntab. November 1919. The entry of Armenian Legion into the city.

Ayntab. November 3, 1919. A military parade was held on this date, during which the British forces officially ceded control of the city to the French forces.

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1) Ayntab, November 3, 1919. In the front row, commander of British forces in Ayntab Brigadier Weir shakes hands with Lieutenant Colonel Flye Sainte-Marie, commander of French forces in Ayntab.

2) Ayntab. The photograph was probably taken on November 3, 1919, during the military parade. British and French military officials are visible, as well as representatives from the Ottoman authorities. Seated, from left to right: an unidentified British soldier; Lieutenant Colonel Flye Sainte-Marie, commander of the French forces in Ayntab; Brigadier Weir, commander of British forces in Ayntab; Djelal bey, governor (mutasarif) of Ayntab; and an unidentified French soldier.

Ayntab. November 3, 1919. A military parade was held on this date, during which the British forces officially ceded control of the city to the French forces.

Ayntab. November 3, 1919. The military parade marking the departure of British forces from Ayntab and the handover of authority to the French forces. The parade was attended by high-ranking military officials, city officials, and other prominent personalities. From left to right: unidentified NER official; Sheikh Mustafa, member of the Dervish order of Ayntab; an unidentified French officer; Djelal bey, governor (mutasarif) of Ayntab; Sabri Bay, deputy governor of Ayntab; Dr. Mabel Elliott; Miss Morgan, the NER representative in Marash; Lieutenant Colonel Flye Sainte-Marie, commander of French forces in Ayntab; Brigadier Weir, commander of British forces in Ayntab; and Louise Clark, NER representative.

Ayntab. November 3, 1919. A military parade was held on this date, during which the British forces officially ceded control of the city to the French forces.

All of this explains why among all the many Armenian orphanages that functioned across Lebanon, the one led by Travis left the most indelible mark on Armenian society in Lebanon, as well as throughout the Armenian Diaspora. Hundreds of Armenians graduated from Travis’ orphanage, and later on, many of them, as intellectuals or activists, greatly contributed to the education of future Armenian generations, continuing the work that had begun with them.

In those years, the leadership of NER’s Lebanese chapter was unable to accept Travis’ tolerance towards the prevailing ideological currents among Armenians. Teachers were even expelled from the Jbeil orphanage. This last measure led to a mutiny among the orphans, and the publication in Armenian media of articles protesting NER’s actions. This was followed by NER’s decision, in 1925, to permanently close the orphanage of Jbeil. Throughout the ordeal, Travis defended the teachers who had been expelled and the orphans who had rebelled. As a result, Travis was blackballed from holding any future positions within the NER’s network in Lebanon or elsewhere.

In 1925, Travis returned to the United States. For a while, he stayed in Boston, then he accepted a position with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and worked in Texas, Arizona, Syracuse, and finally in Buffalo. He died in 1965, and was buried in Penn Yan (Yates County, New York State). Travis never married, and fathered no children.

Ray Travis’ name is near and dear to the hearts of the orphans who graduated from the Jbeil orphanage. In later years, many of these orphans mentioned their old director and their impressions of him in their memoirs. If we accept the proposition that many of the children who came out of the post-Genocide orphanages (especially the Jbeil Orphanage) played a crucial role in the reawakening of Armenian identity among Armenians in Lebanon and the wider Diaspora, then we must also assert that Travis himself was crucial in this process of national revival.

Jbeil/Byblos, in the 1920s. The NER Armenian orphanage.

This photograph is from the 1920s, but the location is unknown. It could have been taken in Ayntab, Lebanon, or Syria.

The port of Beirut, probably in December 1924. Arrival in Lebanon of 200 orphans who had previously been housed in Kayseri (Turkey). The first leg of their journey was from Kayseri to Mersin. Ray Travis then traveled to the port of Mersin and joined the orphans there, then accompanied them on the rest of their journey, by ship, to Beirut. The male orphans were housed in the Jbeil/Byblos orphanage.

Aleppo, in the 1920s. The American College of Aleppo (Aleppo College). This institution of education was the successor of the American missionaries’ college in Ayntab. After the settlement of a large number of Armenians from Ayntab in Aleppo the American missionary organization established this new institution in this Syrian city.

  • [1] Ray Travis’ Papers, Yates County Historical Center, Letter to Travis (in Ayntab) from a Representative of the AGBU, Number 224, December 5, 1919, Aleppo.
  • [2] Houshamadyan Jbeili Amerigian Vorpanotsi, 1920-1925 [Scrapbook of the American Orphanage of Jbeil, 1920-1925], assembled by the alumni of the orphanage, Hamazkayin, Beirut, 1969, pages 130 and 139; See also: Karnig Panian, Goodbye, Antoura: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, translated by Simon Beugekian, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 2015
  • [3] Ibid., pages 130 and 138.
  • [4] Ray Travis’ Papers, Yates County Historical Center, Letter to Travis from Father Paul Aris (member of the Armenian National Union of Beirut), June 25, 1920, Beirut.