The people assembled in Hussenig cemetery (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)

Harput - Festivals

Author: V.Tachjian, 02/05/2012 (Last modified 04/05/2012)- Translator: Ara Melkonian

The Ottoman Armenian calendar of festivals is generally the same. Geographical distances or local characteristics have not had any great influence on it in this sense. Nevertheless differences are noticeable in the order of festivals, their popularity and the way they are celebrated. Some of them are trivial differences that, at the same time, are proof of the heterogeneous nature of the Ottoman Armenians’ land. Such details are the means of better understanding the local environment and the existing historic, political and cultural factors there.

The town of Kharpert/Harput (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)
The town of Kharpert/Harput (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

In the case of the plain of Harput, such differences also exist. It is interesting that, for example, according to some sources, local Muslims - Kurds and Turks - are present with the Armenians in the same place during certain Christian festivals. They celebrate collectively and join in the day’s, or several days’, games and amusements. It is also just as interesting to note that among the Armenians, amid the local holy places and pilgrimage sites an important place is held for Assyrian saints, who are very probably the remnants of the large Assyrian presence that existed in these same areas in the past and the religious and cultural influences they have left.

An Armenian family, Harput town, ca 1915

An Armenian family, Harput town, ca 1915. The five children in the first row, from left to right: Garabed Margosian (Aghavni's son); Unknown child (on lap); Manduhi Gosdanian (later Chechian; the name Chechian was changed to Engin); Sarkis' son (name unknown); Unknown child. Seated, left to right: Garabed ("Asdergak") Keldjikian; Tourundj Atamian Keldjikian; Yeghnar Atamian Gosdanian. (Touroundj and Yeghnar are sisters). Standing in back row, left to right: Aghavni Keldjikian Margosian (later Balian, Garabed's mother); 2-5 Keldjikian daughters or Keldjikian daughters-in-law or Keldjikian sons or Keldjikian sons-in-law. One of the women is Sarkis wife. She is probably standing next to Sarkis; 6th, Sarkis (Yeghnar's adopted son) (Source: Isabel Calusdian Goshgarian collection)

New Year

The New Year corresponds with the third day of the Christmas fasting period. The evening’s table has to be as rich as possible with food specifically cooked for the fast, with fruit, oghi (raki) and wine, so the women of the house begin making dishes from December 30th for the New Year table. They specially make sweet dishes, such as kata (cake), pogegh [1] and anushabur (sweet soup).

A general view of Khulakiugh (Hulvenk, Şahinkaya). The church of St Kevork can be seen in the centre

A general view of Khulakiugh (Hulvenk, Şahinkaya). The church of St Kevork can be seen in the centre (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)

December 31st is the day on which gifts are given. Friends and relations exchange presents: newly married women things they have worked by hand (caps, purses, handkerchieves etc), while newly married men give fruit (pears, pomegranates, apples), mirrors, Persian scarves, womens’ headdresses from Agn, gold jewellery, socks, shoes and other things to their close friends. Young people ‘hang things from belts’ (kodegakh); in other words they lower cords from the roofs of houses, each with a bag tied to the end. The ladies of the house fill them with sweets, fruit, roasted watermelon or sugar melon seeds etc. This custom of ‘hanging things from belts’ is also to be found in Tadım/Tadem village. In Pazmashen (Bizmişin/Sarıçubuk) the same thing happens on Christmas Eve, while in Komk (Yenikapı) it takes place on the morning after New Year. Every guest in a home must also remember to ‘New Year’ (gaghendel) – in other words to give sweets to the children. The little ones, when they wake on New Years first morning, find the stockings and the pockets of the aprons they have hung from a beam in the wall, as well as on the tables next to their beds, filled by Santa Claus with raisins, walnuts, dried figs, almonds, apricot sheets and strings of walnuts covered in syrup and dried (rodjig in Armenian, cevizli sucuk in Turkish). In the town of Harput, the young people, on the night before New Year, make preparations to ‘hang’ their father. Thus, when the father returns in the evening, the older children catch him, tie a thick string around his waist and try to hang him from the ceiling. The father’s ‘torture’ ends only when he agrees to distribute the sweets he has brought home with him to those in the house. [2]

The Holy Mother of God church, Pazmashen (Bizmişin, Sarıçubuk) (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)
The Holy Mother of God church, Pazmashen (Bizmişin, Sarıçubuk) (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)

For the grown-ups, the feast begins on the evening before New Year’s day, and in the villages at midnight (for example in Pazmashen, Tadım and Parchandj) it is the custom to go to the fountains, fill pitchers filled with New Year water, and bring it home. All the village’s young people go into the streets and, singing, make their way to the village fountains. Some, despite the cold, even bathe in the fountain basins because, according to local tradition, the water on that day has magical properties and can cure the individual from various physical pains. This is also considered to be a ceremonial way of asking for good wishes for the New Year from the spirits of the fountains. So the villagers, especially the girls, sprinkle grains of wheat, barley, chickpeas, cheese made from the first milk provided by a cow or sheep that has just given birth (in local dialect kher), cotton seeds and peas on the fountain’s source itself and in its basin, as well as around it, and place horseshoes there too. Various villages also have repetitious sayings which they direct at the fountains:

A fountain in Trabzon. A gravure picture by Karl Girardet, 1858
A fountain in Trabzon. A gravure picture by Karl Girardet, 1858

Let’s give you wheat and barley,
Give us a thousand good [things],
Welcome to the New Year. [3]

or:

Fountain, fountain, here is bread, keep our door open.
Here is a horseshoe, give me wealth,
Fountain here is cheese (kher), give us love.
Here are seeds, enter our house with your richness.
Fountain of milk, I bring you orobe so the cow’s milk sweetens.
Good luck to your source, your lovely smooth flow, sweet water; 
give me my dream, give me a handsome young man.
Good luck to your source, your lovely smooth flow, sweet water;
give me my dream, give me the one my heart loves.

Those who have a temperature or shiver are submerged in the fountain three times, with these words said each time: ‘Here’s my money, take my shivers.’ Other ill people are lifted into the tree by the fountain that is usually a mulberry. Dressed in only a shirt and drawers, the person put into it has to grab a branch and say:

‘I shake the mulberry,
who will eat it [the fruit]?’

Those below reply,
‘Are there mulberries in this freezing time?’

or,
‘Hey, stupid, are there mulberries during winter time?’


The sick person then says, ‘Why do I shiver when there are no mulberries?’ (or, ‘I shake the mulberry, to shake off the shivering’) and shakes the branch three times. He then descends from the tree, convinced that the shivering will cease.

It is also the custom for the villagers to bring pelit (ring-shaped breads) with them to the fountains on this evening. First they dip them into the water, then take them home and feed them to the animals in the barn and stable, with the hope that they will be fruitful.

Another custom in the villages is that women who are in their first year of marriage are permitted go, on the first New Year after the wedding, to their parents’ houses. Thus they too, carrying their red water pitchers, go to the fountains on that same night and, filling them with water, take them to their parents. The newly-married women wear, for this occasion, the finest clothes. [4]

The celebrations are repeated on New Year’s morning. The tables are set with many kinds of sweets as well as plentiful wine. Both old and young make mutual visits, to wish everyone a happy New Year. [5] In the villages of Habusi (İkizdemir) and Pazmashen, however, further festivities take place, including buffalo fighting, horse racing and wrestling. [6]

General view of the town of Harput/Kharpert (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)
General view of the town of Harput/Kharpert (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

The celebration (Paregentan) before the Christmas fasting period

This particular celebration takes place before the beginning of the Christmas fast, and lasts for a whole week. During this time many different kinds of dishes made with meat and oil are prepared that are strictly forbidden from 29 December on, during the whole of the Christmas fast. The house is cleaned and tidied and the Thursday of the celebration is reserved for receiving guests. Special importance is given, among the guests, to the godfather’s visit. In the case of Tadım village, we know that the godfather will be the most respected personality of that day’s dinner and celebrations. As for the fast, it lasts for eight days, includes New Year’s Day and ends on the day before Christmas day. [7]

Christmas ‘Lighting of the Lamps’

It is the evening before Christmas day, and the seventh day of the fast. In his book, Boghosian describes the Lighting of the Lamps evening in Pazmashen in 1876, when the church bell rings and the whole village hurries to be present at the church service. Schoolchildren, standing next to the officiating priest, read from the Bible. It is also the custom to auction the reading of the passage in the book of Daniel, with the being given to the person providing the greatest gift to the church. [8]

The church of St Kevork in Khulakiugh (Hulvenk, Şahinkaya)
The church of St Kevork in Khulakiugh (Hulvenk, Şahinkaya) (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)

Gharib Shahbazian also writes about this custom taking place in his village of Tadım. He too presents, in glowing colours, the Lighting of the Lamps evening, when the whole village is assembled to hear the evening service, with the church being lit up with flickering candles everywhere. The women are grouped together in the upper gallery and its lower part, while the men stand in the area between them and the altar. All of them are wearing their best clothes, and it is firm custom that men must not wear shoes in the church. The day’s Holy Communion is reserved for young people and the elderly who have observed the fast. The Lighting of the Lamps is a long ceremony which is completed very late in the evening.

This festival is, at the same time khetum – the time when the fast is ended. But just like the end of the Easter fast, in this case too those observing it don’t eat meat itself, but rather its products – milk, fat etc. This is given the title of ‘inauguration’ (navagadik). In the plain of Harput it is the custom, for example on the breaking of the fast on Christmas Eve, to eat purslane soup. At the same time the church choir go from house to house and, singing ‘News’ (Avedis), proclaiming the birth of Christ. They receive cracked wheat, pieces of roasted lamb (khavurma), wine, eggs, bread, syrup etc as their reward. [9]

Christmas

The ceremony of submerging, then removing the cross from water takes place on Christmas Day

The ceremony of submerging, then removing the cross from water takes place on Christmas Day (Drawing by Juliette Inigo, Houshamadyan)


On the day after the Lighting of the Lamps, January 6th, the church bell rings out early; the people once more hurry there to celebrate the birth of Christ. It is on this day that the traditional ceremony of putting a cross into water and then removing it (symbolic of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist) takes place. In this case too, the greatest gift donor is selected. The cross is put into a large vessel filled with water and the priest asks, ‘Who will be the godfather to the Cross?’ and the auction begins. Someone offers 10 kurush, another 1 oka (1.28kg or 3lb) of thread, still another 1 oka of candles or a litre (1.5 pints) of olive oil. In the end the priest makes his choice and they attire the godfather in a cassock. The godfather then ceremoniously removes the cross from the water, which is kissed by all those present. [10]


Hardly has the church service ended when the schoolchildren, accompanied by their teacher, begin to visit houses to sing ‘News’ (Avedis). The teacher is thus able to obtain a few coins from each house as a gift. This same ‘News’ singing is a profitable activity for young people, who, with a bag on the end of a long string, ascend the roofs and, lowering the bag through a skylight, begin to sing ‘News’. The ladies of the houses fill the bag with eggs, oil, and khavurma. The small children take these things home, cook them and eat them. [11]

Christmas is also the name-day of men christened Donabed. All the tables in houses where a Donabed lives are well supplied and celebrations and hospitality take place. [12]

Copper items used in the home (Source: Henry J. Van-Lennep, Bible lands. Their modern customs and manners, part II, London, 1875)

The Vartan saints (Vartanants)

From 1908 onwards this festival has gained in significance. Previously the Vartan saints feast was only celebrated in churches. After the proclamation of the Constitution, however, this festival has begun to be celebrated in public gatherings too. [13]

Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Meled, Melemed)

This takes place in February. The ceremony of lighting fires on the roofs of the Armenian houses in Harput, Hussenig and Mezire takes place in the evening. Large piles of branches burn for two to three hours and the young men and girls dance circle dances around them; some jump over them. [14]

In villages in the plain meled is similarly celebrated with great ceremony. First solemn Mass is celebrated in church. Then the villagers, with lighted candles, go to their quarters in the villages to light the bonfires. Specific places in each quarter are appointed where the fires are lit in the evening. In some villages the fires are only lit in the church courtyards. This is what happens in Parchandj (Perchendj/Akçakiraz), where the person who lights the huge pile of branches is the one who donates the greatest gift to the church. After the ceremonial lighting of the bonfire, the people, carrying lighted candles, return to their homes, where the celebrations are carried on, this time on the roofs of the houses. Every family lights small bonfires on the roofs and singing and dancing continue. Juniper is often used as fuel for the fires. [15]

Young people, on meled day, join in the task of collecting firewood with great enthusiasm. The ash left from the fires may also have a magic role; the villagers sprinkle it on their roofs so that snakes and scorpions stay away from their houses. They also sprinkle it in the stable, henhouse and barn, as well as on the fields and vineyards, convinced that meled may bring fruitfulness and richness to them. In Tadım village, Gharib Shahbazian notes, the meled tradition has to be followed with the greatest punctiliousness by men who have married during the year. They have to bring plenty of firewood and pile it up in the church courtyard. Those who don’t do so may be chastised by having their young wives stolen from them by the evil spirit Shevod. [16]

The Gosdanian family from the town of Harput/Kharpert.

The Gosdanian family from the town of Harput/Kharpert. Left to right: Aghavni Gosdanian (daughter), Yeghnar ‘Ana’ Gosdanian (née Atamian, mother), Dikran Gosdanian (son), Krikor Gosdanian (father), Hovhannes Gosdanian (uncle – Krikor’s brother), Hovhannes’ wife (name unknown), Azniv Gosdanian (Hovhannes’ daughter) (Source: Isabel Calusdian Goshgarian collection)

St Sarkis

This saint’s day is celebrated with great honour especially in the village of Parchandj. According to tradition, St Sarkis, during his flight from Greece to Persia, camped near Parchandj at a place called Vartkegh where there was a fountain, which later became known by his name. Popular legend has it that the martyred St Sarkis rides through each Christian home on his white horse every year on the night of his festival. It is mainly the housewives who fast for three days, as well as putting, near the oven, a dish containing either dough or flour, with the hope that on the night he rides through the house, his horse will leave the print of his shoe in it. This means that the house will enjoy a prosperous year. [17]

In Hussenig, a natural rock bridge located on the highest peak of the mountain chain to the north of this small town is named St Sarkis. It has the property of being able to cure crippled children. On St Sarkis’ day mothers, taking their children with them, ascend the mountain and light candles on that bridge, kiss the indentations that are considered to be marks of the saint’s horse’s hooves, put metaliks (a form of coin) in the crevices of the rocks, then return to their homes. [18]

The town of Kharpert/Harput. Life in the street

The town of Kharpert/Harput. Life in the street (Source: Victor Pietschmann, Durch kurdische Berge und armenische Städte, Wien, 1940)

Pun Paregentan, pargendank

This is the time of celebration before Lent that lasts a complete week. In the villages those days are characterised by much eating and drinking, parties and joy, with drums and pipes, singing and dancing. The schools are shut, and the villagers have generally stopped work. During that week various games take place, such as wrestling (güreş), the staging of Arab-style weddings, shield games and buffalo fights. Buffaloes enjoy the village’s care for the whole year and it is only at Paregentan and at Easter that they are brought out and, in front of the whole village, two are set to fight each other. The most solemn and popular buffalo fights take place in Sursur village.

Carnival amusements – the camel game, or 'deve oyunu' (Drawing by Juliette Inigo, Houshamadyan)

Carnival amusements – the camel game, or 'deve oyunu' (Drawing by Juliette Inigo, Houshamadyan)

The ‘camel game’ (deve oyunu) is also one of the amusements that takes place during this festival. Two strong men have, fixed to their shoulders, a representation of a camel made of cloth and stuffed with pieces of cloth, on whose back rides the camel driver, dressed in rags and with a dirty, blackened face. The camel is walked through the village streets, led by drums and pipes, while the camel driver, with his jokes, makes everyone in the village even more enthusiastic.

It is interesting to note that in the villages with a mixed population of Kurds and Armenians, the Kurds too take part in these Paregentan celebrations. This is what happens, for example, in Dzovk (Gölcük) village, where every year, on this day, the local Kurds and those from the surrounding villages join in the day’s dancing, singing and amusements.

A scene from Dzovk (Gölcük) village and its lake of the same name
A scene from Dzovk (Gölcük) village and its lake of the same name (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)

Just as during the New Year festival at Christmas time, the one at Easter also gives greatest importance, among all the visitors to the house, to the godfather, who is received with honour in his godsons’ and goddaughters’ homes. The last day of this week of happiness and joy is Sunday, which is called the Pun Paregentan. The celebrations that take place in the town of Harput and the villages of Mezire and Hussenig are mainly reserved for the Sunday. The people in Hussenig gather on the large, flat roofs of certain houses, where various games, singing and dancing take place. Some people wear fancy-dress; for example one might be dressed as a gypsy, while others, dressed to resemble bears, begin to dance to the rhythms of drums and pipes. The ‘camel game’ also takes place in Hussenig, in this instance in a slightly different form. On the roof, a tall and strong man has a saddle placed on his shoulders and a small girl, dressed like an Arab, is seated on it. While the ‘camel’ has to dance to the music, the little girl has to spin yarn with a spindle. The staging of a Kurdish wedding is also part of the fun of the day. It should be noted too that rib of meat (khaburgha) and oily pilav are the traditional foods prepared for the Pun Paregentan evening meal. [19]

Lent

Generally speaking, everyone over the age of five years old must respect the fast. In other words the eating of every animal product (meat, fat, eggs, milk, yogurt etc) ceases for the whole 40 days of Lent. In the villages in the plain of Harput it is as if people are in mourning; songs and music, joy and parties are all extinguished and the long weeks of repentance and prayer begin. Church services take place three or four times a day in the villages. [20]

Lent begins on a Monday, in other words immediately after the Pun Paregentan. The first day is called Mgndon or Mdank don (we have begun the festival), during which, early in the morning, the young wives and girls clean and wash all the utensils, trays and pans left over from the Pun Paregentan and even the oven, removing any trace or smell of meat or fat. [21] In Pardjandj this work has to be completed before Monday begins. [22] Some people, especially the elderly, keep Miajum, in other words they only eat once a day. This is followed either for the whole of Lent or only for the initial and final weeks. [23] Shahbazian notes the menu for Lent traditionally followed in his village, Tadım:

The Uluhodjian family of Tadem/Tadım in 1910

The Uluhodjian family of Tadem/Tadım in 1910. Centre, seated, wearing a hat, is Misak Uluhodjian (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)

Monday breakfast: soup made with fine cracked wheat (bulgur), with sesame oil (shirig) added on top. Lunch: tatkhan (or tatkhon) or boiled garlic. Tatkhan is a stew made of milled and beaten chickpeas, salt, chopped red pepper, black pepper powder and mint, into which bread is dipped and eaten. The evening meal: mixed soup (tiurliu) to which the dried rinds of sugar melon, a kind of cucumber called guta and marrow are added.

Tuesday breakfast: herishde, spiced with milled black chickpeas and sesame oil. Lunch and evening meal: khoru with marrow.

Wednesday breakfast: lentil soup. Lunch and evening meal: dried wheat, yogurt and water patties (tarkhana).

Thursday breakfast: pilav with sesame oil. Lunch and evening meal: beans.

Friday breakfast: finely milled lentils and bulghur. Lunch and evening meal: markhota soup.

Saturday breakfast: cracked wheat soup with sesame oil. Lunch: bread spread with syrup and sesame paste. Evening meal: purslane soup.

Sunday breakfast: pilav with sesame oil. Lunch and evening meal: lenten patties.

All of these meals are accompanied by many kinds of pickles, for which the plain of Harput is famous: for example red peppers, tomatoes, aubergines, and celery. [24]

The fourth Wednesday in Lent is Mid-Lent Day, which is about them middle of the seven- week fast period. Every home makes patties with Mid-Lent Day filling that is also the midday meal.

It is during these 40 days of fasting too, that a large onion with seven rooster feathers stuck into it is hung from the centre of the ceiling (according to Vahé Haig it is hung in the larder). Every time a Saturday rolls by, a feather is pulled out of it. [25]

The onion with its seven feathers that is hung from the ceiling during the weeks of Lent

The onion with its seven feathers that is hung from the ceiling during the weeks of Lent (Drawing by Juan Manuel Moreno, Houshamadyan)

Palm Sunday (Zartazar)

This is the last Sunday of Lent. It is also given, in the plain of Harput, the name Zartazar. This is the day when Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is celebrated; it is the happy time when the coming of spring is welcomed, when vegetation has already turned green. In the town of Harput people make whistles out of willow branches, on the day the streets and houses are full of the sound of whistling and loud happiness. The faithful return from church to their homes with green leaves. [26]

In Tadım, from early morning on Palm Sunday, the church altar is decorated with flowering branches of almond, apricot, morello cherry and peach trees brought from the vineyards and gardens, all surrounded by lighted candles. In the evening the people once more congregate in the church, when the ‘Opening of the Doors’ ceremony takes place. The priest strikes a tray placed in front of him with a hammer three times and, in a trembling voice, sings, ‘Open to us, Lord, the doors of charity’. At the same time the people begin to weep and beat their breasts. [27]

On Palm Sunday the church is decorated with flowering almond, apricot, morello cherry and plum branches (Drawing by Houshamadyan)

Maundy Thursday

The church bells begin to sound at midday in the villages of the plain of Harput and everyone stops work. All go to the church, where a representation of Christ’s tomb is placed in front of the altar, and the ceremony of the ‘Washing of the Feet’ takes place. Housewives take butter and oil with them. A large tub is filled with water and, next to it, another filled with the butter and oil brought by the ladies from home. The choir sings and the priest, wearing a cassock, washes the feet of 12 of the choristers and smears them with blessed oil. Then it is the people’s turn, and one by one the faithful approach the priest, who puts a little oil in the palm of their right hands, and they themselves smear a little on their foreheads, hands and eyes. They are convinced that the oil and butter blessed on this day has purifying or disinfecting properties. They also smear the same oil on the foreheads and horns of their domestic animals. [28]

It is the custom, in the villages of Tadım and Pazmashen, for young wives and girls to sew, do embroidery - something that is an allegorical of Christ punishing Judas by sewing his eyes shut. [29]

Maundy Thursday night in the one of darkening: at 2:00 am the church bell sounds. The altar is closed with the great curtain, while Christ’s body, wearing a crown and helmet, is placed in front of it. All the church candles are extinguished and, at that early hour of the morning, there is real darkness there. Singing and readings last for hours. [30]

Good Friday

There is a church service once more. Twelve large candles, one of them black, are placed on the altar. When the canticle ‘Lord in heaven’ is begun to be sung, the black candle is removed and hidden. It is the symbol of the absent Judas. [31]

An Armenian family from Pazmashen (Bizmişin, Sarıçubuk), photographed in Mezire (Mamuretül-aziz) in 1907. From left to right: Bahar Malkhasian (nee Sahagian), Sahag (Bahar’s nephew), Zaruhi Malkhasian (later Muradian; Bahar’s daughter) (Source: Craig Wallen collection)

Easter Saturday

Preparations for the game of egg cracking are taking place. On this day, just as on the two previous ones, eggs are coloured red by boiling them in water with common madder root and the skin of an onion. In every house plentiful quantities of tan (yogurt and water mixture) are being prepared as it is the custom on this day for the young people – both girls and young men – to go from house to house and distribute pitchers of tan to those who don’t have milk producing animals, or the poor. All work has ceased. Easter Saturday is the day when newly married women visit their parents. After midday the church bell sounds to invite people to the Easter Lighting of the Lamps service. The great curtain in front of the altar is opened and the priest conducts Mass wearing a golden ecclesiastical helmet. Then it is time for a portion of the Book of Daniel to be read. The task of reading is, once more, put to auction, and the greatest benefactor is the person given the honour of doing so. Generally, however, it is the student son of the benefactor who actually carries out the reading. The service generally ends at about 3:00 pm and the people go home, where the last day of the fast, called khetum takes place. The young people gather in the village square, where the egg-cracking game begins. This continues during the following two or three days too.

In the village of Pazmashen, the unmarried girls and newly-married women go to the pilgrimage sites of Khachkar (Cross Stone) and St Zacharias just before sunset, where they light candles, while others sacrifice a dove or a rooster. [32]

Easter

In the cemetery of Khulakiugh (Hulvenk/Şahinkaya) on a Repose of the Souls day

In the cemetery of Khulakiugh (Hulvenk/Şahinkaya) on a Repose of the Souls day (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)

The morning service begins very early in the morning, after which there is a festival atmosphere of joy and happiness among the Armenians of the plain of Harput. In Parchandj buffalo fights are held. The tradition, in Pazmashen, is for the entire population of the village to go directly to the nearby Khachkar pilgrimage site after the service. The Khachkar (cross stone) is a huge white rock, about four metres (13 feet) long, with a cross carved on it. There wrestling competitions are held, games and amusements are organised, and the people dance and sing. In Hussenig, after the midday meal, as well as during the following two days, the whole population turns the cemetery into a place of amusement. It is during these three days that the egg-cracking game takes place in this village.

The day after Easter Day is Repose of the Souls day. After the morning service, the Armenians of the plain of Harput visit the cemeteries, taking plenty of food and drink – wine and oghi - with them. In the case of Pazmashen, we know that on the Repose of the Souls day (the Monday), after morning service, the people first go to the place called Khachkar where a festive atmosphere continues until midday. After that it is mainly the women and old people who visit the cemetery. [33]

St Barsam

This feast day is on the Thursday after Easter day. In the plain of Harput it is also given the name of Morenig’s Day, as the church in that village is dedicated to that saint. Pilgrims begin to travel in groups towards that village Morenig (Çatalçeşme) from various villages and towns. Among them are Armenians, Kurds and Turks, who celebrate St Barsam together. Some people rest overnight in the church’s gallery and others with friends in Morenig village. On the Thursday, the Armenians first attend the morning service. During the midday hours the vineyards, gardens and meadows are filled with thousands of pilgrims, who, alongside eating and drinking, organise various games such as horse races, wrestling, drumming and egg-cracking. On the same day pedlars arrive from various places, setting up their stalls in those places, thus giving the feast of St Barsam a more market-day atmosphere. [34]

Zurna and dhol players

Zurna and dhol players (Source: Henry J. Van-Lennep, Bible lands. Their modern customs and manners, part II, London, 1875)

The Holy Sign (St Neshan)

The first Sunday after Easter Day, otherwise known as Red Sunday. It is also called Yegheki’s Day in the plain of Harput, as the church in that village is dedicated to it. The people of the surrounding villages come as pilgrims to it. After morning service, they go to the nearby small lake called St John’s. There is a small cave there, thought to be a former hermitage. The pilgrims light candles, then rest, eat and drink under the willow trees surrounding the lake. Like the feast of St Barsam in Morenig village, the whole of the Holy Sign’s day pilgrimage site becomes a large market, as a great number of pedlars are to be found there from many places. [35]

The students of Harput town Central School on an excursion to Khulavank, in its historic cemetery. The site is a few minutes to the east of Khule village (Hulvenk/Şahinkaya) (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)

Feast of the Transfiguration (Vartavar)

Young married women and girls bring water to their homes in pitchers from the wells early in the morning. In the villages, every part of the houses are cleaned using this water, and some is made to flow down the streets of the Armenian quarters. The feast is also famous for people splashing water at each other. On this festival doves are also released and amusements organised.

The main place to be on this festival in the plain of Harput is considered to be the monastery at Khulakiugh (Hulvenk/Şahinkaya), also known by the names of Khulavank, St Kevork or Movsisavank. Pilgrims from Harput, Mezire, Hussenig and various other villages, carrying their food in packages on their backs go to that monastery where, until evening, they enjoy themselves eating and drinking, singing and dancing.

Others, those with horses or donkeys, start even earlier, on Saturday, to go to the more distant Zartarich monastery near the villages of Ichme and Zartarich (Değirmenönü), and located on the foot of Mount Masdar. The monastery bears the name of an Assyrian saint – Abdul Mesih or St Mergerios. Pilgrims also come from other surrounding villages too. [36]

Items made of clay used in the home (Source: Henry J. Van-Lennep, Bible lands. Their modern customs and manners, part II, London, 1875)

Ascension (Lottery or lots festival)

This festival takes place on a Thursday in the month of May. Girls aged 10-15 years old, dressed in multi-coloured clothes gather together in the vineyards or gardens in groups, either in the shadow of the mulberry and willow trees, in the green meadows or on the flat roofs of the houses. They prepare food and sweets for themselves as a group there. [37] At the same time they choose seven girls from the group who go through the gardens or vineyards and return with seven bunches of flowers made up of seven different kinds of blooms. Finally, others go to and bring water in pitchers from seven different fountains. When all the girls of the group get together again, they begin to eat and drink and enjoy themselves, then dance and sing. [38]

In Pazmashen the girls also form groups, and prepare a new bride’s mask and decorate it. The mask is then worn by the oldest girl in the group, who is thus rendered unrecognisable beneath it. In the same village, these groups, singing and dancing to the accompaniment of a drum and cymbals, make their way to the place called Khachkar, where they remain until early afternoon. Then they return to the village where, once more in groups, they assemble in the houses, this time to prepare and eat meals together, as well as singing and dancing once more.

Armenian inhabitants of the plain of Harput (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)
Armenian inhabitants of the plain of Harput (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

Here is an example of a song sung on Ascension in Pazmashen:

Girl you were tall
Naynem nana agha yar,
You don’t suit your husband,
Yar, yar.

Leave him and love me
Naynem nana agha yar,
So I can die for your height
Yar, yar.

You are standing against the wall
Naynem nana agha yar,
The precious stone is in your ring
Yar, yar.

That is my decorated cap,
Naynem nana agha yar,
You have put it under your fez,
Yar, yar. [39]

An Armenian family from Hussenig (Source: Andranik Michaelian collection)
An Armenian family from Hussenig (Source: Andranik Michaelian collection)

Manug Dzeron in his turn recalls a song, sung by the girls together on Ascension day:

The days of spring have come again, gulum yar,
I will take my love to the mountains, gulum yar,
I’ll come down from the rocks to the valley, gulum yar,
I’ll come up from the deep valleys to the green meadows, gulum yar,djivan yar.

Another is:

What shall I do with the mill, gulum yar?
What shall I do with my round sieve, gulum yar?
What shall I do with the roof, gulum yar?
There’s no love to see there, gulum yar, gulum yar. [40]

Hussenig. An Armenian family (Source: Andranik Michaelian collection)
Hussenig. An Armenian family (Source: Andranik Michaelian collection)

The lottery or drawing of lots takes place at the end of the dance. Seven different flowers are first thrown into a large bowl containing water from seven different fountains. Then various small items – such as rings, earrings, thimbles, buttons and so forth – each belonging to a different girl, are thrown into the bowl of water too. A girl is chosen from the group to draw the lots; her eyes are covered so she can’t see, and she dips her hand seven times into the water, each time drawing out an item. When the first item is drawn out, she recites the following:

I want to go up to the roof,
I want to look down,
What is that foreign boy to me?
I want to embrace and lie down with him.

The owner of the item that is the first to be drawn is considered to be the luckiest and it is thought that her wishes will, without doubt, be granted. When the second item is drawn, the girl picking them out recites:

A pair of fighters comes from below,
They will, of course, give one to me,
I will take him to our room
And lie him down on my bed.

On the third drawing:

Where do you come from? At upper Van
God will open a door for us.
I’ll rebel, you’ll rebel,
Who’ll stand these woes?

On the fourth:

Where have you quietly come from?
Having put light shoes on
You are very fine, your kiss sweet,
Black, black eyes, your mouth is like almonds.

The fifth:

Where have you come from, the upper vineyard?
Give me a kiss for your grandfather’s sake,
Early in the morning, after the night,
My conscience cannot deny your soul.

The owners of subsequent lots have less and less hope that their wishes will be fulfilled. [41]

The feast of The Holy Mother of God

Dzovk (Gölcük) lake and the ruins of the monastery of The Holy Sign on the island

Dzovk (Gölcük) lake and the ruins of the monastery of The Holy Sign (St Neshan) on the island. The same place, on the feast day of The Holy Mother of God, is a well known pilgrimage site in the plain of Harput (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)

This is the most popular day for pilgrimages. On this day pilgrims assemble at the monastery of the Holy Sign on Lake Dzovk (Gölcük) from various towns and villages around Harput and Diyarbekir. It is a holy place located among ruins near the village of the same name, on a small island. The number of pilgrims often reaches 4,000 to 5,000. Over three days dancing, singing, firing of guns, sacrifices and many different kinds of games and amusements take place, totally transforming this small village and the surrounding area. [42]

On this same – Holy Mother of God – day pilgrims also go to the Zartarich monastery located at the foot of Mount Masdar.

St Mamas

This saint’s name day is observed with great solemnity in September, especially in the village of Kesrig, near which is monastery bearing that saint’s name. People come as pilgrims from many villages on this occasion. [43]

Kharpert/Harput region, 1914. During a picnic held by the Armenian Mission workers and their friends

Kharpert/Harput region, 1914. During a picnic held by the Armenian Mission workers and their friends (Source: Maria Jacobsen collection)

  • [1] A ring-shaped light bread, prepared with oil and syrup (roub).
  • [2] Vahé Haig, Harput and its golden plain (in Armenian), New York, 1959, page 687-688, 919; Abdal Koledj Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen (in Armenian), published by ‘Baikar’, Boston, 1930, page 70; Hagop Gharib Shahbazian, Our Tankaran/Museum village and bloody love gardens (in Armenian), France, 1967, page 95; Manug B Dzeron, Parchandj village: a complete history (1600-1937) (in Armenian), Boston, 1938, page 120; G H Aharonian (Editor), Hussenig, published by ‘Hairenik’, Boston, 1965, page 124.
  • [3] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 96-97.
  • [4] Dzeron, Parchandj…, page 120-121; Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 68-70; Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 97-98.
  • [5] Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 72.
  • [6] The history of Habusi village (in Armenian), published by ‘Baikar’, Boston, 1963, page 60; Khosrov Vartanian, History of Pazmashen, English translation, unpublished (the Armenian original was published in 1930, in Newton Falls), page 9.
  • [7] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 93-94.
  • [8] Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 72-73.
  • [9] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 100-102.
  • [10] Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 72-74.
  • [11] Ibid, page 74-75.
  • [12] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 103.
  • [13] Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 688.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 104; Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 78-79; Dzeron, Parchandj…, page 121; Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 774.
  • [16] Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 78-79; Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 104; Dzeron, Parchandj…, page 122.
    [17] Ibid, page 124-125.
  • [18] Aharonian (Ed), Hussenig…, page 134-135.
  • [19] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 106; Kurken Mkhitarian, Our village of Tadım (during old and new times) (in Armenian) published by ‘Hairenik’, Boston, 1958, page 113-116; Dzeron, Parchandj…, page 157-158; G H Aharonian (Ed), Hussenig…, page 127; Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 773, 950.
  • [20] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 107; Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 77-78.
  • [21] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 107; Aharonian (Ed), Hussenig…, page 127-128.
  • [22] Dzeron, Parchandj…, page 122.
  • [23] Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 689.
  • [24] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 107-108.
  • [25] Ibid, page 107; Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 689, 919; Dzeron, Parchandj…, page 122; The history of Habus village, op. cit., page 62
  • [26] Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 689.
  • [27] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 110.
  • [28] Ibid, page 111; Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 84.
  • [29] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 109; Vartanian, History of Pazmashen, page 9-10.
  • [30] Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 84-85.
  • [31] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 111.
  • [32] Ibid, page 114-115; Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 86-87; The history of Habus village, op. cit., page 63.
  • [33] Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 88-91; Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 115; Aharonian (Ed), Hussenig…, page 128; Vartanian, History of Pazmashen..., page 27-28.
  • [34] Aharonian (Ed), Hussenig…, page 129; Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 904-905.
  • [35] Aharonian (Ed), Hussenig…, page 130; Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 905.
  • [36] Dzeron, Parchandj…, page 123; Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 582-583, 687, 865, 890; Aharonian (Ed), Hussenig…, page 130-131.
  • [37] Dzeron, Parchandj…, page 122.
  • [38] Shahbazian, Tankaran/Museum..., page 116-117.
  • [39] Boghosian, Pazmashen…, page 106-107.
  • [40] Dzeron, Parchandj…, page 123.
  • [41] Ibid, page 123.
  • [42] Vahé Haig, Harput…, page 586-587, 768, 774.
  • [43] Ibid, page 588.