Harput/Kharpert wedding dress. Worn by a model (Photograph: Movses Hrayr)

Harput - Religious customs

Author: Vahé Tachjian, 01/9/12 (Last modified 01/9/12)- Translator: Ara Melkonian

Betrothal (khosgab – khoskgab)

A betrothal may be made when a boy and a girl are newly-born infants in their cradles. They give this act the name beşik kertme (infant betrothal) and it is made between two families or neighbours that are friends.
The initiative for marriage is always made by the young man’s family. His parents or godfather take the task of finding a bride for him upon themselves. It is more accurate to say that it is the women who always have the basic roles in the preparatory work for this. It is they who prepare the ground for marriage, then leave the more symbolic details to the men. Thus, when a young man ‘sees’ a particular girl, he first tells his mother that he would like to marry her. She, in her turn, tells her husband and, having obtained his agreement sends, in accordance with custom, a woman intermediary, who is usually a good and loved person, to the prospective bride’s home. This lady meets the girl’s mother. When the (girl’s) mother is in agreement, then the work is transferred to the men and, in this instance, more to the young man’s and girl’s godfathers. A new scene in the drama opens; this time the two godfathers, taking a friend with them, visit the girl’s home. Manug Dzeron, the author of the book about the village of Perchendj (currently Akçakiraz) in the Harput plain, provides details of the godfathers’ visit and recreates the conversation that takes place in semi-dialect Armenian. The young man’s godfather is the first to open the subject of marriage. He addresses the girl’s father:

General view of the town of Mezire (Mamuretül-aziz)

General view of the town of Mezire (Mamuretül-aziz) (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

‘Garamu, we’ve come, with God’s permission, to ask for Lusig for our Koko. What do you say?’
‘Welcome, a thousand welcomes. You have a place on my head and face. As you have come with our godfather (enkabab), and God has willed it, what can I say?’ Turning to his wife, the girl’s father then asks, ‘Woman! Have you asked Lusig? Is she willing?’
‘Oh, husband, what kind of words are these? If you and godfather have determined that it is good, what kind of girl is she to refuse?’ she replies.
‘As it is all right, I’ve nothing more to say, may God give His grace,’ the father says. [1]
Then the young man’s godfather puts between 5 and 10 gazis (a coin worth 20 ghurush/kuruş) in the mother’s hand thus sealing the betrothal. Then the girl enters and begins kissing the guests’ hands; a table is laid, a feast is eaten and the day of the engagement is decided. [2] According to the author of the book about Tadem/Tadım, Hagop Shahbazian, the two families first agree on the price the young man’s family have to pay for the bride, and it only then that the betrothal takes place. [3]

Mezire, 1904. Seated, left to right: Diruhi Khanigian (nee Tembekidjian, Veronica’s daughter), Veronica Tembekidjian (nee Misakian), the child Nubar Khanigian, Avedis Khanigian’s mother (name unknown), Kayane Tembekidjian (nee Fabrikatorian). Standing, left to right: Avedis Khanigian (the child Nubar’s father), Maranig Tembekidjian (Veronica’s daughter), Khosrov Tembekidjian (Veronica’s son) (Source: Hasmig Khanigian collection)

Engagement (Nshanduk)

The young man’s father and mother visit the girl’s home one evening at the head of a delegation. Apart from them, it consists of the godfather, the priest, beadle, several relations and friends. In the house, apart from the girl’s family, are her godfather, friends and relations. A table has been prepared for the occasion, and the priest sits at its head. Feasting begins. The engagement parcel brought by the young man’s family is placed before the priest, over which he makes the sign of the cross and opens. It contains a pair of earings, ring and a khatar of gazis (a string of gold coins). The gazis and rubiyes (a gold coin worth a quarter of a lira) brought by the engagement party guests are added to it. Then the lady of the house brings a handkerchief or purse embroidered by her daughter containing a symbolic red apple. This fruit is considered to be a talisman for the happy union of the young man and girl and the birth of a male child. On their wedding night, the young man cuts the apple in half and he and his new wife eat them. Apart from the apple, a village-style veil and a woven silk head covering called a pushi is put on the table by the girl’s mother. The priest blesses each item separately and the engagement is considered complete. It should be noted here that among Armenian Protestants it is the custom that, apart from these items, a gilt-edged Bible and hymn book are added. The girl’s mother continues to distribute gifts. She brings a khalat (a long, wide coat, worn in the house), a purse, cap and socks all made by the girl, which she presents to the priest, the young man’s godfather and his brothers. The girl’s godfather is presented with, on behalf of the young man, a khalat, a chukha sako (coat) or a parcel of chitara (çıtarı, a kind of brocade made of silk mixed with cotton). The priest and beadle are also paid, receiving a medjidie (mecidiye - a gold coin worth 20 ghurush) or a beshlik (beşlik – a coin worth 5 ghurush).

1
2
3

1. A family from the village of Morenig (currently Çatalçeşme) (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)
2. Hovagim Baghdasarian (known as ‘Prod’ Hovagim) and his family from Khokh (currently Kavaktepe/Dedeyolu) village (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)
3. The miller Guro Gurghoyian and his family from Khokh village (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)

After all these ceremonies, the daily meal is put on the table, which is generally a roast sheep khaburgha, cooked in the oven (tonir). This is eaten accompanied by wine. Thanks and good wishes may often be heard throughout the engagement party, some of which are aimed at the godfathers, as the people with the main roles in the business of getting the young man and the girl together: orshnya der (God bless), aroghchutiun (good health), anush (may it be sweet), enkabab, vartsket gadar (godfather, well done), Der Hisus, dghan-aghchig irents murazin hastsne (Lord Jesus, give the young man and girl what they desire). [4]
According to the description given by Shahbazian, the priest, on the engagement evening, puts each of a pair of engraved silver rings on the fingers of the engaged couple, sealing the promise of marriage. This scene is absent in Manug Dzeron’s descriptions, which refer to Harput’s Perchendj village. [5]
The couple can remain engaged for a whole year. During the whole of this time and until the marriage, the young man’s family gives a gift to the bride-to-be on every festival. This is known as a pai. It could be a pair of kondura (a kind of shoe), osgi khatar (a string of gold coins), a kemer (a worked, decorated belt), lachag (a woman’s cap), khutni  (a worked, decorated silk cloth), khalat, etc. [6]

Wedding

The date for the wedding is set during a meeting between the future in-laws. It is usually one of the last days of autumn. Then the preparations for the wedding begin. Among these, one of the most important is the making of the wedding clothes. The girl’s clothes, according to Manug Dzeron’s description, consist of a coloured silk apron (zubun), a jacket sewn with gold thread (çuha salta) and a long veil (chite). Both the girl’s and especially the young man’s families have to try to be quite thrifty during this year, so that they can afford to pay the wedding expenses. Then too it is imperative that the necessary supplies for lavish feasting during the days of the wedding are prepared, and an agreement reached with the musicians (usually drums and pipes players – davul zurna). [7]
Obtaining a permit is also a part of the wedding preparations. In the villages of the plain of Harput, the young man’s father first appears before the so-called ‘great men’s meeting’, consisting of the village notables. When they have no questions, in other words if the engagement has been made properly, the young man’s and girl’s worth is in accordance with the accepted norms and their families have paid the church dues, then the groom’s father receives a permit stamped by the khodjabashi. Carrying this permit, the young man’s father then goes to the Armenian Apostolic prelacy, where he receives a wedding ceremony permit. Among Armenian Protestants this permit is given by the community leadership (azkabedaran). This refers to the system that existed after the middle of the 19th century, in other words in the years following the Ottoman reforms (tanzimat). Before that, Armenian families had to get engagement and wedding permits from their village’s Kurdish or Turkish aghas, while the wedding celebrations were quiet and poor.

The symbolic red apple: This fruit is considered to be a talisman for the happy union of the young man and girl and the birth of a male child. On their wedding night, the young man cuts the apple in half and he and his new wife eat them (Drawing by Juliette Inigo, Houshamadyan)

Then the various pre-wedding ceremonies begin. Thus, one or two weeks before the wedding, four or five men from the bridegroom’s side, with the godfather, visit the bride’s house to agree about the wine (kesim gyrel). The groom’s father gives the bride’s father from five to 25 gold liras to be used for the girl’s dowry. If the girl’s family is not well-to-do, then this sum of money is also used for wedding expenses, with some of it being retained for other family expenditure. After kesim gyrel, the bride must remain in the house until the wedding day. [8]
The sound of drums and pipes begin to be heard in the groom’s house four or five days before the wedding. Relations and family friends are invited there. The invitations have two stages. In the first place a red apple is sent to each family. An older woman is usually hired for this work who, her apron filled with red apples, goes from house to house giving one to each invited family. These women are given the name heravero. The second stage, a few days before the wedding, is to send the bridegroom’s younger brother or young relative, with a red handkerchief tied around his neck, to the houses of those invited. He is accompanied by the musicians. The young man, accompanied by the drums and pipes, enters, dancing, and then leads the family, who are already waiting, back to the groom’s house. [9]
Meanwhile the bride’s house is also in an uproar. Alongside the family’s relatives and friends, the most affectionate presence is that of the bride’s closest female friends. This festive atmosphere continues in both houses until the Sunday. We know that in the village of Habusi (currently Ikizdemir) guns are fired in the air during these wedding celebrations, as well as horse races being organised.

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1. Kesirig (Kesrig) village’s priest Rev Hagop Der-Hagopian and his family (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)
2. The Uluhodjian family of Tadem/Tadım in 1910. Centre, seated, wearing a hat, is Misak Uluhodjian (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)

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

On the Sunday the young man’s family form a delegation which includes the priest, the groom’s young relatives (male and female), the young men (pesamanugner) who are the bridegroom’s supporters and the musicians, all of whom come to the bride’s house to bring the dowry (in Harput it is also known as halav, halaf  or djehez). The priest blesses each individual item of the dowry. A festive table is prepared, with various kinds of patties (keoftes/köftes), cooked lamb etc. They all eat and drink together, after which they return to the bridegroom’s house. There is often another custom that takes place during this visit. This is the theft, from the bride’s house, of spoons and forks and copper vessels. On the return journey, the young ‘thieves’ proudly make these things clink together in front of their friends. In Hussenig the dowry (halav) is not taken to the bride’s house until the Monday, in other words on the wedding day itself. [10]

Women of Pazmashen (Bizmişin, currently Sarıçubuk) in their traditional costume

Women of Pazmashen (Bizmişin, currently Sarıçubuk) in their traditional costume (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

On that Sunday the bride will spend her final night in her parents’ house. That same evening a group of women, under the godmother’s directions, dress the bride in her wedding clothes and paint her palms, fingers and toes with henna. They sing, throughout the procedure, songs of love and parting, as well as songs of praise, aimed at the bride. Here is an example.

Mother, well done, mother well done,
I have drunk your milk, make me good.

Father, well done, father well done,
I have eaten your bread, make me good.

Little sister, well done, little sister, well done,
I have worn your coloured clothes, make me good.

Little brother, well done, little brother well done,
I have drunk your water, make me good.

Let us pull the saz, let us braid her hair,
Let us bring out the modesty (naz) of our little bride.

Congratulations, congratulations, a thousand congratulations,
Every congratulation for our little bride.
[11]

There are not a few wedding songs sung by the people of Harput:

It is a day of celebration, gulum yar.
It is the bride’s and groom’s great day, gulum yar, zulum yar
. [12]

Pazmashen (Bizmişin, currently Sarıçubuk). Armenian women in village dress

Pazmashen (Bizmişin, currently Sarıçubuk). Armenian women in village dress (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

The bride and her bridesmaids remain awake all night and keep a fast.
What happens in the bridegroom’s house on that same night? There is a huge crowd there too, drums and pipes sound continuously and the whole time the groom’s ‘friends’ (pesamanugner) turn around him. The dowry is put on the table, and the king’s sword on top of it. A part of the ceremonial is to bathe the groom. The decision is then made as to who will have the honour of dressing him. This is like an auction. Those present make promises, such as a donation to the church or school or an invitation to a party for the groom’s ‘friends’. Finally one or another of these suggestions is chosen and its proposer is considered to be the winner, in other words the winner becomes the madjaros – the king-bridegroom’s valet. The groom’s ‘friends’ begin to sing wedding songs, while the village schoolteacher conducts this ragged choir. The bridegroom can now dress. The godfather passes each item of clothing to the madjaros who, in his turn, gives them to the bridegroom - the king of the day. The songs now heard are also wedding songs, but are somewhat different in their content from those sung in the bride’s house. Thus, while sad songs are sung with themes about parting from her loved ones in the bride’s house, those sung in that of the groom are different: the greatest being of pride, victory and the spirit of manliness. The former boy has now become a man, he can marry, sow and, through him, his family tree may maintain its existence. Here is an example of such a Harput song:

Praise the groom, dress him in his shirt,
Congratulate him, the child has blossomed.

Praise the groom, dress him in his yelgeg [?],
Congratulate him, the child has blossomed.

Praise the groom, dress him in his coat,
Congratulate him, the child has blossomed.

Praise the groom, tie his belt,
Congratulate him, the child has blossomed.

Praise the groom, put his vodits (shoes) on,
Congratulate him, the child has blossomed.

Praise the groom, put his cap on,
Congratulate him, the child has blossomed.

Praise the groom, wrap a shiny scarf around him,
Congratulate him, the child has blossomed.

Praise the groom, tie the sword at his waist,
Congratulate him, the child has blossomed
. [13]

Two Armenians photographed in the plain of Harput in their village dress (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

When the bridegroom is dressed, a new song is begun, an invitation to all the relatives to come and see their ‘tree in bloom’, in other words the son who is ready for marriage:

Go and bring dear father,
So he can come and see, the tree is in bloom.

Go and bring sweet mother,
So she can come and see, the tree is in bloom.

Go and bring sweet sister,
So she can come and see, the tree is in bloom.

Go and bring the (twin) brothers,
So they can come and see, the tree is in bloom
. [14]

These songs are followed by one that is sadder, dedicated to the members of the bridegroom’s family who are either dead or have emigrated. This one is in Turkish:

Şimdi buna bir baba,
Ağlıyordu kaba-kaba.

Şimdi buna bir ana,
Ağlıyordu yana-yana.

Şimdi buna bir bacı,
Ağlıyordu acı-acı.

Şimdi buna bir kardaş,
Ağladı dağ ile taş.

Şimdi buna bir nene,
Ağladı tane-tane.


The translation:

Now his father,
Wept in a rough and ready manner.

Now his mother,
Cried oh dear, oh dear!

Now his sister,
Cried with salty tears.

Now his brother,
Cried in the mountains and valleys.

Now his grandmother,
Cried single tears
. [15]

Harput wedding dress. Worn by a model (Photograph: Movses Hrayr). The dress was the property of Veronica Tembekidjian (nee Misakian), and is thought to have been first used in the second half of the 19th century. Our thanks to Hasmig Khanigian, who put it at Houshamadyan’s disposal.

A different Turkish song is sung in Hussenig when dressing the bridegroom:

Çağırın babasını,
Görsün yavrusunu,
Koysun dal fesini,
Mübarek olsun.


The translation:

Call his father
May he see his loved one
Put on his neat fez
Congratulations to him.


After this quatrain, the bridegroom’s father turns a fez three times around his son’s head, and only after that puts it on him and kisses his forehead. The song continues:

Çağırın anasını,
Beğensin tanesini,
Giydirsin gömleğini,
Mübarek olsun.


The translation:

Call his mother
She’s brought up her chick
Dress him in his shirt
Congratualtions to him.


This time it is his mother who picks up his jacket, takes it round the bridegroom three times, then dresses him in it and kisses his cheeks.

Çağırın kardeşini,
Görsün yoldaşını,
Giydirsin şalvarını,
Mübarek olsun.


The translation:

Call his brother
Let his travelling companion come
Dress him in his
shalvar (trousers)
Congratulations to him.


It is then the groom’s brother’s turn who, repeating the same things helps him, this time, into his trousers (shalvar):

Çağırın bacısını,
Çekmiş acısını,
Giydirsin çizmesini,
Mübarek olsun.


The translation:

Call his sister
Who shares his pain
Dress him in his shoes
Congratulations to him.

Mezire (Mamuretül-aziz), 1912

Mezire (Mamuretül-aziz), 1912. Avedis and Diruhi (nee Tembekidjian) Khanigian’s family. Their children, left to right: Eduard, Angele and Nubar (Source: Hasmig Khanigian collection)

His sister or another female relative then approaches the groom and puts his shoes on. [16] During this work of dressing the bridegroom, the betrothal handkerchief with the red apple wrapped in it and sent to him by his fiancee, that he will share with her after they are married, is put into his pocket Then the blessed sword is tied round his waist, symbolising his honourable defence of his wife and family. The groom’s hands, as well as those of the godfather, godmother, and all the young people of the family are coloured with henna. Just as in the bride’s house, the celebration continues until the morning, while the bridegroom and his ‘friends’ (pesamanugner) stay awake and keep a fast. [17]
It is the custom in the plain of Harput for marriages to take place on a Monday morning, although we know that in Habusi village they take place on a Thursday. In Pazmashen (Bizmişin, currently Sarıçubuk) they take place in the autumn; in the case of this village the interesting thing is that they try to marry all the couples of that year together; the number of couples may reach as many as 12.

Mezire, 1913. Standing, left to right: Varter Nazarian (nee Bogigian); seated: Mgerdich Nazarian (Varter’s husband), Mrs Bogigian (Varter’s mother), Bedros Bogigian (Varter’s father); the young man standing between them is Sarkis Bogigian (Varter’s brother). The four children are Varter’s and Mgerdich’s. Apart from Varter and Mgerdich, all the others were victims of the 1915 massacres (Source: Marderos Deranian, Hussenig. The origin, history, and destruction of an Armenian town, translated by Hagop Martin Deranian, Armenian Heritage Press, Belmont, 1994)

Plain of Harput. Armenian women and girls making bread

Plain of Harput. Armenian women and girls making bread (Source: Michel Paboudjian collection)

The wedding day has arrived. In the villages of Harput, the wedding parties that have continued all night to the sounds of drums and pipes now wake the entire village. This means that the ‘getting of the bride’ has started. In Hussenig, and probably in the towns of Mezire (Mamuretül-Aziz) and Harput too, weddings take place on a Monday, with the difference that the bridegroom and his ‘friends’ (pesamanugner), the bride and her friends don’t stay awake the whole night. Very early in the morning the bridegroom and several of his close friends go to the bath house then have breakfast in the house of either one of the friends or that of the godfather. It is only after this that the wedding guests begin to assemble at the bride’s and groom’s houses, feasting begins and the ceremonies of dressing the bride and bridegroom take place. As soon as the young man and girl are ready, the wedding procession goes to the bride’s house to get her. The real adornment of this festive procession is the bridegroom-king who, in the villages, is mounted on a horse. According to Shahbazian’s description, he is wearing either a morning coat (barekod) or a red, green and blue silken zubun (coat), with a multicoloured, long, woven scarf as a belt, as well as a strap from which the ‘kingly’ sword is hung. His head is covered with a fez, around which a shiny handkerchief (pushi) has been wrapped. He has a collar around his neck and, on his feet, new shoes. The people at the girl’s house are also dressed in their finery and ready to welcome the procession. The bride – according to Shahbazian once more – has a coloured veil (yazma) on her head, is wearing a silk dress, has a coloured cloth (khutni) over her bosom, a woollen coat on her back, her hair, in many braids, falls to her legs and she has embroidered shoes (sirmali) on her feet. [18]
The procession reaches the bride’s house. Here the customs differ from village to village. For example, we know that in Habusi village the groom’s procession stops in front of the bride’s house, the young man’s godfather demands a live cockerel from those in the house, which he holds out to the bridegroom with its neck stretched. The latter must cut its head off with his sword. In Tadem, when the procession reaches the bride’s house, they find the door shut. It is here that the godfather must pay a sum of money, called ‘open the door’ to the ‘bride’s brother’. [19]
It is usual for the departure of the bride to be tinged with sadness. Mother and daughter are in each other’s arms and the bride doesn’t want to leave the house. At this point the bridegroom’s godmother intervenes, separating mother and daughter. Then the bride kisses the hands of her parents and all her relatives, while they respond by kissing her cheeks. The bride’s horse is ready, richly decorated; but it is being ridden by the ‘bride’s brother’, who agrees to relinquish it to the bride, but only when the bridegroom’s godfather gives him a beshlik. The bride eventually mounts the horse reserved for her. In some villages it can happen that instead of riding a horse, she rides on a cart, with the bridegroom riding on the front end of it. In the villages the bride is veiled from head to foot. Often the bridegroom’s godmother rides the horse too, seated on it behind the bride. In Hussenig the use of a horse is not usual. In this case the bridegroom walks in front, the godfather at his side, the bride behind them, her face veiled and arm-in-arm with the godmother. The wedding procession goes towards the church. The girl seated on the horse is accompanied by her brother, who has taken on the role of her guard, holding the bridegroom’s sword. The bridegroom’s horse walks ahead, followed by that of the bride, with the reins being held by a male relative. [20]

The interior of the church is made as brightly lit as possible. The bride and groom take Communion on their knees. Their heads are decorated with coloured wedding cords (narod). Then they stand, hold hands and put their heads together; the priest raises his cross over them, while the godfather holds the sword next to the cross. The blessing of the wedding takes place. The congregation leaves the church and, forming the same procession, go to the bridegroom’s house. Drums and pipes continue to be played, with several men dancing to the music for the whole journey. The bride and groom are once more on their horses. At this time they are the village’s king and queen. Some of the groom’s ‘friends’ fire rifles or pistols into the air. The procession is met at the door of every house in the village with trays of flagons of raki (oghi) and wine, as well as raisins, seeds (leblebu), apricot sheets and fruit. Then the procession must briefly stop at the godfather’s house, where the king of the day drinks wine. The procession then continues to the bridegroom’s house. It can happen that several weddings take place in one day with a procession for each. When the processions happen to meet in the street, the question then arises as to which has priority. Wine and raki sometimes are the reason for the question to be settled with fights. Whatever the case, the procession eventually reaches the groom’s house, his mother and father having already entered it, where they wait in the balcony overlooking the door to the courtyard, or just on the doorstep. In the villages of Tadem and Pazmashen, the entry to the house is made with the decapitation of a rooster. One of the groom’s ‘friends’ extends the cockerel’s neck to the groom, who strikes it with his sword. The friend then dips his right hand in the bird’s blood and wipes it on the groom’s forehead. In other places in Harput (such as Hussenig) the custom of slaughtering a sheep on the doorstep is recalled. After this sacrifice, the parents sprinkle sugar, raisins and seeds – and in the case of wealthy families low value metal coins – over their heads. The bride and groom, hand in hand, enter the house. [21]

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2.
3.

1. Ichme (Içme), 1913. In the narthex of the Armenian church after the service (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)
2. Habusi (currently Ikizdemir). Soghomen Boyadjian and her family (Source: The history of Habusi village [in Armenian], published by ‘Baikar’, Boston, 1963)
3. The town of Harput. Houses built near the fortress (Source: Ferdinand Brockes, Quer durch Klein-Asien, Gütersloh, 1900)

The town of Harput

The town of Harput. A general view from the eastern quarters (Source: Rev. Edwin M. Bliss, Turkey and the Armenian Atrocities, London, 1896)

The wedding celebrations begin. The men and women gather in separate groups and all sit cross-legged on the floor on rugs (minder). Food is plentiful and the dishes varied: mutton, herisa, wine and raki. On this day too, the door is open to everyone, be they rich, poor or foreign, be they Armenian, Kurd or Turk. Apart from drums and pipes, sazes, kanons, uds, darbukas and kemanchas are also played. Ewers containing the finest wines of the house are broached. Those present begin to fill the musicians’ pockets with money, and cover the foreheads of the bride and groom with 40 para and beshlik coins. The evening has already arrived. Good wishes and ‘orshneks’ (‘may you be blessed’) begin to be given to the newly-married couple. ‘Children, may you get old with one loaf of bread and one pillow.’ ‘May your hearth always be lit.’ ‘May your door always be open and your table be like Abraham’s.’
It is on this same evening that the groom’s ‘friends’ (pesamanugner) try to ‘abduct’ the groom and take him to the village stream to bathe him. There the groom makes the sign of the cross in the water with his sword three times. According to custom, this signifies that the evil spirits will stay away from the wedding night. Then the ‘friends’ agree to release the groom on the condition that the godfather promises to provide a lavish entertainment. The godfather agrees and, to the accompaniment of singing and dancing, the groom is taken to his house, where the party continues. It is the custom for the groom to remain in this house for three days, until Wednesday evening, without seeing his bride. The honeymoon only begins after that. In his turn Manug Dzeron writes that the groom, in Perchendj, stays with the godfather until the Friday. In the case of Habusi, we know that the bride and her mother sleep alongside each other for the first night in the groom’s house. [22]

A woven Cashmere shawl that belonged to the Khanigian family, Mezire (Mamuretül-aziz). Now kept by Hasmig Khanigian, Beirut.

The groom returns home eventually. He is brought there by the godfather. It is late at night and the bride has retired to the honeymoon room. Shahbazian provides some details of events during the wedding night. Thus the groom enters the room, while the godfather continues to remain in the house. An hour or two later the groom comes out, gives the godfather a small parcel, and then returns to his bride. The parcel contains a white, embroidered cloth stained with some traces of blood. The bride’s virginity has been proved. The godfather then goes up onto the roof and fires his pistol three times into the air. The parcel is then taken to the godmother, then to the groom’s mother and is finally given to the bride’s parents. [23]
On the first Thurdsay after the wedding, the bride’s mother, accompanied by a group of women, arrives at the groom’s house, bringing with her the djihez materials (the bride’s dowry). These are embroideries that have been made over the years by the bride for ordinary use. Each parcel is opened by the bride’s godmother, the contents shown to the guests present, and then given to her mother-in-law. [24]
The wedding festivities continue during subsequent days and even for up to two weeks, but generally in other houses away from that of the newly-weds. [25]
The ‘bride bath’ takes place 15 days after the wedding. This ceremony is usually performed by families that are well-to-do. A whole group of guests, the groom’s nearest and dearest (only the women) take the bride to the bath house. The following lines are known to be sung on this occasion:

Little sparrow, little sparrow, drink a little water,
Eat some cracked wheat, carry a basket,
Let’s go to the bath house, then fly away, go!
[26]

1.
2.
3.

1. Zarouhi Mooradian (born in the village of Pazmashen, nee Malkasian) with her two children Anjel and Mehrujan (aka Warren). USA 1923 (Source: Craig Wallen collection)
2. A family from Pazmashen in the USA in 1910. Standing, left to right: Hagop Malkasian, Bahar Malkasian (nee Sahagian). Seated, left to right: Boghos Sahagian (Bahar's brother - he returned to Pazmashen in 1914, fate unknown), Zarouhi Malkasian (Bahar’s daughter, later Mooradian), Sarkis Malkasian (Bahar’s husband) (Source: Craig Wallen collection)
3. Kasbar Jingirian (1889-1990) born in the town of Harput and his wife Veron, also born there. Wedding photograph, Aleppo, ca 1934 (Source: Ara Jingirian and Hourig Zakarian collection)

Manug Dzeron, in his book about Perchendj, gives some interesting details of Protestant weddings in the villages of Harput. The Protestants, at the beginning, have tried to instil some restraint and modesty into these ceremonies. They, for example, have tried to remove the custom of blessing the dowry (halav) from these proceedings which takes place before the wedding itself. It is also not permitted to hold a cross and sword over the heads of the bride and groom during the wedding ceremony. Drums and pipes are replaced with hymns in Armenian taken from the Protestant hymn book. They have also done away with dancing in the wedding procession. Wine and raki have also disappeared from the rich wedding feast table. But these changes of custom didn’t last very long, especially as from the 1880s the Protestants themselves began to re-use the same old customs they had tried for a time to forget. Manug Dzeron, himself a Protestant who at the same time loved the parties and entertainment in Harput, writes: ‘The writer of these lines considers himself fortunate to have been married during this time of re-awakening.’ [27]

Birth and baptism

The family tree of the Misakian family from Harput and Mezire from 1654 until the 1930s, published in Cairo in 1947. Only the male family members’ names are shown (Source: Hasmig Khanigian collection)

It is the custom to immediately sprinkle salt on a newly-born baby, and to bury the placenta, with the scissors used by the midwife, in a corner of the house. Then the midwife bathes the new-born baby in a deep clay dish (a little like a tureen) in hot water. Raising it up by the heels while holding its head, she lifts it up and, gently shaking it three times saying the following, ‘Totvacherig, ergan vzig, arna knig, shalga msig, chop chop' (Shake off the water, long neck, go to sleep, grow plump, chop, chop). [28]
The child is generally wrapped in swaddling bands or, as the people of Harput say, ge khandarkhen. They use a hoghlat (soilcloth) which is a much used thick woven cloth spread with soil (chaghayi hogh). The latter is a soil-like clay, which is first ground finely then wiped onto the cloth. New-born babies that are considered beautiful have needles and beads tied to their hair as a means of keeping evil spirits away. The needle is to ‘pierce’ the evil eye, and the beads to ‘dazzle’ it. They do the same to cows and buffaloes that give lots of milk. Sick babies have a triangular shaped locket put around their necks containing a medicinal note (nuskha). Generally the midwife is always present at the new mother’s side for eight days after the child’s birth. [29]
Baptism must be swiftly carried out after the birth of a child. This takes place as soon as the new-born is eight days old. When the baptism is of a male child, the godfather brings, as a gift, a piece of high quality woven cloth to wrap the child in after baptismal immersion. If the baptism is of a female child, then she is wrapped in a piece of the usual chitara cloth. The newly-baptised child’s family organise a great feast immediately after the baptism to celebrate the great event. The celebrations are greater for a male child; in this case they sacrifice an animal (madagh) and distribute most of the meat to the poor, with the best pieces being given as gifts to the priest and the godfather. The latter has the final say on the name of the infant. The custom is for a male child to be given his grandfather’s or uncle’s (father’s brother’s) names, as well as those of people in the Bible. From the final years of the 19th century however, the use of historical Armenian names had become general.[30]

Rev Nshan of Parchandj (Perchendj, currently Akçakiraz) village (deceased in 1905) with his family (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)

Female relatives and friends arrive at the house to congratulate the family on the birth on the first Sunday after baptism, bringing food and drink and various gifts with them. These are usually wine, gruel made with honey or syrup, apricot sheets, rodjig (sharots, cevizli sucuk, dried fruit on a string), seeds (leblebu), children’s clothing, a cap for the mother and a bib sewn from a bosom cloth. This visit, which is accompanied by feasting, begins in the afternoon and lasts until late evening. Good wishes aimed at the new-born child: ‘may you sprout, flower and shine.’ They wish the mother enough perseverance to fill a wooden loom frame with the 12 bobbins of thread. This wish is, naturally, a metaphor for having 12 children. [31]
The new mother has to be careful for 40 days and take great care of her health. In the Harput plain villages it is the custom, in the first weeks after a mother has given birth, to put the oven hook and trivet at the right side of her bed. The latter is an iron stand made to support a cauldron over the oven when cooking. Apart from this, the new-born baby and mother’s beds are surrounded by a hair rope. All of these are charms which keep evil spirits (the alk, a witchlike female evil spirit that is the enemy of mothers and another, called a shvod) away from mother and baby, otherwise the shvod comes and, with his hook, takes the mother’s liver and, stealing the baby, transforms it into an ugly and premature child of an alk. It is for this reason too, that there is a popular saying about ugly children: ‘it’s been changed to an alk.’ [32] These beliefs are done away with in Protestant families, but Manug Dzeron notes a story heard from his mother, which is quite telling in this regard. Thus after a mother turns ‘Prod’ (Protestant), she stops putting the hook and trivet near her, bearing in mind that these are considered to be heathen works. But when Mary (the daughter) is born, when she is in pain at night, ‘an old, fantastical-looking witch (shvod), with long, tangled hair, sharp claws, long teeth, sharp nails and dressed in old rags appears before her’ who ‘stands at the foot of the bed, with her hands extended to the baby’s cot.’ The mother, terrified, screams and says to her husband, ‘Oh, husband, bring the oven hook quickly!’ and continues, ‘Your father put the hook near me, heathen or not and I made the sign of the cross three times and the witch disappeared immediately, by the will of God.’ [33]

Death and burial

A burial in Ichme (Içcme)

Ichme (Içme). Standing, right to left: Varter Onanian (later Der Manuelian, the deceased's daughter), Avedis Andonian (the deceased’s brother), Avedis’ son (name unknown), Avedis’ wife (name unknown), the woman on her knees (name unknown). The deceased is Varter’s mother (name unknown). This photograph was probably taken in front of the grieving family’s house. It is interesting to see that the house has a postal number (No 20 or 30) (Source: Ara Jingirian and Hourig Zakarian collection)

It is the custom in the villages to put the deceased's body on a harrow or other length of timber in the house's yard. There they clean and wash the body, dress it in shirt and trousers, then wrap it in a long piece of cloth that has never been washed in water. The deceased’s arms are arranged in a cross on his chest and the part of the cloth that covers the face is pricked in several places with needles, and his big toes are tied together. It is in this state that the body is lowered into the coffin, which is generally open. The members of the family and friends gather at the deceased’s house; a popular singer also arrives who, with songs of death, attempts to affect those present. Then the procession of the bereaved, being led by the priest, goes to the church. The procession of mourners, after the church ceremonies and before sunset, now sets out this time for the cemetery, where the interment takes place. Women don’t go to the cemetery.
In accordance with custom, the nearest relatives of the deceased don’t change their clothing for 40 days or bathe. Apart from this, the men don’t shave until the requiem service takes place on the 40th day after death. The wake (hokedjash) takes place on the day of the requiem mass, and normally consists of herisa. Wealthy families invite, on this occasion, all the poor of the village. [34]

The town of Harput, 1914. The funeral of Khachadur effendi Tevrizian. Archpriest Rev Bsag Der-Khorenian, the prelate of Harput, is standing immediately behind the deceased (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)

1.
2.
3.

1. The Holy Mother of God church, Pazmashen (Bizmişin, currently Sarıçubuk) (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)
2. In the cemetery of Khulakiugh (Hulvenk/Şahinkaya) on a Repose of the Souls day (Source: Vahé Haig, op. cit.)
3. A scene during a funeral in the cemetery of Hussenig village (Source: Vahé Haig. op. cit.)

At Easter, the cemeteries in certain villages – for example Hussenig – become great meeting places where the whole village population gets together, organises games, and of course visits their loved ones’ graves. [35]
Problems occur within the Protestant and Catholic communities in the villages during the burial of people who are not of the Armenian Apostolic faith. In certain villages their numbers are so small that they don’t have their own church and cemetery. The members of the Armenian Apostolic Church are against such people being given space in their cemetery. Manug Dzeron writes of such an incident. Thus in Perchendj Srabents Asadur and his whole family is Catholic. Thus community didn’t have its own church or cemetery in the village. So when Srabents Asadur dies, the question arises as to where he should be buried. The Armenian Apostolic people refuse to allow the deceased’s body to be buried in their cemetery, so for a whole month the body remains in the family’s vineyard. The Armenian Catholic community leader of Mezire intervenes with the authorities, who send officials to Perchendj and who have a grave dug in the Armenian Apostolic cemetery. But the people occupy the site and refuse to allow this ‘Latin’ to be buried alongside their loved ones. In the end Asadur’s body is buried in a place along the road to Shintil (currently Bahçekapı). [36]

The burial of Krikor Der-Hagopian, 1908. The narthex of Hussenig’s St Varvar church (Source: Marderos Deranian, op. cit.)

  • [1] Manug B Dzeron, Parchandj village, a complete history (1600-1937) [in Armenian], Boston, 1938, pp. 112-113.
  • [2] Ibid, p. 113.
  • [3] Hagop Gharib Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village and bloody love gardens [in Armenian], France, 1967, p. 73.
  • [4] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 113.
  • [5] Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 74.
  • [6] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 113.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid, p. 114.
  • [9] Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 75-76; Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 114; Abdal Koledj Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen [in Armenian], published by ‘Baikar’, Boston, 1930, p. 126.
  • [10] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 114; G H Aharonian (editor) Husseinig [in Armenian], published by ‘Hairenik’, Boston, 1965, p. 121; The history of Habusi village [in Armenian], published by ‘Baikar’, Boston, 1963, p. 69; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 75, 80.
  • [11] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 114.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid, p. 115.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 77-79.
  • [16] Aharonian, Husseinig, pp. 120-121.
  • [17] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 115; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 79.
  • [18] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 115; Aharonian, Husseinig, p. 119; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 81-88; Boghosian, The comprehensive history of Pazmashen…, pp. 125-128.
  • [19] The history of Habusi village, p. 70; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 82.
  • [20] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 115; Aharonian, Husseinig, p. 121; The history of Habusi village..., p. 70; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 81.
  • [21] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, pp. 116-117; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 82-84; Marderos Deranian, Hussenig. The origin, history, and destruction of an Armenian town, translated by Hagop Martin Deranian, Armenian Heritage Press, Belmont, 1994, p. 128.
  • [22] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 11; The history of Habusi village..., p. 71; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 85-87; Deranian, Hussenig…, p. 127.
  • [23] Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 87-88.
  • [24] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 117.
  • [25] Ibid.
  • [26] Ibid.
  • [27] Ibid.
  • [28] Ibid, p. 118; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 66.
  • [29] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 118; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 63; Deranian, Hussenig…, p. 129.
  • [30] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 119; The history of Habusi village..., p. 72.
  • [31] Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, p. 66.
  • [32] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 119; Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 63-64.
  • [33] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 119
  • [34] Shahbazian, Our Tankaran village…, pp. 90-92; Vahé Haig, Harput and its golden plain [in Armenian], New York, 1959, p. 1324.
  • [35] Deranian, Hussenig…, pp. 35-36.
  • [36] Manug Dzeron, Parchandj village…, p. 142.