A wedding photograph, 1912: Catherine Kalderdjian and Levon Attar Megerian (Levon Remzi) (Source: Hourig Attarian collection)

Yozgat – Religious customs

Author: Vahé Tachjian, 01/5/13 (Last modified 01/5/12)- Translator: Hrant Gadarigian

Khoskgab (binding word), betrothal

One of the oldest traditions designed to unite a boy and a girl was the “cradle oath” (orrani nshanduk in Armenian, or beşik kertme, in Turkish). The tradition started to disappear in the Yozgat region by the end of the 19th century. This type of betrothal occurred between families that were very close, often between those that were wealthy and displayed mutual respect. In other words, it was the long-standing friendship of the families that would be sustained from the betrothal of the newly born couple, as well as ensuring that the wealth of the families would be passed down to “safe” hands. Under parental guidance, these children, betrothed at birth, would grow up together in the years to come. That’s to say they would often meet, the parents would encourage them to become the best of playmates and much later, they would be married at the earliest opportunity [1]

Yozgat: panorama (Source: H. M. Eprigian, Illustrated Indegenous Dictionary (in Armenian), Part 1, Venice, St Lazzaro, 1900)

Employing the services of a woman intermediary was the most widely used form to arrange marriages. In this case, the girl candidate for marriage would be about 13-14 years-old and the boy, 18-20. The most convenient opportunity to form an opinion of the girl would be Sunday church services and holiday celebrations. The picnics held during such celebrations were of great significance in this regard. These were the days when boys and girls would gather, dance together and participate in joint games, all under the watchful eyes of their parents. The long winters experienced in the town of Yozgat also provided opportunities for boys and girls to meet. Given the harsh conditions, families would huddle inside their homes, and working outside came to a standstill. Work inside the home took on a collective aspect – wheat was ground in stone mortars, grain was milled, etc. Neighbors would help each other out, thus creating a friendly work environment during the winter where boys and girls would congregate. [2]

Once a preference had been reached regarding a certain girl, the boy’s mother would contact a woman intermediary, who would then pay a visit to the girl’s home to convey the request to the woman of the household. Such intermediaries were always to be found in the towns and villages. They were clever, quick witted and skilled orators who, in addition to performing an intermediary function in matters of marriage, were usually the first to advise the future bride on the basics of sexual relations. [3]

The future course of action all depended on the response of the girl’s mother. A rejection meant that the process might end then and there. If the mother was amenable, the next stage began. Now, the men folk took over. The boy’s father and godfather, along with a few prominent individuals, would visit the girl’s home to officially ask for her hand. If an agreement was reached, that’s when the verbal betrothal would take place, followed by a lavish reception. A verbal betrothal also obligated the boy’s family to offer a significant sum, which could be from 6 medjidie (mecidiye - a gold coin worth 20 ghurush/kuruş) to 2-3 Ottoman gold pieces, to the girl’s family. Shortly afterwards, the boy’s immediate relatives also paid a visit to the girl’s home, this time accompanied by a priest. This was when the engagement took place. The priest would bless the engagement ring, which the girl wore, along with the gifted earrings. The engagement period would last for at least one year. During this period, the boy’s parents and relatives would make several visits, bringing a variety of gifts, to the future bride’s home. Any encounter between the boy and girl was strictly prohibited during the entire period. [4]

Wedding and marriage

The families of the boy and girl would jointly decide the day of the wedding, which usually took place in the spring in the town of Yozgat. In Burunkışla, weddings never took place on Sunday, but rather started early Monday morning. In the village of Rumdigin (present-day Felahiye), weddings usually took place in the autumn, after the completion of agricultural work. [5]

The Papazian family from Yozgat. This photograph was taken at the occasion of the marriage of Kerovpe Papazian and Verjin Gulbengian. Standing, left to right: Chaderdjian, Kerovpe Papazian, Verjin Papazian (née Gulbengian), Mariam Papazian. Seated, left to right: Verjin's brother, Mrs. Papazian, Hampartsum agha Papazian, Misak Papazian (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, History of Armenian Yozgad and the surrounding (Kamirk) region [in Armenian], Beirut, 1988)

One of the important ceremonies prior to weddings in Rumdigin was bringing the girl’s dowry (halav, or djehez) to the bridegroom’s house. Afterwards, on Saturday, the boy’s relatives and friends would go to the girl’s house to apply hina (henna). They would bring large trays of sweets with them. Carrying the trays above their heads, on which lighted candles were also placed, the group would walk to the girl’s house accompanied by davul-zurna (drum and pipe) music. A large party would take place at the house during which hina is placed on the fingers of all in attendance. On the next day, Sunday, weddings in Rumdigin would take place. [6]

On the wedding day, the girl’s house would be filled with people. The bride would get dressed and her hair combed and styled. A festive atmosphere also would permeate the house of the bridegroom. The dowry would be placed on a table, along with the hina to be used at the wedding. On Saturday afternoon, a day before the wedding, the blessing of the dowry took place, followed by the ritual of dressing the groom. Each item of clothes was blessed individually before being worn. A blue tie, symbolizing love, is placed around his neck. After being dressed, the groom is declared king. The groom’s guardian (pesamanug) was chosen from a line of unmarried young men. In Rumdigin, this person was also nicknamed the momdji. Afterwards, wedding merrymaking would really start in earnest at the boy’s house. Dancing would break out both inside the home and up on the roof. [7]

In the town of Yozgat itself, weddings did not last as long as in the villages. The relatives and friends of the boy would organize a noisy march, weaving through the streets and heading towards the girl’s house. Along the way, they would sing, dance and even shoot their rifles in the air. According to accepted tradition, when they reached the entryway they would find the door closed and guards standing out front. A struggle would commence between the two opposing groups, only ending when the elders intervened; or more correctly, when the boy’s group promised a large gift to the girl’s family. [8]

The girl finally would come out. It’s the moment of separation. Mother and daughter would weep profusely. In Rumdigin, the zurna musician would play a set of poignant songs and the following quatrain was chanted:

Anam besler hurma ile,
Eller besler yarma ile,
İşte koyup gidiyorum,
Sılayı terk ediyorum. [9]

My mother feeds us dates,
The stranger feeds us cracked wheat,
I will get up and go,
I will leave my village.

Yozgat (town), 2nd August 1900. Centre, left to right: Bishop Torigian, Rev Ghevont Tursarkisian (prelate of Yozgat) (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, History of Armenian Yozgad and the surrounding (Kamirk) region [in Armenian], Beirut, 1988)

The girl’s relatives would join the procession and all present would head to the church. In the village of Rumdigin, the bride was taken to the church on a beautifully adorned horse. The godfather, holding the reins, leads the horse. Sometimes, halfway on the way to the church, young boys would grab the rope and not permit the procession to continue. In these cases, the godfather must negotiate with the boys and promise them gifts to clear the path. In the town of Yozgat, when the wedding procession reached the door of the church, the bells started to ring. The marriage ceremony takes place before the altar. A narod (braid of colorful thick thread) is placed on the head of the boy and girl. Each is holding the right hand of the other. The godfather is standing alongside and so is the pesamanug, who is wearing new clothes with a wide cherry or sky blue colored glittery silk sash around his waist. The priest holds the cross above the heads of the newlyweds and blesses them. In Burunkışla, at the end of the ceremony, the custom is for prospective bridegrooms to line up before the altar and show themselves off to the crowd. [10]

With the church service over, the procession now heads to the groom’s house. In the town of Yozgat, the custom was for the youngsters to break a large pitcher of water at the feet of the newlyweds outside the entrance to the house. This act symbolized the wish that luck and happiness should flow like water for the couple inside the walls of their new abode. Another tradition was that young people would throw large clay pots down to the street below from the roofs of houses. The pots break and shatter, conveying the symbolic significance that the newlyweds would be free from misfortune. After this, another person slaughters a lamb, a ram or a rooster, and spreads the blood before the newlyweds. The following custom was also practiced in Rumdigin. When the procession reached the groom’s house, they invite the bride inside. However, she would shake her veiled head in a sign of rejection and point to her father-in-law and mother-in-law, requesting that they dance together in front of the house. Her wish was that her entry into the new house takes place in a joyous and festive mood. A gentle and slow dance melody begins and the groom’s parents dance. At the end, the bride bows and enters the house. [11]

The Sahagian family from Yozgat (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, History of Armenian Yozgad and the surrounding (Kamirk) region [in Armenian], Beirut, 1988)

Once inside, the guests start their wining and dining. The priest is also present, but he makes an early exit to allow the young people to party, dance and sing in a more unrestricted setting. Before the festivities commence, however, the women gather in one room where they are shown the dowry and the gifts given by friends and relatives. A portion of the dowry is made up of the personal items prepared by the bride – clothes, handmade items, bed covers, etc. The bride also adds gifts she has made for the groom’s family – garments, handkerchiefs and socks.  It is only after this protocol to present the dowry that the much anticipated song and dance can get underway.  The newlywed couple leads the line of dancers. A band, usually comprised of a violin, clarinet, ud, drum and tambourine, keeps the music flowing throughout the festivities. [12]

In the village of Rumdigin, the protocol of presenting the dowry was different. During the days leading up to the wedding, the girl’s family would start showing the dowry contents to family and friends. A woman skilled in oratory, especially invited for the occasion, would sing the praises of each item, describe them, and reveal who they are for. Then, the entire dowry was placed in chests. These were then taken on horseback to the groom’s house with great fanfare. Wealthier families used camels to transport the dowry. The animals, whether horse or camel, were especially festooned for the occasion. [13]

Protestant Armenians in the Yozgat region celebrated weddings in a more reserved fashion. The godfather and godmother would lead the bride and groom to the Protestant assembly hall for the marriage ceremony. There was no playing of music or dancing on the way from the house to the hall and back; only organ songs. After the church service, the guests gathered at the groom’s house where coffee was served. [14]

Birth and baptism

The birth of a child took place under the guidance of a nursemaid. She was the one who provided vital care to mother and child. The custom in the villages was to immediately dip the newborn child in salt. The nursemaid would then wash the child in a large basin of hot water, wiping its nose, mouth, hands and feet. The nursemaid would then hold the child upside down by its feet. The woman would then hold the child by its head, rocking it back and forth, with the intention of lengthening its neck. The nursemaid would then wrap the child in swaddling clothes and give it to the mother. From the waist down, they would wrap the child in a hoghlat (soil cloth), the inner portion being wiped with soil-like clay finally ground and heated. This material would absorb the child’s bodily discharges and protect the skin from irritation. It is of interest to note that when American missionaries operating in Yozgat visited Armenian villages in the area to propagate their faith, they also attempted to dissuade villagers from the practice of dipping newborns in salt. [15]

1. Yozgat. An Armenian family. Adults standing: Mr and Mrs Sarkis and Makrouhi Enfiedjian, Mr and Mrs Hagop and Anush Enfiedjian (Hagop is Sarkis’ brother). Seated: Sarkis’ and Hagop’s parents (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, History of Armenian Yozgad…)
2. The Karalian family from Yozgat (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian,
History of Armenian Yozgad…)

The Barigian family from Yozgat (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, History of Armenian Yozgad…)

When the firstborn child was a boy, it was the cause of great joy within the family. Special praise was heaped upon the new mother and she received presents from well-wishers. A celebration was held to mark the happy occasion.

The baptism would take place 8 to 10 days after the birth of the child. It was the godmother who carried the child to the church, accompanied by the parents and relatives. Upon entering the church, the child was handed to the godfather. The priest would lower the child in the baptismal font filled with warm water infused with muron (holy oil). During the solemn religious ceremony, the name of the child would be announced. The baptism was followed by a round or feasting and merrymaking.
When the baby’s first tooth appeared, around the age of one year, the family would boil some wheat, spreads it with sugar, and distribute morsels to friends and family as a sign of the event. On the appointed day, they would all come to see the child and bring gifts. Amidst an atmosphere of prayer and well-wishes, they would take the wheat grains and drop them from the child’s head; a symbolic wish that more teeth would grow. They would then place an assortment of objects in front of the child - a pair of scissors, pencil, hammer and knife. The first object the child grabbed was seen as a harbinger of his or her future profession. [16]

Death and Burial

Yozgat, circa 1911. Armenian funeral. The young boy standing on the right behind the coffin, head slightly bent, is Vahan/John Ayvazian (b. 1896). His younger brother, Antranig/Arthur Ayvazian appears behind him to the right of his shoulder, and their father (first name unknown), appears behind Antranig, with his hand on his son's shoulder (Source: Janice Carter (Ayvazian) collection, USA)

The body would be placed on the bed in the largest room of the house. A rug is placed under the bed, which is covered in new sheets and a sparkling bedspread. Household members and close friends sit around the four walls of the room. After the introduction of photography to the Yozgat area, it became the custom to take a photo of the family surrounding the deceased. Oftentimes, the deceased was placed in a sitting position for the photograph. Women know as “funeral wailers” would often be present in the house, mourning the deceased and extolling the positive aspects of their lives.

The Semerdjibashian family. Standing, left to right: Hrair Semerdjibashian, Asadur Semerdjibashian, Vahan Semerdjibashian, Nazar Semerdjibashian. Seated, left to right: Nahabed Semerdjibashian, Mariam Semerdjibashian (Source: A. Tarian/A. Yerganian, History of Armenian Yozgad and the surrounding (Kamirk) region [in Armenian], Beirut, 1988)

The deceased would then be taken to the house courtyard, where the naked body was placed on a wooden board. If the deceased was a male, the church beadle (jamgoch) would assume the responsibility of washing the body with hot water. If the deceased was a female, an elderly woman would perform the washing. Afterwards, the deceased would be wrapped in a white sheet, covered, and placed in a coffin belonging to the church. Four men, holding the four handles affixed to the sides of the coffin, would raise it to chest level and carry it to the church and then to the cemetery. The Turks of Yozgat would carry the coffin on their shoulders. The priest would lead the funeral procession, along with the deacon and acolytes. The deceased was lowered into a freshly dug grave. The mourners would then throw a handful of earth in the hole. No gravestone was placed there, just a mound of earth. There are several tombstones in the yard of the Yozgat town church. They are the graves of the founders of the parish school; the Arslanians (also known by the family name of Ohan Chorbadji). [17]

In the days following the burial, the relatives and neighbors of the deceased take turns preparing the daily hokedjash (memorial meal). [18]

Chorum/Çorum (Ankara vilayet), 1904. Representatives of the Armenian community (Source: Nubarian Library collection)

  • [1] Armen Tarian, Antranig Yerganian (Editors), History of Armenian Yozgat and the surrounding (Kamirk) region [Badmakirk Yozgati yev shrchagayits (Kamkirk) hayots], published by Compatriotic Union of Yozgat and Region, Beirut, 1988, p. 124.
  • [2] Ibid, pp 124-126; Nuritsa M. Pilibosian, Avedis Kesdekian (A. Gabents), Vahé Haig, A Memorial to the People of Yozghad (Yozgat) [Hushartsan Yozghadtsineru (Yozgat)], Fresno, 1955, p. 85.
  • [3] Tarian, History of Armenian Yozgat…, pp. 124-125; Pilibosian, A Memorial to the People…, p. 85.
  • [4] Tarian History of Armenian Yozgat…, pp. 125-127; Pilibosian, A Memorial to the People…, p. 85.
  • [5] Tarian, History of Armenian Yozgat, p. 127, 133; Haygazun H. Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin [Hishadagaran Rumdigini], published by the Rumdigin Compatriotic Union, printer Aslas, Beirut, 1967, p. 119.
  • [6] Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin..., p. 118.
  • [7] Ibid, p. 120.
  • [8] Tarian, History of Armenian Yozgat…, p. 127; Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin..., pp. 118-119.
  • [9] Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin..., p. 119.
  • [10] Tarian, History of Armenian Yozgat..., p. 127, 133; Pilibosian, A Memorial to the People..., p. 86; Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin..., pp. 118-119.
  • [11] Tarian, History of Armenian Yozgat..., p. 127; Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin..., p. 121; Pilibosian, A Memorial to the People…, pp. 86-87.
  • [12] Tarian, History of Armenian Yozgat..., pp. 127-128; Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin..., p. 118; Pilibosian, A Memorial to the People…, p. 87.
  • [13] Yapudjian, Memorial to Rumdigin..., p. 118.
  • [14] Pilibosian, A Memorial to the People…, pp. 87-88.
  • [15] Tarian, History of Armenian Yozgat…, p. 128; Pilibosian, A Memorial to the People…, p. 88.
  • [16] Tarian, History of Armenian Yozgat…, p. 128; Pilibosian, A Memorial to the People…, pp. 88-89.
  • [17] Tarian, History of Armenian Yozgat…, p. 129.
  • [18] Ibid., p. 129.