Text by Silvina Der-Meguerditchian and Elena Tobdjian
In this collection we show photographs and items that belong to Elena Tobdjian Der-Meguerditchian who is based in Buenos Aires. The collection opens with the image of Aracsi/Araxi Jachadurian/Khachadourian and Avedis Tobdjian/Topjian, Elena's parents who met in Argentina and started a family in 1940.
Avedis’s family had to leave Ayntab around 1919, they settled in Aleppo for seven years and finally left to Argentina in 1926. Aracsi was born in 1923 in Argentina to an Armenian father who came from Ayntab and to an Armenian mother from a diamond cutters family from Sofia, Bulgaria.
This page shows Aracsi's and Avedis's families in two sections. Please take note that the spelling of the names are changed according to the Spanish transliteration. It means, Khachadourian is written Jachadurian, Araxi is written Aracsi, and Topjian is written Tobdjian.
Jachadur Jachadurian left Ayntab as a young man and arrived alone in Argentina in 1901. He was probably 16 or 17 years old. In the first years since his arrival he worked as a sailor in the Maipu ship, a former torpedo boat, which in 1903 came to Buenos Aires to be used for merchandise transportation purposes in the estuary of the river "Rio de la Plata". The ship’s travel routs reached Uruguay and the river delta going till the North of Argentina.
Elena Garabedian came with her parents, her sister Makrouhi and a brother from Sofia in a touristic visit to Argentina. She came from a wealthy diamond cutter family from Bulgaria. One of the ancestors was a patron of Sofia's Armenian cathedral and was buried in the cathedral’s yard. During this visit, both daughters found a husband in Argentina: Makrouhi in Córdoba and Heghine (Elena) in Buenos Aires. After their wedding, Elena and Jachadur moved to the province of Mendoza and later to San Juan, a city located at the bottom of the Andes Mountains. During this visit, Elena's and Makrouhi's mother unfortunately died. Seeing that both daughters were in "good hands", their father, Gabrielian, decided to return to Sofia.
Meanwhile Jachadur and Elena developed a flourishing shoe manufacturing business in San Juan. In the beginning, their shoe label was called "El Tigre" but it was with the name "Tamper" that they distributed their high quality shoe brand in the whole region. They were also very innovative in packaging and advertising. For example, in the beginning, when the brand was called "El Tigre", they had two tiger cubs living in the showcase of the store for a while in order to advertise the shoes. The shoe boxes were lined in opaque gold foil with a black logo.
Jachadur and Elena had six children: 1. Carlos, 2 & 3 twins, who died in early childhood, 4. Pedro, 5. Aracsi and 6. Luisa. The family reached a good position in the society of San Juan, cultivating friendships with prominent families of the San Juan province, like the famous winery owners Graffigna. Aracsi married Avedis and moved to Córdoba, Luisa married Carlos Baliosian and also moved to Córdoba. Their father Jachadur died young when he was 51 or 52 years old in 1938. Their mother Elena continued the shoe business with both of her sons Carlos and Pedro, even after the big earthquake of 1944. However, when Elena lost her son Pedro in 1957, she left San Juan and moved to Buenos Aires to be near Aracsi and Avedis. Elena died in Buenos Aires in 1963.
Elena Garabedian Jachadurian brought the craft of the embroidery with silk cocoons and golden threads with her from Sofia. She also crocheted gloves with very fine and detailed lace.
Due to the suitable climate conditions in San Juan, she could pursue the tradition to cultivate her own silk worms. In the work displayed here, she signed in Armenian the name "Heghine Boghosian" (this might be the name of her mother’s family).
These are details from the work displayed above.
The Jachadurian family in San Juan, Argentina (probably 1927) sitting from left to right are: Jachadur, with Luisa on his lap, the little girl standing next to him is Aracsi, Elena is sitting with an Argentinian friend’s baby on her lap, the child sitting next to her is Carlos Jachadurian - the oldest son of Jachadur and Elena. The identities of the other persons are unknown.
Pocket watch chain from Ayntab. It belonged to Jachadur Jachadurian (born 1885). After reaching Buenos Aires, he broke the chain into pieces, made bracelets out of it and gave them to his family members.
1. Elena Garabedian Jachadourian in San Juan, Argentina, probably 1920.
2. Jachadur Jachadurian, Argentina, probably 1920.
3. Jachadur Jachadurian and an Argentinian friend (name unknown), Argentina, probably 1920.
This image was taken in Córdoba. Jachadur used to travel to Córdoba and other provinces to buy raw materials (leather etc) for the shoe production. There was a lively Armenian community in Córdoba and part of the family used to live there. Elena's sister Makruhi also lived there.
The other persons sitting around the table are unknown.
This is a detail of Elena Jachadurian’s handicraft - embroidery with golden yarn on silk.
Elena Garabedian Jachadurian and Hrimsime Murekian Tobdjian, mothers-in-law.
Hripsime Murekian was born in Ayntab in 1883. She was one of nine siblings. We only know the names of one sister, Anna and two brothers: Avedis and Hovsep. Her father was an active member of the Huntchag Party and was killed during the Genocide. Four of her brothers were also killed during the Genocide.
The Murekians (see family tree) left Ayntab, their home city, with their children in the early 1920s and settled in Aleppo, which at that time was part of Syria under the French mandate. Later, in the mid or late 1920s, they migrated to Argentina. Only Anna's family remained in Aleppo and went to Buenos Aires later in the 50s.
Hripsime's husband, Nazareth Tobdjian was a merchant who never returned from one of his business trips while they lived in Ayntab. The family assumed he fell victim to the pillaging carried out by local Kurdish or Arab tribes – a widespread phenomenon at that time. The Tobdjians were five siblings, Nazareth, Yesayi, Roupen, Nuritza and Mariam. They also left their native home in Ayntab with their children (see family tree) and found shelter in Aleppo for a few years, before they left to Argentina in the mid/late 1920s.
The young widow Hripsime started working as a teacher of Armenian language in Aleppo, at the Armenian Catholic School in Telal Street.
In 1926, she moved to Latin America with her two teenager sons. She, just like most of her family members, found shelter in Córdoba, Argentina, a province in the center of the country.
Hripsime was the founder of the Armenian Red Cross of Córdoba and devoted herself to various social activities and charity work for the rest of her life.
This image was taken in Aleppo in a studio. Sitting in the middle of the photograph is Hripsime Murekian/Tobdjian, to the left is Avedis and to the right Puzant Tobdjian. The boys in their teens wear these uniforms only to be photographed. In the aftermath of the Genocide, it was a usual practice for young Armenian survivors and refugees to use military-like uniforms to embody the spirit of a resurrected Armenian nation while being photographed in their first country of refuge like Syria and Lebanon.
This is a school picture from the Armenian Catholic School in Telal Street, Aleppo. Four Marist Brothers, who came to Aleppo in 1904, had taken charge of the school. In the group photograph, we see Avedis Tobdjian standing on the right side next to the priest/teacher in the third row (probably 1923).
These two portraits of Avedis were taken in Aleppo when he was 16 or 17 years old, before the family left to Buenos Aires. The left portrait shows the stamp GULBENK, one of the most important photographers from Aleppo at that time.
His name was Gulbenk Chichekian. He was originally from Talas, near Kayseri/Gesaria. He installed his studio in Aleppo already in 1920, later he went to Damascus and Beirut. His studio was located at the Hendek Street, a street perpendicular to the Telal Street.
This certificate, issued by the Armenian Vicar patriarchate in Beirut in 1926, shows the identity of Hripsime and Avedis Tobdjian, as mother and son and their wish to rejoin the older brother Puzant, who was already in Argentina.
These are the certificates of good standing of Hripsime Tobdjian and Avedis Tobdjian that allowed them to immigrate to Argentina.
Avedis was a creative young boy, talented in the arts. He had drawing skills and was very much appreciated by his teachers. A full-length body portrait of the director of the school made by Avedis aroused the interest of the Marist Brothers running the Armenian catholic school of Aleppo, thus they gave him a scholarship and sent him to Paris to study art. However, Hripsime, his mother, being a young widow in exile, wouldn't let him go, she wanted to keep her sons close to her.
In his desire to improve his artistic knowledge, Avedis lied to his mother saying that he was going to school and went to a photographer’s studio instead, which was very close to his school on Telal Street, (this might be the studio Gulbenk); there he would say that his mother had sent him to learn the art of photography. This is how he learned the profession that later helped him to rebuild his life in his new home in Argentina. While the others members of the family pursued more traditional Armenian trades and crafts like shoe making, fabric trading or jewelry making, he supported the family with his artistic skills.
In the beginning, he would go to the playgrounds of Córdoba to photograph families and children, till he was able to open his first studio at 658 Alvear Street (Córdoba). His business continued to grow and he opened a new studio at 9 de Julio (Córdoba) and he started cooperating with the local newspaper; he would publish portraits of the high society in Córdoba in the society section on a weekly basis.
He opted for the name LUIS as a studio name to integrate better in his new chosen home. In 1948, he moved to Buenos Aires with his wife and daughter and opened a studio in Charcas Street, in a renowned neighborhood. He also designed the furniture of his studio and prepared the scene while taking portraits of his clients.
His last studio was located at 4649 Triunvirato Street, in Colegiales (Buenos Aires).
Portraits made by Avedis Tobdjian, retouched with Stabylo pencils. 1. Elena Garabedian Jachadurian, 2. Aracsi Jachadurian Tobdjian, 3. Avedis Tobdjian, 4. Jachadur Jachadurian 5. Pedro Jachadurian, 6. Elena Tobdjian
Avedis and Aracsi's wedding photograph in Córdoba (1940). For this occasion, the Tobdjian family made a donation for the purchase of the bells of the Armenian Church in the "Patria" neighborhood (Córdoba city).
A family picnic in the colines of Córdoba, likely 1940.
Another picnic photographed around 1930 with family and fellow Aintabtsis in Cordoba's outskirts.
This photograph was taken in the 1940s, it depicts the continuation of Christmas Day customs in the diaspora, where men and boys of the family named Avedis would gather and prepare to sacrifice a lamb, which would be their main meal of the day. In the picture we can see Yesayi, Avedis and Puzant Tobdjian (born in Ayntab), who are celebrating Christmas.
Different portraits of Avedis Tobdjian in different ages.
Folk medicine traditions in Ayntab were particularly influenced by traditional Armenian medicine practiced in Cilicia. This is not surprising given that Ayntab, which was within the borders of medieval Cilicia with its various monasteries and seminaries, was not disconnected from the medical progress made during the period; folk doctors in Ayntab would certainly have known the medical treatises written in the monasteries of the area. It is reported that knowledge of herbal medicine was written down in the neighboring city of Marash as recipes for remedies listed in books that belonged to certain families. In the case of the contents of the notebook in question, it is not clear where from the knowledge exactly reached Ayntab. In any case, Hripsime Tobdjian took this knowledge with her from Ayntab to Aleppo and then into exile to Argentina, where she wrote it all down in a notebook.
It is likely that at least some of the knowledge that she wrote down in the notebook was gleaned from other members of her family. Within the family, Hripsime is said to have received a recipe from her sister-in-law Nouritza, who had a recurring dream for several days in which an angel gave her a remedy for curing eye infections.
Hripsime had probably brought some personal notes with her from Ayntab and wanted to write them down more clearly and understandably in a single notebook before she died. Alternatively, she may have known all the recipes by heart before writing them down in peace while in Argentina.
On the first page of the manuscript, Hripsime left a note dedicating it to the Tobdjian family, which therefore makes it a very personal item. The notebook is testimony to the fact that Hripsime must have felt the need to preserve this specific medical knowledge. She herself had used the recipes in Córdoba, helping friends and neighbors. The recipe she had learnt from her sister, for instance, was still in use until the 1960s. All this knowledge makes her manuscript a treasure trove that contains personal memories as well as parts of Armenian heritage that survived in diaspora.
This paper manuscript contains 130 pages filled with a total of 342 folk remedies written in Armeno-Turkish (Turkish written in Armenian script with an a mixture of Armenian words). In addition to this, it contains some standard pages with recommendations on how to be a good pupil and Argentinian citizen. The handwriting is largely clear and regular, although a few of the last pages seem to have been written in a hurry. The notebook does not contain any illuminations or illustrations. Page numbers are written at the top of each page. Additionally, each recipe bears a number of its own.
The recipes are divided into groups according to different parts of the human body. An incredibly detailed list of possible ailments is provided in each part, followed by a recipe for an appropriate remedy. We find 64 recipes for healing the eyes alone, for instance, including the following:
Eye-refreshing recipe: sugar lumps for tea, ulex (gorse), potassium bitartrate, long pepper
Eye-refreshing recipe: citric acid, starch, clove, rock sugar Polad
Recipe to cure watery eyes: cypress, black cumin, alum, nigella sativa
Recipe for eye herpes: sugar lumps for tea, black chickpeas, galga nux, clove
Recipe for black eyes irritated by smoke: galga nux, long pepper, clove, sugar lumps for tea, copper sulphate, ammoniac
Special recipe for acute eye pain: cotton, rose water, Syrian rue, white chickpeas
Recipe to cure styes: sugar lumps for tea, alum, clove
Recipe for eye sores: anzarot, clove, auraga, sea foam, alum, rock sugar Polad
Herbal ointment for black eyes: long pepper, goldenrod, galga nux, rock sugar Polad, almonds, olives and honey ointment
Recipe for eyes irritated by dust or smoke: shellac, ivory powder, pearl powder, egg yolk
Once arrived in Aleppo, the women of the family would do embroidery to help the families' economy. Hripsime's nieces Behiye, Lousin, and Alicia would embroider handkerchiefs to sell. As a reward, the girls received a handful of dry sunflower and squash seeds.
The stitching skills of the women of the family were also useful for other purposes. Hripsime said that during the genocide, after the Armenian elite of Ayntab were first arrested, the prisoners would get secret messages stitched in Armenian hidden around the borders of the handkerchief's decoration that were handed to the prisoners. She also probably stitched such handkerchiefs for her father who was active at the Huntchag Party and her four brothers.
Hripsime loved to do crochet in the evenings in between the preparation of the meals in the yard of her house in Córdoba.
The newcomers organized their cultural life around different institutions. The Tobdjians were at the heart of the Armenian cultural life in the Córdoba of those times. They gathered family and friends to sing together, they also played vocational theater, performing several pieces from different Armenian and non-Armenian writers.
These recordings were made in the 1950s by the "Tatoul Altounian" ensemble. Tatoul Altounian was an Armenian born in Adana, who later became the founder of the Armenian song-dance state ensemble in Soviet Armenia. The ensemble, named after Tatoul Altounian, was founded and directed by Avedis Tobdjian. He used to play several instruments, but in the ensemble he played the kanun (oriental zither). He had been taught to play this instrument in Argentina by another survivor, Mr Sahag, who was a master instrumentalist in the Ottoman era.
Avedis's house in Buenos Aires never stopped being a place of meetings for the Armenian community. His wife Aracsi, who was a piano teacher, would play every evening and Avedis would sing arias and pieces from different composers. The younger generation used to come to their house to share convivial moments. One day a group of young people came and asked Avedis to form a music ensemble. He, who was a fervent music lover, accepted and for the next years the Tobdjian house in Triunvirato became a vivid center for Armenian traditional music - a rehearsal and exchange place.
There is much documentation on Avedis’s artistic activities. Here we can see the list of concerts that the ensemble had when Avedis was an active part of it, up until the time when he had to quit because of health problems. He registered the place where the concert took place, the name of the organizing institution, the date and the occasion of the concert.
The list concerns the ensemble’s concerts which took place between 1958 and 1960. These lists also represent the activities of the Armenian organizations operating in Buenos Aires at the time. We find the names of different Armenian schools and organizations, which have hosted the music ensemble; these include: the H.M.E.M. (Homenetmen, Armenian General Athletic Union and Scouts), the AGBU (the Armenian General Benevolent Union), H.O.M. (ARS, Armenian Relief Society), many compatriotic unions such as that of Ayntab, Marash, Adana, Kütahya, Adapazar, Hadjin, the Istanbul organisation, the Mkhitarian college etc. Among the organisations, we find also some non-Armenian ones, such as the association of the Alawites.
This is Avedis’s kanun which he got from his teacher Mr Sahag. It is said that during the Genocide, the perpetrators cut Mr. Sahag's fingers’ tendons so he could never play the instrument he loved so much ever again. As a result, his fingers were always curled into his palms. But Mr Sahag was determined to play again; he had special rubber finger stalls made, which he wore on his own fingers to allow them to move and, through sheer willpower, he was once more able to make the kanun’s strings sound sweetly when he plucked them. He would visit Avedis’s house in Triunvirato street to teach or make jam/dialogue sessions with his student.