Guzelimian Collection - Rancho Santa Fe, California
The Guzelimian family hails from Ayntab. On this page, we present the family’s collection, consisting of a large number of photographs and documents. Access to the collection was granted to us by a member of the family, Vahe Guzelimian.
It is fortunate that one of the family’s ancestors, Nerses Guzelimian, wrote a seven-page autobiography in 1938. This work provides us details of his and his family’s past. The abbreviated history of the family that is provided here is mostly based on these writings by Nerses, as well as information and documents provided to us by his grandson, Vahe Guzelimian.
Nerses Guzelimian was born in Ayntab, in 1882. His mother’s name was Yester (1863-1938, nee Levonian), and his father’s name was Haroutyun/Artin (1860-1934). Aside from Nerses, the family had two sons, Loudere and Khacher, and four daughters – Flora, Yeranouhi, Gulenia, and Mihranoush. Upon his birth, Nerses was adopted by his paternal aunt, Lucia Oghlouyan (nee Guzelimian). She was known as Guzelim Lucia.
Lucia and her husband were childless, and for this reason Nerses’s parents placed him in the care of the Oghlouyan family. Nerses’s adoptive father was Krikor Geoy Oughlouyan, who was also known by the moniker of Bchakdje (knifesmith) Krikor, by virtue of his profession. As a result, Nerses’s family name became Bchakdjian, but only for a short period of time, as we will see.
Nerses’s future wife, Gulenia Iskhanian, was born in 1891, in Ayntab. The Iskhanian family were known in Ayntab as yarn dyers. Gulenia's mother was Gullu Ishkhanian (nee Ishkhanian) and her father was Kevork Ishkhanian. Gulenia’s grandmother was Horom Mariam Ishkhanian (nee Karamanougian), and her grandfather was Koupeli Sahagian. He later converted to Islam, and Horom Mariam married for a second time, to Ishkhan Iskhanian. Gulenia attended the Ayntab Protestant girls’ elementary school, from which she graduated in 1904. She received her secondary education at the American Women’s College of Ayntab, from which she graduated in 1908.
Nerses Guzelimian received his primary education at the school of the Protestant church in the Heyig neighborhood of Ayntab. Beginning in 1896, he attended Central Turkey College, which was an American missionary institution in Ayntab. He graduated from the college in 1902. After the 1895 Armenian massacres, many orphanages were established in Ayntab to care for children who had become orphaned. Beginning in 1896, Nerses’s adoptive parents began working in the orphanage of the Mardin neighborhood of Ayntab. They were entrusted with the care of about 70 children of both sexes. The entire family established residence at the orphanage. Nerses helped his parents in caring for the children, and as a result, was dubbed “Nerses Kardash” (Brother Nerses) by them.
Nerses was deeply involved in the spiritual life of the Armenian Protestant community in Ayntab, and was an enthusiastic member of the congregation of the Heyig neighborhood church. He also served as a Sunday school teacher in the same church. From 1902 to 1905, he served as a teacher in the elementary schools adjacent to the Protestant churches of the Kayadjek and Heyig neighborhoods. He was able to save some of the wages he earned. In 1905, having saved 45 Ottoman pounds, he traveled to Beirut, where he studied pharmacy for a year at the American University of Beirut.
He intended to proceed from Beirut to Egypt, where his biological parents had been living since 1904. But in his memoirs, Nerses writes that in those years, the government had imposed strict restrictions on the issuance of permissions to travel abroad, especially to Armenians. However, a clandestine route had been established, by sea. And so, Nerses embarked on the ship Batladje Muhammad in Lebanon, and reached Egypt as a stowaway, joining his biological family there. In Egypt, he worked for 13 months as an assistant at a local pharmacy. Thereafter, still traveling illegally, he returned to Beirut, where he continued his education as a pharmacist. In 1908, he received his university diploma, and settled down in Egypt. He adopted the family name Guzelimian during his university years. This was the name that appeared on his Ottoman identity papers, and consequently, it was the name that appeared on his university diploma.
In Cairo, he was employed as a pharmacist, a position of prestige, at the New Anglo-American Pharmacy. He remained at that position for six years. In 1910, alongside his biological mother, Yester (his adoptive mother, Lucia, had died earlier in that same year), he visited Ayntab, where he married Gulenia Ishkhanian. Nerses and Gulenia’s first child, Lucia, was born in 1911, and was presumably named after Nerses’s adoptive mother. In 1914, the family moved to Aleppo, where Nerses, in partnership with Haroutyun Ishkhanian, founded a pharmacy. Ishkhanian’s investment in the pharmacy gave him a one-fourth ownership stake. Nerses’ memoirs give the impression that the Ishkhanian family (Gulenia’s family) had, at some point, also emigrated from Ayntab to Egypt. In that same year, the couple’s second child, Vahram, was born.
Then the First World War erupted. Nerses was conscripted into the Ottoman army. In 1917, the couple’s third child, George, was born. Thanks to his expertise as a pharmacist, Nerses was made a mülazimi evvel (first lieutenant). He served in the area of the Amanos Mountains in Cilicia. He spent two years in Tahtaköprü, near Islahiye, and about a year in Osmaniye, working in the military hospitals.
He was then transferred to the Ottoman military hospital in Haifa (Palestine). He was still stationed there when Palestine was captured by British forces. Like many others, Nerses was captured as a prisoner of war, but once it became clear that he had a good grasp of the English language, he was immediately appointed to a responsible position within the same hospital. At the time, the hospital was treating about 1,200 wounded or sick soldiers of the Ottoman army, including approximately 20 officers.
After working at the hospital as a prisoner of war for three months, Nerses was commended for his service by the British forces and released. He was given a free travel ticket, and returned to Aleppo to rejoin his family. There, he revived his pharmacy, which had gone bankrupt, and for two years lived in the city with his wife and children. Then, in 1920, the family once again left for Egypt, with the intention of emigrating to the United States from there. This plan did not come to fruition, and the family continued living in Egypt. Nerses and Gulenia’s two other children, Anahid and Rosine, were born in this country. Nerses’s biological parents, Yester and Haroutyun, also died in Cairo.
In 1955, the family emigrated to Canada, where Nerses and Gulenia died, in 1962 and 1973 respectively. Their daughter Lucia (1911-2002) married Puzant Yeghiayan (1899-1995) in 1935. Vahram (1914-1974) married Lucy Ekmekdjian (1930-1974). George (1917-2010) married Elizabeth Ottilie Vollrath (1937-1972). Anahid (1923-2012) married Souren Noradoungian (1920-2003). Rosine (1926-2007) married Ollie Vaartaja (1917-1984).
During the First World War, Nerses was conscripted into the Ottoman Army. Thanks to his qualifications as a pharmacist, he was made a mülazimi evvel(first lieutenant), and served in military hospitals in the region of the Amanos Mountains in Cilicia. At the conclusion of the war, he was serving at the Ottoman military hospital in Haifa.