Levon Parian shares story of genocide, salvation

Levon Parian, photography professor and editor, with recently published “Crows of the Desert,” which details the memoirs of his Armenian grandfather who joined the Ottoman military in 1909. His grandfather later found himself in the middle of a genocide against his people, where he then escaped to Der Zor in Syria to save thousands of stranded and orphaned individuals during the Armenian Genocide. Photo credit: Leah Oakes / Contributor

>>Updated with additional information.

Levon Yotnakhparian did not expect his revered lifestyle as a soldier to evolve into a tale of betrayal, escape and the salvation of thousands during the Armenian Genocide.

Levon Parian, Yotnakhparian’s grandson and a professor of art photography at CSUN, collected pictures, letters and stories from other family members for three years before publishing his grandfather’s memoirs in “Crows of the Desert”  earlier this year. The historical story reflects Yotnakhparian’s life-saving journey.

“People are wondering where it has been all this time, and why haven’t they heard of this,” Parian said.

Before his death, Yotnakhparian dictated the story to his wife, who took the writings to a novelist. who changed the factual history, and left the author unsatisfied.

Parian decided to publish the facts at the request of his late father.

When Yotnakhparian enlisted in the Ottoman cavalry, he had no idea that history would change before his eyes as the Turks turned on his people. According to Parian’s publication, reformers known as the Young Turks overthrew Ottoman rule and systematically changed the way the empire was run. Rather than granting civil rights to those in the empire, the Turks were determined to “Turkify” every person.

Once the Turks were convinced that the Armenians must be killed, they went after the Armenian population.

“He saw the transformation,” Parian said. “Armenian soldiers were highly regarded, and next thing you know they are being put into work camps – work details to be killed. He’s lucky he found people that were good that wanted to take care of him and protect him.”

He decided to pay it forward by escaping from the military and headed to Jabal al-Druze — now present-day Syria. After receiving help from leaders of the Arab Revolt in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other eastern regions, Yotnakhparian made it his mission to save the oppressed Armenian survivors and orphans after his escape. His grandson said that his late grandfather rescued over 4,000 people.

These protectors offered him services that even officials could not obtain including documents to stop trains so that Yotnakhparian could transport the rescued orphans, according to Parian.

“These people knew that if they (the Armenians) didn’t win, they would see everyone in their family slaughtered. A different kind of mentality forms when you know that everybody is going to die than when you’re the aggressor,” Parian said.

The current Turkish government has not recognized this event as a genocide. According to Parian, the term “genocide” was coined in 1943 by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, to describe the Armenian killings.

Dr. Vahram Shemmassian, a professor of Armenian studies classes under CSUN’s modern and classical languages and literatures department, has done research on survivors of the genocide and the difficulty they encountered. He teaches about the genocide for at least one week in each class, and some students write their research papers on the topic.

“Every Armenian feels the burden on their shoulders because of the lack of recognition and because each and every one of us has a story to tell. It’s a living testimony. We have felt it in our own skins,” Shemmassian said.

According to Shemmassian, approximately 80 percent of Armenian studies students have an Armenian heritage. Of that group, 95 percent came from public schools where Armenian heritage and culture are rarely taught. The nearly 30-year-old Armenian studies concentration in the department teaches students about Armenian heritage because it affects all of humanity, according to Shemmassian.

“The Armenian Genocide, as is the case with the Holocaust or Darfur in the Sudan or Cambodia or any genocide, is a crime against humanity,” said Shemmassian. “Since we are a part of humanity and another group of humanity is perpetrating this reprehensible, incomprehensible heinous crime, part of humanity is being affected.”

Shemmassian said that he was one of the first people to purchase the English version of “Crows of the Desert,” and he used some of the information from the original Armenian version to do research a few years ago. He uses some of the concepts in the book to describe the relevancy of the genocide in today’s society.

Parian will be speaking about the book at 7 p.m. on Oct. 11 at the Glendale Central Library. The lecture will be in English, and admission is free.


  • sylva portoian

    My two poetry collections out of 12 is dedicated to Armenian genocide…
    “A poetic Soul SHinned of Genocides, August 2008”
    “My Son-My Sun ,Chants Ann ,Obama’s Mother” June 2011 As a children we never heard nice stories from our grand mothers but stories of genocide…
    So the genocide is part of our genetics…!

  • mukedo

    Reading brings understanding & Mr. Levon Parian as an academic you should know this better. PROPAGANDA is the deliberate manipulation, by means of symbols (like
    words or images) of others thoughts. You are trying to offset
    resistance to yourself by presenting your thoughts as if they are
    rational or moral. Your work is chosen in such a way that the
    reactors (Christians) are expected to be influenced by their strong emotion-laden
    experiences. The propagandist tries to seize an emotional initiative
    & maintain an ascendancy that can create animosity. That’s what you are doing, I am only presenting archival facts that are becoming more & more available by the day… Let’s separate fact & propaganda… http://armeniangenocidelies.com/2012/10/13/rear-admiral-mark-l-bristol-to-dr-james-l-barton-1921/

  • mukedo

    Here’s someone who was an important factor in the Paris Peace Conference. Interestingly he was a member of the War Bureau of Foreign Office who wrote, edited and circulated war propaganda from Wellington House London, of which most records were burnt but the surviving records are enough to prove that “what we thought was happening was what they wanted us to think was happening”. Professor Arnold J. Toynbee :
    King’s College London / Professor of Modern Greek & Byzantine HistoryParis Peace Conference DelegateDirector of Studies Royal Institute of International Affairs London / Chatham HouseBritish Foreign Ministry Secret Service DepartmentWe have injured the Turks most by making them hopeless and embittered. Our skepticism has been so profound and our contempt so vehement, that they have almost ceased to regard it as possible to modify them by their own action. They incline to accept these Western attitudes as fixed stars in their horoscope, with a fatalism which we incorrectly attribute to the teaching of their religion, without realising that our own conduct has been one of its potent causes. But while they are discouraged, they are not deadened to resentment. They see us in a light in which we too seldom look at ourselves, as hypocrites who make self-righteous professions a cloak for unscrupulous practice; and their master-grievance against us so fills their minds that it leaves little room for self-examination. If a charge is brought against them from a Western source, that is almost enough in itself to make them harden their hearts against it, however just it may be. They do not get so far as to consider it on its merits. They plead ‘not guilty,’ and put themselves in a posture of defence, to meet what experience has led them to regard as one of the most effective strokes in the Western tactic of aggression. In 1921, I seldom found the Turks defend the fearful atrocities which they had committed six years previously against the Armenians, but repentance and shame for them were not uppermost in their minds—not, I believe, because they were incapable of these feelings, but because they were preoccupied by indignation at the conduct of the Allied Powers in fomenting a war-after-the-war in Anatolia. Remorse cannot easily co-exist with a grievance, and until we relieve the Turks of the one, we shall certainly fail, as we have done hitherto, to inspire them with the other.In attempting to express and explain the Turkish point of view, I am not seeking to suggest that it is right, or to deny the charges brought against the Turkish nation and Government for their treatment of subject peoples during the past century. Their crimes are undoubtedly exaggerated in the popular Western denunciations, and the similar crimes committed by Near Eastern Christians in parallel situations are almost always passed over in silence. At the same time, the facts substantiated against the Turks (as well as against their neighbours) by authoritative investigation are so appalling that it is almost a matter of indifference, from the point of view of establishing a case, whether the embroideries of the propagandists are counterfeit or genuine. The point which I wish to make is that, if our aim is not simply to condemn but to cure, we can only modify the conduct of the Turks by altering their frame of mind, and that our only means of doing that is to change our own attitude towards them. So long as we mete out one measure to them, another to the Greeks, and yet a third to ourselves, WE SHALL HAVE NO MORAL INFLUENCE OVER THEM.

    • sylva portoian

      I can’t understand your philosophy…
      ” If you have not suffered what we suffered …You can’t write the way we write…”

  • mukedo

    The so called genocide industry has duped you for years to get your money & abuse your religious feelings, investigate the events, don’t believe the Ruport Murdoch media

    • Levon Parian

      It’s sad to see you ignore the suffering of so many innocent lives. You do nothing more than perpetrate the Turkish government lies. Facts have been twisted to serve the purpose of your denial.

      • mukedo

        If you still think these are Turkish propaganda you are unaware and ignorant to your own history & should have no claim to be suffering because that is exactly what the Turks think, we have all suffered in ww1. Research has never been ever easier, if you have only 1 sentence you can refute from the below archival document I will sincerely apologize. REad your history with an open mind not prejudice. Here’s someone you are proud of.You cant have it both ways, have cake and eat it too?

        However, Hitler himself obviously remembered the Armenians who were “racially pure” & fellow “aryans” having secured the services of  General Dro (Drastamat Kanayan) (1st Defence Minister of Armenia) as Commander of Nazi SS Waffengruppe Armenien between 1935-44. The Armenian Legion under the leadership of Drastamat Kanayan participated in the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and the Caucasus. On December 15, 1942, the Armenian National Council was granted official recognition by Alfred Rosenberg, the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories. The president of Council was Professor Ardasher Abeghian, its vice-president Abraham Guilkhandanian and it numbered among its members Garegin Nzhdeh and Vahan Papazian. Until the end of 1944 it published a weekly journal, Armenian, edited by Viken Shantn who also broadcast on Radio Berlin with the aid of Dr. Paul Rohrbach.
        The so called Armenian hero’s of resistance against the Turkish genocide later became brothers in crime alongside the Nazi’s. After ww2 General Dro was arrested by the Americans in Haidelberg & released after 1 month. He was given safe passage into Lebanon & SOMEHOW talked his way into the United States. He died in 1956 (Boston), his remains were reburied in Armenia with full military & state homours by the Armenian Republic. Adding insult to injury & elevating hypocrisy to a new high is the institution of a medal in honour of General Dro in 2001 by the Armenian Republic for “meritorious services towards military education and improvments in service life”. Ironically the only recognition for the 200 000+  soldiers who lost their lives in the Red Army’s Armenian Division fighting against the Nazi’s was a statue of Stalin at Victory Park in Yerevan (Hitler’s soulmate with contradictary ideology, responsible for 25+ million deathsby starvation, abuse, neglect, direct killing). “Soviet Armenia” by R. G. Hovannisian gives an insight to the horse trading carried out by Armenian parties during the era even at the expense of their own peoples blood.

      • mukedo

        Any loss of life is indeed sad regardless of race, colour, ethnicity, religion. What is even sadder is when one does not tell the whole truth. You should ask your students “how would they offer their service to America if (God Forbid) they were faced with a force of 200,000 armed ruthless men (not counting the forces they have alligned with (more than 1 million). Empathy is not such a bad thing…

        Boghos Nubar Pasha was the leader of the Armenian delegation in attendance at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I.

        …. Our volunteers fought in the French “Legion
        Entrangere” and covered themselves with glory. In the Legion d’Orient
        they numbered over 5,000, and made up more than half the French
        contingent in Syria and Palestine, which took part in the decisive
        victory of General Allenby. In the Caucasus, without mentioning the
        150,000 Armenians in the Russian armies, about 50,000 Armenian
        volunteers under Andranik, Nazarbekoff, and others not only fought for
        four years for the cause of the Entente, but after the breakdown of
        Russia they were the only forces in the Caucasus to resist the advance
        of the Turks, whom they held in check until the armistice was signed.
        Thus they helped the British forces in Mesopotamia by hindering the
        Germano-Turks from sending their troops elsewhere. These services have been acknowledged by the Allied Governments, as Lord Robert Cecil recognized in the House of Commons.In virtue of all these considerations the
        Armenian National Delegation asked that the Armenian nation should be
        recognized as a belligerent….
        Boghos Nubar

        Paris, January 27, 1919

  • mukedo

    The Manifesto of Hovhannes Katchaznouni, First Prime
    Minister of the Republic of Armenia Hovhannes Katchaznouni,

    The Armenian Revolutionary Federation(Dashnagtzoutiun) Has Nothing to Do Anymore, Bucharest 1923, (Translated from the original by Matthew A. Callender. Mr. Katchaznouni was the first prime minister of the Independent Armenia).

    “… In the beginning of fall 1914, when Turkey had not yet entered the war but was preparing to, Armenian volunteer groups began to be organized with great zeal and pomp in Trans-Caucasia. In spite of the decision taken a few weeks before at the General Committee in Erzurum, the Dashnagtzoutune actively helped the organization of the aforementioned groups and especially arming them against Turkey. There is no point in asking today whether our volunteers should
    have been in the foreground. Historical events have a logic of their own.

    In the fall of 1914 Armenian volunteer groups wereformed and fought against the Turks. The opposite
    could not have happened, because for approximately twenty years the Armenian community was fed a certain and inevitable psychology. This state of mind had to manifest itself and it happened…”

    Hovhannes Katchaznouni, The Armenian Revolutionary Federation(Dashnagtzoutiun) Has Nothing to Do Anymore,

    Bucharest 1923, (Translated from the original by Matthew A. Callender. Mr. Katchaznouni was the first
    prime minister of the Independent Armenia).

  • mukedo

    Boghos Nubar Pasha (1851-1930); the head of the Armenian Delegation made the following statement during the Paris Peace Conference (1919):
    “…At the beginning of the War the Turkish Government had offered to grant the Armenians a sort of autonomy, asking from them in exchange, and volunteers to rouse the Caucasus against Russia. The Armenians rejected this proposal and placed themselves without hesitation on the side of the Entente Powers from whom they expected liberation.
    The Armenians have fought at the side the Allies since the first days of the War, until the signature of the Armistice on all fronts.”
    He continues as the following:
    “… In Syria and Palestine, in the Legion d’Orient where Armenian Volunteers, in accordance with the invitation made by French Government to the National Delegation in 1916 –when the agreement between the Allied Powers was signed- gathered to the number of five thousand forming more than half the French contingent and took so brilliant a share in great Palestine victory, which liberated Syria, that General Allenby sent them an official congratulation. Lastly, in France, in the Foreign Legion, a crack Corps which has covered itself with glory, Armenian Volunteers gained a special distinction for bravery and endurance. Of 800 recruits at the beginning of the campaign, scarcely 40 have survived. All the rest fell facing the enemy. Military contribution has been officially and warmly appreciated by the Allied Governments and I need not press the matter further.”

  • mukedo

    A. P Hacobian ” But there is not a large enough number of Armenians left to form a State,” I may
    be told, as I have been told so often recently. (I may say here, in parenthesis, that the Turkish and German delegates cannot advance this objection, as their Governments have denied the existence of any massacres.) That is an entirely mistaken assumption, created by the frequent but inaccurate use of the phrase ” Armenian extermination.” The Turks did make a final ruthless attempt to exterminate us, and have dealt us a staggering blow as a race; but, gentlemen, they have not quite succeeded in their nefarious design, and it would be a sad day, indeed, for civilization if such a design had succeeded. There are to-day 500,000 Turkish Armenians in the parts of vilayets in occupation of the Russian armies, in the Caucasus and Northern Persia. Far from their spirits being broken, these people are animated with the unshakable determination that their beloved country shall rise again from its ashes and their nation revive and enter upon a new era of security and free development. Armenians all over the world are animated with the same spirit and determination. Of the above half-milhon 50,000 or 60,000, mostly able-bodied men, are in different parts of the occupied provinces. There are a little over 250,000 refugees in the Caucasus and Persia, and some 200,000 emigrants and
    refugees from pre-war massacres; most of them are ready to return to their homes, one potent reason for the readiness of the pre war emigrants to return being the growing scarcity and dearness of land in the fertile parts of the Caucasus. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of Armenians in  concentration camps in Northern Mesopotamia and Syria. How many are alive to return to their devastated homes, I cannot say. Perhaps the Turkish delegate will be able to inform the Conference on that point. Then there are still large numbers of Armenians—^though mostly old men, women and children, so far as our information goes – in Anatolia and Thrace, and over 200,000 mostly young, intelligent, ambitious men, who have emigrated since the beginning of Abdul Hamid’s reign of terror, to the United States, Egypt, the Balkans, and different other countries. A not unimportant number of these will return to their native land ready to ”do their bit ” in the to them—sacred work of its reconstruction and regeneration with invincible industry. This will give us within a very short time an Armenian population of not much under one million souls in the proposed Autonomous Armenia. It may not form a majority taken as a whole, but it will form the largest coherent ethnological element.

  • Carla Adelmann

    This is good!I too have a family that was slaughtered by Turks in the Armenian Genocide. 5 months before my uncle died, I was fortunate enough to document the stories handed down to him by his mom and dad, my grandparents. The first half of the 9 minute interview is how my grandfather made it to America, but the second half he tells how my grandmother was cut at the throat and left for dead, but survived and came to America. here is the youTube link:

    Carla Basmajian Adelmann, Photojournalism Major here at CSUN

    • mukedo

      this is indeed a propaganda video worth watching, Pay attention that Astor Kazarian is well off living &? living on prime property. Mr. Astor seems to be living comfortabely to be able to give his son Zakar a horse as a gift. In todays terms it would be like giving a 15 year old a BMW with a gun in the glovebox. Zakar did not express his appreciation to Kurk but did not hold back when he made a mistake. Zakar did not listen to his father did he? “DO NOT TOUCH THE GUN UNLESS YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO!” What does Zakar do next morning? Go on a shooting spree despite knowing their would be retribution. What is not told in the story is what happened to the family left behind? Or was it that most of his family was already in France & USA since he arrived to the US in 1913 along with his family & relatives? A half truth is a whole lie!