In the scriptures and modern history alike, God’s hand has been manifest in the lives of Latter-day Saints in times of crisis and exodus.
The same principles of faith and cooperation that helped the Nauvoo Saints west led the surviving Armenian Saints to a place of refuge.
Church growth in the Ottoman Empire began in 1884 when a Mr. Vartoogian wrote a letter asking missionaries come teach his family in Istanbul.
Most Ottoman converts came from the Armenian community, which had the oldest Christian roots of any nation in the world.
By the early 1900s, branches had been established in Aintab, Aleppo, Zara, and Marash.
In 1909, missionaries were temporarily recalled from the Ottoman Empire because of political instability and violence. Saints continued on, guided by local leaders and the scriptures.
Wars kept the missionaries from returning for twelve long years.
During that period, countless Armenians were killed.
The experience of Yeranik Gedikian is tragically typical of the era. In 1902, she was “the little black-eyed, four-year-old pride of the Aintab branch.” She grew up “like Esther…with strong faith” and married in her teens. At age sixteen, Yeranik and her husband were marched to the concentration center at Deir-ez-Zor. He was shot, and for three years she "toiled...knowing no day nor date" until she was able to escape. She made her way back to Aintab, but could not find a living relative for three years.
Moses Hindoian of the Aintab branch had served in the Ottoman army during WWI and was a prisoner of war in British-occupied Egypt.
By the time Brother Hindoian returned to Aintab, the saints had been scattered and the entire branch presidency had been killed. Moses Hindoian gathered and organized members--both intact families and isolated individuals like Yeranik Gedikian--and sent letters "plead[ing] earnestly for help and advice" to Armenian saints and Church leaders in Utah.
Though the First World War was over, the danger for the Aintab saints was not. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed, French forces fought Turkish nationalists for control of the city.
Church members suffered hunger and at times “had to eat the leaves of trees.”
In Utah, Church members held special fasts for the Armenian saints and sent relief funds back with returning mission president Joseph W. Booth.
“Every man or woman or child in Utah who fasted on that occasion would be willing to abstain from food for a week, or longer if necessary, could they have seen the good which their money was doing.” —Hugh J. Cannon
By the time Booth arrived in Aleppo, the French were preparing to withdraw from Aintab and Armenians were afraid further violence might break out. The saints in Aintab held an eight-day fast for deliverance.
After “many fervent prayers” for the Aintab saints, President Booth felt impressed to approach French General De Samath and secured permission for fifty-three Church members to leave Aintab. Moses Hindoian joined him in Aintab to pick up the passports at the crowded French office. “Mormons were famous today in Aintab,” Booth wrote.
“The rains delayed the train of refuges and after a hard four days trip they reached Aleppo on the 16th and found a welcome with house room and fire and comfort in two big places rented especially for them, Khan Jahri in Swaka district and a house in the Jewish quarters. This is an incident wherein the power of God has been clearly manifested, and the Saints are grateful for His wonderful care and mercy.” —Joseph W. Booth
“We offer thanks to the Lord that our lives have been spared,” wrote Booth on behalf of the surviving saints. But he added: “You would fairly shudder and turn sick at heart to listen to some of the stories they tell of the terrible days they have seen.”
“We are all poor,” wrote the branch Relief Society in 1922, “but we are doing what we can to help each other and those less fortunate than ourselves.”
Yeranik Gedikian was called into the Relief Society presidency in 1922. Having survived terrible trials, she reached out to the suffering in service.
Fast offering funds were used to help members gain skills such as rug-making to employ themselves in Aleppo.
Several rugs (including the one to the right) later designed and woven by branch members are in the Church Museum of History and Art today.
Five years after the exodus, a contest was held for stories depicting the events of 1921. The winner was published in Sabah Yaldaza, the local MIA newspaper.
“The story of how the surviving members of the old Turkish mission were rescued from their frightful conditions in Aintab in December 1921,” wrote President Booth in the October 1928 Improvement Era, “is ever fresh in the minds of the Saints here today, for they still celebrate yearly the days of their marvelous deliverance. The Church records, the prize stories, and the printed articles of that event are ever-ready witnesses of the manifestation of God’s power and goodness to us on that occasion.”
Over time, the saints left Aleppo, with most immigrating either to Utah or to Soviet Armenia. The family of Melva Hindoian Emrazian, granddaughter of Moses Hindoian, was the last to leave.
Melva always remembered how the Lord had delivered her fathers. In 2006, her lacework Tree of Life (right) received a Merit Award in the Church’s International Art Competition.
Joseph W. Booth,"Our Sunday School in Syria," Juvenile Instructor vol. 58 no. 7 (August 1923), 417-20.
David O. McKay, "A Man Who Loves His Fellow Men" and Joseph W. Booth, "Minutes of the Armenian Mission Conference," Millennial Star vol. 86 no. 9 (February 28, 1924), 136-141.
Joseph W. Booth, "The Armenian Mission," Improvement Era vol. 31 no. 12 (October 1928), 1048-52.
Daughters in My Kingdom Ch. 5 "Charity Never Faileth," 69.
Written by James Goldberg
Research provided by James Goldberg, Ardis E. Parshall and Shirley Larkins Romney