How The Peltekians Disappeared From Dortyol

June 28 2006 at 6:48 PM

by Dorothee Forma, Amsterdam

humanistischeomroep, The Netherlands
June 20, 2006 Tuesday

The adventures of an Armenian family in Cilicia

Descriptions of the village of Dortyol at the end of the nineteenth
century are decidedly idyllic. Looking in the direction of Dortyol
and the surrounding villages from the Amanus mountains, one saw a
bouquet of flowers among green orange groves. Every village had its
own colour and in the centre lay proud Tschok-Merzimen, as Dortyol
was called by the Armenians. The Turkish word Dortyol means: four
roads. It was situated in the bay of Alexandrette only a few miles
from the Mediterranean and when there was a gale you could hear the
waves pounding the rocks. In spring, the sweet smell of the orange
blossoms permeated everything.

Dortyol had a mixed Turkish-Armenian population. The post office
was administered and run by Armenians and there were four Armenian
schools and three churches. Some nearby villages, such as Nadjarli and
Ozerli, had a mainly Armenian population. The Turkish authorities had
relatively little influence there, because the Armenians elected their
own local town councillors. In Ozerli the Armenian family Peltekian
was the largest landowner. Their possessions extended over several
villages, and Bedros Peltekian even bore the title of Pasha.

The descendants of the Peltekians, who are now living in France,
still possess a suitcase full of original Ottoman title deeds.

However, they themselves can no longer read the Arabic writing.

The 'chef de la famille' of this French branch of the survivors
was a son of Bedros, called Khatchik Peltekian. Much of Khatchik's
correspondence has remained intact. There are eleven sheets of squared
paper (A3) on which all the possessions of the Peltekians and their
exact locations are recorded in his meticulous handwriting, first in
Ottoman and then in the French translation.

The orchards, field, houses, shops and farmland stretched roughly all
along the coast from Adana to Dortyol. The list is not dated, but
was probably drawn up after 1915. The orange groves alone produced
around a million oranges every year, Katchik tells us. Oranges from
Dortyol were very famous and were exported all the way into Russia.

In the margin of the list there are some scribbled remarks. About
a house in Ozerli: "it had three floors and contained 16 rooms and
was unique in the sandjak (district, DF), it was burnt down by the
Turks". What exactly happened to the rich Peltekian dynasty from

In 1918 a short book appeared in the Netherlands 'Marteling der
Armeniërs in Turkije, naar berichten van ooggetuigen' (Ordeals
of the Armenians in Turkey as reported by eye-witnesses). It had
been published by the Nederlandsch Comite tot Hulpbetoon aan de
noodlijdende Armenians, (Netherlands Committee for Assistance to the
Destitute Armenians) in which several members of the Dutch nobility
were represented. The booklet describes the misfortunes of the Armenian
minority in Turkey in 1915. Coupons found in the front could be filled
in and returned, together with a nice sum of money, to Miss E.J. van
der Hoop in The Hague. The money was used to send relief supplies to
Armenians who had survived the deportations. The book describes in
detail, village by village and region by region, what took place in
Anatolia in 1915. A harrowingly systematic procedure emerges. About
Dortyol the following:


At the time when the deportation from Zeitoen was already underway,
the Turks commenced in Dort-Jol (Tschok Merzimen), a village situated
in the Issus plain on the Gulf of Alexandrette.

When some five Armenians from Dort-Jol had been publicly hanged,
the male members of the population of the populous little town were
forced to perform a variety of services on behalf of the Turks.

Before long the news spread that the defenceless workers were being
murdered by the armed Mohammedans that had been introduced to them
as comrades, with the result that the men of Dort-Jol henceforward
refused to work alongside Mohammedans.

The Government thereupon sent troops that were charged with the
deportation of the male population to the environs of Hadjin, in
order to carry out public works there.

Only one single Armenian resisted; he was irate to such a degree with
the Turkish gendarmes that he killed one of them. As a punishment
for this act of violence, six Armenians were apprehended and executed.

Since then nothing was heard of the male population taken to Hadjin.

It is feared that they were put to death collectively. As soon as the
deportation of the men was completed, it was the turn of the women
and children. They were taken by force to Deir-es-Sor, with the result
that the once so prosperous village of Dort-Jol as good as expired.

Did the inhabitants perhaps have to suffer so much because at one
time, in the days of the massacres under Abdul Hamid, the little town
had defended itself successfully against the Turkish hordes? (end
of quotation)

Was it the Peltekians who were hanged in the centre of Dortyol? Was
it perhaps Panos Peltkekian, Khatchik's brother, who attacked the
gendarmes in his rage? We do not know. Khatchik, too, must for a long
time have been ignorant of what had happened to his relatives.

When the First World War broke out and Turkey went into an alliance
with Germany, Khatchik was living in Istanbul where he was finishing
his law studies. He may well have been among the group of Armenian
dignitaries who were first to be deported in that night of 24 April

In 1926 Khatchik wrote to the French High Commissioner in Beirut: "They
deported me to Anatolia where I endured a thousand deprivations. (j'ai
endure mille souffrances)" In another letter he wrote: "my family is
among those hardest hit.

(Ma famille fut l'un de celles qui ont ete le plus outrages). During
the deportations several of my family members perished, including my
father and my brother".

Khatchik Peltekian, then, did survive his deportation. When the French,
after 1918, occupied Cilicia, the area around Adana, and there was a
possibility of Armenian self-government, Khatchik hurried to the region
to assess the situation. He immediately offered his services to the
French army, since he spoke fluent Turkish, Arabic and French, and knew
every inhabitant of the region, every village and every goat track.

Not all the deported Armenians from Dortyol, however, died in the
Syrian Desert. A number of them - possibly including Peltekians -
returned after the war together with the Allies. Those Armenians
managed to escape from the deportation caravans, usually by bribing
their guards, and managed to reach Aleppo along secret routes. Many
of them survived hunger and epidemics in wretched circumstances
(and with the help of committees such as that in the Netherlands).

When Armenians returned with the French in 1919, Turks had settled
in the meantime in their houses and on their land. A situation that
could not but lead to endless skirmishes with casualties on both
sides. The Armenians saw the French as their rescuers, under whose
protection they could reclaim their possessions, the Turks regarded
the Armenians as collaborators.

Khatchik, too, possessed an estate in the village Hamzali where he
kept cattle and grew cereals. With the proceeds he supported the
remaining members of his family.

In June 1920 the estate was plundered. The harvest and the cattle were
stolen away and the buildings set on fire. The overseer, an uncle of
Khatchik, was killed. The damage amounted to 400,000 Francs.

Khatchik knew exactly who the offenders were - "des bandits notoires
turcs" - and mentions them by name in his letters, as well as the
villages they came from: Karakisse, Tchaili, Rabat, Sugud... He begged
the French for indemnification. He was the only remaining breadwinner
for the Peltekians. The looting of his farm, as he keeps insisting,
is the result of his cooperation with the French: " has increased
the Turks' irritation towards me".

The French delayed the settlement of the claim for years and finally
didn't pay him a penny.

They were, however, generous with glowing references and superlative
words of praise about his unflagging dedication and devotion to
the French cause. But that was all. In the meantime, Khatchik's
capacities as an interpreter, and his intimate knowledge of the area
were intensively exploited. More than once he risked his life for his
French patrons. Once one of the richest men in the region he now had
to support his family on a meagre translator's salary. He signed off
his appeals with "votre très humble en très obeissant serviteur..."

As a result of the Turkish struggle for independence the French
had to withdraw from the province of Hatay and the plans to make
Cilicia into a safe haven for Armenians foundered. The Allies no
longer laid down the law in Turkey, because a new Turkish leader had
emerged: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Armenians left in a hurry with the
French, again leaving their possessions behind. Khatchik settled in
Alexandrette (the present Iskenderun) with his sister-in-law Zarouhi,
a widow with four children and a few other young Peltekians. Dortyol,
the cradle of the Peltekians, was only 30 km away, but was no longer
part of the French protectorate.

In the political games preceding the Second World War the French
decided to withdraw from Hatay in 1939. Hatay became part of the
Turkish republic; a massive exodus of Armenians was the result.

Khatchik Peltekian left together with the French and was placed in
Syria - until the outbreak of the Second World War when the Peltekians
ended up in Beirut. Everything he had built up in Alexandrette in
the years gone by had to be left behind yet again.

After 1945 Khatchik was finally naturalised by the French and went
to live in Paris with his sister-in-law Zarouhi (who called herself
Rose by then) and her daughter Alice. Rose's sons Pierre and Alexandre
Peltekian were then officers in the French army and would rather not
be reminded of their Armenian identity. They were more French than
the French. Khatchik died in 1972 and was buried in Père Lachèse.

Alice Peltekian sometimes mused: "Je suis la comtesse de Dortyol..."

She died a solitary death, in poverty, in a top floor in Paris in 1984.

And Dortyol?

Dortyol is now a sleepy, conservative little town where there is
little to remind us of the Armenians. The orange groves are still
there, but the old varieties, famous for their taste and juiciness
have been replaced by modern, genetically manipulated oranges. A
gigantic industrial area with blast-furnaces stretches along the
coast and causes permanent air pollution.

The houses of the Armenians have been taken over by the children and
grandchildren of ethnic Turks that were exchanged by Greece for ethnic
Greeks living in Turkey during the so-called mubadele in 1923.

The Greek Turks had been promised the land and the empty houses of
the Armenians. On arrival they found that many of the houses had been
devastated. Result: uprooted people and a great deal of unhappiness....

But that is another, Turkish tragedy.

Dorothee Forma March 2006

Postscript to the Documentary: In 'The Story of my Name' Alex Peltekian
searches for the background of his Armenian surname. Alex Peltekian's
mother is Dutch. She worked in Paris as an au pair once and met
one Alexandre Peltekian. From their union Alex was born in 1955,
who grew up in The Hague in the Netherlands without much knowledge
of his father's family, because his mother married a Dutchman who
took care of little Alex.

Father Alexandre Peltekian was born in Dortyol in south Turkey in
1912; his mother was called Rose (Zarouhi) and his father was Panos
Peltekian, Khatchik's eldest brother. Alex is therefore a great-nephew
of 'Oncle Khatchik' and Alice Peltekian is his aunt.


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