Qarbajak Bebo (A memoir)

Movses Karabajakian (Nicknamed “Qarbajak”) was my maternal grandfather and I have fond memories of him. My paternal grandmother Martha, died before I was born, and I have a very faint memory of my paternal grandfather Nshan, who passed away when I was very young. Fortunately for me, that loss was more than compensated by my loving and caring maternal grandparents, Movses and Sara Karabajakian who we in Kessab dialect called Baibo, (Grandfather) and Nanar, (Grandmother).

Baibo was a loner and none conformist type of a person. My mother use to say her father use to be a very social person but changed dramatically after he lost his only son and the youngest child, Staipan, to malnutrition and disease during the 1915 Armenian Genocide “Mahajelek”.

Prior to the “Mahajelek” in 1915, Kessab leadership had discussed the possibility to resist the deportation, retreat to the mountain close to the sea, and defend themselves, but they decided in favor of complying with the deportation order. My mother used to say her father was in favor of resistance. Maybe Baibo thought if they defied the deportation order his son might have survived and thus stopped socializing with the “establishment” people who had decided to obey the deportation order. Who knows?.

I have never seen Baibo in public events or even in the church despite the fact that his wife our angle like Nanar was a very pious person and attended every church service. So did also my mother and her two sisters Manushag and Anna “moorkors” (aunts).

My mother use to say when they returned from “Mahajelek” local Latin priest, Sabatino, distributed flour to the people attending the church and Bebo attended one church service and got one bag of flour and never went back again. When father Sabatino saw Bebo and asked why he did not come to church again he replied in the Turkish language. “Oon beety dean beety”. (Roughly translated “flour finished faith finished”).

The memory of Stepan was always with Bebo. He named one of his most fertile lands “Staipanain badoruh” (Staipan’ lot) in “Dusaghaj” district and gave it his utmost care and whenever possible engaged me and my older brother Nshan to help him to cultivate it. He especially made sure we also harvested the fruits and the vegetable.

He also had named a huge “Geslu dsor” (Bayleaf tree) in “Ooshnok” district “Staipanain Gaislain”. (Staipan’ Bayleaf tree) that stood majestically all by itself away from the cluster of bay leaf trees that was like a forest. It was my and my older brother’s duty to harvest the black olives “gaislu bdogh” from that tree. (The oil produced from that black olive was called “gaislu tset” (Bayleaf oil) and was used mainly to make soap). Bebo also named an ever-flowing fountain at his “Dsmog” property “Staipanain aghpoyru” (Staipan’ fountain).

Baibo never attended school and could not read or write but he was an excellent storyteller. His stories were all about imaginary legends, heroes, kings, princes, princesses, etc. that used all kinds of hand weapons, flying horses, etc., and always fought against evil creatures, dragons, etc. Needless to say, heroes always won. As any good storyteller, Baibo made these stories really come alive and believable, especially for us the young children.

Bebo had made a deal with us that he will tell us stories only if we read him books that we borrowed from “Qratkhana” (Library). We use to sit in front of the fireplace, Bebo to the right side, and me to the left, while my brother sitting in the middle will read books mostly by Raffi one of the most famous Armenian novelist. Bebo use to listen with full attention and amazement while I enjoyed watching the “dancing” flames of the fire was mesmerizing.

After my brother left to study at Antelias Seminary in Beirut Lebanon, it was my turn to read. The books we read were mostly novels by the famous Armenian novelist Raffi. Once when I read one of the characters in the book say he does not believe in destiny “jagadaqir”, Baibo ever-attentive listener, interrupted and said “I do not believe in jagadaqir either, and added “you make your own jagadaqir”. Considering the village “conventional wisdom” that “everything that happens to someone is written on his/her forehead”, this statement sounded like a brave statement that defied the norm, and got etched in my memory.

One of Baibo’s most joyous times other than spending time with us, his grandchildren, was when one of his best friends Hassan Agha, came to visit him once or twice a year.

Hassan Agha spoke Turkish and most probably was a Syrian of Turkish origin and lived midway between Kessab and Latakia. He seemed to be a wealthy person and brought us many gifts. He came with his wife his daughter and a grandson younger than me and my brother. They stayed overnight and did some shopping from Kessab merchants. (My mother used to say during the deportation Hassan Agha had offered to shelter them, but her father had decided to be with the rest of the deportees).

During that two-day visit, there was a joyful and festive mood. There was plenty of food and drinks and some other people from Kessab stopped by and greeted Hassan Agha in the Turkish Language. Among them was also Ovsia Saghdjian “Kara dayen” the legendary hero of Kessab. (I wrote a story about Kara Dayee and Garo Konyalian of Montreal, posted it on and I think on Kessab Facebook as well)

Baibo especially enjoyed and cherished the occasional visits of Kara Dayee the most cherished hero of Kessab. At the time, Kara Dayee was a well-built and dignified old man with a dark complexion and thick white hair. He will sit on a chair leaning on his walking cane “baston” that was like a reverse J as a support and have a coffee and some intimate talk with Baibo, who also was a dignified but more frail-looking old man with a dark complexion and almost balding hair that looked more like Gandhi. Both men were soft-spoken, brave, loving, caring, and altruistic people. God Bless their Soul. Աստուած հոգիները լուսաւորէ.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.


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