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#1 Yervant1


    The True North!

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Posted 03 October 2014 - 10:11 AM


12:28, 3 October, 2014

YEREVAN, OCTOBER 3, ARMENPRESS: Mihran Mesrobian's name has had a great
significance for the architectural researchers of Washington. He was
one of the leading architects of Harry Wardman, a famous real estate
developer of Washington in 1920s. Mihran Mesrobian designed a number
of remarkable buildings in the city, such as the Hotel Carlton Hotel
Hay-Adams, Wardman Tower and many others. These constructions are
the city's trademark to this day.

However, the story of Mesrobian's life is even more spectacular.

Mesrobian was born in merchants' family, in the city of Afyon in the
Ottoman Empire. He had been a man of art.

At age 15, he was enrolled in the second year of the prestigious
Imperial Academy of Fine Arts (Academie des Beaux-Arts) in Istanbul,
which now called after the name of one of the most famous of Ottoman
architects, Armenian by origin - Sinan. At the age of 20 he was
appointed as the municipal architect of Smyrna. He also participated
in the restoration work on Dolmabahce Palace In Istanbul, built by
the Armenian Balian family architects.

Unfortunately, World War I and Armenian Genocide made changes in
his fate. In August 1914, only a few months after his marriage to
Zabel Martmanian in Smyrna, Mihran Mesrobian was conscripted into
the Turkish army. Coming officer training, in October 1914, he began
serving in the rank of second lieutenant. As a military engineer, he
took part in the Battle of Gallipoli, in the Russian front, and then
was transferred to Palestine and Syria. He was awarded two Turkish
medals of honor and the German Iron Cross for his service at Gallipoli.

Returning from the war, Mesrobian discovered that his brother's
families and his underage sister were deported from Afyon in 1915,
and his property confiscated. He had never heard of them after. In
August 1921, Mihran Mesrobian with his wife and two sons immigrated
to the USA, where they lived a long and fruitful life.

Story of Mihran Mesrobian is reminding a biography of Sarkis Torossian
and other Armenians, who were drafted into the Ottoman Army during
the WWI and whose families, at the same time, became victims of the
Armenian Genocide.

Mihran Mesrobian's granddaughter Caroline Mesrobian-Hickman, a best
known researcher of her grandfather's art, shared with Armenian
Genocide Museum-Institute her memories about him.

Dear Caroline, could you please tell about Mesrobian's family, who
were his parents?

Mihran Mesrobian's parents, Gaspar and Miriam (nee Palanjian), lived
in Afyon Karahisar, a town in western Anatolia whose population was
predominately Turkish. Armenian and Turkish sources agree that around
6,500 Armenians were living in Afyon in 1914, with very few Greeks and
Jews, and about 89,000 Turks. Afyon had been connected by railroad
to the major Ottoman cities of Istanbul and Izmir/Smyrna since at
least the 1860s. It was well known for its very high-quality opium
and cereal production, also for inlay furniture.

Generations of the Mesrobian/Messrobian family had lived in Afyon.

Mihran's father, grandfather, and other branches of the family were
cereal and opium merchants. Mihran had three brothers and one sister.

Their parents died before WWI, and we presume they were buried in
the Armenian cemetery in Afyon.

Is it true, that Mesrobian was placed in the second year class of the
Academie des Beaux-Arts in Istanbul at the age of 15 as being quite
advanced in drawing?

According to an oral history that Mihran gave late in life to his son
Ralfe (my father), he showed talent for drawing at an early age. He
graduated from the Sahakian School, the largest Armenian school in
Afyon. The curriculum was modeled on European standards. The classes
that were of particular benefit to Mihran were math, drawing,
penmanship, and manual labor/construction. So Mihran had the
opportunity to develop his talent at an early age. The school also
taught Armenian, Turkish, French, and English. Mesrobian's fluency
in French was very useful when he entered the Imperial Academy of
Fine Arts in Istanbul, because a number of the teachers were either
French or were Turks who had studied in Paris. He could also read
and write Ottoman Turkish. So the Sahakian School prepared him well
to enter the Academy. According to the oral history, Mihran placed
out of the first-year classes at the Imperial Academy in Istanbul,
which were largely devoted to drawing and copying models.

In 1909 Mesrobian was appointed as a municipal architect of Smyrna.

Can we find any information and any drafts or photographs about
his works during that period? Mihran was in full charge of building
inspection while he was municipal architect in Smyrna, 1909-1912. He
left a summary list of the buildings he designed in Smyrna: one hotel,
eight houses, one warehouse, one market containing sixty-four stores,
one bank and club house, of stone and concrete construction. He also
designed a topographical map of 1100 acres, dividing it into 1615 lots;
and opened irrigation canals and planning sites of farmhouses.

As is well known, a large part of Izmir/Smyrna burned in 1922, along
with the municipal records. The only visual evidence of his output in
Smyrna is the hotel mentioned above -- a small hostelry built in 1912.

The photograph that Mihran brought with him to the U.S. was taken
just before the building opened, so we don't know the name of the
hotel or its address. I was in Izmir last October (2013) and walked
through a number of streets in the former old city, but didn't find
the building. There are pockets of buildings still extant that date
from the late 19th and early 20th century, so it is possible that
one or more of his buildings still stands.

What is known about Mihran Mesrobian's participation in World War I?

In which battles he had taken part in?

Mihran was drafted into the Turkish Army in August 1914, just a few
months after he married Zabel Martmanian in Smyrna. He graduated
as a 2nd lieutenant from the Beylerbeyi Reserve Officers School in
October 1914 and was assigned to the 4th Fortifications Regiment,
as an engineer. He evidently served also at some point in the 1st and
3rd divisions. He was sent first to the Dardanelles and participated
in the Gallipoli/Gelibolu campaigns in late 1914 to 1915. He then
was at the Russian front, enduring a harsh winter when the snow was
many, many feet deep. He of course had to travel through parts of
historical Armenia to the Russian front. His battalion was then sent
to Palestine/Syria.

How long did he stay in captivity in Egypt?

In the fall of 1918, a major offensive by the British and their Arab
allies resulted in much of the Turkish 4th Army Corps being taken
prisoner by Arab irregulars. Mihran's unit became separated from the
main unit. They wandered for days and were then captured by Arabs. He
was in an officers' prison for about 6 months, from late fall 1918
to May 1919.

According to the oral history Mihran gave to his son Ralfe, the Arabs
who captured his unit were going to kill all of them. But T.E.

Lawrence, who happened to be in the area, interceded, reminding the
Arabs that prisoners of war must not be executed. Mihran spoke about
this incident a number of times, always crediting T.E. Lawrence with
saving his life. Although I have not found documentation of this,
we have no reason to doubt his account.

Which military awards and rank did Mihran Mesrobian obtain during
the WWI?

He was a lieutenant in the reserve army corps. He was awarded two
Turkish medals of honor and the German Iron Cross, for his service
at Gallipoli. His work included building and repairing roads, mines
and tunneling, siting and designing fortifications, and drawing
topographical maps.

How has the Armenian Genocide affected on Mesrobian family?

Mihran's three brothers were all married and had families, but his
teenage sister Palazoo was not. They were all deported from Afyon in
August 1915 and never heard from again. Mesrobian/Messrobian cousins
were also deported. After WWI, Mihran returned to Afyon to try to
regain and sell his family property but was unsuccessful. Census
information shows he was not from the Armenian Quarter but from the
Haji Murad Quarter, which was a more recently established multi-ethnic
neighborhood outside of the old city of Afyon.

How do you remember your grandfather, what kind of person he was?

To a small girl growing up in North Carolina who visited my
grandparents only twice a year with my family, Mihran was to be treated
with great respect. He seemed foreign to me, very reserved. He did
not talk very much, at least when we were visiting. But I could tell
that he was very perceptive and intelligent, watching my sister and
me like a hawk! His paintings and watercolors filled the house and
were amazing to ponder.

He was often not well - understandable when we consider all that he
had endured in his early life.

I also remember he and my grandmother working in the kitchen to prepare
wonderful Armenian recipes. I wish I had the perspective I have today
and could have a series of conversations with him about his experiences
and his architecture. How many times have I wished for that!!

But I feel that I know him very well through his buildings. I have
studied them for years and have immense pride in his remarkable works
and what he was able to accomplish as an immigrant. He was a true
survivor. He had remarkable talent and had the great opportunity to
use it fully in the US.

What about his influence on your career in architecture history?

Architecture is in my blood; my father was also an architect. But I
didn't get any artistic talent like my sister, so I decided to study
the history of art and architecture. How remarkable that I would end
up living in Washington and be able to admire, study, and write about
his buildings.

That's an enduring bond for which I will always be grateful.


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