Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing into the first three decades of the twentieth century, a community of Protestant Armenians left the horrific persecutions of Armenian Christians in Turkey and arrived and thrived in the city of Troy, NY.  According to the church history, “This land of the free and the brave was then offering refuge to those who were persecuted, massacred, and treated with injustice. Those who had lost their freedom and liberty of worship, of press, and of speech; those who were oppressed and ill treated and whose lives were in constant danger by cruel governments, sought and found refuge in this part of the world…. Troy was not an exception in offering haven to the newcomers, so that after the massacre of 1895 in Turkey, a stream of Armenians overflowed this city.” Many of the Protestants initially settled in a 6-7 block square surrounding the Protestant Armenian church.

The church history, completed in 1946, went on to describe the city’s new arrivals: “The first immigrants were poor and bewildered. They naturally did not know the language of the country and were treated as foreigners. All these deprivations could not discourage these freedom-loving and progressive people. Especially nothing could hinder them from rebuilding their churches which they revered so much in their own country. In order to be able to quench the spiritual thirst and hunger…they gathered together and wanted to start some kind of a religious organization.”

Three of my ancestors were among the first forty-six chartered members of the Armenian Presbyterian Church they founded in 1906: Hadji S. Essegian, Boghos Essegian, and Margrit Essegian.

As happens in churches to this day, there were challenges and disagreements within the congregation, which led to a split between the Presbyterians and those of the congregation who were originally Congregationalists. The Congregationalists split off in 1910, shortly after the original church was completed.

The Congregationalists eventually built a new church, begun in 1916 while reports of slaughter, terrible massacres and deportations of Armenians in Turkey were beginning to arrive. As a result, the new church was named the Armenian Calvary Congregational Church of Troy, in commemoration of a martyred nation, holding fast to their faith, following her master to Calvary.

9th St Church in 1916

The two protestant Armenian churches reunited in 1919, choosing the new church–renamed the United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church of Troy, NY–as the place of worship, and the original Presbyterian church became the parsonage. Another of my ancestors, Paul Essegian, was elected to the first joint Board of Church Committee. As the history reads, “With a strong Church Committee and a United congregation, the Church could not fail.” Under the leadership of the first pastor, Rev. Samuel Rejebian, the church flourished.

Early Sunday School (2)

As did the Armenian community in Troy, into the 21st Century.




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Ha’/ee yern – I AM ARMENIAN

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A generation before the Holocaust, there was the Armenian genocide. Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

According to a display at the Armenian Museum in Watertown, MA, Hitler, discussing his plans to annihilate Poles and Jews, soothed his inner circle’s concerns with this: “Who still talks nowadays about the extermination of the Armenians?” He counted on the collective amnesia for people to miss the early warning signs as he proceeded with his own deadly plans.

But we, the Armenian people throughout the diaspora, remember even to today.

This past weekend, April 25th, marked the 105th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide of Christian Armenians by the Turkish empire. Armenians and Armenian churches around the world came together to commemorate the day. Armenian Apostolic Churches conducted The Order of Intecessory Prayers of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

As I pointed out in my last post, the targeting of Christian Armenians in the Turkish Empire began long before 1915. It all was cruel and deadly. It all intended to extinguish the light of the Armenian people throughout the Turkish Empire. But the numbers or Armenians killed, maimed, tortured and sexually assaulted during the genocide years far exceeded those that came before or after.

Even today, Turkey denies the genocide and all of the murderous history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even today, there are targeted actions to support that denial throughout the Armenian diaspora.


Gu des-nu-veenk no-ren


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I feel like I just struck gold in the research for my historical fiction!

I have amassed so many articles and books and photos and interviews. Still, I felt my mental picture of the time frame when Armenians were subjected to massacres and other forms of brutalization by the Ottoman Turks and the Kurds was disjointed and fuzzy. I wanted to get up close and personal with the Armenians and their lives before coming to America (and other countries).

When most people hear or read about the Armenian genocide, they think 1915-1918. But so much came before and after, and the whole story must be known to understand the impact on the Armenian population—those who perished as well as those who survived, escaped, and migrated to other countries, complete with the physical and emotional scars of their experiences.

And that understanding is essential to creating authentic characters and a wholly credible and moving story.

So what “gold” did I strike?

It’s The Thirty-Year Genocide, by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi.

Thirty Year Genocide Book

The book begins in the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire, describing the lives and hardships for Christian Armenians within territory dominated by Kurdish and Ottoman Empire Moslems. It takes us through the massacres of 1894-1896, followed by the era of the Young Turks–when hope initially was high for a peaceful coexistence between Turks and Armenians, but sadly returned to a policy of genocide, culminating in the most well known massacres, homicidal deportation, forced conversion, mass rape and brutal abduction. The final chapters cover the years from 1918-1924, when the French sacrificed the Armenians, “The Armenians, , , are doomed,” William Dodd wrote to Mark Bristol on April 9, 1920. And within the same time frame came the deportation and murder of the Christian Greeks.

According the book cover, “While not justified under the teachings of Islam, the killing of two million Christians was effected through the calculated exhortation of the Turks to create a pure Muslim nation.”

The book is long and detailed, and in addition to being comprehensive on its own, it has helped bring clarity and connection to the many other resources I’ve devoured on the road to writing my upcoming novel.

My thanks to the authors of The Thirty-Year Genocide.

Posted in Armenians, Christians, Genocide, Grief and Loss, historical fiction, History | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I grew up in a community of Armenians. Every block within a 4-5 block diameter contained multiple Armenian families, and at the center of it was the church.

The groundbreaking for the first church was celebrated by the entire congregation. At the time, it was the Armenian Presbyterian Church, although most of the Protestant Armenians attended. It was completed in 1908. The church was the hub of our Armenian community’s life and the commonality we all shared.

But each family was distinct from the others. What village in the old country was their origin? How many stops did they make on their way to America? What skills did they bring with them when they fled their homeland? What struggles with the Ottoman Turks had they endured before they left their homes behind? Did they worship as Presbyterians or Congregationalists?

Some left their homeland in the mid- to late 1890’s, when the Turkish leaders initiated random massacres of individuals, of families, of entire villages–long before the more widely known Genocide that began in 1915. Some saw the clouds forming during the first decade of the 20th century, as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling and weakening, and the Young Turks were gaining power.

1.5 million Armenians did not leave in time, and were murdered with a range of “weapons” beginning in 1915. Justified as a response to World War I, the Turks killed younger men with guns, hangings, burnings, hard labor combined with starvation, and other gruesome methods. Women, children and old men were subjected to humiliation of nakedness, starvation, freezing, and the infamous walks across deserts and mountains to nowhere–including women and children being dragged to the nearest rivers to be washed away–all called “relocation.”

My little church in Troy, NY was a haven and support for those who came early. From the beginning there were internal battles–over leadership, over denomination (primarily Presbyterian vs Congregational), over personalities–that led to a breakup of the church community in 1910. The Congregationalists worshipped in borrowed space and began planning a new house of worship in 1912. The groundbreaking for that church in 1914, although the actual building of the church didn’t begin until 1916. By that time reports of slaughter and terrible massacres and deportations were arriving, leading the Congregationalists to rename the church as the “Armenian Calvary Congregational Church of Troy.” The church name commemorated a martyred nation following her master to Calvary. Newcomers, it was believed, would “revigorated the blood in the veins of the new built church” and “America would be the adopted country of Armenians.” The church would support the wave of Armenian immigrants escaping the genocide in their Americanization.

On August 27, 1916, the cornerstone was laid with fitting ceremonies. And on January 7, 1917, the first service was held in the building.

In 1914 the two Protestant Armenian churches began talks to unite, and the first union services was held in 1919. The new church became the home of the congregation and the Presbyterian church became the parsonage. The church was renamed United Armenian Calvary Congregational Church.

One of my personally favorite parts of the church are the stained glass windows that memorialize the Armenian martyrs. The mass loss of family members was immortalized, and the importance for the Armenian church community to be a source of support for arriving survivors strengthened the entire community.

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It was this history and my personal experiences growing up within the church community that connected me forever.

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Armenian cookbook

I don’t usually do book reviews on this site. However, in my research for my eventual historical fiction about Armenians and their immigration to America during and following the 1915 genocide in Turkey, I came across a marvelous book that is part Armenian history and part cookbook. As the author points out: “The history of the Armenian people is written, in part, through our culinary creativity with locally found ingredients.”

Home Again: Armenian Recipes from the Ottoman Empire, by Mari A Firkatian, is a fascinating blend of food and history. The back cover tells us:

“Preserving the past in recipes and memories, Home Again turns the reader’s gaze to Armenian culinary traditions. A land at the crossroads of great empires and nomadic hordes, Armenia’s cuisine offers a tantalizing melding of the rich variety of Mediterranean produce and Eastern spices. The culinary lexicon of Armenia stands as a testament to the survival of a people over the centuries…. The author transports both the novice and experienced cook to Armenian kitchens across the former Ottoman Empire….”

Generations of Armenians linked themselves directly to the most god-fearing man mentioned in the Bible, Noah, who many Armenians consider to be their progenitor. “Not only did Noah find dry land on the slopes of Mt. Ararat, but he also planted the first vineyard there; drinking Armenian wine is to savor a gift from the hands of Noah. Hayk, the great-great-great grandson of Noah, established the nation in the region of Mt. Ararat.” Armenia’s wines, sometimes using the unique native varietals, are making a comeback that is promising to produce some magnificent vintages.

In 301 AD Armenia became the first nation to convert to Christianity.
Beginning in 1915, 1.5 million of the 2 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey—a staggering 75%–were killed.

“The killing of so many Armenians dealt a near death blow to a noble, ancient culture. If we consider not only the dead, but their stolen properties, all the unborn generations and millions of dollars of wealth stripped from the victims, then we can see the scope of this heinous crime.”

Survivors escaped and sought shelter in nearby countries. Most thought they would return to their homeland when things settled down. “With that in mind, in 1923, when…” the author’s… “family fled one final time, they headed to Gemelik, a port town, with 14 cans of olive oil. With oil as their currency, they bought passage to Greece.”

Meanwhile, back in Turkey, the official Turkish policy was to wipe the Armenian presence literally and figuratively from history.

But they couldn’t erase the culinary memory.

Much of the first third of the book is this history and a memoir, followed by a discussion of Armenian culinary traditions. And then come the recipes, beginning with appetizers.

I will leave you with one of two Hummus recipes to whet your appetite for this fascinating and delightful book!

Smooth Hummus
2 c cooked chickpeas
4 cloves garlic, mashed, with salt
1T tahini
1 lemon, juiced
Extra virgin olive oil

Blend the chickpeas with a little of the cooking liquid in a food processor.
Add as much of the cooking liquid needed to make a smooth, creamy texture.
Add garlic and salt to taste.
Add lemon juice.
Add tahini and a thin stream of extra virgin olive oil to make a smooth consistency.
Serve in a shallow dish drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, parsley to garnish, sprinkled with paprika or oregano.

Hamu naye—inch hamov e, che?
Taste this—isn’t it just the best you ever tasted?

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Tree topperShnor-ha-vor (soorp) dzu-noont! 
Merry Christmas!

During a visit with one of the Armenian women who was kind enough to let me interview her for my historical fiction, she shared a delightful find with me (actually, a few delightful finds, but first things first): her copy of The Gurabia Man, by Talene Dadian White. It’s an Armenian version of The Gingerbread Man, sprinkled with Armenian words and with a glossary and other resources at the back of the book.

Gurabia Man -- English version
What a delight! I thought immediately of my great-nephew, who will turn 3 next March, and new great-niece, who will have her first birthday in February. They have the Essegian name but are three generations removed from the last 100% Armenian Essegian in our family. I consider it my job to help them maintain their Armenian connection, however small that may be.

I rushed home from the interview and went straight to my computer and Amazon. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Armenian versions of FIVE beloved fairytales—all in English with some Armenian words AND a few almost totally in Armenian!
Gurabia Man - Armenian version
I couldn’t have been happier if I’d struck gold! (Okay, so that’s a little exaggeration—call it literary license.) I ordered four (English sprinkled with Armenian) of the five. Jack in the Beanstalk was sold out.

I decided I’d send two (Gurabia Man and Goldilocks and the Three Bears) for this Christmas and the others at a later time. The books arrived a few days later, along with the cookie cutters I’d ordered: a gingerbread man, a pig, a dog, a donkey and a fox to go with the Gingerbread Man story, and three bears of different sizes and a girl for the Goldilocks book. I tweaked a Gurabia recipe to be able to roll the dough for cutouts. After making the cookies and decorating them (pistachios for eyes, dried apricot pieces for buttons on the Gurabia Man, raisins for eyes for the bears, and apricot pieces for eyes on the girl), I actually bubble-wrapped each cookie individually to keep them intact when they were mailed to my nephew and niece in Florida, along with a message to freeze the cookies to keep them fresh until Christmas. My nephew, father of the two young children, texted me thanks and how his 3-year-old was really into books (even “reading” some to his mom or dad at bedtime)! The cookies went directly into the freezer to be opened with the books on Christmas.

As our Armenian blood becomes more diluted with successive generations, I believe it is important to keep those generations in touch with their roots. Our ancestors suffered much, and sacrificed almost as much, leaving their beloved homes to flee to another country, giving their children and future generations a chance to survive and thrive.

Our heritage is rich and must not be forgotten.

Shnor-ha-vor nor da-ree!
Happy New Year!

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This stained glass window photo is from the church I attended as a child and remained a member until it closed in 2011. Revisiting the church a little over a year ago started me on this journey–to write about the church and the people, their struggles, tragedies and triumphs.

I’m staring at the collection of research what will be a historical fiction about Armenians—two file boxes full plus a two-foot pile of books and a loose pile of miscellaneous resources. I’m excited about the collection, but also daunted by the work that will be needed to pull out the gems that will both do justice to history and keep a reader reading. My research spans 120 years. Modern day attention spans are measured in nanoseconds.

War and Peace was 13,095 pages in 10 volumes. That was the longest I could find. But it doesn’t take a Mensa member to recognize that a book that long will not sell well in the 21st century. And I’d probably be dead before it was finished anyway.

The historical fiction I’m currently reading spans 32 years. The one before that covered about 10 years. Pillars of the Earth covered 50 years. Gone With the Wind followed the characters through the American Civil War and into reconstruction—probably 10-15 years tops. Recently I’ve read a few books that span several decades but connect past to present with multi-year gaps.

But 120 years?

I suppose it could be a multi-book historical story. It would be tricky and would have to track back and forth in time to show connections between the immigrants and first, second and third generation family members. AND the characters and their stories would need to be particularly compelling. ALL of them.

I could limit the story that is in my head across 60-70 years. That’s still long. But possibly doable. The tricky part would be ensuring that critical story lines aren’t shortchanged.

What would you do?

Posted in Armenians, Books, Church, Fiction, historical fiction, Immigrants, research, survival, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments




It’s a literary gift of gold! Thanks to my friend Roger, I learned of this resource for understanding life in AArmenians in Turkey 100 Years Agormenia prior to the 1915 genocide. I have only just begun my study of what it offers. The book is not merely an album of postcards. Detailed information about each postcard is provided: information about the image, whether it was posted or not and by whom. It also shares texts about Armenians of each vilayet, including information about the role played by Armenians in the economical, social and cultural life of the settlements in which they lived, the industrial and commercial branches in which they were concentrated, their quarters, churches, monasteries and schools, as well as demographical data.

I’ve mentioned before that my family came from Harput (also known as Harpoot, Kharpouth and Kharpert). Here is a peek at two of the postcards of the village. Kharpouth was a prosperous village along the primary trade route in the area. The first photo shows the village on the hill, and the second shows a group of tanners.

Education was valued by Armenians. The villages that could afford to do so provided eduction for both boys and girls:

Anatolia Girls' School (2)

As I pursue my goal of creating a historical fiction that accurately reflects the lives of the story’s characters, I’m confident that this resource, combined with the many others I’ve collected, will help make our ancestors come alive on the pages.

Gu des-nu-veenk no-ren!

I’ll see you again!

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Finished-Ebook image

I’m thrilled to announce that my novel, THE EYES HAVE IT,  is a themed-week feature book in the Romance category on NetGalley from 11/11/19-11/17/19!

If you are unfamiliar with NetGalley, it is a site where book reviewers and other professional readers can read books before they are published, in e-galley or digital galley form. Members register for free and can request review copies or be invited to review by the publisher.

For a description of the book, simply click on the link, then click on the book cover to go to a synopsis.

You also can read an excerpt of the book by going to my book pages at Barnes & Noble or Amazon and look inside the book! A number of readers have already left very positive (mostly 5 star!) reviews on Amazon!

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Finished-Ebook imageToday marks four weeks since the release of The Eyes Have It It has been an eventful month, contacting local bookstores and libraries, running book giveaway contests and soliciting reviews, following up on promotional leads from the publisher, etc. Feedback has been positive and I have other activities lined up or in the planning process.

The first review came in time for inclusion on the back cover of the paperback:

With her new novel, Dawn Lajeunesse proves she understands the human heart as well as any writer working today, and she knows how to make a reader’s heart thump hard—with anticipation, with sorrow, with fear and with joy. The Eyes Have It is an intelligent, poignant, rewarding experience.” Mark Spencer, author of A Haunted Love Story: The Ghosts of the Allen House.

I’ve received four reviews on Amazon so far, mostly 5-star and one 4-star. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool!

And yesterday, I received my  Kirkus Review – too long to include it all, but here are the high points:

“Lajeunesse constructs a powder keg of family secrets, featuring plenty of dramatic irony…. Olivia remains a vulnerable and realistic heroine throughout, and Lajeunesse pays close attention to her emotional oscillations between yearning and disappointment.
A fiery family drama. . . .” Kirkus Reviews

So far, so good.

Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll continue to feed and water this seedling. Meanwhile, my research and interviews for my Armenian story plods forward!

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