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In 1908 or 1909 a daughter was born to an Armenian family living in Karatas, which was a village on the Mediterranean coast south of Adana in the Ottoman Empire. Her name was Semse.

In 1908 or 1909 a daughter was born to an Armenian family living in Karatas, which was a village on the Mediterranean coast south of Adana in the Ottoman Empire. Her name was Semse.

In around 1915 all of the older members of her family were killed. Only Semse and two of her sisters survived. They were taken prisoner and transported to Damascus where Semse was traded to a family for a horse.

Semse then was put to work doing the dirtiest household chores of this family until around 1922 when she was married off to a very old man in Damascus, but on her wedding day, shortly after the wedding, her elderly husband died.

At some time during this period she converted to Islam but she never forgot that she was born an Armenian.

A short time later a young Arab Muslim who was also living in Damascus and knew Semse heard about what had happened and went to see her. They decided to run away together to save her from both the family she had been traded to and the family of her dead husband.

They travelled 500 km (310 miles) northeast to a place just over the border of the newly formed Republic of Turkey and decided that they wanted to settle there. This area was essentially unsettled at that time and is now a town called Ceylanpinar.

They explained what had happened to the Turkish officials and asked for protection and permission to settle. Both were granted.

This couple then farmed, built a house and had four children. There are now well over a hundred people in this family and most of them still live in Ceylanpinar.

Semse died in 1980 but before she died she tried to find out what had happened to her two sisters. She learned that one of them had ended up in Beirut and the other in Argentina. Unfortunately, conditions were difficult and she was never able to establish clear contact with them.


How do I know this?

Last week the father of one of my close friends died. He was Semse’s third child.

I went to his funeral in Ceylanpinar and while I was there Semse’s only remaining child, my friend’s aunt, told me the story of how her family came to be in Ceylanpinar. She also asked me to help her find her relatives in Lebanon and Argentina.

I don’t know how I can do this but I’m going to try.

Originally posted to InAntalya on Sun Oct 10, 2010 at 08:44 AM PDT.

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