Historian's Corner

Charlene Cole
Sandy Creek/Lacona Historian
Historian's Corner
May 7, 2015

Past historian, Marie Parsons, called and brought my attention to Toros Kavorkian, a Turkish Armenian who came to Sandy Creek and was employed on various local farms.

In 1915, leaders of the Turkish government set in motion a plan to expel and massacre Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Though reports vary, most sources agree that there were about 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire at the time of the massacre. By the early 1920s, when the massacres and deportations finally ended, some 1.5 million of Turkey’s Armenians were dead, with many more forcibly removed from the country. Today, most historians call this event genocide–a premeditated and systematic campaign to exterminate an entire people. However, the Turkish government does not acknowledge the enormity or scope of these events.

Toros Kavorkian was born in Turkish Armenia in 1892. He resided with his father, mother and two older brothers. When he was about 2 years of age his mother with her three children were forced to flee to the mountains to escape Armenian massacre, in which the father was killed. For days they stayed there with nothing but berries to eat, later they were able to return to their village and with the aid of the two older boys, Toros’s mother worked their small farm.

Armenians lived together in small villages for mutual protection, while their land was outside. All cattle and sheep were brought into the village at night to protect them from roving bands of thieves called Kurds.

While working on their farm, the oldest brother was killed. The mother, unable to work the land, rented it to neighbors for the keep of the youngest boy, Toros and with the other son went on a long journey to Constantinople for work. The care which he received was very meager indeed, for many nights he was left to sleep on the doorstep with no clothing but a shirt which he wore day and night.

This in brief is the story of Toros’s early childhood.

At about the age of seven his mother came for him and he was placed in an Armenian orphanage in Constantinople where he received his education and religious training. When he was old enough to work he was hired out to an Italian employer for $15 dollars a year and his board. From this time on until he was about eighteen years of age he worked at various occupations, saving as much money as possible. At the outbreak of the Turko-Italian war he was dragged into the Turkish Army, from this he escaped by taking his savings and those of his mother’s, altogether about $40 and fleeing in the night. He bought passage on a Greek steamer for America. On the voyage he paid part of his expenses by acting as an interpreter; Toros could speak five languages, Armenian, Turkish, Italian, Greek and French.

On his arrival in New York he had barely enough money to allow him entrance to this country, a certain amount being required by the emigration laws. Unable to speak English he tried in vain to get employment, while his limited means dwindled to a few cents.

After a few days he succeeded in finding his way to the R. N. Brace Farm School, where he remained for two weeks. From this institution he was sent to Sandy Creek where he was employed on various farms for eight years. Being an industrious and persevering lad, he soon acquired the confidence and respect of the people who knew him; also through his thrifty habits he accumulated a substantial sum of money.

One of the saddest features of his life was the fact that he was never able to receive any communication from his mother and brother after arriving in this country, his letters were returned unopened. Friends have often found him crying over his mother’s picture.

He was a devout Christian and member of the First M. E. Church at Sandy Creek where he was a regular attendant until he secured employment in Fulton. He died at Lee Memorial Hospital in Fulton on November 1, 1921 following an operation for appendicitis.

The funeral services were held amid the friends who knew him well and loved him much. His body was brought from Fulton to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Louis M. Clark, into whose family he came when he found employment on their farm. So attached did he become to the family that, though he worked in several different places, he considered this to be his American home. His wake was held at the Clark home.

The funeral services were in charge of Dr. William J. Hart, pastor of the Sandy Creek Methodist Episcopal Church and the Rev. H. D. Holmes, pastor of the State Street Methodist Episcopal Church, Fulton. The statements of Mr. Holmes concerning the last hours of Toros were of deeply appealing interest and reflected in a most vital and certain way the strength of his Christian faith. Appropriate music was rendered by Mr. H. F. Pratt, a member of the undertaking firm which had charge of the burial arrangements, and Miss Irene Herriman. The attendance was large.

The rugged and consistent Armenian character was possessed to the full by Toros. He refused to work for anyone who swore at him. He showed his loving appreciation of the church which gave him friendship and sympathy by leaving it the sum of one hundred dollars. This was a notable expression of his devotion to its helpfulness in his life. His own Armenian people, their sufferings and their needs, were always in his thoughts; hence he provided that his entire estate, after expenses were met and the amount to the local church paid, be used for missionary work in Armenia through the agency of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

During the war he was given deferred classification as an agricultural laborer; but he was ready to serve America when he should be called; and his American spirit was in evidence when he gave public talks in the church during the war period, and also by his liberal purchase of Liberty bonds. Armenia by birth, American by choice, Christian by training and decision, the memory of Toros will be outstanding in our community as a splendid type of American Christian citizenship. And the community is honored by having his body rest in our own cemetery.

Charlene Cole
Sandy Creek/Lacona Historian
1992 Harwood Drive
Sandy Creek, NY 13145
315-387-5456 x7
office hours: Friday 9am to 2pm