She was 7 years old when she and her family made a midnight escape by horse-drawn carriage.
They were headed to Syria, to find a safe haven away from the mass killings and the death marches.
Almost a century later, Yevnige Aposhian Salibian could still clearly recount the events of the Armenian Genocide. The family survived what eventually led to the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians. But the sounds and voices and pain of that time never left Salibian.
“When I used to look out of our door, I would hear people crying,” she told a Daily News reporter in March. “I would hear mothers, fathers, children saying, ‘I’m hungry, I’m thirsty.’”
And she remembered the sound of whips.
“The Turkish general would crack his whip, and he would say, ‘You! You! You! Get out of here!’”
Yet because of her Christian faith, she also believed in the power of forgiveness.
“She went through the genocide, through so many wars,” said Searan Kiledjian, Salibian’s granddaughter. “She was able to love her enemies.”
Salibian, who was recognized this year as one of the last of the Armenian Genocide survivors and who was a resident at the Ararat Home of Los Angeles in Mission Hills, died Aug. 29, 2015. She was 101.
“When you met her, you couldn’t help but realize how personable she was,” Kiledjian said. “She loved to share her life story, but she also loved hearing other people’s stories. She was able to connect with people quickly, and she made them feel special.”
Born in Aintab, Turkey, on Jan. 14, 1914, Salibian was the oldest of seven children. After her family’s escape into Syria, they later continued on to Lebanon, where Salibian graduated from the Armenian Evangelical School for Girls in Beirut. At age 21, she married Rev. Vahram Salibian.
Salibian was a devout Christian and she joined her husband to minister to refugees, orphans, to the disabled, to students and in churches. They raised their six children —Armine, Araxie, Norair, Shoushan, Hrag Sam and John — while serving in various Armenian Evangelical churches and established a new one in Dora which still remains.
Salibian’s faith never wavered, Kiledjian said, even when, as a 13-year-old, she lost her mother. Then as a mother herself, her eldest son Norair was killed at age 17 in a bus accident, along with 21 of his high school classmates.
Salibian and her husband later left Lebanon in 1976 when the civil war broke out. They settled in San Jose, where they continued their ministry in the community. Vahram Salibian passed away in 1995 and years later, Salibian moved into the Ararat Home, a retirement community in Mission Hills. There, she prayed with residents and staff, led Bible studies and devotionals, encouraged residents there, “making everyone laugh with her sharp wit and humor,” Kiledjian said.
“I think that whenever she would hear their stories and difficulties and challenges, she would always encourage them, not just sympathize but empathize,” Kiledjian said.
This year marked the centennial of the start of the Armenian Genocide, and Salibian was able to share her story with many people during various events, from Mayor Eric Garcetti to Kim Kardashian.
“I think that God kept her alive for the centennial season to tell the story but also for the opportunity to bring reconciliation,” Kiledjian said. “It was because of her faith and how God had loved her that she was able to love and forgive.”
Salibian is survived by five children,11 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. Many of them now serve as missionaries, pastors and chaplains.
Funeral services were held in San Jose, but plans for a memorial service for December in Los Angeles are underway. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Ark of Hope, c/o Christian Aid. All proceeds will go directly to needy Armenians of all ages in Yerevan and surrounding villages. Contact Christian Aid at 434-977-5650 or mail checks payable to Christian Aid Mission, to P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please include giving code 464ARK, or reference Ark of Hope stating the gift is in memory of Yevnige Salibian.