Mrs. Gulenia Eskijian (Danielian) was born in Aintab, Turkey on February 12, 1887, one of eleven children, raised by her parents in the Protestant faith.  Educated at the Marash Girls College, she later taught in Aintab, Turkey. As a young lady she prayed to find someone with whom she could do the work of the Lord, using her skills and education for the Lord’s service. By her account, “God answered my prayers.”  Although her family and friends initially said, no, because her family was wealthy and Rev. Eskijian had nothing, the couple insisted.  “When they saw our sincere desire, God softened their hearts and everyone agreed.”  In the summer of 1910, Hovhannes Eskijian and Gulenia Danielian were united in marriage. She stated, “The first thing we did, as soon as we were married, we both came to our knees in the Lord’s holy presence, making the pledge to the Lord that we will serve the Lord with all our hearts, soul and body, in our entire lives.”

Gulenia and Hovhanness Eskijian with their children, Luther and John(left to right). Gulenia’s sister Victoria Danielian is in the center of the photo. Kessab, Syria (Historical Ottoman Empire) circa 1914.

In 1910 Rev. Eskijian began to be the pastor of the Protestant churches in the tiny villages near Kessab, Syria; Ekiz-Oluk, Keurkune and Kaladouran. In the next three years the couple had two children, John and Luther. But by late in 1913 they were called to pastor the Armenian Evangelical Church of Aleppo at a critical time–God’s hand, God’s timing. Their lives would soon be thrown into utmost sacrifice in the maelstrom of the Genocide. “Without any doubt, it was the providential arrangement of God that Rev. and Mrs. Eskijian were transferred in 1913 from the pastorate in Ekiz-Oluk, Keurkune and Kaladouran to a pastorate in Aleppo. God was confident that this young couple through their spirit of service and sacrifice with direct guidance from God, would be the means of salvation to hundreds of Armenians, young and old, orphans and widows, from the fiendish torture, humiliation and death by Turkish hordes. At this critical time, Rev. and Mrs. Eskijian gave many suffering Armenians food, service, shelter in their home and orphanage or provided hiding places to those being hunted by the Turks.”[1]

The many accounts of Rev. Eskijian’s operations make it clear that Mrs. Eskijian played an integral role in the rescue of Armenians. In the orphanage, a group of workers devoted itself “to healing, clothing, washing, and substituting as mothers and teachers, each in her or his own language, either Armenian or Turkish. Each day a few died, and each day more orphans came, as if this were the lighthouse in a seaport of desperation. At least they were not outside, subjected to harassment. This was especially true for the teenage girls and young widows.” (From John Minassian, one of Rev. Eskijian’s assistants). “The deportations of 1915 opened vast avenues of service before Rev. Eskijian. Aleppo was the crossroads on the highway of deportation. Thousands of Armenians were brought in to be deported to the slaughter houses of Deir Zor, Ras ul Ain, Sheddade and elsewhere to die of starvation and fatigue. The vast khans and factories of Aleppo were filled with refugees and emptied to be filled again by newcomers, persecuted, half-naked and starving. Rev. and Mrs. Eskijian were busy every day with these people. Not only did they welcome many of these Armenians into their own home, but also served them outside their home in many hiding places. They administered food, medicine, money and protection to their utmost capacity.” (Testimony of Sarkis Consulian)

By Rev. E. Elmajian: “I cannot forget the sacrificial service I received from her. She also served with unexcelled devotion to the daily increasing number of Armenian refugees who came to her for needed help.” The orphanage…attempted to save as many as possible of the Armenian orphans who were wandering around in the streets of Aleppo. Many of the children had been left behind by their families when these were deported from Aleppo to Der Zor. The mothers had hoped to save their children this way. (Naomie Ouzounian memoirs)

But early in 1916, Rev. Eskijian passed away from typhus, as many others at that time. It is reported that when the gendarmes came to take him away from his hospital bed to be hanged, Mrs. Eskijian said, you can’t have him, he’s free. The Turkish authorities were closing in on his humanitarian operation. Of his funeral Mrs. Eskijian wrote to her sister: “Oh dear, you should have seen that mournful, yet very much exalted spectacle. Everybody, old and young, Armenians and non-Armenians, wept bitterly. Hundreds and hundreds tried for the last time to show their love and respect to the forever departed “Badvely” their protector. Thanks to our Almighty Father who is in heaven, and the nation, and everybody, who participated for the last time in this sad event.”[2]

After the reverend’s death the critical importance of his main supporter, his wife, Gulenia, became evident. Mrs. Eskijian took over the leadership of the relief effort. That she assumed this central role in the underground work is undisputed. This indicates that her previous work was fully appreciated by the other important local figures such as United States Consul Jesse Jackson She drew strength to face the challenges her young family was encountering from her strong religious beliefs. Besides doing laundry and cooking for many deportees in hiding, and running her own household, she also did …clerical work for the relief effort. (John Minassian) Her efforts were also recognized by the American Red Cross Commission to Palestine and the Near East.

Mrs. Eskijian was instrumental in hiding many Armenian girls and attending to their needs. It was she who established contacts with Muslim women and placed the girls in those households. Once a girl had found shelter this way, Mrs. Eskijian maintained contact with the girl. This networking among the women of Aleppo was efficient, as the danger of detection by the police was somewhat limited. The Ottoman police had no female officers and betrayals seemed not to have happened. The direct negotiating with Muslim wives secured, the consent of the women was indispensable for the success of this work. (John Minassian)

The Turks came three times to kill Mrs. Eskijian and her two young children, John and Luther. Eventually they returned to Aintab, and then emigrated to the United States in 1920, landing at Ellis Island, and starting again in Pasadena, California.

  1. [1] A Pioneer During the Genocide, Rev. Hovhannes Eskijian, informal biography compiled by M.H. Shnorhokian, 1989.
  2. [2] Letter from Mrs. Gulenia H. Eskijian to her sister, Nouritza Hanum Ekmekjian, Aleppo, April 20, 1916.