Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

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Karen Jeppe 1876 - 1935

a Righteous woman for the Armenians

Karen Jeppe

Karen Jeppe

Karen Jeppe was born in Gylling, Denmark in 1876.

She became a teacher in the Friser school and in 1902 Friser himself read her Aage Meyer Benedictsen's account of the persecution of the Armenians. Benedictsen had visited the orphanage of the German Orient Mission in Urfa, directed by Johannes Lepsius. Lepsius had taken in those who had escaped the Hamidian massacres of 1894-96 and, on his return to Denmark, had founded the "Association of Danish Friends of the Armenians". Karen Jeppe contacted him in 1903 and discovered that Lepsius was looking for a teacher for his orphanage. So she decided to leave for Urfa, along with the Swiss deacon Jakob Kunster. She stayed in Urfa until 1908, when she went back to Denmark for a brief period.

On her return to Armenia, she bought a piece of land in the mountains, where she gave work to Armenian farm laborers and adopted two orphans, Missak and Lucia, who helped her with her work.

When World War I broke out, coinciding with the beginning of the genocide, Karen Jeppe did what she could for the Armenians in danger, hiding them in her cellar, organizing the distribution of water for the processions of deportees, dressing them in Kurdish and Arab clothing to save them from the massacres.

She stayed in Urfa throughout the war, until 1918, when she had a nervous breakdown and returned to Denmark for 3 years without ever recovering: "Something within me has died" – she said.

In 1921 she went back to Aleppo to see "her people ", welcomed by Missak and Lucia, who in the meantime had married each other. She built a surgery, a children's home and a clothing factory for the survivors. She sent embroidered pieces back to Denmark to finance her activities. In 1922 a new wave of refugees from Cilicia, abandoned by the French, made the situation even more dramatic. In 1923 she set up "search posts " and "relief posts". With her organization she successfully saved two thousand women and children.

In 1925 after meeting and making friends with a Bedouin sheik, Hadjim Pasha, she worked hard to create good relations between Bedouins and Armenian peasants: she rented part of Hadjim's land and set up a small Armenian farming colony, as well as a small house for herself. She founded six small villages outside Aleppo, including Tel Armen and Tel Samen.

Her health worsened and in 1935 she retired to her little white house, where she died of malaria on 7 July. She is buried in the Armenian cemetery in Aleppo. The Armenians consider her their guardian angel.

In the Yerevan Wall of Remembrance, a fistful of earth from her grave in Aleppo is entombed behind the stone that bears her name.

Righteous for the Armenians

remembered in the Wall of Remembrance of Yerevan

Every year on 24 April, the anniversary of the outbreak of Metz Yeghérn (the "Great Evil", that is to say the genocide against the Armenian people in 1915-1916) Armenians remember their rescuers with a procession to Dzidzernagapert, the “Hill of Swallows”, where the Mausoleum in memory of the victims of extermination was erected.
Since 1996 the ashes or the grave earth of the Righteous and rescuers or witnesses who tried to stop the massacres or risked their lives to denounce the Young Turks' genocidal plan and its execution are interred in the Remembrance Wall.
Pietro Kuciukian, founder of the International Committee of the Righteous for the Armenians,has been researching the Righteous figures into the survivors' pieces of testimony, the tales of their children, the writings by the eyewitnesses, the diplomatic documents and the broad literature that accompanies the events related to this genocide. He retraces their walks of life, he revives their memory by visiting the places where they are buried, he meets with the relatives and descendants who keep family memories of great intensity and then he transports their ashes or handfuls of their burial earth on the "Hill of Swallows" of Yerevan. The stones with the names of the "RIghteous for the Armenians", gathered in the Wall of Remembrance, are the tangible sign of the gratitude of the Armenian people and take on a universal kind of exemplary value.

Tales and testimony

Metz Yeghern stories

other exemplary stories featured by Gariwo