After watching his father, an Armenian priest, cut to pieces when he wouldn’t forsake God, Negoghos DerBoghosian escaped their Turkish village. Years later he fled to America. Before he had raised enough money to bring his wife and three children over with him, they were killed, too, victims of a long, bloody period in Armenian history.

Negoghos married a woman named Baizar in 1922, an Armenian immigrant with her own sad story. They raised a new family. Neither said a word about their brutal past.

Jerry DerBoghosian of Lewiston, their oldest son, says it all came out several years ago at a family reunion through written accounts.

Baizar’s first husband had been killed in a raid. Her children starved to death.

“I don’t remember my mother being there, and there it was, in black and white,” said DerBoghosian, 84.

Early this month, the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House agreed to pass along a measure to the full body that calls on the U.S. to affirm that the killing of 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923, carried out by the Ottoman Empire, was genocide. The congressional action is something Turkey’s leaders vehemently oppose.

DerBoghosian thinks it’s time.

All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation have backed the bill or a Senate version of it. Despite the activity, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said last week through a spokesperson it looked unlikely the resolution would get a vote. There’s a possibility it could linger indefinitely.

“Many have expressed concerns about damaging our relations with Turkey and further destabilizing the situation in northern Iraq, potentially putting our soldiers in greater danger,” Michaud said. “I believe that this consequence is worth very serious consideration.”

Gerard Kiladjian is president of the Armenian Cultural Association of Maine, a group with 1,000 members, some of them second- and third-generation Americans. At their peak, Armenians ran 27 grocery stores in Maine and 24 barber shops, most in Portland, where Kiladjian lives.

In his role as state chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, he planned another round of congressional lobbying this week.

“It’s a way to get closure. It’s always been in our history something that had happened, but it’s difficult to talk to our kids (about it). It’s not studied, yet it’s the first genocide of the century,” Kiladjian said.

Text of the House bill describes Adolf Hitler referring to the mass slaughter of Armenians by the Young Turks right before he invaded Poland unprovoked, saying “(w)ho after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

On his wife’s side, Kiladjian said, an uncle, then a little boy, escaped one of the frequent attacks that targeted every man in a village by hiding in his sister’s clothes.

She “put him under her skirt and walked out of the city,” he said. “That’s how he survived.”

In 2001, the Maine Legislature passed a joint resolution to honor Armenian Americans and commemorate the genocide. And last April 24, on the 92nd anniversary of the genocide’s start, a Portland state senator sponsored a legislative sentiment.

On that date, in 1915, hundreds of Armenian intellectuals, business and religious leaders were taken from their homes and killed. Among the many sources of conflict, Armenians were largely Christian and Turks largely Muslim.

Nearly a century later, the killings are a source of fierce debate among scholars and others. Turkish leaders, for instance, reject the characterization of the killings as genocide.

DerBoghosian, who retired from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, said quite a few Armenians used to live in Lewiston-Auburn when the shoe shops were booming here. The community’s much smaller now.

Most of his family lives in Massachusetts. His parents died within 10 months of each other in 1968.

“The sweetest people I ever met in my lifetime, God bless them,” he said.

The stories uncovered in his family tree were gruesome. After her father and her first husband was killed, Baizar was forced into the desert with her children. The kids died of malnutrition.

His grandfather on his father’s side survived a raid on his village only to be attacked and slaughtered two days later.

“They cut him up. My grandmother died of a broken heart,” he said. “I hope to live to see the U.S. Senate and House pass this so it will be known they did this genocide. After that, I can rest in peace. Then I can die.”

U.S. House Resolution 106 calls for:

“… the President to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution and … (in an annual message) accurately characterize the systematic and deliberate annihilation of 1,500,000 Armenians as genocide and to recall the proud history of United States intervention in opposition to the Armenian Genocide.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.