Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » There’s Just Something about Covered Wagons

There’s Just Something about Covered Wagons

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 22, 2013

[This post, originally published on November 22, was removed to make life easier for a few people, after innumerable complaints by one unpleasant man. The post has been redacted and is reposted on December 3.

As any rational person can tell, Keepapitchinin is a personal website and reflects my personal views; it is not “a Church setting” and does not claim to speak for the institutional Church in any way. If you can’t tell the difference, kindly stop reading now. Keepa is not for fools.]

No matter how many other peoples used them in whatever part of the world, there’s just something about covered wagons that immediately brings “Mormon pioneers” to the minds of many of us. That was certainly true when I first saw the two photographs featured here. But wait …

The second glance threw all thoughts of Mormon pioneers out of my mind. Those aren’t oxen – they’re camels! Those aren’t wide-brimmed hats – they’re fezzes! That’s not a Western fort – it’s … well, what IS it?

And yet these are Mormons, and that ragged group of covered wagons that don’t look quite right are gathered to carry a group of Mormon pilgrims out of a hostile land to a place where they can live their religion and, well, simply live. These are Latter-day Saints in the old Turkish Mission, in 1921.

They are ethnic Armenians, survivors of [redacted] of the previous years. And because the borders of the Middle Eastern nations are being redrawn during the last days of the [redacted] Empire, their hometown, Aintab, will soon find itself again within the jurisdiction of [redacted]. Aintab’s Armenians – both Mormon and not – have every reason to fear a renewal of the [redacted] once the French forces who have been governing the region after World War I are withdrawn. The Saints are desperately and unsuccessfully seeking passports to flee across the border to the relative safety of Syria. (I know, I know – given today’s conditions that seems surreal. But those were the conditions of 1921.)

The Saints in Aintab and elsewhere in the Turkish Mission had been on their own ever since Joseph Wilford Booth, mission president, and his small force of elders had been called home in 1909 at the beginning of the [redacted] that would soon claim the lives of more than a million Armenians, in an ethnic [redacted] that has still not been acknowledged by [redacted] nor recognized by much of the rest of the world. But in 1921, Heber J. Grant sent President Booth back to the mission (it would be called the “Armenian Mission” when it reopened). President Booth arrived just in time.

We’ve featured stories of the Turkish Mission and the Armenian Saints here at Keepa before –

Gohar Yeghiayan Davidian, who, with her husband, fled the region at the beginning of the [redacted]
Saim Abd al-Samid, part 1, part 2, not an Armenian, but a member of the Church in that mission
President Booth’s account of the Surviving Saints of the Armenian Mission
An amazing cast photograph of a Book of Mormon play staged by Armenian Saints
Letterhead of the Turkish Mission, 1908

— and maybe other posts that I’m not recalling at the moment. The Turkish Mission has been a longtime interest of mine, and more stories will undoubtedly appear at Keepa in time.

But today, there’s a new feature elsewhere that I want to point you to. A new online exhibit, written and compiled by James Goldberg at the Church History Library, debuted earlier this week at The Armenian Exodus is an exhibit that tells briefly yet amazingly well the story of the flight of the Armenian Saints from Turkey to Syria, using those covered wagons pictured here. Spend a few minutes with it, looking at the faces of Moses Hindoian, the man who pulled the scattered and leaderless members together and pleaded for help to rescue his people; of Yeranic Gedikian, the young girl/bride/widow whose joyful smile in one photo and dignified pose in another suggest the hope that the gospel can give even to those who have undergone horrific experiences; and of their travel and beginning anew in a place of refuge. I was pleased to suggest some elements of the story, and am so very happy with how James pulled it all together.

Enjoy that exhibit, but please – remember to come back here to Keepa to leave a comment. I’d love to hear your response to what you see there.



  1. I saw that exhibit yesterday and loved it! And I see that you’re mentioned in the credits! Great work, as usual, Ardis!

    Comment by Mark B. — November 22, 2013 @ 7:32 am

  2. I too am fascinated with Armenian church history. It helps that my little brother is currently a missionary in Armenia. I’ll be bookmarking these to share with him upon his return.

    Comment by mahana — November 22, 2013 @ 10:06 am

  3. Obviously the notion that the church has only become a worldwide church in the last 50-60 years, is an inaccurate one. Saw the display yesterday, but didn’t have time to really look it over. Good stuff that I will need to dig into a bit more.

    Comment by kevinf — November 22, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

  4. My beautiful daughter in law is the progeny of one of the early Armenia member families. Her Great grandfather was a stalwart and Elder Booth was often in their home. Her testimony is strong and runs deep and she has every reason to be proud of her “pioneer heritage” on both sides of her family. I am happy this information is being made so readily available. I sent her a link to the site.

    Comment by Kathleen — November 22, 2013 @ 8:44 pm

  5. Mark B. took my comment! But I will also say that I loved the pictures. I used to think that Alice in Wonderland was juvenile for preferring pictures with her stories, but I’m back in her camp now that I’m a little older still.

    Comment by S — November 23, 2013 @ 5:55 am

  6. One of the great stories from those times is the life of George Mardikian who arrived at Ellis Island in 1922. Not LDS, but for a life of great service to the United States Army, to Armenians displaced by Wars, and other activities, he was awarded an Honor Doctorate by BYU in 1967.

    Comment by John Tippets — November 23, 2013 @ 7:48 am

  7. Where I come from, covered wagons mean Voortrekkers, the Dutch people who settled The Cape of Good Hope for the East India Company on the mid-1600s, and chose to leave, trekking north into unclaimed territory when the British took over administration of the Cape Colony a couple of hundred years later. When LDS missionaries came to S Africa in the 19th Century, waggon train treks to freedom were a familiar concept.

    Comment by Geri Campbell — November 23, 2013 @ 8:25 am

  8. I read this article, and all available links, with great emotion and gratitude, for my Great Grandfather, who joined the Church in Aintab in 1898. He was a stalwart member of the Aintab Branch and then fled to the US in 1908, with his 8 children,to escape the mounting tension that led to the genocide a few years later. The story of my family’s conversion and miraculous trek around the world to Salt Lake City has inspired me to be a stronger member my whole life. Thank you for this compilation of photos and information about other Armenian pioneers! Very meaningful!

    Comment by Geri Aposhian Gibbs — November 23, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  9. This is very interesting, and something I had never heard of. Thank you for sharing it. It builds my testimony to learn of the saints in other parts of the world.

    Comment by Kelly Paquet — November 23, 2013 @ 11:22 am

  10. Back in the 1960s George Z. Aposhian was my mission president in the old Central Atlantic States Mission. He was a good leader and during his term that mission was top baptising mission in the world.

    Comment by Bob Powelson — November 23, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

  11. Just stumbled across your delightful site through the mention in LDS Living on 11/23. The article about the Armenian Saints was fascinating. What a pleasure to see a “blog” that clearly outlines what is and is not acceptable and (hopefully) avoids all the nay-sayers that clog other LDS blogs. And you do it so politely! I look forward to visiting again.

    Diane Heath, Independence, MO

    Comment by Diane Heath — November 23, 2013 @ 12:49 pm

  12. Even though I am not LDS (my boyfriend put me on to this article), I am thrilled to read about those brave souls, who looked for God’s truth in that hostile environment. Some of my ancestors were from Turkey and fled the holocaust for Lebanon. My heart bleeds to remember my ancestors who perished in that land. Thank you for the article.

    Comment by gayane bekeredjian — November 23, 2013 @ 2:31 pm

  13. One careless article written on by a careless peeson(s)is making enough damage now to show us as the pro-genocide Church online as others are quoting from it. I am terrible sorry that even the media department in our Church wrote the Turkish Church history a few years ago on the official church website and [I believe] even in the Church almanacs and portrayed us as a pro-genocide Church focusing on Armenian deaths…accusing the Turks only. Some people forget that Armenians had their own militia or secret organizations as they rebelled and killed thousands of Turks too. You can read about this even in the old Armenian members’ journals. These things are sad things and my heart goes to all who were hurt during that time, but genocide is a debate issue and politicians should debate it, and as a Church we should be very careful about this sensitive issue and our Church should stay neutral; otherwise with some crazy comments you can hurt the current Church in Turkey. We are trying to build the Church here in Turkey, and some people with their pro-genocide claims are destroying the Church in Turkey if you make our Church look like a pro-genocide organization. Please take this pro-genocide issue to a political setting, don’t mention it in the Church setting. History happened in the past, we learn from it. If you think there was a genocide, don’t discuss it here. There are many other ways to present people’s history without making political statements.

    Comment by Murat Cakir — November 23, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

  14. Murat Cakir:

    The Church website is exceedingly careful in its presentation: It speaks of “danger” and “violence” and “political instability” but does not debate politics nor assign blame. There are no accusations on that website such as you charge in your comment here.

    Of all the misinformation in your comment, this may be the worst: “You can read about this even in the old Armenian members’ journals.” Which journals are those? Name one — one single solitary example to support your allegations. Can’t do it? I thought not.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 23, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

  15. […] to Syria. Once you’ve finished there, head on over to Keepapitchinin to read Ardis’s complementary post that adds a bit more detail to the online exhibit and links to previous posts on Armenian […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup — November 24, 2013 @ 3:00 am

  16. Amazing. We spent a year in Ghana and knew Billy Johnson, one of the Pioneers of Africa, who helped bring the LDS church there. He has since passed away. Also being half Dutch, I have been interested in the Afrikaner’s trek; they compared themselves to the Moses and Israelite. Half pioneer also and have many ancestors who made the Mormon trek to Utah. NOW WE HAVE THIS NEW GROUP OF TREKKERS, CAMELS, NO LESS. Wow!

    Comment by Luann Gillette — November 24, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

  17. Thank you for this article! I am of Armenian descent. My family came to America, some during the genocide, and others in 1923, from Turkey. My maiden name is Seraydarian. My dad joined the church many years later, but it is heartwarming to read of early Armenian saints. I will be sharing this with my family

    Comment by Rebecca Johnson — November 25, 2013 @ 7:16 am

  18. A most interesting article. My maternal forebears came from Turkey. On my father’s side they came from Lebanon. I was born and reared in Armenia. Thanks for this informative article. It hit home with me.

    Comment by gayane bekeredjian — December 3, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

  19. Thanks for re-posting. I thought I was dreaming as Sunday morning I went to show it to my Primary class (Worldwide church, other pioneers) and found nothing, like it never existed. I continued to look on and keepa until Sacrament Meeting started as I knew it had to be somewhere. But nothing and I knew I couldn’t have dreamed it! The kids will enjoy it just as much this week, they were interested in seeing camels and covered wagons. Thanks for all you do.

    Comment by Rachelle — December 5, 2013 @ 7:27 pm

  20. Ah, that’s good to know, Rachelle! I love hearing when readers use Keepa in lessons or talks!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 5, 2013 @ 8:29 pm