Historic cemetery brought back to life with dedicated hands

4-year old boy who died in 1926 receives a blessing at revitalized Oakland Cemetery. This stone had toppled over and was put back in place along with many others by the Sts. Vartanantz Men's Club.

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) – A forgotten cemetery was brought back to life after an army of volunteers cleaned up tons of debris off the tombstones and grounds in the name of their heritage.

The history of this particular corner of Oakland Cemetery was buried, until the St. Vartanantz Men’s Club – made up of men with Arminian lineage – got involved.

“You had to lift your feet up about a foot to get through all that accumulated here,” Stephen Elmasian said.

He stopped, pointing to a stone that would’ve been buried in the mire and probably stepped on.

“It was buried in the ground,” he said.

The effort was prompted by the City of Cranston’s decision to finally give ancestors access to the graves of their loved ones in the dilapidated mausoleum.

Paul Chobanian, who often mows the newly uncovered grounds, said the eight weeks of Saturdays were hard but were worth the labor of love.

“These people have long been forgotten,” Chobanian said.  “It’s been neglected for too long.”

Although, he admitted he didn’t think it could be done at first.

“‘I don’t think we can do this.’ This is what I said,” Chobanian said. “But we did it.”

They hauled away about 500 bags of debris and that didn’t include an even bigger pile.

“And it was a good six to eight feet high,” Elmasian said, pointing out that it was about 20 yards long.

Underneath all of that rested history.

“This stone right here Hovarness,” Elmasian said, referencing the tombstone of a 4-year old who died in the 20’s. “Which is John in English.”

His last name was Krekorian, and after his stone was put back in place Father Kapriel Nazarian blessed the grave and the long lost child.

“This poor little boy probably hasn’t seen anyone come and pray in front of it in so long,” Chobanian said.

They also found the graves of survivors of the century-old Armenian holocaust, and the death marches into the Syrian desert.

“One-point-five million were massacred or slaughtered or died on that route,” Elmasian said, adding that there was little doubt some of the survivors were buried in the plot they cleared.

With this corner of the cemetery now uncovered, there will soon be a blessing ceremony at each grave on June 18. And a commitment to make sure the sun is always able to shine on the history there.

“We hope that the next generations would do this for us if this happened to us,” Elmasian said.

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