The story of the “unsinkable” Titanic, the “greatest luxury liner of its time,” and its Armenian passengers has been told many times, and there is a mixture of legend and reality around the name of Neshan Krekorian.
He was born in Keghi, in the province of Garin (Erzurum, in Turkish) in 1886 (*). He was barely in his twenties when his father urged to emigrate from Western Armenia and start a new life across the Atlantic Ocean. Along with five other compatriots from Keghi he walked for seven days to Trebizond, on the Black Sea. They sailed to Marseilles and bought his third-class ticket on the Titanic, departing from Cherbourg in its maiden voyage with 2,200 passengers. They were locked down in their decks, because regulations required steerage passengers to be isolated from first and second class.
Five nights into the journey, close to midnight on April 14, the ship hit a massive iceberg in the North Atlantic and slowly began to sink. Krekorian and other men broke a chain lock to get up to the upper decks. He managed to make his way to the last lifeboat, No. 10, which was being lowered with half capacity filled, and jump into it. Only 712 passengers survived, of whom more than 500 were first- and second-class travelers. Krekorian was one of 176 passengers (55 men, 98 women, and 23 children) from third class who survived out of 709. The only other survivor of his five companions of travel was David Vartanian, who was 20 or 22 at the time.
Krekorian was rescued by the ship Carpathia and taken to New York, where he arrived on April 18. He caught pneumonia and was hospitalized for four days. When he finally made it to his destination in Brantford, Ontario, he was in hospital again for a couple of weeks.
There were stories exaggerated or made up. A Brantford newspaper published a sensationalist tale of the Armenian who dressed in women’s clothing; Krekorian’s loose fitting, low crotch pants, vest and shawl, the typical dress of Armenian men, may have made for such confusion. (**)
In 1918 he settled in the town of St. Catharines, in the same province. He became a foundry worker in the local General Motors plant, saving enough money to bring his two younger brothers and help found the first Armenian church of Canada in St. Catharines. He married Persape Vartanian in 1924 and they had three children. He never went on a boat again in his life, and he would not swim, which spoke to the trauma that he had experienced.
Neshan Krekorian passed away in St. Catharines on May 21, 1978.
(*) The Titanica Encyclopedia gives the date May 12 and clarifies that the death certificate says December 1, 1886, while the Titanic passenger list gave his age as 25. However, the tombstone says December 15, 1890.
(**) There were other people rumored to have used women clothing to escape. The myth has been debunked in Snopes.