Syria: Mike and Roumieh Nedeff
In a supplemental letter addressed to then Secretary of State Robert Lansing and included with his original 1919 passport application, Nedeff stated “During the war my father was murdered by the Turks, and I desire to go to Syria to look after my mother, two sisters and a brother, and bring them to this country.” Such cooly delivered statements about heartbreaking events can repeatedly be found in supplemental material submitted with passport applications. The tone is almost always formal and factual, emotionally divorced from the harsh reality. Perhaps it had to be.
And so just after returning to the U.S. from the war in Europe, Nedeff would travel back to Syria to locate family members displaced by Turkish aggressions during the volatile 1914-1918 period, a time when Ottoman Armenians, Assyrians, Pontian and Anatolian Greeks fell victim to increasing agitation and violence that culminated in displacement, deportation, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
For his passport application, Nedeff also provided a letter of support from West Virginia Representative Wells Goodykoontz, attesting to his good character and loyalty as a U.S. citizen. Nedeff’s application was approved and in late 1919 he made the journey back to his homeland, remaining in what had just become the Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon for some two years.
In the somewhat sympathetic but still harsh note typed into Nedeff’s 1921 emergency passport application by a U.S. Consular agent in Damascus, Nedeff’s safety as a Syrian Greek Catholic and intention/loyalty as a U.S. citizen living abroad is called into question, resulting in a shortened passport validity period. Nevertheless, he returned to the U.S. in late 1921 along with his new wife, Roumieh Jarmoush, who had never been to the United States.
Mike and Roumieh would settle in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where they raised 13 children while running a retail grocery store for many years in Parkersburg’s downtown.
Sadly, it appears that the rest of Nedeff’s family was unable to leave Syria, or couldn’t be located during his 1919-1921 visit. However, after years of persistent effort, Mike was able to sponsor and bring his younger brother, Moussa (Moses), to the U.S. in 1937. Like Mike, Moses Nedeff (1899-1963) would become a successful small business owner, marry, and raise a large family in Parkersburg.
Mike died in 1951 and Roumieh in 1986; both are buried in Parkersburg, West Virginia.