Where the Armenians Are

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

A couple of years ago, I was in a doctor’s office waiting room doing what I usually do: reading the true crime section of People, perusing Us Weekly to see if stars really are just like me, and considering what height I should claim to be.

I was taking a reading pit-stop, thumbing through a piece about the royal family, when I heard the nurse call my last name. Except it wasn’t my last name anymore. It was my maiden name—an Armenian moniker I had never heard outside my own family.

I looked up. A blonde woman rose, deposited her own copy of People on the table, and followed the nurse down the hall.

I wanted to bolt after her, to ask her who she was and how we might be related. Instead I used all my willpower and buried my nose back in the magazine. After all, most people don’t enjoy being grilled about their identity or followed by strangers. Especially at the doctor’s office.

Fast forward a few months. A friend shared a post about a neighborhood meeting via NextDoor, the social media site where people complain about traffic and accuse neighbors of purposely blowing barbecue smoke toward their house. I scanned the text. Stopped. Squinted.

The neighborhood meeting would be moderated by the woman from the doctor’s office who shared my name.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the meeting. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to restrain myself from contacting her. So I fired off an email, shared my former last name, and waited.

An hour later, I got a reply.

My last-name twin had recently moved from Glendale, California, a city that’s 40% Armenian. Like me, she got her fair hair from her mother’s side. (Hers: Scottish. Mine: Scandinavian–with some help from my hairdresser). We didn’t have any aunts, uncles or grandparents in common, but we figured we must be related. Somehow. Some way.

As we ended the e-conversation, she said, “It was great to meet you, Kathy. It’s nice to know where the Armenians are.”

It was a comment that hit home.

My great-grandparents emigrated to America during the genocide that took the lives of more than 1.5 million Armenians. This tragedy resulted in an immense diaspora. Most fled to the U.S. Some settled in Russia, France, Lebanon and other places around the world. Two-thirds left their ancestral land never to return. Today, only one-third of the world’s Armenians live in Armenia.

I think this scattering of Armenians explains our continual search for one another.

Introduce any Armenian to someone with a surname ending in –ian (or -yan) and they’ll ask, “Are you Armenian?” or perhaps even offer an “Inchpes ek?”, which means “How are you?”

It explains our strong crazy-strong ethnic pride and our compulsion to tell anyone who will listen that the Kardashians and Dr. Kevorkian aren’t the only famous Armenians. (For starters, there’s Cher, Andre Agassi [original family name Aghassian], William Saroyan, and Chris Bohjalian. And truth be told, the Kardashians have done great work in raising awareness about the genocide.)

It also makes me think of my father. He not only only searches the credits of every movie for Armenian names, seeking long-lost family, trying to connect with a people scattered but not conquered, but also insists that Star Wars’ Lando Calrissian is Armenian. As he sees it, Armenians are everywhere. Even in space.

Like Ellen, whose pen name for her wonderful new series is in honor of her grandmother, my books have family names. Zartar for my great-grandmother. Levon for my grandfather.

It’s my way of paying homage to their lives. It’s how I try to give them another way to leave a mark on the world.

April 24 is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. For those whose families have been forever changed by genocide—and there have been so many throughout history—we don’t need a day to mourn and reflect. It’s in our hearts, written in indelible ink on our DNA.

Still, as the church bells in Yerevan and Glendale and around the world peal, “Remember! Remember!” my mind goes to our shared past and our yoked present.

I think of where the Armenians are.

Friends, are there family names (first? last? middle? nick?) that have special significance for you? 

40 thoughts on “Where the Armenians Are

  1. I lived in Glendale for 10 years — wonderful city and, yes, where most of the U.S. Armenians live. 🙂

    Culture is a powerful connector. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much, Robin!! I’ve never been to Glendale, but I will go! My grandparents lived in Fresno, but it’s been many years since I’ve been. After restrictions have lifted, a California road trip may be in order. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  2. That’s such a great story, Kathy. I sometimes wish I had that kind of cultural connection (especially when my kids were in elementary school and had to do family tree or “bake a dessert from your heritage” projects). I am such a mish-mash – so very melting-pot American – that I can’t identify anything. Except my maternal grandfather who was Croatian, but he died when I was 2 so I never was able to learn anything from him.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. What a great post, Kathy! I have a huge family with many interesting characters, but nothing particularly unusual. When I read your books I always have your real-life Armenian story in the back of my mind.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Such a moving post, Kathy. Thank you for helping to raise awareness. That need to belong is strong. I remember walking to elementary school with friends when they started talking about being Italian-American. I asked how they knew they were Italians (I was very young). They said if you had a vowel at the end of your name. Was I ever relieved when I said my name was Marchetti and ended in an “i”. This makes me laugh now since nearly everyone in my school came from an Italian-American family.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I love this story, and I’m glad you reaching out was met with such enthusiasm. And I love how you incorporate family names in your books. Who knows, maybe someday a reader will reach out asking about why you chose a certain name and a new connection will be made thanks to your wonderful novels!

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Great story, Kathy!
    I too, am proud of my heritage.
    On my daddy’s side we go back over 200 years in the same town, Sunbury PA. It’s over 300 before we come from Germany.
    Sunbury PA has had the same approximate number of residents for the last 170 years, as attested to my daddy’s generation was the first to attempt to leave. The Hotel Edison (only hotel in town) was the first 3-wire system Thomas Edison put together. They named the hotel after him at the town’s 150th anniversary. Our family used to one that hotel. Wish we still did.
    Us Pennsylvania Dutch are very proud of our heritage, especially our cooking. We eat weird stuff!
    Although, I have a friend who insists Pennsylvania Dutch is not German. WTF?
    And when I was cleaning daddy’s apartment last month, I found the wine box and glasses from the Moyer Winery in New Braunfels, TX. Another German connection. And yet this woman says I’m not German? Ha!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. What a wonderful, rich heritage!! You should definitely be proud! And holy moly, that hotel sounds amazing.

      If you have any recipes you’d like to post here, please do! (No pressure, though.) Such a great way to hold onto and share our roots. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  7. What a great post, Kathy! And I’m excited I now know how to say “How are you?” in Armenian! I have no affinity for languages, but knowing a phrase or two in several languages makes me feel sophisticated, lol!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Vickie! I hope I got the phrase right! My dad says, “Inchpes es,” but I think that’s a different form of “you”…maybe formal vs. informal? My research suggested that common parlance was “ek.” Anywho, languages are fascinating! My great-grandmother never learned English. She said it was far too difficult!

      Liked by 2 people

  8. This is a fascinating post, Kathy! I just had to comment when I saw the name Zartar. I believe it is Arabic in origin? My maternal grandfather, Ziter, was born in Lebanon. He died before I was born but my mother shared many fond memories of him with me. In fact, one of the first stories I ever wrote as a child was about him. By the way, there are a fair amount of Armenians in Upstate New York, where I live. Ironically, my first job at the age of 16 was working for Armenian brothers who owned a grocery store. Thanks for the memory!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Catherine! So happy to see you here!!

      Very interesting about Zartar! That makes sense. And I love that one of your first stories was about your grandfather. He must have held a very special place in your heart. ❤

      Very cool about upstate New York and the Armenian brothers! My great-grandparents headed to Rhode Island after landing in New York. I'm not sure how they all ended up in California. I'll have to ask.

      Thanks so much for chiming in! xoxo

      Like

  9. I first learned about the Armenian genocide from my dad’s law school colleague, Aram “Jack” Kevorikian, a whip-smart bon vivant from NYC who eventually settled in Paris and argued cases before the French Supreme Court in a fluent-but-heavily-American-accented French. Jack was passionate about making sure the world knew the truth of what had happened, and also assisted with the writing of Armenia’s new constitution after it gained independence in the 1990s.

    Thank you for this beautiful post, Kathy. It’s so important that we keep memories such as this alive.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh my gosh, Leslie! That is absolutely amazing!! What an incredibly important contribution for Armenia and, indeed, the world. (And his first name reminds me of one of Saroyan’s books, “My Name Is Aram.”) What an honor it must have been to know him.

      You’re so right about keeping these memories alive. I promised myself that I’d write about this every year on or near Remembrance Day for just that reason. ❤

      A lot of Armenians settled in France. My dad had a cousin in Marseille, who I tried to correspond with en francais. Let's just say that my French teacher had to bail me out!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I love this, Kathy! Eliza’s HS was in a neighborhood that shared a border with Glendale and the school was heavily Armenian. On Armenian Genocide Day, the school would empty out. Sometimes there would only be about five kids in a class. There’s much more awareness here than in the rest of the country.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow! Yes, definitely, which is great. ❤

      My great-grandparents lived in Fresno, which was (is?) heavily Armenian. They were raisin farmers, which at the time, was the stereotype. Didn't Carol Burnett have a Dallas send-up called Fresno, in which she starred as the Raisin Queen?

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I truly enjoyed this story. Mine story is not culture related as much as the “belonging” part we all want in our lives. After losing my father in 1996, grandfather in 1998, and grandmother in 2006, I felt my family was diminishing and I was glad I “belonged” in the Arcemont family (tons of close family!)

    In 2008, during the Christmas season, my Cajun hubby and I had his son (youngest of three children with 2nd wife) living with us. Times were getting tough as I was not working much (all I could get at that time was temp work) as the economy was tanking. My hubby was used to getting calls from debtors asking for my ex-husband. So on the day before Christmas Eve, we get a call and hubby says, “sounds like a debtor since she is asking for a Cheryl Dwyer – here!” (After giving the phone, she asked me three questions and then I screamed, “I have a sister!”

    You need to understand, I had always loved and been friends with my full brother. I also had knowledge of 7 other children by my mother: another 5 girls and 2 more boys, by 4 different fathers but had no knowledge of any of the names, locations, or if they were alive or deceased. So my Christmas present was the second oldest sister, Kristin, contacting me and also trying to find my brother, John, whom I had full connection with at that time. She then proceeds to let me know she has been searching for many, many years! She had contact with the half sister, Lynn, just older than John, and the half brother just under her, Fred. She also knew for a fact the sister of Fred, Phyllis, was deceased. Of the other sister and brother, Sandy and Charles, she was pretty sure Sandy had the disease of Encephalitis at a very young age (my father had told me before he died that he thought it was 2 yrs old) so probably was deceased also and she had no locations of Cemetery. She could not find location of her older sister, Leslie, but knew she had been adopted as a baby and wasn’t sure of her name. Same with Charles as he was also adopted at a very young age (probably just after Sandy gets Encephalitis.) The biggest surprise was that our mother was still living at that time, Kristin knew she was living in Colorado and would I like her phone number along with Lynn and Fred?!

    We have, since then lost John and our mother, both in 2011. I stay in contact with Kristin at least weekly, Lynn usually monthly, and Fred, well, I’m on Facebook with his wife and my niece so that is contact enough for us.

    Oh, my, goodness! Sorry for all that long winded life story. Y’all have a Blessed weekend. Y’all are MY family! Love all y’all!

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Beautiful post, Kathy! All of my descendants (literally) were Irish, so I can’t claim much cultural variety in my family. As a kid, I thought leprechauns were a real thing, and most people I knew were also Irish-American. I was in for quite an experience when I moved to New York City. My landlords (an older couple and mother-in-law) were Armenian, and very kind. I will never forget them. The mother-in-law didn’t speak English, but brought me regular gifts of pastry.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Gifts of pastry are my favorite kind. In fact, I would like to open a store with the name Gifts of Pastry.

      My mother-in-law is Irish, as well, and I loved learning about her family’s coming-to-America story, as well as those about growing up in their very Irish neighborhood. In fact, my protagonist, Maggie O’Malley, is SORT of named after her, as she was Molly McGee!

      Liked by 1 person

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