How Basketball Came To Be My Armenian-American Identity

By Angela Koussian (Guest Contributor)

Two years ago Kobe Bryant became the campaign ad for Turkish Airlines’ direct flights from Los Angeles to Istanbul. As Armenians, some of us felt uncomfortable and disappointed that one of our favorite athletes would support such an endorsement. Some of us even went as far as ditching the purple and gold jerseys and giving up tickets to games entirely. It was a fresh wound, the kind we would get as kids, a scrape after we would spend hours playing basketball outside. The kind our moms would tell us in Armenian, medznasneh geh mornas, which translates to “when you grow up you will forget it happened.”

Despite still being a Kobe fan myself, you might be asking what sports has to do with my identity? Well, I never knew an Armenia that existed to me as strongly as I did while playing basketball. I was the young girl who had mastered a jump shot before I even learned how to make sourj (Armenian coffee). Turns out I would need both of these skills to properly socialize into my Armenian culture.

As a kid, I played basketball both for my public school and a city youth league. I grew up in South Bay, a town of beach cities located in Los Angeles with a small, and I mean small, population of Armenians. It was through my agoump (Armenian Center) that I found out about an all-Armenian basketball league. This organization is known around the world as Homenetmen. It might have been the third team that I joined, but it was the first time I was able to have a balance between my love of basketball (a passion shared by all backgrounds) and my culture (shared only among those on my team). I called this my “sub culture win-win,” the birth of my Armenian-American identity.

Each team was named after Armenian historic sites such as Ararat, Massis, Ani, Sassoun and Arakatz. Often times, the other communities had too many players on their roster so they would break in to 2-3 teams. This is because they lived in regions where there were a larger population of Armenians such as Glendale, Pasadena and the San Fernando Valley. A game of Ararat 2 vs Massis 1 would be going on, but there was always one Arakatz. We were the team that had to play with six, five or four players throughout the whole game. Through our wins and losses, we learned about the importance of communication.

It isn’t uncommon to see a mutual interest in any activity between siblings and parents, especially in a tight knit Armenian family. My older brother played basketball, so naturally I wanted to too. I don’t have any sisters, and being a part of this team felt like I gained many Armenian sisters. We would come up with plays that were named after Armenian foods, like bahmya (okra stew) which I remember wasn’t a favorite food among many of us. I couldn’t talk about bahmya with my American friends, even if I did compare it to the Armenian equivalent of broccoli.

In the years I spent playing basketball with Armenians, I heard many kids on the court say that their “dream is to be the next Kobe.” Certainly Armenians are not like Kobe.  Growing up, we weren’t told that basketball could be a career.  Instead, our priorities included getting good grades, taking care of our parents, siblings and grandparents, and participating in activities that kept Armenian tradition alive. But, what I never lost hope in was to see an Armenian in the NBA. I want to see someone like me who pursued their love of basketball while still maintaining the benefits of an Armenian lifestyle.

From tennis to football and basketball, we have provided important –ian’s to the world of sports. In 2012, Bleacher Report took notice of this and ranked the 10 Most Influential Armenians in Sports History. Three of these figures include David Nalbandian, Steve Sarkisian and Jerry Tarkanian.

David Nalbandian is the Argentinian Armenian who is known to be in the top 50 best tennis players in the world. But, what really connects us to him is his personal story where “his Armenian grandfather built a cement court in his backyard, where David learned to play against his two older brothers.” Little did a five-year-old Nalbandian know that his future would influence other Armenians to start playing tennis.

Steve Sarkisian, of Irish and Armenian descent, was coincidentally born and raised in South Bay, in the same small community of Armenians where I lived for most of my life. He played football and baseball in college for El Camino College and Bringham Young University. Later, he played professionally for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Sarkisian is now making his mark as the current head coach for University of Southern California football team.

Jerry Tarkanian or more commonly known as “Tark the Shark,” has his coaching success in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Tarkanian has coached basketball for the University of Las Vegas, Nevada and California State University, Long Beach. He also turned down a position as the head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979 and served as a temporary coach for the San Antonio Spurs in the 1992-93 season. Tarkanian faced both controversy and harassment for violation accusations that caused him to resign, but he used basketball to look past it all.

So, it really might be just a matter of time until we have a Koko, Kevork or Karapet who will live out the dream.

Kobe’s contract with Turkish Airlines is supposed to be coming to a close this year and it seems like we have already moved on. The hurt has passed as I have seen many Armenians attend games again.

And my mother was right that my scars have healed from falling during practices in our unstable agoump parking lot. But I never forgot about what those memories taught me, much like the stories of our famous Armenian sports legends. Ultimately, it was the bond between my sisterhood and brotherhood of Homenetmen basketball players that strengthened my understanding of what it means to be Armenian.

Angela Koussian was born and raised in Los Angeles, having Armenian parents who migrated to the United States from Lebanon. She is a writer and content producer for Artest Media Group and Courtsideaccess.com.  Angela holds a Master’s of Public Policy from Pepperdine University and Bachelor’s degrees in Peace Studies and French from Chapman University. Her call of action is to encourage the use of sports as a tool for community relations, philanthropy, diplomacy, and the empowerment of women and children. 

Armenia Sings on in Our Hearts

By Isabella Bablumian (Guest Contributor)

I am what they call a transcultural child. I started my serial migrations by moving out of Armenia when I was eleven and have since lived in nine cities across three continents. Leaving my motherland behind was a difficult experience and always haunted me no matter how closely I integrated with the countries that became my new homes. Learning new languages and cultures became the remedy for dealing with this partial loss of identity in a continuous process of self-discovery within new cultures. I thrive in multi-cultural environments and am a local everywhere I go.

Yet, somehow, my Armenian identity remains intact. The voice calling on me from within is strong and unmistakable. On many occasions I´ve fled back to Armenia in tears, wanting to start everything from scratch; traveled across the world just to wash myself in the millennial freshwater of our high-mountain Lake Sevan, to breathe the childhood air that filled me with memories, eat a real apricot that seemed to heal me with its nectar. It never failed, but also did not last… I was forever changed, fully true to my Armenian roots, but unable to put them down again on the lands that gave me birth.

As this search continued, I came to the realization that no matter where I am (even back in Armenia), I will always feel the longing that is calling from the depth of my self to stay connected with the essence that makes up the interweaving of my being.

Therefore, instead of continuing to chase my identity within a specific location, I have since tried to find and retain particles of cultural connection in new ways. One of which occurred through finding and connecting to those dispersed pieces of Armenia that I had the chance to uncover around me in the most unimaginable parts of the world; through the people that dispersed a century ago away from their ancestral lands and formed a new world-wide Armenia.

Each encounter with our compatriots resonates deep on a molecular level and restores something that I lost when I left home. The first encounter is always replete with surprise; the awe of finding the Armenian oases that remain intact in the communities that our people have created with so much care and worked so hard to maintain. These places, whether they are churches, monuments, cultural centers, schools, all breathe something so inexplicably Armenian.   In them, those of us that leave abroad find a fleeting connection that serves as a link to maintaining our tie to our culture and identity.

There are numerous flashbacks that revive some of these connections: the looks full of longing memories in the eyes of the St. John Garabed church members in San Diego as I sing some of the Komitas songs at an event; the uncontrollable tears flooding from my eyes as I hear Zulal sing Sareri Hovin Mernem in Washington D.C. ; the first attempt at singing an Armenian song by a Rio de Janeiro native of Armenian descent, who never understood her passion for a language she didn’t speak and music she didn’t know, but the love for which seems to have been passed to her by her great-grandmother before she perished in Adana; a poem dedicated to the victims of the genocide engraved on a glass in a busy metro-station called Armenia in Sao Paulo.

The uplifting memories are endless. Receiving my grandmother from Armenia, a small tree in her hands that customs somehow allowed her to bring to the US, because she HAD to plant an Armenian tree in her daughter´s garden; a French-Armenian girl running up to me in a huge crowd of strangers, eager to meet the very first Armenian from Armenia at a social event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the enthusiasm of the youth dancing shurj par at the cultural center in Buenos Aires; the four Armenians united by some incredible force of serendipity on a metro train en route to the Maracana Stadium, drawn by the Armenian flag I was carrying to a World Cup game in Rio de Janeiro.

The stories are infinite and distinct, but all connected by something truly Armenian that our people carry with them no matter where they are.

The urge to give voice to their unmistakably Armenian voices, whose individual and collective stories remain unknown to the world, inspired me to implement a project, entitled Armenia Sings on in our Hearts. The short documentary will tell the story of the Armenians a century after the genocide by capturing the common threat that persisted in the individuals that persevered, formed new communities around the world, and maintained their identity so far from home.

Isabella Bablumian currently resides in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. She works in the field of International Relations and Development and is also a singer who performs classical and traditional Armenian music. She is currently working on a documentary entitled Armenia Sings on in our Hearts.  

 

The Breaking Point

By Shoushan Keshishian (Guest Contributor)

Visiting Armenia has been the highlight of my summers ever since I was a child with a gap in my teeth and a fancy pair of pigtails. Compared to Lebanon, the air is fresher, the streets are cleaner, and the colors are brighter… what’s not to love? As rhetorical as this question may sound, the answer to it is becoming blaringly obvious as I spend more time here, even if for merely two months out of each year.

It may not have to do with the gravity or the capacity of the problems increasing as much as it has to do with me growing older and admitting that my country may actually be less than perfect; however, writing these words down, there is only one issue progressively weighing down on my thoughts.

Before I divulge what that issue is, I would like to state that some may not consider it an issue, much less a problem, but I believe it is both, and that in fact, it can and should be classified as a national concern.

Wherever I go in Yerevan and whichever store I enter, whether it is for clothing, hardware, or food, I am bombarded with Turkish products. Only today I came across three stores selling Turkish hampers. Maybe it has to do with the way my parents raised me, or the school I go to, or the people I surround myself with, but regardless of the “why”, I find being confronted with Turkish letters in every nook and cranny of Yerevan to be truly devastating.

Some of you are already rolling your eyes to this idea you consider “outdated” and “senseless” as I’ve been told before. In this age where money dictates all the “big decisions”, and where economical gain is the driving force of nations and civilizations, it does seem futile even discussing such a topic. I am aware of that, and I am in no way hindered by Don Quixotian delusions, but when given the chance to express myself I will not refrain from raising my voice and letting people know just how wrong I consider selling Turkish products on Armenian soil is.

First and foremost, why should my country, or more particularly, Armenian wholesalers, importers, or distributers, contribute by no small amount to the flourishing of an economy that dedicates a significant part of its budget to military financing, thus oppressing Armenia. Need I remind my fellow Armenians about the state of our borderline villages? Those villages are repeatedly and frequently submitted to Turkish gunshots which so often leave behind wounded Armenian soldiers and civilians, sometimes even martyred ones. How bitterly sardonic is it that an Armenian businessman may have paid for the bullet that shot down his fellow Armenian?

Here we are on the threshold of the centennial of the Armenian genocide demanding its recognition from Turkey, parading around the globe burning the Turkish flag, organizing protests, holding seminars, building memorials, and declaring Turkey an enemy, an antagonist, a nemesis. All that would have been swell if there wasn’t a “however”… knowing us Armenians, there is always the “however”. This time, it is the fact that there exists an unfortunate parallel overshadowing all those previous acts. Here we are, on the threshold of the centennial, dressing our children with Turkish clothes, stocking our pantries with Turkish foods, advertising that Turkish products are the best and therefore the most expensive.

What is the national image we are portraying to the rest of the world; one of hypocrisy, pretense, insincerity, or maybe illiteracy and ignorance, as if the meaning of enemy is vague or incomprehensible to us? Why should those be adjectives describing Armenians when we are diligent, hard-working, earnest people?

All this brings me back to one underlying issue. Our national dignity, a central value, is missing. Our national pride has dissipated. It does not dignify us Armenians to act the way we are acting when it comes to our relationship with Turkey. As a teenage Armenian living in the diaspora, I consider buying and using Turkish products condescending, as should all Armenians. Our national integrity should ascertain the attitude we take on these matters, not convenience. Only when this incentive becomes collective will we realize true prosperity, in whatever field it may be… but who am I to talk? If the Armenian population finds it more beneficial to let go of its pride and of all the values our nation has kept dear for thousands of years, then so be it.

Armenia, despite all its flaws, is my home and my haven, and it pains me to see it falling through the cracks under the false premise of “globalization” and “development”. But I will keep returning to it, one summer at a time, praying that I will not be let down, or better yet, that I won’t allow myself to be let down because hopelessness breeds indifference, and ultimately, indifference is when we surrender… indifference will be our breaking point.

Shoushan Keshishian is a high school senior from Beirut, Lebanon.  She’s an avid reader and a trivia junkie, in love with dancing and The Beatles.  She’s always searching for inspiration, fueled by literary rage. 

Survivors: Ohannes Mardirossian

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Erzurum // 1910-2005

Ohannes Mardirossian was born in 1910 in Erzurum to Ghazar and Nano Mardirossian.  He was one of five children; Makroohi, Yeghsapet, Megerdich, and Garabed.  His family owned a wheat farm and a vast amount of land where gold was often excavated.  This wealth was lost as soon as the Armenian Genocide commenced.  Five-year-old Ohannes watched as his father gasped for his last breath as Turkish gendarmes hung him in front of his family.  The sight of his father’s last moments and the sound of his mother’s screams and desperate pleas were never forgotten.  His two older sisters, both stunningly beautiful with blonde hair and light eyes, were kidnapped by Turks and never seen again.

Megerdich, Ohannes, and Garabed, ages ten, five, and two, and their mother were sent on the march of death to Deir Zor.  Their mother died during the death march from dehydration, leaving the three young boys all alone on a march that had no end.  Sadly, the three brothers lost each other during the march.

An Arab man saved Ohannes; not out of goodwill, but for selfish reasons. He was taken to Kirkuk, Iraq where he was worked as a slave despite being a mere child.  In the years that he spent with this Arab family, he became fluent in Kurdish and Arabic but completely forgot how to speak Armenian. However, he never forgot the fact that he was an Armenian.

Ten years later, his fate finally changed.  A local man started coming to this Arab family to purchase fresh milk every morning.  Everyday, he would watch as Ohannes worked tirelessly on the farm while the rest of the family spent their mornings together indoors.  The man quickly noticed that Ohannes was treated differently and decided to approach him in the fields one day.

Ohannes took a chance and admitted to the man that he was an Armenian and not a blood relative of the Arabs.  The man, an Armenian himself, immediately offered his help to Ohannes.  They devised a plan to escape and executed this plan successfully the following morning.

At fifteen years old, Ohannes was finally free from the Arabs and in the hands of a fellow Armenian who was willing to help him create a new life and find his family.  The Armenian man found him a job at a bakery, where Ohannes not only worked but also lived.  Lonely and orphaned, Ohannes longed for his brothers.

One day, a customer named Dikran entered the bakery and introduced himself to Ohannes, who had only recently been employed there.  After discovering that they are both Armenian, they begin speaking about the Genocide.  Ohannes tells Dikran that he is from Erzurum and is looking for his brothers Megerdich and Garabed.  Dikran is immediately taken aback and tells Ohannes, “I know a Megerdich from Erzurum who survived the genocide.” Overwhelmed with the possibility of reuniting two lost brothers, Dikran immediately leaves the bakery in search of Megerdich.

Upon finding him, Dikran explains to Megerdich that he may have found his little brother. However, Dikran did not receive the reaction he was expecting. There was no joy or excitement in his eyes; Megerdich was doubtful.  After all, what were the chances of two brothers ending up in the same village in Iraq after being separated a decade ago in the Syrian Desert? Nonetheless, he agreed to accompany Dikran back to the bakery.

In the meantime, Ohaness was impatiently waiting at the bakery, consumed by the prospect of once again having a family. He had been alone for so long but remained hopeful, wishing so desperately to find his older brother.

As the two men walked in, Ohannes looked into Megerdich’s eyes and found tears in his own, as if he knew at that moment that he was staring at his older brother.

“We have the same eyes,” said Ohannes, but Megerdich was not yet convinced.

“My brother Ohannes fell when he was very little and he had a large scar on his right knee.  The only way I’ll know that you’re my brother is if I see that scar.”

Ohannes lifted his pant leg, revealing a scar that proved that he was, in fact, Megerdich’s brother. Megerdich’s expression immediately shifted, the doubt emptying from his eyes and suddenly being replaced with longing. The brothers embraced one another in a way that words could never express. Megerdich, who had recently married, took his brother home and never left him out of sight. Ohannes lived with Megerdich and his wife, and began to learn how to speak Armenian once again.

Megerdich found Ohannes a job at the Iraqi Petroleum Company where he established a stable and successful career.  In 1940, while attending the local Armenian church, he met and fell in love with Takouhi Mekhtarian, an orphan who was the daughter of genocide survivors from Ourfa.  They married and had six children; Mako, Ara, Yeghso, Alice, Raffi, and Sossi.  His two eldest daughters were named after his two sisters who had been kidnapped and whose fate he never learned.  He sent all six of his children to a private Armenian school, ensuring that the Armenian language would never be lost again.

Years later Ohannes and Megerdich found their youngest brother Garabed, who was only two years old during the Genocide.  It was with heavy hearts that Ohannes and Megerdich learned that their brother was raised by a Muslim family and considered himself to be a Muslim, rejecting his Armenian identity.

In 1975, Ohannes and his family moved to the United States, but brought with him memories of his past.  He would tell his grandchildren about the Armenian Genocide often, always with tears in his eyes.  Although he had never experienced love and affection during his childhood after the Genocide, he was a man full of love and laughter.  He spent much of his time playing cards and dominos with his grandchildren and always had pockets full of candy for them.

Other than his family, Ohannes had two other loves in life; the Lakers and Vegas.  He was a die-hard Lakers fan who never missed a game, and a frequent Las Vegas visitor.  Ohannes and his son would often plan 6 am road trips to Las Vegas but Ohannes would be up bright and early, dressed in his suit at 4:30 a.m., impatiently waiting for his son’s arrival.  He is remembered as being an adventurous, hard-working, kind-hearted, and loving man.

During his last years, his granddaughter visited Erzurum and surprised him by bringing back soil from his birthplace.  Ohannes was moved to tears upon touching this soil, as it brought back pained memories of loss and heartbreak.  He treasured it more than anything and kept it on top of his dresser.

Ohannes passed away in December 2005 in Los Angeles, where that cherished soil was poured onto his casket.  He is survived by his six children, thirteen grandchildren, and thirteen great-grandchildren.

Honored by Elizabeth Cholakian, Mary Manoukian, and Ara Mardirossian

Armenia Through A Lens

By Leeza Cinar (Guest Contributor)

Street sign in Yerevan Republic Square

Street sign in Yerevan Republic Square

Church at St. Gregory's Pit

Church at St. Gregory’s Pit

Church at St. Gregory's Pit

Church at St. Gregory’s Pit

Apartments in Yerevan

Apartments in Yerevan

Stray dog near a Mercedes

Stray dog and a Mercedes

Entrance of Echmiadzin

Entrance of Echmiadzin

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Leeza Cinar is a Junior at Rutgers University where she spends her time studying Art History and Anthropology. Although she has no formal training, Leeza is passionate about photography and takes her camera with her wherever she goes. More of her work can be found at leezacinar.tumblr.com

Survivors: Boghos Merdjanian

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Tarsus // 1906-1974

Boghos Merdjanian, formerly Mouradjanian, was six years old when he first came face to face with the terror of the Armenian Genocide.

Once a wealthy family, the Merdjanians enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. Boghos’s father, Minas, was a renowned checkers champion and competed all around the region. The police, or “CheChes” as Minas called them, falsely accused him of being a cheat simply because he was Armenian and thus, the family’s fortune was seized.

When a friend of the family, a Turkish general, heard of their misfortune, he protected them from further prosecution and deportation by hiding them in a safe-house. The family, however, never recovered their wealth, so all members of the family were required to work for their survival.

One day, Boghos was sent to deliver food and water to his sisters who were working in a nearby field. He set off on the family donkey and suddenly became entrapped by a group of Turkish gendarmes. One of the higher ranking officials threw a daggar at Boghos but missed and the dagger landed on the ground. He exclaimed “We are killing and killing but you are not dying!” Another realized the inhumanity of his comrade’s actions and asked his superior to spare the boy. He told Boghos to get down from his donkey, retrieve the dagger and hand it back to the official. The gendarmes left Boghos with no way to get back on the donkey. Little Boghos walked the rest of the way to meet his sisters on foot.

In 1919, the family deemed it was time to escape Turkey and immigrate to Lebanon. Under the cover of night, part of the family trudged the rough terrain and rivers to find refuge at one of the many camps erected for Genocide survivors. When they arrived, the customs agents at the border changed the family’s name to Merdjanian because they couldn’t properly translate Mouradjanian.

Boghos forwent education and was immediately put to work as a cobbler’s assistant, often working long and arduous hours.

In the mid 1940’s, Boghos married Armenouhi Tshikian and had five sons. They were very poor but rich in honor and love towards one another. The boys did what they could, at very young ages to help support their family, despite the raging civil war in Lebanon.

Having lived in Turkey most of his life, Boghos never learned Armenian. His wife taught him how to speak and read Armenian by reading him the daily newspaper. Their sons, however, were taught their mother language at home and in school.

When his family found out that Boghos was dying of liver cancer in the 1970’s they did not tell him because they wanted him to be happy during his last days. They took their father to a hospice in the mountains so he could pass away comfortably by receiving the care he needed and deserved. Boghos passed away in 1974.  Soon after his death, his family escaped war-torn Lebanon and immigrated to the United States. They went on to create their own families and establish a successful jewelry business.

Boghos is survived by his five children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Honored by Merdjanian Family

DNA of Hope

Tammy Marashlian, Suzzane Cawthra, and Karineh Mahdessian are the creators of DNA of Hope, a short documentary that explores the scholars, survivors, and leaders who keep the memories of the Armenian Genocide alive despite the political and social challenges in fully acknowledging the nearly 100-year-old genocide. Tammy, Suzzane, and Karineh created the documentary as part of their studies at the University of Southern California – School of Social Work. All three have since earned their Masters of Social Work and live in Los Angeles.  

The Benefits of Being Raised Armenian

By Taleen Mardirossian

I see the new generation of Armenian parents repeatedly shying away from Armenian traditions, culture, and even, language. And the reasoning behind this somewhat intentional abandonment of identity seems to be one and the same, to make it easier for their children to integrate into society. Here’s my take on this trend; you’re not doing your kid any favors.

This is probably a good time to mention that I’m not a parent and by no means is this meant to be a parenting guide on how to raise your children. These are just the thoughts and experiences of a twenty-six year old, raised to be Armenian in a city where most people would ask, what’s an Armenian?

I grew up in the South Bay, a predominantly white neighborhood where Armenians are a rare find.  I vividly remember my mom calling me one day, hurriedly telling me to tidy up the living room.  To Armenian moms, tidy up actually means dust the tables, vacuum the floors, Windex the mirrors, and set up an impressive arrangement of nuts, cookies, and dried fruits.

“Why mom? The house is already clean.”

“Because I found people.  I’ll be home in ten.”

This either meant that the human race had become extinct since the last time I checked or that my mom meant that she had found our kind of people, which turned out to be the case. Where I grew up, if you heard Armenian-speaking voices in the next aisle while shopping, you’d bring them home for coffee.  So, it goes without saying that I was raised in a town where the norm wasn’t being Armenian, it was having blonde hair and light eyes, and I definitely didn’t fit into this norm. At school, I was often the only bearer of an –ian last name.  And I was always okay with this because instead of indirectly encouraging me to shy away from my identity, my parents taught me that having a hard to pronounce name, thick eyebrows, and a not-so-perfect nose made me different, and that being different meant that I was special. So I grew up loving my name, my eyebrows, and my nose but most of all, I loved being Armenian. I loved being different.

And this “being different” that young parents are now trying so hard to dodge away from, is the very thing that is rewarded in the society they are trying to fit into. Being different is what lands you the job that hundreds of other applicants interviewed for.  Having a voice that’s different, a perspective that’s different, a presence that’s different, is the difference between being ordinary and extraordinary.  The progression of our society is not thanks to people who invest their time and effort into being like everyone else. So, instead of trying to mold into the norms of society, allow your child the opportunity to embrace the fact that they are different.

And I don’t mean to say that being different is always easy, because it’s not. Being the only Taleen in a school of thousands of students wasn’t exactly a stress-free experience growing up, but I attribute a lot of my personality to the fact that I had an uncommon name and here’s why. It taught me to speak up when my classmates dared to call me something different and it taught me to demand respect from anyone who needed to call my name. I learned not to sacrifice something as important as my identity for the sake of not inconveniencing my peers. I learned to be patient and teach others to pronounce my name correctly, think Pauline but with a T, even if it took a dozen tries to get it right. Having an Armenian name taught me to stand up for myself and others, even if it meant that I had to stand alone.

Being raised Armenian also taught me to educate my peers. In third grade, my teacher handed each student a sheet of paper and told us to write down interesting facts about a country of our choice, which we would later present to the class.  Naturally, I chose Armenia and the facts that I found interesting weren’t about Armenian foods or landmarks. Here’s what my third-grade self wrote:

Taleen is a special name in Arminia because in Arminia there is an old village called Taleen and a lot of people live there.  Turkish wanted to fight us because we were the first people to be Christian and the Turkish didn’t want us to be Christian and they wanted to have our land.  Every ten Arminians fought back against hundreds of Turkish soldiers.  April 24, 1915 is a memoriel day for the Arminian people because they killed over one million Arminian children, womans, men.”

Mind you, I didn’t know how to spell Armenia in third grade but I did know that Armenia was the first Christian nation and I did know about the genocide perpetrated against my ancestors.  And in case you’re trying to figure out how old you were in third grade, the magic number is eight. While my classmates went up, one-by-one, educating the class about how the French eat snails and how fascinating the Great Wall of China is, eight-year old Taleen proudly went up and gave a history lesson about Armenians.

Most parents these days would cringe at the thought of an eight-year old having any knowledge about an attempted mass extermination of an entire race but my parents taught me about the history of my people at a fairly young age.  They never sheltered me from the cruelties capable by man and they didn’t raise me with the false perception that there is no evil in this world.  And because I was always acutely aware of my people’s past, I grew up with compassion and a constant desire to right a wrong.  And it is for this very reason that I continuously found myself gravitating towards positions that involved public interest throughout law school.  This constant desire to seek justice for people who are victimized and advocate for those who are oppressed was not just happenstance.  This compassion was deeply rooted to a past that occurred long before I was ever born, a past that nearly annihilated the Armenian people, and being raised with knowledge of this past taught me to care for people other than myself.

Many people rolled an eye or two at my parents for their traditional approach to parenting while raising me and my brothers. Surely, they were told that their children would fall behind in school if they were taught Armenian before English, that they would become insecure if given un-American names, and that they’d be emotionally scarred if they were taught about the devastating past of their people before they were adults. But my parents, each fluent in four languages and raised to be Armenian in the Middle East and Europe, thought differently. They followed tradition in naming their children, raised their kids in a hayeren khoseer household where we only spoke Armenian, and educated us about both the victories and tragedies of our history. I can honestly and confidently say that all those eye-rollers were wrong. My brothers and I were not adversely affected by being raised Armenian, nor were any of our close friends who were raised similarly. Among our group are educated and intelligent Armenians who attended prestigious universities, graduated at the top of their classes, hold influential positions, and are successful entrepreneurs.

It doesn’t mean that a child with an American name or a child who doesn’t speak Armenian is any less capable of achieving success or possessing these qualities. All I’m saying is that if you’re foregoing an Armenian name for your child, choosing not to teach them the language or history, solely because it will be easier for them to assimilate, then maybe it would be worthwhile to think about the positive aspects of gifting them with a unique name, language, and history. Before being so quick in holding your child back from their own identity for the sake of convenience, let’s remember that parents are supposed to build their child’s potential, not limit it.

Armenians are a people whose history dates back thousands of years, a people who have lived through kingdoms, wars, and genocide, which means, we’re pretty damn good at persevering when all odds are against us.  And your children are their descendants and they too will persevere. By raising your children to be Armenian, you will be raising them to be kind, compassionate, understanding, loving, and appreciative. You will be teaching them to stand up for themselves and others, to be a leader, and a hard worker. If for no reason at all, raise your children to be Armenian for their sake because being Armenian is a beautiful thing to be.

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Survivors: Krikor Shirozian

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Shira // 1910-1995

Krikor Shirozian was five years old when he and his mother were deported from their home in Shira, Turkey.  Although he was a young boy during the Armenian Genocide, he vividly remembered the last moment he shared with his mother.  One night, as the procession of Armenians was resting, Krikor asked his mother if she would always be with him. “Of course sonnow rest your head on my lap so you know I am with you.”

In the morning, when Krikor woke up, his head was resting on the ground and his mother was gone. He ran along the caravan, crying, asking if anyone knew where his mother was. They all stared at him with blank expressions, for they too had lost their loved ones.

Completely alone and helpless, Krikor found himself surrounded by three Turkish soldiers on horses.  One aimed to shoot him but a sympathetic gendarme reasoned with his comrade that he was only a child and should be spared. The soldier with a gun backed away and the gendarme lifted Krikor and rode with him to the Euphrates River, where he was delivered to an orphanage.  The orphanage named him Shirozian, after the town he was from because his last name was unknown.

Some time later, he was taken to a Kurdish farmer’s family, where he was treated like a slave and lived in the stable with the animals.  He was forced to carry out back-breaking duties, hardly fed, and often beaten.

When he grew old enough to escape, he fled to Syria, where he met his wife, Vergeen, who was also an Armenian Genocide survivor.  They had four children and moved to the United States in the 1970s.

Krikor passed away in 1995 in Philadelphia.  He is survived by his four children, seven grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

Honored by Melineh Merdjanian and Shirozian Family