When Beads Collide

I confess I am one of the few who stay behind in the movie theater to watch the credits roll. Sure, I am interested in the production value linked to cinematography, having majored in communication studies. Deep down though, I cannot deny that I am watching out for names ending in “ian” or “yan” like a hawk. And when I spot one, I triumphantly announce the name to the person accompanying me, as though I have just made a great discovery…

Many of us scattered beads carry a self-appointed mission of seeking out other Armenians throughout our daily lives—likely a coping or survival mechanism that has stuck with us over the years.

Meeting a fellow Armenian in any diasporic city is usually accompanied with a tinge of excitement and curiosity. Events such as the AYF Olympics or the AGBU Focus are fertile ground for such encounters. We often attend such events precisely to meet other Armenians, or reunite with old friends.

Many times, however, the most interesting encounters are those that we stumble upon unexpectedly. Chances are, we have had such impromptu encounters and then have shared our stories with others—how “I randomly met this Armenian,” in what bizarre, almost surreal circumstance, who they are, who they know, who they are related to, and so on. It is almost like we are unconsciously seeking other Armenians, no matter where we are and what we are doing. It may also just be pure “kismet,” like when my best friend from Armenian school was trekking alone in Mexico and met another Armenian, also from Montreal, on the front steps of a church in Oaxaca.

There is indeed something intriguing, even mystical about chance encounters, whether you believe in fate or not. When I meet someone out of the blue, I cannot help but wonder about all the possibilities, alternative routes, and options life encompasses. We don’t often realize this, especially when wrapped up in life as we know it. Throw into the mix meeting someone out of the red, blue, and orange (sorry, I couldn’t help it), and the rest is history… Armenian history… Just like when my parents would celebrate May 28, Armenia’s first independence, complete with kebab, small flags, and impromptu speeches in the company of other Armenian expats on a Saudi Arabian beach more than 30 years ago. Talk about some uncanny scenery.

There we converged to celebrate birthdays, the appearance of a baby’s first tooth (agra hadig), anniversaries, holidays, even national ones, amid a desert where otherwise “Armenian drought” was in season, all year round. Having been part of this tiny Armenian microcosm in the desert seems like a mirage now.

At the same time, we all actively befriended people from practically every continent. I remember finding the transition from a culturally plural school in Saudi to a strictly Armenian one in Montreal slightly odd…

Fast forward to Canada, where July 1 not only marks the nation’s birthday, but also coincides with moving day in Quebec. This year, the next morning, I woke up to a beautiful sight, which was certainly not there the day before. Looking out of my bedroom window, I saw the definitive colors of red, blue, orange. I did a double take. Was it really a full-size Armenian flag, acting as a curtain for my new neighbors’ window just across mine? The excitement almost competed with the sensation I get from spotting Ararat, bolting out of nowhere in and around Yerevan. After the spontaneous delight of seeing my new neighbor’s flag, the sea of speculation immediately commenced. Who could they be? Where are they from? And thankfully my imagination is not very dull.

These unforeseen encounters with other beads, thrown ashore somewhere in the world, are heartening. Curiosity, excitement, and comfort converge into one instance found amid our de-territorialized diasporic reality. The feeling is comparable to coming home after a long day of work to your mom’s hearty soup steaming on the stove. It smells delicious, even though you may not know what is in it, but you can find out, if you ask.

You never know which bead is waiting for you next and where. In the meantime, I now revel waking up to an Armenian flag every morning in this sleepy Montreal suburb. It is not quite Ararat in her full beauty, but it will certainly do until my next trip “home.”

Lalai Manjikian

Lalai Manjikian

Dr. Lalai Manjikian is a humanities professor at Vanier College in Montreal. Her teaching and research interests are in the areas of immigration and refugee studies, media representations of migration, migrant narratives and diaspora studies. She is the author of Collective Memory and Home in the Diaspora: The Armenian Community in Montreal (2008). Lalai’s articles have been published in a number of newspapers and journals including The Armenian Weekly, Horizon Weekly, 100 Lives (The Aurora Prize), the Montreal Gazette, and Refuge. A former Birthright Armenia participant (2005), over the years, Lalai has been active in volunteering both within the Armenian community in Montreal and the local community at large, namely engaged in immigrant and refugee integration. She previously served as a qualitative researcher on the Armenian Diaspora Survey in Montreal. Lalai also serves as a board member for the Foundation for Genocide Education. She holds a PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University (2013).
Lalai Manjikian

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  1. Lalai,
    I love your writing style.
    That said, I too practice the national sport of spoting IANs while the credits roll at the end of a French or Foreign film (not particularly interested in Hollywood movies). How great is the tingle when we notice more than ONE -IAN?

  2. Very well-expressed, Lalai. I can only add that I somehow don’t remember when and how I even started seeking “-ian”s and “-yan”s during end credits. It wasn’t like someone told me to do so… Could it be some sort of strange instinct, automatically adapted by the time moving pictures came out?

    I remember watching an Armenian film some years ago, and noticing that, at the end of that one, ALL the names ended in “-ian”/”-yan”!

  3. Spotting -ians is a national sport at least for those of us who still have an affinity for anything armenian. I think this will become rarer in the future with subsequent generations. It’s not easy to be optimistic about the fate of our people.

  4. Hey, I do the same thing! I read all the names on movie credits and when I find an Armenian name, I read it loud enough for everyone nearby to hear. I also read telephone directories wherever I travel. And scan lists of names, anywhere. Years ago, I found a relative in Armenia by scanning a list of names in the Armenian International e-mail directory. Maybe it’s a type of Diaspora disease/separation syndrome.

  5. Oaxaca, Mexico would be one of the last places I would expect to run into an Armenian. Then again it was in front of a church. I met some Armenians from Mexico (Guadalajara) at FOCUS in Chicago. My spanish is not the best, so when I first approached them it felt distant. Once we switched to armenian, it was like there was an instant connection and we were long time neighbors.  Never ceases to amaze me how powerfully our language draws and connects us with eachother.

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