I’ve always been fascinated by the accomplishments made by Armenians to world civilization. Obviously, the fact we were able to overcome a genocide was monumental. The fact we were able to establish a democratic state after 70 years of servitude by the USSR was another.
Let’s not omit the fact we were the first nation in history to accept Christianity as a state religion (301 A.D.). I look to the father of plastic surgery (Kazanjian) and the entrepreneur who saved the USS Constitution (Galician) from being scrapped as other reasons to celebrate.
But one that always stirs the pot is this. You may or may not know that the first naturalized citizen of what we today call America was an Armenian.
Look in the history books and you’ll come across the name of Martin the Armenian. Yes, the first recorded Armenian immigrant on American soil was a Virginian. He goes back to 1607 when he settled in Jamestown with Capt. John Smith.
Martin introduced the cultivation of “silkworm” into the New World. Virginia records show that he gave testimony in a trial in Jamestown in 1619 and also worked as a tobacconist.
I enjoy throwing out these historical nuggets whenever I’m invited to a speaking engagement, not necessarily among Armenian circles but more notably inside the American mainstream.
Outsiders are amazed by our unique history, beginning with the landing of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, giving some credence to Armenia as the birthplace of the human race. Don’t call it trivia unless you intend to minimize fact.
But Martin the Armenian four centuries ago? A listener not long ago questioned the veracity of that tidbit during a library presentation concerning my new book, Armenians of the Merrimack Valley. I don’t recall how we approached the subject, unless I went off on a tangent and started rambling, which is often the occasion.
“America wasn’t born at that time,” he reminded me.
“I realize that,” I answered back. “Territories had not been ratified into statehood back in the 1600’s. The land we know now as Virginia was still a state in waiting. The Puritans came here and many Armenians joined the movement with Capt. John Smith.”
I don’t know if my answer appeased the gentleman, but who was he to argue with history? A week later, I was at a Boston hospital undergoing some tests when a woman approached me for some blood work. She looked Armenian to me—and I to her.
Like when two Armenians meet in the most unsuspected places, they create a new Armenia, as Saroyan tells us.
She recognized the name after being a long-time subscriber to the Armenian press. Turns out, she had read many of my articles.
“What’s your name?” I inquired.
“You would never know I’m Armenian by my name. It’s a long story.”
“You can tell me all about it while you’re drawing my blood sample.”
“My name is Martin,” she interjected. “I’m Martin the Armenian.”
“You shortened your name from Martinian, then? I knew an Armenian like that. Had he dropped the ‘ian’ he would have been Martin Martin and that would have posed some question on the part of skeptics.”
Strange as it may seem, she knew nothing about Martin the Virginian but was surprised to hear this whole subject had been discussed only days before at the library. You will not believe how many Armenians never knew this about Martin.
I’ve only known one other Armenian named Martin. That would be Ken Martin, a very accomplished photographer in the Greater Boston community. We last worked together shooting the 100th anniversary of the genocide in Boston last April.
Martin the photographer has been on top of his game for decades. We exchanged pleasantries and agreed to share our photographs.
I know of many Armenians who share identical first and last names, except for the “ian.” A couple of close friends are Garabed Garabedian and Sarkis Sarkisian. My cousin was named Krikor Yedejanian. He Americanized it to Greg Janian.
What he didn’t realize was how commonplace that name became. People often confused him with the musician. They never did meet far as I know.