A recent conversation with a friend that rose out of a phone call to offer condolences drove home the essence of what inspired this article.
My friend, who has traveled to Bolis (Constantinople) several times, was emphatic about how Armenian a city it was. Walking the streets there, having places of Armenian importance at every turn, was very jarring, since now, they were overrun by Turks who knew not their historical significance, and might have even acted destructively or maliciously towards those places if they did know. Maybe this is part of the reason for Erdoğan’s mad rush to “redevelop” parts of the city. When you’re told “this is where such-and-such of our leaders was picked up on April 24, 1915” or see an isolated Armenian church in what used to be an Armenian neighborhood, and when this happens repeatedly, you can imagine how disheartening it can be.
Then my friend reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in many years—that our modern Armenian culture rose and developed in Bolis and Tiflis (Tbilisi, Georgia). Now, those roots are largely abandoned and/or forgotten.
Later, sifting through some of my notes, I came across this snippet, “Back in the Day: Perris-area park stands as testament to a mother’s love” in my materials about hiking. It is the story of Madeline Kabian, an Armenian immigrant living in the Los Angeles area who lost her 25 year-old son Roy on May 17, 1962 to multiple sclerosis. To memorialize him, she went to great lengths to create Roy W. Kabian Memorial Park in Riverside County, California. Is this not also part of our history, our imprint on the planet?
I was on a roll. I remembered that there is an Ararat Street in Sylmar (northern part of the city of Los Angeles). I think it’s only a “paper” street since I’d looked for it years ago based on a map, and not found it. That reminded me of a friend, a builder, who is putting up a small development in Silver Lake (another neighborhood in LA) and has named a small street Saroyan Drive, which reminded me of Bedoian’s Bakery and Bedoian’s Rugs in Wickenburg, Arizona. You might remember that Bedoian is the gentleman who tried to operate a hotel in Van, but was screwed out of his property by the Turkish government after ten years.
All of this naturally made me recognize the importance of the work Sdepan Partamian has been doing documenting such snippets throughout the United States with his “Yes, We Have” books. Now, couple his compilation with all that is still disassembled worldwide. The most obvious are the churches we have strewn in our wake as we have been forced from our homeland, then successive waves of migration. India and Singapore are two examples where we had such institutional presence. But what of the less obvious? Every one of us knows someone or something Armenian in a far flung corner of the earth.
We must assemble all this and recognize that it is ALL part of our national story. Authors, actors and activists are some of the easiest to compile. But let’s not forget the shopkeepers and artisans, engineers and scientists, politicians and journalists, jewelers and clergy of various denominations. They probably have a picture of Ararat in their office, or sell Godayk/Kotayk beer or replicate old Armenian silver handcrafts. Think Raymond Damadian and the MRI technology that helps so many people.
We must assemble all of this, teach it and expose ourselves to our ongoing accomplishments. Perhaps our motto should be “Because of our scatter, we must gather” (our history and accomplishments). Who among us will set up the website where people can drop off their little snippet of the Armenian universe for all to enjoy?