It was a very busy day in May of 2016, as I was trying to come to terms with what had happened a few months ago. I was so tired, but for some reason I felt compelled to open my emails. I had a message from Ancestry.com from Sara Nazely Guglielmo stating that we had been a DNA match. She said we were fourth cousins, but looking at the family trees we really had no idea how.
That’s one of the major issues with what happened to our ancestors. We “lost” our history and family connections. The Armenian Genocide shattered the lives of everyone involved, as well as their descendants, because we “lost” a lot of our families’ oral history. We scheduled a phone call for the next day. Sara was in New York. I am originally from Aleppo, raised in Philadelphia, but reside in Los Angeles. It was so exciting to finally speak to Sara, her mom Marguerite and sister Francesca. My mom was with me as well. When we began speaking, it seemed like we had known each other our entire lives. There is a saying in Armenian: Aryooneh geh kasheh, which literally means blood draws you closer. It was such a natural conversation. We had no idea if we were related from my maternal grandmother’s or maternal grandfather’s side. We knew it was from my mom’s side, since both of her parents were from Yenikhan, Sepastia (Sivas), as was our connection with Sara, Francesca and Marguerite.
We started throwing out all the last names we knew and still no match. How were we related? Cousin Marguerite asked if there was anyone named Vartanian. I had never heard of a Vartanian in our family. We decided that it would be a mystery that we would solve and said our goodbyes, promising we would keep in touch.
A few days went by, and all my mom and I could think about was how we were related to Sara, Francesca and Marguerite. During a visit to my mom’s house, I asked if she had a copy of my grandmother Elmon Piligiian’s DVD. She had spoken to a group about the Armenian Genocide, and they had recorded her. She was saying how she lost her mother, father, two brothers and a sister. She had to walk in the Syrian Desert of Der Zor with her dad’s sister. Then, she was asked for her mother’s name. She responded with Yepraxi Vartanian. Grandma, God rest her soul, had solved the mystery for us. Once my mom heard that, she said, “Oh my, this is Nazely Morkoor’s family from Racine, Wisconsin.” We immediately took to FaceTime with Sara, Marguerite and Francesca. Sara and Francesca’s great-grandmother Nazely and my great-grandmother Yepraxi were sisters. My great-grandmother did not survive, but Nazely did. My mom also confirmed that they were from Racine. My mom also remembered Nazely Morkoor’s care packages from America. For daughters of Armenian Genocide survivors living in Syria, it was exciting to receive gifts from a morkoor (aunt) in America.
In October of 2016, I went to Philadelphia with my two boys for my cousin Marie’s wedding. Both Sara and Francesca came down to Philly to meet us. More than a century after the Armenian Genocide, one family rediscovered its roots and a desire to rebuild. It was such a delightful meeting. It felt like we had been in each other’s lives for years. We have continued to keep in touch and anxiously await our next reunion. We also now have an extended family that we have yet to meet. We are anxiously waiting for that reunion. My dream is for my mom to meet her long lost family soon. Thanks to modern technology, our family tree has grown.
Sara and I are two peas in a pod. Our similarities are so interesting; we think alike. Francesca and I have also been enjoying our relationship as cousins. I also have a cousin named Daniel, who is Sara and Francesca’s brother, and more who I look forward to meeting soon.
In light of Saroyan’s well-known quotation, our meeting speaks to the essence of the Armenian desire to continually survive. The Armenian Genocide dispersed us, but we are still here and thriving. We create our New Armenia everywhere we go and will continually engage in making sure our family trees grow abundantly.