My radar was up and running as I spent my days actively listening and looking for people who had the same last name as I do. Even before marriage was in my mind, I always knew I would never give up my last name. It was too precious. Too defining for me. Names mean something important, significant, special.
At an orphanage in Artsakh, a lecture room in Yerevan, and traveling with other young Armenian professionals, I found them. Hartunians. I had to get pictures. My grandparents are the only Hartunians I knew so finding these people was like finding missing pieces of myself.
Why am I so obsessed with my last name? Because in Armenian it means, “resurrected from the dead.” Because I knew I would need all the help I could get in my life journey and walk of faith. So, I could not give it up for anyone or any reason. It’s a common name in Armenia but not in Connecticut!
I spent much of my time marveling in shock and silence over what I saw. Although I considered other tourists brutes because of their behavior, I realize that I was one, too. “I am the brute, the beggar, the foreigner. I am the alien and stranger. And I need to remember that. The crosses (khachkar) all around the sites are a vivid reminder of my need for Jesus and His grace. For love. The candles that are lit in the monastery are a beautiful reminder of these things. God’s presence, delight, Him taking care of His children.” I am no different than the tourists. Humbling, to say the least.
As I observed the satellite dishes all around Stepanakert, I imagined them reaching to the heavens for connection not only spiritually but to people around us. We long for that. And I felt the satellites could speak one word that encompassed who we are as humans: “more.”
Stepanakert Deputy Minister Armine Alexanyan, upon questioning, tells of her goal to be recognized as a country. “I’m doing something meaningful that will positively affect the present and future of my country.” With resources in professional services and education not easily available, her challenge to ensure good government practices and to connect with other countries in a spirit of openness is a daunting task. But even in her descriptions, she expresses hope. Many have sacrificed their own comforts to serve. I personally love this about the people I met in this city. It strikes a chord in me. The Armenian people have been known to sacrifice much. I was in good company.
My heart skipped a beat when I got to the Gandzasar Monastery. My beloved mother has been gone from this world for over a decade. But I thought I saw her when I viewed the little lady making jengalov hats. This herb-filled bread is to die for. Since I love to cook and bake, I am always drawn to the places where food is made. This woman invited me to come close and watch her work. She reminded me of my grandfather from Beirut who owned a bakery. He made bread in our kitchen all his days here in the United States. He never used fancy tools either. Just a cutting board and sharp knife and the best tool ever—his hands. I found another Hartunian in spirit. Her bread was cheap (hardly $1 American) and generous in size. And the added bonus was the man with colorful flags riding on his horse to entertain the crowd.
My last observation must include church. I took a walk on a Sunday morning. It is my custom to go to church on Sundays. St. Jacob’s Church was nearby, so I wandered in. What impressed me most were the generations of people sitting side by side. It was a melding of everything I love: family. It is what I would have wished to bottle and bring home to my corner of the world. I would have shared it freely. It’s what we miss in our current culture at times. I am appreciating my roots even more on this day in early July when my travels to Armenia have only begun!