April 2015…the 100th Anniversary marking the start of the Armenian Genocide was approaching, it seemed like a good time to overshare the story of my mom’s family on social media. I began doing daily posts…trying to string together the bits of information I had overheard growing up. Archiving our history for the next generation, because who sits around telling family stories anymore? People were fascinated, looking forward to the next chapter in the lives of Haigoohi and Levon. My mom would pipe in, filling in holes and expanding facts. People she never met were asking her about making Armenian and Turkish foods, an interactive bit of history and culinary arts. Swoon.
The very short version of the story is my Grandma Haigoohi Sherinian was a young Armenian girl living in Constantinople (now Istanbul), her daddy was a calvary horse trader, her mom a stay at home mom. She had two sisters and two brothers, just a normal happy kid, in a fairly well off family. Until things went bad, her dad disappeared…leaving for work one day and never returning, the horses all taken by the Turkish government. My Great Grandmother sold off their possessions in order to be hidden by a Turkish family. The boys in a secret basement passage, the girls working for the family as domestic help when not hiding. A complete change of life for my Grandma…but she was alive.
My Grandma used to sit with us after school as we watched tv and did our homework…Brady Bunch, Oreos, homework…GenX to the core. Anyway, one time when I was in 4th grade she picked up my text book. It was 1976, a big year for American history. She began reading, sounding out words, asking for help without any embarrassment. She loved learning, she appreciated history and fact.
It was about two seconds ago that I realized…I was ten when this happened. She was ten when she was pulled out of school…pulled out of life as she knew it, and her father murdered. Haigoohi was a gracious woman, not once did she say, do you know how lucky you are Katharine, do you know what I was doing the spring I turned 10?
I am not always a very gracious woman. I tend to get a little unnerved when people are bystanders. I exist, my kids exist…because of upstanders…people willing to take a risk in order to help others. I understand that this Turkish family made money protecting my ancestors, but they also took a huge risk. I’d like to think they would have done it for nothing.
This is a long-winded way of saying thank you. Thank you to President Biden for finally calling the Armenian Genocide…THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE. You might say what is the big deal, it is a word, genocide…a word. But to me and to my ancestors who were forever changed because of it, it is a word that really counts.
And we are back at another common Swooning theme…words count. Let’s hold people accountable please, we all need to be upstanders…truth must matter.