I've always considered the most interesting portion of my ethnic background to be the Armenian part. My mother's father, Aram Kerkian, was a full-blooded Armenian whose parents fled Turkey to escape pogroms that saw hundreds of thousands of Armenians massacred at the hands of ruthless Turks. My grandfather died when I was 5, but he was a cool enough guy to have made a big impression on me, enough of one that the memories I have of him are many. Among the most prominent: I distinctly remember him ordering me once to stop picking my nose. He also bought me my first fishing rod, which he taught me to use at the pond in back of his house.
I still have the rod, and the baseball glove he bought me, but the fact is that I would gladly trade that stuff for the chance to have known him better. By all accounts Aram was a larger than life type of guy. A big, burly, barrel-chested man's man, a football standout with broad shoulders and a taste for black and tans, he also had the best hairy chest this side of Sean Connery and devastating dark good looks. And, seemingly hellbent on increasing the population of Armenian-Americans, Aram (with some help from my grandmother) spawned no fewer than 6 half-Armenians in his heyday.
Yet this was not your typical brainless, breeding Armenian jock. Aram graduated from MIT and made his career as a chemist. He once ran for mayor of Newburyport, Massachusetts, and would have won if not for a vicious false rumor that got out that his wife was, gasp!, Jewish. In his spare time he was fond of gardening, cooking and oil painting. Here was a renaissance man to the core, a sensitive, artistic family man who also happened to enjoy a beer with the boys at the local watering hole after work.
So perhaps it's no wonder that I have something of a fascination with my Armenian side. Also, it's kind of cool that a lot of people don't even know what Armenia is, let alone where it is. Here are some facts for your enjoyment, though not all of them are cheerful. Or true.
-Population of Armenia: 3.2 million.
-Armenia is a tiny, mountainous republic on the eastern border of Turkey. It also borders Iran, Azerbeijan and Georgia.
-Armenia was once a vast empire that, in its prime, stretched from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea.
-Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its religion.
-Armenia's Mount Ararat, the nation's highest peak, is the supposed final resting place of Noah's Ark.
-Throughout its embattled history, the Armenian language and alphabet have remained unique and relatively unchanged. Click here to see a sample! I'd say it would be really cool to learn Armenian one day, but it actually seems more like a lot of work that I don't want to do.
-Armenian last names generally end with "-ian." If ever you see a last name ending with those three letters, chances are, it's Armenian. Jack Kevorkian? Damn straight he's Armenian. Cher (Cherylin Sarkissian) is Armenian. LeBron Jamesian was born and raised in Armenia until the age of 12, when he relocated to Akron, shortened his name and switched from soccer to basketball.
-Up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks from 1915-17 in one of the worst genocides in history. 90 years later, the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing, putting them in the elite company of neo-Nazis and other white supremacy groups who deny holocausts.
-Armenia had the misfortune of being annexed by the Soviet Union in 1922, becoming independent again in 1991.
-Today the Republic of Armenia is considered by the world at large to be a, "pretty much free country," with, "mostly legitimate" elections and an economy that is, "occasionally thriving."
-The current president of Armenia is Serzh Sargsyan, whom you might remember from last season's "Dancing with the Stars."
-Armenians are considered the pinnacle of human intelligence and beauty. Michaelangelo's David is famously modeled after Armenia's legendary founder, Haik, purported to be the great grandson of Noah himself. The philosopher Plato was a closet Armenian.
-The manufacture, sale, purchase or consumption of mayonnaise is forbidden in Armenia.
Having married Alex, I'm excited that my own offspring will have a unique DNA makeup that includes Armenian, Scottish, English, Venezuelan and Danish. I'm not sure what kind of kid is going to slide out of that womb, but it's bound to be interesting. I can only pray that there is some semblance to Aram, the man who gifted me a pair of sunken eyes and a hairy back.