Submitted by global publisher on Thu, 07/02/2015 - 12:59
By Emilia Erbetta
The first time I heard about Armenia and Armenians was through one of my father’s colleagues. His last name was (and still is) Baltian. My father explained that it meant something like “son of Balt,” and I was amazed at the possibility of condensing a whole lineage and origin into four letters. I was little at the time and pictured them as a powerful Viking people with long, blond hair: the magnificent children of Balt. I used to think all last names should be like that and was a bit disappointed with my own – it didn’t seem so heroic to be called Emilia “Small Herb.”
I didn’t know anything about either the Armenians or Armenia. I had not heard anyone speak about the Genocide or the Young Turks, although I had already seen many movies about the Jewish Genocide. At night I used to imagine a terrifying Nazi resurrection as if it were a zombie movie. To me, the Armenian people were just someone’s descendants.
The second time I heard about Armenia was in the context of food. I was already living in Buenos Aires; a friend was dating an Armenian boy and worked in an Armenian restaurant. Thanks to her I discovered hummus, and it was love at first sight. Through her boyfriend, I learned that Argentinian students of Armenian origin – from his school, in particular – cook typical Armenian food to pay for their graduation trip to Armenia. There were the children of Balt again, and I was beginning to suspect that they were not Vikings and that they had a stronger connection to their origins than the one I have with my Italian great-grandparents.
One day, I saw a flower in the street. It was a simple drawing and that’s what caught my attention. The words “forget me not” appeared underneath it. I saw it in Belgrano, in Palermo, downtown, looking out the window of a bus and while walking around Agronomía. If that was the intended effect, it worked: after coming across it a couple of times in the street, I researched it. I had already heard about the Armenian Genocide and had read – not much, just a footnote – about the topic at university. By looking it up online, I learned that in April of this year the cities of Armenia were covered with purple flowers: a persistent and excruciating forget-me-not to remember the killings not recognized by Turkey and neglected by the rest of the world for decades.
Some weeks later I took attendance of a new class of journalism students and came across a last name ending in “ian.” I asked my new student, Sofía, if she was Armenian. On April 28 she asked if she could leave earlier to attend the march with which the Armenian community commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the Genocide. That same day, before she left, I saw her telling her new classmates what it was about. She was fulfilling the responsibility forever engraved in the last three letters of her last name.
Emilia Erbetta is a journalist based in Argentina.
What’s in a name that ends in “ian?”