Friday, November 16, 2001

My family history on my father's side appears to be filled with lots of movement. From what I can figure in what recorded history I have, it started out with my great-great-grandfather Kevork, who as a boy of 11 or 12 years old left his native home in Artsakh after having an argument with his eldest of 9 bothers and ended up settling in Dilijan, Armenia in the 1850's. Of his grandchildren, my grandfather Ivan (Vahan was his real name, but the Russians knew him as Ivan), against his stepfather's wishes, left Diljan in 1915 as an officer in the Czar's army, to defend the Armenians of Erzrum, and later Van. Though he never talked about his past life, it appears that he was a member of a Tashnag organized cavalry, who had planned in Dilijan for my grandfather to go with the Russian army to Erzrum, desert and regroup with his fellow Armenian horsemen. Out of circumstance and the price put on his head by the Bolsheviks if he happened to return to Armenia (most of his comrades who returned were executed), he ended up settling in Baghdad, Iraq where he raised his family. Though he always referred to Dilijan when talking of things of beauty, he never told his children about his life there. In 1946, a friend of my grandfather's who had been in Iran on business, brought him a letter given to him by a General from the Soviet Red army. It seems that this General had gone to the Armenian Church in Tehran and was asking about my grandfather. When his friend overheard the conversation, he stepped forward to help. My father recalls that my grandfather was very shaken by this news and tried to communicate with the General, but by the time he managed to get a message to Tehran, the Red army had pulled out. It turned out that the General was my Grandfather's first-cousin, Minas Manoogian. From there on, our branch of the family seemed to go further and further from our homeland, settling in various parts of the world, most of them eventually in the United States. The first exploration to find our roots was initiated in 1962 by my uncle, a Bishop in the Armenian church, who with the help of His Holiness Vasken I's driver, found his way to Dilijan to look for our family. It seemed to be an impossible task, as everyone whom this very clever driver asked had no idea who Ivan Manoogian was. As they were just about to give up their search, my uncle spotted an old man sitting under a tree and instructed the driver to puller over and ask him. This man was very old, hard of hearing, visually impaired, and perhaps forgetful. So in a loud voice the driver asked if he had ever heard of Ivan Manoogian. The old man in a very concise and methodical tone told them, ah, yes, he left long ago and left his bride waiting. Then he said Jeloyents. The driver was confused, as it seemed the old man was talking nonsense. But my uncle continued the conversation and the old man instructed them as to where to find the family. Word spread quickly about the arrival of the Bishop son of one of Dilijan's fedayee warriors who had left and never returned. My uncle was whisked away to a house where a huge crowd of people had gathered. At this point my uncle was very concerned -- if this were not the right family, what was he going to do? His fears were soon allayed when an old woman walked into the room. She was the spitting image of my grandfather. It was my grandfather's sister. With her was my grandfather's first love and fianc�e, whom he had left back in 1915 to go off to war, still wearing the ring he gave her, although she had later married someone else after giving up hope that he would return, she still was considered a member of the family. It turned out that the name Jeloyents was given to the family, as they were landowners who hired Jelos, Assyrian migrant workers, to cultivate their fields. This would distinguish them from Manoogians, who had other epithets describing their trades. So now we take a leap forward to 1989 and my first trip to Armenia. Armenia was facing a fuel shortage and one of my desired was to visit my relatives in Dilijan as my parents had on their first trip to Armenia in 1985. My cousin on my mother's side who lives in Yerevan along with her husband saw that meeting with government officials was getting very boring for me and they invited me to go fishing at Lake Sevan. I knew that Sevan was on the road to Dilijan and asked would it be too much to go to Dilijan instead? They told me that, due to the fuel shortage, they only had enough to get to Sevan and back, but if for some reason we found fuel in Sevan, we could go all the way there. I told my mom the great news and asked her for an address. She said that I was dreaming if I thought I would get all the way to Dilijan. That morning we headed to Sevan to fish. My cousin's husband, who also happens to be a Manoogian, but is not related to me, grew up in Sevan and knew it like the back of his hand. He first took us to a restaurant that overlooks the lake for fish (the famous ishkhan dzuk) and all the fixings. Then it was time to go fishing, but before we made our way down to the lakeshore, we drove by a place that might have fuel. We arrived at a gas station that had a very long line of cars and better than that, fuel. We waited in line for our turn. While we were waiting, I pulled out my video camera and got out of the car to take some pictures. I guess the camera, my short pants and New Balance tennis shoes got the attention of the other people waiting, thus the questioning. After the word of America, I�m not interested in selling my shoes and we were going to Dilijan got around, our car was magically whisked to the front of the line and the tank and two canisters were filled up. My cousin later told me that one thing that probably contributed to the fast service was the video camera and the gas station operator not wanting me to record him selling black-market fuel. So we were now on our way to Dilijan. Though we didn't have the address, I knew we would find the family. I mean I was armed with the information of Jeloyents and a famous Red army General, not to mention that there were no less than 300 Manoogians who were related to me living there. Surely everyone had to have heard the story and would point us in the right direction. So after the windy mountain road and an episode of motion sickness, leaving lunch on the side of the road, we arrived in Dilijan. We first went to the post office to ask where we could find Manoogian/Jeloyents. The workers there didn't seem to have a clue. We made our way to the center of town and I told my cousin to look for an old man, he is bound to know. We found an old man, who also was of no use. But standing near by and listening to the conversation was a young woman who asked if the Bishop were here. She poked her head into the car to find me and said, "I know where your family lives." This woman was a little girl and remembered when my uncle had come in 1962 and as she showed us the road to one of the Manoogian houses, she recalled her observations. We arrived to a house on a hillside and the woman walked ahead of us, telling the people inside of my arrival. I was greeted by an old woman of 75, who led me to a room where I found an old man sleeping. She called out to him to get up, as the Bishop's brother's son had come. As the man got out of bed, I saw he was wearing a military uniform and could only figure it had to be the General. Age 94 or not, he stood up tall. As I approached him, he got upset and said "It's not possible that the bishop has a son!" I was somewhat taken back by his comment, but his wife said in a louder voice, "No, it's not his son, it's his brother's son." The General took one step forward and embraced me with tears in his eyes and began to kiss me. We sat down and with my cousin video taping, he told me the story of my grandfather and what had happened. He gifted me a book that was written about him following an award he received from Mikhail Gorbachev for his many years of military service to the Soviet army. Following that visit, I was driven down the street to one of his sons' houses, where they slaughtered a pig, set out a table and the General's family gathered to welcome me home. I've been back to Dilijan a number of times since and met the entire Manoogian family one time, which is now well over 300 strong. Next thing I need to do is find the family here is Artsakh, which I will one day do, thus ending this journey which started 150 years ago.

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