Linda Iguidbashian Dean
The Armenian Diaspora Speech
January 23, 2018
Presented by Linda Dean
The Armenian Diaspora Speech
This is a story about my family. My father Roupen was born in the summer of 1914 in western Armenian, in the village of Arabkir. The village was part of the Ottoman Empire, now called Turkey. The ruling people were Turkish Muslims. The sheik was concerned by the loss of land as the Christians to the west had separated from the Empire. Concerned about the Armenians succeeding into Russia, he ordered the extermination of all Christians remaining in the Empire. The massacre began on April 24, 1915. One and a half Armenian were thought to have been killed.
The Armenians that survived immigrated throughout the world. The word Diaspora captures this, meaning: any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland, especially involuntarily.
There are references to the movies Doctor Zhivago and Hidden Figures. Uncle Levon is compared to Zhivago since they were both medical doctors conscribed into the Army during World War I. Hidden Figures is referenced in relation to the women of Hidden Figures since Linda and the three women featured in the movie were first women in the computer field.
The book The Burning Tigris documents the conflict between the historic Armenian and the Ottoman Empire. Armenia borders with Russia. Some Armenians were sympathetic to joining with Russia. The Ottoman Empire, interested in keeping their empire in tact decided to murder the Christians to stop from losing territory.
The word Abba means father, New Testament. an Aramaic word for father, used by Jesus and Paul to address God in a relation of personal intimacy.
Abba, Father, God, Roupen [pause]
My father Roupen was given this fine Jewish name so that maybe he would survive the Armenian Holocaust of 1915.
My fellow Toastmasters, I am the daughter of an Armenian Holocaust survivor. This happened during World War I. It is said that the Armenian massacre was the first Genocide of the 20th Century. It took place under the Ottoman Empire.
You see, the sheik was losing land as the native Christians were taking back their homelands. The Balkans succeeded first to the west. The Armenians to the East were seeking protection from Russia. The sheik’s answer to this was to kill off all the Christians he could find…. The Armenians, The Greeks, … The Coptic’s. All the followers of Jesus.
This is how my father’s story began. His mother and uncles carried Baby Roupen to safety.
My dad was a man of medicine and he liked to fix things. Dad wanted to be a doctor but since he was a Christian in Iraq, he was unable to attend college. Fortunately, his uncle was already a pharmacist with ties to the university. When a Muslim man didn’t show up for school, his uncle quietly gave the position to my dad.
Education was his ticket to a better life and he never forgot that lesson.
Dad wanted a better life for his children. So, he emigrated to the United States in 1950. He attended the Philadelphia School of Pharmacy and earned his master’s degree, so he could practice in America. It took 7 years, but he managed with the help of Uncle Vahan Kurkjian. Vahan was a historian and writer. He wrote “A History of Armenia” in 1958.
My dad had a problem though. He only had a student visa and would HAVE to leave once he finished. Well, the Armenian network of match makers found Rosie Paulian in Detroit. Rosie was my mother. She was beautiful and had a college degree, very rare for a woman at that time. Roupen and Rose were pen pals while he studied. Together, Lillete, brother John, and I came along.
My sister Lillete was named after a book of poetry written by Uncle Levon. Levon is the Armenian version of Doctor Zhivago. Levon worked in the Turkish Army and sent his money to his brothers so they could educate themselves. He died in the Army, it was a rough life for a Christian.
My dad was a man of medicine. He wanted to be a doctor. Instead, brother John became the doctor. He is a pediatric heart surgeon in Portland Oregon and has written papers detailing surgery techniques. Roupen wanted to be a doctor, John fulfilled that dream.
I was Little Linda, a spitting image of my mom. I was my dad’s tool runner when I was 8. I would get a workout carrying tools to and from the garage and the basement. I know my tools. It’s because of my dad that I became a Computer Software Engineer. I can absolutely relate to the recent movie Hidden Figures. Linda graduated from the University of Michigan in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering. She was one of the first women in the field.
So, Roupen was a man of Medicine and Engineering. He wasn’t a man of God when we grew up. Living in the middle east, he had seen how religion just got people killed. My dad wasn’t actually a Christian when we were growing up. We stopped going to Church when I was eight. I didn’t know what I was missing until I had my own children. It was easy to miss God in the 1960’s and 70’s. The American culture had changed from the 50’s and God wasn’t a part of it.
It is strange for an Armenian to not be a Christian. According to the Bible, after Jesus passed away, the disciples and followers spread to the east into the Armenian homeland. It was because of men like Bartholomew, Peter, James, and Paul that Armenia became to first Christian nation in 301 A.D.
Armenians are known to die for Christ, and God. Under the Ottoman rule, one and a half million Armenians died very horrible deaths. The men were shot to death in their own Churches. The women and children were marched in circles until they died. Many women were raped and became Muslim wives and mothers. The book The Burning Tigris documents what happened.
The killing of Christians is still going on all over the middle east. Turkey now has fewer than 20,000 Christians remaining. My dad grew up in Iraq. These are not safe places for a Western Armenian to travel. Eastern Armenia is a free nation in the Russian orbit.
The Western Armenians like me are now in all corners of the Earth. We landed in Australia, Europe, Lebanon, Israel, and the Americas. The term for this is “The Armenian Diaspora”. Armenians observe their Genocide on April 24, a nice spring, Easter day, when the carnage began in 1915.
My dad married a second Armenian woman, a woman of faith named Ashkhen. It took her 18 years, but she brought out the Christian in my dad. He no longer needed to struggle for money, and he came to give it away. He helped build the American University in Armenia. He had a yearly gift of college tuition to any Armenian student from Arabkir, his home town. In his will, he gave away all his money so that young Armenians could get an education.
I am very proud of my dad, Abba, Father, Roupen.
I thank God that he survived.
I thank God for my life.
I hope that I can contribute as much as my father did.
Balakian, Peter (2003) The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response. HarperCollins books, New York New York, USA. Arabkir reference is on pages 87-88.
Doctor Zhivago (film). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Zhivago_(film)
Hidden Figures (film). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_Figures
Kirkjian, Vahan M. (1958), A History of Armenia. Armenian General Benevolent Union. Golden Jubilee Publication. Vantage Press, 120 West 31st Street, New York USA