Learning where your family comes from and who you are is an exciting, confusing, often lifelong process, especially for Americans whose mixed ancestry or eradicated culture has hidden the facts and obscured the details. Many Americans don’t even have a physical homeland to make a pilgrimage to, let alone a shared cultural pedigree beyond the TV shows we binge watch and the solidarity we feel from our favorite sports teams and kinds of pizza.
What I knew then about Armenia is what Armenia wanted me to know, that it was the first nation to embrace Christianity as the state religion in 301 AD. Christianity for Armenians is synonymous with being Armenian. Almost all Armenians in the world, if they believe in anything, believe in a Christian God, and most of them follow the Orthodox Church (also known as the Armenian Apostolic Church). Armenians are as proud of their relationship with God as they are of the fact that they have survived when greater powers wished them annihilation. For these two things are not so different—they are my hand and my mother’s hand. It is no leap to say that the genocide the Armenians of the early twentieth century faced at the hands of the Ottoman Turks brought Armenia closer to its Christian roots. We had survived. Even when more than a million of us had not, we, as a people, had survived. And who to thank but God, even when our people were being herded into our churches and set on fire?
I am happy to go to Garni-Geghard, I say to my aunt innocently, using the singular, and this tells her that I know nothing about where we are going or what kind of country we are in or the kind of people we really are.