The Thanksgiving break took me to the East Coast, to the home of my sister Deb who resides in Southborough, Massachusetts. Our last name is Tootalian, the IAN being an indication of our Armenian heritage. If you happen to meet someone with a multi-syllabled last name and recognize the infamous IAN tacked to the end — Bogosian, Karagosian, Kardashian — you might say: Inch’pes yes? (Ինչպես ես) How are you? And they may (hopefully) reply: Lav (Լավ), good, or even shat lav (Շատ լավ), very good. That’s the extent of my Armenian. Although I can count to 10.
The Greater Boston area has been a haven for Armenian immigrants over the last one hundred years. While the vast majority of Americans of Armenian heritage live in Southern California and the Detroit area’s Highland Park was home to a significant community in the mid-1900’s, Massachusetts boasts 25,000 people of Armenian ancestry, the second-most among states. Armenian immigration to the U.S. was largely spurred by the 1915 genocide, during which 1.5 million Armenians were deliberately targeted and killed by the Ottoman Empire. Escaping Ottoman oppression, the earliest Armenian immigrants landed in Boston and began making their way to Watertown at the turn of the century. Today, just over 12,000 of their descendants live in Middlesex County, concentrated in the city of Watertown. I’ve often wondered if my ethnicity and our history coupled with the needed healing drew me to Native culture and Ceremony, as the indigenous people of the Americas, along with Assyrian/Greek Anatolians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tibetans, Indonesians, Burundians, East Timorese, Cambodians, Kurds, Bosnians, and Rwandans all suffered 20th century ethnic cleansing.
Art, Culture, Eternity is the cool tag line defining Watertown’s Armenian Museum of America. This living library preserves for posterity the Armenian heritage past and present, to tell the story of the Armenian people and to promote an awareness and appreciation of their culture and contributions. From antiquity to the present-day American Armenian experience, themes such as origins in the Asian continent, the invention of a unique Indo-European language and alphabet, the early adoption of Christianity, Armenian illuminated manuscripts, interconnected trade routes, and genocide tragedy are explored throughout the Museum. By way of the precious articles collected – each an object of witness and survival - the hope is to convey the powerful and enduring tale of Armenia. The strength, ingenuity, and determination of the Armenian people, despite extraordinary loss and trauma, through these works shines.
Per US Diplomat and Former Ambassador Michael Gfoeller: “Armenia is not merely a small country in the Caucasus… it is one of the wellsprings of world civilization, on the same level as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Italy. Whoever bakes or eats bread, makes or drinks wine, uses metal tools or jewelry, or wears clothing and shoes is tied by invisible bonds of cultural inheritance to Armenia. In this sense, we are all Armenians.” Amen (Ամէն).