A family history, name, and heritage are great treasures but not as important as being children of God in Christ.
Adam S. Manian
My grandfather was named Vengeance. For good measure, his sister was also named Vengeance, just the feminine version of the name.
Some things must be remembered. Some things must be carried with you wherever you go, like your name. My name is Adam Manian. I am an Armenian. You can tell because my last name ends in “-ian.” In Armenian, the “-ian” ending means “son of.” Therefore, I am Adam (“man” in Hebrew) Manian, “son of man.”
We weren’t always Manians. Back in Armenia, the name was Karamanoogian. But that was too long for Ellis Island, so it was shortened to Manian.
Growing up, I was always proud that I was Armenian, although I was a bit disappointed that I am only one-quarter Armenian. In fact, like many WELS members, I am more German than Armenian. But as a child, my heritage and my name were of great importance to me.
If you have been watching the news closely this year, you may have noticed Armenia being mentioned in the news. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It began in the 1890s, but 1915 is the year set aside to recognize that genocide. The Turkish regime killed about 1.5 million Armenians. The Turkish government won’t recognize it, and America also has trouble doing so because they don’t want to anger Turkey. But my great-grandma Anna used to say, “Some people say it didn’t happen, but it did. I was there. I saw it. Don’t tell me it didn’t happen.” Then she—or maybe her sister Moko (a shortened version of the Armenian word for aunt)—used to tell us how the Manian family got to America.
That story is why I am proud of who I am. My great-grandma was one of the Armenians who fled Armenia during the genocide. In order to come to America, she married an Armenian-American soldier who was wounded during World War I. Because she was a civilian and he a soldier, they came to America on separate boats. After they got to America but before they could consummate the marriage, he died from his wounds. Widowed and with few prospects, she made contact with her uncle in Chicago. There she was married a second time. That husband died after six months. Finally, her third husband survived her self-proclaimed “curse,” and she began her life in America.
My great-great-aunt Moko’s story was not much happier. She was younger and stayed in Armenia longer, fleeing the country a little later. Great-grandma Anna’s husband had a friend who needed a wife. Moko was suggested. After some correspondence and picture exchanges, they agreed to get married. Since she wasn’t an American citizen, nor was she married to one, she couldn’t come to America. So they met in Cuba to get married. She wasn’t old enough to get married in Cuba, but miraculously a birth certificate was “found” that said she was two years older than she thought she was. I still remember Moko telling us how she argued with the American government because they started sending her Social Security too early.
Sadly, Great-grandma Anna’s older sister remained in Armenia and didn’t fare as well. She and her daughter Osanna went on a forced “death march” into the desert. Osanna miraculously survived and went on to be the nanny to the future king of Jordan, King Hussein. Sadly, Osanna’s mother didn’t survive.
After a few years of living in America, things began to change for those who were fortunate enough to come here. The desire for vengeance that caused my great-grandparents to name two of their children Vengeance softened. My grandfather’s name was legally changed from Vengeance to Victor, and his sister’s to Virginia. By the time I came along, the family stories I heard were about the challenges, yes, but more so about being thankful. That was the way the stories always ended. “Thank God that you are here in America. You don’t know how good you have it; you could be back in Armenia.” That was especially poignant after the terrible earthquake in 1988.
But even as we were encouraged to be thankful, you could tell that Great-grandma Anna and Moko were thankful too. They were thankful that they were in America. They were thankful that they were able to worship God.
You see, the story that I most remember isn’t of the hardships of my grandparents and their generation. It is the story of my great-great-grandfather Kaspar. He was
confronted by the Turks. They ordered him to renounce Christ and adopt Islam. His response was “Christ lives. Muhammad is dead. I will never renounce my Savior.” The Turks executed him on the spot.
Armenia was the first country to ever adopt Christianity as its national faith. Long before Constantine, Armenia was a Christian state. You can argue the benefits of such a thing and the separation of church and state, but this I know to be true: My ancestors weren’t persecuted primarily because of their nationality; they were persecuted because of their religion. Throughout their lives they could have chosen the easy path and believed whatever the person in power told them to believe, but they would not. Christ was too important to them. They preferred to flee, to live in poverty, to endure hardship, to die, rather than denounce their Savior.
For years I was embarrassed that I carry what I consider a noble Armenian last name while being only one-quarter Armenian. Then, like my father and my grandfather, I married a mostly German wife, and now I have children who have an Armenian name and are only one-eighth Armenian. That used to bother me too. But as I think back on the lessons of those who went before me, I realize that the name that mattered most wasn’t the name Armenian or Manian or Karamanoogian or any other last name they had. What mattered to them was the name Christian.
That is a name, thankfully, I also bear, as do my children. It is a name my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents bore. That is the heritage and the name worth carrying— Christian. And although the “-ian” of Christian might not mean quite the same as the Armenian “-ian,” the concept is similar. I belong to Christ’s family. That is a name worth carrying around. That name puts aside the vengeance. It shrugs off the hardship; it looks to God and is thankful. I am thankful to be a child of God.
I take pride in my family heritage. I am part of a family that worshiped God above all else, but even more so, I am part of the family of God.
Some things must be remembered. Some things must be carried with you wherever you go, like your name. My name is Christian, just like those who went before me.
Adam Manian is pastor at Immanuel, Tyler, Minnesota.
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Author: Adam S. Manian
Volume 102, Number 7
Issue: July 2015
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