I come from the mountains – By @EllieDag
By Ellie Daghlian
I come from the mountains
Last week, we were asked to go around the room and introduce ourselves.
Proper detailed introductions. Who are you? Where are you from? What’s your background? That kind of stuff.
Our little studio has people from all over the world. We have Americans, Greek Cypriots, people from Austria, Slovenia, France, Australia, the Netherlands. They have some amazing stories.
When it got to my turn, I bottled it.
I’m Armenian, I wanted to say.
London-ish. Is what I went with.
I didn’t want the questions.
Er. Well Turkey, far back as we know. Then Bagdad.
Can you speak the language?
Tends to get passed down through mothers. I have a two man succession line. Yes I have tried. Also tried Arabic. But I’m terrible at languages. My brother can count to ten?
I like hummus, halva, baclava and pistachios. Much more Armenia specific and you’ve lost me. Again, men of my grandad’s generation didn’t really cook.
But your parents are Armenian?
Grandparents. One of the them.
So you’re not really Armenian.
Well, it’s been playing on my mind. So here’s a little bit of family story.
My great-grandmother was the daughter of a silk merchant. My great-grandfather was the son of a weaver. They were born and raised in a Western Turkey, before being unceremoniously marched through the Syrian-Iraqi desert, to Bagdad, where they finally met, married, and popped out four kids. The youngest of whom, Harootune, would go on to father my dad.
My grandfather grew up in north Baghdad. In a house with no running water and one communal Primus stove. They carried their water from the stream or bought it from sellers on donkeys. In the summer they slept on the roof.
The house shared a courtyard at the centre of which was a pomegranate tree. Pomegranates are a big part of our culture by the way. There was also a goat, which Pop’s mother and brother would milk.
My grandfather spoke a million and one languages and won himself a scholarship to study at Nottingham university. He also won one to Duke, in the states, but fortunately for my particular combination of DNA, Duke wouldn’t pay for him to live there, whereas Nottingham would.
I’ve only ever met one Armenian, outside of the family, and you could probably tell it was a rare occurrence from how excited we were at the sight of each other.
The white 75% of my DNA has me covered on the representation side of things. The flip side of that is that bit of my identity feels like more of a gimmick than anything else.
If I bring it up, or if someone asks about my name – Daghlian, means ‘from the mountain’ – I become suddenly more exotic somehow, which is weird. On the rare occasion someone has heard of the country, I get an ‘oh yes, the genocide’. Which is also weird.
When they don’t know where it is, I say, ‘it’s a small country just above Turkey’ – which happens to be the place that did said genocide. Which means the Turks end up defining my country anyway.
Then we add the fact that I look more Turkish than anything else. Armenia blessed me with some spiky cheek bones, and a pre-surgery-Kardashian set of hips. Hence the reasonably rare, but surprisingly-common-given-how-white-I-am question of questions: ‘Where are you from?’
Hemel. But that’s not the answer you’re looking for.
So yeah. That’s a bit of who I am. It’s so barely tangible I sometimes feel like a liar or an attention seeker for mentioning it.
There are questions I don’t know the answers too. Like when my grandfather dies, will I still be Armenian? Will my children? They’ll be even more removed from the whole thing. And probably won’t have the name. Though I’m not planning on giving mine up.
I feel totally disconnected from my own culture, and at the same time aware of the privilege my whiteness affords me. Particularly stark when my much more middle eastern looking brother and father are stopped in ‘random’ airport searches every single time.
Anyway. In the unlikely event there are any Armenian creatives reading this, hit me up?