Name search finds shared history

Grand Traverse Herald
July 21, 2004
Name search finds shared history

Local resident forms network celebrating Armenian heritage
By Carol South
Herald contributing writer

Culling page by page through the phone book recently, Leslie
Narsisian-Voss was honoring her roots.
The Blair Township resident decided to found the Northern Michigan
Armenian Network and was searching for area residents who shared her
Armenian heritage. She patiently searched out the distinctive last names of
her ancestral homeland, mailing out between 50-60 flyers announcing the
group’s inaugural meeting.
Sunday afternoon, ten people descended from the southwestern Asian
nation gathered at the Traverse Area District Library to celebrate their
They nibbled on distinctive Armenian dishes such as bourma, a pastry
of phyllo dough layered with walnuts and honey, listened to Armenian music
and shared stories of their ancestry. Attendees also checked out Armenian
travel books, looked at samples of the currency, the Dram, and viewed photos
of one person’s travels to Armenia.
“This is the most enthusiastic group of people,” Narsisian-Voss said.
“I had calls from approximately seven or eight more families who wanted to
come but this was not a good day for them.”
“I know this will take on a life of it’s own,” she added.
Rose Megregian of Elk Rapids came to the United States as an infant
with her parents after World War I, fleeing turmoil in that region. The
family prospered in Detroit, her father landing a job with Ford Motor
Company. Megregian became an American, following a trajectory of
assimilation shared by many immigrants of that era.
“I went to kindergarten and didn’t speak any English, we spoke
Armenian in the home all the time,” she noted, adding that she learned
school routines by watching and soon picked up the language.
Megregian said that the Armenian written language is unique. Created
1,600 years ago, it provided a written form of the spoken language used in
that region for millennia. Armenian is a phonetic language where each of the
36 letters represents a sound; for example, there is letter for a soft r
sound and one for a hard r sound. Letters are not combined to form another
sound as they are in English.
Megregian is thrilled to find the group because she fears she is
losing her language after years of not speaking it regularly.
“I didn’t have anybody to speak it to here,” she said.
Narsisian-Voss has ambitious plans for the group, possibly including
language lessons as well as ethnic dinners. With an upcoming trip to Armenia
schedule for spring, she is determined to improve her language skills.
“My grandma never spoke English to me, I grew up in a very thick
Armenian home,” Narsisian-Voss noted. “This connection is like a network, it
is good to know other people that share a similar heritage.”
Armenia is a small, landlocked country whose inhabitants can trace
lineage in the area to thousands of years before Christ’s birth. One of the
world’s oldest civilizations and the world’s first Christian nation, Armenia
embraced the religion in 301 A.D. Today, 94 percent of the nearly 3 million
people are Armenian Orthodox. The country celebrated 1,700 years of
Christian heritage in 2001 by welcoming Pope John Paul II.
A former Soviet Republic – the Soviet Army annexed the fledgling
republic in 1920 – the citizens voted for independence and formed the
Republic of Armenia in 1991.
The country’s location east of Turkey, north of Iran, south of Georgia
and west of Azerbaijan contributed to a tumultuous history fraught with
persecution of Armenian culture and genocide. Over the centuries, Armenians
have fled to all corners of the world. Residents of these enclaves carefully
preserved their heritage, culture and language.
“Every country in the world has a community of Armenians,”
Narsisian-Voss said. “My anthropology professor went to China on a
sabbatical and found a community there. They spread out after the genocide,
they had to.”
For more information on the Northern Michigan Armenian Network,
contact Narsisian-Voss at [email protected]