I barely knew my grandfather. He was an artist though, a painter, so others knew him, many others. Someone wrote a book about him and his art. In it, along with color plates of his paintings, in a chapter on his history and life, were a few early photographs of him as a child and young man. Sarkis Sarkisian, my grandfather, grew up in a village called Aydin outside the city of Smyrna, which is now Izmir, in Turkey. He and his older sister left in 1922 during the Genocide when Smyrna was burned to the ground, and came, eventually, to America and became a painter.
In one of the pictures of him as a child he has this far-away look in his eyes, and the paragraph beneath it tells of how he always had this “feeling of exile.” This is not un-common among Armenians, many of whom, like him, and like me, live in “The Diaspora”; the population living in other countries like America.
I have no real father. I didn’t have one growing up, and I don’t have one now - and I have no “father”land. I am an American and I am blessed and grateful to live in this wonderful country. Yet it’s not the country that is “in my blood” as some Armenians would say. A country which has vanished; only ghosts remain and my strange feeling of longing for a place I have never been. I have been to Izmir, Turkey, but the world of my grandfather is long gone.
And the small existing “Republic of Armenia” in the Caucasus in part of what used to be the Soviet Union is far far East, an entire United States from the Western coast of Asia Minor from where my family came.
When I think of my paternal lineage, I think of my grandfather. I only met him once when I was a child, and I barely remember it. What then, I think of when I do think of him is that picture in the book, the picture of him as a child with his family, and that phrase, “feeling of exile.” I have that; oh, I so have that. And, the artist’s yearning. As I develop as an artist, and start thinking of myself more and more as one, and as an Armenian artist, I understand more of what my grandfather spent his life trying to capture and express.