The Cross

July 18, 2011
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My middle-school graduation present was a cross necklace. It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It’s small, but the main part of it is sea-green with a hand-painted heart in the middle. That cross is outlined with this golden trim. It looks like a very traditional, yet ornate cross.

Why did I pick a cross? Why did I decide to get that one? That’s a long story.

My grandmother’s father grew up in the Ottoman Empire, and he was an Armenian. Armenians are a very Christian ethnicity. When the Armenians had an empire, they were the first to adopt Christianity as their official religion. To this day, you can go there and see churches that are a thousand years old. In 1915, the Ottoman government began to persecute Armenians. Armenians were sent to labor camps, killed, and raped. My great-grandfather’s father was an Armenian Orthodox priest, and was killed along with most of the family. My great-grandfather escaped with his two older sisters. One of those sisters had a toddler and husband that were executed in their small village. They fled to the Soviet Union, and one of his sisters was able to come to Los Angeles because of an arranged marriage to an Armenian-American lawyer. They had a daughter.

My great-grandfather went to Moscow University and received two PhDs, one in history and one in philosophy. He married one of his students, and had a daughter, my grandmother. My grandmother grew up without a religion because atheism was emphasized in schools and the individual family was devalued. However, in the middle of World War II, both of the parents were sent to a labor camp in Siberia because of the Stalinist “population transfers.” My grandmother moved to Stalinabad (now Dushanbe, Tajikistan) to stay with an aunt who was a doctor, whose name is my second middle name.

My grandmother was admitted into a very competitive conservatory, and eventually became a concert pianist. She performed all over Europe, but the money from the concerts did not go to her. They went to the government. In the Soviet Union, all people were paid the same no matter what. But the bureaucrats had more economic privileges. Eventually, she moved to Poland and married a Catholic chemist. They had a daughter, my mother. However, the husband died before my grandmother and my mother could move to Finland. When they moved to Finland, they received a job offer from the Swedish government to teach at a public school. She took the job, and my mother has to briefly live in Stalinabad with my mother’s aunt. My mother eventually received an exit visa from the Soviet Union, which happens very seldom, and lived with my grandmother in a flat in Sweden. However, my grandmother didn’t speak Swedish.

Years passed, and as my mother grew up, my grandmother kept teaching, performing the occasional concert, and tutored other students in piano. My mother became a banker and lived in London, Stockholm, New York City, among others.

So, the cross to me is more symbolic than a religion. It is where I came from, what others have done to get here, and why I am determined to succeed.

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