This I Believe

Henry - Northridge, California
Entered on March 7, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

This, I believe…. Anyone without a true country lacks a sense of belonging.

I was born in Iran in a Christian Armenian family. I‘m not sure how, when and from where my family and ancestors had emigrated to Iran; whether it was before, during or sometime after the Armenian genocide of 1915, but I know that my parents and my mom’s parents were all born in Iran. My dad was born in Baku, Azerbaijan and my uncle once told me that my dad’s parents might have met in the orphanage where they were placed into after the genocide. I’m not sure why but my last name just like my father’s last name ends with the word “immigrant” in the Iranian passport and other official documents. Majority of my friends and I growing up did not interact with non-Armenians and I had no friends outside of the Armenian community. Although, Armenians were not well represented in the high positions of the government and military, I think we were well integrated within other segments of the Iranian society and had similar freedoms as all citizens, including a religious one. Armenians in Iran were prosperous and contributed enormously to arts, music, theatre, technology, economy and social environment.

A few months after the 1979 revolution, I left Iran and my family at the age of 16 and went to France to explore another world. I did not even consider the consequences of being alone with no money in a country where I did not speak the language. My father was initially against the idea but soon came to agree with my mom and agreed that it was in my best interest to leave the country in a post Islamic revolution. Despite all the difficulties, involuntary hunger strikes, and living lonely away from my family, I never regretted making this decision although as a family, we all grew apart.

After about living in France for 10 years, I decided to join my best Iranian friend in Chicago in 1989 whom I initially met in France and became best friends at young age. We continue to be best friends to this date and have always stayed in constant contact for nearly 27 years now. Isn’t it ironic that my interactions as a young boy living in Iran were limited to the Armenian community, yet my best friend of 27 years happens to be non-Armenian Iranian whom I met outside of Iran?

For years now, I have questioned my origins and where I really belong, considering myself country less. The country where I was born officially labels me, as “immigrant”, my US passport states I was born in Iran and am treated as such post 9/11, and I have never even visited the country of Armenia where my ancestors come from. My only hope is for my US born kids to one day help me feel at home with a real sense of belonging.