Where did your family come from?
My father Girair (Jirayr) was from Bursa, and his family moved to Constantinople when he was a child. I have been to Istanbul three times and it was a strange feeling to know that my family home is still somewhere in this city. My mother was born in Venice to an Italian father, Carlo Mascarin, and an Armenian mother, Nevart Ichlemedjian, originally from Smyrna, now Izmir. When they got engaged, they planned to live together in Smyrna. But while Nevart and Carlo were in Venice, the Great Fire of Smyrna happened in September 1922, so they never returned to Turkey. Meanwhile, Nevart’s parents managed to escape from there and moved to their daughter’s home in Venice.
Do you have any family relics?
We do. (Marina takes me to another room and shows me a painting on the wall). This Virgin and Child, painted in 1870 by an Armenian painter, is from Smyrna. My grandmother’s mother, Makruhi, while escaping from the fire with her husband Karnik, instead of taking jewelry or money, took this painting. A Turk constable attacked her with a sword, but she protected herself with this paint, and you can see a cut on it. Then they jumped into the water and swam to a French ship. You can also see traces of water here. They reached Italy on this French ship and took refuge in a camp in Puglia. From there they found their way to Venice. Their daughter Nevart did not hear from her parents for a long time. One day, she saw her mother and father safe and sound on her doorstep in Venice, with the portrait of the Madonna…
Another survivor of my family was Uncle Boghos (Shishmanian), Grandmother Nevart’s cousin. He was around 18 at the time of the genocide, when they took him away, and just like in Fatih Akin’s film, “The Cut”, they slit his throat. Boghos was left under a pile of corpses, but his bleeding was stopped by the snow and he managed to survive. He too eventually reached Venice, where he found a job and moved on with his life.
It’s great that you have also formed an Italian-Armenian family. Also, your daughter is involved in Armenian studies.
Yes, I’m very proud of it. My daughter Stephanie (Pambakian) has devoted many years to her studies and defended her doctoral thesis on the 7th century Armenian scientist Anania Shirakatsi last March under the supervision of Prof. Valentina Calzolari (University of Geneva), Dr Tim Greenwood and Prof. Palmer (University of St Andrews). She also taught Classical Armenian classes at Casa Armena – Hay Dun. Some Armenians from the community participated, but there was also a great participation of an Italian audience – among the students we had the honor of having Don Matteo Crimella, Catholic priest and lecturer at the Facoltà Teologica du Nord de Italy. He produced a beautiful translation and commentary of Nerses Shnorhali’s 24-stanza prayer, “In Faith I Confess”, which also features the original grabar. Stephanie presented this book to Hay Dun last June, and Don Crimella said that thanks to Stephanie he finally had access to the wealth of Armenian spiritual literature. This makes me even more proud of my daughter!