Thursday, June 25, 2009 | 5:14 p.m.
BASS LAKE, California – As I sit here, near Yosemite National Park, with 38 other Tarkanians on our annual retreat, I take a lot of pride in family and can’t help thinking about my family’s roots.
By the lake, we’ll eat a variety of grape leaves, some stuffed with rice and meat, which also will make me think about Armenia.
My mother, Haighouhie “Rose,” was born there. Her father and brother were decapitated by the Turkish military, just for being Armenian, during the genocide there between 1915 and 1922.
Her mother sent her and her brother out of the country on horseback, and Rose eventually met George, her husband and my father, in Lebanon. They married and immigrated to Euclid, Ohio, outside Cleveland.
I went to Armenia for the only time in my life four years ago, with a priest from Fresno who took more than two dozen of us. Some of my family went along on the trip.
We went for about 16 days. We had tour guides and buses, and we stayed in a nice Marriott in Yerevan, the capital.
We went to the Armenian Holocaust Museum and saw where my mother was raised. It was very emotional going through that museum. In the genocide, 1.5 million were killed by the Ottoman government in Turkey.
My wife’s parents were killed in the holocaust. There was so much poverty there, in the towns. So many buildings weren’t even completed. It was frightening.
We went to one city that had been hit by an earthquake. Boy, that was really brutal. We went to a lot of school functions. Everyone donated something to them. They didn’t have anything.
It was tough.
They’ve wanted me to go back. They wanted to dedicate an outdoor basketball court to me. That was nice, but I haven’t been able to get away. It’s such a long trip. My legs bother me on airplanes.
Some television and radio stations, and newspaper people, did interviews with me or wrote stories on me.
At the Marriott, a few tourists recognized me. At other places, some people said “Jerry” and “UNLV,” but there were very few.
I was in a health club at the Marriott and a 35-year-old guy, who was with the FBI working in the country of Georgia, next to Armenia, came up to talk to me.
I said, “What are you doing in Europe?” He said he was headquartered in Georgia but his district was Armenia. He said there was a lot of bad crime in Armenia.
“But it’s not real bad here,” the guy told me. “Most of the bad criminals have moved to California.”
I said, where?
“Glendale,” he said. “I’m in constant contact with the FBI in Glendale.”
That FBI agent played football at North Carolina State.
But that was the trip of a lifetime and I could not believe how those people had to live. It was incredible.
A great many of those people were living in nothing more than big shipment boxes. They had so little on the shelves in stores. They’ve had so many years without electricity.
Can you imagine that?
I loved all of the Armenian food. I could eat that every day. I was raised on it. The lamb was great. Fantastic. Every time I’m in Fresno, I eat Armenian food half the time.
Here at the lake, it’s most of the time. This is also where, and when, I am so thankful for my family and everyone else in my life. And I will never forget that trip to Armenia.