Vadim Toumaniantz in the pool

Vadim Toumaniantz: Our Guy from Tahiti with a Pomegranate Tree

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YEREVAN/PAPE’ETE, French Polynesia — Vadim Toumaniantz was born in 1983 in Tahiti (French Polynesia), to an Armenian-Italian father and a Russian mother. He was the Tahiti swimming champion in 2000 in the 50, 100, 200, 400 and 1500 freestyle (and the relays thanks to friends). He attended two world championships as an official for his federation. Currently he works in the administration, and manages a labor union in Pape’ete.

Dear Vadim, it was a pleasant surprise to me to correspond with you, learning about your interest on Armenia’s current situation and history. Let’s confess it is really unusual to read in a correspondence with a Tahiti-born guy about his knowledge of Portasar archeological site in historical Armenia! Where is your family from?

Well, obviously my name. That’s the main thing that survived the many travels my family had. My grandfather Garegin came to France and gained citizenship thanks to the French Foreign Legion. He won it for himself and his Italian wife and my father came to Tahiti.

Unfortunately, I do not speak Armenian; the language was lost in my family at the time of my grandfather. He only taught a word per day to my father and my uncle. I barely speak Russian, as mother was born in Baku, but she is of Russian origin: my grandfather was born in Ukraine, was Russian, and I sure hope for peace there — same for Armenia!

Do you know other Armenians in Tahiti? Some years ago, I published an article on Armenian presence in Oceania, including Polynesia. I was in touch with Natacha Mirimanoff from Pape’ete, who is of Armenian-Polish-Tahitian origin.

We have some people here that I know of (some I have actually met, but mostly people whom I noticed their name thanks to the ian/yan ending), but I have never heard of any official association. Anyway, Tahiti is a melting pot of three main cultures (Polynesian, French and Chinese). Thanks to that, most people are usually welcomed nicely there no matter where they come from.

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What do you know about your ancestors?

I assume that, having a name that is historically connected to Armenia, they might be from Armenia, but also Georgia, Iran and Russia. And I know there was a Touman, a probable ancestor, who came as an ambassador to France, because in some editions of Marco Polo’s book there is a credential letter from the Kublai Khan to him.

My father was born in France. He severed all his contacts with his family, and my grandfather was not willing to share a lot in the first place, if I understood their relationship.

I never met with either of my grandfathers. I know that my paternal grandfather was a colonel in the Tsar’s army. Another family members, Yervante Toumaniantz, was an architect in France after World War II, and there is now a Toumaniantz avenue in Calais in France named after him. My father once also told me that the famous American ballerina Tamara Toumanova was a distant cousin of him.

Despite all of his efforts, my father never found out where my grandfather was born (he might have lied about his date of birth to get in the Legion). He even wrote to the Georgian government once or twice. As my grandfather had scars from an assassination attempt made when my father was a baby (meaning years before the Genocide occurred), I assume we’re from the military branch of the family since a long time.

Vadim Toumaniantz with his father (2010)

And how did your father end up in Tahiti?

As Charles Aznavour says: “Il me semble que la misère serait moins pénible au soleil,” which translates as “It seems to me that misery would be less painful in the sun.” And he said so in a song about the end of the Earth, which we’re not too far away from, considering our origins…

My father wanted to feel the sun; he almost died from tuberculosis when he started university. He asked to be sent there (he was working as a teacher) and he got lucky. Then he refused to leave (as he had bought a house and had a son here), and was subsequently fired.

But I am grateful to my father. I’m lucky to be in a place where (despite all the difficulties) most people are nice, and easy-going. The myth of the Noble Savage has clearly its roots here in the South Pacific, and I have always felt blessed to be here. Tahitian people are nice (kudos to all the member of my labor union and particularly Sandy, Thierry, Christophe, Stéphane, and also all my friends Arcus, Tepuanui, Seb, Edgard, and Patrick for being there).

The biggest regret I have is not being as close as I should to my brother, who lives in France.

Have you ever been in our region?

The closest I came was Sochi. Would love to visit, and it is one of my projects, although not in the immediate future. My name having the meaning it has, I do plan to come and see the small part of our lands that survived.

What about meeting Armenians or visiting Armenian sites worldwide?

Well, the only good part about Aghet (the Armenian word for catastrophe, also meaning the Armenian Genocide – A. B.) and communist revolution (that happened around the same time, and the Russian nobility had to escape from it) is that we are now everywhere. So, I had the luck to meet with many Armenian and Russian people around the world. And it usually gives us a common basis toward a discussion.

I have always felt blessed by the people I have met. Most of them were good or excellent friends. And what are friends, if not the family you can choose?

I still have an invitation to see Costa Rica from an Armenian friend who lives there (dear Arthur, I know it’s been a while, and maybe one day I’ll find out the time to come to see your living place).

I also want to discuss it with my uncle and my Russian family as well.

As for the places, to be honest, I’d even love to see Portasar site you mentioned in the beginning of our conversation. I’d also would like one day to visit Baku, also… Caraglio and Tioumen, from where my Italian and Russian ancestors hail. But I am focused on the family first.

I am perfectly aware of the fact that the Turkish population nowadays has very little to do with the genocide (and for some of them are Armenians who converted). And I am perfectly aware people are not their government. But some personal experiences and people I have befriended clearly made me know it wouldn’t be safe for me to travel in Azerbaijan.

Do you know anything about Armenian music, film, literature, etc.?

I know about Hohvannes Toumanian. Obviously, I like Charles Aznavour’s songs. I was surprised to find out about Toros Rasguélénian statue in Aix-En-Provence simply by walking around (I traveled there to see the city where my father studied in and whom he really loved, and where he had the luck to learn to play piano on the cathedral’s organ).

I love Michael Vartan, who has a good character in the Alias TV series.

I really loved the story of Calouste Gulbenkian. Not for his story itself (although it is always nice to see someone rise itself above and beyond all expectations), but for what he has done with it. His art collection is impressive, as I do collect some drawings myself.

Artem Mikoyan’s inventions are also interesting. I have always loved the sight of fighter jets, as they’re the planes that mostly look like birds and have the most elegant design, well, at least from my point of view. You know, boys will be boys, or something.

As for the food, I really love the pomegranate. We actually have one tree in our yard here!

Vadim, I hope you know we will be very happy to welcome you in Armenia!

Thanks! And I hope one day you’ll be able to visit here as well!

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