The horrendous crimes of genocide committed by the Ottoman Government against the Armenians in 1915 will forever be a bitter truth in Armenian history, but it does not identify us as a people.
We have much to celebrate in our few thousand years of existence and, most importantly, we must feel proud to have survived through what I hope was the worst of it. However, our existence today does not mean that our fight for survival is unnecessary; on the contrary, every day we are fighting for the survival of our language, our faith, our homeland, and especially the survival of our future.
This fight, of course, cannot be won if we continue to create divisions among ourselves. It is not a fight meant to be faced only by the Armenians of the Diaspora or by those living in Armenia. As different as the struggles and concerns are for both, they are not separate; we are not separate people, and the sooner we bring down these barriers, communicate and become aware of one another’s situation, the easier it will be to find proper solutions to our problems. It is the unity we are lacking that is necessary to win this fight for survival, and for this we can always count on the treasures of our culture as a means to unite.
I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and blessed with parents who are full of Armenian soul and have been devoting their life to Armenian causes ever since I can remember. My brother and I grew up surrounded by every Armenian thing imaginable. Aside from attending Armenian Day School, my parents would take us to every Armenian event that took place. Of course, at the time, it seemed like a drag, but I love them for it and am forever grateful.
Armenian music was played not only in our house but in the car; I grew up watching our videotape collection of Armenian State Dance Ensembles and remember trying to mimic the graceful movements. Although I have been taking ballet lessons since childhood, I desperately wanted to learn Armenian dance but there was nowhere that offered this opportunity until I reached adulthood. When I heard the news of Hamazkayin bringing a dance teacher from Armenia I was among many who were thrilled. Unfortunately, our dance instructor was only able to stay for a little over a year, but it was enough to give me a good base and a great passion to pursue studying and performing Armenian Folk Dance.
Thanks to my parents’ undying support and the help of my dance instructor, I was recently given the opportunity to study Armenian ballet and character dance and graduate as a teacher and performer at the Yerevan State Dance Academy. Although I had been to Armenia several times before with my family and with Homenetmen Scouts, when I traveled to Armenia to study dance, it was different. I was no longer playing the role of the tourist.
I was excited, yet nervous to start this new chapter of my life in a completely different world. To everyone’s surprise, I adapted rather quickly to the lifestyle in Armenia. It felt as if I had been here for years. Despite the many obstacles I have faced during my time in Yerevan, I feel much wiser and have a greater understanding of certain things about this wonderful and crazy country; things that perhaps others might judge with criticism because they have not had the chance to see the ‘real’ Hayastan.
I have learned so much within the walls of the Dance Academy. Every one of my teachers has helped me gain as much knowledge in dance as possible and I am very thankful to them. Aside from the actual dance classes, the program I am enrolled in also offers classes on the history of art, music and dance. I have learned about Armenian composers, artists, choreographers and dancers. I also had the privilege of practicing with professional dancers from the various Armenian state ensembles; and, most recently, I had the honor of dancing on stage in my Motherland–an experience that words cannot describe.
Outside of school I have taken advantage of seeing Armenian plays, admiring the state dance ensembles and ballets, listening to operas and Armenian music, and so on. My life in Armenia is mostly spent being surrounded by or taking part in anything cultural. After all, it is culture that brought me here to Armenia, my home.
My coming to Yerevan to study dance has created an unbreakable bond between myself and my Hayrenik. As sad as I am to be leaving Armenia in a few months after graduation, I am also looking forward to my return to Toronto so that I may pass along every bit of knowledge I have learned about our culture to our future generations. Yes, being active politically and socially is also crucial for our survival, however, it is our culture that fills the gaps and truly connects all Armenians as one.
Celebration and awareness of our culture creates an indestructible bridge and automatically connects us all to each other. I urge all Armenians to take part in building this bridge and embracing our culture as a means to unite.
By Vahe Sargsyan
Analyst with the Mitq Analysis Center
Photos by Tamar Baboujian
In anticipation of the 2010 Census, a large effort is being made in the U.S. to reach out to the Armenian population and make sure they mark themselves as Armenians. According to U.S. federal law, if there is a large enough number of an ethnic group in a region, than that ethnic group is entitled to a certain level of representation within its locality. The U.S. Census counts all citizens—including illegal aliens—who pay their taxes and, thus, deserve basic rights in local issues. The government is also mandated to accommodate to the linguistic needs of large ethnic groups, through things such as bilingual education and translation.
In the Republic of Georgia, a population count in 2002 estimated that there were 207,598 people living in the region of Javakhk. Of these, 55% were Armenians, while Georgians made up 43% of the population. In addition, the count held in the historically Armenian region of Dsalga estimated that there were 11,484 Armenians, 2,510 Georgians, 4,589 Greeks, 1,992 Azeri’s, and 313 other ethnicities residing there.
With this background on the U.S. process, as well as the numbers from the Georgian census, in mind, let us take a more in-depth look at the situation confronting Armenians living in Javakhk.
First of all, in the sphere of education, language classes in Armenian schools in Javakhk have to be taught according to the program of the Georgian government and the teachers are directly paid by the state. In theory, the Georgian government is responsible for ensuring that the population’s mother tongue (Armenian) is taught, but this responsibility is neglected and policies are carried out with the exact opposite effect. For example, Georgia’s Ministry of Science and Education has made numerous attempts to convert the teachings in Armenian schools into strictly Georgian instruction.
This continues today, as the state seeks to change all textbook materials from Armenian to Georgian. At the same time, Armenian school textbooks are being sold at extremely high prices which are often times too expensive for the people of Javakhk to afford. On top of all of this, the quality of the material in these books is very poor.
The Georgian Education Ministry proceeds to deflect criticism of this severe textbook shortage for Armenians in Javakhk as an issue facing Georgian society as a whole. However, when we are talking about the critical maintenance of a native people (Armenians) living in their motherland (Javakhk), these feeble excuses are simply unacceptable.
Georgia has a friendly neighbor, the Republic of Armenia, who has consistently been prepared to provide such Armenian textbooks for schools in Javakhk and the rest of Georgia, and has done so for over the past 1-2 years. Rather than facilitate this assistance, however, the Georgian authorities have forbidden Armenia from continuing to send schoolbooks to Javakhk (presently, Armenia is permitted to only send language textbooks, with literature and other subjects being strictly forbidden from entering Georgia). It is due to such destructive policies that the spate of supposedly “unsolvable” problems facing schools in Javakhk has surfaced.
Another urgent problem facing Javakhk is the official requirement that all public writings be in the Georgian language, putting the Armenians in the region in extreme isolation. Through these steps, Georgia is seeking to continue — in contradiction to its responsibilities under international law—its ethnic-based policies of withering away the Armenian demographic in exchange for sprouting up Georgian populated areas.
However, this policy of attempting to do away with the Armenian population from the region is bound to fail. This is because there is an unwritten rule that the Georgian government has yet to realize: the Armenian people cannot be destroyed on their historical lands and mountainous regions. Even when force and brutal means are used, the Armenian people will never disappear. The Hamshen and ‘hidden’ Armenians still living in Western Armenia today provide the perfect example of this.
On the other hand, the pursuit of such a coercive process can produce an opposite effect, which is the reaction of a people subject to such harsh policies of destruction. Currently, due to Javakhk’s circumstances, this reaction is, in fact, occuring. The steps Georgia is taking are deepening the opposition between the Armenians in Javakhk and the authorities. For Javakhk, it is impossible to repeat what has happened in Gakhet and other regions of Georgia.
In such tense circumstances, different foreign powers with varying interests can manipulate the internal situation, which Georgia never ceases to make noise about. However, neutralizing such powers would be considerably simple if steps were taken by Georgia to decrease the concerns of the Armenians in Javakhk, similar to what is occurring in Iran with their Azeri minority.
The Azeris are connected in countless ways to Iran’s government and are invested in the common life of that society. As such, it is very difficult to use the Azeris against Iran as is desired by the U.S. and its allies. The Azeris, like the Armenians in Javakhk, are not a cultural minority. The Azeris in Iran are natives there, who have participated in the formation of the Iranian state and culture.
However, unlike the Azeris in Iran, Armenians in Javakhk do not have any relation to the lineage of the Georgian people. Nevertheless, they have played a significant role in the formation of the post-Soviet, independent Georgian state. Suffice it to point out just one example: when on March 17, 1991, Georgia boycotted the referendum on whether to maintain the USSR intact, Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia did not support Georgia. The latter two regions voted to protect the USSR and to maintain their assistance from Russia. At the same time, Javakhk’s Armenians supported Georgia’s position, coming forward with a special pronouncement along such lines.
1Unfortunately, the continuation of this “tradition” of reliability on behalf of Javakhk’s Armenians—as happened again during the days of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War—has been completely ignored by Georgia’s governing leaders. Similarly, the Georgian media also chooses to forget this record of loyalty and, instead, everywhere hurls lies and insults against the activists and common people of Javakhk.
Turning back to the obstacles placed before the people of Javakhk, we must draw our attention to the imbalance in Armenian representation in the local civic bodies. When it comes to political representation, the country’s laws of local self-government have subtly and slyly reduced the quantity of Armenians elected or appointed to municipal bodies. For example, in the cities of Dsalga or Asbintsa (Asbnchag) it is impossible to find an appointed Armenian official, even as these two municipalities are made up of approximately 60% and 20% Armenians, respectively. Taking into account that 37% of the Akhaltskha municipality is Armenian and 62% is Georgian, we again see a strict imbalance in executive official distribution. Similarly, in the municipalities of Akhalkalak and Ninodzminta, there is a daily increase in Georgians running executive positions. Added to all of this is the fact that within Samtskhe-Javakhk’s state administration there are virtually no Armenians, even though Armenians make up 55% of the population while Georgians only 43%. This proportional makeup of the population should have resulted in the governor of Samtskhe-Javakhk, as well as 55% of the worker’s in the administration, being Armenian. However, instead, the current governor, L. Jkadua, is Georgian.
In a recent interview, Jkadua exposes himself to be a naïve youngster whose dream is to see one day see a beautiful Akhaltskha. In Jkadua’s worldview, there is generally no place for Javakhk’s volatile issues. Again, besides the beautification of the city of Akhaltskha, he does not see any problems in Javakhk. The reason for this is simple: he either does not know or is avoiding the deep-rooted causes of Javakhk’s problems.
This detachment from reality of the governor is reminiscent of Communist-era officials in Armenia at the end of 1920 and the beginning of 1921, when the country’s Education Minister was brought in from Siberia and the person responsible for Agriculture was “invited” from the Chukotka Peninsula. Of course, we all remember that the result of this was the famed and historic February Rebellion of 1921.
Comparing these conditions in Georgia and Javakhk with the more sound policies of then the U.S., mentioned in the beginning of the article, puts this sad state of affairs into even clearer perspective. And this specific comparison was not done out of mere coincidence.
It is clear to all observers that there is a heavy influence of American thinking on the authorities in Georgia. Government leaders constantly praise the U.S. for its way of life and rule of law in their public pronouncements. You could say that, for many of them, the US has become an idol of worship.
At the same time, as a junior ally of the US in the region, many Americans work in the high offices of the Georgian state, helping direct the nation’s course. Sadly however, in the case of the Armenians of Javakhk, the Americans deal with their Georgian counterparts by following the famous saying, “My child, don’t live in the way that I am living, but rather in the way that I’m teaching.”
Հմուտ էր դահիճը.
Լավ էր մտածել, շատ էր փորձարկել, անվերջ երազել,
Թե ինչպես է պետք վերջ դնել կյանքի այնպես, որ մինչեւ հոգին մարմինը լքի, անվերջ գալարվի,
Որ մինչեւ մարմինն իր վերջին շունչը փչի, ապրած կյանքի ամեն մեկ պահի շունչը անիծի,
Որ մինչեւ աչքին երեւացող վերջին պատկերը խամրի, անվերջ անիծի իրեն ծնողին:
Շատ էր լսել նա աղերսող ճիչեր, շատ էր տեսել նա սովահար դեմքեր
Ուզում էր տեսնել ինչպես են մեռնում,երբ նրանց բաժին հացը հենց ինքն էր կրծում,
Ուզում էր տեսնել տապից ինչպես են խեղդվում, երբ նրանց բաժին ջուրը հենց ինքն էր խմում,
Ուզում էր տեսնել ինչպես են մայրերը խելագար դառնում, երբ մասնատում էր նրանց մանուկներին,
Ուզում էր տեսնել կանանց աչքերում ցավ ու սարսափ, երբ պատռում էր ողջ-ողջ ընկերքը նրանց
Ուզում էր իրեն տղամարդ զգալ,
Երբ բռնաբարում էր կանանց ու աղջիկներին,
Մարդկային կյանքը լոկ խաղ էր դարձել,
Ինչպես ձախ ձեռքի թզբեխը նրա` պատրաստված կանանց պտուկներից:
* * *
Եւ բարձրացնում էր դահիճը կացինն ահարկու` աներեր ձեռքով
Սեւ քողն էր ծածկել երեսը նրա` աչքերի փայլը թաքցնելու համար
Բարձրացնում էր կացինն ու մեկ-մեկ խլում մեկ ու կես միլիոն կյանք
Եւ նրանց արյունը սնում էր հողը, նրանց մարմինը սնում էր երկրին…
Զոհերից մեկը փրկվեց մազապուրծ եւ պատմեց ողջ աշխարհին
Իր տեսածները դժոխային այդ անապատում,
Մինչ դահիճը նրան դատապարտել էր սովի, սնվում էր նա իր բախտակիցների մարմնի մսով
Եւ հագեցնում ծարավը նրանց արյան անծայրածիր ծովից:
Ու չկարողացավ ընդունել դահճի որդին, որ իր հայրը արյունռուշտ էր եղել
Եւ ստախոս պիտակեց զոհին, ով մինչեւ կյանքի վերջին իսկ օրը
Վեր էր ցատկում իր խորը քնից եւ շնչակտուր սկսում աղոթել,
Որ իր զավակը երբեք այդքան անգութ չդառնա
Եւ որ այնքան ապրի այս պատմությունը եւ այնքան հոլովեն դահճի անունը,
Որ նրա հոգին հանգիստ չգտնի մինչեւ այն օրը,
Երբ նա վերջապես դադարի հերքել եւ բարձրաձայն ներում աղերսի…
PASADENA–The Armenian Youth Federation’s Youth Corps Program will be celebrating its 15th anniversary this year on Saturday, May 22, 2010 at 6:30 pm at the Dimejian residence in Pasadena. The event will celebrate milestone achievements and reflect on the monumental impact of the program since its establishment.
“As we look to expand the Youth Corps Program and establish a second camp site in Armenia, it is crucial that we receive support from our community through events like this,” stated Sose Thomassian, director of the Youth Corps program. “We look forward to what will be a memorable evening of celebration,” she added.
The Armenian Youth Federation’s Youth Corps program began in 1994 following the signing of the cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan, ending the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In its first 13 years, Youth Corps sent youth to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic during the summer months to help rebuild many of the newly independent republic’s war-torn villages. Throughout the years the Youth Corps program has grown and developed into the most memorable, productive and exciting means for Armenian youth to establish and strengthen their ties with their homeland.
In 2008, Youth Corps switched gears to focus on building connections between Armenian youth in the Diaspora with their counterparts in the homeland. For two years now, Youth Corps has been operating a free summer day camp for underprivileged children in Gyumri, Armenia. Camp Gyumri, as it has come to be known, gives young Armenians from the United States a chance to make a direct impact on the lives of some of Gyumri’s most impoverished families. This 4 week long program accepts up to 150 children every summer, providing them with a fun and safe environment to make new friends and expand their knowledge.
“If we love our homeland we need to invest in its future and that starts with investing in the children,” said Nora Kayserian, who will be volunteering this summer. From rebuilding shattered buildings to reviving broken spirits, Youth Corps has made a significant impact on the lives of so many people over the last 15 years. We hope the community will take part in spreading Youth Corps’ mission and helping the program grow.”
Suggested donation for the event is 50 dollars. For more information, including location and time, please RSVP by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This struggle…It keeps me awake at nights. It courses through my veins; it kicks at my beating heart ruthlessly. It lights an inferno in my soul and my body smolders under it. It wracks my mind and my emotions, for what is the place of an Armenian-American living in America?
We struggle and fight from seas abroad so that our homeland off in the horizon will remain untouched and prosperous, without any hindrance. Yet when have we asked ourselves the question, “Will I ever live in my homeland again?”
I fear we become victims of pseudo-patriotism. A sense of urgency that arises when our cause is in check, yet quickly creeps away when we have shown our surroundings that we cared enough to take the initiative to act. Yet we look down upon our brothers and sisters living in our homeland, relics of a lost cold war and a fallen soviet empire, wondering when they will ever become as educated as us. We are blind to the fact that they are the true patriots. They live with the land. Every morning they wake with the sun on their shoulders that rises from the east, and stands guard above our national symbol of Mt. Ararat. They culture and harness the land; they give it life and nurture it. They tame both the mountainous terrain and the riches she keeps hidden in her bosom. They are the true descendants of our fedayis and true patriots who saved our fragile people from the clutches of an empire whose only legacy was an insatiable lust for power and domination.
We are the scattered children of our motherland. When the genocide occurred, we fled to the middle-east. When Syria restricted our growth and endangered our way of life, we fled to Lebanon. When the civil war broke out, we fled to the United States. We never returned. Our love for our homeland bled and dried up into an affection and obsession with the abstract idea of what our motherland had been.
We never stopped once and held our ground. We always fled. We protected our people, but we never fought for the land on which we lived. We took the lands we lived in for granted and abused our right to live there. We never repaid our freedom. We bled for survival, but we didn’t bleed for the land, because it wasn’t ours, nor did we want it to be.
So we came to The United States, land of the free and home of the brave. We sang songs, read books, and published newspapers by the hundreds. We created organization and opened schools so that our communities and future generations will always remember our identity and out story. And here we stayed, for the sake of our offspring, for a future, and most importantly, a promise which few realized was a warning in disguise.
The life expectancy for our identity was only as long as our willingness to master it. Yet in a society where Capitalism is king, where you are responsible for your own share of the pie, where morality and justice are but fantastic ideas on a piece of parchment drying up in a box in Washington D.C., it became apparent that our survival in such a society would come at the slowly increasing cost of our identity.
Such is the burden of the patriotic Armenian-American youth today. We struggle on all fronts. We fight for our homeland abroad, we fight for our survival in our environment, and we constantly grapple with the idea of dropping our way of life to move back to the homeland because it is the right thing to do. America and a globalized military-industrial complex have diminished our sense of nationality and patriotism, by dangling the myth of the American Dream in front of us, while keeping us in fear that it is unobtainable anywhere else in the world. We fight our gut feelings that call us traitors every time we decide to remain here so secure a better way of life for our diasporas and generations to come, for why shouldn’t those people have the chance to live and grow in their own country?
We have the burden of fighting for our existence and the preservation of our identity in an unprecedented context, under the guise of assimilated Armenians.
Yeraz Im Yergir, Hayreni. That is what you have been for us, for the Diaspora Armenians from Western Armenia.
Nazik Armenakyan is an award-winning photojournalist based out of Armenia. Her photo project “Survivors”, featured in this issue, was first exhibited on April 24, 2009 at the Artists’ House in Yerevan. Since then, she has displayed her gripping photos of Genocide survivors in exhibits within Armenia and online, with ArmeniaNow.
In her words, “this project is another reminder, another call for justice.” In the hands of the survivors are pictures from their past, serving as one end of a string tying them to their past. And on the other end of the string, they are tied to one another, to the destiny of their people–to each of us.
Armenakyan is currently working on a photo book of these survivor photos she has taken and is looking for curators interested in bringing these images to galleries throughout the Diaspora. If you would like to contact Mrs. Armenakyan or find out how you can help bring her “Survivors” exhibit to a gallery near you, please reach out to her at email@example.com.
Ավոյան Մարիամ ծնվել է 1901թ. Սասուն: Մարիամի ընտանիքին, ինչպես «մյուս հայերին թուրքերը մի մեծ դաշտ են տարել այնուհետե» բենզին են լցրել վրաները: Ողջ է մնացել Մարիամն ու իր հորեղբոր կինը: Գաղթի ճանապարհին արաբներ են օգնել:
Բալյան Սմբատ ծնվել է 1914թ.-ին Շապին-Քարահիսար:1915թ.-ին գաղթել են Բուլղարիա,1946թ.-ին հայրենադարձվել Հայաստան
Բեյազյան Նոյեմ ծնվել է 1907թ.-ին Պարտիզպակ գյուղում :Հայրը մեղվաբույծ էր ,ընտանիքից միայն Նոյեմին է կարողացել մեղվի փեթակի մեջ պահելով փախցնել Հունաստան:
Ֆարաջյան Տիգրան ծնվել է 1907թ.-ին Կիլիկիայում:Գաղթի ժամանակ Տիգարանին աղջկա շոր են հագցրել ,ականջները ծակել ,իսկ զգեստի փեշերի մեջ ոսկի են կարել :Խորթ մոր հետ գաղթել են Սիրիա Հալեպ ճանապարհին թողնելով 5 եղբորն ու քրոջը:
Էմլիկյան Ռեմելլա ծնվել է 1905թ.- ին Մուսալեռ:
Հարությունյան Ավագ ծնվել է 1911թ.-ին Բիթլիսի Կեղիս գյուղ:
Կարապետյան Արեգնազ ծնվել է 1904թ.ին Ալաշկերտ: Ցավոք նա ոչինչ չէր հիշում:
Լագիսյան Վարսենիկ ծնվել է 1908թ.-ին Մուսալեռ :1915թ.-ին փրկվել է Ֆրանսիացիների միջոցով մինչր 1918թ.-ը ապրել են վրանների տակ Պորտ-Սայդում :Այնուհետե¨ գաղթել Լիբանան:
Փանանյան Երանուհի ծնվել է 1915թ. ին Մուշ:Գաղթի ժամանակ կրծքի երեխա է եղել :Փրկվել են ֆրանսիացիների շնորհիվ :
Սուքիասյան Վասիլ ծնվել է 1912թ.-ին Հառին գյուղում Սիփան սարի տակ : 1915թ. -ին գաղթել են Էջմիածին,այնուհետ¨ գաղթել են Կրասնոդար : 1930 թ.-ին հայրենադաձվել է Հայաստան:
When I was first asked to write a guest column for Haytoug that addressed the issue of a “white genocide” and the perceived evils of assimilation, I was tempted to write this entire piece in Kra’par (Classical Armenian). After all, it is my humble opinion that if you do not know how to read Kra’par, then you’re not a “real Armenian.” Then I thought to write it in Armenian but I couldn’t decide what language to water our mother tongue down with – Turkish? Arabic? Russian? Farsi perhaps? But then I thought, “The one language that we all can or should understand is English .” – plus, I don’t know how to use an Armenian keyboard or anything that resembles one. So using the King’s English, let’s address the issue of Armenian assimilation and the “jermag chart.” (I hope I’m not the only one who sees the irony in that.)
I find myself growing increasingly perturbed by the term “white genocide.” First of all, we can’t use the word genocide to describe a trend where Armenians living in the United States are losing their sense of ethnic identity because nobody held a yatağan to your neck and forced you to name your child a non-Armenian name or forced you to stop speaking Armenian. Not to mention that comparing it to an actual genocide is not only disgusting but insulting to the memory of countless Armenians who perished or the thousands who survived the Turkish persecutions. Let’s call it what it is – cultural suicide. We can try to blame television, music, cross-cultural dating or marriage, the cultural vacuum created by capitalism or other theories but the reality is that we have no one to blame but ourselves – or as the comic strip Pogo once wrote – we have met the enemy and he is us.
We are our own catalyst of assimilation because we not only set the bar very high for being a “real Armenian” but we also fail to reach our own markers. For instance, many Armenians consider the speaking of Armenian as being a critical element to staving off assimilation, yet who do you consider to be more Armenian – a person who doesn’t speak the language but sends money to Armenian charitable organizations, calls their member of Congress to urge support of Armenian issues, and patronizes Armenian-owned businesses or the person who does none of the stuff the first guy did but instead listens to Armenian music, speaks Armenian and associates only with other Armenians. Popular opinion would label the first person as assimilated and the latter as Armenian. But who is doing more to advance the Armenian Cause? If you said the first guy, then move up to the head of the class. We agree on that. Also, of those who said the second person is more Armenian, I would want to know how extensive your own knowledge is of core topics of Armenian competency – literature, art, political history, grammar, spelling, amongst other issues and topics. I would guess that even the kids who go to Armenian schools in America and learn to read and write the language have a reading proficiency and vocabulary that does not go beyond the 5th grade level. But let’s move on.
Why should I care if a person speaks fluent Armenian but won’t take the time to make one phone call to a politician who can vote to contribute tens of millions of dollars for foreign aid to rebuild Armenia and Artsakh? This question may sound tired and redundant but it’s necessary to ask and understand the answer. After all, this discussion is important but the people who would benefit the most from participating in it, probably would never pick up an issue of Haytoug unless there was a picture of the Kardashian sisters on it. The answer is, that we shouldn’t. I’d rather have 1000 Armenians who are informed on American issues and process and are engaged in making a difference than 100,000 who don’t care about anything other than expanding the ghettos of their mind.
So if we can agree that a person’s true Armenian identity is defined by their commitment to preserving the culture and society of the Armenian people in Armenia and worldwide, then all the other preconditions (spoken and written fluency in Armenian, listening to only Armenian music, eating only Zankou Chicken) are irrelevant.
Having said that, I understand that an appreciation for all things Armenian isn’t exclusive from the efforts to preserve them or be an advocate for all things Armenian. But we can’t deny a path to either by being overly judgmental of people who are trying to return to their ancestral roots or labeling people on the peripheries of our community as “white washed” or “assimilated.” I’ve seen it happen on more than once, where a person who knew very little of their Armenian ancestry began to explore his or her roots and this led eventually to a trip to Armenia and eventually a desire to learn how to speak Armenian. In fact, one person I’m thinking about actually moved back to Armenia to help the country develop and improve.
So what term do we use to describe this phenomenon? Definitely not “white genocide.” And there isn’t a term that’s familiar to us because we are too focused on the negative aspects of our community than on the positives. Don’t worry, it’s in our nature to focus on the negative. Spending 4000 years as history’s punching bag will drive that emotional trigger deep into your DNA. The good news is that it’s not permanent. And just by reading Haytoug, you’ve already committed yourself to a struggle whose outcome accepts nothing less than success for Armenians worldwide.
But being involved in the Armenian Youth Federation or any other youth group doesn’t immediately absolve one of responsibility of preserving and caring for the Armenian people and land. Instead, of those who have great power and organizing tools, much is expected. And living in a society in America which emphasizes consumer conformity more than individuality and portrays ethnicity as a liability makes it hard to adopt the aspects of American culture, which will translate into success for the Armenian people of the United States and abroad. But it is necessary.
Yes, some assimilation or “acculturation” is necessary for success. The most important things in life are usually the hardest to do and act upon. Preserving our passion for Armenian causes and mastering the English language and American customs are equally important tasks for success. Let’s be honest with ourselves. If an Armenian-American is ever going to get elected to Congress from anywhere in the United States – I guarantee you that it won’t be a garlic breathed someone who wears a lot of jewelry and listens only to Tata. It will be someone who is articulate and acculturated and who can speak about John Adams and Abraham Lincoln with as much ease and comfort as they can talk about Gomidas or Simon Vratsian.
So rather than worrying about how we can create a society where we sell out barahanteses and Armen(chik) concerts week after week after week, let us instead think about how we, ourselves, can engage our adopted homeland on its own terms and perhaps in the process, get it to see things our way and maybe adopt or absorb the best that our culture has to offer as well.
Skeptik Sinikian is the property of Asbarez Newspaper. He is on loan to Haytoug and will be promptly returned upon the completion of this issue. Skeptik loves baseball and baklavah. His life mission is to educate and inform as many non-Armenians about the medicinal benefits of soujoukh sausage as he can. You can reach him for comments or questions at SkeptikSinikian@gmail.com
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
For as bright and innovative as the Ittahadists, Nazis and Hutus were in the murder, slaying, raping of peoples, races, religions etc, etc. They really could have turned our very own omniscient and all-knowing deity for harbingers of holocaust. In the passage above we see «Ուր էիր աստուած» himself getting a little more proactive and asking King Saul to head out in the desert and make Paul Pot look passive. This sacrosanct yarn is an example of a greater problem when it comes to nationalist topics, a complacent tendency to leave the “sacred” unquestioned.
From the depths of the red meat and waxy cholesterol infused diets of our most pious children; whose elated eyes absorbed the refracted light of apostolic, stained-glass windows come an appropriately distorted concoction. But I can assure you a diversity of opinions on the theme “White Genocide,” and I’d like to speak on behalf of the fringes and factions of the modern Armenian people.
When I refer to these fractions, I’ll leave that category vague. I want to cast a wider net here, from the Atheist types to the Consumerists. From those with an existential view of the new era, who have seen the calamity and chaos of the nations’ history, and chosen more sensible goals, like tallying Facebook friends or finishing the Criterion Collection. Or Tarantino-generation types who think Drive-in Cinema references are the height of intellectualism.
The Armenian camp isn’t just Mamikonites and Tehlerianites, and I think perhaps we should start embracing this dichotomy. I come from the atheistic, nihilistic, bleeding heart, apologist milieu, and I have some bones and marrow to pick.
The concept of “White Genocide” runs clamorously towards a new genre of Armenosploitation; A generation of consciousness, so enveloped by Armenia’s greatest tragedy that the word “Genocide” now serves as an engine rather than an enigma. Exploitation so thorough, that to many members of our human comedy, the words “Armenian” and “Genocide” have become inseparable. This exploitation sees the same chestnuts repeated ad Pavlov: the Armenian grade school reading that awful William Saroyan passage on creating a new Armenia, armchair historians referencing “the Hitler Quote” and of course, grayscale genocide event posters of somber and wrinkled grandmothers holding worry beads. Oh, and worse yet, people who think Ararat is a good movie, and much like that film, our nationalism tends to be overindulgent.
So with all the faux-organic posturing of a plastic fruit basket, “White Genocide” appears like a ghostly King Hamlet back to foretell against a new specter; using calamity as a crutch, and recycling a term that practically dominates our entire nation’s discourse already. The set of suckers who fell for the pitch of the massacre novelty advertiser, who couldn’t quite sell “White Auschwtiz” or the “Khmer White,” and the concept is as errant as the name.
“White Genocide” implies with some patriarchal, aristocratic arrogance that there are those who can define what denigrates Armenian culture. The natural conclusion we can follow is that these elitists can also define the entire Armenian nation as a whole. This makes serving up “White Genocide” exclusionary, and it antagonizes international influence. The pitfall is, of course, that we absorbed ideas like Darwinism, Democracy and Feminism largely from outside influence, and they have dominated previously conceived Armenian notions. Just as Armenian achievements have likely broadened other cultures, “white” culture and others have enriched our nation. So what is the true incentive? Well it’s your garden variety “Gulf of Tonkin”–a fear based power play.
Living under phantom nuclear threats, gay marriage bans and constant god-peddling in America is a nice contemporary play of conservative backlash that “White Genocide” represents. The cardiac murmur of the red blooded right-wing nostalgic who wants to serve Christianity, Conservatism, Militarism, Nationalism as one big Armenian cure-all dose of steroids. This solution is not only claustrophobic and aggressive, but it is an admission of defeat. Radicalizing our rhetoric after years of fascist, intolerant and diabolic enemies of our past is about as smart as your great-uncle picking up that Committee of Union and Progress brochure from the soapbox salesman at the Turkish Bazaar. So slowly from the rigid categorizing, stereotyping, schema-crafting inclinations, the well intentioned hope of creating an Armenian Uber-man, just creates a hollow caricature.
Popular American media has already latched on to this cartoon facsimile, serving the same sappy Christian-victims narrative we’ve so categorically reinforced. The latest “60 minutes” piece on the Armenian Genocide is this kind of calamity. CBS interviewed a priest and displayed him praying on mass graves, as if the opinion of some human hallucinogenic is at all research journalism. Here we are a nation with no shortage of researchers or scholars, and yet we are being patronized by the media as a society driven by mystics. This sort of Spielbergian Girl-in-a-pink-dress corn syrup drags down our achievements and our causes and, unless we heighten our senses, I expect it to continue.
And believe me, I know the sunken feeling of fleeting time that tingles your stomachs…I know nostalgia, and empathy and pride. It is natural reaction for those seeking to breathe life into older concepts to pray on these sensibilities, but they are selling Hobson’s choice. Eventually we must loosen our fist from the glass walls of the hourglass and realize how inevitable change will come to replace an indelible past.
Did you really expect a generation gap that saw us sipping the waters of Nasirabad to plowing the fields of Farmville to not change world view? It’s like spinning the kaleidoscope and hoping to land on the same image twice, it’s not impossible… it’s just stupid.
Our nationalism must be far more flexible, if it is really the case that we would “like to see any power of the world destroy this race, then perhaps we shouldn’t be scared of our shadows. I would hope Armenian language, culture and history will survive on the merits of our accomplishments, but if not that, it certainly won’t survive by packaging paranoia. Rather, it will be embracing the breadth of our passions. So many of our achievements drew from rebellion and iconoclasm; Parajanov, Saroyan and Gorky have become Armenian heroes precisely because they embraced new influences in art and found themselves on the front end of entire artistic eras.
These are hoisted Armenian achievements precisely because they weren’t afraid of some enforced purview of their culture. Yet, here we are on the tail end of Soviet–Stalinism, Khomeini-Islamofascism and other cluttered political maw, and we are returning to the same intolerant assumption; having a leader guide our moral compass isn’t bad; it just needs a better navigator.
But everyone has to sit around and question the dogma once in a while. For instance, do you know what did end up happening to the prospective holocauster King Saul? Well this monarch found it a little offensive to do the Lord’s deed…and was promptly punished. “Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today.” Now…how is that for A Shameful Act?
Cofounder of Reddit.com discusses his start-up, his experience in Armenia with Kiva, and his endeavor: TEDxYerevan
By Nyree Abrahamian
“Wake up. Get ready. Go to work. Tea. Reddit. Chitchat. Reddit… Start work. This is how I start my average workday. Reddit.com is an addiction, for me and for thousands of people around the world. It’s a social media website where users (Redditors) post interesting links and other users can vote and comment on them. The links that get the most “upvotes” make up the front page of interesting, witty, insightful and comical articles, photos and videos.”
Reddit is the brainchild of Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, who started the site fresh out of college in 2005. When I first googled Reddit and read this, like any good Armenian, my eye was immediately drawn to the –ian, and I felt proud that I could add another name to my list of brainy Armenians. So when I found out that Alexis Ohanian would be in Yerevan (where I live) for a few months, I knew I had to track him down and talk to him.
Alexis is here on a three-month fellowship with Kiva (kiva.org), an organization that allows people to lend money via the internet to microfinance institutions in developing countries, which in turn lend the money to small businesses. After selling Reddit to Condé Nast in 2006, he has been keeping busy with several projects, his recent connection to Kiva being one of them. He has also founded a new website, www.breadpig.com, “an uncorporation that’s responsible for bringing geeky things into the world”, and in December 2009, gave a TED Talk about the power of social media.
If you haven’t come across it yet, TED.com (another of my online addictions) is a non-profit foundation that holds conferences all over the world in which some of the world’s leading thinkers share “ideas worth spreading,” as the TED motto goes, through short lectures which are broadcast online.
After spending only a few weeks here, Alexis quickly realized that Armenia is a place filled with “ideas worth spreading,” and is now helping organize Armenia’s very own TEDx conference (www.tedxyerevan.com – an independently organized TED event), to be held on September 15, 2010 in Yerevan.
We met, and discussed a range of topics from social media to Armenia-diaspora relations, over hot bowls of spas (yogurt soup).
Nyree Abrahamian: What is Reddit?
Alexis Ohanian: Reddit is basically a news website where readers, not editors, determine the front page. It’s a place where interesting links from anywhere on the internet get submitted by people, and other people vote on them. If they like them, they vote them up, if they don’t like them, they vote them down. The end result is this evolving front page of interesting links.
N.A.: How did Reddit come about?
A.O.: My cofounder, Steve Huffman, and I were trying to solve the problem of not being entertained enough in the morning when we woke up. There wasn’t a good destination to find all the best stuff on the web. And it seemed like there were two possible solutions. One, we get a bunch of people to curate and figure out what the best stuff is, and that was going to be costly and time consuming. Or, we just let all of our readers do that work for us. And in the end, it turns out that all these people (we get about 7 million unique visitors a month) spread out all over the world, can help to find all of the best stuff on the web… certainly better than we could.
N.A.: Why did you decide to volunteer with Kiva? And why in Armenia?
A.O.: I decided to do it because when I first discovered Kiva in 2008, the very first thing I did when I went to their website was search for Armenia, and we weren’t there, and that made me sad. I thought, ‘I know this diaspora pretty well, I mean, I’m a part of it, and they seem to be very keen on the future of Armenia… ‘ And the Kiva model is one that I do believe in, and I thought, ‘Why are they not in Armenia? It’s a no-brainer.’
So I was eventually able to get a hold of the president of Kiva through a friend, and annoyed him, basically, until he finally relented. So long story short, six months ago, Kiva started work here.
N.A.: What are your impressions of Armenia so far?
A.O.:What has really struck me is that… it’s not a country that seems to want help. I don’t know if that sounds right. The perspective from the States is that, here is a country that needs help, and fair enough, that could be true. But there is this… I don’t know if it’s stubbornness, or pride… but everyone I meet seems to be interested in helping Armenia, but doing it in ways in which Armenians help themselves. And that’s valid.
I think it’s given me some good perspective, because now I’m going to go back and probably be more engaged with the diaspora from this experience, but doing it with I guess a more Armenian perspective…
I was always proud of being Armenian but it was just like, that was it. I was proud to be Armenian, but not in connection to present-day Armenia. Now, I would like to be able to keep the relationships I made here, thanks to the internet, and perhaps be a more attuned voice for Armenia.
N.A.: You gave a Ted Talk in December. How did this opportunity come about?
A.O.: I was invited to my first TED (TED Global – Oxford) just under a year before and was hooked. Heard about TED in India at TED Global and almost immediately started checking my calendar. When I arrived, they were doing a (routine, I believe) open call from TEDsters (attendees) for anyone interested in giving a talk. The big TED mantra is that the attendees are all as interesting as the speakers, so why not let some of them just spontaneously come up and share something.
They asked for a brief pitch and a video of a past talk, I believe, which I had thanks to YouTube, and I told them something they liked, so they asked me to give a TED Talk. I only had a couple days’ notice to get slides and a talk together, but thankfully it was only supposed to be about four minutes. I’ve never rehearsed more for a talk in my life. And my rehearsal time to talk time ratio was absurd, but I think it all paid off.
N.A.: What did you gain from the experience?
A.O.: I was ‘sighted’ for the first time in my life by a busboy in San Francisco who’d seen my TED Talk, which was pretty awesome. Most importantly, I’ve gotten plugged into the TED network, which has allowed me to host the TEDx we’re having in Yerevan this September.
N.A.: TEDx Yerevan – why did you decide to go for this? What can we expect?
A.O.: Because I kept meeting so many potential TEDsters, basically, a lot of motivated and smart people with ideas worth spreading. We – and I should stress the we because I’m only one of a team of about 6 people bringing TEDx to Yerevan – are aiming to make this a premier event for anyone interested in world-changing ideas and implementing them. We’re assembling the best speakers to talk on topics suggested by visitors to the TEDxYerevan website (version 2 is on the way) and want to invite attendees who are themselves full of ideas worth sharing.
I hope this conference is a starting point for countless great Armenian innovations, projects, and partnerships.