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What are we Promising?

 

Special for the Armenian Weekly

My daughters are downstairs, discussing the different ways to say “promise” in Armenian—one is saying “khostoom” while the other says “ookht” and what ensues is the sweetest argument in perfect Western Armenian.  I wish I could take credit for this, but all the accolades go to their Armenian teachers Digin Garineh Panossian, Digin Nanor Ekmekjian, and their stalwart principal, Digin Grace Andonian.

They kept their promise—and now we must do the same.

‘We must make this promise. The promise to—once and for all—end the white genocide: the linguistic genocide of our language.’

This week, many of us have adapted photos frames through social media. I have framed my own profile with an advertisement for a great and noteworthy cause—the production and debut of a film about our story, our inheritance, and the pain and suffering of one of history’s tragedies.

We have promoted a film with the hopes that our voices will be heard, and have repeated the title to virtually everyone we know—promising to remember the silenced plots of our ancestors.  William Saroyan wrote, “This is a thing you remember and remember.  The remembrance is full of the hush and mystery of the world.” We remember, we pass down stories, we post the sepia toned and torn photos of our beloved grandparents in an attempt to resurrect these voices—and then, come May, June and beyond, these stories get buried in our photo streams until we are reminded next April, to post them again, and again, and again.

It has become—for lack of a better word—the Armenian “groundhog day,” where we unify our forces and direct our powers to the acknowledgement of the unpunished bloody crime so tragic that it becomes—in many ways—the “hush” of the world.

Until that time when I am reminded to post photos again, my daughter’s class will graduate from Krouzian Zekarian Vasbouragan Armenian School—the only Armenian school in the Bay Area. They will be leaving the ojakh—the warm hearth of this jewel—where they pray Nerses Shnorhali’s 11th promise daily, read books by [19th century Armenian novelist] Raffi, study and recite poems by Levon Surmelian and Andranik Dzaroukian, write essays in perfect Armenian, and create hilarious memes about Armenian issues.

For those who think the education is not balanced, let me reiterate that these same children performed a play about the American Revolution, won science fairs in San Francisco, and have been accepted to San Francisco’s most prestigious high schools with the hopes of strengthening themselves, while working as young diplomats for the power of our people.

But that’s not all. They are armed with a full and complete understanding of not only the stories of an ancient people, but the language which so many of their own Armenian peers are unable to use.

We must make this promise. The promise to—once and for all—end the white genocide: the linguistic genocide of our language.  The promise for an awakening—a “zartonk”—a revival, and rebirth from the ashes of our history.

The promise we must make is to instill and reclaim that language which was stolen, and to fill it in the hungry mouths of future seedlings—to erase the idea that Armenian is a “dead language” or “unimportant in the world of commerce and technology.”

Our language is the most important part of our being, and if for whatever reason you did not get the chance to learn it, promise to arm your children with the foils and shields of Armenian literacy so that they can—like this year’s Armenian school graduates—enter the global world armed with the promise that was made and kept.

 

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