Starting this week, Lalai Manjikian will write a monthly column for the Armenian Weekly. Manjikian is a Ph.D. candidate in communication studies at McGill University. She is the author of Collective Memory and Home in the Diaspora: The Armenian Community in Montreal, published in 2008. Her current research is on the social exclusion and inclusion of refugees from different parts of the world seeking asylum in Montreal.
We welcome Lalai Manjikian to the Armenian Weekly family and wish her all the best in her endeavours. Below is her first column.
In his poem titled “We,” modern Armenian poet Gevorg Emin asks: “What are we, after all, we and our land?” Influenced by Armenian Medieval poets and French Symbolists alike, Emin responds to his own question by speculating: “If a ship, then aground on rocks / If a vase, then full of tears / If earth, then cracked with pain.” Such depictions of who we are as Armenians are plentiful, redundant, and depressing, as they continue to permeate Armenian rhetoric and politics, as well as cultural and artistic expressions. The closing line in Emin’s poem, however, points to the reality and to the potential of a people who are not strictly defined by a painful past. Today, more than ever, due to a new environment brought forth by flows of information and images proliferating in a globalized world, Armenian identity, particularly in the diaspora, encompasses a unique dynamism and force.
I wish to explore the Armenian Diaspora’s vibrant reality through this column entitled “Scattered Beads,” an image penned by Emin. He concludes his poem describing Armenians living in the diaspora as “guests in our own homes / a land without people, a people without a land / and scattered beads which cannot be restrung.”
Portraying Armenians as “scattered beads” is both a poetic and accurate depiction open to several interpretations. It may sound tragic, somewhat nostalgic, or almost violent if you picture the brutality of a hand yanking a necklace off of a fine neckline. I imagine the ensuing struggle to contain the falling beads, hearing the deafening sounds of each bead crashing to the ground, taking sporadic directions or clinging on to other ones. Some disappear in the cracks and dark corners, irretrievable but not lost. We are scattered beads no doubt, as a result of an orchestrated attempt to snatch that bold necklace off. We are beads scattered all over the world, part of a post-genocide diaspora. But why lament over the inability to restring what is already scattered but not necessarily broken? Each bead has its own life and trajectory, wherever it may land. Each bead is equipped with a mission, knowledge, and resourcefulness—if it wishes to seek it.
The present Armenian Diaspora occupies a unique position, emerging from the burden of sheer survival to emancipation. Today’s diaspora, particularly the youth, is making a come-back. Whether excelling in humanities, medicine, art, business, or athletics, we are all over the world, leading the way and traveling to new heights, climbing to high positions, reaching places not commonly attained by Armenians in the past. In addition, compared to past generations, today’s diaspora has easy and full access to the homeland. This novelty in itself introduces an entirely new dimension to our diasporic identities. No longer is the homeland confined to “myth status” presented to us in books, stories, songs, and photographs. Armenia is no longer a memento, but rather a tangible reality. Armenians from around the world, especially the youth, have begun to play an active role in the country’s progress and growth.
The fact that Armenians are scattered should no longer be viewed as a source of anxiety for our diasporic strongholds who are doing their utter best, and largely succeeding, to preserve Armenian identity and culture. Instead, our experiences and achievements in the diaspora come to nurture our diasporic identities as well as the homeland. From New York City to Arusha in Tanzania, Armenians are colorful and bright “beads” ready to take in all that the world has to offer, and in turn, enrich the world with their own Armenianness, however expressed or embodied. In fact, Armenians living in the diaspora negotiate multiple belongings between various cities, countries, the homeland, even historic Armenia. Today dispersed beads are carrying more nuances than ever; we are career men and women, activists, queer, straight, bisexual, we belong to various movements, causes, subcultures, alternative lifestyles and are Armenian. Scattered beads that come in different shapes, colors, and convictions—yet still Armenian, creating a necklace like no other.
These beads are too attractive to ignore, therefore this column will explore various socio-cultural issues we face throughout the diaspora and in Armenia. I embark on this journey without a clearly defined itinerary, seeking to find scattered beads throughout the diaspora, to discover who they are, how and why they roll, and the paths they take—the roads we know, the ones we may think we know and the roads less traveled.
Decidedly, square beads are out, especially those that stay in place and stagnate. Instead, scattered beads, the round kind that move and roll and keep progressing, are here. This is who we are today: scattered beads creating a new diaspora, continually wandering in new directions…
Note: The excerpts cited from Gevorg Emin’s poem “We” or “Menk” can be found in the author’s poetry collection titled Land, Love, Century (1988), translated by Martin Robbins with Tatul Sonentz-Papazian and from a complication of Armenian Poetry entitled Poems of Armenia: Sojourn At Ararat (1987), translated by Gerald Papasian.