Dispersed Continuity: From Montréal to Marseille

A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before.
–Jean-François Lyotard

I consider myself, similar to countless other diasporans, to be a global nomad. I have more than one home due to various reasons—forced displacement, being born and raised and having lived in different countries—all combinations of necessity and chance, complete with an ingrained passion for travel and discovery. It may sound confusing and unsteady, but which journey is not?

From a young age, likely due to moving around and growing up in multi-ethnic environments, an unquenchable thirst for always wanting to go to new places settled in me—to learn new things, meet new people, and absorb different cultures. I often catch myself daydreaming of where I can go next… A small silver sailboat floats on my neck as a pendant, embodying this restlessness. And there is something inherently restless about any given diaspora. People (such as migrants), information (media), commodities (food, souvenirs), culture (music), and money (remittances) circulating globally along transnational networks give shape and momentum to diasporas. As such, at the core of diasporic dispersion is movement/motion charted and mapped out in various ways for individuals belonging to different cultural and racial groups.

For African Americans, the image of the ship is the metaphor in reference to movement brought on by the slave trade, discussed by historian Paul Gilroy’s seminal work The Black Atlantic. Inescapably, slavery as an instance of traumatic departure from home has had a profound impact on identity formation and culture throughout the Black diaspora. In light of this brutal movement, Gilroy points to the importance of looking beyond roots and falling into the trap of ethnic absolutism, and instead seeing “identity as a process of movement and mediation that is more appropriately approached via the homonym routes.”

Indeed, my roots are Armenian, but my immediate attachments and my day-to-day reality are in Montréal, inter-dispersed with countless routes, with many more waiting to be embarked on. One of the many routes I take leads me to the port city of Marseille. I adore Marseille, due to its multi-ethnic makeup, its raw Mediterranean charm, and also because as a self-proclaimed global nomad, I am drawn to its real nomadic population. The Tsiganes (Gypsies in French) or the Roma, who fell victim during the Holocaust, continue to face a cruel plight, as stigma and marginalization are daily realities. In Marseille, they fill the cool night air with their voice, guitars, and dance. Like them, I do not have a fixed home. This idea was once a source of anxiety. Now, however, settling down in one place almost sounds foreign and impossible due to a multitude of routes that exist.

Along these routes, I’ve come upon many other Armenian youth whether from Paris, Yerevan, New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, Boston, Beirut, or Dubai. Within this fragmented world we live in, I’ve manage to find a comforting consistency, which I call a sense of “dispersed continuity.” As Armenian youth, we share much common ground, but how we differ has always intrigued me. This shared affinity between Armenians throughout the world is simultaneously marked by our different accents, backgrounds, and social conditioning, at time heavily influenced by the respective countries we live in.

From Montréal, one Armenian diasporic strong hold, to Marseille, another important diasporic city, where many Armenian refugees escaping the genocide once sought asylum, I find I can feel at home there. Armenians often carry common cultural baggage, and share the same cultural knowledge and concern for the diaspora, and especially for Armenia. We also have a similar history in common, with the genocide as one of the central destabilizing elements; yet the living conditions, diverse day-to-day realities, and external societal influences differ. This nuance is crucial, because it positions an Armenian living in Marseilles, in Montréal, and in Miami to be “both the same and different,” to cite cultural theorist Stuart Hall.

This haphazard dispersion of beads around the world is bound by an invisible string and roots. What enriches our diasporic experiences are the routes we have all embarked on unconsciously or consciously.

I am not ready to cast my anchor just yet.

Lalai Manjikian

Lalai Manjikian

Dr. Lalai Manjikian is a humanities professor at Vanier College in Montreal. Her teaching and research interests are in the areas of immigration and refugee studies, media representations of migration, migrant narratives and diaspora studies. She is the author of Collective Memory and Home in the Diaspora: The Armenian Community in Montreal (2008). Lalai’s articles have been published in a number of newspapers and journals including The Armenian Weekly, Horizon Weekly, 100 Lives (The Aurora Prize), the Montreal Gazette, and Refuge. A former Birthright Armenia participant (2005), over the years, Lalai has been active in volunteering both within the Armenian community in Montreal and the local community at large, namely engaged in immigrant and refugee integration. She previously served as a qualitative researcher on the Armenian Diaspora Survey in Montreal. Lalai also serves as a board member for the Foundation for Genocide Education. She holds a PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University (2013).


  1. Hi Lalai,

    I find great comfort in your words. The spiritual journey you are on speaks to my heart. Keep writing my friend.


  2. Reading about the poverty in Armenia tears my heart out. Really, suffering never ceases on our race within nor without.

    If high rises are all over the place, who are these Mafia types that allow this penury to continue? Rentals in Erivan are as high or higher than here in the States, why?

    The article opens eyes to reality…especially the poor kids who don’t deserve this.

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