These are two words that make me feel like a matador looking at the bull ready to charge: angry, determined, ready to charge. What enrages me most is when the words are prominently displayed in front of a church, advertising their sujukh and basterma, and competing with the next Apostolic Armenian Church—my sujukh is better than your sujukh. And that gives them a sense of pride, a sense of superiority, forgetting that those two words, displayed in front of an Armenian church, is tantamount to the official bastardization of the Armenian language— with Turkish words—by a church or national organization.
Following the genocide, the survivors, most of them from Anatolia, spoke Turkish, which compelled the organizations and churches to communicate in their language. People knew some prayers in Armenian, which they recited during mass without knowing what they meant. Nevertheless, they recited. The political parties, to their credit, especially offshoot organizations of the parties, launched a campaign to promote the use of the mother tongue. In Beirut, the effort was boosted by Nigol Aghpalian, a multi-linguist; Levon Shant, a playwright who, amongst other plays and writings, wrote his opus magnum Ingadz Perti Ishkhanoohin; Kaspar Ipegian with his theater; and other linguists who, in collaboration with the Nshan Palangian Jemaran and other Armenian schools, taught the young generation not only the basics, but the intricacies of the Armenian lexicon and the melodious songs of the language that governed it.
Parsekh Ganatchian, with his spiritual operetta “Nahnor” (Pilgrimage of lovers to Saint Garabed Monastery, praying for the realization of their dreams) and the most soothing “Koon Yeghir Balaas” (a lullaby) harped the strings of one’s heart. His interpretations of other folklore casted a new hue on old Armenian songs.
The Turkish-speaking Armenians began to change, and were happy to revert to their origins.
One of the vehicles of this entire literary and artistic milieu was the Hamazkayin.
Time and place have changed all that. Today, the diaspora suffers from poverty of thought and poverty of spirit. The custodians of our culture, like Hamazkayin, have slipped into inaction, more like hibernation. Despite goodwill, there is no effort on their part to revive the comatose Armenian cultural animal.
An example comes to mind: Minas Tololyan. Originally a Bolsahay, Tololyan, with his wife Kohaar, taught Armenian language and literature to youth after the genocide, and authored literally hundreds of publications and volumes on Armenian history and literature. Though he was a giant in Armenian literature, he remains incognito. Hamazkayin has not stood up to the standards set forth by its founders!
Kef is a Turkish word meaning merriment (khrakhjank). For most, it is an ID documenting their Armenianism. To go to a “Keftime,” listen to Turkish Armenian-ized songs such as “Sharzhe, sharzhe tashkinagt” (in Turkish, “Salla salla mendilini”) and Kurdish Armenian-ized songs like “Dehle-Yaman,” and dance to the tune of “Lorke-Lorke,” is proof of being a good Armenian. One Armenian American told me: “Doc. I am a good, loyal Armenian. I haven’t missed a single kef since it began in Connecticut. I love Armenian food, I love kafta and I love pea-lough. I have many anecdotes along those lines.
What is wrong with calling a bazaar with its Armenian equivalent—shouga? Shouga is more phonetic, and is a good way of raising money and providing a social forum for the community to get together. But its Turkish name is a pollutant.
The disintegration is global, which is understandable, but what is inexcusable is the pollution that is in Armenia, where Turkish words dominate daily conversation. Instead of calling a child, yerekha in Armenian, for example, they call him or her chojukh, which is Turkish. Pistachios (bistag in Armenian) are fstekh. Sekh (melon) is yemish. It is nauseating!
It is ironic that everyone knows about the problem, but no one raises a finger to rectify it.
In Armenia, which is supposed to be our linguistic hub, spelling and dictation is so polluted that it needs strong detergents to clean it up. Calls to that effect have met with—to borrow a phrase—benign neglect. I don’t even know if there is a Ministry of Education in Armenia.
Here is another bastion of Armenian language, literature, history, and culture: the Mkhitarists of St. Lazarous, Venice, and Vienna. This rich fortress of Armenianism is neglected by the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Diaspora, and Armenia itself, most probably because they are a Catholic Armenian brotherhood. It is disintegrating for lack of funds, its vast properties have been auctioned off through Italian mafia scams, there are no new recruits, and the ailing Appa is facing closure of the monastery. Is this any indication of greatness, which our leaders keep inflating our egos with? Is this any way to survive the rigors of this world?
Language is important in the makeup of one’s ethnic identity, except in the Jewish case, whose dominant tradition, regardless of language, kept their nation intact for millennia. That is not the case with us; we do not have traditions specific to our nationalism or ethnicity. Our language is our tradition and it is now in imminent danger of Latinization.
Yes, I am sad and angry. No I am not depressed or hopeless. I still see the charging bull, but I am hopeful to see, one day, a banner hanging on the wall of our institutions advertizing a Shouga and Khrakhjank, not a Bazaar and Kef .