Manjikian: Responsible Nostalgia

In this post-protocols environment, it is a good time to put aside all lost illusions (if any) and, instead, focus on renewing nostalgic feelings that uphold the long-standing and long-distance relationship between the diaspora and the homeland. Luckily, Armenia is a natural producer of nostalgic love and we diasporans are enthusiastic consumers of it.

For a long time, the diaspora thrived off of nostalgia to sustain its connection with Armenia, particularly pre-independence. Svetlana Boym defines nostalgia (from nostos or “return home,” and algia or “longing”) as a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed. This allows us to understand why so much of our diasporic Armenian existence is imbued in a haze of nostalgia, undoubtedly brought on by a loss so deeply ingrained in our cultural existence, where collective trauma continues to heal.

And now that we do have a “home”-land, in some ways compensating for those homes lost through genocide, nostalgia nonetheless seems to remain an integral part of the relationship between Armenia and the diaspora. However, falling for a romantic and mythologized view of Armenia is easy, but also naive. Viewing Armenia though a strictly nostalgic lens can distort some of the critical social, economic, and political issues Armenia faces. Naturally things always appear ideal and utopic from a distance, which may also explain why so many of us were caught off guard with the advent of the protocols, a process that was clearly in the works for a while now.

The protocols process proved to be a wake-up call for us to never take Armenia for granted. It reminded us to strive to always look more closely, to actively seek ways to overcome and reduce the distance between ourselves and the homeland, to better understand what unfolds on the ground in Armenia within various spheres. It reminded us that, ideally, we should adopt more of a proactive position towards Armenia, and most importantly, to stand by her side, no matter what.

By the same token, we can hardly be blamed for maintaining a predominantly nostalgic relationship with Armenia. After all, nostalgia is hard to fully bypass when you live far away from the homeland. Most diasporans have developed nostalgic feelings towards Armenia long before even setting foot in the country. Over the years, the images, stories, songs, and poems dedicated to the homeland have been plentiful. We also live vicariously through friends’ and relatives’ experiences, read books, watch films; some of us have attended Armenian schools; and many of us are members of various diasporic organizations—all fueling nostalgic sentiments.

And once in Armenia, nostalgia is inescapable as well. Remnants left by a collapsed Soviet Union that included Armenia for more than 70 years are palpable. Nostalgia is suspended in time and space inside every cement crack and inscribed in every movement of its raw landscape. The old collides with the new in unexpected ways, leaving us “foreign” flâneurs to languish in a time warp. It is hard to ignore the decrepit Russian Ladas racing through classic Soviet urban planning to keep up with the blindingly new Mercedes and BMWs. From the century-old stone churches tucked away in a barren mountainous landscape, to concrete architectural relics of the Soviet Union, juxtaposed with gigantic digital screens in the city’s center and pumping Russian and European advertising campaigns, an omnipresent nostalgic energy lingers. This nostalgia desperately tries to transgress into the present, while Mount Ararat, complete with remnants of the Ark, placidly observes the frenzy from a distance.

The post-protocols world holds an unsteady, highly unpredictable future for Armenia. It makes me want to instinctively turn to nostalgia. Efforts to support Armenia did not dwindle, nor did nostalgia. However, it seems to me that in the aftermath of the protocols, restoring a sense of “responsible nostalgia” is not a bad option. Nostalgia is not only about a past utopia but, adopted correctly, can help us take responsibility for the future, too. The future may not be completely utopic, but it is ours to help develop.

So please, bring on the ceramic pomegranates, khatchkars and Hayasdan songs. Who can resist a dadeeg’s smile or the warmth of douf stones anyway? It’s never too late to catch up with our old friend nostalgia…

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).
Lalai Manjikian

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  1. A return to nostalgia is perhaps the answer.  It will take time for our hearts to mend again and perhaps even more time to forget the blatant disregard of the Diaspora’s opinions about the infamous protocols by the current president, leaving me feeling like I’m in the loser in a one-sided love affair…  The idea behind your strategy is sound in my opinion, because we need to believe in our dreams for a better Armenia in order to work to make those dreams come true.  All that remains is finding the courage to believe again…

  2. Mardig, was that a joke?  Since when have the people of Armenia trampled on YOUR opinion?  In fact, since when have the people of Armenia even had a voice…anywhere!?
    I’m quite sure every time they’ve stood up to say something — the Diaspora (as divided as it is) has united to support their oppressor.  I blame your community leaders for feeding you this garbage nonsense.
    As for nostalgia — no, I think the Diaspora has been living in a dream world as is.  Some reality could do it a lot of good.

  3. Nostalgia is a wonderful notion. Everyone has a right to have whatever relationship they want with their homeland. Some choose to see the ugliness, others see the beauty.
    Do I choose to believe that we live in a dream world, no. But I choose to believe that we live in God’s world.
    Nostalgia keeps memories alive, and memories are a good thing to have. Moving forward it’s nice to be filled with an essence of nostalgia and definitely reality.
    Great work Lalai as always. You always stir up much emotions. Keep writing!

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