An Armenian daughter, wittingly or not, learns that as she grows older, she must keep her identity as a modest Armenian woman. There are many occasions that remind her that she is an Armenian daughter. And this, overtime, becomes part of her character.
I was 11 years old when my family emigrated from Armenia to Lebanon, another small Armenia, where the life of an Armenian was as much similar as it was different to the ones living in the homeland. The Armenian community in Beirut was successful in educating Armenian children to have a strong Armenian identity. The schools and teachers there—and the events at the Tarouhy-Hovagimian High School—helped awaken a strong Armenian identity in me. Later, studying at the Haigazian University gave me the chance to develop this identity even more. The encouragement I received from the Armenian teachers and professors there made me feel that I was being educated in a special way.
During those years, however, there was one activity, one passion, that helped sustain this identity: Armenian dance. Being a member of the “Knar” Dance Troup, one of the few Armenian dance groups in Beirut, gave me a platform from which I could express this feeling of “Hayouhi” (Armenian woman) and let it reach its peak. The lithe, smooth, and silky movements of the dance shaped my character. At the same time, dancing the Armenian national folk dances, the more rhythmic and strong movements, made me feel that I could take on the everlasting struggle in life to move forward.
Armenian dance evokes various feelings and emotions. It is the best way to express feelings of love and passion, strength and happiness, pride and modesty, responsibility and freedom. Armenian dance makes me feel Armenian in a different way.
Taking these positive experiences from my life in Beirut, I left for Leipzig, Germany. The new culture and atmosphere presented me with another platform—from which I could present Armenian culture to another society. During my studies, all my writings and presentations dealt with Armenian topics. Also, finding some Armenian students at the University of Leipzig made me feel relieved; I was happy I could reveal my “Armenianness” in Leipzig, too. We began organizing Armenian cultural events at the university. It was interesting to see how the Germans were interested in joining the events and learning more about Armenian culture. For me, it was a beautiful responsibility to represent Armenian dance there.
Being a Hayouhi meant something different this time, for it carried with it the responsibility of presenting our culture.
To my surprise, the Armenian community was very different there. They were spread all over the country, and not having concentrated communities made it difficult to exercise Armenianness. Apart from talking to their parents, the children had no other opportunity to speak Armenian. They had almost no chance to experience Armenian culture. What could I do? I wanted to act, and realized that whatever I did would be helpful to the children there.
The first thing that came to mind was to organize Armenian-language courses. At the beginning, there were only 7 children in my class, but each week the number of children increased and soon reached 17. It was nice to see how my initiated work reached its goals, and how its aim was welcomed.
To me, being an Armenian woman means being responsible not only to one’s family but also to those Armenians around her. This is my strong conviction, formed after living in three different cultures. In Armenia, it is taken for granted that children will grow up with an Armenian identity. In Lebanon, too, the well-developed and active Armenian community ensures this. In Germany, however, it is difficult to have the necessary environment and means available to educate Armenian children about their heritage. Whenever I meet a child who never had the opportunity to learn to read and write in Armenian, I feel as if something needs to be done, that I must do something.
In the same way, when the Armenian community near Leipzig asked me to give Armenian dance lessons, I couldn’t refuse. The feeling of Hayouhi was once again active in me. I learned this enthusiasm from living in the diaspora, and have wanted to give back in some way to other Armenians. It was as if I owed transferring everything I had learned from Armenians to the Armenian community in Germany.
On the other hand, living in a third country, in a different society and culture, gave me the ability to exercise the feeling of freedom. It led me to realize how important it was to be an Armenian woman and use that independence in a positive way. It allowed me to be self-reliant, confident, and strong. I think that everyone is responsible to do something for the Armenian community.
I hope that one day, the Armenian children around me will continue this way of thinking, of feeling. Yes, it is difficult to maintain our identity outside of Armenia, especially when we live in a country where the Armenian community is very small. By the same token, it is very much appreciated to see even the smallest effort taken by any Armenian living there. Life is not very easy for those living abroad. As an Armenian woman, however, I feel equipped with the weapons of an identity that will stay with me for the rest of my life, even if I live outside Armenia. I am indebted to the Armenian society wherever I live and will give what I can.
Armenianness is a pleasant responsibility that follows me all the time, and I am happy to carry that responsibility. I will continue to dance and by dancing make others feel Armenian as well. This is what I have learned from the Armenian dance!
Anahid Babayan holds an M.A. in international affairs and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Global and European Studies Institute, University of Leipzig, Germany.