Arakelian: Am I Armenian?

By Hrag Arakelian

Being Armenian is the most treasured part of my identity because every other characteristic I possess comes from my Armenian-ness. Being Armenian has enriched my life with cultural traditions, a love for humanity and community, and a strong belief in the youth. I’m not suggesting that every Armenian has the same characteristics as I do, but rather that being Armenian has given me the opportunities to acquire these characteristics. For example, I understand others’ feelings and motivations because I have been involved in Armenian organizations. I am understanding of other cultures because being Armenian and a minority has allowed me to respect different perspectives. I am comfortable speaking in front of large groups because of my involvement in large Armenian community events. I understand the importance of community and helping others because of my involvement with the Armenian community. And I understand the importance of education and activism because I have seen the impact that educated individuals have made towards Armenian history.

I cannot imagine what life would be like if I was not Armenian, and I have therefore excluded myself from being considered “white.” However, I have been in an identity crisis lately, as I have become more aware of the privilege and power problems of our society. What I have come to understand is that no matter how I identify myself, other people will identify me from what they see: I am white, male, Christian, non-disabled, and heterosexual. This puts me at the highest possible privilege and power in our society, according to many sociologists. Normally, people desire to be in a highly privileged and powerful state; however, this identity completely lacks my Armenianness. It makes me realize that I am where I am not because of my Armenianness, but because I am a white male Christian who is non-disabled and heterosexual.

For example, being white keeps people from thinking I did something illegal to drive a nice car; being male pays me 30 percent more at work; being Christian gives me days off from school and work during my holidays; being non-disabled allows me to not worry about how I will enter a building; and being straight keeps me from getting harassed in public.

You may feel that society is fairer than that. You may also tell yourself that this does not apply to you and that, if anything, you feel non-privileged. That is because many people have subconsciously accepted the privilege and power system in our society. Anyone who allows awareness of this matter to enter their consciousness is bound to feel something about it. I have this awareness because of my involvement with human rights activities through the Armenian community, which has also given me the sight of an alternative path in our society. Everyone must become aware of the alternative paths so that they do not supplement injustice and suffering for people in culturally devalued and excluded groups.

For example, Hrant Dink expressed that it is difficult for Turks to admit to the Armenian Genocide because it is hard for them to believe they were a part of something that atrocious, but the Turks must admit to their atrocities because it did happen. Well, we must also admit to our privileges even if we don’t feel comfortable with them because denying it is, like the Armenian Genocide, looking the other way and allowing injustice and the suffering of people in culturally devalued and excluded groups. We must become aware of the problems of our society in order for things to change.

On the other hand, I have realized that there is a “who” and a “what” that constructs a person’s identity. For example, male privilege is more about male people than it is about male people. In this example, the male is the “what” identity and the people is the “who” identity. “What” I am is white, male, Christian, non-disabled, and heterosexual. “Who” I am is Armenian.

Although I do not favorably identify my self as “what” I am, it is critical that I am aware of my “what” identity in order to have a sense of ownership of the problem. Without that sense of ownership, serious work on issues of privilege will always be the last item on society’s agenda. Moreover, the better I can identify myself in the aspects of “what” and “who” I am, the better I can raise the awareness of privilege and power with others. Because awareness will give ownership of the problem to others so that people can begin to become part of the solution.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.


  1. *Correction* – 2nd to last paragraph – 2nd sentence – It is more about male people than it is about male people.

  2. This is an excellent article.
    Just one correction:
    The notion that men get paid more than women is one of the fallacies of modern society.  More women are entering and graduating from college, and in big cities like New York and Atlanta, women get more money than men.
    The complaint that the feminist organizations love to bandy about is, as the National Women’s Law Center asserts on its Web site,, “Today, women make just 77 cents for every dollar a man makes…”
    That is a spurious conclusion. It omits weekly hours of work, overtime, which is more typically earned by men, education, experience on the job, and time in the workforce. When all of these factors are accounted for, the difference is about five cents on the dollar. And, yes, discrimination against women may-or may not-explain some of that nickel, but the “gap” is far smaller than is alleged and does not merit Congress’s imposing a new, cumbersome and costly layer of record-keeping on employers, and inviting more litigation.

  3. After living some 15 years in the Netherlands and 1 year in Spain I came to realize that there is no place for “others” in most  (if not all) “civilized” European countries.

    In the Netherlands (and Belgium)  Armenians ( like Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Indians, Iranians, Blacks, etc) are called “allochtoon”- non natives.  Even if you were born here and speak the language perfectly, have a nationality,  lots of money and good job, still you are an “allochtoon”- NOT one of them.

    That’s why I understood that I have ONLY one identity- Armenian: I am the same boy who was born and grown up in Kapan/Syunik (Armenia). And that’s IT.

    I also came to understand that I do NOT have to do my best for/in other countries. I only have to do my best  for my own birthplace country.

    So, I decided to sit back and be lazy- Europe will not die.

    Why should I put/use my energy and time building STUFF on foreign soil?

    Yes, I am SYUNI (Armenian).  The rest does not matter. I do NOT care how and WHAT people see me/ in me.

    And I am getting tired speaking foreign tongs.

    PS.  There is no identity crisis:  there is  crisis  identity.

  4. Akh ……dear /Sireli Syuni…I admire,nay more than admire, I vouch I stand by all you have posted.You see, I lived more than half of my life in europe and N.America,but after  each  of my 12 vistis, nay Pilgrimages to Armenia,only two to artsakh , I FEEL GREAT,I feel-when there- I am treading on my soil my country my home…
    I have also lived  in Europe  more  than 24 yrs..and near than many on these  shores ,this side  of the Atlanteic…. 
    It is a bit unpallatable perhaps to say, but I shall. I would change  one hair of an Armenian  with the whole  of a person non so.No ,I am not neither Fascist  nor nazi.Charetnz  wasn´t  either…but ..when he wrote    ¨yes im anoush Hayastani….¨HE SAID IT ALL  there…
    One kid  -young man  here-with home I corresponded, is getting ready to go to RA/Artsakh and witha  a self imposed mission. I only can wish him the BEST.have told him so and I am with him all the way. Believe  me, if I was young  and tied down with family,  I would not hesitate  on MOMENT…
    But still, I shall go back and forth and do whatever I can  to help alleviate  the people  there, especially in Artsakh.Syunik?
    Oh yeah my near to worship perspon was Syuneci…Der .D. Nerses Archebiscopos  Melik Tangyan, he was  the Vanahayr  at  DATEV…,as  hayr surp..then  promote d  to Bishop,Archbishop..a Far  relative  on my mother´s side…
    Der  Nerses, has  blessed me various times,while visiting -from aterpataklan-n.Iran  ,teheran, just  for two visits  one to Reza  kahn(/shah)  and also soviet Ambassador  Sadchikov(keeping balcne  betweeen armenian nationalists  and soviet Armenia/Russia, a diplomat too. Yes indeed, he also saved life  one communist  Armenian  from persian savak (sha´s secret service..) and helped him across  Arx river to S.Armenia
    Best to you and ….hopefully,after  you have achieved  what  you came to do   in NL….you know where to go to  and let  me have  your e-mail..
    mine  is

  5. Sireli Tara, the example I used was to simply express just one of the privileges between sexes. Even if the 77 to the 100 isn’t true (which I thank you for pointing out), there are a number of other privilege differences between males and females (which I’m sure you know of). But even if they don’t apply to you, because you may be the exception, the majority of women are not. Thank you for the comment.

  6. Dear Gaydzag,

    Yes, thanks.  I wrote your email.

    I know  a lot about the Republic of Mountainous Armenia (or Republic of Syunik: 1919-1921). Very interesting and inspiring.

    G. Njdeh at that time (some 6 months)  used to live/hide in the village of Arachadzor (near Kapan)-in the house of my mother’s grandfather: Abraham Ghazarian. And his brother, Stepan Ghazarian, was Njdeh’s commander in the  Arachadzor/Kapan region in southern Syunik at that time (1919-1921).

    Njdeh was getting orders/coordination from the (last) melik of Syunik, Smbat Melik-Stepanian (shot dead in exile in Siberia in 30s- under the brigde he built), who was living  in the same Arajadzor village and was my mother’s other grandfather’s uncle.

    My maternal grandfather and grandmother were messengers between Njdeh and the Melik and used to bring weapons and food  (on donkeys and at night) for Njdeh and his men.

    I was grown up with lots of similar stories.

    By the way, you can read about this on the website of the newspaper SyuniacYerkir, which is a good and independent paper in Syunik  (– only in Armenian).

  7. Apres Hrag jan! Even though this is coming from a male prospective, it surpasses gender and reaches most Diaspora Armenians around the world. I wish more of us realized that the “who” in us is our wonderful heritage.

  8. I am glad that we are illuminating the issues of white/male/class/hetero privilege because they effect every part of our lives and we have to work on elevating these identities. As an Armenian, it is difficult to define my racial identity. I want to identify as a person of color, and I feel that Armenians should claim this identity as well. We are considered white, yet most of the Middle East is marked white as well; that’s unsettling. I don’t have white features and most Armenians I know do not either. Some look Hispanic, and others look white. I aim to reach out to people of color in solidarity because our identity too is displaced. We are hierarchically below “white” people and below people of color as well; we have no place to fit.

  9. This is an important article. Thank you for sharing this, and helping all of us remember the difference between the what and the who.

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