Rendahl: Hayrenik

“I’m going to the hayrenik” (fatherland) a friend said. “Yegur hon yertank” (Let’s go there).

Whether it’s hos or hon, aystegh or ayntegh, the hayrenik is a powerful image. (Gantsasar, Artsakh; photo by Khatchig Mouradian)

There were assumptions in the statement. That the homeland is home, that the homeland is theirs, that the homeland is the cherished old world.

The hayrenik is a place to which diasporans return to make sense of their mixed identities and cultural baggage. It’s a place where they hope to be mystically understood, but are frequently disappointed. Their clothes aren’t quite right or they’re not married or they don’t have children or they’re too…something foreign.

Whether it’s hos or hon, aystegh or ayntegh, the hayrenik is a powerful image. It gives people a sense of place, a feeling of belonging, a soil on which to grieve the past. We seem to need it, or at least some of us.

The so-called poet of the heart, Rumi, claimed by more than one country, tried to free himself of identity, saying, “I have been delivered from this ego and self-will—alive or dead, what an affliction! But alive or dead, I have no homeland other than God’s Bounty.”

Rumi may have transcended into some kind of ethereal universality, but others are concerned with what it means to be from somewhere, some piece of land.

The dirt that is my identity is in a non-descript tract of land in the prairie of North Dakota where my ancestors have been buried for more than 110 years. That’s nothing when compared to Armenia’s existence, but it doesn’t take long to forge an identity, I’ve learned.

It seemed like I might have a shared identity with my family when I registered at a college where some 20 members of my extended family have studied over three generations. Many of us had been raised on the same farm. After that it appears things went haywire.

My relatives in Norway eat moose and whale, while I grew up with beef, corn, and potatoes, and now I eat quinoa and garbanzo beans. My family committed to a specific vocation for the duration of their working lives, while my profession continues to morph and take me elsewhere. My great-grandmother was one of 11 children in Norway, while I have just 1 brother who is 8 years older.

What does it mean to be from a place or a people? Is it skin tone or nose shape, clothes or familial status, religion or political doctrine? If it’s any of these, I fear we may have missed the point.

Maybe what’s wrong with our current approach to identity is that it’s about differentiation. We feel inclined to demonstrate—explicitly or otherwise—how we are superior to others. It’s as if we’re marketing a product or service and we must convince people they need it. Or perhaps we’re just trying to convince ourselves.

If we’re unable to reach a Rumi-like state of being, is there a way for identity and basic values to co-exist peacefully? Surely one can be a “globalite” without jeopardizing the borders that provide protection from external hostilities.

There may be an even more uneasy existence among the self-loathers who despise where they’re from as much as they adore it. Their paralyzing castigation encumbers any hope of improving a collective identity that urges people toward something positive.

How do we see the hayrenik for what it really is, and still love it? How do we form an original identity on our own terms, without regard for the strengths or weaknesses of others?

It is indeed possible that the Armenian World sees the hayrenik for what it truly is and still loves it. But it is just as likely that it is in an unhealthy cycle of criticism without action, condemnation without participation. The latter will not produce positive results. It will not produce much of anything.

The time for an honest and forgiving look in the mirror is now. If we examine ourselves, each and every day, we will not be able to sit idle. We will finally see that we have more power than we once allowed ourselves to believe, and we will not allow ourselves or the hayrenik to deteriorate into our worst fears.

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Originally from a family farm in North Dakota, Kristi Rendahl lived and worked in Armenia from 1997-2002 and visits the country regularly. She works with the Center for Victims of Torture as the organizational development advisor to 10 torture treatment centers around the world, and is pursuing a doctorate in public administration. Rendahl writes a monthly column for The Armenian Weekly. She resides in St. Paul, Minn.
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15 Comments

  1. I loved this little essay. It is very well written and, for me, thought provoking. I have printed it and will read it again.

    It is good for us to hear other perspectives on our notion of Hairenik. I had one view most of my life only to be surprised that when I actually visited the place, the people there viewed me and my family as odars. Yet, I felt very much at home in a place where everything was Armenian.

    Kristi’s challenge in the last line is noble from a personal, national, and global perspective.

  2. A very analytical, philosophical, and positive article. It opens the door to various conclusions , especially the perceived dichotomy between the notions of the ‘state of Armenia’ and its population versus the Armenian ‘diaspora’. Emotions, history, and belongingness aside, how does one confront/cope with those who sit idle and are also indifferent if they are counted and identified as Armenians or not?

    A Canadian Armenian

    Zohrab Malek
    Ambassador
    Permanent Representative of Armenia to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome  

  3. A beautifully written article, with a hint of how wondrous a life possible when ego gets out of the way.  The article brings to recollection what I have sometimes heard from Diaspora Armenians.  That Armenia is this problem or that problem or to sum it up, is a basket case.  Generally speaking this comes from those that have never set foot in Armenia.  It’s a judgment call straight from the ego.  The best remedy for this, go to Armenia, see and touch and feel the Fatherland, the land and the people, the joys and the problems. 
    What an experience it was for me to see Mt. Ararat (and little Masis too) and to realize the dream of a free and independent Armenia.  Sure there are problems.  It’s the nature of existence.  What’s important though is that there is a little piece of landlocked land, surrounded by enemies, struggling to gain it’s economic foothold, all the while not loosing it’s identity, that is our Fatherland. 
    It’s our choice, to either complain or make something of it.  Certainly we know from history that our ancestors, against much tougher odds, chose the latter course of action.  Can we not do the same?

  4. I concur with H.E. Ambassador Zohrab Malek’s assessment. Kristi Jan: You ask fundamental questions and put issues under such a positive, feasible light. I know that one day you will be instrumental in helping us find good, positive answers to these questions.
    In the meanwhile, Qele Lao, qele ertanq mer erkir. If you don’t know the song, you can listen to it on:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPxKMnLNNdg&feature=related  
    and also with Sylva Kapoutikyan’s poem : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbnFiIOmshg
     

  5. Very very powerful statement right here…

    The time for an honest and forgiving look in the mirror is now. If we examine ourselves, each and every day, we will not be able to sit idle. We will finally see that we have more power than we once allowed ourselves to believe, and we will not allow ourselves or the hayrenik to deteriorate into our worst fears.

    We can never let our fears stop us from going forward.. to love our country, our people and fight for it….we have a life long obligation to protect our identity and our country not from fears within but from fears outside… we have to collect and unite to be able to protect…. Hayrenik is all we have… without hayrenik we have no identity… that is what  believe…

    GREAT article Kristi jan….

    Gayane    

  6. A very thought processing, philosophical article by Rendahl, with a good dose of positivity and but reminding to all of us that the time is now to get involved for our motherland’s behalf.

    Gayane jan, You said two things that I liked above: “We have an obligation to protect our country, not from fears within but from fears without”.  And your other thought was: “We have to collect and unite to be able to protect her”.  I started reading now a book written in Armenian; «ՄՈՒՇԵՂ ՄԱՄԻԿՈՆԵԱՆ Եւ ԳԱՅԼ ՎԱՀԱՆ» Գրութիւն Սոնա Զէյթլեանի:  it’s about Moushegh Mamigonian, the head of the Mamigonian dynasty who was a warrior and a great fighter that gathered all the Armenian princes together to fight off both our enemies of that time; the Byzantenes and the Persians.  Ca. 4-5-6-700 AD.

  7.  Antoine jan-  thank you for sharing that video.. it gave me goosebumps.. it has sooo much sorrow, karot, love, and yearning in one song that my heart was filled with both happiness but sadness as well..happiness because i know we have priceless land and culture and that our generation will keep that alive.. and sadness because my ancestors were not lucky enough to see free Armenia… sadness to think about what could have been if they were left alone.. what Armenia could have been…

    That song alone tells a story of thousands of years.. too deep and too touching…

    Seervart jan-you are as patriotic as myself… :) you understand it …  

    i know alot of Armenians gave up on our country.. basically they fed up with corruption, and wrong doing of the govt officials.. they care less what will happen as long as they get out of the country.. this makes my heart bleeds… however, we can’t lose hope and faith.. we have to keep everyone with the same goal in mind.. TO protect our land, our country and our culture… it belongs to all of us…and needs to be protected by all…

    Gayane

  8. JAN  JAN   JAN…some emotional Armenian manner  of expressing oneself in the affirmative. Miss Randhal is knows  me from one  short give and take-correspondence.I am not so very easily moved  emotionally when reading her  or any  other’s such comments.
    It is quite allright,very well composed etc.,but as a determined Armenian to achieve total integrity,whether Govt.wise  or Diaspora re-organization,I shall continue my own quest for JUSTICE.For  the World  owes  that  to us, not just great  Turkey.Thos who have been indifferent when a whole nation was being slaughtered,evicted from millenia old habitat.
    I do indeed commend and appreciate the sympathy she has towards  us,otherwise she would not be  here at all or various times  in Armenia. To begin with my viewpoint  now.
    This land ,i.e. the USA  has from  the WWI  been kind to Armenians and the fledgling Independent Armenia  of 1918. We all know  that.The core  of the American-US-people like any other  good nation’s  say the Russian  Muzhiks, are also kind, or the Chinese etc., it is  the diplomacy  that differes  from  those  just mentioned. They commit errors and the whole people  of a land or country has to suffer.
    Armenians deserve  to have an independent  UNITED  Armenia,East and West.On latter, the usurper Genocide  state  great  Turkey is sitting and unfortunately supported  by …
    So whatever hard a one person crusade  does,though very appreciable  does  not  sooth  my likes..we demand JUSTICE  and until it  not practiced,I/we  should be a bit reserved and colly but cordially accept  good advice or suggestions from   non Armenians thankfully,nada  mas. Indeed  love  and respect all nationas,as  much as  they do unto us ,no more  no less.It is time to stop overlong  odars.Sorry  this last  one  is not meant to you Miss Randhal but to diplomats  …
    best to all who undeerstand  the afore hinted… 

  9. ‘But it is just as likely that it is in an unhealthy cycle of criticism without action, condemnation without participation.’

    One of the most profound statements I have seen. So true.

     

  10. Gayane jan, You are absolutely right about a good deal of Armenians having given up about Armenia because of corruption; but you can’t, you just can’t give up on our lands, our own that our forefathers have been fighting for it for thousands of years with their precious lives to keep it for us.  Even though I was born outside of both Armenian lands; but the way I was borught up by very patriotic, intelligent and sensitive Armenian parents, thank God I inherited the same and I feel as though Armenia is our baby, we have to support her and we have to see that nothing bad happens to her.  Furthermore, we have to see that we get back the rest of our anscestral lands that belongs to us and that we lost it because of the Armenian Genocide.  We owe this to our “khighj” as long as we are here on earth.

  11. This warm blooded analysis is valid for the whole humankind, not just for us, Armenians.
    Good job.
    A plausible answer for your implicit question (why do we keep trying to convince ourselves that we are better than everybody else?) is “because this is our nature” so we should better accept this trait and learn to make good use of the differences between us. This means we need to cooperate more instead of transforming natural competition into a silly, wastefull and ultimately mindless game.
    Sarchis Dolmanian

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