Ketsemanian: Apology

In one of my recent articles for the Weekly, titled “Internalizing Western Armenia,” I attempted to elucidate the sense in which, the diaspora, throughout its years of separation and estrangement, created an entity called “Western Armenia,” which acquired a separate ontological existence in the perception and conception of modern-day Diasporan Armenians. I designated this phenomenon of perceptual separation between us and this entity as alienation towards our motherland, which supposedly constitutes the axis of our struggle.

Not surprisingly, but unfortunately, a few days after its publication in September, the Armenian media was full of articles, news coverage, and opinion pieces praising and admiring, on the one hand, the construction of a huge Armenian Church in Moscow that cost a fortune, and on the other, the exhibition of jewelry following its grand opening. Public speakers and commentators began writing about their experience in Moscow, and how the occasion was marked by the presence of various Armenian political figures from Armenia and around the world, including our own All Armenian Catholicos His Holiness Karekin II and President Serge Sarkisian.

Although the concept of “alienation” may have seemed ambiguous or incomprehensible to some in the beginning, I believe what we witnessed in the last weeks of September corroborated my point. Alienation is not only our ignorance towards our motherland (the causes for which I amply explained in my article), but also the way in which our actions, resources, and endeavors as a diaspora or a republican state are disorientated, diverted, and unutilized to their full potential.

In the first case, it is the lack of empirical knowledge, whereas in the second, it is the erroneous and flawed usage of our human capital and financial resources that deviate us further from marking “Western Armenia” a priority on our political agenda.

The existence of one aspect of alienation brings about the second feature. The bulk of this article will tackle the second aspect of alienation, namely, the way in which our efforts as a state and diaspora have failed to address the “right” issue, leading us further away from the focal point—our forsaken motherland. Setting recent examples from our community life in the republic and diaspora against episodes from our history, I will attempt to tackle the second aspect of this issue of alienation to show that our eagerness for glory, fame, and pride is jeopardizing the entire raison d’etre of our struggle.

The construction of churches is not a bad initiative per se; as we know, the establishment of prayer houses and churches is one of the oldest traditions or cultural traits our people has preserved over the centuries. No wonder Ani was called the home of “a thousand and one churches.” Their construction was not to disseminate religiosity, but rather to serve as an initiative for education and cultural diffusion.

However, as the tide of globalization engulfed us, we started to become more and more consuming, greedy, and glory seeking, and perverted even our most sacred traditions such as church building. No instance can serve as a better example than the latest construction of the huge Armenian church in Moscow. When most of the monasteries and churches are perishing in Armenia and the demolition of churches in Western Armenia continues unabated, we continue to please ourselves with the building of new ones. On my last trip to Van, I was informed that a Muslim mullah (sheikh) had been commissioned to preserve the last remnants of the Varaka Monastery. Is this what the legacy of Khrimian Hayrig, who served years in that sacred house, has taught us? This example is simply one of hundreds. Although the magnanimity of the Russian-Armenian community should be admired, it does not conceal the fact that we have failed to concentrate our efforts on more crucial projects. Do we simply become more religious and Christian by constructing monuments?

As for the latest bishop Synod, how can we speak of and urge ecclesiastical reforms when we can’t preserve what is ours? Unfortunately, we have become the people of fait accompli; we wait for others to act on our behalf, and we end up applauding them in the end, only pleasing ourselves, claiming, “This is good for us.”

The renovation of the Sourp Giragos Church in Diyarbakir, through the efforts and financial resources of the mayor of that city, attests to this reality. As others are “busy” cleaning the dust and ashes upon the buried notion of Western Armenia, we, as a state leadership and as diasporans have distracted ourselves with glory, fame, and splendor. Thus, the superficiality of our everyday acts, in a sense, disorients us from our true struggle, and further alienates the concept of a “Western Armenia.”

Instead of being concerned with the religious education of young Armenians, we look to those who have the greater ability to build the more splendid and marvelous. It is in this sense that the vice of glory-seeking has made us “foreigners” to humbleness and modesty. The more we confine ourselves to superficialities, the more the internalizing process becomes phony and difficult.

My constant use of the term “superficialities” may seem unclear to some; I use it with the intent to demonstrate the banality of our everyday actions, which we consider to be “serving the nation.” The emergence of this “Glory Culture” manifests itself in different forms. One such instance is the culture of medal giving and receiving. Although this has always been present in our modern history, it has gained momentum in the past few years. The crucial question is no longer, “How will this help our struggle?” but rather, “How will others view this act?” “Will this merit a medal?” Why do we not decorate the chests of those who put their lives at risk with their attempts to revitalize “Armenian”-ness in Western Armenia?

Rather than widening our horizon to bring “Western Armenia” into our daily concerns, we have adopted a static stance, waiting for “others” to take the initiative on our behalf. Incorporating this ontological existence of “Western Armenia” is the first step in removing the veil of ignorance and alienation.

As I read through the pages of our history, and of the virtuous norms that once prevailed in our society in the past, I am petrified that they are disappearing, that this “Glory Culture” is separating us from our past. In the case of Simon Zavarian, although he had the opportunity to become a well-known professor in any European university or college, his devotion to the national struggle of Western Armenia was noteworthy. During one of his travels, a few ungerner from the party were assigned to meet him at one of the train stops. Upon the train’s arrival, the members hurried to the first wagon, assuming that—as a member of the Bureau and one of the founders of the party—Zavarian would be there. When he did not come out, they went to the second (middle-class) wagon and waited for a couple of minutes. In the end, they noticed Zavarian coming out of the third (low-class) wagon. When asked, “Unger Zavarian, why did you board the third wagon?” he replied, “There wasn’t a fourth one.”

In a similar vein, Rosdom (Stepan Zorian) passed away in 1919 from typhus, which he contracted when he punctured his shoe after donating his jacket to a poor man on the street on a cold night. What these episodes display is the modesty and humility with which our revolutionary figures operated for their beloved “yergir.”

How does this relate to alienation? As long as we continue to distract or busy ourselves with the luxuries of the “Glory Culture,” we will not be able to employ our full potential. If we are truly the children of revolution, let us not forget that a revolution is not what we can display and be proud of; rather, it is the relentless effort to attain what is not at our disposal. It is about overcoming the current situation. Let us not fool ourselves anymore with smothering restrictions. The return to our roots, culture, and traditional norms is the fastest way we can truly incorporate Western Armenia into our daily lives. This does not mean that we should reject the technological progress of our era, but rather benefit from it to facilitate our return to our ancestral roots, spreading knowledge about our motherland, and then abiding by what really takes us one step closer to it.

Today, the situation in the region has placed us at a crossroads of decision-making, requiring us to outline a political direction, clearly define our demands, focus on our target, and move forward. Remember, we are accountable to our future generations. Aren’t there more worthy projects than parsing a jewelry exhibition or displaying our photos with congressmen on social networking sites? To quote Dr. Henry Astarjian’s moving words, “Our demands are ours as long as we make them ours.” And to use Aristotelian terms, unless we truly actualize our potential, Western Armenia will lament our everyday failure, increasing the need to apologize more and more for having moved away from our past and from our goals.

Varak Ketsemanian

Varak Ketsemanian

Varak Ketsemanian is a graduate of the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (2014-2016). His master’s thesis titled “Communities in Conflict: the Hunchakian Revolutionary Party 1890-1894” examines the socio-economic role of violence in shaping inter-communal and ethnic relations by doing a local history of the Armenian Revolutionary Movement in the Ottoman Empire. Ketsemanian’s work tackles problems such as the development and polarization of mainstream historiographies, inter-communal stratifications, nationalism, and the relationship of the Ottoman State with some of its Anatolian provinces. He is currently completing a PhD at Princeton University, where his doctoral dissertation will focus on the social history of the National Constitution of Ottoman Armenians in 1863, and the communal dynamics/mechanisms that it created on imperial, communal, and provincial levels. Ketsemanian’s research relates to the development of different forms of nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries, revolutionary violence, and constitutional movements.


  1. I admire this young author for trying to make a point, but I have little idea what his point actually is. If the point is that Armenian Diasporans are doing basically nothing positive and waiting for others to do it for them, I disagree. Maybe the author himself is waiting for others to act. Where does he think Diasporan newspapers, churches, organizations, books, community centers, etc., etc. came from? Where does he think the billions of dollars being sent to Armenia came from? Who does he think has kept alive even the concept of Western Armenia?

  2. Wooow! I applaud your courage. You should be new to this town. I hope you’re not gonna end-up just a voice from my youthful neighborhoods, matured in my alma mater, too romantic about life’s realities! I hope you won’t give up on your convictions, and look forward to see as many like you, who have not much to lose, and say & write in such open free honest approach! Things will change when you start filing your taxes, make a family of your own, and test the financial realities of this way of life. Until then, keep up the good work, and touch as many receptive minds you can. Good luck, even though your journey is thorny and tough!

  3. Too young; too romantic; too devoted. About a century ago, General Antranig was at an Armenian fund-raising banquet on the East Coast. It was for raising funds for Armenia (today’s Western Armenia); Armenians; the Resistance; the defenders; the fighters; the self-less devoted… The wound was fresh-bleed then, each and every affected; yet participation was sooo slim. At one point, the General steps-up, wants to walk away, and says: What is this? You think I’m a beggar here? My fighters there in Armenia are bleeding to death, sacrificing all they have with even no recognition; and here you are this tight with your pockets??? It’s not a matter of money; it’s participation; it’s prioritizing of issues… As Roupen puts it, believing in your cause already does away with half of the hurdles!! Yet, the remnants of the Genocide, the survivors, were bodies with no heads; were pantless to have any pockets for money. And they were subjected to the Cold War realities; divisions; hatred; assassinations… and it took half a century to teach them the language, the culture, the history, the spirit, until they roared political consciousness demanding rights and justice from Dzidzernagapert and the Armenia of the Middle East! We have lost a lot for being in the wrong place when Ataturk’s Republic was being coined; when the Soviet expansion to warm waters was in line with that Republic. But we also lost a lot to this division into internal camps, to Etchmiadzeen versus all, to this “you’re either with us or against us”. Let’s learn from our mistake; let’s have the humility to accept that we can do mistakes; that we have done mistakes; but confront the coming with a resolve that “Armenians CANNOT hate Armenians; they don’t have the time, nor the comfort of hating each other; that there is no US VERSUS THE OTHERS among us”. It’s true that globalization has turned us minding basically our tax rates; the arguments whether Obamacare (ACA) will pass, should pass, be a success or a failure… has taken its toll on our everyday lives; that however we communicate is recorded, documented, & disseminated should need arise. It is absolutely true that wherever on the globe, man, manliness, being human has been miniaturized & dehumanized, and people have become more and more just and only numbers. Yet, hope there may come a Pope or two more to put dignity into this life of ours. Until then, let’s put away this atmosphere of hatred to each other, this catastrophic sectarianism, and be humble in criticizing others. This New World Order already has turned man into self-centered egoists, where each is a taxpayer thus free to express himself “that only him is correct and all others mistaken”. Let’s be inclusive, forgiving, true brotherly!

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