“You’re Armenian? Well, I know you fought Azerbaijan and won,” a Scandinavian girl told me when we were first introduced a few years ago. I did not comprehend the value of those words back then.
Never had a stranger brought up that war as the first term of reference; usually the genocide was the only historical sign post. But she knew nothing of the genocide, which made me question the quality of education in Europe.
But over the years, as I dug deeper into the essence and history of Armenians, a dissident voice within me whispered ever more quietly, so as not to cause a storm: “Maybe her not knowing about our darkest years was not such a bad thing after all… Maybe.”
For a long time now I have been lingering between the two narratives of Armenians: the ones who lost, and the ones who won. The world in general, though, has had virtually no interaction with the latter: the Armenian who stood his/her ground and fought.
That was made ever more clear a few nights ago, when a diverse group of people I was with playfully exchanged stereotypes: The Austrians were congratulated for somehow convincing the world that the dictator who almost destroyed Europe was a German. The Norwegians were diminished to being known simply for existing next to Sweden. The Serbians were warned not to go on a killing spree when encountering a Muslim. The Columbians were collectively tied to the cocaine industry. And the Armenians? Well, we were told to make an attempt to stay put at one place for more than two minutes, and not run away at the slightest sign of trouble. Resenting such stereotypes was natural, but later that night when a discussion flared up about the realities of Armenians, an Armenian friend reinforced a stereotype by constantly referring to the genocide.
A red line, for me, was crossed as he chained us to a never-ending cycle of national trauma, paranoia, and grief. And the audience bought into this assumption that the Armenian nation is cloaked in a blanket of eternal black sorrow.
Why do we allow ourselves and others to reduce our 6,000-year-old history to a mere 5 years of tragedy? A history filled with triumph, gains, enlightenment, and richness, side to side with loss, catastrophes, and faults. That basic common history is waived off in favor of a cowardice nation that walked into its own slaughter.
How do we expect to overcome the implications of the genocide if we do not go back before it, and onwards after it, to see that we are a nation with a legacy that is absolutely and exclusively not defined nor anchored to those five years of darkness and butchery!
When will we rise above this perception? Did the war against Azerbaijan not prove otherwise? Can we speak of our victories more than our pains? And if we can’t, can we occasionally lie about it? A simple white lie asserting that our nation is more than the sadness we and others have painted over us.
I return to the Scandinavian girl and struggle to find my place among the Armenians she had heard of and the Armenians I am accustomed to encountering. Somewhere in between there is that delicate balance that I want to retain. Just as I want to hear from non-Armenians words that encompass my complete history: “You’re Armenian? Awful, the genocide. But I know you won the war against Azerbaijan. Good come back.”