By Mari Tikoyan
University of Maryland, Class of 2018
ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Participant, 2017
Should all Armenians go Tebi Yergir*?
The idea of Armenians moving back to Armenia has been a heavily discussed topic in the Armenian community. During my time interning for the Armenian National Committee of America, I have come across Armenians who have completely opposing opinions on this issue. Some people believe that every Armenian must move back to strengthen Armenia and preserve Armenian culture. Others have no desire to move to Armenia and enjoy living in the Diaspora. My summer in Washington has allowed me to finally answer this question for myself.
During my first week in the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Program, I got into a discussion about Tebi Yergir with a fellow intern. My colleague basically argued that all Armenians should move back to the homeland because assimilation is inevitable and one must take the appropriate measures to strengthen and preserve our culture. I thought long and hard about this concept; I even pictured how life would be if I picked up everything and decided to move to Armenia. After imagining such scenarios, I realized that the idea of moving to the Yergir may not be for me.
The Armenian Diaspora brings so many benefits. It is one of the greatest sources of strength for Armenia. Some overlook the benefits, and even go so far as to argue that Diasporans are “not real Armenians.” In my case, being a Diasporan Armenian has only strengthened my desire to maintain my history and culture.
From an early age, I joined almost every Armenian youth organization imaginable. I was involved in AYF and ACYOA, and I went to Armenian school. I would drive about an hour into a different state just to go to an Armenian church. I would drive about an hour just so I could get together with my Armenian friends from the DC area. I would spend countless weekends at Armenian events, and I always longed for those weekends with my Armenian friends.
Yes, my Armenian may not be the most fluent, it may take me a while to read a sentence in Armenian, I may not hang out with my Armenian friends as frequently as others, I may live in a smaller Armenian community, and I may not have a desire to spend my life in Armenia. However, I have always gone the extra mile to maintain my Armenian heritage. I have always been proactive in keeping my connection with the Armenian community. I want to give back and help contribute to making Armenia a better place.
So, when I hear some argue that Diasporan Armenians do a terrible job of maintaining Armenian culture, I cannot help but get frustrated. Being Armenian is so much more than knowing the language, knowing every bit of Armenian history, and wanting to live in Armenia. Being Armenian is about embracing your Armenian background, informing those around you of our struggles as a nation, and working to create a better Armenia for those in the generations to come.
Interning for the Armenian National Committee of America has taught me just that. The ANCA works tirelessly to bring Armenian issues to the forefront, to support the Armenian Cause, and to help create a better Armenia. The ANCA has reaffirmed my faith in the Armenian Diaspora.
Working on various projects this summer with supporters from across the US, I have seen the commitment, the passion, and drive our community members demonstrate to strengthen the Armenian Homeland.
I’ve witnessed the benefit of the Armenian Diaspora throughout my entire life. Had I not been the sole Armenian in my high school, none of my classmates would have known about Armenia or Artsakh. If I did not live with non-Armenian roommates in college, they would have never heard about the Armenian Genocide or had the chance to attend the annual protest in front of the Turkish Embassy. If Aram Hamparian was not in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on May 16, iPhone in hand, people may never have seen the brutal beating of peaceful protesters by Turkish President Erdogan’s bodyguards.
I am forever grateful to live in the Diaspora because I have the chance to educate those around me and bring awareness to Armenian issues. So, no, I do not think one must go Tebi Yergir to preserve Armenian culture. Just one look at the dedicated Armenian communities around the globe serves as enough proof that the Armenian diasporas are alive and well—and that they play an important role in the life of the Armenian nation.
* “To the Homeland,” a recent slogan signifying returning to or going to the Republic of Armenia. It is based on the same slogan from the 1890s, referring to Eastern Armenia-based Armenian revolutionaries’ efforts to liberate Western Armenia, which was under Ottoman-Turkish rule. That slogan was, in turn, patterned after a campaign of “Going to the People” in the 1860s by the Russian socialist-democratic revolutionary organization Narodnaya Volya (“The People’s Will”), an organization that heavily influenced Armenian revolutionaries.