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How Do You Measure Armenian Identity?


By Ani Bournazian

 

What is your identity? For some, this is a simple question with a simple answer. My answer is, I am a 22-year-old Christian Armenian-American. To others, though, I am not that. Perhaps a better question would be, How do you measure identity?

Before going on, I’ll explain my background a little better. I was born in Washington D.C. My parents were raised in New York and Massachusetts, and my grandparents in Istanbul, Turkey, and Worcester, Mass. However, I do not consider my roots to be from there. I consider my roots to be from Arapgir, Adapazar, Diyarbakir, Kharpert, Malatia, and Mush. Those are the towns and villages my ancestors inhabited for centuries before their forced resettlement.

The Armenian flag in Times Square, N.Y. (Photo: Anahid Kaprielian)

To get a little deeper, and more personal, one needs to understand the context of the United States my parents, grandparents, and all immigrant families grew up in. Throughout the 20th century, speaking anything besides English was looked down on. Diversity was not respected like it is today. Eating foods that were not “American” was looked down on. As poor immigrants in the United States and survivors of a genocide, my family did what they needed to do to survive: They assimilated.

Growing up, Armenian was not spoken in my house. However, I still attended Armenian Sunday school for 10 years. Going to Armenian school was good enough to teach me how to read the language, but it was mostly a foreign code I could not crack. I would practice my assigned readings and short stories so much that when I would get up in front of the class to recite them I pretty much had them memorized.

Why memorize? Because if I stumbled on my words, the other students would giggle. The teacher would roll her eyes. As a child, being made fun of and feeling like you do not belong can be the most stressful things in the world.

Every Sunday, I would beg my parents not to make me go.

“Why?” I said.

“Because you are Armenian. You will thank me when you are older.”

Next Sunday. Repeat. This went on for 10 years

That phrase was branded onto my mind. They were right, and I am thankful now that I am older. And that phrase has become the backbone of my motivation to be involved in all that has made me what I am today.

At age five, I joined the Washington D.C. Homenetmen chapter. At 10, I joined the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). To this day, I am still an active member of the AYF and have held numerous positions since joining in 2005. During my undergraduate career, I founded an Armenian Students Association at my university, and it is still active today.

In 2015, I chose to visit Armenia and Artsakh, through the AYF Internship, for the first time on my own. I asked no friends or family to attend with me. I was determined that it be my own decision to visit Armenia and experience what it means to “be Armenian.” In brief, this trip was so moving that I spent much of my free time the following year reading about Armenian history and language to really understand where my people came from.

I visited Armenia and Artsakh for a second time this past summer. Over the past two years, I have learned more Armenian, and am able to understand more conversations happening around me than before. This past summer, I not only saw the “tourist sights” of the country and visited countless churches but also met extended family still living in Armenia; I went to a small village to sit in a mineral bath that fills with the water of Jermuk; I helped make food in the middle of the Dilijan forest. As the locals said, I “saw Armenia” for what it really is… beyond Yerevan.

So, after all that information, I am Armenian, right? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe that is a question for me to answer, and not for others.

In any case, let’s dissect the disputed topic of Armenian identity. Some use community involvement, or choice of spouse, as a rule of thumb, while others use language ability. Some people look at Kim Kardashian and are proud that she visited Armenia, tweets every now and then about the Armenian Genocide, and wrote an article in The New York Times. Others will denounce her declared Armenian identity because of other choices she has made in her life. But why? Why are other people deciding what she is and is not? Why are we categorizing others’ identities?

I’m not writing to go on about any other celebrity, or to give a textbook definition of identity. I’m writing to reach a larger audience to really think deeply about this topic. Afterward, I will tell you what I believe it means…

First, look at an individual’s community involvement. I cannot speak for other countries, but I know in the United States, historically speaking, Armenian communities generally revolve around a church. When we hear of an Armenian church thriving or shutting down, it is generally a good sense of whether the Armenian community is present and united, or not. I have heard many people comment about others’ not coming to church or community events as an indirect jab at that person “not being Armenian anymore.”

That is a subjective opinion that assumes one knows why he or she is not coming to church or attending a particular event. Maybe there are other priorities that have taken over in life, such as taking care of an infant or elderly family member. Maybe he or she attends a different church, Armenian or not. A person may still be keeping their faith in whichever way he or she feel brings them closer to God. A person may still be advocating for the Armenian Cause, just not in the presence of other Armenians. We should look at one another and see the things we have in common—not judge one another based on the differences.

Second, think about one’s choice of partner. I think we can all relate to this conversation:

“______ just got married.”

“To an Armenian or an odar?”

Whatever the response, it may lead to either positive or negative feelings. If the partner is Armenian, we feel this is great and the Armenian community will continue to thrive and grow with purebreds. If the partner is not, this may lead to the unfortunate thought that our diaspora and community will soon bleed out and become too thin.

On the surface, this makes sense, right? But when you think deeper about it, whether or not Armenians are coupling with other Armenians is no indication of what future generations will bring. There may be a higher chance of their family being involved in Armenian-related activities if both partners are Armenian. However, the opposite could also happen. In my own church community, I have seen “full-blooded”Armenian families and children drop out of the community. I have also seen non-Armenian spouses embrace the Armenian culture, church, food, and music. A person should not say that a non-Armenian parent who brings their child to Armenian school, who attends Armenian fundraisers, who learns to speak Armenian, or who visits Armenia, is any less Armenian than an Armenian parent who does none of the above.

However, I am aware of judgments made of these same non-Armenian spouses coming from my own Armenian community. Critical judgments about non-Armenian spouses will only hurt the Armenian Diaspora as they alienate these families and fragment our own people. These people should be welcomed into our communities with open arms as any other Armenian moving to a new community. Because the Armenian people are relatively small in number, it confuses me how people so readily make judgements and exclude others. In the end, Armenian or not, we are after all human. We are social beings, and that means we all strive to adhere to a group identity.

My third, and most personal point, is that many Armenians use a person’s ability to speak the Armenian language as a measure of that person’s Armenian identity.

While I was in Armenia this summer, I took a taxi alone to go home from the mall. At one point during the ride, the driver spoke so fast that I did not understand what he said. In Armenian, I asked, “What?”

At that moment, he could tell I was not a local. Here we go again, I thought to myself.

“Where are you from?” he asked in Armenian.

“America.”

“Are you Armenian?”

“Yes.”

“If you were Armenian, you would speak a little, no?”

“I am Armenian, and I do speak a little.”

That is all I could get out because I was speechless. So many emotions ran through my body. I was hurt. Here I am trying to communicate with you, trying to learn, visiting this country… and you question my identity.

After I got out of the taxi, I kept thinking about this experience. Sirdus hye eh (my heart is Armenian), I thought to myself. I tried to reason, “This guy doesn’t know any different,” but it did not ease my disappointment. As someone who has focused her studies on how language is psychologically learned and processed, I know that language development cannot occur unless there is motivation. Furthermore, an individual needs at minimum 20 hours’ worth of practice a week for progression orally. Yes, I was born and raised in America and grew up learning English as my first language. Yes, I would like to learn to speak Armenian fluently along with many others; but without anyone to teach me or to speak with, how is anyone supposed to learn a second language proficiently?

After more time had passed, my encounter with the taxi driver in Yerevan still bothered me. I thought about all the times other Armenians made me feel bad about not speaking fluent Armenian, even though my name is Ani and I “look so Armenian,” as if that is some sort of inspirational wisdom. This unspoken superior-inferior hierarchy among Armenians about “what makes you a good Armenian” is the same reason some friends I knew in Armenian school now do not participate in Armenian activities as adults and disassociate from identifying as Armenian.

I realize this judgmental attitude is all too present in our own communities. It casts a person aside as inferior. It does not help build stronger Armenian Diaspora communities, and it is not acceptable. We, a small ethnic community, are capable of doing better, and we do in fact know differently than the taxi driver I had in Armenia.

As members of the American-Armenian Diaspora, we do not live in a homogenous society. We encounter many types of people. We know that everyone comes from different backgrounds. We know, as Americans, that given our different upbringings we should respect and treat one another equally and try not to judge.

To be part of an Armenian Diaspora community should mean celebrating, encouraging, and creating an inclusive, mutually supportive environment for all those who show interest in Armenian culture, history, religion, etc., regardless of their involvement, bloodline, or language skills. To judge another person as Armenian or not, solely based on any of the abovementioned elements, reflects ignorance and disrespect.

There is no metric that measures Armenian-ness. Whichever way a person identifies, accept it. After all, identity is a personal choice, and as Armenians it should be one that we present as motivating and not disheartening. The drive to embrace and perpetuate the Armenian culture comes from within. So, if you are Armenian, or if you are not, the only thing important is what is inside your heart.

31 Comments on How Do You Measure Armenian Identity?

  1. avatar Peter Mnatzakanian // October 6, 2017 at 2:46 pm // Reply

    I happen to know the family of this young person. Excellent article and I could not agree more. As someone a little older about to make my first trip to Armenian in September 2018, I can’t wait for someone to ask me how come I don’t speak so well, not sure if I would handle this as well as our Ani, in any event, a well written piece.

  2. avatar annie demirjian // October 6, 2017 at 2:50 pm // Reply

    Well said And, with your permission I will read your article to my students – Master’s in public and international affairs. The issue of identity comes up regularly with young multicultural students. You make an excellent point on the issue of Armenia identity in diaspora.

    • avatar Ani Bournazian // October 6, 2017 at 3:54 pm //

      Yes, you most certainly have my permission to read this article to your students. I’m glad it can be of help and serve as a point of discussion.

  3. excellent. article -thoughtfully and correctly analyzed!

  4. nice article, made me cry and feel homesick…… thank you!

  5. avatar Vivian Chakarian // October 6, 2017 at 4:27 pm // Reply

    Thank you, Ani – you have hit upon an issue close to the heart and soul of many Armenians who have grown up in the diaspora – not only of the present but also of past generations. You are so right – “ethnic purity” is by no means a measure of “Armenian-ness” nor should it be of identity in general. Bravo for taking the initiative to bring this issue to the fore!

  6. Ignore the “gatekeepers” who love to judge who gets to be Armenian. Your identity is whatever you decide it is.

  7. avatar Dorothy Arakelian // October 6, 2017 at 6:22 pm // Reply

    Excellent article! I am a proud Armenian thru and thru and speak fluently. Thanks to my parents who were from Arapgir and survivors of the genocide. Your beautiful article says it all in the ending sentence, and I quote “The drive to embrace and perpetuate the Armenian culture comes from within.”

  8. avatar Vivian Moutafian // October 6, 2017 at 7:54 pm // Reply

    I am 65 and can so relate to this well-written, thoughtful article. I AM Armenian, as is my husband, but my Armenian language skills are very limited, at best! I, too, went to Armenian school every week and am grateful for what I learned. Nonetheless, I often feel out of place at Armenian social events because of my inability to communicate in Armenian. For my children, this discomfort is exacerbated. Again, I appreciate the author’s articulate thoughts.

  9. I personally have mixed opinions when it comes to mixed marriages, but when it comes to the ethnic identity part, our opinions critically diverge. I can even say that the author’s mentality represents the typical delusional mentality of the Armenian youth living in the diaspora. Dear author and people agreeing with her, what you fail to realize is that culture does not prevail without a language. I beg you to define what you consider as “culture” and how you plan preserve that “culture” for the future generations without even knowing the Armenian language. You claimed that “to be part of an Armenian Diaspora community should mean celebrating, encouraging, and creating an inclusive, mutually supportive environment for all those who show interest in Armenian culture, history, religion” and I consider this the epitome of hypocrisy: what are you exactly celebrating? Your incapacity to express yourself in the language of the ethnic group you supposedly identify with? You supposedly “show interest” in Armenian culture, history and religion, yet you do not have that much interest in learning the language by yourself. If this was the case thirty years ago, maybe you would have an excuse, but we live in a century in which we can get any kind of information whenever we want, be it from online resources or by simply purchasing a book about a topic that interests us online. Besides, you stated that “It [judgmental attitude] does not help build stronger Armenian Diaspora communities, and it is not acceptable.” Though I am against any kind of prejudice, please understand that an Armenian diaspora community won’t get stronger if you don’t know the language either, it even gets weaver with every generation. Also, forgive me, but no one gives a shit whether you “identify yourself as Armenian” or are “Armenian in heart”, quit your emotional bullshit and be realistic; it’s how you contribute to your race that matters, and if you don’t even know the language, you can’t contribute anyhow. “the only thing important is what is inside your heart.” PLEASE, stop sugarcoating it; this is real life, we’re not living a goddamn fairy tale. Assimilation is equivalent to the destruction of cultural heritage, which is basically a crime.

    It really is sad that we’re even thinking about “measuring identity”, you either are what you are or you’re not. Call me a fascist or whatever the hell you want, my views are set on stone.

    • avatar Lori DerMesrobian // October 7, 2017 at 2:56 pm //

      Couldn’t agree more.
      The Armenians are one of the few nations that went through a genocide and because justice wasn’t served in our case (continuous denial, ZERO reperations, victim blaming, cultural genocide through the destruction of Armenian physical memories, etc.),the Armenian youth living in the Diaspora, as you described them, feel more romantic and less rational when it comes to the Armenian identity, hence why they want to equate their love from their heart to Armenia with the reality that they don’t know or slightly know the language to being a justified Armenian.
      It is a blade in the back of the Armenian culture when the aforementioned people is the majority of the Diaspora and they shift the meaning of being an Armenian. Have you or any of us saw a french being a proud Gaulois when he/she doesn’t speak the french language? Or an Englishman who doesn’t speak English?? NO. Because they know the limits of cultural identity and when they get assimilated to another culture they understand it and accept it unlike these proclaimed Armenians who justify themselves only through maternal or paternal or both’s heritage and don’t want to lose their identity.
      We must understand that we are ruining the meaning of culture by ruling out the role of the language, whatever the dialect is. And I find that the argument ‘you’re Armenian if you feel it in your heart’ to be superfluous, over-emotional, erronous and extreme. Yes, extreme because it doesn’t make sense and anything that is far from logical is extreme and a person holding that idea is an extremist. And like you said, with today’s technology and e-books, it is so easy to learn a new language. Look at the Jews, a big proportion of the survivors of the Shoah had enough of being persecuted and assimilated, and therefore went to Israel and took up the responsibility of learning Hebrew and excelling in it. A very good example of cultural revival.
      I will disagree with you about assimilation being a crime, even with a nation that went through a genocide. It is human nature to go through assimilation may it be forced or voluntary, hence the genetic diversity throughout the world. And I know 5 people in my university whose one of the parents or grandparents are Armenian, and they feel no sympathy for our cause, no cultural connection to Armenians and of course don’t even understand the Armenian language, but I have found peace living with them (who are we to judge every single person?).
      One thing though, there are famous people who have spread the knowledge of Armenia and its history to the world and yet they don’t speak our language. Now you can’t say they’re not Armenians, but let us agree that culture and history are not the same. People take family history as a reason to enhance their memory in order to never forget the tragedy.
      All in all, culture is partly retained by the literature and literature is retained by the language. Whoever says that the fact that our ancestors spoke only Turkish is a reason to outlaw the Armenian language in the identity formation is dumb enough to forget that they were forced to speak a language that Ottoman authorities can understand (or else they would have their tongues cut) and they lived in the Homeland, hence no comparison between today’s Diaspora Armenians and the Armenians of the past millennia is eligible.
      They can be called Armenian by descent but in no way an Armenian by culture. Let’s not make Silva Kaputikyan crawl in her tomb.

    • avatar Michael Mouradian // October 7, 2017 at 4:24 pm //

      Your views are “set IN stone” . Proper English.

  10. Interesting article. I had a similar experience in Yerevan. I speak Armenian fluently, but I wasn’t born in Armenia. A few years ago, when I had an exhibition in Yerevan, I had a long conversation with a local video artist about art in general. We spoke in Armneian. At the end he asked me if I was Armenian or I had learned the language! I was shocked. I understood that I was considered a stranger in Armenia. But that doesn’t matter. It made me create an installation with that subject. I still go to Armenia and collaborate with local artists. As you mentioned the identity of a person is in their heart, no matter what the outside perception is.

  11. avatar Adom Malkhassian // October 7, 2017 at 8:43 am // Reply

    I am a Canadian-Armenian and speak perfect Armenian. The taxi driver in Armenia asked me in Armenian if I was Armenian while I was speaking to him in (western) Armenian. Must have been the same taxi driver. Excellent article. Thanks.

  12. avatar Sheri Jordan // October 7, 2017 at 8:44 am // Reply

    Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt piece. You are an Armenian who all Armenians should be proud to call Armenian. I, too, have experienced much of the same behavior from Armenians wherever I’ve traveled. It pushed me away for nearly 20 years, but I came back wiser and more confident. Now I believe my convicton and resolve to go deeper into all aspects of my Armenian identity are in part an answer to the challenge set by those who underestimated me or judged me unfairly. It is truly a shame that too many Armenians don’t treat one another as well as they treat non Armenians. I want to be one of the voices within our community that says, “We are all Armenians and let’s rejoice!” Does anyone want to join this chorus?

  13. avatar Armen (must be Armenian look at his name) // October 7, 2017 at 3:02 pm // Reply

    Excellent article. Armeno-chauvinism with respect our language is sort of passe at this point and is historically incorrect. The many Armenians whose English, French, Turkish or Russian (and several others) is their first language and Armenian a second or third is a historical reality that has been both a blessing and a curse for 3000 years. We were an intermediary people to many cross-cultural situations all through history because we knew Armenian and several other languages. To assume that we weren’t Armenian until we had a written language would mean that before St. Mesrob, we were something else. I mean nothing was recorded in Armenian before then and therefore we weren’t anybody in particular…although the Romans Greeks and Parthians seemed to figure out that this there were this people who spoke in a gibberish living in Anatolia who they referred to as Armeni or Ermeni that they had to keep conquering over and over again. Our church service is in Krapar, but no one speaks like that…is our church no longer Armenian because we aren’t using today’s vernacular? Learning some dialect of Armenian is a component of being Armenian in the diaspora – an important one – but not the only one.

  14. avatar Jack Kalpakian // October 7, 2017 at 5:25 pm // Reply

    In pre-modern times, Armenians assimilated Alans, Arabs, Jews, Parthians (including the Royal Family that Christianized the country), Georgians, Romans, Roma, Greeks, and even Turks (including the mother of a well known Melik Family from Artsakh). Obviously, blood purity mattered little to our ancestors and what mattered was affiliation and cultural identity. There is no reason that the same attitude cannot be applied by us today. Rejecting Armenian children borne of marriages to non-Armenians weakens the ethnic nation, accepting them strengthens it.

    • avatar Just a thought // October 7, 2017 at 8:29 pm //

      What you’re saying is simply not true. Genetic studies have confirmed that Armenians assimilated with “each other” several thousand years ago and our genes have stayed that way since then thus as Armenians we possess ancient-but-diverse genes, and that’s why those that are ‘Armenian’ today are full-blooded Armenians which is where “such and such looks Armenian” comes from. Yes many Armenians mixed in history, the difference is they are not and do not identify as Armenian any longer, but as many of those races you mention. That’s why so many Syrians, Lebanese, Jews, Turks, etc “look Armenian”, but it’s not the other way around as you are suggesting.

  15. avatar Just a thought // October 7, 2017 at 8:15 pm // Reply

    I think that Shogh Aram reacted to this article strongly, but I have to say that they made good points. Sorry Ani, but I disagree with many of your ideas, because they come straight from American liberalism, a cringy state to be in to say the least. In the USA there is this detached-from-reality white lady who “identifies as black” and was for many years fooling people with her fake hair and “African American Demeanor” until she was outed as a fraud. Same with one German lady who turned her skin black (by whatever means she did) because she also “identifies” as such. You can also identify as a rock if you like, it does not mean you are in the realm of reality.

    Speaking of that, apparently in the delusional world of liberals, you can now identify as anything you want, including your gender. These ridiculous people now have a chart about the dozens of genders one can be, and “it is sexist to call a newborn as either boy or girl” now. Really? This is how any given society with its associated culture gets destroyed, and for us Armenians, it is no different.

    Our youth might think that “they are being modern” by adopting these liberal ideas by, I’m sorry to say, indoctrination, and now are trying to “look cool” by trying to change our traditional culture, instead of… very simply… following its norms. Please, do not blame everything on the other side, especially Armenians in Armenia. These people are the real heroes of our culture who are holding our nation together, and it is an insult for diaspora youth to go into their own country and judge them as “wrong” when they’ve done the same to you, because you’re in their country not the other way around. Of course you are welcome to move there and practice being a real Armenian, because ultimately, that is the only way we in the diaspora will stay Armenian, judging from the direction our diaspora youth are going. But that is going to be a slow process unfortunately because it is just not an easy project to pick up and leave everything and head into the unknown.

    • avatar Lori DerMesrobian // October 8, 2017 at 5:09 pm //

      Thumbs up👍
      You just said the perfect words to describe how Liberalism is failing. It and the people calling themselves champions of Liberalism are drifting away from reality and rationality. I was once a Liberal, but when I saw them categorizing every one whose opinion differs from their’s as fascist (just like one of the commentors who said that we, the ones not agreeing with Ani especially when it came to the language, are Armenian chauvinists) and in some cases they are against our freedom of expression, not on this website but on FB groups such as ‘i am a descendant of armenian genocide survivors’ where the admins (also Liberals) block and oust people if they don’t follow their agenda. I am quite like Noam Chomsky on this, people should express everything even the most degrading things such as racism or homophobia, if they’re not expresssed publicly it doesn’t mean that they don’t exist privately and it also doesn’t mean that ending a conversation with a racist is the best way to fight racism.

    • avatar Lori DerMesrobian // October 10, 2017 at 11:10 am //

      “…people can express and should express, when they’re a minority in a single opinionated discussion, everything that they feel or want to say even the most…” **********

    • avatar Just a thought // October 10, 2017 at 12:22 pm //

      Thanks Lori, I agree with you. I think posts on this site that engage in excessive personal attacks probably get deleted, and sometimes one does not intend to be ‘racist’ but others can perceive it that way as well. I also did notice, in the world of Liberals “it’s my way or the highway”.

  16. avatar Maral Dermesrobian // October 8, 2017 at 5:19 am // Reply

    Ou dess vortiss,
    Ourel liness,
    Ays lousnis dag ourel kenas,
    Te moret ankam medkits hanes,
    Ko mayr lezoun tchi moranass. “Silva Gabudikyan”

    If you are celebrating armenian culture, then you should celebrate all our armenian writers who struggled and were executed during soviet and ottoman repression, and who foresaw the near end of future Armenians through the ignorance of our language. CELEBRATE THEM !

  17. With all due respect to the intention of the writer, the equivocation of Armenian identity with the choice of affiliation to a religious institution or a partner is immature at best, deeply ignorant at worst. This assumption comes from a place of privilege and naivety in being unable to grasp a broader concept of culture beyond the markers you’ve been raised with through understanding yourself as a second generation Armenian.

  18. avatar Jacob Bournazian // October 8, 2017 at 10:01 pm // Reply

    The emphasis on proficiency of language is misplaced. The issue is how does one define their identity as an Armenian? It is what people do in life that matters, not what they say.

    • avatar Vivian Chakarian // October 10, 2017 at 9:58 am //

      I agree wholeheartedly – and judging by the comments here, Ani’s article has generated a much-needed conversation!

  19. avatar Dino, a future Armenian, maybe // October 9, 2017 at 4:34 am // Reply

    Armenian civilization has been a race to the bottom ever since the first person who claimed to be an Armenian. Considering the 3,000 years of misfortune the Armenian people have gone through, it’s amazing anyone is Armenian. The question at hand is…akin to rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. Being Armenian is meaningless without living in historical Armenia. Like an Eskimo living in Tahiti. Totally and utterly meaningless. And this is the problem of all pro Ani and anti Ani readers and commenters: who is and who is not Armenian is a delusional exercise in futility. Feeling offended is ridiculous. Weighing and measuring someone else’s Armenianness is a clear sign of self loathing and worse. The only true Armenian is one who thinks how to defeat the Turks and live in their Armenian ancestral patrimony on the Armenian plateau. Sadly, all the true Armenians died fighting Turkish tyranny. If you don’t live in Armenia and are Armenian you have been defeated and don’t deserve to be called an Armenian. Whenever someone asks me if I’m Armenian, I answer: not today.

  20. My mother used to always tell me: du hye Es tzenvel Yev du hye ge mernes

    “You were born Armenian and you will die Armenian”
    I did not understand the import of her words then, now that she is gone, I do.

    I sense Armenian identity by words and deeds, but I do not measure identity, what I take a measure of is the goodness of people, and deeds alone speak for them there.

    I was born in Iran, to Armenian parents, revolution there caused us to flee to America (what is it with our people constantly having to flee from the violence of other nations, I’m fed up with this shit). I grew up speaking Armenian and like Ani, drifted into the political rubric of the american left. I totally believed in the “melting pot”; mourning its death as of late and taking the vicissitudes of the recent leftist political climate as a wakeup call. Basically, American culture itself, is in flux and subject to the victors of the culture war in America. In other words the “melting pot” is dead and gone gone from the leftist discourse, and the “salad bowl” is no place for an Armenian to seek alliances, for it is a tumultuous battleground complete with ethnic tensions and historical American grievances; none of them related to Armenia. TL;DR In the American sphere few or no non-Armenians care about you (Yes you Ani) or your Armenian concerns; most of the time they won’t even be able to tell you are different from either their projected evil i.e. “White people” and even if and when they do learn about the Armenian experience they’ll quickly de-prioritize our pain and struggles from consideration. In other words, you’ll be tacitly ignored, effectively silenced. Hell the huffington post is happy to brand our homeland as a Russian colony. I’d like to see them judge the perhaps strained behavior of California if say… The ottomans invaded [California] and stole half the state. It’s silly to even posit such a scenario, so utterly safe are they from such threats. Which is kind of the point isn’t it? Our struggles and oppression are so distant to the american-left’s reality that they have no capacity to grasp the experience of our people and nation let alone interpret the actions it [Armenia] takes in order to survive (free of The Turks).

    Note: I purposely use the phrase “American Left” to denote a difference with “Classical Liberalism” distancing myself from the former and identifying with the latter. There’s a difference between leftists and classical liberals, ironically we used to be thought of as “the left” and are now being framed as centrists or even (I can’t even begin to follow the twisted road of logical fallacies necessary here) right wing sympathizers.

    What the fuck America!? You were supposed to be stable and safe, we didn’t pick up and abandon our lives to live under you, only to be laid siege to as right wing oppressors… (survivors of genocide at that) I mean seriously, my family fled radical Islamic tyranny and now to be rightfully weary of tolerance for Islam we are labeled fascists…? You know what… American Left… you’re right, we are ‘fascists’, ‘nazis’ (ROFL bc the Turks are actual Nazis, they just have better PR and manners than Germany ever did) and all the other names you want to use, go right ahead. Just don’t expect any help or sympathy when you finally meet the business end of tyrannical Islam. Good luck with that.
    So while we’re throwing out babies with bathwater, there goes the “melting pot” baby as well, though admittedly that one was somewhat noble, too bad you couldn’t make it happen American Left, and yes you DID kill it (we’re still trying to figure out why).

    I’m an Armenian once bitten twice shy, thank you very much.

    I suggest you dedicate some honest effort and time to growing closer to your language Ani. Thank you for volunteering, I hope it wasn’t a glorified “gap year” destined to fade into the archives of memory, but that you take new purpose from your experiences and parlay them into new ways to revitalize Armenia.

    I’m still open and friendly to all sorts of Armenians (and people in general for that matter (yes even muslims, namely Iranians), I am a real liberal after all; the fascistic insanity of the left be damned) but I’m also quick to judge those who have deserted us, those who do not worry at night because they have no friends in Tavush who tell of the sounds of artillery shells coming from Azerbaijan; those whose hearts do not beat heavily with an ache to help their own people. You see, the war for our survival never ended Ani, you have been told a lie, history never ended in the 20th century. Welcome to the desert of the real (as Morpheus would say).
    Oh how I hate politics.

    As for my own fragmented Armenian identity (YES fragmented(well it IS, and so is yours most likely), I tell the whole truth, even if I’m a cultural mutt)
    I speak Armenian fluently but I do not read or write it. Do I feel left out when visiting Armenia and lack the ability to read the ads, signs and documents? Absolutely!
    Is this due to the effects of historical oppression causing flight? Perhaps.
    Whose fault is it now? My own.

    The corollary is also true if I studied the language deeply and could then begin to understand it, I would not feel left out, it would still be my fault.

    In fact I’ll be studying the Armenian language so that I can more fully participate in the experience of living what I am. I ASK NOBODY TO ACCOMODATE ME, I DO NOT SEEK INCLUSION INTO ARMENIAN CULTURE BY DEFAULT. People are judged by their actions which is a consequence of the structure and content of their character. I’ll take my lumps based on my words and actions.

    Having said that, I have found most taxi drivers to be quite nice and have in fact met very good people, guess what, I’ve also met some parasitic people too. Armenians are not all wonderful, so I avoid the bad as best I can and deal as much as I can with the good. It’s a useful strategy.

    Anyway, as an Armenian diasporan aching with the need to do something to change the fractured connectivity of our scattered people to the homeland, I’ve tried to make it easier to see the country more fully with technology, if you’re curious to have a closer look all over the country (we’re adding new locations constantly) have a look at Armenia360.org to learn more and see modern Armenia via google streetview technology.

    I understate the effort, we’re a small team but have already added more than 6,000 360 images to the cities, roads, and places of distinction all over Armenia. Go visit Artsakh in 360! Go see Stepanakert and Shushi! We shot over 1,200 images there so you scattered diasporans could reconnect once more. Go and have a look around lake Sevan (THAT was a long drive). Go see Ejmiatsin! Go visit the genocide memorial grounds. It’s all on google maps, for you.

  21. i dont think you were supposed to feel you were “on your own” when you went to Armenia for AYF Internship in Armenia since the other participants are with you. also it sounds like something needs to be done by the eastern region ayf to make sure the experience is more immersive. Former participants should not need a second trip to feel they “saw Armenia” or experienced what is outside Yerevan

  22. Your identity is determined the day you are born. It is in the blood running through your veins. It is in your genes. It is in your DNA. You can not change that. In that sense, if you are born an Armenian you are an Armenian, period. Whether or not you speak the Armenian language, how well you speak it, how fluent you are in it AND how engaged and active you are in the Armenian community, attend church or not, practice the culture, marry your own and so on and so forth is a measure and an indication of how TRUE you are to your Armenian identity.

  23. I’m glad this dialogue is out in the open.

    I’m a third-generation Armenian-American. Armenian was my first language, but over time my knowledge of it atrophied due to lack of use. My ability to read and write Armenian followed a similar path. My receptive language skills are strong enough so that I can follow most conversations in Western Armenian, including humor, but my expressive language is minimal. When I visited Armenia, I was very disappointed in myself for having such poor reading and expressive language skills.

    If language is the sole litmus test for Armenian identity, then I’ve received a failing grade. For those who have all-or-nothing thinking on this subject, I guess the conclusion would be that I have sold out. I doubt I could sway their opinions, but maybe others with less rigid belief systems might want to consider some alternative viewpoints on the matter:

    1. We all know the United States puts much more acculturation pressure on newcomers than most other nations in the Armenian Diaspora. People are not routinely bilingual in the US as they are in other countries, which reflects both provincialism and cultural imperialism. For those recent immigrants to the US, or even those in the first generation born here, I can only say this – before you cast the first stone, let’s see how your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren turn out, and then we can talk about who the real Armenians are.

    2. Lack of Armenian language skills on the part of US citizens clearly creates a very high barrier to participation in life in Armenia, and participation in communities in other parts of the diaspora. That being said, what value do we want to place on other kinds of contributions people make to the life of the Armenian communities. Over 90% of my charitable contributions each year go to a variety of Armenian causes, and that figure was closer to 100% for my late parents – does that count for nothing? I volunteer my time in a variety of ways for Armenian organization, including in my professional capacity as a healthcare provider. Again, are you saying that counts for nothing?

    3. We are small tribe, and our numbers may continue to diminish. Why would you reject ANYONE who wants to be a part of our community? As a survival tactic, that makes about as much sense as having two churches.

    4. Last but not least, some of the more vitriolic comments on this article have tried to recast the subject in terms of conservatism and liberalism, as if those political terms could truly reflect the totality of one’s personal identity. At the risk of being similarly reductionistic, I think that insisting on proficiency in the language as being the critical defining characteristic of membership in the Armenian community reflects a very common dynamic in all races, nations, and cultures – one sub-group claiming superiority over another. It’s just the Armenian version of Jim Crow.

    So look down on me and my children all you want, but I will continue to donate my time and money to Armenian causes and to participate in the life of our community. Thank God your bigoted views don’t yet prevent me from making those contributions.

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