The Transitions of Life and Their Impact on Cultural Identity

There has always been speculation among us Diasporan Armenians about what it means to truly “be” Armenian. Is it the mastery of the language? The involvement in every aspect of the community, or a specific prominent facet of it? Or is it simply your name, first or last? Though there is no defined or tangible answer to what being an Armenian truly is, there is a deciding factor that helps one understand, for themselves, whether they identify as part of the rich culture: a feeling.

Armenian Americans march to the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia in April 2017, led by the Greater Washington D.C. Homenetmen Scouts and Drum Corps. (Photo: Armenian Genocide Commemorative Committee of Greater Washington)

But is it possible to “feel” Armenian all the time if you don’t live in a household where the language is spoken, or the cuisine is prepared? Is it possible to even be Armenian if you are somewhere where you can’t attend an Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) meeting, frequent your church, or spend time with other Armenians?

And, most important, if you were once integrated into a community where the Armenian culture was alive and well, and then had to leave that community, is it possible to get back in touch with that feeling of being Armenian?

For someone like me, with a distinctly Armenian name and parents who taught me to speak, read, and write Armenian, it was relatively easy feeling Armenian throughout my childhood. The real challenge presented itself when it was time for me to be on my own, without the influence of family and church. When I moved away from home to attend college, it seemed to me that the precious feeling of Armenianness was slipping away, fading as other things took its place.

There is no data to back up this claim that “being” Armenian can change based on your environment and feelings, but it is undeniable. After all, based on human experience, we know that environment has an impact on self-identity.

I have tried to home in the feeling I have been missing. I have spent long periods of time surrounded by Armenians, and I have worked for the Armenian Cause by interning with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). I meet up with my Armenian friends as often as I can and reminisce about long, hot summers at AYF Camp Haiastan or exciting events from AYF Senior Olympics. Yet, when I am back home in my apartment, away from everything that sparks memories or ignites passion, it can be hard to feel immersed in something you are at that moment separated from.

So how does one preserve a feeling with limited firsthand resources? It all boils down to personal will: The feeling of being Armenian can be salvaged through effort and personal determination.

I feel much more Armenian at home with my family than far away on my own. Yet, I have a conscious awareness that I want to feel Armenian, and am proactive in doing so. I teach my friends about the Armenian culture. I frequent Armenian bakeries for tastes of home. But, most important, I don’t forget where I came from: I remind others of the Armenian culture and I continue to educate myself about it. I do all I can, and in my own way, to better further the Armenian Cause.

When you are out of touch with a community saturated with Armenians, it can be hard to preserve that part of your self-identity. But it is not impossible. There are things that can be done, tailored to each individual, that make the feeling of being Armenian come alive within.

I live my life as a product of the Armenian Diaspora in small ways, but they add up. When I truly feel Armenian, I feel complete. And it is important to me to do as much as I can to preserve that feeling no matter where I go.

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Taleen Simonian

Taleen Simonian is a student at Boston University majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Political Science. She is an active member of the Boston University Armenian Students Association and the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF-YOARF) Providence “Varantian” chapter. She also serves on the AYF Eastern Region Public Relations Committee. Taleen was a 2017 Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Leo Sarkisian Internship participant.

5 Comments

  1. Intermarriage is at an all time high, Armenians parents are sadly not teaching their children the importance to preserve ones culture by speaking the language, attending Armenian events, and marrying within their community. Armenians in Turkey are marrying Turks, Armenians in Russia are marrying Russia, etc. It is a silent genocide, finishing the work of the Young Turks: Armenians are committing a genocide on themselves.

  2. Political power travels on the coattails of cultural influence. For the foreseeable future, Globalism and Westernization will be the single greatest enemy of the Armenian people.

  3. Maybe if they learn to be tuff like Iran and stand up to there enemies.Maybe tge people might get ahead and have strong country and nation that can support its people.

    Armenia beeds a tuffer military, economy, and president thay is notvscared to stand up and defend its nation against enemies such as the ones that keep betraying us and trying to bother snd kill us everday.

    Why are Armenians so scared to speak the truth about there enemies. Stand up people.

  4. Սիրելի Թալին (Dear Taleen). I will continue in English for very obvious reasons.
    I am 71 years old. Born and brought up in Lebanon. Educated in Armenian schools. Moved to England when I was 16. For me to feel and live as an Armenian in the country of my birth took no special effort. It came as natural. Of course the situation took a dramatic turn the moment I set foot on European soil . The first thing I did was to change my name to -wait for it- Jack, just to make it easier for the natives to pronounce. Aftermarrying my childhood sweetheart -Lebanese Armenian – of course! , decided to emigrate to the U.S. as there were no Armenian languages schools in London for our children to attend. To cut a long story short, our children learnt to read and write in Armenian. They even spent their summers in “Camp Hayasdan” they are now married and have their own children. And guess what, 3 out of 4 of our grandchildren do not speak a word of Armenian. Where did we go wrong? Dear Taleen, it hurts to admit this, the truth is like it or not, we are facing a losing battle. Like one of your readers has commented “the Genocide continues! “ Getting back to your main topic, feeling Armenian in the diaspora has become a personal choice . It is natural for a humans to engage in activities that give them pleasure. It’s also natural for people to feel what they feel in their hearts. We should not be too judgmental about people’s behaviour as long as they’re not breaking the law. We cannot as a society determine who can or cannot be classified as being a good or bad Armenian. Those of us who are truly concerned about the future of the Diaspora Armenians, can simply pack up, go and live in Hayasdan. Otherwise if we are completely honest, we are all doomed to assimilation. Sooner than we care to admit!

  5. Actually, I feel like I appreciate and miss Armenian culture more after being in a much smaller Armenian community for a while. Կարոտը զգում եմ.

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