A Different April This Year Has Opportunity

(Photo: Amir Kh/Unsplash)

It happens every year. Winter appears with varying degrees of impact. With spring, hope returns, especially in the seasonal states, as dormant trees and grass emerge with green grandeur. April is a particularly special month for Armenians as it represents our global commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. It is a very vocal and public time. Ecumenical services with other denominations and commemorations with the community dominate the calendar. Academic symposiums on nearly every major university campus examine the major aspects of this defining event. Demonstrations with thousands of Armenians from all generations and backgrounds take place in Yerevan and the streets of the Diaspora. Activists engage in political advocacy to promote acknowledgement, education and recognition. In the last several years, public forums have increasingly focused on reparations and the definition of justice. It recalls a tragic event that has universally bonded Armenians forever. We work year-round, but April is a special time. It is our time to be with each other in any of the variety of processes that have emerged in our 21st-century life.

And just like that, something we can’t even see has stopped our public focus for this year. There will be no demonstrations, forums or religious gatherings. What the Turks have spent millions to stop in April (and failed) will not happen this year because we have an enemy to destroy that has actually, in a way, united all of humanity. It has put everything in perspective for the moment. For most Armenians, this is a major behavioral modification. There are certain constants in life: school, work, gardening, Easter traditions and Genocide commemorations. But not this year. So what do we do? Are there alternatives that are consistent with our national guidelines that can add value to this April? While we wait patiently to re-engage as a society, there are some options.

I have a few suggestions. First a hint. What is the only obstacle on this earth that can defeat the cause of justice for the Armenian Genocide? The answer is in our collective mirrors. We are the answer. It has always been us. It is not the Turkish government and its lobbying efforts, which have failed in the recognition phase. A world that tried hard to forget has been reminded of its responsibility. Digging a little deeper, we will find that the generational transfer of emotion, knowledge, commitment and action has enabled the progress we enjoy. If we have learned anything since the Great Awakening in 1965, it is that the diaspora has almost infinite capabilities when the blessings of education, wealth and networks are applied to a foundation of commitment. Many times we have discussed the importance of being INFORMED ARMENIANS. An emotional connection will initiate personal growth, but inspiring others and making a difference are dependent on knowledge. As informed Armenians, we have gained the advantage of the truth and the path forward. There are many layers of knowledge for us to acquire including family history, general history, current events and participation. Our knowledge makes us contributing members of our nation and helps us honor those who have been silenced. Our path can only be challenged by our own inability to sustain the knowledge and commitment we have enjoyed.

The house we have built will be stronger. This can be our great spiritual gift on this Easter.

So, back to the pandemic. There is a connection between our dilemma and the need for knowledge. Actually, it is a huge opportunity. The only force that can defeat our quest for justice is self-imposed: ambivalence and ignorance. Right now, the only resource we have an abundance of is time. Use the latter to fill the former with the fresh air of knowledge. Are you reading during what I like to call the “Great Pause”? If you are, bravo. But what are you reading? There is an infinite amount of important knowledge awaiting you. Research your family’s history together with loved ones you are in quarantine with and share your new discoveries. The Armenian genealogy workshops and online resources have some excellent navigators. Select a few books on some portion of our vast history. Discuss that content with your family at the rediscovered tradition called family dinner. Engage in any number of daily Armenian online papers to keep up with what is happening in Armenia and encourage the youth in your home to use this time wisely. Teach your children during this April of seclusion. This can be our April 24 of 2020. There will be online and streaming activity, but this is an opportunity for you to accept a personal challenge to better prepare yourself to contribute.

Our journey for justice is a marathon, not a sprint. We will recover quickly from this year’s public moratorium. We have the opportunity to emerge from this with a more informed and robust community base. Remember, only ambivalence and ignorance from within can defeat us. Today we are asked to do our part by isolating ourselves in the short term. This is a sacred responsibility. When one door closes, another one opens. Explore, read and share. Here’s another opportunity. While you are social distancing and home-bound, how about writing? Expressing yourself can be therapeutic and also contribute to the welfare of others. Don’t worry about the literary value of your efforts. Simply express your thoughts on this moment in our history, observations on your family or your community. Share your work on social media or better yet as an offering to the Weekly. We may discover some new talents during these challenging times. Perhaps one of your entertaining Zoom or FaceTime calls with friends could be devoted to a round-table on any one of these suggestions. We must search for alternatives to maintain our momentum. Like most important matters, we can start by all looking in the mirror.

April is also our time to celebrate the most important event on the Christian calendar: the Feast of the Holy Resurrection or Easter. It has been a difficult Lent where communal worship and reflection have been limited to our homes and live-streaming. Lent is a period of separation and preparation as we anticipate the resurrection of our Lord. It is during this week that we were gifted Holy Communion in remembrance of Him and experienced His triumph over death which enabled the promise of eternal life. There is no greater time for Armenian Christians to attend Holy Badarak and to hear the soulful hymn—Kovya Jerusalem Uz Der. Painfully, we will miss the communal emotion of this blessed event as we will all be confined to our homes to watch the Easter badarak. There will be no decisions to make about who will host extended family Easter at their home. No one will experience the traditional large gathering this year, yet we will all host ourselves in our sheltered life. There is an opportunity, however, for all of us during this difficult time. This virus has forced us to be creative, disciplined and imaginative. In order to carry on, we are enduring with the new reality and building new skills or returning to older ones. We must never forget that our Armenian Christian faith is based on a foundation of establishing and building a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. This is fundamental and personal. In its absence, we know that going to church is an exercise. Our communal worship through the institution is enabled by our collective personal and spiritual relationships. It is true that the church helps many in establishing that personal relationship through the Holy Badarak, Bible study and spiritual counseling, but they are all designed to build that relationship that we can experience in every aspect of our life—school, work and home. This pandemic and the resulting isolation allow us to focus on that relationship in our home with private prayer, meditation, reading and family communal prayer. This is a time to strengthen the foundation in the hope that when we can emerge from this nightmare. The house we have built will be stronger. This can be our great spiritual gift on this Easter.

There are few things “normal” about this April. Though we are temporarily removed from all of our public cultural habits—a remarkably challenging shift in behavior thrust upon us literally overnight—we can still make a difference in our lives and of others. This April is an opportunity for each of us to improve on our foundation as Armenians. In the absence of public gatherings, it is incumbent upon us to prepare ourselves against the only factor that can weaken the diaspora—ambivalence and ignorance. Acquiring knowledge by reading, writing and sharing will unlock the opportunity. As parents, talk to your children during these moments of “quality” time about their family history, their heritage and examine specific topics they have questions on. The absence of communal worship affords us the option to ponder our own faith—the essential building block for our salvation. Stay well, keep the faith and prepare for better days. 

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.

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