Confession: I don’t speak Armenian

Arev Dinkjian happily takes in the sights of Yerevan, Armenia, 2016

And for as long as I can remember, it has been my greatest insecurity. On more than one occasion, I have been told it is an “unattractive quality” of mine, and that I’m “not Armenian” if I don’t speak it. These words came from friends, loved ones, strangers—people with the power to point out a great flaw I could already see in myself. I may not have had the courage to say it when confronted with those words, but I’ve got it now.

Longtime friends and New Jersey “Arsen” members Garo Sarajian and Arev Dinkjian carry the Eternal Flame during AYF Senior Olympics Opening Ceremonies 2016.

No, I don’t speak Armenian, but here’s what I can do: 

  • I can recite the AYF-YOARF oath verbatim. 
  • I can cite the words of William Saroyan to create the perfect April 24th Facebook post for all of my friends—Armenian or not—to see. 
  • I can navigate my way to Camp Haiastan from anywhere on earth with my eyes closed. 
  • I can conduct an entire meeting following Robert’s Rules—well, for the most part. 
  • I can quiet a room of 200 campers and counselors with a stern look and two raised fingers. 
  • I can recall my first snowball and the butterflies it left me with. 
  • I can remember what you wore Saturday night at the AYF Senior Olympics in 2013. 
  • I can name all of the events that make up a Pentathlon. 
  • I can close my eyes and taste the mantee in Yerevan. 
  • I can comfort a homesick camper and calm her camp-sick parents. 
  • I can play four full games of basketball after a full year of no physical activity. 
  • I can dance the Pampouri, the Tamzara, the Haleh. All of it. 
  • I can hear the sounds of our unruly Sts. Vartanantz fans cheering after our girl’s team finally won a game in the Hackensack Middle School gym. 
  • I know when to sit, stand, kneel, bow and make the sign of the cross during Badarak. 
  • I can remember perfectly the silhouette of Ararat in the backdrop of Armenia. 
  • I can list every Onnik CD ever produced and distributed–not that I’m biased. 
  • I can match every camper from the last decade with their favorite item from Camp Store. 
  • I can fold boreg into neat little triangles of butter and cheese. 
  • I can point out on a map the villages that hold my ancestral past. 

And what’s more I can live with the truth of not speaking Armenian. I’m not entirely sure what brought about this revelation. This sudden confession. Maybe I got tired of guarding a secret. Maybe I was inspired by my nephews’ newly acquired vocabulary straight from Hovnanian School. Maybe I just got sick of hearing what I can’t do from people who are blind to what I can. Or maybe I felt the need to empathize with those who are just like me—those who may not be able to speak Armenian, but who sure can stand up for the Armenian they are. 

Arev Dinkjian stands at Tsitsernakaberd with Ararat at her back in Yerevan, Armenia, 2016
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Arev Dinkjian

Arev Dinkjian grew up in an Armenian household in Fort Lee, N.J. She was constantly surrounded by art whether it was by her musical father and grandfather, Ara and Onnik, or her creative mother Margo. Arev attended Providence College starting in 2011 and graduated with a degree in elementary and special education. She enjoys teaching language arts to her students most, and takes great pride in instilling an appreciation for literature in her classroom. Today, she remains very active in the Armenian community, serving as the president of the N.J. AYF “Arsen" Chapter, a member of both the Bergen County ARS and the Sts. Vartanantz Ladies’ Guild, and on numerous AYF central committees. She also dedicated many summers to AYF Camp Haiastan, which she says remains her favorite topic to write about.
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10 Comments

  1. Ungerouhi Arev, I appreciate your affirmation of your Armenian identity (including its distinctly AYF features, such as following parliamentary procedure).
    While I hope everyone in the Armenian community accepts you with open arms, regardless of your level of Armenian comprehension, as I do, should you choose to work on some language skills, Armenian Virtual College is currently offering free online lessons! Just thought I’d take the opportunity to share.

    https://www.avc-agbu.org/en/enrollment/enroll_now.html

  2. You are as Armenian as the Katchkar ~ beautiful as the sound of Komidas ~ I love you ~ we all love you ~ It’s so good to see and hear you “`

    • Well said Richard …
      Some know Armenian… but they are never Armenian in their deep heart …
      Heart cells should speck Armenian and not the tongue…

  3. Thank you Arev for sharing a very personal emotion. You are not alone. You speak for many Armenian Americans. We have come to realize that retaining an Armenian identity in the diaspora is a choice we all make at some point in our lives. Our identity starts in our hearts. Some people are blessed with inheritances such as language skills and do nothing with that ability in terms of contributing to our nation. The diaspora was founded, is sustained and will continue based on the dedication of people like you. Your contributions as a young age are impressive. The key is the spirit that inspires dedication and you have it. Thank you for sharing and God bless you.

    • Yes. Being born into the language is easy. Being dedicated to out culture and heritage is of great value to the whole community, and not so easy.

  4. Your contributions are so plentiful and appreciated! You are strong and have made a space for yourself.

    My hope is that you will one day say “I am learning” instead of “I do not know”

  5. First of all, if you are born into an Armenian family and the Armenian blood runs through your veins you are an Armenian, period. No one can take that away from you. The rest, whether you speak Armenian, practice the culture, attend church, are involved community activities, know the history of your people, AND are dedicated to pursuing and continuing the traditions of your ancestors are a measure of how dedicated you are to your Armenian identity. Sometimes and because of the circumstances in our lives it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to fulfill our wishes, such as learning the language, as much as we want to do so. But more important than that is that we try. Give it a try and you will love it. Most Armenians, if not all, are bilingual anyway and many more speak multiple languages. Think of it this way: When you learn Armenian you will have gained the opportunity to communicate with millions of fellow Armenians you could not previously because of the language barrier. A whole new world will open up right in front of your eyes. So, I say, if there is a will there is a way. In Armenian: եթե կա կամք, ապա կա մի ճանապարհ.

    To me personally, everything begins with the language. If you don’t speak the language you are not any less of an Armenian but that you may be missing out on so much. It is true that language is a form of communication and it can be done in any language but there is so much more to a language than just that. When you speak your own you feel and experience what the rest of the every-day Armenians do. It is a common bond among all Armenians. Lastly, language can also be a very effective tool and a shield against assimilation.

  6. Seereli Arevig;
    Vai. Vai. Arevig
    This is a confession.
    I applaud your honesty.
    But, there is more in life than just confession.
    You are fortunate to have a strong family support structure.
    You know where you have to go, what you have to do as your confession reveals.
    With your intelligence, your community commitment and your family support you could learn ay, pen, keem in 36 days. Yev,Oh fey are not real letters but modern conformance
    So, where do you go to learn?
    If you are interested I’ll be happy to talk to you Arev.
    You have 75 more years on Planet Earth.
    You are bright and can become Haiahkhous in 90 days.
    You will be writing all 36 letters in words during those 90 days. You will write sentences with understanding and meaning in 180 days.
    You will read the Ahvedahran fluently in 360 days. Ahmenoryah Haiyehren-Ahshkhahapar.
    Hachokhoutuin Arev
    Seerov
    Armen K. Boyajian

  7. You tell me what you don’t like in my writing Arev.
    And I will give you a cogent response.
    Armen K. Boyajian

  8. Arev …is Arev is Sun …
    No one can block any sun …
    even our enemies…
    Some know Armenian…
    but they are never Armenian in their deep heart …
    Heart cells should speck Armenian and
    not the tongue
    Sylva~MD~POETRY

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