I was born in Beirut, Lebanon on February 8, 1957. I’m a Lebanese-Armenian who has lived with dual identities and histories all my life – ones filled with struggle and wars, to say the least. The two, unfortunately, have several things in common, primarily the struggle to build life in the midst of uncertainties. I was born into a Christian family and received a Christian education at the Armenian Evangelical Church. These factors shaped my career, which is to bring the Word of God to communities worldwide. I was lucky enough to be part of this mission with the Bible Society, one of the most international ministries in the world.
I sometimes wonder if the Middle East will ever know peace. The number of times this region has had to rebuild and lift itself up again is really mind-blowing and frankly quite depressing. In the 64 years I’ve been alive, I’ve seen Lebanon “die” and “rise” again about five times. Setting aside the physical destruction, the Middle East constantly finds itself in an ethnic and denominational power struggle: who will rule whom? Who will have the last say? If only all this pain and destruction was worth it. The Israel-Palestine conflict, for instance, seems unresolvable, no matter how many people suffer and die.
All this seemed too unfair to the young adolescent I was, growing up in warzone Beirut. Until recently, I used to be stripped in every airport and interrogated, just because I had a Lebanese passport. The prospect of that peace seemed to be getting further away.
In 2005, I moved to Cyprus and subsequently received my Cypriot citizenship. Getting a European passport, though, didn’t seem to alleviate the pain and struggle which come with being Armenian and Lebanese. I have been working in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf countries for the last 31 years. I often find myself asking the recurring question: “Where is home?” Is it Beirut, Nicosia, or better yet, Kuwait? I suppose I am what you may call the archetype of an Armenian living in the diaspora.
Regardless, I found myself having three different identities and “homes.” I suppose two homes, as I’ve never really lived in Armenia…or been able to.
In 1915, my father was deported from his home in Aintab. He was barely a year old then. His family settled in Aleppo, Syria, and then moved to Beirut, Lebanon. My family lost 25 of its members during the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey, along with all their physical properties. I never met them, but I see their faces every time I look through old pictures in my family album and imagine a life in Aintab and what it would have been like if they had lived.
I’m a third-generation Armenian living in the diaspora because my ancestors were forced to flee in 1915 during the Armenian Genocide. Although my generation didn’t directly witness the Genocide, we carry the pain of it. We carry the pain of our ancestors who were massacred and the pain of being deprived of living on our land that is rightfully ours.
In the years since the Genocide, Armenians have learned to live and prosper in a diaspora away from home, but never, not even for a minute, giving up on that hope that we will one day return. Although home (historical Armenia) is not “reachable” at the moment, the republics of Armenia and Artsakh are.
I was fortunate enough to visit Armenia and Artsakh several times. On my last visit in September 2019, I was in Stepanakert to present my book Armenian Diasporan Lives: As I Saw Them at the National University of Artsakh. I also had the privilege of meeting the Minister of Foreign Affairs with whom I shared my love for the land. I enjoyed the beautiful country and my fellow Armenians living in Artsakh. Armenians have an incredible passion for their land and the Armenian identity. The landscape is so beautiful and the people even more so. One year on, and I am still in awe of its beauty. It is truly life changing.
The 44-day war on Artsakh by Azerbaijan, Turkey and Islamist jihadists was much more than a matter of life or death for Armenians. It was a matter of fighting for the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed during the 1915 Genocide. The war ended with Armenia’s defeat. More than 5,000 young soldiers died. We also lost quite a bit of land, which includes historical churches and monasteries. Azerbaijan and Turkey consist of more than 90 million people, whereas Armenia and Artsakh have barely three million put together. I cannot help but be reminded of David and Goliath in the Bible, particularly when looking at the power discrepancies.
Is history repeating itself? Most likely, yes. One hundred and six years on, we are faced with the same power trying to bring us down to our knees. The pain just seems to be never-ending.
When reflecting on the idea of how pain and suffering can bring people together, I stumbled on Walter Brueggemann’s work. Brueggemann believes that bringing people to engage with their experiences of suffering and death energizes and links people to hope. This hope helps the individual to cut through the despair, which might otherwise seem unresolvable or unending.
The human and physical destruction of the recent war has been a major setback for Armenians, but it can still generate this same hope.
According to Brueggemann, newness in one’s life is given by God and is supposed to be the only real source of energy. He explains his assertion by linking Exodus with the crucifixion. For Brueggemann, Jesus’ death and resurrection were the absolute Exodus, showing that ultimately hope is always given to us and not necessarily generated by us. This is how I choose to describe my journey.
Perhaps wars and destruction have on very rare occasions served as forces for good. But violence generates more violence. What is most needed today, as Apostle Paul says, is “fighting the good fight.”
The good fight does not need planes or drones. The good fight is a life-changing process, initiated by the acceptance, understanding and respect of the other, which I’ve come to realize in my last 41 years in the Gulf is a vital component for peace, regardless of the latter’s background.
Today, as I look at a shattered Artsakh, I know that no war or physical force can eradicate its beauty, but that’s from a patriot’s perspective. From an Armenian’s perspective living in a scattered diaspora, I see bloodshed and unrest: a very high price we continue to pay in our struggle for peace and justice. As a Lebanese and Middle Easterner, I am much too familiar with that feeling.
Perhaps if these wars were the right kind of wars, assuming there is such a thing, the world could become a better place.
I don’t think my pain and struggle will ever go away, and I have somehow come to terms with the fact that I may never, in my lifetime, see peace or fair retribution. One thing I know, though, is that I will carry on fighting the fight for the Good, regardless of whether I make it to the finish line or not.
David beat Goliath even though the fight and power dynamics were uneven. David beat Goliath because he was fighting for the GOOD cause.
Fighting the good fight is not easy, but it is worth it. That’s the only way I see forward.
The GOOD will eventually win.