Obstacles to Unity…Forgiveness and Egos

These are surreal times for the valiant Armenian nation. We are experiencing the trauma of our grandparents with similar atrocities, deportations and territorial loss that our survivor generation carried into the diaspora. The depopulation of an entire enclave in the 21st century has been broadcast on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Before continuing, let me say that I abhor the patronizing terms that our world has created to explain what is happening in Artsakh. When I read “forced evacuations,” it describes vacating due to a natural disaster such as wildfires and hurricanes. This is not what our brave people have experienced. It is called a DEPORTATION, and it is component of genocide. 

Once again, we are forced to remember what was and could have been, like the western highlands, Cilicia and Nakhichevan. The list is growing and now a new generation will carry the burden of our collective loss. This is a terrible legacy that will impact our thinking for decades. It leaves us bitter and frustrated with the attitude that whatever we do may not matter. We should acknowledge that possibility, but never accept it. At the lowest points of our history, our people fought back from horrific losses to build a new future. After the fall of the Bagraduni kingdom, a massive migration took place that populated and established a new kingdom in Cilicia. Life blossomed in that region until the Genocide. Imagine the challenge of physical displacement over many years and the hardships overcome. There are hundreds of examples of tenacity and perseverance in our brilliant history. Our Baku Armenians have displayed remarkable strength these past 35 years. Today, we are wounded and angry. It is a necessary phase to experience and transition from. The danger for us is to stay in this phase semi-permanently.

Most of our criticism today is directed outside of the Armenian community at the groups that failed us: the EU, United States, Russia and any other that offered rhetoric while people were dying. The United Nations has long been an institution offering volumes of comforting words while being deficient on prevention or political action, creating a diplomatic community for the theoretical good of mankind but rendered useless in addressing the dark side of humanity. We are justified in our criticism of our international colleagues. Hopefully, we can take advantage of the latent surge of “sympathy” coming from many of these bodies. The calls are stronger for a multinational body to Artsakh and the Armenian border. France, in turn, has announced unprecedented military assistance to Armenia. 

Our homeland is surrounded on most borders by a hostile alliance bent on the full destruction of our people. If it were up to Erdogan and Aliyev, we would be a stateless people. Azerbaijan, on a par with Hitler and Pol Pot, considers this strictly an internal matter. They continue to brazenly arrest leaders in Artsakh to make their point and use their illegal captivity as currency during negotiations. They view any “external” efforts as a personal insult, and we must be vigilant in the face of their pronouncements. 

Our people have once again paid a terrible price, but this fight is not over. Most of the internal criticism has been directed at the government of Armenia and its policies. I would like to suggest an area where we have total control and opportunity to strengthen our nation. During times of national crisis, we must understand that a nation divided is less capable than one united. We are plagued with division today. The competitive, innovative and independent nature of our people has created some of this reality, but we are not a finely tuned machine, and we cannot afford any of this going forward. Minimizing conflict within our people should be about adjusting our focus and utilizing our resources. These walls are artificial and need to come down. Our future depends on it.

In its most fundamental form, most of the obstacles to a more unified or integrated approach can be summarized in two terms: forgiveness and egos. As Armenians, we are very proud and speak often of our Christian faith but are short on practicing the basic tenets of that faith in our lives. Our church teaches us the power of prayer, love and forgiveness, yet these seem important only when we are in the sanctuary. The Armenian church is the most important non-governmental institution in our global community. It has been a rock for over 17 centuries, but like any other institution it has to continue earning its respect and credibility. We need to understand that our faith and our church institution are not the same. The former is our eternal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ, and the latter is a choice of practice. The church has struggled chronically with forgiveness. I have always felt that the best of our church is when it stands above human conflict and provides the leadership to reconcile and end suffering. Why was Ghevont Yeretz on the front line with Vartan at Avarayr? One of our great leaders of the 20th century, Karekin Hovseptiantz, was in the middle of conflict and building trust through leadership, whether at Sardarabad, trying to resolve the church divide in America in the 1930s or his remarkable work in building the Great House of Cilicia.

It is difficult for many Armenians to reconcile an institution that advocates love and forgiveness yet tolerates the longstanding jurisdictional division of the church. This is not simply a reference to the American dioceses but rather a world church commentary given the awkward leadership collaboration between Holy Etchmiadzin and Antelias. Aram I has displayed great leadership on national issues but is unable to do much for the people of Artsakh and Armenia. Karekin II has assumed a very low public profile at a time when our people need a visible presence from the church. The conflict between Etchmiadzin and Antelias and the tepid relationship with the government of Armenia must be resolved for the benefit of the Armenian people. The power of forgiveness is not a theory or a vehicle for the naive. If we cannot resolve our differences with love and forgiveness, we will remain weak. National reconciliation should be a driving theme on multiple levels. This is an especially critical time to look inward and resolve our internal issues.

The church can improve its credibility and provide leadership during this critical time if it chooses. In my view, the Catholicos and his bishops should have been in Syunik offering comfort, blessing and support to our deported brethren. Just as the venerable Catholicos Sahag II traveled to the refugee camps in Syria after the Genocide to comfort and organize his beleaguered flock, we should expect our church leaders to be visible in time of need. We have all viewed the images of our deportees, and I am saddened by not seeing the public leadership of the church. It is noteworthy that many kahanas (married priests) are helping, but this is a unique time for the Catholicos. It is not enough to cancel the Holy Muron. Go to the people.

These are difficult times. Sacrifice and an understanding of the bigger picture at risk are essential.

Each of us can do something, individually or collectively, to further integrate our nation. There have been serious calls for the diaspora to organize in a way that makes it more effective in working with the homeland. Similar calls have been made for the homeland to legislatively open the doors for more diversified resources from the diaspora to support the homeland. We are the main obstacle to most of these opportunities. We are all guilty of it…my idea…my organization…my position. A popular phrase in our communities these days is “pan-Armenian.” Whether it is the “Future Armenian” initiative or local pan Armenian activities, it requires people of vision who are willing to subordinate their egos for the greater good. These efforts can be challenging when you bring several innovative and creative minds together, but these are difficult times. Sacrifice and an understanding of the bigger picture at risk are essential. As the brilliant pan-Armenian educator and philanthropist, the late Dr. Vartan Gregorian, once stated, “There are more things that unite us than divide us.” He gave this message at the opening of the NAASR Center in 2019. Pan-Armenian thinking is always focused on the importance of the vision and the mission. Egos and conflict will always exist but successful endeavors subordinate them below the radar. 

Pan-Armenian gathering in Boston in support of Artsakh, Sept. 30, 2023 (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

It would be a wise investment for all of us to use this moment in our history to identify ways to better integrate, reduce redundancy and build a better Armenian nation. This is not limited to our high profile leaders. Certainly with their authority and power of position they can have significant impact, but each of us can do something powerful. Ask yourself: Are you focused on the vision and the mission or are you working on another agenda? We are a diaspora built on organizations. They are critically important, but they are only a vehicle to the mission, not the mission itself. Organizations must evolve as the mission does. What adjustments are you making?

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.

1 Comment

  1. Divisions based on egos occur at the local level in parishes and communities. Yes , forgiveness, Christian charity and self interest would go some ways to healing them. Unfortunately, the real source of divisions in the Armenian world have deeper roots and causes and we see them playing out even in the current crisis. The unresolved question since 1918 has been; “ can Armenia be an independent country?” . One camp believes that Armenia’s destiny is to be a vassal state of Russia. The other camp believes that Armenia can be independent with its own economy, foreign policy and military. This conflict has played out since 1918 and has gone back and forth, with consequential divisions in the diaspora. Unfortunately, the elites in Armenia, Russia and Diaspora have not been able to develop a consensus answer. I think that it would be very helpful to have an honest discussion on the Kocharyan/Sargsyan regime from 1998 to 2018 and compare it with the Pashinyan regime 2018 to 2023. Can we go past accusations of “traitor” and “corruption” and have an intelligent and honest analysis? The future of Armenia may depend on it. If one believe that Armenia can be independent then Armenia needs a world class military to sustain it; its economy and diplomacy supports an independent Armenia. However if one believes that Armenia cannot defend itself ( its economy is too small, geographically isolated, enemies too powerful ) then it becomes subservient to the local powers Russia, Turkey and Iran. But in that scenario it must be prepared to sacrifice territory if the local hegemon demands it. These are difficult issues to discuss honestly but it may help towards reducing divisions in Armenia and diaspora.

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