A patent on victimhood

Growing up, whenever my attention would move to the causes of other peoples, my family and Armenian community would turn my attention back to our Armenian struggle, as if their hands were permanently embedded on my cheek, turning it the other way. Yet do we want to patent our victimhood and struggle? Is the Armenian struggle different or more important than other struggles?

In these past eight weeks, we have seen the death of over 20,000 Palestinians, many of them women and children. Families have been torn apart and entire lineages obliterated. We have seen the state of Israel perpetuate genocide. This is nothing new, but also begs us to ask our Jewish friends—is this the best you can do? Do you really believe you are the victims in this war? No civilian life should be taken, be it Palestinian or Israeli; however, there is something wrong in having to justify our support for an occupied people. Each day I come across a social media post and shake my head in disbelief at the delusions of many Zionists, the delusions of a people who justify their actions with their victimhood. 

Our Armenian people also have delusions. Few Armenians are standing by the Palestinians, and I question the silence of our community. Some justify their stance by saying that Hamas congratulated Azerbaijan on taking Artsakh. This is true, and Al-Jazeera often sides with the Muslim side, but are we forgetting that Israel is a strong ally of Azerbaijan and armed them to commit genocide in Artsakh?

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Recently, my husband Haig, my sister Taline and I climbed Mount Ararat. It was magical and one of the hardest things we have done. The highlight for me was the unity of all people, of Armenian and Kurdish guides, on our ancestral lands. Many Armenians do not want to step foot in historic Armenia because it is present day Turkey. Yet this land calls to us, recognizes us and knows us deeply.

It took us three days to climb the mountain amongst friends who quickly became best friends. When undergoing an arduous adventure, our vulnerabilities emerge, creating space for true humanity. On our first night at base camp one, we met a group of Israelis who were preparing for their climb. Born in Lebanon and having lived through war in my early years, I am a bit wary of Israelis when I first meet them and where their politics and feelings lie. The eldest of the group, Daniel, was 80 years old at the time and very friendly. He had been a runner all his life, having completed numerous marathons. Daniel was also an environmentalist. He opposed Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu with passion, and as a progressive Jew, took part in many protests prior to coming on the trip.

On our first night, we partied under the full moon. We danced and sang, collecting our strength for the next day. Some of us felt a bit woozy from the elevation, but it was bearable. The Israeli group stood to the side watching us dance. Two of them joined, then retreated to their tent.

The next day was grueling, as we climbed and descended from Ararat in 14 hours. When we returned to base camp one, I noticed a Palestinian flag flying high. I ventured toward it and was excited to find a group of Palestinians preparing for their upcoming climb. We spoke a bit, and I told them that a group of Israelis was up on the mountain now. “They are progressives,” I said. Their eyebrows turned up. “Progressives. Let them show us how progressive they are. I would like to see that,” one of them said.

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That evening, my body needed rest, and I had no choice but to lay in my sleeping bag. I heard the Palestinian group partying all night and fell asleep muttering about how much I wanted to join them. I still think of them often. 

As survivors of genocide, we need to build alliances with other communities to take our cause further. We need to fight for our existence, side by side with people who fight for their existence. We need to incorporate Indigenous voices in our narrative and support Indigenous struggles. Ours is an Indigenous struggle, so why do we hesitate to support others?

For me, this was the highlight of our climb—people joined together in one place behaving like the humans that we are. 

I ask myself why we cannot take this approach with us everywhere. As Armenians, we need to stand with the Palestinians. As survivors of genocide, we need to build alliances with other communities to take our cause further. We need to fight for our existence, side by side with people who fight for their existence. We need to incorporate Indigenous voices in our narrative and support Indigenous struggles. Ours is an Indigenous struggle, so why do we hesitate to support others? Why is it that we look at our struggle as us-against-them? 

I believe our country has a bright future if we stand together. I pray that the narrative changes to allow for unity and the betterment of Armenia. As Hrant Dink wrote in one of his articles: “Come, let us first understand each other…Come, let us first respect each other’s pain…Come, let us first let one another live…”

The world has not been a safe place for Armenians, just as it has not been for the Jews. The victim mentality of seeing threats in many places is still present in the Armenian mindset. This approach perpetuates fear and promotes the intergenerational trauma within us. 

How about a different narrative? How about not seeing ourselves as victims? How about not fearing the people around us? How about embracing our strengths and not defining ourselves just by 1915? How about making our ancestors proud by becoming stronger in unity?

Tamar Haytayan
Tamar Haytayan is a Vancouver-based photographer working from a personal and intuitive perspective to capture candid moments of the culture of everyday life. A central theme of several of her projects has been the exploration of memory, mortality and grief. Tamar Haytayan studied photography at the Bournemouth & Poole College of Art & Design in Bournemouth, UK, and her body of work spans over the last 28 years. Tamar has shown at the Armenian Centre for Contemporary Art (Yerevan, Armenia), PhotoHaus Gallery (Vancouver, Canada), Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (Philadelphia, USA), The Women's Art Show (Vancouver, Canada), The Center for Fine Art Photography (Fort Collins, Colorado), Los Angeles Centre of Photography (Los Angeles), and The Blue Sky Gallery (Portland, Oregon). She has also collaborated with the performance artist and poet Dr. Celeste Snowber (Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada) and currently resides in Vancouver, Canada with her musician and designer husband, Haig, children Jivan and Ani and poodle Tipper.
Tamar Haytayan

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  1. “We have seen the state of Israel perpetuate genocide”
    I am not sure how to respond to this, to be honest. There is a lot to address.

    Look, most of us are no fans of the government of Israel, but your entire article has not one mention of what Hamas did to innocent civilians, the women and children included, and yet you go on ranting about Israel and the supposed genocide they are engaging in.
    They have the right to defend themselves, they did not start this conflict, they did not attack women and children, they did not paraglided into a music festival to murder everyone there.

    Yes, we all condemn the horrific Israeli government policies of supplying arms to Azerbaijan to kill our Armenian brothers and sisters, but you can still condemn terrorism, defend innocent civilians, women, and children from sexual assault, torture, maiming, and murder, without supporting the Israeli government’s policy of arming Azerbaijan, you can condemn that without falsely accusing Israelis of engaging in a genocide that is not happening.

    As a descendent of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, I reject trivializing genocide by labeling any action that I don’t agree with as such.
    You are doing exactly that, due to your skewed view of this conflict.
    If you are going to play “but those captured men are civilians”, then let me remind you to go and view the videos that were taken by the Hamas and other “civilians” who participated in the October 7 attacks on their cellphones or their GoPro cameras of them committing unimaginable crimes, listen to the testimonies of the freed hostages and those who miraculously escaped the horrors on that day, and then revisit what you are publishing.

    The most ironic thing in this article, you claim Israel is acting as a victim, and engaging in victimhood while advancing the false narrative that Hamas and its supporters are, and extending that to all Palestinians.

    As people whose history is impacted by centuries of persecution and genocide, we should be standing against Hamas and their supporters, not sweeping that under the rug, accusing Israel of imaginary genocide, just because we want to condemn the Israeli government’s horrible decision to provide arms to Azerbaijan.
    Learn how to deal with separate issues without mixing them, effectively confusing yourself to side with genocidal Hamas, and unintentionally (I hope) coming across as a supporter of genocide, something you say you are against.

    • Thank you Chris for your comments.

      It is the 68th day of Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza. If today was the 2nd day of the killing of innocent Israeli civilians by Hamas, then I would have mentioned the October 7 attack. It has been over two months since then and Israel has killed over 20 000 civilians, bombed most of the hospitals, has violated every international law and yet we are requested to premise all of our sentences with “we do not condone the brutal killing of innocent Israelis by Hamas”. We do not need to justify our support for an occupied people who have been treated abhorrently by the Israeli regime and its IDF for nearly 80 years. To be asked to mention October 7 at this point is to defend someone while they are being beaten up then watch them do the same over and over again for over 2 months, which again is nothing new by the way, the only difference this time is the intensity and the resolve to ethnically cleanse the area of Palestinians once and for all.
      Israel does not have the right to defend itself over a land it is occupying. It is a settler colonial nation and it has bulldozed so many Palestinian homes and killed thousands and thousands of innocent civilians over the past 75 years. Israel is not the victim it is portraying itself to be. Of course I do not condone the death of any innocent civilian life, be it Israeli, Turkish, Palestinian or any nationality for that matter. However, Hamas’ attacks, however brutal, need to be put into context. What would anyone do if someone entered their home, threw them out or killed their families, their sons, took their relatives without reason and imprisoned them? Would that someone just stand aside and let this happen to them. They would resist oppression and they have the right to resist. The Palestinians have the right to resist and self-determine. Same for anyone who is under colonial rule. And ask yourself, who are Hamas? They are the young men who lost so much in the many wars they have witnessed in their young lives and they want to resist. Again, I am not condoning violence but we must put everything into context as this did not begin on October 7. Also, please note that the Israeli government routinely fabricates fake news and some of the stories they told about October 7 later were confirmed to be fake.
      Furthermore, please do not call this a conflict. A conflict means that there is an equal clash on both sides. This is apartheid; a brutal occupation and control of the Palestinian people.

      I stand against any person or nation that oppresses a people. I think it is important to follow different point of views and there are some excellent people we can learn from on the Jewish and Palestinian side. What gives me hope is that there are many Jewish scholars, activists and journalists who are separating Judaism and Zionism. Zionism is not Judaism and we need to separate that. Ultra-nationalism of any form has never done anyone any good. History tells us that clearly.

  2. Well written Tamar. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    I know it’s always a risk siding against the Zionists and to even be sympathetic to the Palestinians. It’s just hard for us Armenians to support them since are the same religion as the Turks. But remember, evilness has no religion. All religions have perpetuated huge atrocities. Evil people and evil governments will find all kinds of ways in their scriptures, history and culture to justify their actions.

    Remember their are also many Christians in Gaza and the same people who are killing them are also trying to erase all Armenian history in Jerusalem

    As Armenians we need stand up against injustice in all forms.

    • @ Gagik M
      True but do avoid the clash of civilizations indentity politics nonsense. As for the Palestinians largely Sunni Muslims like the Turks one might say that’s where the comparison ends. Georgia of the same type of church as Armenians and ancient neighbours whilst not an enemy is scarcely to be counted on as an ally on the basis of shared faith. Azerbaijan and Iran both broadly Shia aren’t exactly natural allies and Russia and Ukraine closely related people and for the most part orthodox church but locked in vicious war currently. During the genocide the Arabs and the Iranians gave shelter to Armenians and didn’t see the Turkish massacres as a clarion call in pan Islamist against unbelievers…

  3. Great article, Tamar. I would like to congratulate you for doing something that millions of us would love to do; climbing Ararat and making friends with other nationalities up there! I am in full agreement with your opinions. Israel is indeed doing to the Palestinians what Hitler did to the Jews and what Azerbaijan has done to Artsakh Armenians. the process is different but the result is the same; ethnic cleansing. My daughter lives in Vancouver also. She tells me how the Canadian government and mainstream media are so pro-Israel through ignorance (or even deliberately, one wonders?). They have tried to brainwash Canadians to thinking that anti-Israel means anti-semitism and that being pro-Palestinian means being pro-Hamas. As an Armenian I do dream of a day when Armenia is as technologically advanced and militarily powerful as Israel, but without being evil, brutal, oppressive towards its subjects.

  4. No, Tamar, Armenians do not need to stand by anybody else, and this kind of naive bleeding heart mentality is why Armenia continues to shrink and Armenians continue to be killed. One shouldn’t be so quick to forget all the Muslims that were celebrating the genocide in Artsakh on twitter and other social media and chanting “inshallah”. I didn’t see any Palestinians “standing” by Armenians then. Essentially everyone crying about Ukraine or Israel/Palestine now was completely silent about Artsakh. It is ironic that you seem to have written to article to be critical of victim mentality, and yet ended up advocating the victim mentality of other people. You say you consider those Jews and Muslims you traveled with to be your “friends”, but to them you are only “goyim” or “kafir”. Armenians like you should stop shedding tears for people that would be happy to see you killed.

    Understanding/respecting/loving those that want you dead and other western humanistic garbage is what led the Nikolakans to give Artsakh away and get thousands killed, because they believed it was the only obstacle in the way of a loving coexistence with the turks not unlike the one you and Dink describe. Unfortunately, it turned out the turks still don’t want us the exist at all. And those “Indigenous voices” couldn’t care less.

    • Thank you Hayk for your comment. We will agree to disagree. My intention is not to change people’s minds. that is up to each person to do. However, this article is my opinion.

    • It’s hard to expect others to sympathise if one doesn’t stand by others such policies mean few enemies hence anti Armenian sentiments aren’t universal unlike anti Semitism Yet support for Armenia globally is limited due to Armenian insularity cost and value one might say. Also for Identity politics fools in the west think of the Armenian genocide as something that was islamic but this is nonsense as Arabs and Iranians gave shelter to Armenians and some Kurds took part others gave shelter. Whilst there is the impressionable Muslim mob who cheered on Azerbaijan overunning Arktash Azerbaijan Shia nature secular culture and close relationship with Israel isn’t entirely overlooked either .

  5. A superb article Tamar. Our inward approach to common
    experiences and natural alliances reflect our political immaturity and our shallow view of human rights.
    The genocidal assault on the Palestinians woman and children of Gaza is criminal. Our voices should be joining
    the outrage. We talk out the silence during Artsakh. We must also give to receive. Keep writing. Thank you.

  6. “I stand against any person or nation that oppresses a people”
    Not Tamar, you don’t.

    Your skewed views are spelled in your article and in your response above.
    Israel is a Jewish land. Please make the minimal effort to read every religious book, every history book, and you would find out what most of the world has already knows.

    There were no Arabs in Israel before the islamic conquests which took advantage of the weakened Roman Empire and it’s lost iron grip on the region. Jews were taken into salvery by the Assyrians does not mean that their land is no longer theirs.

    Does the fact that Armenians were deported from their ancestral land make Armenian, Western Armenia, and Artsakh no longer Armenian land?
    Does that mean today’s Armenia is an “settler colonial nation”?
    Or maybe the double standards you are displaying here is way to obvious for some of us who watch both sides of the reports and are able to think independently from the actually vicitim hood that says they are “genocided” and “occupied”, their homes “bulldozed” and taken away from them while reality show the population grew in Gaza, Gaza and The west bank have autonomy for decades, and still are fighting each other on the spoils after 95% of them sold their land to the Jewish settlers?
    The only homes buldozed were for those terrorists that were given a fair warning. You attack and kill innocent civilians they are coming at you and they will demolish your home.
    You don’t want to be killed? Then don’t poke the bear. Don’t start war. You start a war, you get a war.
    Armenians never started any wars. In all of our history, we were the target of calculated and premeditated ethnic cleansing and genocides. All started by claims similar to what happened to the Jews, label them as occupiers, spread false history, make up stuff, attribute every problem in your country that same minority group you hate, and as a result, even your civilians would do your dirty work for you, if your army fails.

    I find your defense of the sexual assault on women and children reprehensible. As a woman, you should be the first to stand up and say you are not supporting that.
    You say it is justified when taken in context? Really? Since when?
    Every war crimes tribunal, every international convention/court outlawed that, and made them crimes punishable up to death.
    So if you are still saying that is justified, you are either ignorant of basics of the laws and rules, or you are just someone who supports that, using the “the end justifies the means” narrative that you are engaging in. I’ll give you the benefit of doubt and say you are ignorant of the laws and rules about this.
    Yes, this is conflict. When you attack peaceful civilians, the country has an obligation to respond.
    Who are you to say Israel does not have the right to defend itself?
    No, they are not occupiers, only someone ignorant of history would say that. How could they be occupiers in their own ancestral land? Let me guess, you also support Native Americans and say US and Canada are occupiers of a land that is not theirs?
    If not, then once again, your double standards are on display.
    You either are for original land owners and their right to their land, or not.
    You can’t have it both ways.
    Plus, your antisemitism is on display. Trying to able zionists as inhumane bloodthirsty criminals. Look up their origin, and you’ll understand.
    Then there is your other excuse saying that you are ignoring what happened on October 7th because it is in the past, while crying for the Gaza “victims” because it 68th day of Israel’s “assault” on Gaza.
    Please go ahead and explain how did that start?
    The attacked civilians who were at a music festival for peace. The first Kibutz they entered and spread their terror in, had residents of mostly peace activists and those who worked to get more help to Gaza. One of their first victims was a 60 year old woman who was brutally assaulted and then killed, and here you are justifying all that.
    So basically according to you, no proof is necessary for the Hamas propaganda, but Israel, even with the videos that were taken from the cameras on dead bodies of the terrorists who were equipped with GoPro cameras, even with the video recorded testimonies and confessions of the captured Hamas terrorists, even with 3rd party confirmation of the French and other journalists, still is lying and “fabricating” all the evidence.
    Yeah, totally makes sense and you are not prejudiced here at all.
    Here is another thing that you may not like. That 20,00 killed number came from Gaza “Health Ministry” which is basically Hamas officials appointed there. The fact that you ignore that, and still spread the same false talking points discredits what you have posted so far, and I am trying to say that nicely.
    Just last week, one of the major hospital directors came out and admitted he was a leader in Hamas “forces”, before that, Hamas Healthy Minisrty falsely accused Israel of bombing the Al-Ahli, Christian run hospital in Gaza, saying they killed 500 civilians, mostly women and children, and it turned out the rocket fired came from the islamic jihad group, another terror group affiliated with Hamas, and the total causalities were 10-17.
    They also claimed Israel bombed the Orthodox Greek Church in Gaza, only to be debunked by the church itself in an interview.
    The list goes on.
    But you say Israel is fabricating that.
    Go tell that to the mother of the Israeli woman on video who was filmed with Hamas terrorists dragging her from the back of their SUV, with blood on her pants in the crotch and back area clearly suggesting she was the victim of a brutal sexual assault, if not multiple times, her face is bloodied and nearly unrecognizable, or tell that to the mother of Shani Louk, whose naked, sexually assaulted bod with broken limbs was paraded on the back of pickup truck while the crowd of the “innocent peaceful Gaza civilians” cheered and spit on her, her credit cards were used to buy stuff from luxury stores in Gaza, then her head was found found severed from her body in Gaza by peace activists.
    Go tell that to those two mothers, if you are really all about justice and peace.
    Those videos can be found with minimal effort if you are really interested in the truth and not are here to spread propaganda. You defense of Hamas and its terrorists and their crimes is something any person who any decency in them would not support.

    That is very unfortunate that someone, in this day and age of the free information to ignore all that, take the word of the perpetrator to try to justify barbaric acts and terrorism. Every time evil rose to power, it was because people either looked the other way, or justified it for one or more reasons.
    But given your article and your response, I doubt that this would fall on anything but deaf ears, and quite frankly, I think I am wasting my time, but I thought I’d give it a try.
    I attempted to have a civil discussion and tried to present evidence, facts but got only a response based on emotions and opinion that does not have any facts to support it, and even more (and this part is not your fault, I hope) what I warned about in the last sentence in my previous post, happened again, and that seems to be a pattern here.
    Those who read between the line know exactly what I mean.
    At any rate, thanks for exchanging your views on this. The more I read of such views, the more I get confused on how could someone who is a decedent of Armenian Genocide survivor would support genocidal organization and movement like “from the river to the sea” and its militant front Hamas. I guess I am one of those people, a dying breed, who look beyond the narrative and prefer facts, cold hard facts over emotions.

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