Preserving and perpetuating our ethnic heritage

Ruth Thomasian (Project Save), retired Principal Hoory Boyamian & St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School students on Armenian Culture Day, 2018

The long directed crusade toward preserving and perpetuating our ethnic heritage has seen its peaks and valleys, to be sure, but its strength lies in its continued existence. The debate still continues whether Armenians in the Diaspora can preserve their ethnic existence. As always, there are two sides to this issue. Some say they cannot; others say they can.

Granted, the future of the Armenian Diaspora is uncertain, and the struggle is extremely difficult. But we should never be hopeless. If Diaspora Armenians were able to survive, despite their losses, hundreds of years away from their fatherland, there is still hope that they will be able to do so in the future, provided that they do not lose their will and determination to preserve and perpetuate their culture and heritage.

We all know the importance of a nation’s culture and heritage. They give us a real sense of roots and belonging, as well as knowledge and wisdom, without which a nation becomes unrelated to the present. It is culture and heritage that offer a sense of identity and hold us together as an ethnic group and as a nation.

We, the Armenian people, can learn from our heritage, appreciate its historic values and develop the ability to build upon them. We cannot, however, build a sound and strong present and future without those values inherited from the past.

A tremendous challenge lies before Diasporas Armenians. The great task at hand is to protect what is bequeathed to us from our ancestors. The abdication of this responsibility is unforgivable. If we believe we are the inheritors of a glorious, 3,000-year-old culture, we should actively commit ourselves to ensuring its survival, which, in turn, will ensure our own survival. With a reaffirmation of will, determination, faith and fortitude, the safekeeping of the Armenian heritage will be a certainty. But where is one to begin?

  1. One of the most effective ways to preserve and perpetuate the Armenian heritage is the Armenian school. The Armenian school is one of the strongest tools in transmitting our culture. Armenian language and history are vital arteries connecting us to our roots. They are important depositories and powerful conveyors of our ethnic values. 

The Armenian school is destined to be the most potent force to help light the path for future generations of Armenians. It is a powerful weapon to fight against assimilation.

  1. Another powerful tool to preserve and perpetuate the Armenian heritage is the media. Television, radio and press carry a potential in this realm that one cannot afford to ignore. Radio and television time, in particular, is readily available, and even now is being utilized to present many fine programs of an ethnic nature. The Armenian press, along with other media, also plays a very important role in our public life. It serves the public, provides information and offers guidance. It is also called on to act as a public conscience. 

Furthermore, the Armenian press is a link between the Diaspora and Mother Armenia. It is a potent medium to educate the public on Armenian matters.

  1. A third arm of defense to preserve and perpetuate the Armenian heritage is the Armenian church. The Armenian church, consisting of the Apostolic, Catholic and Evangelical branches, is the bedrock of our nation, the front of our ethno-national identity in the Diaspora. Without it, we are spiritually and, to a considerable extent, culturally impoverished people. The church can provide our people with the God-given strength to love one another and to glory in each other’s presence. 

Undoubtedly, the Armenian churches try to uphold the spiritual identity of our people. They are the institutions that have tried to protect the best of our spiritual heritage and to advance the noblest ideas of humankind.

  1. A fourth powerful factor to preserve and perpetuate the Armenian heritage is the Armenian organizations. This entity comprises political, cultural, benevolent, compatriotic and athletic groups. These organizations are dedicated to promoting Armenian heritage. They have tremendous potential to assist the new generations of Armenians through their multitude of programs. 

The Armenian organizations are the strong and staunch advocates of Armenianism. They champion Armenian language, history and culture. They continue to espouse Armenian rights and to keep the Armenian Cause alive. They organize, supervise and motivate Armenians to attend Armenian affairs and encourage them to get involved. Separately and corporately, they try to improve the lot of Diaspora Armenians.

  1. A fifth important and effective tool to preserve and perpetuate the Armenian heritage is the Armenian home. The foundation for ethnic consciousness begins at home. Without the help of the Armenian home, the efforts of organizations to inculcate pride in our heritage in our younger generations will be a difficult task. 

One of the major thrusts of transmitting the Armenian identity at home is the value system. How do children learn and develop Armenian cultural values? Children fashion their value system mainly during childhood. One of the most important ingredients, then, is the parents

Similarly, one of the most important classrooms is the home, and the parental dimension is extremely decisive in effective Armenian education. If Diaspora Armenians are to raise children who are proud of their national, ethnic and cultural values, they have to fulfill their responsibilities as Armenian parents by creating a conducive atmosphere where their children are exposed to, appreciative of, and taught the Armenian language, history, music, art and other expressions of their culture.

Can Armenians live in Diasporan pluralistic societies, interact freely and openly and still retain their Armenian identity? Yes, they can, provided that they make a personal commitment to a bicultural way of life. This has to be an emotionally as well as intellectually felt act of will, to remain true to their Armenian roots under all circumstances, as in marriage, for better or for worse.

Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian is the Executive Director of the Armenian Evangelical World Council.
Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian

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