More “dont’s” and “do’s” for Diasporans on tour of Homeland

More “dont’s” and “do’s” for Diasporans on tour of Homeland

SANTA FE, N.M. – If you are an Armenian of the Diaspora, and you are going to visit the Homeland for the first time, there are a few things you ought to know.

The sentimental expectations vis-à-vis Armenia are often left unfulfilled, especially for those of a very patriotic and traditional Armenian background. Be prepared for a general culture shock.

The language is different, particularly for those conversant in Western Armenian, but even for Eastern Armenian speakers from other parts of the world. I remember a friend of mine from Aleppo who asked for something with “patates”, a colloquial expression in the Diaspora for “potatoes”. The waiter thought that the order was for “patatel”, and so he “wrapped” it in lavash!

What is the Republic of Armenia today was under Russian rule in one form or another for almost two centuries, the result being plenty of Russian influence, in terms of language, music or fashion.

Don’t be surprised if you stain your sarochka with pamidor during kef, instead of your shabeeg (“shirt”) with loleeg (“tomatoes”) during a… well, I guess kef is universal! (It’s also a word with Arabic roots, so please note that some influences are shared by the entire nation.)

The food in Armenia is also not what Diasporans with a Middle Eastern connection have in mind. It still tastes yummy, though. And the coffee cups are read just fine, too.

Soviet times brought in orthographic reforms, though, so spelling in the language is different in general, and that sometimes affects reading coffee dregs as well.

My father’s name begins with a “hee” in the classical orthography, but with the letter “ho” in the spelling system used in Armenia.

An enthusiastic woman once saw my father’s abbreviation in his coffee cup. I don’t think anyone had the heart to tell her otherwise. I guess it’s the thought that counts, and, anyway, a “hee” and a “ho” look quite similar in coffee-remainder form.

Remember also that the people of today’s Armenia have seen hard times within living memory, and the society has been far removed from much of the acculturation many in the Diaspora have borne in countries with a strong tradition of, say, rule of law.

Be prepared for plenty of corruption. Professional service is also far below the mark of what many Armenians in Western countries would appreciate.

The list of similarities and differences goes on, but – much more importantly – how to deal with all this? How does one conduct oneself properly, as a Diasporan tourist in the Homeland?

Armenia can be simply a vacation spot in many ways. Indeed, many Diasporans treat it as such. But the emotional, psychological and cultural connection could also make the experience far, far more profound.

For a member of the Diaspora, even if the villages and churches one visits lie distant from the land of one’s immediate ancestors, there is still a shared legacy which one may rightfully enjoy and cherish. Indulge in your heritage!

I remember feeling a deep sense of connection when I heard a local tell an old folk tale that he’d heard from his grandfather. Well, I’d heard that very same story as a child, half-way around the world. His ancestors are from Moush, and mine from Marash, but it all comes together in Yerevan, one way or another.

Please don’t dwell on what’s wrong with Armenia, and please don’t act in a patronising manner and allow yourself to lecture your compatriots on the way they ought to behave and run their country.

Okay, “our country” to be sure, but, remember, the people of the Homeland deal with the Republic of Armenia every day of their lives.

It’s not like the Diaspora shuns it; many small- and large-scale projects supported and undertaken by individuals and organisations of the Diaspora are being realised for the betterment of the Homeland all the time.

In fact, many in the Diaspora are often invited to lecture on how to improve Armenia. But one must realise the limited connection one has as a Diasporan as such, and as a tourist in particular, when it comes to the more direct day-to-day reality of the Homeland.

Now, this does not mean you have to suffer an incompetent waiter, or not demand correct change. And, please, make sure to bargain!

But it does imply that any Diasporan would do well to become better-acquainted with Eastern Armenian and maybe even learn a few words of Russian.

Use the opportunity of your presence in the Homeland to discover more about your heritage. We have millennia of history and culture, the vanguard and protector of which is the Republic of Armenia today.

Try to forge a more profound link with Armenia, to gauge a better understanding of the Armenian world today, both in terms of the circumstances in the Homeland, and also in the connection with the Diaspora.

You will return to your community with a better sense of how you ended up where you are, and what it means to be an Armenian of the Diaspora. And – who knows? – perhaps things will work out such that you will end up joining the ranks of many former Diasporans.