Towards More Meaningful Commemorations
I have been in the United States for a few years now and have been actively following the goings-on in the Armenian community in this country, apart from events of the wider Armenian world, in the Republic and in the Diaspora. It is no secret that the cause for the Armenian Genocide serves as the major rallying point for our people, if not acting as the sole rallying point for our nation.
There is much that we justly demand from Turkey, and there is much for which we legitimately struggle for Artsakh, opposing Azerbaijan. I am probably not speaking solely for myself, however, when I say that I often get overwhelmed and disillusioned with a lot of our efforts, especially when I think about how much more there is to the Armenian people, to Armenia, to our history and culture, than just the social and political upheavals of the past century.
Of course they remain unresolved, and of course, we cannot lose sight of our goals. But it would be nice to direct resources towards other, less seemingly-immediate, less political or politicised aspects of society much more often than we do, both for the sake of connecting with the more tangible and more lasting facets of our identity, and also for presenting Armenia and the Armenians to the wider world in a more positive, constructive, identifiable light.
April 24th will fall on Easter Sunday this year. I remember discovering that fact some years ago with my brother, when we happened to come across a calendar of future dates for Easter. We were hoping then that, by 2011, Armenia and the Armenians, and Turkey and the Turks and Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijanis would have come to some sort of just resolution of their differences. That is not the case.
However, as my brother pointed out in a note, the Armenians have good reason to celebrate their survival and their resurrection as a people following the perpetration of the Armenian Genocide. Much like we mark the martyrs of St. Vartan’s war – the Vardanank, the first warriors, by our tradition, who fought for the Christian faith – so may we appreciate our own revival. The recent declaration by some Armenian clergy leadership on this matter is very encouraging indeed.
Our political activism is all well and good, but I sometimes come to the conclusion that it has yielded us precious little. That is grossly unfair, I know. It’s just been terribly frustrating and it often seems futile to me to be knocking on the doors of Congress, the White House, or the State Department, when we know that all there is to offer as Armenian-Americans are significant votes in just a few districts and a handful of campaign contributions here and there, up against a large, powerful, influential, and rich state, the Republic of Turkey. We have doubtless accomplished much given what we have to face, and I am proud of all that we have managed to achieve. But I doubt that the United States is going to follow a formal, consistent policy of pursuing or supporting the Armenian Cause anytime soon.
And besides, for what do we need the affirmations of Welsh city councils or Argentine courts? We know what we know, and our target is – or at least, it ought to strictly be – the national policies of the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan. I would highly appreciate it if the Armenian political establishment made it a point to mention that the Armenian people do not have anything particular against the people per se of Turkey or Azerbaijan, although we rightly have issue with those people of Turkey and Azerbaijan who support their country’s policies or who help inform or propagate them.
It would be helpful to spread awareness or education to the people generally of those societies, even if that is less than feasible and even if the governments of those countries do not have all that much accountability to their people. That is to say, public opinion does not shape policy as much in Turkey or Azerbaijan as it does in France, for example, so efforts aiming at raising awareness in those countries would have far less payoff.
The point is that our focus of political activism should be the legislatures, ministries, presidencies, and militaries alone of those states. And, yes, I understand that the ultimate targets are in fact those very bodies, that the Chinese ministers and Catalonian parliaments are meant to be directed towards them. It just seems like a forced effort to me at times.
My hope is that the Republic of Armenia will get its act together and will somehow, someday be rendered a state of some influence, even if it remain small. Hard work, rule of law, respect for human rights, a sound economy, a well-trained and professional bureaucratic and diplomatic staff are the real strengths that will cause our voice to resound in the world, much more than statements by some Australian parliamentarian. Outside of our country, Armenians who work hard and gain the reputation of respectable, accomplished citizens, such a people will garner the respect of their friends and neighbours, wherever they may be, and not the shameful hoodlums and gangsters who carry out fraud or who have national security services break up their fights.
More power to those who work in advocacy for the Armenian people; they will always need our support, and deservedly so. But I feel that we may slowly but surely emphasise a sort of ethic and culture which is more subtle, and which will bring about more returns in the long term.
I have given presentations on Armenian history and culture at my college every semester I have been here. The eighth installment is coming up soon. During the fall, I would either give a brief lecture myself, or show a documentary or some such thing. In the spring semester, I would have an event related to the Armenian Genocide sometime around April 24th. This year, I have decided, the depressing victimisation is going to give way to a folk song and dance show – not that I’m not going to mention the genocide in introducing the show. However, our rich culture can be much more appealing, both for us and our odar neighbours, in conveying that there is much that the Armenian people have to share with the world, far beyond the tragedy that befell our ancestors.