The Armenian-seeking person that I have always been, one afternoon in July 2007 I ended up with an interesting mixture of people on my sofa at work. People who ethnically had a lot in common – they were all Armenian, but nonetheless struggled to make any sort of meaningful contact for at least an hour of being sat next to each other, waiting for me to finish my business and act as a connecting bridge between them.
It is rather hard to blame them, though.
First of all, there was the linguistic barrier, because they were:
- a Beirut born Western Armenian from Kuwait, fluent in Western-Armenian and English;
- a Northern Caucasus born Armenian from Moscow, fluent only in Russian;
- an Akhaltsikhi born Armenian from Moscow fluent in Russian and the Akhaltsikhi dialect Armenian;
- …and my little cousin from Armenia, who although was fluent in both Russian and English, but was finding it rather weird to speak foreign languages to Armenians.
I glanced at them from time to time, reassuring them that I was going to be finished sooner rather than later, as I was seriously afraid that the atmosphere of total silence was going to make one or more of them leave.
Luckily, no-one left and I finally got some time to be able to act as a host for my guests.
Before I came to England I was constantly dreaming of me giving a talk to a big group of Diasporans and getting the message across to them that in order to preserve their and their children’s Armenianness they should devote some time and effort to establishing links with Armenia and work towards Armenia’s more secure future.
In the dream everyone was really surprised they had not thought about it themselves and eagerly embraced the initiative.
Youth maximalism at its best or worst, depending on how you look at it.
Here I had the arguably sad reality of mutual unawareness and ignorance on my very own sofa and, at the time, I was still determined to do something about it.
With me they were all at ease. I knew the environments they came from, I spoke their lingo and could share a joke or two. But a group conversation through me as an interpreter was just not happening.
I could not single-handedly change something which was a result of hundreds of years of population shifts, deportation, voluntary and involuntary immigration.
And the problem was not only linguistic. Those people very simply had very little in common, even in their appearance.
Now, I could go on for hours trying to explore the underlying reasons for such lack of common ground between different Diasporan groups, but by now we all ought to have realised how diverse we have become as an ethnographic entity – Parskahays, Libananahays, Turqahays, Fransahays, Amerikahays, Hunahays, etc.
The geographical divide brings cultural differences and it is only natural that with time every group becomes very self-centred.
The pattern was always quite obvious at Armenian parties I attended in London where different ‘communities’ shared tables only with persons with their own immigrant background.
I remember booking a table for a New Year’s Eve party in 2005 and the lady on the phone repeatedly asking me where I was from. Apparently, to know ‘where to sit me’.
I lashed out at her saying that I am Armenian and I do not recognize the divisions they are trying to enforce on me.
She could not care less about my Pan-Armenian patriotism and, as a result of quite blatant segregation, I ended up with Hayastancis at my table anyway.
On the slightly brighter side of things, currently the balance seems to be shifting a little bit, with the new generation of young Armenians who have grown up with the knowledge of the existence of a country called Armenia, where they hail from and which is a single geographical unit, a fact that itself has a unifying power.
Also, the internet plays a huge role in this bridging process, providing a platform for those who feel like exploring their routes.
But, still, the few and far apart events that are being organised and attended by young Armenians from all backgrounds and freely mixing together, do not serve any meaningful purpose apart from joint consumption of alcohol and having a good time dancing away to Tata or Armenchik.
And the only purpose I can see in having an Armenian organisation is benefiting Armenia, so that Armenia could become a country which could create conditions for repatriation.
The history shows, that no matter how many schools and churches you build, without the existence of an actual country in the hearth of the nation, even the strongest communities will fail.
And the trend can now turn, I believe, with Hayastancis achieving higher social status in our communities in the West and being able to introduce more Armenia-centred initiatives to the table.
The process of Hayastancis overtaking community life will be beneficial to all Armenian immigrant communities, irrespective of their country of origin, as we will be able to act as a bridge between them and others and as their direct link to Armenia.
It would be helpful if our government finally had some sort of policy on Diaspora and repatriation, but the way things are looking, we are going to have to take the initiative and create change ourselves.
But being where we are now, after having put the immigrant hardships behind us, I am sure we can be successful in this new beginning as well.
What I could not change back in 2007 despite my best efforts, can be changed as a result of more focused and targeted approach from the young people who are coming through the ranks of the community organisations now.
That is of course if the old guard, the bigoted bureaucracy of division does not stand in the way.
About the Author
Arshak Mkrtchyan (aka Arshakuni) – is a relatively new but very interesting, sometimes controversial blogger from the UK, who blogs only when he really has a point to make.