GUEST COMMENTARY - I’m starting to feel bad for my father, since he has to put up with my debates about Armenian socio-politics almost daily. As a traditional Diasporan Armenian, he did his duty quite comprehensively—and passed on to his sons the love and care of our people. But it has begun to dawn on me that the context of his Armenian world and mine are quite different.
Somewhere in our decades-long struggle for Genocide recognition and subsequent justice, we seem to have overlooked the changes that transpired in the lost homeland. Not only were these changes not addressed properly, they still seem to be avoided; and that act of evading will do nothing but sadly blind the hopeful Armenians who desire to resettle the Armenian nation in the lands we consider our cradle of civilization.
As Armenians mark the beginning of violence that left 1.5 million dead, Turkey’s lack of contrition leaves descendants struggling to reconcile loss and renewal.
The debate on “Armenian identity” has a long history and is an ever-evolving discourse, especially in the Diaspora. At least in the last 100 years since 1915, along with efforts to build communities in dispersion, there have been hierarchies of identity and canonical approaches to definitions of “Armenian,” especially as articulated, rationalized and promoted by elites, institutions, and political parties in the Diaspora and in Armenia. This essay is not a study of identity per se, but about one of the aspects of identity – the “Armenian” bit of it.
It was not a particular concern until after the Genocide. The idea of losing identity with one’s Armenian heritage was foreign until 1915. After all, most Armenians lived as an indigenous people on their ancestral lands in the western highlands.
When you live as an ethnic group in densely populated villages and cities, retaining your identity is essentially taken for granted. You were born into Armenian families, educated at Armenian schools, taught the Christian faith of our people and embraced the culture like the fabric of your clothing. The language you spoke was the mother tongue unless you were prevented from speaking Armenian by the Turkish authorities. This was the case of my maternal grandfather who was raised in the Dardanelles and learned Armenian only when he immigrated to America.
The threat to our people concerned their very human existence. It was manifested by the attempt to murder a nation. They failed, but many of our ancestors became victims (now sainted); the remainder were scattered outside their native lands and became what we now refer to as the diaspora.
It is by national misfortune, an unpreventable reality, and a sad patriotic heart that I say to all Armenians that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide cannot deliver territorial compensation favorable to the current Armenian veracity. With that in mind, the Armenian nation should concentrate its efforts in territories where Armenians do actually reside—the Republic, Kharabagh, and Javakhk. Western Armenia will always remain in our hearts and minds, but not in our hands. It’s a truth we have yet to face.
This article is not meant to picture a bleak, somewhat semi-apocalyptic future for Armenia; the article is based on assumptions only and is heavily anchored by the actions of Turkey—if Turkey returns Western Armenia to Armenia. Similar to John Mearshheimer’s controversial article ‘Back to the Future’ in which his assumptions are exclusively cemented in specific future actions of the US in Europe, my article follows the same pattern of heavily relying on the specific future actions of Turkey. However, that is an ‘if’ that is far from materializing, and there are many other factors that have not been considered in this article. Nonetheless, what I tried to detail out is a brief, general idea of what is most likely to transpire if, and only if, Turkey hands over Western Armenia to Armenia. Suffice to say, that is a future scenario that should be handled and facilitated cautiously and pragmatically…not ideologically.
(Mihran Kalaydjian is a leading member of the community and a devoted civic engagement activist for education spearheading numerous academic initiatives in local political forums.)