7 Questions to 7 Armenians from 7 Countries
1. From where and how did your ancestors come to this country?
Ohannes, Turkey — We did not "come to" this country, the territory of Turkey is the historical homeland of Armenian people. That small amount of Armenians that managed to survive after the genocide and not to flee the country continued to live in Anatolia, including my ancestors, who are from Sebastia. In 1950’s my family moved to the west, to Istanbul as they could not withstand the pressure from their neighbors. There were economic reasons as well, hence a big flow of population to Istanbul was recorded which turned from a small town to a large metropolis.
Vladimir, Russia — We moved here from Baku when the pogroms against the Armenian population started there.
Artur, USA — Well I’m originally from Uzbekistan. My grandmother moved there after the genocide from Erzurum. My grandfather is originally from Yerevan but spent most of his life in Artsakh before moving to Uzbekistan. Because of economical issues, my mother and I moved to the US in 1999.
Nareg, Syria — My father’s grandfather was from Beredjik (Western Armenian town close to Syria which is called Birecik now), and his grandmother was from Kilis. They both fled the genocide and following the Euphrates river came to Jarablus, a Syrian village. My grandfather was born there, and after marrying my grandmother who was also Armenian, they moved to Aleppo. My mother’s grandfather was from Anteb (called Gaziantep now), and her grandmother was from Beredjik. They also ended up in Aleppo.
Anna, Georgia — My great-grandfather Arshak was born in 1894 in the city of Kars. He escaped during the Genocide, when he was 21 years old. Well, I am the third generation born in Tbilisi.
Karin, Israel — My maternal Grandfather's family is originally from Yoghonluk village of the Musa Dagh region. His family was ecavuated by French ships to Port Said in 1915 and then returned after the area came under French control. Shortly after my grandfather was born, an agreement was made between Turkey and France, giving the lands away to Turkey and causing many of the Armenians to leave. My family ended up in Anjar and eventually came to Jaffa looking for work. My Maternal great grandmother ended up at the Melkonian orphanage in Cyprus following the genocide, where a distant cousin, who was looking for surviving family found her and married her. They too, eventually came to Jaffa in search for work.
Shahen, Lebanon — My ancestors have come from Marash (modern-day Kahramanmaraş). My last name, Araboghlian, rather had a major role in my ancestors’ being alive. Araboglu stands for “son of an Arab” in Turkish, which was used as a coverup throughout the genocide to make it to safe lands, as any Turkish national would’ve thought them to be Arab and not Armenian. It shouldn’t have been hard to convince anyways, Marash was a Mediterranean town and therefore the reason why the Turks fell for it: we didn’t look too different from Mediterranean Arabs.
2. Are the Armenians living in your country united?
Ohannes, Turkey — In my opinion the Armenians of Turkey are not united, they are divided into different groups, above all as per their political views. Especially over the last years: after our patriarch was seriously ill and Aram Ateshyan took power into his own hands illegally.
Vladimir, Russia — It is difficult to say, I have close friends and there are very reliable and loyal Armenians among them. Are we united? Guess, you could say yes. In general, it is difficult for Armenians to unite in Russia since there is opposition from a number of well-known and authoritative Armenian organizations that unite the nation in words, but disunite in deed.
Artur, USA — I would say both yes and no. There are a lot of different charities and organizations that help Hayastanci (Armenians from Armenia), however, at the same time there is a lot of political division.
Nareg, Syria — Yes, Armenians in Syria, especially in Aleppo, are united in many aspects. They live in neighborhoods that are allocated by Armenians mostly, and the majority of Armenians go to Armenian schools, scout clubs, organizations, churches, etc.
Anna, Georgia — I am sorry to say, but no, they are not. Despite the fact that there are a lot of Armenian organizations operating in Tbilisi, only a small part of Armenians take an active part in the community life today. I think Georgia differs from the rest of the Diaspora countries in that, the Armenians here have a very rich past. However, the number of Armenians in Georgia is decreasing day by day and the memory of great people who lived here and created for the country, disappears.
Karin, Israel — The Armenians have a very long history in these lands. There are the "Kaghakatsis", who have been living in Jerusalem for centuries and were mostly a community of merchants and tradesmen. Following the Armenian Genocide, some survivors found themselves in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa, where the Armenian Church gave them as much aid as possible. Many of the descendents of these survivors still live within the walls of the Armenian Convent in Jerusalem to this present day and are divided into two main social groups: Hoyetchmen (affiliated with the Ramgavars) and Homenetmen (affiliated with the Tashnags). The next big wave of immigration was post 1991, with the dismantlement of the Soviet Union — Armenians who were able to prove they had a Jewish ancestor were able to immigrate to Israel.
Shahen, Lebanon — The Armenians in Lebanon are quite united. There are many means that help in the process of communal unity, including legitimate cultural and art centers that hold various classes, youth federations and university student associations, scout troops, sports facilities, many Armenian schools to choose from, and a bit of significant-minority unity.
3. Have you ever wanted to hide your nationality?
Ohannes, Turkey — I never wanted to, but sometimes I reflect if my life would have been easier if I were not Armenian? Especially considering the fact that I live in Turkey and there are historical issues, for example, the genocide issue which has not been solved yet. And this is a big problem for two nations and a big obstacle for dialogue and mutual relations.
Vladimir, Russia — There were cases that the Armenians behaved in such an inappropriate way that I wanted to hide somewhere not to fell shame. However, I have never had a desire to hide my nationality in a relationship with non-Armenians.
Artur, USA — Not once. I hate the fact that Armenians from other countries change their last name to fit in. We are an ancient people, we lived and accomplished to much for me to ever hide my proud identity.
Nareg, Syria — No. In fact, being Armenian was beneficial in some cases in Syria as a lot of Syrians view Armenians as trustworthy.
Anna, Georgia — Being an Armenian in Georgia was not always beneficial, therefore many Armenians changed their names and are still trying to carefully conceal their ethnicity. In short, to be an Armenian in Georgia is not fashionable. In recent years, this trend has changed: the new generation of Armenians, who have the opportunity to get an education and help others understand that there is nothing shameful in their ethnicity, that, on the contrary, they need to be proud of, is unlikely to be ashamed of themselves.
Karin, Israel — No. I was raised to be a proud Armenian by my family.
Shahen, Lebanon — It’s pretty hard to hide a few thousand-year-old race, culture, history and identity, isn’t it either ways, I’ve never felt the need to hide my racial belonging. In the West, my race has been regarded as a culturally prehistoric race, which is something Westerns have yearned to have. In the Middle East, I’m proud to talk about the social, economic and political progress Armenia is going through today, which is what the Arabs fantasize of. If anything, I’m a cabinet member at the Armenian Club of my University and am constantly known to be among the organizers of Armenian events on campus, such as Paregentan, Sourp Sarkis, Genocide Commemoration and even silly things like Sujuk sandwich fundraising sales.
4. Have you ever met ethnic discrimination?
Ohannes, Turkey — After all this is Turkey, and every Armenian definitely faces it. Including me, but at the same time we have completely opposite very positive things, and it is, basically the reason we continue to live in this country both as Armenians and Christians. Hence I live concentrating more on the good than on the bad.
Vladimir, Russia — In Russia you are dealing with everyday rudeness and ignorance, rather than discrimination. I have got good education and I have good job now. There are a lot of Armenians like me. I do not remember being oppressed because of ethnicity. The problem is that some Russians consider that they brought civilization to the peoples of the former Soviet Union, and now they are sure that migrants are to blame for many troubles. All this gives rise to a scornful attitude which is reflected in the phrases like "black", "chink", etc. However, this is not discrimination, but bad manners. I am mostly surrounded by cultured people.
Artur, USA — I personally never have, not in America or Uzbekistan.
Nareg, Syria — Armenians are loved and respected by Syrians as we are hardworking people who are beneficial for our country regardless of where we live. So I haven’t met ethnic discrimination in Syria.
Anna, Georgia — I think that issue is problematic for all the national minorities of Georgia and especially for the Armenians. This is most frequently met in social media, when everybody can express their hatred.
Karin, Israel — Armenians as a minority have always been respected. However; on a personal level, I can certainly say that I have unfortunately encountered some subtle discrimination on a few occasions - not necessarily because I am Armenian, but because I am not part of the ruling majority within a country that is amidst a difficult and long-lasting conflict.
Shahen, Lebanon — I think any racial minority discrimination, especially in Lebanon where Armenians constitute more than 4% of the population, making us the biggest non-Arab minority, is bound to happen sooner or later, with anyone. On various occasions, I’ve been told to "stick to Armenia" when talking about Lebanese politics, even though we have 6 Armenian MPs and 2 ministers. The linguistics have also always been an issue, as Arabic is known to be one of the hardest languages on earth and making a grammatical mistake is sometimes due to my "Armenian-ness". Yet, it’s worth mentioning that, besides the small factors, Armenians are never the target of racial hate crimes in Lebanon.
5. How well do you speak Armenian now?
Ohannes, Turkey — I think my level of proficiency in Armenian is above the intermediate. That is I read, but I don’t manage to use the spoken language often as in every-day life I am surrounded by non Armenians. It is a bit difficult to meet an Armenian in an 18-million city.
Vladimir, Russia — I read and write in Armenian, but I don’t speak it and understand it very poorly.
Artur, USA — It’s almost non existent. I'm trying my best to learn, it’s not easy by any means.
Nareg, Syria — I went to AGBU-LNKG (The Lazar Najarian & Kaloust Gulbenkian) Armenian School in Aleppo since kindergarten and graduated from there. They would teach us language, history, and religion in Western Armenian. Also, we would speak Armenian at home, so it’s my native language. However, when I came to Armenia, first few months were difficult because a lot of people would not understand Western Armenian as it’s different from the Eastern version of the language. After a while, I got used to the differences in word usage and pronunciation of some letters, but still, I can’t speak with pure Eastern Armenian accent.
Anna, Georgia — I know Armenian well enough as I graduated from Armenian school: something that, unfortunately, is very rare for Armenians of our country.
Karin, Israel — Quite well. It is the first language I was taught to speak and is the only language that is spoken in our home-even though all our family members use at least 3 other languages on a daily basis. Although there is an Armenian School in Jerusalem, living in Jaffa meant we were too far to be able to attend daily so my parents enrolled us in a Scottish school in Jaffa. When we were younger, we attended 'Friday school' - Armenian lessons that our community organized for the children on Friday afternoons, however our proficiency level in reading and writing was basic at best. It was not until my university years, when my interest in ,my heritage arose also academically that I decided that I want to learn to read Armenian fluenlty. I have my grandmother to thank for sitting with me for hours upon hours, patiently guiding me, while i broke my teeth over Armenian texts, until I finally learnt to read fluently.
Shahen, Lebanon — Due to the fortunate fact that I’ve had the opportunity to go to an Armenian school and have grown up in an Armenian household, I’m pretty fluent in Armenian, and my grammar and spelling skills are not bad at all. I’ve grown up understanding that Armenian is not only a mean to be nationalistic/patriotic, but also another language, which is something we lack in our diaspora communities and something that is in need of dire change. We express our love for the motherland, respect the history and sing about our culture in Armenian, which is absolutely great. But when it comes to expressing sincere feelings, talking and singing about simple sensations like love, life and the world; we tend to avoid Armenian. We resort to the languages we’re taught to use by the media or by the languages of the countries we’ve grown up in to say and write and sing simple everyday life factors.
6. Are you engaged in the activities of the Armenian community in your country?
Ohannes, Turkey — I communicate and I am on friendly terms with many people from the Armenian community, I know many priests, executive officers in different organizations, but I do not participate in the life of the community and do not want to hold any position. I just know that staying outside the community bureaucracy I can be more Armenian than inside the community, because I see many problems inside the Armenian organizations, I see deceptive purposes. But I follow the news, Armenian publications to know who is who, what they are doing, what the matter is in hand.
Vladimir, Russia — Once I taught the history of Armenia, now I lecture on our history, both in Russia and in the West. For 10 years I have been working in the highest quality Armenian magazine "Zham" (Time), which also organizes creative evenings, film shows, etc. but even so, I cannot call myself "an active part of the Armenian community", since there is no community: there are Armenian organizations, there are individual Armenians.
Artur, USA — No, I’m engaged in Armenian activities in Armenia. I unofficially advertise and try to get people interested in participating in VoMA Center's classes (the art of survival). Armenia needs a strong military, that’s something ALL Armenians should be interested in.
Nareg, Syria — When I was in Aleppo I used to be part of AGBU-AYA scout club for many years. I was also a member of an Armenian dance group. Most of my friends were Armenian there.
Anna, Georgia — I have been actively engaged in the community events since fifteen years old and have been doing my best to have at least my small contribution to the development of the community.
Karin, Israel — As a proud Armenian who, I try to engage myself as much as possible with the community we have here. I have been part of the Homenetmen Scouts from an early age and try to remain as active as I can within the organization. I also actively work on acquainting the communities surrounding us with the Armenians and their history in this land by offering workshops and informative sessions to many of the non-Armenian youth that I work with as a Youth facilitator.
Shahen, Lebanon — If there were a to-do list of all things you can do in the Lebanese community of Armenians, I would’ve ticked them all out. I’ve danced and played the piano at an Armenian cultural center, I’ve been a scout, a youth federation member, an Armenian Club cabinet member at university and many more.
7. Would you like to move to Armenia? Why?
Ohannes, Turkey — I would love to. This is one of the most serious issues for me. I have been to Armenian six-seven times and every time I visit Armenia, I watch and study the atmosphere, mutual relations, and economic situation. Now I feel like living as an “Polsahay” (Armenian from Istanbul, note) is more real, but I constantly think about moving.
Vladimir, Russia — Yes, I have already planned the moving. I have decided when I will move and what I will do in the homeland. Why? The answer is simple: Armenia is my home.
Artur, USA — Imagine if 1 million of like minded and motivated Armenians moved back to Armenia. We wouldn’t need anyone’s help. Armenia is only bad in terms of economics. Crime is probably the lowest of any country. People are friendly and the food is good. Of course I would but unfortunately it’s not possible, maybe in the near future.
Nareg, Syria — I have been in Armenia since 2014. I moved primarily to attend the American University of Armenia. Currently, I’m in my final year and genuinely happy about my decision to move here.
Anna, Georgia — Living in Armenia was my dream, which I realized in the past, in 2018, when I spent four months in Yerevan. It was not easy as people have a different mentality and you need to understand that their life might be much harder than most of us. Maybe it was not close to my expectations, but I hope that moving to Armenia is a matter of time. I would like to see people there more conscientious...
Karin, Israel — I have always been raised on the notion that Armenia is our homeland and that we are to always strive to eventually find ourselves settled there. It has been my grandfather's lifelong dream and his passion has fueled my own. I first visited Hayastan in 2010 and immediately fell in love as it is the only place where I can fully be myself without having to feel like I'm an outsider. It is the only place where I can open my window in the morning and hear my own language being spoken by strangers outside. I hope that in the future I will be able to make this dream of ours come true.
Shahen, Lebanon — It’s a very far-fetched question but with a very far-fetched answer. I’d go with yes. Although the diaspora culture is very different than the culture in Armenia, and although genetically, throughout the Ottoman Empire, we have grown apart from Armenians who live in modern-day Armenia; I still think the final destination in my career and life could most possibly be Armenia. I wish I could do it a sooner option, but it’s not a plan to adopt soon.