6 Questions to 6 Armenians from 6 Countries
1. Do you consider our Diaspora strong and well-organized?
Arsen, Russia — I think it’s not. Despite the existence of a large number of organizations involved in the consolidation of the Armenian Diaspora, in my opinion, when it is necessary, it is not able to act harmoniously to express the opinion of all the communities and to take action to achieve common goals for Armenians of Russia.
Susanna, Abkhazia — Yes. That is obvious, because our Armenians, although spread throughout the world, have preserved the language (many Armenian schools have been built), culture, and traditions. They conduct annual traditional events within communities. In Abkhazia, the “Paraton” – a festival of Armenian songs and “Hamshen” – a festival of life and culture of Hamshen Armenians are conducted every year. Moreover, Armenian communities from different cities and countries cooperate and hold joint events. This already suggests that, despite the trials, our nation passed through, our spirit is strong and we are united.
Karen, Estonia — It is difficult to assess the strength and the organization of our Diaspora. I would be glad to see more cases confirming it. In some places there is no community as such – there is no permanent link and common ideas. Somewhere there are links, however the community will not survive in three generations, especially if is not replenished by new migrants.
Anaïs, France — I do consider us a strong and well-organized Diaspora. We can see it by the amount of Armenian organizations worldwide that are doing a lot of work to promote our culture, fight for our rights, and connect us all. I just wish that these organizations and our community in general were more progressive, instead of conservative for the most part. If we want to grow stronger, there is also the need to open our community to other ethnic and religious communities, and unite our fights against all forms of oppression. Lack of tolerance and exclusionary mentality only debilitate us by causing division among us, and marginalizing Armenians from other communities.
Joel, Australia — In some ways yes, in others no. The Armenians tend to be strong and well organized but in peaceful or quiet times, in the Diaspora being no exception there is occasional infighting and competitiveness amongst each other, although it's generally good natured sometimes it's a bit excessively.
Meghri, Iran — Yes, there are a lot of communities in Diaspora, which are very strong and organized. The community of New Jugha (Julfa) in Iran is one of those organized and historically rich communities. These communities have close ties with Artsakh and Armenia, while the relations between different communities of Diaspora should develop and expand.
2. Where do you see your future?
Arsen, Russia — I see it either in Russia or Armenia. However, I don’t exclude other countries.
Susanna, Abkhazia — I see my future in Abkhazia where my parents and grandfathers were born and grew up.
Karen, Estonia — The foreseeable future I see in Estonia.
Anaïs, France — I do not project myself into the future too much. I focus on the present and I will see where life takes me.
Joel, Australia — I see myself in Armenia within four years and united in Yerevan with my mother and family within eight.
Meghri, Iran — It’s a difficult question. Nobody knows where life will take me. There are several alternatives for me. One thing I know for sure: previously I was planning to settle either in Europe or in the USA, however, now I am only thinking of settling in Armenia.
3. Are mixed marriages good or bad for you while living far from your motherland?
Arsen, Russia — If this question concerns me and my family, then I am against mixed marriages. At the same time, I do not believe that I have the right to tell strangers how they should behave, whom they should marry or not marry.
Susanna, Abkhazia — I live in a multinational country with an understanding of mixed marriages. Even though my parents have a different opinion, they are tolerant to my position.
Karen, Estonia — In any case, any voluntary and no-mercenary marriage is good. In the case of preserving national identity as a whole, it’s a risk. However, we should realize that the main risk is the very existence of the Diaspora.
Anaïs, France — I think that everyone should be able to do whatever they want with their lives. If you want to marry an Armenian, that’s great; if you are marrying someone from outside the community, that’s great too; if you do not want to get married at all, please do not get married. Yes, it is important to maintain our culture and languages but that doesn’t mean that we have to isolate ourselves from other communities. I think that we are all really happy to see incredible people like Serena Williams for example being introduced to Armenian culture and calling themselves honorary Armenians thanks to their Armenian partners. If someone wants to maintain Armenian culture, no amount of mixed marriage will threaten that. I also know a lot of people who are born from mixed unions and who know more about Armenia or speak better Armenian than me even though I am “100%” Armenian. So if people think that mixing is bad for our survival as a community, their arguments are simply cancelled by facts.
Joel, Australia — They're bad within the homeland, outside is catastrophic. It only takes one generation for a culture and tradition to be entirely lost as I've observed with countless other family members, almost including myself until I decided it meant something to me to be an Armenian.
Meghri, Iran — The conditions are different in various countries. I live in a city where the Armenians have been living for 400 years. If the mixed marriages were accepted here, the Armenians wouldn’t survive as a nation and as Christians. If one in a couple is not Muslim, he or she must convert to Islam when getting marriage by the law. I think so from cultural perspective. However, when I consider the issue from the perspective of human relations, I have no authority to judge what is right or what is wrong.
4. How did your ancestors got to this country? And from where?
Arsen, Russia — Like my parents, I was born in Armenia. Now I live in Russia together with my family. As for my father-ancestors, at the beginning of the 17th century, they were resettled in the depths of Persia because of the Ottoman-Persian wars. To Soviet Armenia, my father’s family returned only in 1947, and settled in the territory of the current Armavir marz of the Republic of Armenia. The ancestors of my mother live in the territory of Tavush marz: they migrated there from Nagorno-Karabakh in the 19th century.
Susanna, Abkhazia — My mother’s family came here at the end of the 19th century, when the Armenians were persecuted by Sultan Hamid II (Trabzon). My father’s family moved here during the Genocide. (Ordu, Canik).
Karen, Estonia — My mother is a Hamsheni from Abkhazia. We lived in Sukhumi. In 1992 the war began. There was an opportunity to settle in Estonia. We decided not to return to Sukhumi after the war.
Anaïs, France — My family is originally from Western Armenia (Sebastia and Bursa). During the Genocide, some of my relatives fled to Greece, others to France, and some also ended up in orphanages in Lebanon. In the 1940s, my great grand-parents decided to move to Soviet Armenia with their children and that’s how my parents were born in Armenia. However, after some time, my grand-parents decided it would be better for everyone to seek better opportunities abroad due to difficult living conditions, and that’s how they moved back to France in the 1970s. I was born here in the Paris Suburbs.
Joel, Australia — My patrilineal ancestors were driven out of Van to Egypt during the Armenian Genocide, my family returned to the Armenian SSR before moving to the Abkhaz ASSR and then finally moving onto Australia in 1975. My mother’s family was deported from Britain during a Mountainous Scottish uprising against the British Crown in a Catholic Celt against Protestant Anglo Conflict.
Meghri, Iran — There was a rich Armenian town between two mountains, near Nakhichevan in the past. The town was called Jugha (Julfa) and the Аraks river was passing through it (the town is still standing, but it’s not so luxury as it was before). The town had no favorable conditions for the agriculture, however it was one of the most important centers of international trade. In 1604 Shah Abbas I resettles the Armenians in the capital of his country in order to develop it. The part of migrated, generally the peasants, were relocated in Esfahan (once the capital of Iran) and the nearby regions. The merchants of Julfa were permitted by the Shah to live in Esfahan (1605). The Armenians built there beautiful buildings, including churches, schools and other centers. In order to glorify the fame of Old Jugha, the Armenians called their new settlement “New Jugha”. It is more than 400 years that Armenians have been living in this town. The Armenians have made great contribution to the development of Iran hence the Persians mention that “we owe them that much”.
5. Does your family follow Armenian customs and traditions? What are they?
Arsen, Russia — Joint pastime is the main tradition observed by us.
Susanna, Abkhazia — We celebrate Easter, St. George’s day (Khntrelez) and the New Year.
Karen, Estonia — I don’t think that we observe any particular Armenian traditions. However, we celebrate Christian feasts. Our tradition is in the values transmitted to our children.
Anaïs, France — It has always been very important for my family, and in particular my mom, to maintain our culture. When I was younger, my mother would tell us she didn’t understand French (even though she did) to force us to speak Armenian at home. My mother is also an amazing cook and she makes incredible Armenian dishes almost every day. Whenever I have foreign friends coming over, they will always be treated to Armenian food, and they ended up loving it. All of our celebrations are done the Armenian way, with the only exception being Christmas that we celebrate on 25 December like French people.
Joel, Australia — Most of my family does not. Most of them were heavily Russified during their time in the Abkhaz SSR and I'm the first person since my grandparents who speaks Armenian at least semi-fluently and I am the first person since at least 1950 and Egypt who can read and write Armenian in our family.
Meghri, Iran — Everything connected with Armenia and Armenian culture interests us. We follow all the developments within Armenia. We celebrate all our national and religious holidays and feasts. We highly appreciate the job done by the Armenian designers who use their creativity an make Armenian national dresses modern. We make Armenian dishes but at the same time use local spices and ways of preparing. For instance, the Armenian tolma we make neither in the Armenian style, nor in the Persian.
6. What does “Armenian” mean according to your opinion? (Who can be treated as an Armenian?)
Arsen, Russia — I think there are two criteria: cultural connection and self-awareness. These criteria are closely interrelated with each other. By cultural connection, I mean connection with the language, traditions (but not with religion). As for self-awareness, this is nothing more than a personal attitude to the above-mentioned cultural connection. The person who falls under these two criteria is Armenian.
Susanna, Abkhazia — A man who has behind him a centuries-old history of struggle for faith, writing and existence. A person who has experienced all the difficulties of life, but who has not broken under the weight of oppression.
Karen, Estonia — Anyone who wants to be an Armenian can be. Never ever I doubted when someone called himself an Armenian. Every Armenian knows the secret, but I don’t want to speak about it publically.
Anaïs, France — Everyone of Armenian heritage and/or who is a citizen of Armenia and self-identifies as Armenian is Armenian. That’s it. There is no “Armenian card” that we get to give or revoke from people based on arbitrary reasons or questionable opinions. I have seen a lot of people say for example that feminists or LGBTQ+ communities are not Armenian, that they are “westernized” and influenced by foreigners to disrupt Armenian society. This is beyond ridiculous, ignorant, and is just based on toxic nationalist and conservative ideologies that are dangerous to us as a society. Because of them, a lot of Armenians feel rejected and unsafe inside our own communities. This has to stop. Every Armenians’ rights should be respected regardless of their gender identities, sexual orientation or any other reason bigots might find to arbitrarily exclude people from “Armenianness”. Given the history of our people and everything we went through as a nation, the only thing that should be considered “un-Armenian” should be oppression, in all its forms.
Joel, Australia — To be aware of where you're from and who you are, to care about what happens to where you're from. To speak, read and write like us and if you're not given the chance to learn it as many of us are – then to at least try. To hold onto who you are and not allow it to be diminished or watered down by an outside force, holding onto your national religion (Apostolic Church) and traditions being of utmost importance. While it's subjective to everybody, I believe religion, traditions and mannerisms to be of the utmost importance in regards to upholding your cultural identity.
Meghri, Iran — You will guess it from the first moment, just looking at the nose (smile). There is something interesting: when we meet somebody whom we don’t know and he is an Armenian, we feel it from the moment, without speaking to him or her. I don’t know what it is about, but it is so. It is important for all of us to speak Armenian and preserve the language. However, there are a lot of Armenians in the world, who don’t speak Armenian, but they are Armenians at heart. It is much more important for me. When I see the Armenian, I know him through his soul. The liberation spirit of the Armenian, encompassing pain, sorrow, loneliness, suffering, pride, disobedience and greatness, but at same time sincerity, kindness and forgiveness.