Monte Melkonian: Armenian-Related Terms. Who are Armenians and where is their Homeland
Cover photo: Ilya Vartanian
The text which appears below was part of a collective project undertaken by Melkonian and others to prepare material for the political program and manifesto of a projected political organization, the Armenian Patriotic Liberation Movement (A.P.L.M.). The text was prepared in 1984 and significantly revised in 1988.
A preliminary note: This glossary of terms which are of special significance to the Armenian national question is the product of collective study. We have followed one main principle in compiling research material: collect as much material from as many sources as possible. Beyond this, we followed the techniques of research familiar to any university graduate student—with the difference that we have had to conduct our research secretly. Unfortunately, we currently find ourselves living under conditions of either clandestine activity or imprisonment—conditions which are not ideal for academic research. Because of this, our research has not been conducted as systematically as it should.
We are opposed to the sort of methodology which begins with dry definitions and then proceeds with the investigation without considering the dynamic interactions of the referents of the terms defined. It should be kept in mind, then, that die following definitions are analytical tools—they merely facilitate our theoretical grasp of what in reality are integral totalities.
The theoretical shortcomings of familiar discussions is that they have been unable to consider the Armenian case systematically without grossly oversimplifying it In order to avoid this—while at the same time preserving e detail and precision which is indispensable for a discussion which will not lead to a repetition of the platitudes of the past—we have attempted to present the minimal categories necessary for an analysis of the Armenian national question.
Armenian: As a review of history shows, the word Armenian, as applied to persons, has meant different things at different times. At times it has referred to natives of a given region or members of a particular clan; at other times it has referred to those who spoke the Armenian language, or to subjects of a ruler whose mother tongue was Armenian; At still other times it has referred to those who were associated with the Armenian Gregorian Church. Over the course of over two millennia, however, a clearly distinct Armenian culture emerged, entailing a distinct language, religion and traditions, and sometimes involving political and administrative aspects of culture. We will return to a discussion of culture presently, but first a few words about unsatisfactory definitions of the word Armenian.
Armenians are the product of thousands of years of voluntary and involuntary interaction with neighboring and nomadic peoples. The assimilation of other peoples, the influx of other inhabitants, foreign conquest and interactions with neighboring populations—each of these considerations helps to explain why today, despite widely recognizable “typical” traits, Armenians vary greatly in terms of physical features. Fa this reason, the word Armenian has no racial significance (even if, as does not seem likely, the word race itself has anything other than mythological significance).
Linguistic, religious or other isolated factors by themselves no longer accurately identify an Armenian, either. Persons born in Soviet Armenia who consider themselves to be Russians or Kurds, for example, should not be counted as Armenians just because their first language is Armenian. Nor should Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims or atheists be excluded from the Armenian nation solely because they are not members of the Gregorian Church.
Clearly, the term Armenian does not refer to the inhabitants of any specific region. Such a claim would fly in the face of the fact that today hundreds of thousands of Armenians reside outside the Armenian homeland, in dozens of countries on six continents.
As we have hinted, the word “Armenian” has come to refer to what may be called a cultural-national entity, accordingly, anyone who was bom into Armenian culture, or who has accepted it as her or his own, is assumed to be an Armenian. (Of course, an attachment to Armenian culture as a whole does not require that every Armenian be an expert on Yeghishe’s writings, for example, or the music of Gomidas; it just means that his or her cultural life takes place in large part within the general domain of Armenian culture. Thus, for example, a descendant of Armenians who does not speak Armenian but who more closely identifies with Armenian culture than with any other culture—such a person ought to be counted as an Armenian.)
Until the beginning of the genocide in 1915, Armenians as a cultural-national entity resided mainly throughout the Armenian homeland and neighboring regions. As we know, however, the situation after 1915 is very different. In view of our current situation, an Armenian could be defined as anyone (a) whose ancestors have been Armenian, and (b) who considers herself to be Armenian, or (c) who is more attached to Armenian culture (as a whole, not just in its religious, linguistic or other aspects) than to any other culture.
Now, an attachment to Armenian culture almost always implies an attachment to the Armenian homeland. This is because cultural assimilation is unavoidable for Armenians living outside of the Armenian homeland, and it is especially inevitable as long as at least some form of Armenian self- determination in the Armenian homeland does not exist. Therefore, being Armenian should also imply attachment to the Armenian homeland. This attachment would at least be of a cultural character, but it may also be political.
So we arrive at the following definition: An Armenian is anyone whose ancestors have been Armenian, who considers herself to be Armenian, or who is more attached to Armenian culture than to any other culture, and who is thus likely to feel an attachment to the Armenian homeland.
There exist two major categories of Armenians today:
Armenians Native to the Armenian Homeland: Armenians native to the Armenian homeland include all Armenians* living in Soviet Armenia, Karabagh, Akhalkalak, Nakhichevan, and the northeastern regions of present-day Turkey* which have historically been populated by Armenians.
The conditions for national self-determination of Armenians living within these different areas vary greatly. Armenians living within Soviet Armenia exercise some of their rights to self-determination, and with the recent mass democratic movement, they are gaining more and more control of the administration of their own state and governmental bodies. Armenians living in Akhalkalak lack the means to fully express their national self- determination, due to their exclusion from Soviet Armenia and their consequent inability to participate in the mainstream of (Soviet) Armenian social, political, cultural and economic life, as well as due to the yet very faulty approach to the national question in the U.S.S.R. Chauvinist authorities have for decades denied Armenians living in Artsakh (roughly, Karabagh) and Nakhichevan their national rights, and today these Armenians are struggling for reunification with Soviet Armenia. Meanwhile, the very few Armenians who remain in present-day northeastern Turkey are completely denied self-determination, not to mention their basic human rights, or even the scant rights of other Turkish citizens. Armenians within the Turkish state today are continually oppressed and physically threatened by Turkish chauvinist and colonialist policies.
Other Armenians native to the Armenian homeland include those Armenians who have their primary and permanent residences in any part of the Armenian homeland. These would include, for example, Soviet Armenian diplomats or technicians abroad, or Armenians from present-day “Western Armenia” who still consider their primary and permanent residence to be their homes in present-day northeastern Turkey.
Armenians of the Diaspora: Armenians of the diaspora are all those Armenians who were bom in, or have their permanent residence outside of, the Armenian homeland. Armenians of the diaspora (unlike Armenians native to the Armenian homeland*) do not have direct economic ties to the economies of any part of the Armenian homeland. Instead, their attachment to the Armenian homeland is basically subjective—mostly cultural, but also with its political dimensions. Although they are inevitably influenced by local cultures, they still remain more closely attached to Armenian culture* than to any other cultural sphere. They are also subject to a wide range of cultural, social, political and economic conditions depending on where they reside.
Culturally Assimilated Armenians: These include all persons of Armenian ancestry who are no longer primarily attached to Armenian culture, that is, who recognize their Armenian heritage but who are more attached to some other culture than to Armenian culture. Most culturally assimilated Armenians are to be found in the diaspora, especially in North and South America and western Europe. Some of these people may consciously express their primary attachment to local culture by saying that they are “more French than Armenian” or “an American first and an Armenian second.” But often they do not express this sentiment in a conscious manner; instead, their social and cultural mode of existence makes this fact very obvious.
In many cases economic factors have been the driving force behind cultural assimilation. Diasporan Armenians who are capitalists spontaneously identify with their countries of residence because they enjoy a privileged status in these countries. As a result, many bourgeois “Armenians” should more accurately be described as culturally assimilated Armenians than as Armenians of the diaspora.
There are also many culturally assimilated Armenians within the Armenian homeland in present-day Turkey. These people may or may not be aware of their Armenian heritage, but they have gradually adopted—or have been forced to adopt—Kurdish or Turkish culture as their primary culture.
In addition, some diasporan Armenians who waver between adhering to Armenian culture and adopting another culture could be described as semi-culturally assimilated. These people may speak Armenian and surround themselves with tokens of Armenian culture, but in reality they are not deeply concerned with Armenian culture (or even with their own personal cultural enrichment).
Non-Armenians of Armenian Ancestry: Within this category are included all those persons of Armenian ancestry who show no more trace of attachment to Armenian culture than to their Armenian heritage. Such persons may be aware that their ancestors were Armenian and they may retain their Armenian names, but in all other respects they have adopted a non-Armenian culture and homeland as their own. As in the case of culturally assimilated Armenians, most non-Armenians of Armenian ancestry are found in the Americas and western Europe. There are also many non-Armenians of Armenian ancestry in present-day northeastern Turkey. These include completely Kurdified, Turkified or Lazified14 people of Armenian origin, among whom we may count Kurds in the Sasoon region and many natives of the mountainous Hemshin region near the Jorokh River.
Armenian Culture: This term refers to the distinct traditions that have been developed for the most part within the Armenian homeland by die Armenian people throughout their entire history. It should be noted that Armenian culture has developed over thousands of years and under very diverse economic and political circumstances. The Armenian people and the Armenian homeland have more frequently been subjected to foreign domination than to self-rule. But throughout their history, as long as Armenians have lived collectively on their homeland, they have been able to maintain and develop the very culture which defines them as a distinct people. At times Armenian cultural development in the homeland has been supplemented by Armenian cultural achievements outside; nevertheless, at all times the mainstream of Armenian culture has remained within the Armenian homeland. Armenian cultural development within the Armenian homeland, though never coming to a full stop, has accelerated, decelerated and changed apace with shifts in the economic and political state of affairs. Speaking broadly, at times of invasion, cultural expressions have often reflected popular rejection of the invaders, while at times of relative peace, prosperity and self-government, culture has expanded rapidly in many directions.
Armenian culture, like any other culture, has its own distinct characteristics and is in a state of constant change and development. Contemporary Armenian culture is by far the most vibrant in Soviet Armenia, while in the diaspora cultural conservatism (hayabahbanum), rather than innovation, has become the rule. This, erf course, does not imply that there has been absolutely no cultural innovation in the diaspora; rather, it means that creativity has been very limited in comparison with cultural developments in the Armenian homeland.
Armenian People: Under this heading may be included all Armenians native to the Armenian homeland, all Armenians of the diaspora and all culturally assimilated Armenians. The Armenian people, in short, includes all those of Armenian origin who in one way or another lay claim to Armenian culture as their own (it should be recalled that this usually entails some degree of attachment to the Armenian homeland).
Armenian Homeland: The Armenian homeland includes all those areas where the Armenian people* have originated and formed as a distinct people, have historically lived (usually as a majority or at least as a plurality in relation to the total local population) and have developed as a cultural- national entity, frequently enjoying political self-rule. In more precise geographical terms, the Armenian homeland includes Soviet Armenia, Karabagh, Akhalkalak, Nakhichevan and the following regions of present- day Turkey: Erzeroum, Kars, Ardahan, Bitlis, Moosh, Van, as well as certain areas in the regions of Kharpert (Elazig) and Diyarbekir. Therefore, the Armenian homeland is that area in which, at least until the genocide of 1915, the Armenian people have constituted the major cultural-national entity. As such, the Armenian homeland is what has otherwise been called “Historic Armenia”.
It should be noted that the Armenian homeland has not been and is not today exclusively the homeland of the Armenian people. (Refer to the next entry, “Native Peoples of the Armenian Homeland”).
Native Peoples of the Armenian Homeland: The native peoples of the Armenian homeland include all those peoples who have originated in the regions of the Armenian homeland* or who have historically settled in this region, adopting it as their permanent residence, their homeland. Among the native peoples of the Armenian homeland we may count the Armenian people (including diasporan Armenians), the Kurdish people (those living in the regions defined above as the Armenian homeland or who currently work elsewhere but who have originated in that area and still consider that area to be their primary residence), the Turkish people who live in that same region, the Laz, Circassian (Cherkez), Assyrian, and other national minorities who live in the same region of present-day Turkey, and the Georgians, Azeris, Kurds, etc. who live in the regions of the Armenian homeland in the U.S.S.R.
Armenia: Today, this term refers to that part of the Armenian homeland* where the Armenian people currently constitute at least a plurality of the population (Soviet Armenia, Karabagh, Akhalkalak), as well as those parts where in the future the Armenians may constitute at least a plurality of the population (parts of the Armenian homeland in present-day Turkey and Nakhichevan) and/or all areas of the Armenian homeland which will be democratically recognized by the majority of the overall population as to be included in an Armenian state structure.
Armenian Nation: The Armenian nation* is the union of the Armenian people with the Armenian homeland. The Armenian nation includes all those Armenians who live in their homeland or who are devoted to the existence of the Armenian people in their homeland.
Cilicia: The Armenian people did not originate in Cilicia (the mountainous Mediterranean coastal region of present day eastern Turkey adjacent to the Syrian border); nevertheless, ever since the eleventh century. A.D., they have constituted a sizable portion of the population. For about 300 years Armenians even constituted a majority or plurality of the population of the region, which at that time was governed as Armenian princedoms and later as an Armenian kingdom. For centuries, Cilicia has been an important source of Armenian cultural activity and a second center of national life. For these reasons, Armenians of the region should be considered part of the indigenous population, along with Turks, Kurds, Arabs and other peoples present.
During the past centuries, the proportion of Armenians in relation to the total population of Cilicia has dropped substantially. Today, Cilicia can by no means be considered a part of the Armenian homeland. Centuries of constant demographic and political change which predated the genocide (and other massacres) have made the larger part of Cilicia a part of the Turkish homeland, while the subregion of Iskenderia (Hatay) has been associated with the Arab people and Syria.
Historic Armenian Communities outside the Armenian Homeland: For a long time and for a variety of reasons, significant numbers or Armenians have settled in areas near to, but outside of, their homeland. In some cases, they have concentrated in diasporan communities, and there they have lived as an Armenian minority for centuries. More often than not, these diasporan Armenians have kept close ties with their compatriots in the homeland. In past centuries, before the establishment of the modern state and the development of capitalism, national markets, and modern transportation and communications networks, diasporan communities in the vicinity of the Armenian homeland* managed to survive with a slow rate of assimilation. Some of these community have retained their distinct cultural-national identity to this day Examples of such communities which still exist are those in the regions of Isphahan (Iran), those in northwest Iran (the Azerbaijan provinces), those in Baku, Tiflis and Istanbul. Members of these communities are both natives of their respective non-Armenian homelands and an integral part of the Armenian people.
Source: The Right to Struggle (Selected Writings of Monte Melkonian on the Armenian National Question).