Ignorance Was Never Bliss

Keghart.com Team Editorial, 25 August 2011

You know your weight, possibly the state of your health, the sum of your liquid and non-liquid assets, the value of your life insurance, the degree of your skills, knowledge, and your limitations. Any sentient, functioning adult has to know the above and more.
As a Diaspora Armenian, how much do you know about Armenian communities outside Armenia, about Armenians in the country where you reside or even in the city where you live? You could be surprised how far from the truth your beliefs, assumptions, and suppositions can be.

Keghart.com Team Editorial, 25 August 2011

You know your weight, possibly the state of your health, the sum of your liquid and non-liquid assets, the value of your life insurance, the degree of your skills, knowledge, and your limitations. Any sentient, functioning adult has to know the above and more.
As a Diaspora Armenian, how much do you know about Armenian communities outside Armenia, about Armenians in the country where you reside or even in the city where you live? You could be surprised how far from the truth your beliefs, assumptions, and suppositions can be.

Take the most basic of collective facts: population statistics. Many Toronto Armenians assume there are 30,000 to 35,000 Armenians in Canada’s biggest city. The actual number is just over 20,000, according to community workers.  Many facts about the community are hard to come by.  For example, no one knows the number of Armenians who have recently come from the former Soviet republics and melted into the Russian-Jewish ghetto of the city.
Some Armenians believe there are 500,000 Armenians in France and 125,000 in Lebanon. Wrong again. The first is closer to 400,000 and the second is below 100,000. As well, we conveniently ignore the bitter truth that many French-Armenians are assimilated and hardly speak any Armenian, let alone participate in community affairs.
Population figures for California Armenians change depending on who one quotes. How many Armenian-Americans are there? Armeniapedia says over one million. However, a 2009 American Community Survey gave a much lower number, which included Armenians with “full or partial Armenian ancestry.” Meanwhile, no one can tell with any authority the global Armenian population count. The statistics seesaw between 8 and 11 million, depending on the exuberance, optimism or “patriotism” of the person enumerating it.
When we don’t know our population statistics, how can we know more detailed demographic figures? What are our educational levels? What are our leading professions? Which are the growing Diaspora communities?  Which ones are turning into ghosts? And what are rates of intermarriage with non-Armenians?
The above thoughts were partly elicited by a recent Statistics Canada survey of “mother” language retention. The government survey reported that the Armenian language is officially the third highest retained language behind Punjabi and Urdu.
According to “TorontoHye” newspaper (Vol. 6 No. 11), “the study took to consideration parents who have successfully passed on their own mother tongue to their children—in this case Armenian—and applied it to their day-to-day living.” Statistics Canada said that the Armenian language is passed on to 75% of all teens under 18, with a minimum of 77% of Armenian children having at least some knowledge of Armenian.
The high Armenian standing was attributed to the Armenian tradition of marrying other Armenians—endogamy. When both parents speak the same native language, they can pass on their language with greater ease. “When a child grows up with both parents speaking Armenian, the language is transmitted as an ‘at home’ tongue and not forced onto them,” wrote Armen Bedakian in “Torontohye”.
Although the above statistics would bring a glow to the eyes of Armenians justly worried about assimilation (“Germak Chart”), the numbers seemingly contradict long-held anecdotal “evidence”: a great many Toronto Armenians believe 50% of Armenian marriages in Toronto are intermarriages. If the anecdotal evidence is valid, it would be hard to believe the Canadian government’s 77% Armenian tongue retention level.
The point? When we don’t know the facts, we can’t take steps to prevent, say, the erosion of the community. When we don’t know where we are, how can we plan where we want to go? How can we build our communities, network with other Diaspora Armenian communities and with Armenia? When we don’t have marriage stats and the number of offspring of those marriages we can’t sensibly plan the building of schools or their size.  When we don’t know our numbers how can we impress vote-seeking politicians with our clout? When we don’t know our numbers how can we impact the non-Armenian media? When we don’t know our financial and human resources, how can we know what we are capable of achieving collectively?
Scientific data (age, gender, marriage, education, profession, income, address and much more) is essential for the survival of any group. Without these statistics we are a herd of blind sheep. Before it’s too late (some would say it’s already 11th hour),  our three traditional political parties, churches and all other organizations around the globe should launch a national census to determine our global vital statistics.
While the Statistics Canada data was positive, we should not depend on non-Armenian sources for these essential numbers. We should gather the data and be in command of our statistics.
Wikipedia says that Armenian-Americans have the highest rate of earning Bachelor’s degree at around 70% and one of the highest (88%) high school graduate statistics. It also says Armenian- Americans are one of the most educated ethnic groups. How many North American Armenians know these facts? And more importantly, if we don’t know these facts, how can we utilize them for our collective benefit?
About 25 year ago, a Canadian journalist rifling through government files in Ottawa discovered that Armenian-Canadians had the highest family income because a high percentage of both parents were professionals. That chest-thumping data vanished unremarked by the community. When we don’t know our strengths, we can’t chart our future with concrete and practical goals and plans. How can we decide, for example, our local fundraising campaign targets or how we can help the Motherland if we don’t know our human resources?
Every year millions of words are written, broadcast and telecast by Armenian Diaspora media to safeguard our viability. Yet, as far as we know, no one has pointed out the necessity of drawing the scientific profile of Armenian Diaspora.
Misguided optimism, self-delusion or mystical belief that because the Diaspora has survived for nearly a thousand years it will, somehow, continue to survive is the height of irresponsibility. Despite the rosy numbers from Statistics Canada, intermarriage is widespread in Canada. As a wise man once said, quantitative change leads to qualitative change. A further increase in intermarriage in Canada and elsewhere could lead to the dissolution of Armenian Diaspora. 
There is no logical reason to believe that our Diaspora communities will survive—unless we are proactive.  Witness the fate of Istanbul, Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian Armenians.
Our willful ignorance threatens the viability of the Diaspora.
Ignorance was never bliss.
Let’s get the numbers.
  1. Numbers

    I have read somewhere that the Cilicia Catholicosate has announced the population of Armenians in Lebanon to be 65,000, but the people living there are saying it’s much less.

    It’s quite impossible to make a headcount nowadays mainly because when people are filling government papers mention their nationality as where they live, like Canadian, US, French, etc.  They don’t realize that they should indicate Armenian.  Therefore in most countries, when the government makes a census, Armenian population count is shown much lower than what it actually is.

    Other points to consider are assimilation and ignorance.  People who have Armenian parents are not admitting their ‘Armenianness’, but in my view they are still Armenian. Others who have not been exposed to the Armenian history and culture and have been born in a foreign country, just don’t like to be called Armenian, that’s ignorance!

    I wonder if Chinese or Indians have similar concerns…:)


    1. Census by Us

      I agree with you Nercess. That’s why, I think, the editorial says that Armenians should do their own global census, rather than depend on others to obtain the statistics, which can be inaccurate and even detrimental to us.

  2. Our political parties

    Our political parties and the Armenian Embassies in various countries should be able to get the nearest number of Armenians living in their respective countries.

    How much they will share is another question.

  3. 100 Million Armenians

    How many are we?

    Sometime ago a stranger asked me, "How many Armenians are there?" I asked him back what did he think the number was. He said, "I think you are 100 milloin. Wherevere I go I meet Armenians."

    I would like to comment on Yeghish’s suggestion that ambassadors of Armenia may collect the full information from Armenian churches, including Catholic and Protestant churches.

    But in the case of the Swiss-Armenian community, the vartabed, in the 1990s, reported the number of the Swiss Armenian community to Gatoghigos Vazken I as 26,000 while the true figure was 3,000-5,000. In doing so, he was promoted to the rank of bishop, the Gatoghigos declared the Swiss community a diocese and the bishop became aratchnort.

    Yes, we wish we were 100 million to survive in this criminal world. As Darwin says, "The struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest"

    And we wish to be 26,000 Armenians in Switzerland. But wrong figures do not strengten us.

    The force of the Diaspora is our Ինքնաճանաչում – to know what and who we are.

  4. Ongoing Project

    This article has brought to the forefront a glaring point that needs to be addressed: the need for an ongoing study of Armenians by credible, reliable sociologists. Funding would have to come from foundations. 


  5. To answer to most of your questions

    To answer most of your questions, we should accept anyone to be Armenian who has any of his/her grandparents or grand  grand…… parents whole ARMENIAN or partially ARMENIAN as an ARMENIAN.  We can’t argue more. I challenge anyone who claims more… ready to give my whole personal info even to the so called "Turkish" embassy.


    The Turkish consul ot the ambassador might be more Armenian than some of us.


  6. Good Book

    I recommend a book by Aharon G. Aharonian: "Intermarriage and the Armenian-American Community – a Socio-Religious Study" (1983, Maral Press, Pasadena, CA). 

    Mr. Aharonian studied Armenian church marriage records in Massachusetts and Rhode Island from 1950 to 1976. The intermarriage rate grew steadily, and even within the churches themselves the rate was well over 50% and often over 75% and higher by 1976. That was 35 years ago. 

    The actual rate probably depends on a number of factors and will differ from community to community, depending on its composition.

  7. True Armenians

    According to the Artsakhtsi, they are the true Armenians; even the ones from Yerevan, when under pressure, left the motherland. Artsakhtsis stayed on for the last 2,000 years. I saw the Tikranakerd Pert which was build in the 1st century. Worth seeing.

  8. Ignorance is never bliss

    Thank you for the editorial, which opens up an important topic of our Diasporan existence.It is true that generally Armenian organiztions, even scholarly associations have not encouraged demographic studies, but there are studies. Even these rare publications (or theses) are (deliberately or not) ignored by the general population and community "authorities."  Why?

    It would be too long to explain. However the ignorance you are complaining of is not solely an Armenian characteristic. All Diasporan populations are difficult to count. One of your readers has commented on the definition of who is Armenian? That is a real (technical) difficulty. The Canadian census has a question about the "mother tongue" which is sent to the general population (and those who do not have Armenian as their  mother tongue do not give a positive answer to that question) and they have a question about the "ethnic origin" which is asked only to 20% of the population.

    The general data you have in the census about Armenians of Montreal or Toronto or Vancouver are calculated or projected with these two sets of information. Other kind of surveys are possible and are doable. What we need here in Canada and elsewhere in the Diaspora are research centers which would be able to do research and prepare reports on every aspect of our diaspoan existence. That needs money and manpower. A few years ago, a few Montrealese had planned to have a Diaspora Research Center in one of the local Universities but for several reasons, the money went to another already existing institution. Maybe the urgency of such an institution will some day become a reality.

    Aida Boudjikanian

Comments are closed.

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