Is it Necessary to Live in Armenia to Remain Armenian?

By Viken L. Attarian MSc MBA, Mount Royal, Quebec, 2 July 2009

The following is one of the commentaries that was circulated to members of 24 April Forum (Canada) as part of a general discussion related to identity issues. This excerpt is posted with the permission of the author.

While I agree with many of the points made, especially about the dire straits of our compatriots in Armenia, yet I would like to respectfully disagree that one can live as an Armenian only on Armenian soil. Here is why

By Viken L. Attarian MSc MBA, Mount Royal, Quebec, 2 July 2009

The following is one of the commentaries that was circulated to members of 24 April Forum (Canada) as part of a general discussion related to identity issues. This excerpt is posted with the permission of the author.

While I agree with many of the points made, especially about the dire straits of our compatriots in Armenia, yet I would like to respectfully disagree that one can live as an Armenian only on Armenian soil. Here is why

     1. Historically, Cilicia was NOT Armenian land, yet we lived there as Armenians and even thrived for centuries.

     2. We have been able to live as Armenians in Jerusalem (not Armenian soil) for probably two thousand years, literally   saying mass every day in the Holy Places.  That is 2000 x 365 times, give or take a few days. A very impressive record by any measure.

     3. A strong sense of Armenian nationalism and identity had developed in the communities in India (not Armenia), granted they have disappeared, but they also have a recorded thriving existence for a couple of centuries.

     4. The two centers of our Armenian national renaissance of identity have been Tbilisi and Constantinople (not Armenia).  The latter, even after the Genocide, still holds arguably to this day a strong place in the forming of our psyche with its continuing institutions.

     5. The Mekhitarists, almost single-handedly resurrected and created the Western Armenian language, culture and intellectual identity, without even setting foot on Armenian soil.  Their legacy survives today across the world.  Father Ghevont Alishan, probably the greatest of the writer-thinker-scholar Mekhitarists who championed a fiery nationalism and longing for everything Armenian, never set foot on Armenian lands even for an hour.

     6. Many of our great institutions, such as the AGBU were founded by people who lived as Armenians and yet they never lived on Armenian soil.

     7. Almost every single genocide survivor (outside Turkey) lived the rest of their lives as Armenians but NOT on Armenian soil.  Most of them also died in foreign lands, but they died as Armenians.

Furthermore, even framing the debate along these lines strikes me as ignoring the following:

      a) If we accept such a premise that one can only live one’s identity within the geographical confines of a nation-state, we forget the fact that nation-states are relatively new political constructs not much older than perhaps three centuries.  Most nation states of today would be unthinkable in biblical times, or within the time frames of history associated with what being an Armenian actually means.

      b) If we accept such a premise, even Ms Pomerantz would be logically contradictory; After all, if the only place to live one’s “Jewishness” is in Israel, then therefore Jews have not been “Jewish” for two millennia, because Israel did NOT exist during that period.  Hence, who are these people now moving back to Israel?  While Ms. Pomerantz’s article can be inspiring, it is not much different than an emotional propaganda piece with Zionist overtones.  Zionism is that nationalist movement, itself the child of modern nation-state based ideologies that uses such false “argumentation” to justify the creation of an identity centered uniquely on the nation-state of Israel.  It essentially only argues that Israel is the alpha and omega of Jewishness. I can guarantee you that there are many Jews at odds with that statement.  I personally know several.

      c) Finally, there are many diasporas that exist and have continued to exist with a strong identity of their origin continuing to survive in their self-constructed ethos for generations.  For example, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Indians, the Greeks, the Jews and of course Africans etc. etc.  A lot of the keys to the multigenerational survival of these Diasporas have been already discovered.  Many center around differences (e.g. racial, linguistic, religious), others are due the notion of geographical concentration and critical mass, even others are due to tribal attitudes and a siege mentality and so on, or a combination of a multitude of such factors.  There is not one single reason, and the libraries of most universities in the world are full of hundreds if not thousands of research papers and materials about such topics.  

My point is that the idea that one can live one’s identity (whatever that may mean) outside of where one’s homeland is (also whatever that may mean) is not even controversial.  It is a proven and accepted fact, both in the examples I provided above and in the experience of many other people and nations.

The above of course should in no way be construed that if one desires to move to and live in Armenia it would not be a laudable thing to do in my book.  It would be a great thing to do.  I just do NOT see it happening realistically in the near future, at least not on such a massive scale as the organized nerkaghts were.


  1. I agree with Attarian’s

    I agree with Attarian’s premise that Armenians *can* live as Armenians outside the homeland. What we must also take into account, however, are the unique conditions in the modern world. Do they allow us to make a success of it in the present day? The level of dedication of Armenians to "feel and stay Armenian" has much to do with it. How many Spiurkahays are teaching their children how to learn about their identity, participate in Armenian community life, or speak Armenian, for example? Influences in host countries, ranging from the cultural to the political to the marital, and that are seemingly beyond our control, also play a significant, dampering role in the outcome. Attarian’s argument is sound, but when we look around at how Hayabahbanoutiune is being approached in practice nowadays, the prognosis for our survival is grim unless individuals and organizations take a somber look at our current status and make radical changes. And the whole point is to apply Attarian’s findings to our current state, assess it, and choose a course of action, is it not?
  2. Posted on behalf of Viken Attarian
    Answering to SD’s question: "Why Remain Armenian?"

    The answer to your question is best given by the great Shahan Shahnour in his Azadn Gomidas (Paris 1970 – excerpt from an original in 1935). Here it is in all its glory, followed by my (less than glorious) translation:

    Կը խորհիմ որ մեր աշխարհը բան մը պիտի չկորսնցնէ, եթէ իր երեսէն Հայը անհետանայ վերջնական չքացումով: Բայց ան բան մը պիտի շահի անկասկած եթէ Հայը արդիւնաւորէ, անգամ մը եւս, իր հանճարին թաքուն ուժերը:

    — Ի՞նչ ենք այսօր, եթէ ոչ եղերականօրէն սնանկ, այլ յաւակնոտ այլանդակութիւն մը, որ քարշ կու տայ իր քէներն ու անբուժելի վէրքերը: Ստրուկ՝ որ եղբայրասպան կռիւի մէջ կը հերոսանայ: Երբեմն ո’չ իսկ այդ:

    Եւ եթէ պատահի որ հայ ժողովուրդի ընդերքէն փայլատակէ ինչ որ ստեղծագործ ուժ է, եւ եթէ պատահի որ այդ ուժը գտնէ  իր կիրարկման յատուկ տարրը, կասկած չկայ որ նոր գեղեցկութիւն մը աւելցած պիտի ըլլայ աշխարհի գեղեցկութիւններուն վրայ: —

    "I think that with the final disappearance of the Armenian, the world will not be at a loss for anything.  However, the world will have a lot to gain, if the Armenian fructifies, once again, the hidden forces of his genius.

    … For what are we today, except a pitifully bankrupt, yet self-absorbed deformity, which drags along its non-healing wounds and divisions?  We are a slave who can only become a hero in the brother-slaying fight.  Sometimes not even that.

    If it so happens that whatever is a creative force shines from the deep inside of the Armenian people, and if that creative force finds its own field of self-realization, then undoubtedly a new beauty would be added to the numerous beauties of the world." Shahan Shanour

    Prophetic indeed. Written in 1935.  In other words, Shahnour is rightfully pointing out that the only reason to remain Armenian is to unleash an Armenian creativity with which one can identify.  There is no existence or identity without that.

    You remain Armenian, for the same reason a cat is a cat, or a dolphin is a dolphin.  They cannot be something else, but our human consciousness adds another dimension, that of inspiration. Because Barouyr Sevag is Armenian, because Khatchkars are Armenian, because our illuminated manuscripts are Armenian, because Aram Khatchadourian is Armenian.  In our more recent times, because Atom Egoyan is Armenian, because Nareh Arghamanyan is Armenian.  You have the urge to kneel before them, the same way you have the urge to kneel before great physical beauty.

    Put still in other words, because you get inspired by the Armenian creativity.  You get inspired not only to create, but also to live your Armenian identity (provided you have discovered it and are comfortable with it).  We are not better than other people (as Barouyr Sevag put it), but let us at least be ourselves.





  3. Viken Attarian
     Of course, it is possible to be Armenian outside Armenia–for all the well-argued reasons that Viken Attarian presents.

    The real question that should be asked is, "For how many more generations will people outside Armenia call (and think) themselves "Armenian"?

    The vast number of the Armenians in the Diaspora are still close enough to the Genocide to think they are Armenian.  Do their children or grand-children think so?

    One of the reasons that the Jews of Europe were caught flat-footed by Hitler’s plan for exterminating them was that they felt assimilated enough in their host countries to say, "But, I am French," "But, I am a German."  Etc.

    A simple answer, therefore, is "Yes, for now."

    Avedis Kevorkian
    Philadelphia, PA  USA

  4. Avedis Kevorkian has a point, so do I

    Avedis Kevorkian’s argument about the Genocide being a catalyst towards identity preservation is well taken.  And that is also a point I tried to make when discussing other Diasporas, when I referred to the well documented siege-mentality for preservation.

    On the other hand, six of the seven points I make about the Armenian identity in my initial post have nothing to do with the Genocide.  All of those instances were pre-1915.

    Furthermore, tying one’s identity issues to the memory of Genocide has a serious implication.  It creates the illusion that the only way to identify oneself with being Armenian is through a historical memory of a victim. 

    Arthur C. Clarke says "It is yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value". Knowing what humans have done to themselves and the planet, I’d say he is right on.  To paraphrase him, I would add "It is yet to be proven that Armenians have survived the Genocide".

    Such a memory could prove to be a much more ephemeral nail to hang our proverbial identity hat on than we would like.


    Viken L. Attarian
    Mount Royal QC

  5. Ideally it would be nice to pack up and go to Armenia

    Ideally it would be nice to pack up and go to Armenia. But how many Diasporan Armenians have done that since 21 September 1991? Sadly, more have left Armenia than those who decide to resettle in their homeland.  Would those who have left Armenia since 1992 be willing to go back and resume their lives?

    Armenia and its Diaspora need to put the right policies in place so as to encourage Diasporans to emigrate to Armenia. I don’t think both are anywhere close to that as there are domestic and international issues to solve first.

    It would be more realistic to build closer ties between Diasporan communities and with Armenians of Armenia. Only then one can hope that the Diaspora will in time, with the right policies in place, develop a greater stake in Armenia, secure a more regular and permanent physical presence in their original homeland.

    The best that any Diasporan can do for now is to keep the Armenian flame alive, even if that entails "heroic actions of a few intellectuals" living in isolation in the "far abroad" (to use a Russian term still in vogue), or "simulating" being in Armenia. Actually these few isolated intellectuals are tremendous assets for reviving Armenian cultural life in the Diaspora. I think it was Viken Attarian who in an earlier message described how a few isolated intellectual priests were able, on an abandoned island in the Adriatic, to singlehandedly revive Armenian language.

    Personally I still believe that Armenian communities, spread across the  world, are small parts of Armenia. Obviously none of them can compete with cultural life in Armenia. But to me practicing Armenian as a hobby is better than to disappear altogether, because that’s the only choice I have left. My goal is not only to survive as Armenian but hope that Armenian culture will undergo yet another revival, this time to produce a global Armenian identity.

  6. Le retour vers la patrie

    A mon avie si tous les armeniens pensent a l’avenir de leur pays , l’armenie et le karabakh seront l’un des plus agreables lieux et espaceds a vivre ,les 2 lieux que l’homme desire y aller, comme le juif a fair avec son retour vers l’israel or la palestine. A mon avie si chaque individu donnera 1$ pendant un mois seulement ,et on c’est qu’il existe environ 11 millions armeniens dans ce monde, ce fait 120 000 000$ . Avec cette monnaie on peut progresser l’agriculture et par suite progresser l’economie de karabakh, faire augmenter la population car le peuple a besoins a main d’oeuvre, c’est le cas de chine pour cela les chinois sont devenus en nombre plus qu’un milliard.Et de cette maniere on gagnera conte la poverete et l’emigration:vers l’exterieur .le gouvernement devient un gouvernement vigoureux et sera capables a acheter des avions meme les plus chers, des element militaires… au cours des annees on transforme la nation d’une économie largement rurale à une économie principalement industrielle et karabakh sera l’un des nations le plus developpes,modernes,industrialisees et invitera les armeniens de diaspora vers la paradise du monde,cependant le monde sera oblige a le reconnaitre comme etant une partie non separable de l’Armenie car Karabakh sera un pouvoir economique,politique,militaire qu’on ne peut pas l’ignoreR!! LEs moyens sont possibles, les solutions devant nous ,seulemnt il faut revolter,il faut penser et par suite gagner ou arriver a notre but….:

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