Is Political and Religious Affiliation Necessary?

By Dikran Abrahamian, 30 January 2009
Originally posted in 24 April Forum as part of a discussion related to the subject of being an Armenian. It's reproduced with minor cosmetic changes and in response to some correspondents who have questioned my "Armenianness" or affiliations.

By Dikran Abrahamian, 30 January 2009
Originally posted in 24 April Forum as part of a discussion related to the subject of being an Armenian. It's reproduced with minor cosmetic changes and in response to some correspondents who have questioned my "Armenianness" or affiliations.

 
I think my father – a survivor of the Genocide from Adana and raised in Greece – was a tashnag. I say "I think", because he never espoused a particular indoctrinary attitude, but I could feel where his allegiances lay. My mother's family – from Musa Dagh – was overall either henchag or pro-henchag; and a distant cousin was a "zaim" – an enforcer – in the party. One of my maternal uncles, a very close classmate of yerchangahishadag Zareh gatoghigos and Simon Simonian, became the editor-in-chief of Zartonk daily during the height of the division in the church and served the Ramgavar party faithfully until he was expelled. Later he was subjected to an assassination attempt.  One of my kerayrs, an intellectual, and a well respected community leader, was a member of the highest cadres of the hamaynavar party; he was one of the few diaspora leaders who visited Armenia prior to nerkaght and he actively participated in its implementation. He, too, was expelled from his party. 
 
In a sense my "political home" was a microcosm of what was going on around us during my formative years. Having been exposed to all these various influences, I eventually found more intellectual stimulation and satiety in the left. It provided all the elements that a young man would look for: patriotism without narrow minded nationalism, progressive views to uplift society to a more just system, and clarity of goals that included security of Armenia. Things got complicated when realization set in that State Capitalism with all its ugly and sordid faces was being promoted as a just society, and the cause of the Genocide – although not neglected – was being relegated to a secondary level. That's when resignations and expulsions followed. The date is significant; it was prior to the 50th Anniversary of the Genocide by two years and the fall of the walls by twenty-eight years.
 
My question is – Were my father, my "Zaim" cousin, my editor uncle and internationalist kerayr – all passed away – lesser Armenian than those who proclaimed that if you did not belong to such and such a party you were not an Armenian? The follow up question is – How come that all of the above were able to talk heatedly but cordially, without malice,  to each other under the same roof  despite  sometimes espousing diametrically opposite views? Why can't that atmosphere of communication be transplanted into our community life in an earnest manner, not just by paying lip service on only National Occasions?
 
My father was born in an evangelical family; he married my mom who belonged to the Armenian Apostolic Church in which I was baptized. He was literally a very religious person, and made no distinction between churches. He regularly would take me to places of worship on Sundays. If it were an Apostolic church one day, the next time it would be a Catholic, a Maronite, an Evangelical or even an Anglican church. Occasionally he would alternate between a church and a nearby mosque and a Synagogue in Haret-al-yahud. One of my Kerayrs, who inspired great respect in the extended family, was a Catholic. We would almost every year visit Zemmar, an Armenian Catholic institution in the mountains north of Beirut.
 
I started schooling in a non Armenian Catholic school, St. Vincent the Paul. Subsequently, I was sent off to an apostolic Armenian School in Bab Tuma in Damascus and later to Sahagian in the same city. During the summer vacations I was encouraged by my evangelical father to attend a nearby Madrassah and learn to recite the 'Quran for two consecutive summers. Upon return to my birthplace, Beirut, I attended the Armenian Evangelical school for two years and then completed my secondary schooling at AGBU Hovaguimian-Manougian. The visit to Lebanon of His Holiness Vazken Vehapar, Catholicos of All Armenians, and the accompanying political upheaval in the community turned me off from the Church. Previously, I used to make a cross every time that I passed by any church on the way to the school. There were three – a Catholic, a Maronite and an Apostolic. That practice ceased.
 
Upon graduation from high school, I took up two consecutive courses in Shari'a while studying at the American University of Beirut. In that same period I made a timid attempt to become a priest and took the road to the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem. It failed for completely non-religious reasons. In the days of the hippies, in mid sixties, I spent considerable time in Ashrams in Pavay – north of Bombay, Pondicherry – near Madras, and Sonarpur – south of Calcutta. Visiting the Tibetans at the slopes of the Himalayas near Dehra Dun, and getting to know the teachings of Buddhism was akin to rediscovering the universe. Some years later I found solace with the Falashas in Ethiopia. Over years I oscillated between being religious and an atheist. Now I find myself comfortable in the Agnostic camp.
 
Here is my question: What does religion in this day and age have to do with being an Armenian? Will you consider me an inferior Armenian? What would you say to a hamshenite who probably is not even a christian and  is circumcised. By the way, back in the Soviet days when supposedly the medical doctors were atheists and religion did not play a role, my son had to be circumcised, because of medical reasons. Several Armenian surgeons refused. I was called by many names. "Are you a Turk?"  was one of the questions that I had to deal with. Another said, "take him to Baku". Eventually, a Yezidi surgeon performed the necessary procedure. That was when I was studying Medicine in Yerevan.
 
The only postulate that I would agree with is sending our children to an Armenian School. I have gone to great lengths with substantial sacrifices in sending my two children all the way to Melkonian in Cyprus. However, let me tell you that you will find many like me who are fed up and will not send their children to some Armenian schools, because they inculcate division and  hatred towards the "other". In not too distant  future three of  my children out of five will cease to be Armenian. They don't even talk Armenian. Call me whatever you may, but I won't sacrifice harmony for dislike of "the other".
 
Individuals do not act based only on logic, ethnic or "national" priorities. Their background, personal experiences and perceptions play a big role in how they conduct their affairs. Not taking into account such factors, and exercising exclusionary criteria and practices render a community stale and impoverished in quality.

 

6 comments
  1. The Worry of Every Armenian

    Dikran’s poignant piece is a call to all of us to focus on what makes our identity resonate.

    The Armenian Gregorian Apostolic Church is undoubtedly one facet of this identity.  Yet increasingly, we have to face the truth that this institution must realign itself to its true calling.  That of the spiritual leadership of the Armenians who desire to follow it.  No more and no less.

    Armenian schools around the world can only serve their mission if they become the best in their respective geographies.  The best, in the rapidly interconnected planetary context, does not mean only academically.  It also means an enlarged view as to what education means.  It means preservation of the best like language, creativity, critical thinking, mentoring of talent and genius.  It also means a rejection and elimination of what makes us weak and backwards, i.e. tribalism, mediocrity, the attitude that lower standards should be accepted because of the "Armenian" nature of the schools and so on.  No parent worthy of that title would want today to send their children to mediocre institutions simply because they are Armenian.  The solution is to invest in our schools to make them the best.

    Political parties in the Armenian Diaspora are such an anachronism as to be almost the societal equivalent of fossils in amber. They are only worthy to be museum pieces. To govern our reality based on their policies would be at best a wish to go back to the Cold War era; at worst, it would be a wish to travel backwards in time and land in the end of the 19th century.

    In the end, it is likely that the two pillars of the Armenian identity will remain the language and Armenia itself.  Both are under tremendous siege.

    Let’s see if we can preserve both.  The alternative would be to abdicate that responsibility, which would mean to deny our own selves.

    Paregamoren

    VLA

  2. ” IDENTIDAD ”

    Voy a aportar mi humilde y sintetico comentario en relacion a la " identidad armenia " en la diaspora; Que, con el transcurrir de las generaciones, veo esfumarse la " esencia " de lo que yo llamo " nativo "; Surgiendo, segun la intensidad de la carga historica y emotiva heredada por cada nueva familia, un marcado desarrollo de las " tradiciones armenias ".- Creo que como menciona el compatriota Sr. Viken, el " puro lenguaje armenio "  continuaria  identificandonos como tales, pero tambien conocemos lo dificultoso que resulta implementar su " enseñanza " continental y comunitariamente en los cada vez mas dificiles y globalizados tiempos que corren.- Saludos.- Miguel Angel Nalpatian(1942).- Mar del Plata.- Buenos Aires.- Rca Argentina.-

      1. ” NEROGUTIUN “

        Harkeli Baron Tigran; Nerogution ge haitem, paitz anclieren yat chem quider kerel, iev im medazumneres macur hasquenalu-hamar, anbaiman castieren betke kerem.- Menak Parov.- Miguel Angel Nalpatian(1942).- Mar del Plata.- Buenos Aires.- Rca Argentina.-  

      2. Translations

        Dear readers,

        On-line, automated means, such as  http://translate.google.com/  can provide a solution if there are postings that are not in English. You may not obtain a perfect translation, but it will provide the gist. Not all readers of Keghart.com are confortable writing in English, although they read and understand. Hundreds of readers are from Latin countries, and occasionally you may find comments in Spanish or Portuguese. I think it’s reasonable to honour their preference. After all, these are not treatises, but short  messages.

        Respectfully,

        Dikran Abrahamian

  3. Armenian Schools
    My personal experience with Armenian schools has been positive regarding education, Armenian spirit (without anatagonism against or adherence to any party), and the Christian faith.
    These 3 fields have been properly balanced within the three various Armenian Evangelical Schools that I attended. I have also heard the same positive feedback about some Armenian Catholic Schools here in Lebanon.

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