A Clash of Cultures: Re-imagining the hyphenated Armenian


Maria Titizian

BY MARIA TITIZIAN

I often wonder if other nations are as hard on themselves as we are. No doubt our behavior toward one another on a personal, national and global scale is enough reason to begin a critical discourse on our self-perceived lack of inspiration. While we all claim to be Armenian due to genetic material, ethnicity, language, physical characteristics and a shared history, we are in fact a people whose behavior, world views and perceptions are in constant conflict. Our personal stories and experiences in the Diaspora attest to this condition and were further compounded after Armenia gained independence. We went from the typical Diaspora hyphenations of Lebanese-, American-, Iranian-, Syrian-, French-, Argentinean-Armenian to the Hayastantsi-Spyurkahay shift. We are forever labeling ourselves as Armenians belonging to a particular place but never a shared space.

We create divisions for the sake of divisions.

My personal revelation of this condition revealed itself to me in 1983 during the first pan-Armenian AYF camp in Greece. Young Armenians from the Middle East, Europe, South and North America came together for two weeks of educationals, excursions and activities. I was 17 years old, very young and naïve and my excitement at traveling for the first time to Europe and getting to meet like-minded compatriots was beyond measure. The memories and friendships have stayed with me thirty years on. It was an experience that changed the course of my life. Although I returned to Canada with a stronger resolve to maintain my identity as an Armenian, I was also astonished by the serious clash of culture I had experienced. The Lebanese-Armenians considered us North American-Armenians not as “Armenian” or patriotic as they were because we would speak English, the Syrian-Armenians kept mainly to themselves, especially the girls, none of us Western Armenians could understand the Iranian-Armenians, to hear the Armenians from Argentina speak with such a heavy Spanish accent was a little shocking and the European Armenians were so different that we didn’t interact. We all considered ourselves to be Armenian but there was a disconnect; we were in reality so different from one another.

Growing up in Canada, a multicultural society, where ethnic minorities are encouraged to maintain their identity and culture, living with a diverse group of different races taught us tolerance and acceptance. But the labels almost always existed unless you could trace your Canadian lineage back at least three of four generations. The rest of us came from somewhere else. We sought out familiarity and made sure to stick with those who were most like us.

This was true for the Armenian Diaspora. You were a “Lebanonahay” or “Syriahay” or a “Barsgahay” and you generally kept to your own “kind.” And the other important division was the “Americahay” versus the newly arrived hyphenated “other” Armenian, and then the issue became not only about culture and language but turf.
And then our comfortable hyphenated world shifted as Armenia gained independence and new labels were quickly assigned – we were the Spyurkahays and they, the Hayastantsis. But the Hayastantsis also had their own internal hyphenations based on city or region, and then there was the Kharabakhtsi, the Javakhtsi, the Bakvetsi, etc. The most ingrained distinction is reserved for the repatriates from the 1940s who, 70 years on are still called “aghpars.” We like to distinguish.

And in this strange Armenian configuration of multiple identities, we moved to Armenia where we came to be known sometimes as “aghpars,” sometimes the more polite terminology of repatriate, but most times crazy for leaving behind the comforts of the West. And as a painfully small trickle of Armenians from different parts of the world come to live in the homeland, these divisions continue, not as severe as they were in the Diaspora but they do persist. Some traditions die hard.

The Genocide not only deprived us of our ancestral homeland but it deprived us of the feeling of belonging to a particular geography, oneness and unity. Yes, we talk about the power of the Armenian, our tenacity to survive in the face of adversity, and yes, we still tend to agree on some things of national importance or significance but most of the time we like to disagree on many things.

But today, we have ownership, there is geography, recognized borders, a specific, tangible piece of land, soil, a state that belongs to all of us, however small or incomplete it may be. And not only one, but two. Although the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh is not yet recognized, for all intents and purposes it is de facto a nation state, with its corresponding institutions and living, breathing people, the second Armenian state on this planet. And yet the hyphenations continue.

Our diverse narratives, our personal histories and experiences, the countries and communities where we lived in our formative years, which have positively impacted our world views and perceptions, are strengths that we must celebrate and employ to ensure the empowerment of not only the homeland but the Diaspora. Utilizing the strength of Armenians right across the globe can be a tool for greatness.

We must re-imagine what it means to be an Armenian in the 21st century. We are a global nation in a globalized world. The Genocide viciously cast us out into the world, a dispersion of catastrophic dimensions for our people. We must flip this tragic narrative on its head. Without ceasing to struggle for the restoration of our historic and legal rights, let’s simultaneously use it to empower us and not weaken us. It forced us to adapt, to become more flexible and inventive. We had to learn how to live again. Some of us lived in established democracies, others in authoritarian states; some of us were caught in wars that had nothing to do with us and survived; some had the privilege of living in countries where social justice prevailed and in others where there was corruption, fundamentalism, lack of freedoms and polarization; we learned tolerance and yet were targets of intolerance; we learned to be innovative, cunning and how to survive with nothing and then prosper. We educated ourselves and our children. Individual Armenians around the world reached dizzying heights of success because they intrinsically understood and had felt hatred and deprivation and the only alternative was to succeed and be better. We have lived in the west and the east, in the north and south. We have covered the globe and have overcome. This is our legacy, yet we hyphenate.

I am not a Canadian-Armenian, a Diaspora-Armenian, a repatriate, or an aghpar, I am Armenian. So are you.

19 Responses

for “A Clash of Cultures: Re-imagining the hyphenated Armenian”

  1. Armen says:

    Maria, read your articles with pleasure. This subject is very close to my heart as I painfully withness it in Los Angeles area.
    Respectfully from an ex-barsgahay to americahay to now simply just a HAY.

  2. Alicia, merci pour ton article. Nous sommes tout simplement INCORRIGIBLES! Cette sur-”hyphenization” est la marque dnotre profonde incapacite’ de nous emerger hors de nos prejuge’s et de nos particularismes. Nous sommes, chacun de nous sans exception, une “personnalite’”-mosaique (je prefere le mot plus exact arme’nien: ‘garguedan’) de differents “AYT YES YEM…” que nous avons confectionne’ a’ travers les milieux par lesquels nous avons promene’ notre vie en ramassant par-ci-par-la’ nos haillons individuels.
    Au fond nous en sommes tellement impreigne’s, que n. travaillons interieurement nos divers visages en un sculpteur savant, que, aghpar ou akhmakh, nous en sommes fiers. Il nous faut uns sorte de synthese gigantesque pour parvenir a’ une unite’ unifiante. C’est un mecanisme de defense devenu naturel sans qu’il y ai un Turc devant nous…et faute de Turc nous assassinons nous-memes ou nos frere, comme Dr. Avedian!!

  3. Arziv says:

    These are not ” divisions” in its generic sense, but are distinctive of place or abode. We are aware of the ” fierce” and robust ” differences amongst the Maraszi, Adanatzi, Tomarzatzi, Burzatzi, etc, from our days in our Anatolian homelands. Regional differences, idisioncrasies are a natural condition of a nation where regions and its pride are a secondary appendix to their nationhood. I witnessed once a discord between two neighboring armenians, where the wedding of their daughters was involved. The wedding was cancelled because the Zeitunsi groom’s parents refused to take a bride from the ” lying, conninving, foxy Tomarsatzi”. It would perfectly natural to an Armenian from Argentina to feel apart from an Iranian Armenian. Nothing they have in common other than their tragic origins and their names and identities; but they are from different parts of the globe, and that is not to say that the differences are a cleavage, they are just distinctive marks of having brought up in a separate environment. For an armenian from Lebanon there is no better armenian than a lipanansi hay. For a Greek armenian, only Greek armenians are real armenians, and so on and on . When I went to Armenia the customs official insisted in speaking to me in Italian; I responded in my skeletal armenian, but she carried on with her italian. She did not recognize me , even by reading my name, that I was Hye, she did not like my skeletal and incongrous accented armenian and treated me as an Italian refusing to say one word of armenian to me. She was a clever official, versed in multilingualism.

  4. I find the article by Ms.Titizian very interesting and informative of our current state of affairs, socially, as Armenians. Initially,I also was carried on by her notions of displeasure and guilt feelings of separatist languages,hyphenations and the interesting ways we “define” ourselves, by different creative labels.Blaming the genocide was also implicated in Ms Titzian’s article.
    Well, to make the readers feel a little better, and less bitter about the mentioned realities by Ms. Titizian, I will be coming up with the following rebuttle, with due respect.
    Labelling the people of “old countries”, specially the middle east, is a historical reality.People of those countries have a “tribal” thinking that comes from centuries.That also includes the Armenians.In Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and other countries, most last names come from a village or town you or your ancestors belonged to. In all languages, like in Armenian, “Catholicos Sepatatsi”, “Catholocos Sistsi”, etc, Marashlian, Istambulian, Kilisian, etc. are common surnames. In other languages, like arabic, Farsi, Turkish, families are also identified by what town or village they came from. (A bad example “Khomeiny” from the town of Khomein) . In AUB, my Lebanese professors used to ask during social events, as to what town or village in the South or North Lebanon was a student from after hearing the last name. Recognizing that way a student’s family or grandfather was a joyous occasion for both. Even before genocide, marriages in occupied Armenia (presently Turkey) , occured within the same town or region, and that was like a rule almost. Marashtsi married Marashtsi,Aintabtsi, Kilisti,etc, married from their own towns, rarely intermarriages occured among different regions. So, the tradition carries on. Therefore I view this phenomenon as tradition,the merits of which is in the eye of the beholder.
    In summary, as long as we all profess to be Armenians, with some fault of hyphenation, but no hostility or discrimination, no infighting, injuring or insulting attitudes toward each other, I guess I can live with hyphenation

  5. Zohrab says:

    Well I read your articlei live in australia and I proudly say I m armenian and I see armenia as my homeland I see all who live in it as armenians.try and not get corrupted by western comfort do not deny your past and our tourchered ancestors and no matter what try help oneanother it will make us stronger

  6. Nareg Seferian says:

    Of course we are all Armenian and we all share in a perception of unity. But – also of course – there are differences in the details. I find this natural, and not really a source of disappointment. It can actually be rather enriching, and is rather fascinating in terms of history, culture, and society.

    It can also be divisive, I understand. But I don’t see how suddenly the Bolsahay and the Barsgahay are going to talk to each other with their accents and fully understand one another. That is not a realistic expectation. Often they meet each other half-way, and, yes, that less-than-perfect understanding can lead to misunderstanding sometimes too.

    In my opinion, the best bet we have for a unifying rallying point is the Republic of Armenia. To have the kind of Armenia with which we can all proudly identify – for which we would have an incentive to meaningfully congregate – would mean having a well-functioning state with minimal corruption and established institutions under the rule of law. Peace with our neighbours and a good economy would help too. I would argue, though, that has little to do with the multi-faceted Armenian identity, and more with state-building and state-management.

  7. GB says:

    Dear Maria, as Canadian-Armenian, I agree with you %100!! Our unity is more important than anything else! Sometimes I am envy of those Jews, how they protect and support each others!!

    • Winny says:

      GB, I understand from your “envy of those Jews”, as you say, that you’ve never been into Jewish society, with their many, many divisions between Ashkenazi and Sepharad, Haridim and otherwise, and how they love to hate each other…

  8. Kevork says:

    Ես Լիբանահայ չեմ իսկ համաձայն եմ այդ Լիբանահայ կարծիքը որ կ’ըսէ թէ Հայը Հայերէն կը խօսի։

    Այսօր նոր արհեստագիտութեան միջոցներով ամէն Հայ կրնայ բաւական դիւրութեամբ իր լեզու սորվիլ եւ գործածել։

    Լեզուն + Հայաստան։ Այդ երկուքն ալ կրնան ըլլալ սոսինձը որ պետք ունինք իբրեւ Հայեր ինքնութեան մը պահելու համար։

    Ուրիշ երկիրները սովորապէս ին՞չ ունին ինքնութեան համար արդիական ժամանակին մէջ… Իրենց պետութիւն եւ լեզուն։

  9. Hrant K. says:

    A global nation in a globalized “universe”! We are supposed to think beyond this world and become
    a more universally united Armenian nation… 2 Republics in this world is very good , what if global warming
    continues on a very hazardous scale unexpectedly?. Do we Armenians do anything about it? Are we planning
    our future in the next 50 utmost challanging years, where only the survival of the wittiest will prevail, where
    the fittest won’t be enough anymore to survive? Do we have a Plan B in the Cosmos, or a plan C in and around the moon or Mars? What if there is “God formid” a nuclear Apocalypse or a Cataclyptic extraterrestrial impact? Do we have a Plan D? Or are we so happy and comfortable sitting behind the fireplace in winter or swimming
    in our swimming pools @ summer or may be playing tennis? I am a very optimistic person, but we have to ready
    for surprises , whether from immediate enemies or natural and “Etat Majeur” factors. We should at all times sleep with one eye open for approaching “would be dangers” or real dangers…!!!

  10. Hrant K. says:

    “God forbid”

  11. Hrant K. says:

    “be ready”

  12. Nazeli Aidjian says:

    I agree 100% wih you!

  13. Tamar Chahinian says:

    I hear you Maria jan ! We often talk about “Belonging” in the diaspora, in fact it’s always difficult to answer when we’re asked “where are you from” ????
    The interesting thing about us however is when two of us Armenians meet outside our homeland, suddenly those hyphens disappear…. Something I’ve experienced personally. Whenever I meet an Armenian in another part of the world, it’s as if I found Gold, it’s as if we’ve known each other for ages and there’s this unexplainable connection between us which you can’t find with any other nation. That definitely makes me unique and damn proud to be an Armenian!
    Thank you for the great article, keep up the great work you’re doing !

  14. Garen Yegparian says:

    Love it.
    All these adjective-bearing “Armeniannesses” are grotesquery against which I’ve long spoken, and it’s great to hear others affirming our essential oneness.

  15. Elka Ronec says:

    When you write,” While we all claim to be Armenian due to genetic material, ethnicity, language, physical characteristics and a shared history, we are in fact a people whose behavior, world views and perceptions are in constant conflict. Our personal stories and experiences in the Diaspora attest to this condition and were further compounded after Armenia gained independence”….this not only pertains to Armenians but to all people who have immigrated and been educated, worked and lived in countries other than our homeland. I am a Canadian-Slovak or Slovak-Canadian…both heritages are equal important to me because both have shaped who I am. I was born in the former Czechoslovakia and from childhood lived in Canada (Quebec and Ontario) upon immigration in 1969, was educated in the Catholic multicultural school system and at home by Czechoslovak parents. Everybody in Canada comes from somewhere else in their heritage, except for the Native Canadians. Being Canadian has blessed me with knowing, from a young age, studying with and working with people from all around the world. I remember the days of Caravan in Toronto where numerous pavilions proudly showcasing culture (dance, food, artifacts, cultural displays) were visited by hundreds of thousands of people. It is a blessing to have a hyphenated label. It means one has been able to not only know and retain one’s own culture and heritage but also to empathize and identify with other people’s values and norms.

  16. Haig K. says:

    I read your article and I have noticed from my experiences in whichever country you visit and get to know the locals, people hyphenate and create stereoypes on their origins. It is purely human nature because there is a need to identify one-self with others on a smaller scale. We would say to a non Armenian, we are Armenian. To an Armenian in Canada, we are lipanahye or yekiptahye, etc.. Before a lipanahye in Lebanon would say my mother is Hadjentsi and my father Zeitountsi, etc… But today, an Armenian in Canada in his teens would most likely simply say that he/she is Armenian from Toronto or an Armenian from Montreal. Because for this teen, his parents are probably born in Canada and if both parents are Armenian, chances are they immigrated from different places. Even with globalisation, hyphenations will remain but simply evolve in new ones.

    I truly believe that the new generation of Armenians are less political than their parents’ generation and focuse purely on the survival of their language and culture. I think that as a nation, we are prouder than ever since the genocide thanks to independance and the outcome of Karabakh.

    Chapeau to all the young Armenians who realise the gift they have for being Armenian, wether genetically fully or not, if you feel it in you then you are Armenian.

    Our focus for the 21st century is to make Armenia a better place to live so that we limit the exodus and start repopulating it. Our language will only survive if Armenia survives, and our language is the backbone of our culture, even more so than our religion which sadly and in all honesty, is taking a back seat for the time being.

    I do not wish to create any offense, but this is only my personal point of view.

  17. gaytzag palandjian says:

    I rather approve of Armen’s comment above.Todos tenemos razon-a spanish saying-meaning we all have some reason-belief,or just something right right-but the whole issue of article by Maria titizian has been mis- understood.As only in last segment she stresses the need to *I’d say mingle w/ea other and become the NEW HAYE…especially so as you guys here mostly young people..I’m the Babik.And I praise our young in all my writings ,staking all our future achievements upon the abilities of our Youth,Young who are out to accomplish and orbring to fruition what we the elders started.
    As to ms.Titizian,there is something that bothers me ..to tell the truth.Few, if any here on this forum know she occupies-so I am given to understand -a very much coveted position and she is …not there to to more for all not only Armenians ,especially non armenians to see that an armenian Lady now occupies the position of Vice President of Internacional Socialista*Socialist internationl.A post or position that was ostentated by Spain’s ex-president not very long ago Don Felipe gonzales who guided spain of Totalitarian Frakism to a Socialist country*euro socialist, taken after the Swedish model( .he was vice pres. to Willyu Brandt the famous German Chjancellor who made history kneeling down at the polish jews memorial in poland and then articulated the restitutions to Jews fro,m Nazi Germany.
    I would prompt and suggest her that she leave the Armenian kids/young alone,,they are doing purdy well and instead get onto the International Scene -especially now-that the Armeno Kurdish issues are ripening up, so to say.Please ms. Titizian don’t take this as a critique.I like your style of writing etc., but do please heed what the ordinary Armenian compatriot-like self-suggests.Mind you I do not advise, suggest.BTW there is no correct translation of this word in armenian.Reason being that suggest is a soft way of setting forth- w/a take it or leave-meaning.Anyhow, I hope to see Ms Maria titizian on the International political scene soon and …for instance AN INTERNATIONL CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNACIONA;L SOCIALISTA, next in Yerevan!!!!
    One more suggestion,if I may.it is you,I trust that will make an effort to explain to the people of Armenia that THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SWEDISH SOCIALISM AND THE COMMUNIST SO CALLED SOVIET SOCIALISM.Fact is ARF lost quite a bit of votes etc., as what with the Red flags..the ordianry Armenian farmer or worker or the ,man on the street, pictured in mind that thsese are soviet socialsits COUSINS IF NOT BROTHERS AND SISTSERS.Hope the Dashnags/Tashnags will forgive me but I also wish them success to bring about real Swedish style rule in armenia and that’s why I am making theses suggestions…I have lived quite a few yrs in spain and have in fact aprticipated in the Club formed there after Francoi that was labelled as Club Liberal*nothing to do with the ;liberal political party but a peripheral gathering club where all ideologies met on sn equal LEVEL.soemthing we lakc both in Homneland and in Diaspora and I learnt a lot from those few meetings I attended thereat.Thje spaniards who had fought a ferocious civial war 1936-9 killing brothers,one communist republica, the othjer Faccha.they had come a long way.they sat together and approved whatever idea set forth from any idology person,IF IT WAS TO THE BENEFIT OF THE PATRIA!!!!

  18. Movses Keoshkerian says:

    This is in response, or my views of possible continuation. of Maria Titizian’s article, published in Asbarez on of Monday, January 14th, 2013. The title of that article was:

    A Clash of Cultures: Re-imagining the hyphenated Armenian

    First of all I would like to congratulate Maria for her painstakingly written article.

    I, myself, always want to ask at the end: WHAT CAN WE DO”

    First about the article:

    I, 100% agree with the opinions expressed in the article. It couldn’t have been said better.

    My comments:

    After the Genocide, when the remnants of the few Armenians settled in different parts of the Middle East, there was Marashtsi, Ayntabtsi, Bolsetsi, Gesaratsi, Kharpertsi and so on Armenians.

    There were also “Hayrenagtsagan Miouchonner” and very strong affiliations to those, a member of one association will not go to the other’s club.

    Those were before the diaspora was divided into four different “Parties” Hnchag, Tashnag, Ramgavar and Chezoks.

    In 1950s and on the Hayrenagtsagans started losing grounds and the diaspora was more polarized around the parties and the same intolerance of each other continues until the end of the cold war.

    “As the world turns” Nothing is new in this world. Today people will go to different party’s undertakings and the intolerance of people to each other is fading.

    But today there is, like Maria says, different “Hayrenagtsagans” Lipananahay, Yekibdahay, Hounahay, Souriahay, Losits (From Los Angelos) Fransahay ect. also Hayastantsis. Kharabakhtsi, Javakhtsi, Bakvetsi. The intolerance between those exists.

    In my opinion after 2-3 generations those labeling will definitely fade away and in diaspora will remain only, “My parents were of Armenian decent”

    I am not trying to be pessimistic, but trying to be realistic.

    When only 8% of diaspora children go to Armenian schools (Source Horizon weekly), we need not to be statisticians to calculate that in 30-40 years the diaspora will shrink to 100,000 people from today’s 8 million.

    It’s easy to make diagnosis, individuals and our newspapers are good at it, but not too many people talk about the cure.

    It is unrealistic to expect even that in the foreseeable future Armenian schools will service from 8% to even 10%

    Again in my opinion, whatever we can save from the 8 million Armenians in diaspora that’s the only thing that counts. If things stay the same that will probably be only few thousands that will choose to resettle in Armenia.

    Our biggest problem today is the migration of Armenians. If things stay the same as today within 20 years may be we will have only one million Armenians left in Armenia.

    What can we do to reverse this situation?

    The most effective way of defense is offence.

    We have to be aggressively pursuing the return of Armenians to Armenia. We have to find ways so that Armenians will stay in Armenia.

    In Canada the government imports 250,000 people per year to stimulate the economy otherwise due to low growth the economy will suffer.

    Couple of alternatives.

    1. Establishing retirement homes in Armenia: Probably there is about a million people retired in diaspora and most of them are self supporting. The cost of retirement homes in north America is somewhere between 2 and 4 thousand dollars per month. In Armenia it will cost about $1,000.00 per month to accommodate a person. In north America we have thousands of millionaires and if we can convince them to operate retirement homes in Armenia that, will solve partially the homecoming of Armenians.

    Benefits:

    The children of the retirees will come and visit their parents and hopefully some of them will settle in Armenia.

    The economy of Armenia will flourish due to increase of consumers.

    Western mentality will influence the locals.

    Thousands of new jobs will be created.

    Immigration will decrease and even repatriation will commence.

    2. Support a baby:

    Armenia is de-populating. So far it has been estimated that over one million people have left Armenia and it continues in tens of thousands per year.

    Here is a proposal that could increase the population in Armenia.

    Due to the fact that Armenia’s and Artsakh’s population is decreasing or is not growing as it should be.

    Due to the fact that Diasporans, are not going to migrate to Armenia and Artsakh in thousands in the foreseeable future.

    Due to the fact that, we have thousands of people in Diaspora that can sponsor a child or more for 18 years.

    And to have a strong Armenia/ Artsakh we need a growth of the population of at least 8-10% which will encourage also our industries.

    Proposal:

    To support “needy families” in Armenia, specially in the villages, that are having second, third, fourth, fifth child, in addition to their families, by birth or adoption. The support will be $100.00 per month per child for 18 years.

    1. We need 3 to 5 volunteers as committee members.
    2. Create a constitution.
    3. Register a charitable organization.
    4. Advertise for sponsors.
    5. Advertise in Armenia/ Artsakh for recipients.

    Guidelines:

    1. I’ll describe as “needy families” the family that makes less then 100,000 drams per month ($300.00).
    2. This could be adjusted from time to time by the committee as inflation soars.
    3. As soon as we have 10 sponsors we will advertise in Armenia/ Artsakh, set a date and the births or adoptions after that date could be qualified. First come first served.
    4. As the number of sponsors increase, more families will receive support.
    5. Whenever we have more sponsors than births we may look at going back to one year olds or two or three, until eighteen year olds.
    6. The sponsor may have the right to choose the recipients.

    Of course these guidelines are for discussions, amendments and approval by the group.

    Actually we can first start this program in Karabagh then expand it to Armenia.

    Benefits:

    1. The recipients of those supports will stay in Armenia at least for the next 18 years.

    2. New jobs will be created due to increase of population.

    3. Armenians will return to homeland.

    I am sure that there will be more benefits when we apply the above proposals.

    Movses Keoshkerian

    Ottawa/ Yerevan

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