Garen Yegparian
Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian


Two weeks ago I had the honor of attending a friend’s daughter’s bat-mitzvah. That’s the coming of age ritual for Jewish girls.

Aside from noticing similarities that were the result of borrowings from Judaism into Christianity and trying to recognize words in Hebrew by likening them to the little Arabic I still remember, one thing struck me, hard, sharp, biting, shudder inducing: the millennial continuity embodied in the rite I was observing and, in contrast, how much we’ve lost.

The last time I had this sense was twelve years ago, on my last visit to Lebanon, where I saw the connectedness with their history that people had in the villages and towns they’d occupied since time immemorial. I may be developing a fear of visiting Native Americans in their ancestral homelands, since they, and other indigenous peoples, have also managed to retain a good portion of that connectedness to place, cosmos, and tradition.

This discontinuity of ours does not rise from the most obvious cause you’re likely to think of, not exclusively.

It all started with our adoption of Christianity. With the adoption of a non-native religion, we shore off many connections to every rock, tree, cloud, mountain, lake, etc. that had been built up over thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of years of living in the same place. These connections were embodied in our then-worshipped deities, through which we explained/understood all that was. When a new explanation, coupled with its code of behavior, was adopted, naturally, much of the old had to be discarded. Vahagn and Christ could not occupy the same sacred place simultaneously. Sure some of the showy stuff, the festivals (leaping over fire, spraying each other with water, blessing grapes), were co-opted by the church and lived on under the new rubric, to help bridge the transition and give credibility to the new religion. But, in the process they lost their true meaning and connection to life.

That was the first, chronologically fairly compact, blow. Then came two other factors, which ran for a long time, and overlapped. Invasions of barbarian, nomadic groups from the east disrupted life in the Armenian highlands. It instigated repeated moves/migrations and contributed to the impoverishment of the country. All this made the millennial continuity weaker and more remote.

As the invaders became more settled, consolidated power over and commenced ruling our homeland, along the way adopting Islam, the pressure was on to convert. By this time, the Armenian Apostolic Church, being thoroughly established and, ultimately, becoming the only remaining Armenian institution, was in a position to ostracize, even “expel” from the nation of Armenians, anyone who did convert. Thus did many of our compatriots get totally ripped away from their roots and our traditions. Connections to our past and place took another blow.

The coup de grâce was, of course, the Genocide, compact chronologically and all-encompassing. Any remaining connection was either utterly destroyed (for those of us who ended up in the Diaspora), or masked under an unfathomably thick cover of conversion (though sometimes not) and living a hidden, extremely circumspect, life for four generations (those remaining in Western Armenian lands or going through the Soviet reinvention). How are the connections to meaning and cultural importance of history, place, and tradition to be maintained while pretending to be something else? How does a child growing up in this environment internalize what is hers/his and what’s not? What about a grandchild, or great-grandchild?

The utter horror of the irretrievable loss we’ve suffered is beyond words, perhaps beyond even conceiving. Let’s work to at least regain our lands, then try to reconstruct and re-imagine what we were, are, and want to be.


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  1. amb said:

    We have lands in Armenia. It’s our prejudicial, short-sighted vision that prevents us from seeing that.

  2. Stepan said:

    I always enjoy your column, Garen , but we are not on the same page on this one. How can you attribute our embracing Christianity as contributing to our lack of “connectiveness”. Our identity as a people , has endured through years of turmoil, primarily through the hope delivered by our faith. Does anyone actually that Armenians would still exist if we were not Christian? We surely would have assimilated into history centuries ago as did other peer groups that lacked differentiation. In our secular world , it is popular to blame our faith for our suffering. I believe that it is our Christian Faith that has ensured our survival. That is our gift from God. Our literary culture blossomed with the invention of the alphabet….. Created so that the Word of God could be spread through the translation of the Bible and other works. Your theory is interesting but really doesn’t apply to our faith. A purely secular Armenian nation is a lost one.

  3. Daron said:

    Great article, and a topic which has been ignored for centuries. It’s a good start, but we need to expand and explore this topic and make it available to the new generation. Good work Garen!

  4. Arto said:

    Actually Garen, the disconnectedness you are describing is the spiritual abyss of the diaspora who’s umbilicus has been severed from the homeland. No offense but there is a serious case of myopia which prevents a diasporan from seeing the connectedness of the people of Armenia and Artsakh to their ancient heritage. Do you not think that the 6000 sacrifices of our young volunteers during the Artsakh liberation struggle happened because they had nothing better to do, or their parents who sacrificed their sons and daughters did so because they were fooled into it? Do you not think that every contract serviceman and conscripts receiving a hail of fire daily from the enemy but bravely defending their homeland doesn’t feel a sense of connectedness with their nation and traditions? No need to project our vacuous feelings onto the entire nation.

  5. Varouj. Arevmdahayastantsi said:

    I couldn’t disagree with you more Garen, case in point we turned Christian and we were so connected to our lands that we were able to endure 1200 years of rule under the Mamluks, Mongols, Turks, Ottoman Empire etc. with very little attrition. In fact I think the fact that we took Christianity and tailored it to meet our own needs and wants enabled us to stay so connected to our lands. If it wasn’t for the genocide would still be there so stop this victim mentality. Always looking for a reason whybad things happened; it happened because the bloody Turks are just that, very bloody.