‘Tebi’ or Not ‘Tebi’? That Is the Question

ANCA Leo Sarkisian Intern Mari Tikoyan with Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA), one of two U.S. House members of Armenian descent.
ANCA Leo Sarkisian Intern Mari Tikoyan with Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA), one of two U.S. House members of Armenian descent.

ANCA Leo Sarkisian Intern Mari Tikoyan with Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA), one of two U.S. House members of Armenian descent.

BY MARI TIKOYAN
University of Maryland – Class of 2018
ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship 2017

Should all Armenians go ‘Tebi Yergir?” The idea of Armenians moving back to Armenia has been a heavily discussed topic amongst the Armenian community. During my time interning for the Armenian National Committee of America, I have come across Armenians who have completely opposite opinions on this issue. Some people believe that every Armenian must move back to strengthen Armenia and preserve Armenian culture. Others have no desire to move to Armenia and enjoy living in the diaspora. However, my summer in Washington has allowed me to finally answer the question of going “Tebi Yergir.”

During my first week in the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Program, I got into a discussion about going “Tebi Yergir” with a fellow intern. My colleague basically argued that all Armenians should move back to the Homeland because assimilation is inevitable and one must take the appropriate measures to strengthen and preserve our culture. I thought long and hard about this concept; I even pictured how life would be if I picked up everything and decided to move to Armenia. After imagining such scenarios, I realized that the idea of moving “Tebi Yergir” may not be for me.

There are so many benefits of the Armenian diaspora. I believe it is one of the greatest strengths for Armenia. Some overlook the benefits and even go so far as to argue that Diasporans are “not real Armenians.” In my case, being a diasporan Armenian has only strengthened my desire to maintain my history and culture.

From a young age, I joined almost every Armenian youth organization imaginable. I was involved in AYF, ACYOA, and I went to Armenian school. I would drive about an hour into a different state just to go to an Armenian church. I would drive about an hour just so I could get together with my Armenian friends from the DC area. I would spend countless weekends at Armenian events and I always longed for weekends with my Armenian friends.

Yes, my Armenian may not be the most fluent, it may take me a while to read a sentence in Armenian, I may not hang out with my Armenian friends as frequently as others, I may live in a smaller Armenian community and I may not have a desire to spend my life in Armenia. However, I have always gone the extra mile to maintain my Armenian heritage. I have always been proactive in keeping my connection with the Armenian community. I want to give back and help contribute to making Armenia a better place.

So when I hear some argue that diasporan Armenians do a terrible job in maintaining the Armenian culture, I cannot help but get frustrated. Being Armenian is so much more than knowing the language, knowing every bit of Armenian history, and wanting to live in Armenia. Being Armenian is about embracing your Armenian background, informing those around you of our struggles as a nation, and working to create a better Armenia for those in the generations to come.

Interning for the Armenian National Committee of America has taught me just that. The ANCA works tirelessly to bring Armenian issues to the forefront, support the Armenian cause, and help create a better Armenia. The Armenian National Committee of America has reaffirmed my faith in the Armenian diaspora. In working on the various projects this summer with supporters from across the US, I have seen the commitment, the passion, and drive our community members demonstrate to strengthen the Armenian Homeland.
I’ve witnessed the benefit of the Armenian diaspora throughout my entire life. Had I not been the sole Armenian in my high school, none of my classmates would have known about Armenia or Artsakh. If I did not live with non-Armenian roommates in college, they would have never heard about the Armenian Genocide or have the chance to attend the annual protest in front of the Turkish Embassy. If Aram Hamparian was not in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on May 16th – iPhone in hand – people may never have seen the brutal beating of peaceful protesters by President Erdogan’s bodyguards.

I am forever grateful to live in the diaspora because I have the chance to educate those around me and bring awareness to Armenian issues. So no, I do not think one must go “Tebi Yergir” to preserve the Armenian culture. Just one look at the dedicated Armenian communities around the globe serves as enough proof that the Armenian diaspora is alive and well – and the important role they play in the life of the Armenian nation.

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6 Comments

  1. Shaunt Tchakmak said:

    Hi Mari – First off, thank you for writing this article and approaching this topic from a perspective many people are afraid to do. I thought a lot about responding to your piece and finally decided to because at one point in my life I whole-heartedly agreed with everything you have put forward in the piece and was in a very similar position. My Name is Shaunt Tchakmak and I was once a Leo Sarkissian intern and an extremely active member of my diasporan community in Toronto, Canada. Today, however, I live in Armenia.

    My goal here is not change your mind but to ensure that the question you have posed (‘Tebi’ or Not ‘Tebi’?) gets answered in the most effective way possible. You started off the discussion by pointing to a conversation you had with a fellow intern which, in turn, put your aforementioned question in a very tiny box: Move to Armenia and preserve your identity and culture or stay in the diaspora and don’t. There is no doubt in my mind that it is possible to remain in the diaspora and maintain a sense of identity. I don’t believe complete assimilation is the only outcome for every Armenian in the diaspora. However, this shouldn’t be starting point and the only context in which we talk about repatriation. Living in Armenia has an incredible number of benefits that can add to ones life in an inconceivably possible way. Yerevan is one of the culturally richest cities with booming sectors and truly unique opportunities.

    In regards to approaching the topic from that box, though, id like to provide the following insight. Living here has alleviated the stress of trying to maintain my culture and my identity, which as truly been a spiritual experience. I personally did not realize how much time and effort I put into trying to remain Armenian in the diaspora. I now don’t believe it is fair to place a human being in an environment where they need to fight so hard to simply maintain who they are. So yes, it is possible to maintain your culture in the diaspora. I used to do it. But I now realize that this was an unnecessary and extremely heavy burden I was placing on myself. Today I can spend that time and effort on much more productive things for myself and for Armenia. But to take the conversation back out of the box, if was not happy living in Yerevan, I would not simply stay here because I got to preserve my culture. No one should be doing that. It is definitely part of the equation but not the be all end all.

    I consider myself very lucky to have spent the last year and half in Armenia and I am excited for my future holds. I know that wherever I find myself, the exposure I received to Armenias reality by living here will prove invaluable. Despite my active involvement in my diasporan Armenian community, interning for ANCA and going to Armenian school, my understanding of Armenias reality was far from the truth yet I was working hard to change that reality. Nothing will expose you better to the reality then living here…exempt of political motives, exempt of hearsay and other peoples interpretation of reality.

    Do I believe that every diasporan Armenian should move to Armenia? Absolutely not. However, there is no doubt in my mind that it will prove insanely beneficial, not only to the Armenian cause, but to that individuals personal growth if they were take at least some time and come out here. If their means allow them, of course.

  2. nazareth samuelian said:

    Very good ideas bravo.But look at jews they do both they stay in diaspora & go to Israel. I think both should be available to Armenians. But opportunities should there too .Jews do it for thousands of years .We should too.we done it before at 1900 .

  3. dutchnational said:

    Though not Armenian, I would say that each person of Armenian descent should make their own decision while keeping alive their ethnicity in the diaspora.

    I would propose some of those that want to go back but not want to live in the mountains, they go to Abchazia, where a large propostion of the population (some 20 to thirty procent) is Armenian. Only 50k have to move there and you have another majority Armenian country.

    Go for it.

  4. Vahe Baloulian said:

    Respectfully disagree with you, Mari. Make Armenia stronger by moving to Armenia, bringing your skills and knowledge, changing the way the country develops, and you will not need to teach anyone about who we are and where we are coming from. They will know it. People of Denmark or Austria, for example, don’t need to live around the world so that their classmates and colleagues would learn about their countries and nations.
    With a strong and healthy country behind you, you can travel and live anywhere without the associated guilt and without asking Tebi or Not Tebi. But this country must be built first.
    History shows that Diaspora is useless when it comes to positively changing the situation in Armenia as it is largely complicit with the corrupt government officials. Diaspora largely failed to use its considerable resources, financial and otherwise, to meaningfully make Armenia a stronger country by educating its people, by building healthy businesses, by promoting honest political discourse locally, etc.
    Therefore, dear Mari, my family and I answered your question with a definite Tebi. There is nothing sacrificial about our move. We enjoy living in Armenia even though I’m disgusted with social unfairness and nation-destroying actions of Armenia’s politicians and their local and Diasporan goons.

  5. Lori said:

    Greetings from another former ANCA Leo Sarkissian intern. I agree with you that being Armenian is about more than knowing the language. I’ve been seeing a lot of articles in Armenian publications lately that similar to yours feature Armenian-American and Bolsahye authors writing about their personal struggles with proving their Armenian-ness to other Armenians. I just want to remind you and others who feel the way you do of an Eleanor Roosevelt quote in which she said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. If you feel you’re an Armenian, NO ONE should be able to make you feel otherwise. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

    That being said, I feel the discussion between you and your colleague missed one important point. A “tebi yergir” movement is not about preserving and strengthening culture or avoiding assimilation, the need for a strong “tebi yergir” movement is about preserving “yergir”.
    In the last 20 years the population of Armenia has been dwindling. A country can not thrive and exist without a healthy population. Imagine what would happen if the population keeps declining. Who will till the land? Who will fight the corruption? Who will protect the borders?

    You mentioned a couple times that you want to contribute to making Armenia a better place (for future generations). If the population keeps declining and more people don’t repatriate and become contributing members of society there we won’t be future generations. There won’t be an Armenia for you in the Diaspora to keep working on making a better place. This is our reality today and exactly why we need a “tebi yergir” movement. What would Leo Sarkissian interns be working on if there was no Armenia? “Hai Tad” won’t have much to fight for in the Diaspora.

    As the lyrics of my grandfather’s favorite song say… “Yergir ounenk menk Hayastan, Inchou abrenk Odaroutyan”? We need a lot of Armenians to ask themselves this question. Moving to Armenia is not for everyone and perhaps your personal journey doesn’t lead “tebi yergir” that is totally fine because we will always need a strong Diaspora made up of good Armenians like you.

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