Names and Language

Identity in Diaspora, that’s what it’s all about. It may be denigrated in the U.S. as “identity politics”, but as survivors of Genocide with lots of time and dead people to make up for, maintaining Armenian identity and Armenianness, in dispersion is critical.
Obviously, we have the Genocide as a unifying focus. But once the struggle for recognition is over, even though we have much more important issues to resolve, some of the cohesion we now enjoy will dissipate. Some of us will breathe a collective sigh of relief and fade to the margins of our community or even completely out of it. Meanwhile we’ll still have battles ahead requiring even better “armies” than the ones we now have deployed.
While we’re on the topic of recognition, make sure to contact Rep. Jane Harman who is nominally a cosponsor of H.Res. 106. It turns out she was working undercover (what do you expect–she’s on a congressional committee dealing with America’s spies) AGAINST the resolution, until the ANC’s pressure made them reveal it. Tell her how unforgivable her sneakiness is. Contact her at 202/225-8220, ask for Jay Hulings, or e-mail him at jay.hulings@mail.house.gov. You can now see the letter at http://www.house.gov/harman/pdf/071003lantos_letter.pdf
Returning to the topic of this article, two news items in the LATimes appearing over the last five months are instructive and suggestive.
On May 2, “Indigenous pride rising with name issue in Mexico,” describes the case of a two-year-old girl who is still officially nameless. It seems the government’s computers can’t handle the accents and such around the letters that would represent the sounds of the particular indigenous language. The parents have persisted and refuse to Spanify their child’s name. This lesson in pride in one’s own culture as manifested in names is one that ought not to be lost on us. So many of our compatriots are busy Jennifering, Hamleting, Rene(e)ing their children’s names that it is an epidemic. We are Armenian through our difference from others, not by naming our boys Artur (sic) after some legendary English king or Scarlet after a character in a movie. This is a kind of slow, almost imperceptible assimilative activity that leads to loss of identity.
A related concern is the diminution of the number of names we use, out of concern that the “odars” will mispronounce the name or tease the child. So what? That’s exactly what will help cement awareness of the difference of being an Armenian.
In the same vein of loss of national identifiers is language. Obviously, this one is an even bigger deal. On September 19, a piece titled “Researchers say a language disappears every two weeks” ran. It turns out that in the last 500 years, half the world’s preexisting languages have disappeared. We’re down to 7000. Half of these are expected to disappear in the next century. How far behind can Armenian be? What do we have left, two, maybe three centuries?
But why does any of this matter? Certainly just giving a child an Armenian appellation won’t make him/her Armenian, nor will speaking the language. It is the combination of these two and many other cultural aspects that constitute the creature known as the Armenian. We are all lacking in one aspect or another of this Armenian constitution. If we’re serious about our national persistence, then we must be alert to the slow erosion of our attributes. And, this concern applies just as much to Armenia as anywhere else.
You know right from wrong on this, act accordingly.

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