Armenian Independence: A Debate of Two Dates

As a conscientious Armenian and active AYFer of the 1960s, the meaning of May 28th, 1918 remained constant in my normal realm.
We were taught to fight for independence, keep the vigil constant. It was automatic and if history serves us best, it took a long time to achieve–nearly 550 years if you go back to King Levon V.
It was our cup of water after a laborious journey through the sands of time. And it tasted cool and refreshing, quenching the parched bodies of those who survived the genocide.
The competition to get folks out to a commemoration was keen with graduations, Memorial Day observances and every other impediment. But we did it and we were all the better for it. Independence was always the Hye Road.
May 28th was our inspiration and hope for a Renaissance given the USSR and Iron Curtain.
Then, along came Sept. 21, 1991, and the New Republic–a cause for jubilation after 70 years of servitude.
For seven decades, our people lived under a Soviet regime that dangled a carrot under Armenia’s nose while the country lay shackled.
I recall the day with deep sentiment. Champagne corks were popped in our church and people were dancing in the aisles during a celebration. I had the privilege of being in Yerevan during the 15th anniversary celebration in September 2006.
Republic Square was agog with revelers–100,000 was one estimate–as planes roared overhead while military personnel by the droves held ground. It reminded me of an armistice declaration.
What we didn’t realize at the time was the controversy the two compatible dates might create. The question remains, “Which do we properly commemorate–1991 or 1918?”
Please don’t say both. Our Armenian calendar is bursting at the seams and yearning to breathe free with one event after another, sapping our energy and beckoning our time.
Each year, our Gomideh is betwixt and between. Members feel it redundant to commemorate both and are more apt to lean toward 1991–the more recent and one achieved in our time. Historically, they were not around for 1918 and cannot connect with the event.
This is the time frame that remains fresh and indelible in my mind. It offers a more alternative approach with our families. Would we commemorate the Levonian Dynasty of 1375? I do not see 451 and the Vartanantz Battle given its proper recognition, except in one instance. The Knights of Vartan do it justice but that’s their intent.
Nor is 301 and the adoption of Christianity such a vital day in our midst, except maybe the church. I can’t recall seeing an actual date, only the year.
And I can sense some resistance from ungers when the subject of the Feb. 18th Revolt against the Soviets comes up. In their eyes, it’s grown trite, overworked, and redundant. Other than the Lowell Gomideh, I do not see other committees so enamored with this historic event.
As independence goes, the main issue I feel is to commemorate the intent, not the ritual.
The skeptic in me cries out, “What’s there to celebrate?” The enemy’s great hatred is still prevalent in our country amid a papier-mache disguise one calls freedom. More lives are being lost now to deprivation and an extreme lack of economy than ever before.
I can’t help but wonder that with the current desecration of Nagorno-Karabagh and other territories within the homeland, the crime of genocide still persists in a violent and naked manner.
The loser of this grim international game is not only Armenia but the dignity of all mankind who callously stands by while our gallant country is being dismembered.
The recent political turmoil corroborates the languish. Destruction of our national monumen’s remains sacrilegious and immoral.
One cannot conceive of the damaging effects that have caused us to become a government in exile.
The voice of justice must be heard. It must be our voice and it must be spoken clear and without hypocrisy. It must come from the American government and from the United Nations calling for greater foreign aid, the removal of barriers, and passage of a long-overdue genocide bill.
Our most sacred tenet as Armenia’s is our resiliency. I look to the youth for their lofty ideals. I look to them to keep the bonds of tradition fervent, much like I did when I was their age and May 28th was our fortitude.
Whatever our independence celebration happens to be, I look to the gray-haired elders of our kind–our venerables–to enthuse our sons and daughters in this holy mission.
I look to the wealthy for support and the indigent for their moral sustenance.
I look to the Armenian woman for her compassion and to the clergy for their blessing.
My definition of faith is walking in the dark and looking for the light. It is seeing rainbows when the sky is full of rain. May the restless dream of a
united homeland will continue to burn in our sleep until it becomes an eternal reality.
May 28 or Sept. 21? Whatever the date, use it to cherish freedom and support democracy. Gather your community intact, emphasize the cultural, and get your children involved.
Often times, we need a transfusion, an energizer, a jolt of current which will rekindle that precious flame of nationhood. Let’s dwell on the happier times and not the grief imposed by a genocide.
A greater sin would be to ignore the occasion altogether. Those who shun independence are doomed to forsake their heritage.
You make the choice.

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